When the Lord touches someone, that person is driven to his knees. He then becomes intimate with Christ. And out of that intimacy, he receives fresh revelation from heaven. This person is anxious to bring his besetting sins to the Holy Ghost, to have them mortified. His soul is renewed, and he enters a place of rest. And he begins to minister to Christ with new passion and a greater love.
Most of all, this servant grows more and more aware of the coming day of judgment. He knows he'll have to stand before God's throne and answer one great question: "How did you portray Christ to a lost world?" Indeed, we all must face this question at the Judgment: "How did you witness Christ to the ungodly? How did you reveal him by the way you lived and acted? How did your life represent him?"
This is the single criterion for how we'll be judged on that day. It doesn't matter if we've been shut in with God like Moses, received great revelations like Daniel, been sanctified like Paul, or preached boldly like Peter. Everyone will be judged by this single standard: how did our lives express who Jesus is and what he's like?
The Holy Spirit established this standard of judgment after Pentecost, as Christ was establishing his church. Rome was in power at the time. The spirit of that empire was one of pride, arrogance and materialism. Rome shunned the downtrodden, including widows, the fatherless and the poor. From the Euphrates all the way to the Atlantic, great monuments commemorated Rome's military victories. Palaces were built for the empire's war heroes. But nowhere was there a home or institution for the poor or homeless. Nothing throughout the empire indicated any concern for the poor.
This spirit of pride and covetousness also permeated the Jewish realm. Israel's religious leaders were bent on acquiring wealth and property. Pharisees used legal loopholes to steal houses from widows. Meanwhile, the fatherless were abandoned, and homeless people were abused. Lower-class laborers were cheated out of their wages. They were told they deserved to be poor, that God was paying them back for their sins. Throughout Israel, the prevailing attitude was, "Every man for himself." Life was spent accumulating, hoarding, wanting more and never having enough.
In the midst of this covetous, self-centered, materialistic society, Christ poured out his Spirit on a holy remnant. Suddenly, mighty winds blew, buildings shook, and supernatural fire appeared. Uneducated Christians began speaking fluently in languages they'd never learned. And Jesus' apostles preached the gospel with convicting power. In the days that followed, the church worshipped, praised and moved in supernatural power: "They that gladly received his word were baptized...and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles" (Acts 2:41-43).
Jerusalem's populace was amazed at what they saw. They asked, "What do all these things mean?" It was the Holy Spirit empowering God's people to witness Christ to the world. These believers were now his living epistles. His power enabled them to live in such a way they could boldly testify, "This is who Jesus is. Our lives are a witness to the nature and love of God."
You may wonder who the onlookers were, whom Scripture says "were all amazed and marvelled" at the miraculous events (2:7). Who were these strangers, "saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (2:7-8).
The next verse answers that question: "Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God" (2:9-11).
The people witnessing these events were visitors to Jerusalem, merchants, traders, travelers. Surely their reports would spread to the rest of the world. But how would these sojourners describe what they witnessed? Would they focus on the tongues, the signs and wonders, the wind and fire from heaven?
None of these things would be the focus. That wasn't the witness the Holy Spirit came to give. All these wonders were simply manifestations, meant for the believers' edification and healing. So, what would the witness of Christ be?
Most sermons on Pentecost focus on the signs and wonders performed by the apostles. Or, they emphasize the 3,000 who were saved in one day, or the cloven tongues and fire appearing. But we don't hear about one event that became the greatest wonder of all. This event sent multitudes back to their nations with a vivid, unmistakable impression of who Jesus is.
You've heard of signs and wonders. I want to tell you about this story's "wonder signs." Overnight, thousands of for-sale signs appeared in front of homes throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Scripture says, "All that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need...Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35).
Can you imagine the scene in Jerusalem? Multitudes of houses, lots and farmland were suddenly being sold off. Household goods were being sold as well: furniture, clothes, crafts, pots and pans, works of art. On the streets, in the marketplaces, at every city gate, hundreds of signs must have read, "Goods for Sale." It had to be the biggest garage sale in Jerusalem's history.
Take note: there's no evidence in Scripture that the homes being sold were the owners' primary dwelling places. And there's no mention of communal living. If that had happened, it would have placed an unbearable burden on the church. Moreover, the property and possessions these Christians sold weren't primary needs or inheritances. God's Word clearly commanded them to provide for their families and children. They also had to care for all widows in their family under age sixty. These believers couldn't have fulfilled those commands if they didn't have their own homes. Besides, we read that they went to each other's homes in fellowship, "breaking bread from house to house" (2:46). Clearly, these people still owned their homes.
No, the possessions they sold were things they had over and above their needs, things not essential to their survival. In some cases, these probably had put a stranglehold on their owners' hearts. So the goods were sold, turned into cash, and donated to support the church's widows, fatherless and homeless.
Here is the witness that went forth from Jerusalem. It was the message that God's Spirit wanted spread throughout the world: Only the power of God could break the spirit of materialism that held Israel in its clutches for centuries.
Think of the power it took to shake and awaken a self-centered, covetous people who for hundreds of years had despised the poor. The strangers who heard these believers speaking their own languages now saw them selling off valuable goods. And these possessions weren't junk. They obviously were being sold as a sacrifice. Once again, the onlookers had to ask, "What's going on? Why are there so many for-sale signs up? Do these people know something we don't?"
Any believer within earshot would respond, "No, we're followers of Jesus. We gave our hearts to the Messiah, and his Spirit has changed us. Now we're doing the works of God. He preached to the poor and associated with lepers. He ministered to widows and cared for the fatherless. And we've received a word from the Holy Spirit that we're to do the same. We're selling these goods to raise money for the poor and helpless. That's the work of Jesus Christ."
Imagine the conversations that took place throughout the city. In cafes, synagogues and marketplaces, one merchant may have said to another, "I finally bought that building lot I've been wanting for years. All this time, the owner has tried to cheat me with a high price. He's a Pharisee, and I'd been dickering with him for years. Well, he came to me yesterday, and he gave me a reasonable price.
"I asked him what made him change his mind. He said he's a follower of Jesus now. He got filled with the Holy Spirit, and he's no longer addicted to acquiring things. Besides, the money from the sale would go to feed the poor, as well as to widows and orphans."
Here was the witness of Pentecost. The world saw those empowered believers loving one another, selling their goods, giving to the needy. And that's exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted from them. He desired a living testimony to the world of God's love. They were proclaiming Christ's gospel by their actions.
You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They were believers who dropped dead in the church because they misrepresented who Jesus is. They'd lied to Peter about the amount they received for the land they sold. But Peter told them they had lied to the Holy Ghost. Indeed, if a Christian lies to any man, it's as if that person has lied to God.
What exactly was this couple's lie? It was their misappropriation of money designated for the poor. They must have testified to the buyer, "Everything you pay us is for the cause of Christ. It all goes to widows and the poor." But they kept back a portion of the money for themselves.
On Judgment Day, many people are going to be charged for misspending what was designated for a charitable cause. I think of organizations that collected hundreds of millions of dollars for victims of the September 11 tragedy, but appropriated much of it to themselves. I think also of the ministers who raised money for those same widows and orphans, but who have misspent it. I tell you, they don't need to fear the IRS. They need to fear almighty God, who keeps the books down to every penny.
That's the message behind Ananias and Sapphira's story: you don't touch what belongs to the poor and needy. God won't stand by and see his Son misrepresented to the world by those who call themselves by his name.
(Even Muslims recognize how serious this kind of witness is. I recently read about a Saudi telethon that raised money for the surviving families of Palestinian "martyrs" [including the suicide bombers who attacked Israel]. The telethon was state-sponsored, and the Saudi king donated the first $2.7 million. A princess donated her Rolls Royce. A man offered one of his kidneys. A woman handed over her full dowry of $17,000. Masses of people came to the TV station to stuff cash into boxes held by wheelchair-bound children. They all wanted to prove that Allah loves his children.
Overall, $155 million was raised during that Saudi telethon. But that was only the beginning. The call has gone out to every Islamic nation, to give toward the effort to rebuild Palestine. You see, Satan knows where the effective witness is. And he subtly produces a counterfeit for his own testimony.)
I ask you, how did the Holy Spirit bring about this sudden change of heart in those newly baptized believers in Jerusalem? Their transformation was an incredible miracle. The answer is, these Christians were the children of Malachi's prophecy. Malachi is the last prophet we hear from in the Old Testament. And God spoke through him, saying, "I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless" (Malachi 3:5).
Now fast-forward in time to the church in Jerusalem. These believers were going from house to house in fellowship. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). What was the apostles' doctrine mentioned here? It was the very words of Christ. Jesus had instructed his disciples, "The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).
Now, pay close attention. One of the last messages Jesus spoke to his disciples before his crucifixion is contained in Matthew 25. I believe the Holy Ghost now brought this specific message to his followers' remembrance. In fact, it was probably Matthew who preached this message of Christ to the newly baptized believers.
Jesus' words were quickened in their hearts, and they knew they could never live the same way again. Suddenly, they saw how serious this matter of representing Jesus truly is. It drove them into their houses to find everything they didn't need, and then take those goods to the streets to sell. Simply put, Christ's Word in Matthew 25 gave these believers a new attitude of love and concern for the poor. How? It literally put them before the Judgment Seat.
This same message of Matthew 25 has shaken my own soul to the core. And it's causing me to make changes in my life and ministry. Likewise, if you cry out for God's touch and seek to have a new passion for Jesus, you'll be taken on a journey by the Holy Ghost. And at some point on that path, you'll end up facing Matthew 25. We can no longer lightly skip over this shattering Word.
Christ's words here aren't a parable but a prophecy. It's Judgment Day, and we're all standing before the throne: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left" (Matthew 25:31-33).
Some people claim, "This is a judgment of nations, not people." That's foolishness. There are no sheep nations or goat nations. I challenge anybody to name one sheep nation, existing today or in the past. It's clear this is a judgment of all humankind. And the sheep mentioned here are judged by one criterion:
"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was ahungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me" (Matthew 25:34-36).
Jesus commends the sheep, saying, "You represented me rightly. You witnessed to the world that I identify with the captives of sin and poverty. You knew my heart, and you let me express my nature and love through you." Christ doesn't say a word about any of their other diligent works or accomplishments. He focuses all on this one thing.
Now comes the word that makes me tremble. Jesus says: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not" (Matthew 25:41-43).
Note that here Jesus doesn't condemn the goats for adultery, drug abuse, pornography, homosexuality, or other gross iniquities. Yes, these are all damning sins, and those who commit them will be judged for every deed done in the flesh. But with Christ, there is an even higher standard of judgment.
As I applied this standard to my own life, I thought, "I can't find myself in this prophecy. When have I done these things commanded? Have I neglected hands-on ministry to the hungry, the homeless, widows, the fatherless, prisoners, the afflicted? How do I deal with Jesus' words here: 'Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment'" (25:45-46)?
For months I've been praying for widows, the fatherless and the poor. We receive letters from destitute people who can no longer pay for insurance or afford housing. I've pleaded with God, "You are the Lord of hosts. Feed them. Meet their needs." Finally, the Lord answered me, "You must do more than pray for them, David. You can do something about it. You feed them. It's within your power to do."
Make no mistake: no one can be saved by good works alone. But we will be judged by whether we did them. Yet the issue isn't how many needy people I feed or clothe. The central issue is: "Do I profess Christ as my Lord, then live only for myself? Do I misrepresent Jesus by hoarding and spending time accumulating things? Do I shut my eyes to the needs of the poor and helpless?"
Our witness to a sin-cursed world has to include both preaching and manifestation, both Word and deed. Our proclamation of Christ can't be divorced from our helping works. As James says, such works help to prove the power of the gospel:
"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?" (James 2:14-16).
Multitudes of Christians respond to Jesus' prophecy in two ways. There are those of the "easy gospel," who say, "God isn't that hard. This is all doomsday preaching. My God is too loving to judge that severely." Then, those of the "hard gospel" say, "This is just too strict, too demanding. I can't accept such a disturbing word. I can never measure up to it."
So both gospels go their own way, justified and unmoved. And we continue staging revivals for the unsaved. We keep holding prayer meetings, asking God to meet the needs of the poor. At Christmas time, we distribute baskets to needy families. And at other times, we slip a few coins to beggars. But we have no full-time, hands-on commitment to do as Jesus has commanded.
Such people will cry, "But Lord, Lord, this is all a surprise. We believed in you. We prayed, we fasted, we went to church. We're your redeemed sheep." Why will these be separated with the goats?
The fact is, if we love the world and its things, we can't be God's: "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). If we covet, wanting more and more things, we're not one of his sheep: "Nor thieves, nor covetous...shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:10).
Yet, these believers will be goats not just because of their lust for things, or because they didn't help the needy. The Lord will tell them, "You're a goat because you misrepresented me to the world. You caused the ungodly to identify me with prosperity, money, success. You deceived the poor by telling them I wanted to make them rich. And you told the sick they were suffering because they lacked faith.
"I blessed you. I poured out my resources on you, because I loved you. But you didn't open your ears to the needy cries around you. Instead, you choked on your own goods. If you were mine - if you loved me - you would have obeyed my commands."
You may say, "Brother Dave, this is too hard. Surely God isn't like that." Read the words of Ezekiel: "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness...neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy" (Ezekiel 16:49, italics mine). When God judged Sodom, he didn't mention their homosexuality or idolatry. It was all about pride, ease and neglect of the needy. They had no concern for the poor.
Beloved, the Lord didn't call for a one-time garage sale in Jerusalem. He was after something in his people's hearts. He wanted witnesses who would be free from bondage to things, to reflect his heart to a lost world. God isn't after our houses. He wants us to wake up, to see how choked with possessions we may be.
How can you get involved with the needy? That's the work of the Holy Spirit. If you're convicted by this message, go to him. He'll lead you directly to the needs he wants you to meet, in one of these areas of hands-on love ministry. This is not meant to put you under guilt or condemnation, but to help you search your heart in light of Jesus' words.
The Lord doesn't expect any of us to do it all. But I know he expects us to be personally committed to hands-on involvement in at least one of these areas of need. Can you say you're ready to stand before Christ on that day, knowing you're helping feed or clothe the poor, visiting prisoners, blessing or visiting widows and the fatherless?
The Holy Spirit won't permit me to avoid this convicting truth. Nor will he excuse any true believer. God means what he says. Even those who are shut-ins, the elderly or infirm, can pray for the homeless. They can write letters to prisoners.
When there is a desire to obey this command, the Holy Spirit will show the way. And when we get involved, he promises this: "If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not" (Isaiah 58:10-11).