Two weeks ago Pastor Brent taught how the point of Jesus’ life was to innaugarate the Kingdom of God on this earth and give us a glimpse of what the Kingdom will look like. Last week he taught that the point of Jesus’ death was to give us victory over sin and death.
Today I’ll be answering the question: What’s the Point of God’s Judgment? In saying that, I know some of you might be looking to make an escape right now, but I hope by the end of this message, to have expanded your understanding and expectations of God’s judgment.
I know that when most of us think about judgment, we think of people who prayed a prayer of faith to Jesus going to heaven with angels playing harps flying on white clouds with everything lit brightly all around. And the rest of the world goes to that other place—Hell, with that lake of fire, full of demons with horns holding pitchforks who eternally torture everyone.
In describing heaven and hell like that, I understand why we don’t like to talk about judgment. There’s such a big contrast, and it seems so unfair that some people experience heaven, while others experience hell. And we wonder, how could a loving God judge people and send some of them to hell? In fact, this very question is what keeps some people from putting their faith in Jesus.
And that’s why this message today is so important. You see, we all need to understand what the Bible really says about judgment or else we will subconsciously let the culture shape our idea of how judgment works. On Monday, I was watching The Voice, which is always entertaining, and after the show, NBC aired the first episode of a new show called The Good Place. The premise of the show is about a young woman who mistakenly was sent to “the Good Place” when she should have been sent to “the Bad Place.”
It’s a funny show, and it honestly runs fairly close to how lots of people think about judgment when they die. And for some reason, people prefer this version of judgment to what they have learned about it in Sunday School classes growing up or perhaps from others who taught the caricature version of heaven and hell with the harps and the pitchforks.
Today we are going to look at what scripture clearly says about judgment and why God’s judgment is actually the best thing for the entire world. That’s right, I did just say that. God’s judgment is what’s best for this world.
Proving God’s Judgment is Best
Some of you might be wondering how I can make that statement, so let me walk you through why I believe God’s judgment is what’s best for this world.
All religions have a reckoning. With the exception of Atheists—everybody who believes in God believes in some form of judgment.
Even the show The Good Place has a judgment. Granted, the show only talks about the Good Place and when the leading character asks about the Bad Place is told that “we don’t talk about that.”
It’s not surprising that everybody, at some level recognizes the importance for life to have one cosmic judgment. Our inward sense of justice has seen too many things handled unfairly, which we want to see made right, and the idea of really terrible people getting what they deserve after they die satisfies our longing for justice.
As an aside— I want to add that if all of humanity is created in the image of God, what does it say about God that all of humanity has an innate sense of justice?
Looking at the Bible—we see clearly how God’s people have always expected God’s judgment. . .
You say, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge with equity. When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm. —Psalm 75:2-3
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ “ —Matthew 13:24-30
So, all religions have a reckoning, we each have an inner sense of justice, the Old Testament writers expected judgment, and Jesus taught about a final judgment. We must all understand—a final judgment is reality.
How We Are Judged
If a final judgment is certain, then we need to ask ourselves, how are we justified in front of the judge? How is it determined who’s guilty or who’s innocent—who is wheat and who is chaff?
In the show—it’s a complicated formula based on values given for every action you’ve ever done. Unfortunately, while living life, nobody knows for certain what constitutes a good action or a bad one, much less the point value. So the scoring, while it seems very objective, is actually completely subjective and hidden. Hidden—as in, at the end of life, there can be no confidence if you did well enough.
In other religions, their sacred writings define morals and how people should live. And they too are judged on how well they followed the rules of their religion.
And to be honest, in Christianity, we’re judged for our works as well.
God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. —Romans 2:6-8
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. —Matthew 12:36
The difference is that Christianity says, NOBODY is good enough except Jesus.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But everyone who puts their faith in Jesus is forgiven and justified, not by their works, but by their faith in Jesus —and his work on the cross! —Romans 3:23
Let that sink in. Yes, we will all be judged. But if we put our faith in Jesus, we don’t have to see all our sin held before us—instead our judge will see us as pure and worthy of heaven because all our sin will be forgiven!
Who Will Judge Us
Speaking of our judge— it’s important to consider WHO will be judging us at the final judgment.
In the show, it was the writers of the show, or some abstract source who decided the point system. And so how can you know if the system is fair? Who or what are you trusting your eternity to? Fate? This seems like such a risky proposition.
Some people don’t think about it that hard and simply feel like they have the ability to evaluate their own lives and determine if they are a good person or not. They play the role of judge for themselves, but we all know that’s a recipe for disaster. I’m sure Adolf Hitler was able to look at himself in the mirror and think he was a great person. But does that mean he earned his way into heaven? Clearly not.
But the Bible says that our judge is Jesus
Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, —John 5:22
This is crucial, because it means that our judge is actually the very person who experienced all the evil of the world on himself at the cross.
This means our judge is the one who wants his death to benefit as many people as possible.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. —2 Peter 3:9
If somebody has to judge me, other than myself (because we all recognize that system doesn’t work) there is nobody else I would want doing the judging than Jesus—the man who lived with such love and mercy. The man who died so that my relationship with God could be restored. He is the fairest, most merciful judge I could stand before.
So, if we believe there has to be some final judgment to make things right, then the way the Bible describes judgment is actually the best possible way.
1. We are judged not for our actions, but by our faith in the actions of Jesus on the cross.
2. We can have confidence in the outcome of our judgment because it’s not based on a random, unscored accounting of our life, but by our faith in Jesus and his work on the cross.
3. We are judged BY the one who paid the price to set us free from death and reconcile us to God.
4. When we look at all this, we HAVE to recognize the incredible gift God has given us as part of his judgment.
What About Hell?
Now to this point, I’ve really only answered the question about how God judges those who put faith in Jesus. But what about those who never put their faith in Jesus?
This is where this message becomes very difficult. If you’ve ever attended a funeral of somebody who you’re not sure was a Christian, or definitely was NOT—you have to wrestle with the incredibly uncomfortable thought of that person being in “The Bad Place.”
We call the opposite of Heaven, Hell. Though the Bible uses lots of other terms like Hades, Sheol, and Gehhena. In fact, Jesus speaks of Hell even more than he does Heaven (Luke 12:4-5). And so we must recognize hell is a very real place.
The problem, however, is how hell has been portrayed over the centuries. Given the idea of demons, fire, pitchforks, etc, the concept of hell becomes repugnant and revolting. Upon a closer look, however, we must understand hell is not the caricature we imagine. It is not a place where God sends people to be tortured. Instead, it is where God gathers all the evil in the world together and removes it from the earth.
People who live a life focused on themselves or their own righteousness as opposed to the righteousness God offers them through Jesus are in essence, choosing a life apart from God. And so when God gathers all those who didn’t choose him with all the evil into one place and removes it all from the presence of God, it becomes a place of torment and suffering.
Notice the difference between the words torment and torture—this is a big deal. Torture is pain from outside oneself, while torment is pain from within. And nowhere does the Bible say people will be tortured in hell— GOD is not a God who will be actively torturing people—that would be sadistic.
But the Bible does say people in hell will experience torment—being with all the rest of the world’s evil and losing all they had acquired, experiencing a place lacking any of the goodness, beauty, mercy, or fairness of God—that is the hell which will internally torment people.
And here is where the fairness of God comes into question. We say it’s not fair for anybody to be left out of heaven. But heaven is not heaven if even a little evil is left to remain. When God creates the New Heaven and New Earth—it will be completely free from evil. That includes the people living on the New Earth—we have to be people who are cleansed of our sin, cleansed of our evil desires, and that only happens for those who have put faith in Jesus.
Now I know, this message has probably opened up as many questions as it has answered. But that’s okay. This is a topic we need to wrestle with. We need to look at the judgment of God as a blessing for his beloved and not as a curse on the wicked. If you have any questions you want help answering, I encourage you to email Pastor Brent or me this week. We have spent tons of time talking about this topic, and I recognize I could have said a lot more today, but I can only teach so much in a single message.
But even saying that, I think there are clearly two important things we must take away from this message today:
First, if you’re not a follower of Jesus—you should really consider what you are basing your eternity on. If you want confidence in the hereafter, if you want your sins not counted against you, then you must put your faith in Jesus. The Bible says there is only one way to Heaven, and it’s not through being a good person—it’s by putting your faith in the only PERFECT PERSON.
Secondly, if you are a follower of Jesus, I hope this message spurs you on to realizing the importance of sharing your faith. God has given us an amazing gift—the message of Jesus, the message of forgiveness, the message of justification at the final judgment. But are we going to keep it to ourselves or are we going to share it with others? Will we be willing to challenge their thinking a bit, to push back on the way so many people have chosen to believe that somehow they can be a good enough person to tally a high enough score.? The judgment of God must motivate us share our faith with others!
God created humanity so he could be with us and shower us with his love. He created the whole world to be a blessing to us and show us his love. But our sin has allowed evil to reign in this world. This world is no longer perfect and God is no longer in relationship with everybody—not because of his doing, but by ours. We push God away, we make ourselves the center of the universe, even some of the most spiritual people are still focused on their own religiosity rather than on God who created and loves them.
And we need to see that God who made a perfect creation and loves us so much will use His final judgment not to punish people he always hated and wanted destruction for, but to limit the constantly spreading evil and to remove it, to purge it, from the world he created. He judges so that those who choose to love him back can live with him in a perfect state once again—free from sin and death and evil.
That’s the reason God’s judgment is what’s best for this world. Because His judgment will make right everything that has been made wrong through the rampant evil which currently reigns in this present world.