Here comes the judge

How a sinner may be justified before God, the Lord and Judge of all, is a question of no common importance to every child of man. It contains the foundation of all our hope, inasmuch as while we are at enmity with God, there can be no true peace, no solid joy, either in time or in eternity.

— John Wesley, “Justification by Faith

I was preaching this morning from Mark 8:38, where Jesus warns that if we are ashamed of him during our time on Earth, he will be ashamed of us when he comes in glory. During my preparation during the week and in the sermon itself, I was deeply aware of the stark moment that lies before us all.

It is something we gloss over in the Apostles’ Creed when we say “he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

We breeze right past it.

He will come to judge.

It is what Paul writes about in Romans 14. It is preached over and over again in Acts. It is a core truth of Christianity that Jesus Christ will judge each and every one of us. We will stand before him, and there will be one of two verdicts offered — the Bible suggests no third or middle way here. It will either be “well done my faithful servant” or “I never knew you.”

In much of the church, if this is acknowledged at all, it is received with the assurance that we are innocent until proven guilty. The benefit of the doubt is on our side, and if we are not a gross and extravagant sinner — which is to say if we are good at covering up and putting up a good front — we expect to get a gold star when the Book of Life is read.

But this is not Christianity.

Our faith begins with the understanding that we are sinners in need of a savior. We are guilty before God. Yes, God created us and loves us, but that truth only deepens our guilt. We have been given every blessing and the greatest gift imaginable — life itself — and we have squandered that gift like the prodigal son.

The day of judgment comes. The judge approaches.

To write such things or to preach such things is to be held up as a “fire and brimstone” preacher — a term that is never ever used as a term of praise. But how can we recite our creeds or read our bibles and not have our attention fixed on this truth?

What sorrow awaits you who say, “If only the day of the Lord were here!” You have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will bring darkness, not light. In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion — only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house — and he’s bitten by a snake. Yes, the day of the Lord will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope. (Amos 5:18-20)

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3 thoughts on “Here comes the judge

  1. John, since we are sinners and fallen short, and God wishes all to be saved, and since his love is evident, and works don’t cut it, and since we also acknowledge forgiveness of sins and God’s grace….etc…..aren’t you laying it on a bit thick?
    How is a an snake on the wall the “good news”?
    More like a nightmare.

    1. Judgment is a nightmare for us if we reject the grace of God. That is my point. Or rather, that is the point of historic Methodism and, I would argue, historic Christianity. Jesus’ call to repent is a call to flee from the wrath to come.

      God does wish all to be saved, but that is because we are in desperate need of saving.

      I hear you saying I am hitting this note too hard. At what volume should this point be preached?

  2. I like your strong admonition, John, for it matches the accent of Scripture. When Paul spoke before Felix and Drusilla about faith in Jesus Christ, Paul “discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). We should do no less. Our audiences want to hear all the accents of Scripture, not a few pet palliatives.

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