Tag: judgment

Podcast: Inheriting the Kingdom


Last Sunday I preached from Matthew 25:31-46, the story of the separation of the sheep and the goats. After Jesus places the sheep on his right and the goats on his left, he turns to the sheep and delivers this message —

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Of course, that sounds like all we have to do is feed, give water, take in strangers, clothe people, visit the sick and those in prison and we get to go to heaven. But, who were those in the first century who were hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Because knowing who they were gives us insight into why this is Kingdom work. Here’s the audio —


Mark Driscoll, Let’s Talk!

Pastor_Mark_DriscollI try not to react to everything I read on the internet, but sometimes something so egregious comes along that I have to respond. Recently Mark Driscoll, megachurch pastor, posted on his blog an article titled, Is God a Pacifist?

Driscoll is preaching through the 10 Commandments, and he has arrived at “Thou shall not kill.” I’m okay with his saying that this passage addresses murder–intentional and malicious killing. I’m okay with Driscoll pointing out various Old Testament texts that prescribe the death penalty for certain offenses within Old Testament Israel. And, I’m even okay with whatever his apocalyptic theology is, even though I don’t think the Book of Revelation is to be read literally. That, after all, is the nature of apocalyptic literature, but respected scholars and pastors hold different interpretions of Revelation.

None of that bothers me. He’s entitled to his opinion. However, Driscoll isn’t content with his interpretation of these passages. He has to go one step too far. He states that among the enemies Christ will destroy are those who believe that Jesus was a pacifist. Here’s the end of his article:

“Today is a season of patience as Jesus Christ waits for people to come to repentance. Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning.

Once the wick is burned up, he is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.

Then there will be peace forever as the Prince of Peace takes his rightful throne. Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist.

Jesus is no one to mess with.”


So, the early Church Fathers, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (oh yes, and forget the Hitler thing), Thomas Merton, and so on, are all enemies of Christ who will be slaughtered on the day of judgment? Just because they believed and lived a life of Christian pacifism?

Boggles the mind. Mark, come on, let’s talk.

Podcast: Everything Is Made New

In 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that one day each of them will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. In other words, it does matter how we live our lives in this world. While faith in Christ secures our eternal destiny, just as it did Paul’s, how we live determines our reward when we enter the presence of God. But we do not have to live our lives in our own strength, for if we are “in Christ” we made new by the power of Christ. Our lives are lived for others, in ways that are pleasing to Christ now and in eternity. Here’s the link to my sermon titled, Everything Is Made New.

Sermon: The Wisdom of Justice and Mercy

This summer I’m preaching a series of sermons titled “The Wisdom of …..” and today’s sermon was “The Wisdom of Justice and Mercy.”  Each of the 8 sermons is based on a text from the revised common lectionary for that day.  Here’s today’s sermon:

The Wisdom of Justice and Mercy

Genesis 18:20-32

20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.  23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge [c] of all the earth do right?”

26 The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

The Story Before Our Story

This story of Abraham comes right after the visit of three men, often thought to be angels.  However, the dialogue in the chapter switches back and forth from the visitors speaking to God speaking, which leads theologians to describe the visit of these men to Abraham and Sarah as a theophany — an appearance of God in another form.

Whether they were angels, or the presence of God, the message is that when they return in a year, Sarah will have a son.  Abraham will have a son, too, which is what they both had been hoping against hope for.  But both Abraham and Sarah are well up in years (approximately 100  and 90 respectively), and so this news comes as both a surprise, and an uncertainty.  So uncertain is Sarah that she laughs at the prospect, and God catches her in her doubting laughter.

Abraham Bargains With God

But that’s not the point of our story today.  As the visitors are departing, the narrator switches to the voice of God who says, “I’m going down to check on Sodom and Gomorrah, because I’ve been hearing bad things about them.”  God continues, “I’m going to see if they are really that bad, and if they are, I’m going to destroy both cities.”

This gives Abraham some concern.  Primarily, I imagine, because his nephew Lot and his family live in Sodom.  So, Abraham begins this rather indirect dialogue with God.

“Okay, but if there are 50 righteous people there, you won’t destroy it, will you?  After all, you wouldn’t destroy the good with the bad.  Can’t we depend upon the Judge of the earth to do right?”

And you know how this goes.  Abraham and God go back and forth, as Abraham negotiates the lowest possible number for God to spare Sodom.  From 50, Abraham asks God to spare the cities if 45 are there.  God agrees.

From 45, Abraham asks for 40.  God agrees.  Then 30, and again God agrees.  Then 20, and once more God says yes.  Then 10, and God says, “Okay, if there are 10 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah I won’t destroy them.  I think Abraham is counting Lot’s family — his wife and two daughters, and some of Lot’s servants which he hopes are righteous.  So, maybe Lot’s immediate household will be enough to spare the city from God’s judgment and wrath.

The Incident at Sodom and The Destruction of the Cities

The visitors, which now number two instead of three, arrive at Sodom, and meet Lot, who insists they come to his house for dinner and a place to stay. While they are inside Lot’s house, men from the town gather in front of Lot’s home.

“Who are the good looking strangers that have come to visit you?” they ask.  “Send them out so we can have a big party with them (this is my paraphrase to keep this G-rated).  Lot protests and instead offers his daughters, which is a terrible thing to do by any account and even in that day.

But the men of Sodom demand that the handsome strangers come out.  In their desparate attempt to get at Lot’s guests, they try to crash the front door of Lot’s house.  The angels pull Lot back inside, and strike all of the mob blind so that they can’t find the door.

With that problem solved, and with the evidence mounting that Sodom is indeed a wicked place, the angels tell Lot to get his family together and leave immediately.  “Flee for the hills” is their actual advice.  But Lot says, “We’ll never make it to the hills before disaster falls on us, too.  How about I stop off at Zoar instead?”  Reluctantly the angels agree, but warn Lot’s family not to look back on the destruction that is to befall Sodom and Gomorrah.

You know the rest of the story.  Lot’s family leaves, fire and brimstone rain down from the heavens, and Sodom and Gomorrah are piles of smoldering ruins.  But, unfortunately, Lot’s wife cannot help herself, and looks back.  She is turned into a pillar of salt for doing so, while Lot and his two daughters trudge ahead to Zoar.  There the story turns even uglier for Lot and his daughters, but we’ll stop there because we’ve had enough salacious material for one day.

The Back Story

Okay, so what do we know about all of this and the justice of God.  Plus, God’s mercy, too.  Both are in this story, and both are important to the nation of Israel.

First, let’s look at the cities themselves.  Sodom and Gomorrah were part of a group of five cities called the Pentapolis.  The cities were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Bela — also known as Zoar.  So, when Lot flees Sodom, he’s really not going very far, and he stays within the Cities of the Plain, as these were also known.

Secondly, what was the problem there?  Well, it’s obvious that some inappropriate activity was taking place in both of those cities, as we can tell from the visit of the two angels.  And, most of us would say that is why God destroyed them.

But in Jewish literature, these cities were not only places of immorality, which are not even mentioned in the Jewish writings, but were known as places that were inhospitable to strangers, and had disregard for the poor, and disadvantaged among them.  Among their crimes it is reported that in Sodom, wealthy merchants would give beggars a bar of gold with their name on it.  But in a cruel conspiracy, they would refuse to sell the beggar any food, and he would eventually starve to death.  When that happened, they simply retrieved the bar of gold, and waited for their next victim.

They were also guilty of violence and bloodshed, and Abraham had saved the King of Sodom and his army from defeat, and rescued his nephew Lot in the process. So, these were not nice people if you were a stranger in their town.

Interestingly, Sodom and Gomorrah are also mentioned in Islamic writings, and there in addition to the sins of immorality, their other sins are listed as: gambling by playing backgammon, racing pigeons, holding fights between dogs, rams or roosters; immodesty and showing off by not covering their private parts in front of other people of the same sex, entering bathhouses naked, and opening the shirt to show the chest; wearing long pants which drag on the ground out of pride or arrogance; cheating with regard to weights and measures; and whistling with the fingers.  Apparently, whistling with the fingers is a bad thing to do.

Our Role in  God’s Justice and Mercy

But, back to our story.  This Sodom and Gomorrah story is a great example of God’s justice and mercy.  Let’s look at justice first.

We often confuse the idea of justice with punishment.  As in “I’ll be glad when justice is finally done, and he gets what’s coming to him.”  But justice is not punishment.

Punishment is just that, punishment.  Punishment is also called “retribution.”  And the system of justice that administers punishment is called a system of “retributive justice.”  That’s pretty much what we have in our criminal justice system here in the United States.  Les could put the fine point on that general statement, because there are instances of mercy, leniency, compassion, and so forth exhibited in the criminal justice system, but generally, if you do the crime, you expect to do the time (or some equivalent thereof).

But the idea of justice isn’t about punishment, it’s about fairness.  A just society is a society that treats all of its citizens alike.  That’s why the civil rights movement was a struggle for justice — African Americans were denied the right to vote, the right to eat in public restaurants, the right to stay in public accommodations, and the right to attend public schools.  We in the United States treated one segment of our population differently than the majority, and that was a social injustice.

So, a just society is a society that treats all of its members with the same degree of fairness.

God’s justice is also a fair treatment of all his creation.  Violate God’s laws and there is a price to pay.  Even natural law applies fairly and across the board.  Take gravity for instance.  Gravity works for all of us.  Jump out one of these windows and you will fall down, not up.  Regardless of your race, creed, religion, or national origin.  Gravity applies to all.

Jesus pointed out that God sends the rain on the “just and the unjust.”  Aren’t we glad rainfall, which we need desparately, isn’t reserved just for the righteous?  Our yards might look worse than they do now!  God is a just God in the administration of his Creation and natural law.

Okay, so why is God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah?  First, this is before the Law given to Moses, so it’s not because they’re breaking the Ten Commandments.  But, there is still a law, a standard, that God expects to uphold.  The story of Noah and the flood is an account of God’s judgment and punishment of a world gone wild.

But what makes this story interesting is not that God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, but that God almost doesn’t.  If there are 50 righteous people living in a city of at least thousands, then God will spare the city.  Or if there are 45, or 40, or 30, or 20, or 10.  Ten righteous people (probably meaning men, and later the number required to start a synagogue), then God will spare the city.

God’s mercy is greater than God’s wrath.  Why, because God’s mercy is also part of God’s justice.  Justice demands that all be treated the same, that all be held to the same standard.

Judgment determines if the standard has been met.  If not, the person, community, or nation is deemed to have violated the law of God, and there is punishment for that.

The late Ray Anderson, brilliant professor of theology at Fuller Seminary, says that the wrongdoer cannot escape judgment.  Judgment says, “What you have done is wrong.”  God’s judgment is based on his even-handedness with his creation.  The Bible says, “God is no respecter of persons.”  Which means it doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you have, how smart you are, how much you’ve achieved, who your daddy was, or any of those things by which we measure people and show favoritism.

“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Paul says in Romans 3:23.  And he also adds, “The wages of sin is death” in Romans 6:23.  So, there’s the judgment, and the punishment, both part of God’s justice.

But, Paul also adds, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)  There’s the mercy.  There is no doubt we are sinners.  There is no doubt that the penalty for sin, the wages (which means what we have earned for our sin) is death.  We can’t change either of those facts.  So, we have been judged and sentenced.  But, that’s where mercy comes in.  God desires mercy.  God provides a way.  God sends Jesus.  Jesus lives, dies, rises again, all to demonstrate that the words of Hosea the prophet are true:

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice….” — Hosea 6:6

But, God’s mercy also includes us.  In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God’s being willing to save the cities if there were as few as 10 righteous people there, God’s mercy is made available by the presence of God’s people.

It’s the New Testament idea of being salt and light.  Of the Kingdom of God as the mustard seed that starts small, but grows to be a huge tree.  It’s the idea of a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.  There is a quality to the community of faith that carries with it access to the mercy of God on behalf of others.

You and I, this church, we are vital to this community.  We are the salt and light, we are the leaven in the lump of dough, we are the mustard seed, we are the preservers of humankind.  And, not just us, but all others in all other communities like ours.  We are God’s people and we preserve this Creation of God’s.  Our presence makes possible God’s mercy to those who rebel against him.

But we cannot be salt that has lost its flavor, or lights that have gone dark. We cannot be dead yeast, for the bread will not be affected.  Our action, our activity in this community lived as God’s representatives has a preserving, merciful effect on all around us.

If God can find 50, or 45, or 40, or 30, or 20, or even 10 people who love him and live in right relationship with him and with others, then God’s mercy is still available.  Hope for the future still prevails, the message of salvation still goes out, and God still stays his punishment.

That’s something for us to think about in our world gone wild.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  And we can help make that mercy a reality for our community, our state, our nation, our world.

Sermon: I Believe In Jesus The Coming Judge

Why We Need The Apostles’ Creed
I Believe in Christ The Coming Judge

Acts 10:34-42
34Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

Where We Are In The Apostles’ Creed

We now have arrived at the part of the Apostles’ Creed that states —

From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead…

This is the final statement about Jesus, after the statement about God, and the statements about Jesus, that precede it.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. [See Calvin]

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Remember we are using The Apostles’ Creed as an outline to address the major doctrines, or teachings, of the Christian church.  And, while we as Baptists do not use a creed in our corporate gatherings, that does not mean that we do not believe in the statements contained in the Creed.

But, back to today’s topic — the return of Christ and the judgment of everything.  So far in our look at The Creed we have had an event to hang on to each statement about Jesus:

  • For “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” we have the angel’s announcement to Mary and Mary’s response; and, of course, we have the entire nativity story and the celebration of Christmas;
  • For “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried” and including the phrase “He descended into hell” (which requires a whole discussion all to itself, but is nonetheless a part of the Passion of the Christ), we have Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.
  • For “The third day He arose again from the dead” we have the resurrection of Christ and Easter;
  • And for “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” we have the Ascension of Christ and the Sunday that celebrates that event.

All of those affirmations are statements of belief rooted in a past reality.  Jesus was born.  Jesus did suffer and die.  Jesus did rise from the dead.  Jesus did ascend back to the Father in heaven.

Each event was witnessed by real people and each were profoundly affected by the event they witnessed. From shepherds and wisemen, to disciples and followers, to those who saw Jesus alive, each event was verified by numerous eyewitnesses who continued throughout their lifetimes to speak of what, in the words of John,

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.”  1 John 1:1-3a

But when we come to today’s affirmation — “from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead” — we have left the events of the past, and are now affirming one final event that will take place in some future time, unknown to any except God the Father.

I’ve Got Good News and Bad News

Okay, you’ve probably all heard this one, but it makes a point about this business of the second-coming of Christ and the judgment of everything.

One of the Pope’s assistants rushed into him and said, “Holy Father, I’ve got good news and bad news.”

The Pope said, “Okay, what’s the good news?”

The assistant replied, “The good news is that Jesus has returned and wants to talk to you on the phone.”

“Great,” the Pope responded.  “But what’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is, he’s calling from Salt Lake City.”

Okay, that’s an old and silly joke, but it kind of captures our ambivalence about the return of Christ and the judgment of the world.  We’re not sure if we want to hear it or not.  Frankly, we’re not sure we even believe it anymore, although there it sits, in the middle of The Apostles’ Creed.  Of course, even if we abandon the Creed, there are longer versions affirming that we as Baptists believe that Jesus will return to the earth bodily and visibly, and that Christ will judge the earth as the final act in God’s great drama of creation and redemption.

Our scripture passage today is almost a word-for-word match to the words of The Creed, probably because early Christians took much of what they used to compose The Creed from the words of Scripture itself.

So, the good news is this is a belief of the Christian church from the first century and the original apostles.  The bad news is that after 2,000 years this statement has lost some of its practical punch.

Why This Statement in The Creed?

The Apostles’ Creed was a concise statement of the commonly held beliefs of all Christians.  It started in very simple form, in a version known as the Roman Creed.  Over the centuries as controversies arose, The Creed was amplified, tweaked, and clarified to address specific heresies, or false teachings.

One of those was a Gnostic teaching that God was unconcerned with mankind’s actions.  The idea of Christ returning to judge the earth was a counterpoint to the teachings of the Gnostics that all matter is evil, that what we do in our physical bodies doesn’t matter, and that it is only the spiritual that is significant.

Other heresies denied the physical resurrection of Jesus, and his transformed body.  Others said that Jesus had already returned, and that now believers were left to their own devices.  So, this statement in The Creed, because it comes directly from scripture, pushes back at many of those false teachings.

But, rather than being just a reply, or a response, this statement in The Creed is a positive affirmation of a long-held belief known as The Blessed Hope — the confidence that Jesus would return to the earth, vindicate his followers, and judge the earth.

Here’s the importance of the return of Christ, and his judgment of the earth — without this final chapter, without Christ’s return and judgment, God’s salvation history is incomplete.  The story of God must have an ending, and this is the beginning of that ending.

Let me say it this way — from the creation of the earth and mankind’s place on it, all the way through the events of the Old Testament, down to the coming of Jesus as the Christ, God has been on a mission to redeem his creation.  Theologians call this the “missio Dei” — the mission of God.

The story of God and His people is not complete unless and until God sets everything right.  Everything cannot be set right until Jesus returns as he rightfully deserves, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  And, everything cannot be set right until Jesus gives his opinion, his judgment, about the world, its systems, and its people.  In other words, the setting right of everything awaits the return of Jesus and his judgment.

So, its not enough to say, “Well, Jesus gave us a wonderful example to live by, and that’s all that we need.”  Nor is it enough to say, “We need to work for God’s kingdom to come on this earth as it is in heaven.”  That is true, and we do need to do just that, but the only reason we need to do so is because one day, God’s will is absolutely going to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What’s the Return of Jesus About?

First, Jesus will return.  The apostles believed that he would, because Jesus himself told them that he would.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says,

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” — Matthew 25:31-33 NIV

So, by Jesus’ own words, he states that he, the Son of Man, is coming again in glory, and to judge the nations.  Several times in the gospels Jesus speaks of his return, and so this idea that Jesus is coming back is not on the disciples made up, or the church invented to keep people in line.  Jesus himself spoke of his visible, bodily return.

But, we are skeptical.  Two thousand years have passed, and still no Jesus.  Maybe we don’t need to believe that Jesus really will return because it seems like a fading possibility.

Okay, let me ask you this:  Do you believe that Jesus came in the form of a tiny baby?  Most of us here today, if not 100% of us, would say, “Yes, I believe that Jesus came as a tiny baby.”  But what’s harder to believe — that God can limit himself, come down from heaven, enter the womb of an unmarried woman through some mystery of conception that we cannot understand, be born as a baby by totally natural means, and then grow up to save the world from its sin;

Or, that God comes with lightning, angels, and glory to the earth?

Frankly, I think it’s easier to believe God will come with lightning, angels and glory, than that God was born a baby.

Okay, but that’s not the only reason.  As I said earlier, if Jesus doesn’t return, the story is incomplete.  Jesus came first as the Suffering Servant found in the prophet Isaiah; he returns the second time as the recognized Messiah, God’s Anointed One.  The first time many, most as a matter of fact, missed who he was.  The second time no one will miss who Jesus is.

Let’s look at my favorite passage about Jesus one more time:  Philippians 2:5-11.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

That’s what happens at the second coming of Jesus:  everybody and everything — every knee and every tongue — in heaven, in earth, and under the earth, confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

So, the first time most don’t get it; the second time everyone gets it.

I’m Good on Jesus Return, But What About This Business of Judgment?

We’ll all be happy for Jesus to come back someday, I’m sure.  But the thing we really have trouble with is this business of God’s judgment, or more accurately, Jesus’ judgment of everything.  But let’s take a close look.

Our big problem with the “day of judgment” is we have a picture of wrath and destruction in our heads.  And to be sure there is that element of purging with fire that we’ll talk about in a moment.  But here’s the picture of judgment that we need to focus on.

Psalm 98:8-9 says —

8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy; 9 let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

The psalmist calls on nature, God’s creation, to rejoice, to clap and sing, because God comes to judge the earth.  God’s judgment is the final act of God’s salvation.

A quick personal story:  I traveled to Mexico several times on business before tourists had to show American passports.  To cross the US-Mexico border a tourist only had to show some type of US identification to go over and back.  Of course, all that has changed now, but even in the late 1990s and early in this decade, business travelers to Mexico had to have a business visa.

This visa was a separate green booklet that had to be stamped on your entry into Mexico, and then stamped on your exit from Mexico.  Well, the first time I crossed over into Mexico after receiving my visa, I had it appropriately stamped upon entry.  We went in, met with our customers, and then made our way back across the border.  The rep I was with forgot to have us stop and get our exit stamp, which neither of us thought was a big deal.

But, six months later when I tried to re-enter Mexico, the immigration official pointed out that I never “closed” my last visit. I did not have the stamp that said, “Salida”  with the appropriate date of my exit.  He refused to let me enter the country again.  And, he pointed out that the fine for failure to obtain an exit stamp was close to $800 US dollars, because several months had passed.

I was stunned.  First, I didn’t have $800 US dollars on me, so that was out of the question.  Second, my customer was expecting me, so I had to make my appointment.  So, I asked very politely, “Is there some other way we can solve this problem?”

The immigration official looked at me, and smiled.  “Well, of course, if you could pay some small fee, say $25, we could stamp your visa.”  Of course, this small fee was paid in cash, and I received no receipt for it, but the official took his “Salida” stamp from the drawer and properly stamped by visa.  Then, he took his “Entrada” stamp, and stamped it again with the current date to give me legal entry into Mexico.

My point in telling that story is this — we have to have an exit, an ending to God’s story.  And that ending is the return of Christ, and his judgment of the earth.

But, judgment isn’t in itself destructive or vengeful.  Judgment is God’s opinion.  So, when Jesus returns, he returns to give his opinion of all the world’s systems, nations, and people.  Matthew calls it “separating the sheep from the goats.”

Other gospel writers use similar analogies as in “separating the wheat from the weeds.”  The point is, Jesus is going to give us his opinion of what is useful to the Kingdom of God, what is faithful to the Kingdom of God, and what will endure within the full-arrived Kingdom of God.

Things like “sheep” and “wheat” represent those things and people that are useful to, faithful to, compatible with, and obedient to the Kingdom of God.  Remember in Jesus’ early ministry, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Repent and believe the good news.”  Well, the good news is judgment made plain.  The good news is Jesus opinion of the world.

Judgment is both good and bad.  The good is some are sheep, some are wheat, some are received with a “well-done good and faithful servant.” The bad news is some people and things are judged to be “goats, weeds, and bad servants.”

And the criteria for Jesus’ judgment is Jesus himself.  Jesus is the incarnation of God, and how people, nations, and systems received Jesus is judgment in itself.

In John 3:16-17, Jesus said,

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” — John 3:16-18 NIV

Okay, but here’s the disclaimer:  Jesus is the righteous judge.  In other words, he doesn’t judge like we would.  Our job is not to figure out how Jesus is going to judge, our job is to live in light of Jesus love for the world.  To live as he lived. To see the world as he saw it, as sheep without a shepherd.  To love God and love others.

Jesus’ judgment is not just about going to heaven when we die, it’s about God’s opinion of everything here on earth, including us.  Whether we are among the living or the dead when Jesus returns does not matter.  What does matter is whether we are among the faithful.