This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Judgment of God, Part 2

In my last blog post, I promised to share the purposes of God in judgment, the revelation of grace in judgment, and Jesus’ message of judgment.  I promised this because I believe that the message of judgment has been ignored and even pilloried in both the Christian and non-Christian communities.  I also believe that a restoration of understanding of the judgment of God is necessary both to spiritual revival of believers and to societal reform in general.

What are the purposes of God in judgment?

God will not tolerate rivals.  Where people embrace objects of worship other than the true God, especially when they pretend to worship the true God as well, God will bring His judgment.  Consider these verses from the prophet Joel:
 2:27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.;
3:17 “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,
    who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy,
    and strangers shall never again pass through it.

Our worlds, our relationships, our feelings, our self-concepts have been the center or our attention for far too long.  Judgment awakens us to this and calls us to smash the idols of our hearts.  God alone is to be loved and worshiped above all things.  He will not tolerate rivals.

Second, God will fight against His people if necessary to bring them to repentance.  Judgment brings down pride and self-confidence.  God hedges us in until there is nowhere else to turn except to Him.  In Zephaniah 1:12-13, the LORD speaks of His people Judah:

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.”

When God’s people are complacent (v. 12), when God’s people say that the Lord will not act one way or another based on rebellion (v. 13), God will visit with judgment.

Third, God visits judgment on all nations that pridefully reject Him and His people.  Zephaniah 2:10 says:
This shall be their lot in return for their pride,
    because they taunted and boasted
    against the people of the Lord of hosts.

Putting God on Trial??
In all of these, we might think that we can accuse God of egotism.  That is, how dare God judge people for not honoring Him?  What gives God the right to do so, when, if any of us were to so act, we would be wrongly egotistical?  The answer is that God knows all things and, above all things, knows Himself supremely.  He is not being obnoxious when He knows that He Himself is the highest good, the most honorable object of worship and praise, and the only being worthy of worship and praise.   God deserves all honor and glory from His creation.  So much so, that creation will be judged wherever there is failure to give God the honor that is due Him.  Isaiah 48:10-11 is instructive here:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
    I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
    for how should my name be profaned?
    My glory I will not give to another.

The reason that God judges these matters so seriously is that the expressed purpose of creation’s existence is to bring honor and glory to the God who made it.  So, when we fail to honor and glorify God, we fail in our only mission.  Revelation 4:11 says this explicitly:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

God is not mean.  Rather, He knows that He is our highest good.  In fact, He is not just our highest good, He is THE highest good.  So, the true worship of God is the highest affection that we can pursue.  Any other pursuit pales by comparison.

So, how does the judgment of God reveal the grace of God?
We must first understand that grace is only understood as grace when we recognize that we only deserve judgment.  I fear that today, there is an expectation of the grace of God.  That is, we somehow think that we deserve God’s grace, or at least we can certainly expect God’s grace.  This leads to a shallow view of the sinfulness of sin, a diminishment of our shame before our Maker, and ultimately to a failure to understand the miracle of grace.  Grace is less wondrous when we think it is an obvious reaction of a holy God to ruined sinners.  Therefore, grace can only be comprehended when judgment is felt, is intellectually comprehended, and is indeed experienced.  The failure of the church at large to declare the righteous judgments of the Lord has led to a gross misunderstanding of grace as overlooking sin on the one hand and a diminishment of our wonder and joy over real grace on the other.

Next, we must recognize that some people will come to Christ because of fear of judgment.  In fact, that might be the only motivation which will move them to faith.  Fear might not be the best motivator, and there are many other reasons to come to faith in Christ.  However, let’s be clear—if the fear of real and coming judgment will cause a person (by means of the grace that God supplies) to come to repentance of sin and faith in Christ as Savior, then judgment has revealed the grace of God.  Jesus Himself considered this a good motivation.  Consider His words in Luke 12:4-5:
Do not fear those who can kill the body and afterwards have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the one who after he has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him.

A third consideration of how judgment reveals grace is how human beings think.  We all long for a verdict.  We want justice done; we look to human judges to give proper judgment.  This is a uniquely human quality.  There are no courts in the animal world, no police departments for dogs, no legislatures making laws among the apes, no executives carrying those laws out among flocks of birds, no judiciary interpreting the laws among the cats.  Have you ever considered why we were uniquely made this way—to want a verdict, to want judgment?  This comes from being made in the image of God.  We want to know that the righting of wrong will happen.  And in fact, the judgment of God is the assurance to the human race that ALL wrong will be righted, either by its satisfaction at the cross of Christ or by its satisfaction in the judgment of God upon the dwellers of the earth.  What a grace to know that ALL wrongs will be righted!  What comfort to the one who suffers terribly on this earth and never finds justice or judgment.  What a blessing to know that there will come a time when all the human race will acknowledge that God has done it correctly—all judgment has been properly, rightly, and perfectly meted out.  God wants to be worshipped for His true nature and character, which includes the making right of all wrong.  God will be honored and glorified among the nations.  Philippians 2:9-11 shows that this indeed will happen:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Finally, we ought to consider the words of Jesus about judgment.  He spoke quite frequently of judgment.  He used the fear of judgment to motivate people to repentance (see Luke 12:4-5 above).  He also pointed out that we ought to be careful in executing our own judgment (Matthew 7:2).  In fact, we will be accountable on the day of judgment for every careless word that we speak (Matthew 12:36).  Even something that we regard as a relatively minor offense like being angry at our brother subjects us to the judgment of God (Matthew 5:22).

There is a sizable portion of Jesus’ teaching in which He declares great judgment on those who have received the revelation of God via His Word and His Son and have rejected them.  Jesus’ words on this subject ought to sober everyone who has been privileged to hang around God’s people and to be exposed to the Word of God.  Jesus commonly states that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for those who smugly believe that simply their exposure to God’s truth somehow prevents them from judgment.  No, it is rather the repentance of heart, the submission of one’s life in faith in Christ in response to the truth that saves us from judgment.  Have you fooled yourself into thinking that because I attend church and am taught the Bible that that will mean that I escape judgment?  You will not, and the judgment will be harder for you because of your exposure to truth, unless you respond to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.  See: Matthew 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:41-42; Luke 10:14; 11:31-32.  Jesus asserts His position as judge.  That is, He is the judge of all the earth.  This position is one that Jesus has received from His Father.  John 5:22, 27:
The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.

The reason that Jesus gives for being judge is that all might honor Him.  When we go to a courtroom and the judge enters, everyone rises.  This is out of respect for the judge, for the rule of law, and ultimately for the real Lawgiver, the God of the universe.  The purpose of Jesus’ being judge is that all might honor Him, just as honor must flow to His Father.  John 5:22-24:

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.

Have you heard the word of Jesus and not yet believed?  Judgment will be worse for you!
But if you hear the word of Jesus, and believe that God sent Jesus to save you by His death at the cross, you will not come into judgment.  Instead, you have passed from death to life.
Judgment.  It’s not a word we hear much about these days.  But this neglected word might well be the most important word for today.  My prayer is that, as with Nineveh in the days of Jonah, the message of coming judgment might be used by the Spirit of God to grant great repentance and faith.

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