Welcome to this post for Sunday, Aug 22 at Digby Baptist Church. Here is the text and video of the sermon for the day.
Some people are so judgmental; you can tell just by looking at them!
Why are taller people more judgmental? They look down on people.
Never judge a book by its cover; use the paragraph on the back, it tells you what the story is all about.
Well, it is judgment day. Time to talk about the Last Judgment. An essential element of ‘Last Things’ in Christian teaching.
Years ago, I lived on King Street in Windsor, across from the local courthouse. On days when court was in session, and you’d see people all day long going in and out and hanging around, a local fellow I knew always called that ‘judgment day.’
Well, the eternal court is in session, in the Bible scenes we read today. Jesus tells His parable of the judgment of the nations, with the sheep and the goats, each with their own fate. And in Revelation 20 we have the vision of the Great White Throne Judgment.
Court cases and judgments and lawsuits and all scare me a bit. I know so little about it all, and I have never been to court. I want to avoid these things, I guess. There are many reasons anyone might fear the judgment of God, and a final judgment for us and the rest of the world.
But in our scripture story, the judgment of God is hoped for, pleaded for, and people looked forward to it.
The Psalms are full of this. We already spoke Ps. 7.
Psalm 96:12-13 Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.
In many scenes, a person calls out, longingly, hopefully, for God the Judge to arrive and judge the people. I think of Mary, when she rejoices about the baby to be born to her. She says these things about God:
Luke 1:52-53 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
This was Mary’s faith in the LORD, and in what the Lord’s Messiah would do. The work of the Judge of the universe is a good thing, scripturally. Cause for much rejoicing!
Who is it that rejoices? Well, the ones who were downtrodden, mistreated, used and abused. The poor and oppressed. The minority and those who’ve suffered the prejudice of others.
There’s a clue right in that word: prejudice. Pre-judge. So people of faith trust their God to make things right. That’s the good news about judgment, righteous judgment, the judgment of God. Past, present, future, and final judgment. The Master will make things right and good.
The fear and danger comes when we have a sense that we are among the ones to be judged for what we’ve done wrong. Then the terrifying imagery of biblical apocalypse adds to our dread of doom. Not to mention our teaching from scriptures that say things like … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) So, every one of us might be in trouble, in danger, found wanting, and found guilty!
Then, the scenes of Revelation 20 put the actual ‘fear of God’ into us. (Revelation 20:12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.
Even a parable of Jesus can alarm us. (Matthew 25)
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
The sense of feeling judgment and feeling judged is far different from the sense of your enemies being judged and you being vindicated and set free. And the dramatic visions of final judgment we have are so harsh, at times.
The book of the Revelation is filled with violent judgment images and language. As one Bible scholar put it, “there is far too much destroying in the Apocalypse. It ceases to be fun.” (Warren Carter, The Roman Empire and the New Testament, 2006, p. 135.) This has been one main source of criticism of the book of Revelation.
The repetition of destruction, all the scenes from chapter six through twenty, are not necessarily chronological, or even a whole bunch of separate events. They are visions that make the same point, over and over again. Seven seals on scrolls to be broken, seven trumpets, seven bowls of wrath, can be pictures that are making the same point. “Babylon,” symbolizing the enemy powers in the world, is doomed. “Babylon is doomed, nothing is more certain!”
Some Bible scholars through the centuries have developed detailed systems of explaining all the judgment scenes we find. Such as C. I. Schofield, in his famous reference Bible, which lists seven especially significant Biblical judgments, two of which we read today, in Matthew 25 and Revelation 21: the judgment of the nations at the return of Christ, and the judgment of the wicked dead at the end of the age.
I am not a dispensationalist like Schofield, or LaHaye and Jenkins, or Hagee. I side with others, who see these various apocalyptic judgment scenes all speaking of one thing. There simply is judgment and reckoning of all things, of all of us. The Revelation 20 scene of the White Throne Judgment tells us the final decision and results that God will bring about. Evil will surely be overthrown.
You might well ask me, or someone else, “but what do Baptists teach about this stuff?” I’m so glad you asked!
We don’t agree; we don’t teach just one thing. I’ve heard it said: put two Baptists together… and you’ll get three opinions! We Baptists are so diverse. The futurist, predicting, prophecy, dispensational views have been very popular with Baptists in North America. But others of us explain things quite differently.
Here, in Atlantic Canada, when two large Baptist groups joined in 1905 and 1906, we agreed upon this, in our document, The Basis of Union.
There will be a general judgement of quick and dead, of the just and the unjust, on the principles of righteousness, by the Lord Jesus Christ, at His second coming. The wicked will be condemned to eternal punishment, and the righteous received into fullness of eternal life and joy.
This allows for a variety of teachings on “last things,” including details of the final judgment.
Now, before this sermon ends, let’s deal with one more detail. If so much of the judgement is upon what people have done and not done, is there still any grace to save us? Why is there still judgment according to what we’ve done? I mean, I have always believed that we are saved by grace through faith: what Jesus has done gets us into the eternal kingdom, not what we have done.
Yet we find this in scripture this frequent, clear teaching: 2 Corinthians 5:10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. See also 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, and Romans 14:10. Not to mention Jesus in Matthew 25!
I’ve been working on this for some days now, and I can’t yet explain it. It is, to oversimplify it, ‘both and.’ We are both saved by God’s grace by putting our confidence in Jesus to redeem us and make us worthy now and on judgment day. And there is also a judgment day, revealing how we’ve lived our lives.
The popular British scholar, N. T. Wright, tries to explain it this way. “Justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world.” (Surprised By Hope, 2008, p. 140)
I am still trying to get my head around this. I have been asking Jesus about this. I will keep seeking.
At the very least, I can figure out two things. One: even when we are Christians, believers, born again, it matters how we live our lives. Just go back to Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ where He says things like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
And second: we can be happy with who it is who judges us and the whole world: it is Jesus!
N. T. Wright again: …the one through whom God’s justice will finally sweep the world is not a hard-hearted, arrogant, or vengeful tyrant but rather the Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief; the Jesus who loved sinners and died for them; the Messiah who took the world’s judgment upon himself on the cross. (Ibid, p. 141)
Three ‘parables.’ I suppose the Final Judgment will be like a junior high student, taken to the school office when caught smoking up in a bathroom. The Principal was busy, so she gets taken to the Vice Principal, who happens to be her own beloved mother.
The Day of Reckoning shall be like the fishing boat caught in a sudden, foggy storm that blows in, and then all the navigation equipment fails. After a long and frightful journey, and hope seems to be lost, the sound of waves on dangerous rocks gives way to calmer waters, and the boatmen recognize they have inadvertently entered the Digby Gut, the safety of their familiar haven.
And the Last Judgment will be as when a distressed shopper is trying to buy some groceries for the family, but at the checkout the debit card says “not approved,” because the bank account is empty! Suddenly, the next person in the lineup turns out to be a dear friend, who pays for the order.
“The judge will be Christ.” As Frederick Beuchner said, “In other words, the one who judges us most fully will be the one who loves us most fully.” (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 48)
PRAYERS of the People: Let us pray.
Jesus, You are full of love. You offer Yourself to us and the world. Your promises are sure and faithful and good. Again today, we praise Your.
Take the things we offer today, and use them well. Our gifts for the Church offering. The attention we have paid to the word of scripture. The plans we have shared for which we will now be working.
Christ, our coming Judge, we admit the ways we know we are failing. We also admit that we probably have no idea about some of our sins. Our hearts speak to You because we also need to know the next right steps to take, and we are unsure. May Your sacrifice of salvation for us be such a sure thing, in our lives. May we become all the more like You, and so really be Christians.
Hearer of Prayer, we give our heart’s concerns to You now. Hear our hopes and longings for these people and places…
Afghanistan and those who flee
Victims of fire and earthquake and flood
Candidates and workers in our upcoming federal election