Posted by: reformedmusings | August 3, 2008

Lord’s Day Exhortation – Jesus as Judge

Jesus as Judge

Old Testament passage: Psalm 32
New Testament passage: Revelation 20:11-21:11
Confession: Heidelberg Catechism Question 52
Sermon text – John 5:21-30

In the Presbyterian Church in America, only teaching elders like Pastor Webster and those specially licensed may preach. Ruling elders like myself can present from the pulpit occasionally, but when we do it is called “exhorting” rather than “preaching”. I have always wondered what the difference was between the two, because the Book of Church order doesn’t say. At General Assembly each year, the outgoing moderator traditionally delivers the sermon or exhortation at the first night’s worship service. This year the outgoing moderator was a ruling elder and, in preparation, he researched this very issue. He came to the conclusion that the difference between preaching and exhorting is…about 10 minutes. Those preparing for fellowship today stand forewarned.

The Final Judgment. Standing before the Great White Throne in heaven with the books opened to your page as we read earlier from Revelation. Does that image bring you comfort or dread? We’re going to look at this subject today in light of Jesus’ teaching and within the context of Pastor Brian’s preaching through the Gospel of John, especially on God’s magnificent grace.

The secular world has varying perspectives on the Final Judgment. One of my favorites comes from an old Blood, Sweat, and Tears song: “I know there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell.” I always found that contradiction interesting, but I think that it represents the majority view amongst non-Christians.

Another perspective comes from John Lennon’s song Imagine. In it, he asks us to imagine that there’s no heaven, no hell, no religion, no countries, no possessions. He saw that as a kind of panacea for the world’s ills. I find that view particularly interesting in light of the history of atheistic communism in the 20th century. They supposedly lived out those very ideals, yet massacred about 100 million of their own people. In the 19th century, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared that we killed God, with the net result in the 20th century that we killed each other in record numbers outside of war. But that’s an exhortation for a different day.

But what does the Bible say about our judgment as believers, those who place our only hope for eternal life in Jesus perfect life, sacrifice on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day? Let’s read Jesus’ words as recorded by John in his gospel. Please turn to John 5:21-30 in your Bibles:

21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (ESV)

From this passage I’d like to point out three things: 1) How these verses relate to similar passages; 2) Who judges? 3) The basis for that judgment. Lastly we’ll consider how we should live our lives in light of this passage.

First, judgment is a recurring theme throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. Smaller-scale judgments recorded there include the Fall itself, Cain’s punishment, the great flood in Noah’s time, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues on Egypt, and sending Judah into exile in Babylon. Certainly judgment is nothing new in the New Testament.

All these Old Testament judgments were outwardly based on the conduct of those judged. Yet, there’s something deeper at play. Disobedience to God’s laws betrays an inner attitude of rebellion against the Creator and His created order. The Sermon on the Mount makes this point very clearly—conduct rises from intent. This is consistent with Ecclesiastes 12:14, which says:

For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

On the other hand, passages like 2 Corinthians 5:10 seem somewhat at odds with our text today:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Yet the same Paul writes in Romans 8:1 that:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How do we reconcile these statements and the others like them? Let’s start with our second point.

Who does the judging? Verses 22, 26, and 27 from our reading today clearly say that Jesus will be our judge. The Father has delegated that authority to the Son. In Acts 17:31, Paul offers Christ’s resurrection as the guarantee. So now consider Paul’s further explanation Romans 8:2-4:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

So we have been set free in Christ. He lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father. He obediently died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins that we could never pay. The Father raised Jesus on the third day in vindication of His sinlessness and the perfection of His sacrifice. Further, 2 Cor 5:21 says that just as He took our sins upon Himself on the cross, He inputed His righteousness to us the we might become the righteousness of God. This Jesus who suffered, died for us, rose again, and credited His righteousness to us is the very same Jesus who will execute the Final Judgment. The judge is also our savior and advocate!

Peter describes Christ’s ability to uphold us in his second letter, where he finds the model for the final judgment in past judgments:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;  and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

God is faithful, having preserved His chosen in past judgments, and giving us perfect assurance that He will do so in the coming final judgment. In Christ, our judge is our savior and will also be our defense attorney, interceding for us on our behalf. And He does it pro bono—for free by His matchless grace!

What’s the basis of the Final Judgment? Again we come to the apparent contrast between verses like John 5:24 and 2 Cor 5:10. Paul says that we will be all come before the judgment seat to give account. Jesus said in verse 24 of our today’s text that believers do not come into judgment but have already passed from death to life. Is Paul disagreeing with Jesus? Hopefully you all know better than that.

The answer is found most clearly in Revelation 20 and 21 which we read earlier. Let’s look again at Revelation 20:12:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

Note carefully that two sets of books were opened before the throne. The first books contained all that had been done on the earth. Were we be judged by that book, none of us could stand before our Holy Judge. But the second is the book of life. What is the book of life? It is the master roll of the elect. Jesus himself tells us in Revelation 3:5:

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

The book of life is mentioned seven times in the New Testament, six just in Revelation. Paul refers to it in Philippians 4:3 were he talks about fellow laborers in Christ whose names appear in the book of life. Revelation 20:15 makes it clear that those who do not believe, whose names thus do not appear in the book of life, are cast into the eternal punishment of the lake of fire.

But we who believe and trust in Christ alone for our salvation have our names written in the book of life. Revelation 21:27 says that only those written into that book will enter heaven and the new Jerusalem, the glories on which Pastor Brian preached a few weeks ago. Rejoice, fellow believer, that your name is written in the book of life!

But wait. Jesus speaks in verse 29 of our reading about those who have done good and those who have done evil. Revelation 20:12 still says that all will be judged according to what we have done. What about all that? The answer comes through another question: What is the work of God? Jesus was asked this very question in John 6:28, 29:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Jesus couldn’t be any clearer. We are simply to believe and trust in Him. In doing so, we will be judged based on His perfect righteousness imputed to us. As Paul says so beautifully in Romans 3:21-26:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Is there a finality in that? You bet, just as we read in verse 24 of today’s text. Jesus said it best in His last words on the cross: “It is finished.” His perfect obedience on earth for our salvation was finished. The payment for our sins was finished. Our passing from death to life was finished. There on the cross…all finished. No fear need remain in the Christian heart. Perfect peace reigns as we rest on Christ alone, in full assurance of His promises. As Romans 8:1 said, there is NO condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. In saying so, Paul is in perfect agreement with Jesus on the final judgment.

If you are still awake, you may be wondering how Psalm 32 fit into all this. Psalm 32 displays David’s certainty in God’s just judgment, that God does save those He has chosen and punishes the wicked in accordance with their sins. Yet, verse 10 shows that David understood that conduct wasn’t the underlying reason:

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.

David clearly recognized God’s grace to His chosen.

For completeness, I need to mention rewards here. Our works as believers, although not judged for condemnation since Christ paid that penalty for us, are used in consideration for heavenly rewards. The Scriptures speak of the crowns of life, righteousness, glory, etc. This topic would require at least one dedicated sermon to cover. So again, although our works are not used as a basis for any kind of judgment, they are used to assign heavenly rewards. In consistency with 2 Cor 5:10, our rewards are what we believers are due for what we have done in the body.

One last and critically important note on Jesus’ wonderful statement in verse 24. Note carefully that Jesus speaks in the past tense: “…has passed from death to life.” Jesus speaks of it, even before the cross, as if it were already done. This vividly displays the certainty of our salvation in Christ. Christian, rest assured in the grace of what Christ has won for you.

So, how then should we live? Heidelberg Catechism question #52 which we read earlier sums it up nicely. We should take great comfort in the coming judgment, assured that we are written into the book of life by His matchless grace, and will enjoy all the heavenly joys and glories.

Further, our own Westminster Larger Catechism says in question #90:

What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and for ever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.

Note carefully the words “acknowledged and acquitted.” And how are we righteous? Not by our own works, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. I cannot say this often enough. We simply have to believe, despair of our own works, and trust in Christ alone for our salvation.

We should live lives of gratitude for all that Jesus has done, continues to do, and will do for us. Though the last chapter has not yet transpired, it has already been written. As the group The Cathedrals sang, “We read the back of the book and we win.”

In doing so, we should also bring glory to God in our motives and our conduct. Not that our works will earn us salvation, for they certainly will not, but that they will glorify our Father and our God before men. Yet, always under grace, knowing and trusting that even when we fail, our Father still loves us. He will never remove anyone He has chosen from the book of life, wherein we were written before the very foundation of the world.

In conclusion, I can summarize all this no better than the apostle Paul, who laid out our great hope and how to live as a result in Ephesian chapter 2:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

If you are trusting in Christ alone for your salvation, you have already passed from death to life. You have nothing to fear at the final judgment, but will be openly acknowledged and acquitted. We live under grace, and oh what a peace that should bring to the Christian!

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