It was said to have been the darkest day in history. War, catastrophe, tragedy; none of it compared to the unspeakable evil of this day. Evil. Evil! What better word to describe these people? It was as if they had been possessed by the spirits of hyenas, flocking around their helpless prey, mocking him as though he were nothing more than sport to them.
These men were soldiers, scourging one who had done no evil. A man innocent of all of the charges for which he was accused. They beat him and laughed at him. “So you think you’re a king, huh?” They stripped him of his clothes and beat him some more, laughing as he writhed in pain. “If you are a king, then you ought to dress like one too!” They clothed him in a purple robe. Purple, the color of a king; the color of robe that Caesar wore. “There, now you look like a king! But wait…one thing’s missing.” They unveiled a horrid contraption. A crown. But not any old crown, a crown of thorns.
Such a contraption could not have been forged in the depths of hell. Its menacing barbs threatened any who would dare even touch it, let alone wear it. The wood was splintered and dirty, as though it were nothing more than scrap. As the Son of man looked upon this device, he reminisced upon its origin.
He remembered where thorns came from and why they existed. It was not his doing that menacing accessories like thorns would come about, but mankind’s wickedness. Mankind in its infancy defied him a long, long time ago, in a garden that no longer existed. It was paradise, but it was lost.
God spoke to the man and his wife, “Your work has brought suffering and death upon this world! Therefore, your suffering will be multiplied as you must harvest your food among thorns. Thorns will characterize your world, even the simplest pleasures of your lives will be ruined by these thorns that invade your world. You might think that you have somewhere to rest your head or a safe haven to lay your body, but you will encounter peril around every corner from this day forward. And at the end of your life, the ground, which you cultivate, the ground, that gives you food, the ground which brings you life will be your place of rest. You are nothing but dirt without me. But, I will be your King and I will bring you salvation.”
He was their King and he would fulfill his word. They placed the crown upon his head. The pain was almost numbing. It was enough to make one hope for an early death. But not him. He was their King, and this was the most that his subjects had acknowledged him since he created them. They had to use sticks to fit the crown onto his head. Just touching it was pricking their fingers, drawing streams of scarlet to drip from their hands. As the thorns penetrated his skin and pierced his brows, he saw through this mockery.
Demons in the background whispered in their ears and provoked them to go just a little further. “Beat him,” they whispered. “Spit upon him…mock him.” The demons took great joy in this scene. They laughed and jested as their King, barely conscious, fought to sit upright. Blood pouring down his forehead; body ravaged and broken. “You cast us out by the thousands, and now you barely cling to your life. Where is your Father? Where is he? Will he protect you? He has no power over us! You belong to us now!”
They forced him to his feet and into the court. They brought him before his nation, clothed in humiliating royalty. He was dressed as the king they deserved: broken, bloody, and humiliated. The greatest of them should be lucky to achieve such a status. And yet he stood before them and took their insults and endured their threats. Though he had no dignity before them, he was fully dignified. Though they stripped him of his royalty, he was the only one clothed in majesty.
The demons poked and prodded from behind the scenes. “Come on Son of God, exercise your power! You did it once, let’s see you do it again. Extinguish their fire with a flood, perhaps. Or how about you call down your legion of angels; yes, call down Michael, your servant to slay these evil doers. Or even better, consume them with this holy fire that burns inside of your heart. Look at this worthless, pathetic, rabble. You are a King, are you not? Judge them. Show them your wrath. Send them to Hell!”
As he was to his accusers, so he was to his provocateurs: silent, patient, and unmovable. In his conscious daze, he made out two words, “Crucify Him!” his sentence was pronounced. They mounted him with a cross and sent him on a journey to Golgotha, the place of the skull. Some say that this was where Adam Fell and where Jacob saw the ladder to heaven. To the Holy One of God, it was a bridge between heaven and hell.
All along the way, dragons spewed their flames and jackals nipped at his heals. The entire world had turned against him. He was wretched, but still clothed as their King, wearing his crown of thorns. The unseen world paraded along with him on his death march; gleefully believing that this was it. God had lost and the world was theirs. Death was the master. Death was the victor. Satan triumphed and he would rule God’s world.
They climbed the hill and flames shot from its plateau. The people on the hill were immune to it at this point because they were used to living in the searing heat produced by the flames of hell. They could endure the flames so long as they were in the presence of God, and this man, that was more like a lamb being led to its slaughter, was the residence of God on earth. His crown was worthy of his people. Thorns, pain, and death.
He was mounted on the cross as the wretched harlequins waltzed around him; flinging salt and vinegar at him to enflame his wounds. He was sin, not they. Even God had turned his back on this man, how could they possibly suffer any consequences for their devious acts toward him? Finally, his body beaten and his spirit exhausted, he let out one more mighty cry, “IT IS FINISHED!” And for the first time, everyone was still, everyone was silent. The demons stopped dancing, the people stopped shouting. The dragons stopped roaring and the jackals stopped barking. He had one last thing to say and it was what they had all been waiting for: “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” And with those final words, he died. There was a moment of silence, of disbelief and then they started rejoicing.
But their rejoicing lasted no more than a second. Blackness covered the earth and an earthquake shook the world. The ground began to split and divided the holy temple in two, rending its curtain that divided man from God. The demons were no longer laughing; they were lamenting. “God is angry and he seeks to destroy us!” one of the evil spirits cried. “He has broken his word, it is not yet our time!” complained another. Chaos broke out as the people and spirits dispersed.
When the darkness cleared, a handful of people remained. They kneeled at the cross, sobbing, weeping at what they had just experienced. But the evil was gone. The darkness was gone. And the veil was gone. Their King, upon the cross, still wore the crown of thorns. He was high and lifted up, just as the prophets had said. Gazing upon his dead, naked body, they gathered the courage to bring him down. They knew not what the future had in store for them, but what they had just experienced would be seared into their minds for all eternity.
Before, he was their son, their brother, their teacher; what they just witnessed elevated him above that. He was certainly dead, but the power of his death silenced all of his mockers and sent them running in panic. Some in the streets were even declaring that the saints of old had been awakened from the dead. What just happened? They did not recognize this man, despite dressing him in the image of their king. He was the King that molded them into his image. As these disciples and Roman guards gazed upon this corpse as it descended, they could not help but to notice the crown of thorns on his brow and ask, “Was this truly our King?”
Jubilee is a word we don’t often hear in our modern times. So what is it? A jubilee is a time of celebration! But what significance does that have for us as Christians today?
First, some history. Back in the book of Leviticus (25:8-55 and 27:17-21 specifically), God commanded the people of Israel to observe the Year of Jubilee. This meant that every 50th year, they were not to plant anything in the fields, all slaves were set free, and all debts were canceled. This was done to remember that everything they have belongs to God. The people of Israel also didn’t plant anything every 7th year, called a Sabbatical year, but this happened on a smaller scale than in a Jubilee year.
Jubilee is not just an Old Testament concept. From the years 1300 to 2000, multiple jubilees have been celebrated, generally every 25 or 50 years, with some exceptions. Each jubilee has been instituted by the Roman Catholic pope at the time.
So why is jubilee important for us today? I see two main reasons - because it teaches us to trust, and because it is a model of what Christ did for us.
Jubilee teaches us to trust because we see the Israelites’ example of how they trusted God. Think about this: if you’re an agrarian society and you live off of what you grow in your fields, what happens when you don’t plant anything in your fields for a year? You have to trust God to supply all of your needs, and you have to trust that He will feed you and your family. We, too, need to trust God to supply all our needs. This sounds like absurdity to our modern ears - to not plant your food when logically you know you need it to survive! But by being obedient to God in that way, the people of Israel were constantly reminded of God’s good provision in their lives when they truly relied on Him for their wellbeing.
We need to remember jubilee because it’s a model of what Christ did for us. As I mentioned earlier, in the year of jubilee all slaves were set free and all debts were canceled. Through His death on the cross and resurrection for us, Jesus Christ has set us free! We were enslaved to our sins, and we can only have freedom through Jesus - similar to how slaves could only have freedom through the year of jubilee. Every one of us has a debt to pay for our sin; we all have the debt of death leading to eternal condemnation hanging over our heads. But again because of Jesus, this debt has been canceled! We will still die a physical death on this earth, but we will no longer experience an eternal spiritual death, but rather life.
The best part of this concept of jubilee for us is that we don’t have to wait every 50, 25, or even 7 years - you can join the jubilee anytime you want, and it has no end!
Who is the strongest Christian you know? Hopefully, you read that question and right away you realize that it is theologically inaccurate. The more likely response for most of us, however, is to start letting the names of people we know run through our minds so we can make a judgment on who we consider "strongest". The reason it is theologically inaccurate is because being a Christian really has nothing to do with OUR strength, but that of the One we follow. The Apostle Paul wrote a wonderful passage on the power and sufficiency of Christ's grace when we are weak in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. However, that doesn't stop us from our desire of the flesh to judge people, both positively and negatively. We elevate mere men because of their deeds or seemingly endless ability to stay on the straight and narrow path, and we just as easily condemn others in our hearts for their inability to escape their struggles or abandon the sins of their flesh.
The person that this week's topic is about is a man who many of us would be tempted to glorify if we walked with him today. His name was Job and some of the adjectives used to describe him in Job 1 are "blameless", "upright", and "God-fearing". As Katie already pointed out in Monday's blog, Job remained faithful to God despite the adversity he faced. Both Job 1:22 and Job 2:10 (the verses we come to immediately after reading about the extreme loss that he suffered) state: "In all this, Job did not sin". However, there is a 2nd part to each of those verses we often miss. In the first one, it says that he did not sin "by charging God with wrongdoing". In the second one, it says Job did not sin "in what he said". The interesting thing about that for me as I read those verses is that I think I may have missed those important parts of the verses in the past. If you miss the qualifying phrases, then you start going down that slippery slope of thinking that maybe Job didn't sin - AT ALL.
I've always believed that no one perfect and truly holy ever walked this earth except for Jesus himself, but I know that in the past I wondered how the story of Job fits into that belief. I think it's important to know that, while Job did not sin by accusing God of wrongdoing (which would have been blasphemy) or by anything else he said in his initial reaction to the adversity (which is where about 99% of us would have failed), Job was still a sinner. He may have been blameless, but he was not sinless. Dr. Steven Lawson explains the difference in his commentary on Job: "Sin is vertical, blame is horizontal...as Job lived before the watchful eye of his peers, no one could justly charge him with moral failure, because his reputation was impeccable". Do you see the difference? Blame has more to do with what others think of us, while sin comes from an Old English archery team meaning "to miss the target". Sin has to do with disobedience toward our Creator because He is the One who designed our "target".
You may be wondering at this point how it is that Job sinned, and I intend to show you. Let's not kid ourselves; we know that sin begins in the mind. James tells us that we are tempted to sin by our own evil desires. "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:15). After we read about how Job did not sin in the first 2 chapters, he begins to speak in Chapter 3. "After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth" (Job 3:1). Compare his attitude with that of the psalmist in Psalm 118:24: "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it". You see, it doesn't matter what day those words are read or sung, because the point is that the Lord made EVERY day and we should be thankful for it. Do you know what it is when we curse anything that God made? That's right, it's a sin! I'm not saying it's the same as cursing a human being, because that would be like cursing God and Job did not curse God. But he did curse the day he was born and if you read the rest of the book of Job, you absolutely see the battle that is being waged between Job's flesh and His faith in God. He finds himself stuck between having no answer for why all the bad stuff is happening in his life, yet recognizing that God does not operate by man's expectations.
What clinched this new perspective on Job for me was some verses I came across in preparation for this writing where Job is talking about his dire situation under God's sovereignty. "He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot" (Job 9:32-35). What a perfect foreshadowing of Christ and his work in our lives! No matter how "upright and blameless" Job was, he could not even come close to comparing to Christ, the revelation of God in the flesh. Job recognizes his own sinful attitude by the end of the book, after much conversation with his friends and eventually, with God himself.
Folks, I believe one of the main reasons to include the story of Job in the Bible is to show us a picture of the closest thing to holiness that a sinful man can actually be, just to then show us that EVERY man has his breaking point. More than anything, the Book of Job reveals to us our ultimate dependency on the work of Christ. If Job could really be sinless, then every single one of us would be stuck in a trap of thinking we could attain the same thing without ever really getting there. The only man who did not reach a breaking point was Jesus Christ, and we have to remember that he was also fully God. So, is Job a wonderful earthly example that believers should try to emulate? Absolutely. It took a lot to break his attitude and even then, he eventually repented and saw the error of his thinking. But, is Job a model of perfection who can stand between sinful man and a holy God and arbitrate? Absolutely not. That work is done by Christ alone.
Make sure you’re pronouncing the title of this blog right - it’s referring to Job (pronounced with a long o, like ‘jobe’) the man, not a job like where you go to work! Interestingly, the name Job comes from a Latin translation of the Old Testament, and is loosely based on the Hebrew. The original Hebrew for Job’s name is iyyov (pronounced iy-yove).
So what’s the deal with Job? Why is his story important to us today?
The general outline of the story is that Job is a holy man with great prosperity, and he is faithful to God. Satan essentially asks God to prove that Job is truly faithful, and not just because he is so prosperous in material things. God gives Satan permission to do whatever he wants to Job, with the exception that Job himself cannot be harmed. After this, Job basically loses everything - and I mean everything! Right away in the first chapter of the book, his oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants, camels, and even his children all die. But as it says in Job 1:22, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Next, his health is taken away, and his wife turns against him. Then Job’s three friends show up, and they have long discussion with him.
To make a long story short (since I don’t want to re-write the book here), Job does remain entirely faithful to God, despite what his friends tell him. Finally, in chapter 38, God and Job have a conversation. God basically gives Job a figurative slap, saying essentially, “Who are you, compared to me?!” In Job 38-39, God lists all of the amazing and wonderful things He did and has done in Creation. This all comes to a climax in Job 40:2-5, which says:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”
Job realizes that he is totally unworthy of complaining about anything; he is a mere man, and God is amazing, awesome, and all powerful.
At the end of the book, God ends up blessing Job with double what he had in chapter 1. Job remained faithful even through all of the difficulties he went through.
So that’s a great story and all, but what does it mean for us? Well, think about how much we complain about our situations. I’m reminded of the “First World Pains” idea on Twitter and Facebook. These sayings are things we in the U.S. tend to complain about, while not realizing how blessed we truly are. We whine and complain about these stupid little things in our lives, when they are nowhere near as tragic as what Job faced - yet he never cursed God and he continued to remain faithful to God.
What about you? What do you do when adversity is in your life? I’m talking about real adversity - something that was not a consequence of a bad choice you made, but something that is truly a major trial for you. Do you curse God and say why did He let this happen to me? Or do you praise God throughout the entire ordeal, realizing that you are still blessed beyond measure? This is not easy to do, but as you grow deeper in relationship with Jesus it becomes just a little easier.
What is the best thing you have ever gotten in your life for free? Typically, our minds automatically are drawn to tangible gifts. Maybe it was a trip, a car, a piece of jewelry, or some other valuable physical item. For me, I'd say it was the opportunity to go skydiving with my brothers. Skydiving has been front and center in the news this week as Felix Baumgartner completed his record-setting jump, which basically was from outer space, and became the first man ever to reach supersonic speed without traveling in a jet or spacecraft. I had the opportunity to go skydiving with my two brothers in 2005 just before my younger brother got sent to Iraq for his first deployment as a special forces U.S. Marine. We jumped out of the plane at an altitude of approximately 14,000 feet, and it was the scariest and one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. Mr. Baumgartner went a little bit higher than that - like 114,000 feet higher! Yet even though his jump completely dwarfed mine, I found myself thinking almost exactly the same things he is quoted as saying after he completed his jump. "When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is to come back alive". Baumgartner also said, "Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are". What fascinating thoughts! The higher and bigger we get, the more we realize just how small we are compared to the greatness of God! I was thankful to have that experience because it taught me a lot about overcoming fears and realizing that my life is ALWAYS in the palm of God's hand whether I am 14,000 feet in the air or walking on the ground every day. That experience that God used to grow me in so many ways was given to me for free.
The thing about my skydiving experience and anything else that you can receive for free is that, while they may be free for the recipient, they cost somebody. My brother, the one who was going to Iraq, paid a great fee for this experience for all three of us. Whether you win an item in a contest or somebody gives it to you for free, somebody still had to pay for it in some way, whether they bought it as is or bought the materials to make it. The same is true with intangible things such as rights and freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. They may be free to us and very easily taken for granted, but great costs were paid in human life and even money to assure those freedoms and great costs are still being paid today to protect them. As with anything we receive for free, we rarely remember who actually paid for it because our focus is mostly on ourselves.
I want to give us an opportunity in this blog to intentionally remember that the greatest gift many of us have received and everyone else has an opportunity to receive is FREE, but comes at a great cost to someone else. I'm talking about the gift of justification. As Katie pointed out in Monday's blog, the direct Scripture for this is Romans 3:23-24. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus". Since Katie already did a great job explaining that justification is the act of sinful people being made righteous in God's sight, I want to focus mainly on the word "freely" in that passage. Some opponents to the Christian faith would say that it is not a free gift because God still requires us to live by a certain set of rules, which those same opponents view as incredibly arbitrary. If you look at my post from last week and the comments that follow, you'll see that just what kind of role we play in this process is a hot theological topic across the Christian faith. Rather than revisit all of that, I'll just say that we are indeed justified freely, and that the way we are commanded to live after realizing that we are saved, redeemed, and justified is for our benefit and for the benefit of those around us, not so that we can earn what we've already been freely given. As I said in last week's blog and in the comment section, how we live reveals more about whether we truly believe we have been redeemed than what we say.
Regardless of whether you choose to believe there is some minimal cost to you or not, it is undeniable that Jesus paid the greatest cost there ever was. Because the Judge is just in his nature, sin could not be overlooked. It had to be dealt with. There had to be a payment to satisfy God's wrath toward sin. So, he came to the world in the flesh, in the person of Jesus. The only possible way for the two characteristics of God's nature of love and justice to meet and not contradict one another was for God himself to come as a man and pay the penalty that was owed. I urge you to read Isaiah 53 and any of the Gospels' accounts of the crucifixion to see just how "expensive" a debt that was. Once you begin to grasp the enormity of the cost for a gift that you are able to receive absolutely free of charge, living a life in pursuit of godliness is the only response that makes any sense (Romans 12:1-2).
Justification is one of those big “church-y” words we often hear talked about pertaining to salvation. I’ve been using the word for many years, but when it came to simply explaining what it is, that’s pretty difficult! The best place I could think of to turn to was the Scriptures, particularly the book of Romans. In this blog I’ll share some passages from Romans, and use those to attempt to explain this concept.
First, I’ll attempt a somewhat simple definition of a very complex word. Justification is God’s declaration that a sinful person is now made justified, or righteous, because of Jesus Christ. It’s the principle that an individual receives salvation by God’s grace through faith, not by any of their own works.
Romans 3:22-26 sets the stage for justification. It says:
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
To summarize that passage, we’ve all messed up and separated ourselves from God by our sin. But, everyone has access to faith in Jesus. When we have that faith, God demonstrates His goodness and declares us to be good or righteous as well, therefore justifying us because of Jesus.
What good does it do us to be justified, or made right in God’s eyes? It gives us God’s peace, as it says in Romans 5:1-2:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
How does justification work? Check out Romans 5:16-21 for more insight on that:
Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Justification is the fact that we deserve to be condemned because of the sin in all of our lives, but because of the life of Jesus, we may be considered righteous instead! That’s God’s grace in action - getting what we don’t deserve. We are by no means righteous, but we may be seen as such in God’s eyes because of our faith in Jesus’ saving death and resurrection for us.
Last week, we wrote about how God is the ultimate Judge and how the final day when all human beings are judged plays out much like a courtroom scene. I specifically wrote about the comparison between a present day bench trial and the judgment of our God. In that "trial", only what God thinks will matter and no matter how many witnesses or jury members we each have for or against us will make a difference. The Judge determines the eternal placement of each individual based on what He KNOWS about the individual. That's not to say that the evidence doesn't matter at all. We'll see here how God looks at both the evidence of a person's life and everything else He knows about the person, including the individual's relationship with Jesus Christ or lack thereof, his response to the Holy Spirit, and the deeds that go hand-in-hand with his faith. When we stand before God on Judgment Day and He considers all these things, it will be time for the FINAL verdict of our lives!
Let's take a look first at the evidence for the verdict and the sentence that will be handed down by the Judge. If you read Revelation 20 and 21, you'll see the end of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet, followed by the judging of all of the dead, followed by a beautiful picture of what the new heaven and earth will be like once sin and evil are removed completely and forever. Right in the middle of that beautiful picture is Revelation 21:8, a verse that ought to stop us in our tracks for at least a moment. "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death". Wow! Let me ask you, readers. Has anyone out there ever told a lie? Have you ever struggled with unbelief? Have you ever placed something else before God, which would make that thing an idol? Have you ever been a coward, denying Christ the way the Apostle Peter originally did in order to preserve self? But it doesn't end there. Jesus was clear in comparing actual murder to just being angry against another person without cause (Matthew 5:21-22). He was also clear that looking at another lustfully is the same as actually committing adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), so that pretty much checks off sexual immorality for most of us. Even practicing magic arts is something few can deny when we think about all of the superstitions, horoscopes, and psychics that exist today. So, my point is that we can all look at that list in Revelation 21:8 and say that we are guilty not just of one of those things, but most if not all of them. And that would mean that based on evidence, we would all be judged guilty and sentenced to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Fortunately, followers of Jesus Christ are not presented to God on the day of judgment as ones who have committed these despicable actions. If you have been reading my blogs for awhile, you know that one of my favorite passages in the Bible is the one where Paul talks about the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1. In that passage, Paul explains that Christ is the "image of the invisible God" (v. 15), and explains why he has supremacy in everything. Paul also explains that "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" (v. 19). This doesn't mean that God and Christ are two separate beings, but rather that Christ was the human form of "God's fullness". It is this reality that makes what Paul writes to the Christians in Colosse in verses 21-23 even more phenomenal. "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel". So let's think about what this means for us on Judgment Day. Based on the evidence of our actions, we'd be presented before God as cowards, murderers, liars, unbelievers, those who practice magic arts, vile, and sexually immoral. But God, the Judge, knowing that ahead of time, made a plan to rescue us in a way that still did not compromise His holiness and just judgment. He allowed His fullness to dwell in the person of Jesus Christ, who then reconciled us with the Judge by paying our deserved penalty on the cross. Because we have been reconciled, we will be presented to the Judge as holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. So, Judgment Day looks completely different for those of us who have trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior. Rather than being presented as any or all of the things in Revelation 21:8 and being sentenced as such, we are presented as if we've never done a thing wrong.
With all that said, there is still another part to it. I told you at the beginning of the post that we would see how God looks at BOTH evidence and His knowledge of what Christ did for us as just described in Colossians. Even Paul's declaration of how we are presented as holy before the Judge came with a condition. Verse 23 says "if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel". James tells us throughout his letter about the importance of our deeds matching our faith. Jesus himself, talking to disciples (aka "believers"), spoke about the separation that will occur on Judgment Day that will be just like the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). The separation is very clearly determined by how the individual responds to the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, those that need clothes, the sick, and those in prison. So even though he's talking to those who have already made the decision to leave everything else and follow him, their deeds still carry great weight on Judgment Day!
Friends, God did not reconcile us to him just so that things would be different for us at Judgment Day. He did it so we can LIVE differently! His grace doesn't make it so that we don't have to live the right way, it transforms us so that we CAN live the right way! Scripture is clear that we can be reconciled to the Judge and escape the judgment we deserve because of our deeds and evil behavior by trusting that Christ has done this work, but Scripture is also clear that our actions in response to what he has done also matter at Judgment Day. I don't know how this messes with your theological presuppositions, but I know it messes with mine. I would love to believe that my actions post-salvation just don't matter at all, because I know how much I struggle. But I cannot deny what Scripture says. Let's remember that God's grace grants us freedom from that struggle. It allows us to pursue godliness without living with the fear that failing will cause us to be sentenced to eternal torment on the day of our judgment. So that means there is really only one question each of us needs to look in the mirror and ask. Are you pursuing godliness?
So, what happens when God judges us? What exactly is this judgment we’re talking about? Every single person who has lived, is living, and will ever live will be judged on the last day when Jesus returns to earth. On this final day of judgment, God will redeem the righteous and punish the wicked. We see references to this day of judgment in multiple places in Scripture, including Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22-24, Matthew 12:36-37, 2 Peter 2:9, 2 Peter 3:7, and 1 John 4:17.
In particular, I want to focus on Matthew 12:36-37, which says, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” The context of this passage is Jesus speaking to the Pharisees as they are discussing by whose authority Jesus drives out demons. He is telling them that whatever their mouth speaks is what’s in their heart, and they will be judged for that.
The same is true for us - almost. We will truly be judged and held accountable for every word we have spoken, whether good or bad. We will either receive reward or punishment. But, on that day of judgement, who will be our judge? God! And as was written in last week’s post, who will be our defense attorney? Jesus! If our faith is in Him, our lives and all of the negative or empty words we have spoken will be covered up by the perfect life that He lived. Jesus is the only way we can ever hope to deserve a reward rather than a punishment. We will all be judged on that last day; do you want His reward, or the punishment you deserve? The choice is up to you, and you need to be be ready when the day of judgement comes.
Through my undergraduate studies and my current occupation as an investigator for Children's Protective Services, I've gotten to spend some time in the courtroom and learn quite a bit about the legal process. In major criminal trials, including many of the famous ones with which most people are familiar, the verdict is decided by a jury. In this type of trial, known as a "jury trial" or "trial of your peers", the judge makes rulings related to courtroom activity, evidence, and witnesses, but has no power whatsoever over the actual verdict. However, in my line of work, the type of trial used is a "bench trial", where the judge makes all the decisions on witnesses, evidence, testimony, courtroom proceedings, AND the verdict. He basically has ALL of the power to decide the fate of each side.
It's just like that with our God. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not saying any of our earthly, sinful judges compare to God. But what I am saying is that the Judge's ruling is like that of a bench trial. It won't really matter what anyone else thinks about you - good or bad. Let's face it. For any single one of us, we could find some peers who would rule in our favor and some who would rule against us. This is why we as human beings cannot just focus on "being a good person" in this lifetime. "Good" is subjective, and no matter how positively you live your life, there will always be those who find something they don't like about you. But "good" is not subjective when it comes to God. His standard of goodness is perfection, and anything else falls short. The Apostle Paul says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). So if you have ever messed up even one time in your life, and then went to stand before your final "bench trial" with the ultimate Judge, the evidence and testimony would overwhelmingly indicate that you are guilty as charged!
But fortunately, there is one very significant difference between God and our earthly judges (there are many differences, but one in particular that gives us hope). Everything about our legal system is designed to make sure the defendant receives a "fair and speedy" trial as the Constitution stipulates. One of the main things that would compromise that right is if the judge already has a personal relationship with the defendant, so we do whatever it takes to guard against that. The opposite is true with the ultimate Judge. God is not only Creator, but He KNOWS His creation. He knows everything about us. God knows why we do what we do, why we struggle with certain things and not others, and whether or not we have entered into a relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. Because we know God is just, we can be sure that He takes all of these things into consideration. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Jesus was clear and definitive: "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6b). But let us not forget that not everyone enters into a relationship with Jesus Christ the same way. We have developed the "sinner's prayer" in our culture, but Scripture does not say one has to pray it or have some miraculous conversion experience to be saved. So while many in the Church want to pass judgment on others and decide who has come to Jesus and who hasn't based on prayers, experiences, baptisms, etc., we can be thankful that the only opinion that matters is that of the great Judge, who knows everything about us.
Obviously, the fact that God knows everything about us can be both the best and the worst news, depending on whether you have trusted in Jesus to be the One who paid your penalty and invited you into abundant life for the rest of eternity. You see, we all get accused before God every day. If you don't believe me, take a look at Job 1. Satan, whose name literally means "accuser", goes before God and "prosecutes" Job. Would we be so naive to think he doesn't also accuse us? And the sad thing is that we are generally guilty of everything we are accused of. However, Satan looks only at the evidence. He is hell-bent on proving his point to the Judge, forgetting that the Judge knows the defendant and whether or not his penalty has already been paid.
So where are you in terms of your penalty? I can't ask where you are in terms of your trial because I know everyone of you, like me, is on trial because Satan has accused you. I hope and pray that you are able to walk in the same freedom that I am. I hope that you, like me, can say, "Go ahead and accuse all you want, Satan, because the Judge knows me and knows that the penalty has been paid". Then, and only then, will you be able to truly walk in freedom and follow Christ to the abundant life he wants to offer you.
Who’s the most famous judge you know? Sandra Day O’Connor? Clarence Thomas? Lance Ito? Judge Judy? There are quite a few judges who have made headlines, though many only have maybe one or two prominent cases in the media spotlight.
Have you ever thought of God as a judge? He is - and He is the most holy judge there is. All of the judges we know here on earth, past and present, have been imperfect humans just like you and me. They may do their best to be fair and impartial in awarding justice, but we all make mistakes.
There are many passages in the Bible that talk about God as our judge. In particular, we know that He is a just judge. Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day.” The word used for ‘righteous’ there can also mean ‘just.’ Because God is perfect and holy, we know His judgments will be perfect and holy and just. God’s Son, Jesus, has been given the authority to be the judge over all humankind, because He was one of us. When Jesus was incarnate, He was both totally God and totally man. Therefore, He will have the perfect judgment of God, but has authority to judge us because He experienced life as one of us. God is the creator of the universe, so He deserves to judge His creation because of the authority He has (Matthew 28:18).
Romans 2:12 and 16 say, “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. … This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” If you’ve sinned, you will be judged by the law by Jesus. Even the things you’ve done in secret, that maybe no human knows about, will be judged.
That sounds extremely intimidating! Who of us could stand in innocence, faced with that kind of judgement? Truthfully, nobody. But if you believe in Jesus, then He is both your judge and the most perfect defense attorney. His defense argument is that He died on the cross for you, so that you won’t have to be judged. With faith in Jesus’ sacrifice in your heart, you have nothing to fear when being judged by the holy, perfect Judge.