“The Four Last Things: Judgment” September 11, 2011
2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (Matthew 25:31-46)
Last Sunday I began a topical sermon series called
The Four Last Things—Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.
I explained that the phase—The Four Last Things—
is an old way of summarizing what is called eschatology—
the doctrine of last things.
What is going to happen at the end of my life as an individual?
What is going to happen at the end of the world? Of human history?
Those are not hypothetical questions. Very practical.
The way you answer them will determine the way you live every day.
INTRO: This month there have been lots of news stories commemorating
the 10th anniversary of September 11.
And accompanying all those articles and news stories are the pictures of that day—
Manhattan, the Pentagon, the field in western PA, the planes.
One detail in many of the pictures and videos that always catches my attention
is the response of the people in the street.
The pictures of the people watching this event unfold before their eyes.
First of all, it’s New York.
There are people from every race, every color, and every walk of life.
It’s like a snapshot of humanity.
Men and women, young and old, black and white, rich and poor.
All impatient, driven New Yorkers, proud citizens of the City that Never Sleeps,
people who would never stop on a busy work day morning to stare at anything—
But every one of them is looking up into the sky stunned,
their mouths hanging open, some silent, some weeping, some crying out,
some even screaming Oh God, oh God you hear them repeating.
It’s when I look at those pictures, even more than the Twin Towers falling,
that I realize why the Bible teaches that every disaster
is a foreshadowing of the day of judgment.
Remember, that’s what Jesus said about the disaster in Jerusalem that everybody
was talking about. A tower had collapsed and killed a bunch of people.
He connected it to the final judgment. “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”
That’s so typical of Christ and the entire Bible.
Everything is viewed through the lens of the day of judgment.
For example, remember the man in Psalm 73?
He was so troubled by the fact that he looks at life and the wicked people are
prosperous and carefree, and the righteous are suffering.
Then he remembers the judgment.
He says: “Then I discerned their end . . . then I understood their final destiny.”
The fact of the coming judgment profoundly altered his perception of world.
The Bible says over and over that this world and our lives and the human race
is moving to a day of final reckoning.
A day in which every human life will be measured by God’s standard,
and assigned it’s proper place in the world to come.
Now, here’s the question: Do you sincerely believe in the day of judgment?
Do you believe in it so strongly that it shapes the way you live?
It’s easy to criticize liberal churches for refusing to believe it.
But we often relegate this doctrine to a corner, so that it makes no difference
in our daily lives.
We are often guilty of saying the Apostles Creed,
“Coming to judge the quick and the dead” but don’t make it a regular part of our
conversation and understanding of the Christian life.
Here’s how the Apostle Peter framed the issue:
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar;
the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?”
There it is. You must believe so vividly that it makes you a certain kind of person.
Jesus says the work of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin, righteousness and
judgment. Have you been convicted of judgment?
Let’s look at this subject, consider these passages under two headings:
1. The purposes of the judgment
2. Your response to the judgment
MP#1 The purposes of the judgment
1. The first great purpose is the glory of God.
The glory of God’s grace and the glory of God’s justice.
During this age, the world refuses to submit to God’s moral law.
True goodness and true evil is debated even though God has spoken.
The world refuses to acknowledge its rebellion.
The world refuses to recognize the lordship of Jesus Christ.
The power of the Gospel to save people and give eternal life is denied by many.
Some can see it by eyes of faith, but most do not.
The world cannot see the profound difference between the saved and the lost.
The true destinies of people are hidden. The judgment will settle all debate.
It will vindicate God’s Word and God’s law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God’s grace to his people will be manifest, the rebellion of his enemies exposed.
Three years ago there was a news story you may remember.
Wasn’t covered in the mainstream media, only Christian news organizations.
There was a Saudi Arabian woman named Fatima Al-Matayri, 26 years old.
She became a Christian through an Arabic internet forum.
Her only church, her only Christian fellowship—posting on this forum.
Her brother looked on her computer, told the family she had converted.
She was locked in her room for four hours while the family decided her fate.
While she was waiting to die she wrote a poem. Let me read you a portion.
May the Lord Jesus guide you, Oh Muslims
And enlighten your hearts that you might love others . . .
What we profess are the words of the Master of the prophets
We do not worship the cross, and we are not possessed
We worship the Lord Jesus, the Light of the world
Truly, we love our homeland, and we are not traitors
We take pride that we are Saudi citizens
How could we betray our homeland, our dear people?
How could we, when for death - for Saudi Arabia - we stand ready?
The homeland of my grandfathers, their glories, and odes - for it I am writing
There are tears on my cheek, and Oh! the heart is sad
To those who become Christians, how you are so cruel!
And the Messiah says, "Blessed are the Persecuted"
And we for the sake of Christ all things bear
Your swords do not concern me, not evil nor disgrace
Your threats do not trouble me, and we are not afraid
Oh History record! and bear witness, Oh Witnesses!
We are Christians - in the path of Christ we tread
Take from me this word, and note it well
You see, Jesus is my Lord, and He is the Best of protectors
I advise you to pity yourself, to clap your hands in mourning
See your look of ugly hatred
As to my last words, I pray to the Lord of the worlds
Jesus the Messiah, the Light of Clear Guidance
That He change nations, and set the scales of justice aright
And that He spread Love among you, Oh Muslims
After she sent that, her brother and her father cut her tongue out so they
could lecture her on her false faith without her arguing, then they killed her.
On the day of judgment, God will be glorified as he vindicates Fatima Al-Matayri.
And Christ will be glorified as he proclaims that she is his own,
and her protestations of loyalty to her country, love for Muslims proven.
And the hatred of her persecutors will be shown for what it is.
She says: Oh History record! and bear witness, Oh Witnesses! And it will.
We don’t know how this will happen, how the millions upon millions of stories
will be told—hers is just one of many.
But the judgment is not something separated from life.
God will be glorified in human history. His grace and justice in every life.
2. The second great purpose is the revelation of rewards and punishments.
In human courts, judge does not know how he will rule until he hears evidence.
That won’t be the case at the judgment.
It won’t be an investigative trial to determine who is saved or lost.
Because God already knows everything about every life.
He already knows the destiny of each soul.
As a believer in Christ you are assured of your salvation now.
You are told the outcome of the day of judgment right now. Jesus said:
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me
has eternal life and will not be condemned, he has crossed over from death to life.
So you face the judgment day knowing what the verdict will be in your case.
“Come, you who are blessed of my Father, take your inheritance,
the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
And on the flipside, those who do not believe “are condemned already.”
But the judgment will reveal the degree of reward or punishment each person
will receive as a saved person or as a lost person.
There will be greater and lesser rewards in heaven,
and there will be greater and lesser punishments in hell.
Some Christians object to this understanding of the judgment.
They argue that since Christians are judged according to Christ’s righteousness
and not our own, then our own works, good or bad, are immaterial.
The things we’ve done in this life won’t come up for consideration.
And sometimes they argue: If the bad things I’ve done are brought up on
the day of judgment, that will spoil the blessedness of heaven.
But the Bible clearly teaches that the thoughts, words, and deeds of every life
will be judged—both the saved and the lost.
Here is this powerful verse in 2 Corinthians 5, so clear.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive
what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
There are others, Ecclesiastes 12:14
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.”
And Matthew 12:36
“But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for
every careless word they have spoken.”
And even more to the point, the Bible speaks of reward and rank among saved.
Jesus’ parables of the talents and minas about preparation for the second coming.
Servants given greater or lesser rewards depending on faithfulness of service.
What’s interesting is that the reward in heaven is not greater wealth or leisure—p
but more responsibility.
Servant faithful with 10 minas (3 months wages) made governor over 10 cities.
Why would we even think things would be equal in heaven?
We all know Christians who are more faithful, pure, humble, and obedient.
Why would we suppose that those things won’t be recognized and rewarded
by Christ. And that won’t be a problem. We’ll rejoice with them.
Parents, you love all your children, all part of the family.
But some harder workers, some cause you lots of grief. Differences.
Why should it not be the case with our Father in heaven?
It troubles some Christians to think their sins brought up again at the judgment,
but the Bible says they will—the things done in the body, good or bad.
Our sins must be made known
if Christ’s glory as our Redeemer is to be revealed for all the world to see. Remember, the first purpose of judgment is to glorify God’s grace.
How can that be seen without the revelation of our guilt
and the covering of that guilt by the blood of Christ?
It will be as forgiven sins that our sins will be revealed,
but revealed they will be.
There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”
None of this teaching in any way sets aside the perfect justification of
those who have trusted in Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us a lot more but this is enough—
There will be a final judgment of all men, including ourselves,
for the glory of God’s grace and justice.
We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ even as saved people.
We will give an account to him of our lives.
We will hear the record of our deeds, good and bad, and be awarded accordingly.
Now, as Peter asks in his letter:
In light of this great day, what kind of people ought you to be?
That brings us to the second point—Your response to the judgment.
MP#2 Your response to the judgment
Peter answers his own question.
You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to day of God and speed its coming.
Let’s start with the second thing he says:
You ought to look forward to the judgment and speed its coming.
Welcome it. Pray for it.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Did you know you’re praying for the day of judgment come when you pray that?
As sobering as the thought of standing before the Lord is, even as saved people,
we should welcome it.
We should want to see Jesus Christ and his rule vindicated.
We should want to see those who have trusted in him acknowledged and awarded.
We should want to see the enemies of God dismayed.
We have the barest notion of the wrath of God toward sin.
On that day will understand, like we never have, what Christ delivered us from.
When the Lord says to those on his left:
“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for devil and his angels.”
We will feel, with a vividness have never felt before, that we deserve those words.
But why are they not spoken over us? Why will we get a glad welcome?
Because Jesus died for us. He suffered that curse on the cross.
Because his Holy Spirit has called us and regenerated us.
You ought to look forward to the day of God and speed its coming,
because it puts every other problem in your life in its proper perspective.
If you know that you’ve been delivered from the day of wrath and justice—
then nothing should rattle you.
I’ve Bishop J.C. Ryle’s words many times:
(For the Christian) “the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt a paid debt, the great disease a healed disease, and the great work a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small. (This) makes him patient in tribulation, calm under bereavements, unmoved in sorrow, not afraid of evil tidings, in every condition content; for it gives him a fixedness of heart. It sweetens his bitter cups; it lessens the burden of his crosses; it smooths the rough places over which he travels; it lightens the valley of the shadow of death. It makes him always feel that he has something solid beneath his feet and something firm under his hands—a sure friend by the way, and a sure home at the end.”
What are the circumstances and situations in your life that are troubling you?
What are the tribulations, bereavements, sorrows, evil tidings, bitter cups,
crosses and rough places that you are suffering right now?
How do you face those things and not fall apart? Not fall into despair or bitterness?
Real power comes by looking forward to the judgment and praying for its coming.
When you will stand openly acknowledged and acquitted.
Now, let’s cover the first thing Peter says about Christian’s response to judgment.
You ought to live holy and godly lives.
A few verses later he adds
“make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”
Why is the judgment a motive for you to live a holy and godly life?
Peter is not saying “You ought to live a holy life so that on judgment day
the Lord will look at you and say, ‘Because you’ve been good,
I’m not going to destroy you, I’m going to save you.’”
No, Peter is saying to Christians, “You ought to live a holy life because you have
already been delivered by Christ from the wrath of that day.
You ought to live a holy life because God can’t destroy you on that day.
You ought to live a holy life because for everyone who trusts in Jesus,
the judgment day is a day of salvation and joy.
You ought to live a holy life because Jesus will crown your obedience
and faithfulness with commendation and reward.
If you have been delivered from God’s wrath by the death of Christ—
how can you live any other way than to strive with all your might
to live in a way that pleases him?
Has Jesus saved you from judgment so that you can love money
and devote your life to making money and accumulating stuff?
Has Jesus suffered God’s justice for you so that you can indulge
in sexual immorality and foul language and spiritual laziness?
Has Jesus changed judgment day for you from a day of total loss
to a day of eternal blessing so that you can be discontented
with your lot in life and complain about your circumstances?
No—he has saved you so that on that day when he comes to judge the earth,
you can meet him with a clear conscience and with joy and receive the blessing
from his hand—a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.
And, listen, this goes hand in hand—
On that day you will also give an account of your life, your Christian life.
You will give an account of how you have treated his grace.
You will give an account to Christ of your faithfulness and of your sins.
And this itself is God’s grace. The fact that he has told us and warned us
that even as saved people we will have to give an account for every
idle word and everything done in the body, good or bad—that’s grace.
Isn’t that the very way we treat our children?
One of the great expressions of parental love is teaching them to connect
their behavior with consequences. That’s wisdom.
We’ve all known parents who think love means sheltering their children from
ever facing the consequences of their actions. They’re brats and delinquents.
We’re God’s children.
We need to have that same connection reinforced all through our lives.
We are always acting as if our behavior just disappears after a time.
That the consequences of our words and actions just goes away.
We resent it when people remember bad things we did a long time ago.
But there is a moral permanence to all our deeds and there is a day when
as God’s children will give an account.
Positively this means all our unnoticed acts of loyalty to Lord will be recognized.
Negatively this means that all our sins will eventually find us out.
Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed.
This should make us very unwilling to sin—knowing every sin will be discovered
and have some eventual consequence, even if the sin is forgiven by Christ.
And it should make us determined to live in obedience to God,
knowing that every tiny act of obedience will one day have its reward.
The church father Jerome said:
“Whether I eat or drink or whatever I do, I think I still hear the sound of these words
in my ear: ‘Arise you dead and come to judgment.’”
I am so grateful for the revelation of the judgment. I know I need it.
I wish I remembered it and expected it every hour of every day.
I wish the sight of it was always fixed in my mind’s eye.
Hugh Latimer, the 16th century English Reformer and martyr was brought
to trial before the bishops. three times a week they would call him into a
big room and ask him complicated theological questions.
They wanted to trip him up. Hoped he would say something wrong so he
could be condemned and burned.
One time brought into the room, noticed a tapestry hanging over huge fireplace.
The tapestry had never been there before. Then they put him in a chair near
the fireplace, a place he had never been asked to sit before.
He was asked to speak loudly, had never been told to do that before.
He wondered what was going on. And then he heard, from behind the tapestry
a faint sound, the sound of a pen scratching on paper.
Realized all his answers were being written down so that his enemies could
scrutinize them later for errors to condemn him. He was extra careful.
Well, there is a book being written of our lives—yours and mine.
A pen is scratching away all the while—what we think, what we say, what we do.
What we fail to think and do. But never a moment goes by without an entry
being made in that book.
God has told us this. He wants us to be careful.
He wants us to hear, with ears of faith, the sound of that pen behind tapestry.
He wants us to think of that day we stand before his Son our Savior who it is
our privilege to serve, and give an account of our lives.
He wants us to remember John’s vision in Revelation:
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.
Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what
was written in the books, by what they had done.”
And Jesus’ words, his very last words to us in that same book:
“Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to
everyone according to what he has done.”
Time’s a wastin’, brothers and sisters.
Time to empty your book of what you will not want to be there
and time to fill it with what you will. The Lord has told you what is to come.