Worship, Aug 22 – The Final Judgment

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

Worship, Aug 15 – Resurrection, Rapture, Tribulation

Welcome to this post of materials from our Digby Baptist worship service. The children’s story and the sermon are recorded and posted here, along with the text of the sermon, and some prayer, to read. The bulletin is available here, with more service details, news, and prayer info. Welcome to our website!

Revelation 20:1-10 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Was that a scary scripture passage I read for us today? We got: a bottomless pit, a dragon aka the Devil aka the Satan, judges on thrones, the souls of people who had been beheaded, a beast and the mark of the beast on human bodies, the dead coming back to life, a second death, fire coming down from heaven, a lake of fire and sulphur, a false prophet, and eternal torment. 

This was just ten verses. No wonder so many novels and movies and shows have been made using all this Biblical, apocalyptic material. 

In twenty-five years I think I have never preached a sermon about the Rapture – the sudden taking up of the saved people of earth to join Jesus someday. I have never given a sermon about the Tribulation – the troubling time predicted for believers to suffer through (post-trib), or perhaps to escape from before it happens here (pre-trib). I have never spoken about the Millennium, a one thousand year period mentioned for Christ and His saints to reign upon earth – we read of that today in Rev. 20. There are Bible believers who understand that Christ will arrive before this thousand year reign (premillennialism), those who think He will not arrive until the end of the thousand years (postmillennialism), and others who believe that there will not literally be this thousand year reign of Jesus (amillennialism). 

I have preached many times about the resurrection of Jesus, and of the saints. It seems simpler and more central.

We have this great Christian hope that there will be a new heavens and earth for us all to live upon, one day, with God right here among us. How we get there? That’s the question answered by the apocalyptic stuff of the Bible. So many images and dreams paint the picture of the next life will be like, in dozens of ways. What’s it like?

It is like the Promised Land, but far better than what it has actually been like, for the past few thousand years.

It is like a new holy city, Jerusalem, spectacular with jewels and gold. 

It is like a peaceable kingdom, a lush wilderness, where even the lion and the lamb lie down together for a nap. 

It is like a grand banquet, a wedding banquet, even.

How do we get there from here? Well, a lot of stuff in our lives here has to be trashed, eh? Get rid of the evil, the injustice, the pain, the grief and sorrow, the guilt, the isolation,  the meaninglessness, the bad memories, the hurts, and so on. All this is promised in the Bible passages.

Such as Revelation 20. It is tough, it is rough, but the point is the same: the bad is going to end and be destroyed, and the good will live on. 

That’s about as much as I have figured out in, oh, forty years of hearing about all this. And it is the God we know and worship and follow and serve who accomplishes the mission. We might as well get on board and help out!

But let me say more about what to do with these Bible texts. There have been several ways, in the past two hundred years, of understanding ‘last things.’ There is the Predictive (future) way of seeing things. The prophecies of Revelation and Mark 13 and Daniel 7 and so on are about the future – our future. Still in the future, front the vantagepoint of 2021. This futurist way of interpreting is very common and popular in North American Protestantism. It goes way back in church history. In more recent times, the Scofield Reference Bible is from this tradition. As are the Left Behind novels. They come out of dispensational theology, which interprets history in a series of ages or chapters or dispensations. This really got started almost two hundred years ago by the Plymouth Brethren pastor and teacher, J N Darby. 

In our time, as in ages past, there has been a lot of teaching that we are in the end times, and some of what has been predicted has finally been happening, in our lifetimes, with much yet more to happen, including the actual return of Jesus Christ.

A very different approach is to see apocalyptic Bible material as all about the Past (Preterist). The End is near? No, it all happened back in the year 70! Bible scholar C. H. Dodd, among others, was influential in this school of thought. So, in the case of the book of the Revelation, it was all written for the people of its own time, the decades after Jesus’ lifetime here. The fall of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 was what Jesus and John spoke of. The Beast with the number 666 was Roman emperor Nero, or some other leader way back then. And so on.

Other ‘interpretations’ fall somewhere between the future and the past focus. Some of these methods are called the poetic, the political, and the pastoral-prophetic approaches. The images and ideas are poetic, and relate to the powers that be in our world. 

They also spoke in the past to people about their world, be it 500, 1,000, or 1,500 years ago. These Bible teachings also speak to things coming in the future. But they are not describing things literally. Not telling us details of what will happen. They are holy visions filled with meaning, but not predictions, and not history either. Eugene Peterson called Revelation a “theological poem” that “does not… call for decipherment” but “evokes wonder.” (Reversed Thunder, pp. 7, xiii)

The words and spectacle of it all is still powerful, but we modern folk feel such need to understand in detail and explain what we are reading.

Professor Michael Gorman wrote a book titled ‘Reading Revelation Responsibly.’ I like these five strategies for reading this Bible text; they can help us make use of all the Bible’s apocalyptic materials.

One: recognize that the central… image of Revelation is the Lamb that was slaughtered.  We sing the words of chapter 5, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” The song is not ‘worthy is the Man with the sword,’ or ‘worthy is the End of the world,’ or ‘worthy is the Lion that roared!’

Jesus wins, the Bible tells us, but not by inflicting violence, by absorbing violence. Not by killing but by speaking. The vision of Jesus riding a horse, in chapter 19, has Him with robes dipped in blood – His own blood – and with a sword: but not in His hand, in His mouth. It is by Jesus’ words, not by violent harm, that He wins. His name, in chapter 19, is the Word of God, not the sword of God.

Two: Remember that Revelation was first of all written by a first-century Christian using first-century ways of talking and writing and imagining things. John and His audience of little churches near the Mediterranean spoke a different language, had a different world view, different politics and problems back then, and different needs. Of course, all the other apocalyptic bits of the New and Old testaments are similar – they are ancient literature. So the images and ideas from back then need some translating so that this Word can make sense and influence us today. 

Three, Michael Gorman advises, abandon so-called literal, linear approaches to the book as if it were history written in advance, and use an interpretive strategy of analogy rather than correlation. He says ‘Revelation is image, metaphor, poetry, political cartooning.’ (p. 78)

I agree with him, and this influences my approach to preaching and teaching about The End of things, according to our Faith. For instance, my warnings to you about the Antichrist (or antichrists, as 1 John 2 says) are about the things and people and organizations that are against Jesus and His ways. And surely, if we learn to recognize when something political, or economic, or religious is anti-Jesus right now, we will recognize other, greater Anitchrists in the future.

Fourth strategy: Focus upon the book’s call to public worship and discipleship.  It has this running theme of worship all through it – all the lyrics we have put to our own music today. It has seven benedictions or blessings scattered through the pages. And it calls the readers to follow, follow the slain Lamb. 

Gorman claims, ‘Revelation calls believers to non- retaliation and nonviolence, and not to a literal war of any sort, present or future.’ (p. 79) This may seem unbelievable to you, if you have a sense of all the violent scenes in Rev. More about this next Sunday – about the final Judgment – and the week after – about ‘the End of the World.’

The fifth and final strategy for using apocalyptic literature goes one step further: Place the images of death and destruction in Revelation within the larger framework of hope. I want to believe Gorman is right, saying “The death and destruction in Revelation are symbolic of the judgement and cleansing of God that is necessary…” (p. 79, emphasis mine) To make things right, some stuff has got to be destroyed, it is as simple as that, including stuff within and part of us, you and me. The violent imagery of the Bible speaks a language people could understand, without saying this is literally what happens.

It is little wonder that some Christian thinkers of our lifetimes have titled their books about last things like this:

Theology of Hope – Jurgen Moltmann

God of Hope and the End of the World – John Polkinghorne

Surprised by Hope – N. T. Wright

Hope. So we take Revelation 20:1-10 and see it within the bigger picture of hope, given to us, given to the world. We take 1 Thessalonians 4 and see it in the same light. Sara read for us this text, which is not as violent but still as mysterious as Rev. 20. It has been made to sound like it predicts the Christians being suddenly, one day, getting to fly up into the sky to meet Jesus coming down. Darby invented the term ‘rapture’ for this, which is not in the Bible. And me, I side with the scholars who don’t think this is a literal future event, like we read in ‘Left Behind.’ 

1 Thess 4 is another moment of poetically describing the new life of all believers, some day. The resurrection. And it makes the point that no one is going to be left out. Not the people already buried. Not the people still alive when the return of Jesus happens. 

I take my biggest clue about this from verse 18. Therefore encourage one another with these words. That’s the point and the purpose of what Paul just wrote here. Encouragement. No, don’t scare the wits out of people with this chapter. Don’t confuse them, don’t make it complicated. Encourage one another. 

And be faithful to God. To Jesus, the Lamb. Don’t follow the other powers and leaders of life first. We’ve gotta have them, yes. I already voted, some of you did. We might be voting again soon. We all have to shop and buy things, but don’t build your life upon all that. 

Encourage one another: that Jesus will have the last word. That He has, in a sense, already taken care of evil and pain and trouble and unfairness and death. Looking to Christ is the best way of life, now and forever.

You and I are not going to be the same. We don’t have to be. I am not much interested in the rapture. I’m not particularly expecting it, ever. I am living and awaiting the resurrection. New life! This life is so good, what could the next be like? Wow!

Dianne reminded me last week of that great old story of the woman who had been an amazing, generous cook. She would always tell people at the dinner table, “Keep your fork, there’s something better yet to come.” Sure enough, cake or pie or cookies would be there.

When she died, she was laid out in her casket in the local funeral parlour. In her hand was placed a fork, so when people asked, those who knew would explain, “Because there’s something better yet to come.” Amen!

PRAYER after the Sermon: Jesus, O Jesus, in wisdom You still do not tell us when or exactly how You shall return. Praise to You! You do not reveal just what pains and troubles we shall face when our lives end, or the end of the age comes. Glory to You! You have called upon us, once again, to seek and follow You. Honour to You! You are worthy to lead us and set us free to bless this world, now and forever. Help us keep all the lessons about The End of the Age in perspective. And help our forgetting of what would lead us astray. Amen.