During the past month-and-a-half, I have experienced a call. It is a powerful call of a spiritual nature. As I write this, I am responding to the call with due diligence.
I will describe the call first by taking you back to your most recent reading of the Gospel of Matthew, and to your understanding of The Final Judgment, which is pictured here, in sculpture, above the doorway of the Bern, Switzerland, Minster—or cathedral.
Note Christ, in gold, in the lower middle. Surrounding Christ in the archway is the Heavenly panoply of angels and apostles. The single apostle missing from the arch, appropriately enough, is Judas Iscariot.
I am taking you back to your most recent reading of Matthew, yes, but also I am taking you forward in time. I am taking you to The Final Judgment itself, whenever that moment of unwavering fatefulness should occur.
I selected the Bern Minster doorway as the illustration for this post because once I walked through that doorway, myself, underneath The Final Judgment.
I was deeply chastened by passing underneath The Final Judgment.
Inside the Minster, virtually alone in its enormous space, I experienced half a day of intense theophany. I had thought my time inside the Minster occupied about half an hour, no more. Instead, when I emerged later that day, I discovered I had been inside the Minster during five hours of timeless time.
God Himself had spoken to me in the Minster, and He welcomed me--He addressed me by name.
You’ll remember that Matthew the tax collector describes what will happen at some appropriate time in our future, a time about which “we know neither the day nor the hour.” MT 25:13 ESV. Last Sunday, in his sermon, our pastor helped us remember that Matthew passage, and what was said afterwards.
Matthew goes on--
“When the Son of Man comes in all his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” MT 25:31.
This will be The Final Judgement.
Sitting there, Jesus (the Son of Man), will divide all people, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be placed on Jesus’ right side, and the goats will be placed on Jesus’ left side. The sheep are the godly, who are described in Matthew Henry’s 1706 Commentary as innocent, mild, patient, useful.
The goats, on the other hand, are the wicked, a baser kind of animal, who are described as unsavory and unruly.
These animal typologies bespeak the character of the two different types of humankind, and they reveal humankind’s two differing and eternal fates.
The Final Judgement is the culmination of humankind’s supernatural destiny, as awarded by God.
If you are among the sheep and are destined for paradise, in the 18th century, you may have been deemed innocent, mild, patient, useful.
Christ will honor you by saying, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” MT 25:34
From the foundation of the world!
Just think about that!
Perhaps at that moment, you may wonder how it could be that you--you, as you know you!--that you should have been determined to be among the sheep and not among the goats. I suspect that I would wonder that very same thing, if I were included among the sheep.
Jesus would explain.
“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” MT 25: 35-36
Puzzled, you might remark, “I don’t remember doing any of these things for you, Jesus.”
Then Jesus would say the sort of thing that Jesus—being the Son of Man—says regularly, the sort of thing that crystalizes theological truth.
Here’s what Jesus would say--
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” MT 25:40
As Matthew Henry puts it, wisely as well as wittily, “At the height of his glory, [Jesus] will not disown his poor relations.”
You’ll notice that I have twice bolded the word useful where it appeared above.
Since coming to Christ a decade ago, my wife Channa and I have desired to be useful to the Lord, for His purpose. We have done what we could in the circumstances that we encountered.
The call I have experienced recently may open a new circumstance for me. I feel convicted with regard to prisoners and would like to visit them, in Christ.
Here’s one reason why. It’s purely a worldly reason.
For years before I retired from my career as a salesman of legal information, I had a very minor (and a purely secular) “ministry” at prisons in Maine and New Hampshire, particularly at New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, N.H., set aside for New Hampshire’s most heinous offenders.
By regulation, a prison must provide access to the law for its inmates, that is, to the published record of cases, statutes, regulations and other information that could assist inmates to research their cases.
I sold these materials to prisons as well as to any other customer in my territory, either public or private.
In later years of my career, legal publishers shifted from publishing this information in print form to electronic form, delivered—for prison libraries—via absolutely secure and strictly limited Internet access.
At that point, it became part of my responsibility to visit the prisons and to teach librarians and inmates how to use this new electronic tool.
I had a training session scheduled at the Concord prison during the afternoon of September 12, 2001.
That morning, I called the librarian. Everyone in America was in shock, including each of us.
“Well, I guess if you still want to come, okay then come. I don’t know what else to do anyway. Nobody does.”
I drove the two-and-a-half hours from our home on the Maine coast to Concord and was let into the prison. Each door clanged shut behind me with its accustomed finality, but that sound was all the more reverberative of finality on that morning.
In the library, I was with about twenty-five men, all of whom had been convicted of major felonies (not that I knew what the felonies were; that was not allowed). I expected there might be angry men among them whose reaction to yesterday’s attack would be something along the lines of, “Good for the Muslims! I hate the United States.”
Instead, among the twenty or so who spoke up, their anger was otherwise.
“YOU DO NOT BOMB US! WE WILL SLAUGHTER YOU!”
So, already liking the patriotic spirit of some inmates in New Hampshire, I am doing due diligence about prison ministry in southwest Virginia.
It is my hope that some inmates will respond with awe to the work of the Holy Spirit, if the Holy Spirit should find my effort at witness to be useful.
(Note: the illustration above is copied from the Wikipedia article on the Bern Minster.)