“…from there, he shall come to judge
the living and the dead…”
As we have studied The Apostles’ Creed so far, we’ve encountered some things we probably would prefer not to talk about…There was the question: “Why did Jesus have to die?” There was that thing about the Devil being a real person who is active in the world today…Then there was that business about Jesus descending into Hell…And last week we watched him ascend into Heaven on a cloud like some levitation stunt…Now we come to JUDGMENT – we really don’t want to talk about that!
In seminary we learned how important it is to have some sort of plan for how you will preach over the course of your career…· The Lectionaryhas long been my plan-of-choice. The danger, without a plan, is that you will focus only on those parts of the Bible most familiar or most enjoyable to you…The result is a church where every Sunday features a “home on the range” service where everyone is smiling and “seldom is heard a discouraging word”…The Apostles’ Creed reminds us that we must engage the entire Gospel, not just our favorite parts.
The thing is – this idea of Christ coming back to judge all humanity ought to be a source of comfort, peace, and hope…Let’s see if we can look at this issue from that perspective this morning. In a culture where individual rights are celebrated and protected, we are very familiar with the concept of judges and judgments…Our civil and criminal courts are jammed with all manner of reminders of the powers of the judiciary and our right to sue anybody…These human courts, however, bear little resemblance to the perfect righteous justice God will provide…The promise is that Christ will return to judge all humanity and set things right that have been left awry by sin and evil…This is a good thing and Christians have been waiting anxiously for it for 2,000 years.
The beginning of this affirmation is a clue to how great this day will be…“…he shall come…” Someday, when we least expect it, Jesus Christ will literally step into human history again and, this time, everyone will recognize him…In Matthew 24, Jesus says that when he returns all the nations of the earth will see him on the clouds coming in power and glory…Paul told the Thessalonians that Christ’s return would come with the trumpet call of God…It’s important that we understand this…The “thief in the night” imagery in the Bible is not about Christ’s return being a secret – hear the legend of The Rapture stories here – it is about the Second Coming being a SURPRISE…When Jesus returns it will be in one, great, unexpected, climactic and very public event that will everyone will recognize.
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10-12)
So, why should we look forward to this great Day of Judgment instead of dreading it? There are several things to consider here; some of them may not seem comforting to us now, but we must try to think of them from God’s perspective.
First, all sins will be made known…
In Luke’s gospel Jesus says: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the housetops.”(12:2-3) Really? Everything we thought we’d gotten away with is going to be brought out in the open? This we should celebrate? Really? YES, we should because this final judgment means that everything will be set right and that is Good News! Imagine what it will be like for the weight of all the sin and secrecy to be lifted from everyone…The burden of carrying our own guilt around with us will be gone; what a relief! We hear a lot about how people believe in a God of love and mercy; they simply cannot conceive of a God of judgment…We need to understand that the biblical concept of God’s love is that God will put everything back into place after we mess things up…Love without real justice is just sentimental mush. If we look at this last judgment from God’s point-of-view, we realize that God has already taken the burden of what humanity deserved…Jesus already took our sins to the Cross…He already accepted the guilty verdict…Judgment is “that great come and get it day”when the whole world is invited to finally let go of our sin and share in this great gift of grace…
Second, Judgment Day vindicates our faith…
We’ve all heard about that Book of Sins in Heaven where every detail of our miserable lives is kept so we can pay for our transgressions…Thank the Lord that is not the only book in Heaven! There is also The Book of Life…a place that records all those who have placed their faith in Jesus…We might also call this “The Balance Book”…Our faith tells us that those who accept God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ can count on the stain of their sin being overshadowed by the Life of Jesus. Our mess is balanced by Jesus’ perfection…Instead of fear, Judgment Day should bring us vindication and joy…We win, not because we are so good or without sin; we win because we have persevered in faith. We win because God wants us to winand gives us every chance to win.
Finally, judgment is followed by reward…
I want to be clear here that I do not believe that some people get a better, bigger, or brighter place in heaven because of how good they are on earth. I don’t buy the version of heaven that says that the better you are the greater your reward will be. That sets us up for works-based salvation and a “neener-neener” concept of eternity – “My cloud’s better than your cloud ‘cause I was more generous than you!” Paul’s teaching is clear: “By grace you have been saved, through faith…it is the gift of God…for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”(Ephesians 2:8-10) We cannot save ourselves, but we spend our lives responding to God’s grace by following Christ’s example in the ways in which we help and care for one another. Judgment is not about how good we’ve been; it’s only about whose we are. We should anticipate the Day of Judgment with joy and excitement because it represents the fulfillment of God’s plan in Jesus Christ…It’s not just about our being saved…It’s not just about where we will spend eternity…It is also that we can rest assured that, in spite of all the evil and wickedness in the world, God will someday put everything right again…In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen