SUNDAY MORNING SERMON NOTES
Studying Divine Judgment - Doesn't It Just Depress Us?
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Sunday, September 9 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1590
Pastor Don Horban

Why would a church like ours do an extended teaching series on any subject, let alone a teaching series on this subject? I was watching a streamed message from our General Conference in Ottawa. There was a prominent speaker directing his remarks to youth. His revivalistic plea was based on the stated premiss that youth need a radical shift from the Jesus they know in their heads to a passionate relationship with Him in their hearts. He said our churches are full of people who know all about Jesus but don’t know Him personally and passionately at all.

Then I spoke very recently with a very Christ loving young man who expressed the same idea that our churches are full of youth and older Christians who hear teaching all the time but aren’t excited and passionate about following Christ.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Those of us who have grown up in Pentecostal/holiness backgrounds have repeatedly heard this argument as the preamble to pleas for revival and a fresh seeking of God.

And I think there used to be more teeth in this approach than there is today. We used to gather corporately in churches at least three or four time every week. We used to attend churches where little eyes and hearts and ears were enthralled every Sunday in stuffy, cramped “classrooms” in dark church basements where the great stories of the Bible came to life on flannel-graph boards. And then we “did our lessons” and “memorized our verses” in what we used to call “quarterlies.”

But nobody does that much anymore. Things have changed. I read some fascinating statistics in the September/2012 issue of Christianity Today in an article by Philip Harrold, called “Getting To Know Him” - “The decline in biblical literacy and the loss of a ‘faith culture’ is no longer news, but it is somewhat shocking. Twelve years ago, New Testament professor Gary Burge reported the results of a survey given to students at Wheaton College, the premier evangelical higher education institute. He found that one-third of students tested could not put the following in proper sequential order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost. One third could not identify the Book of Acts as the location of Paul’s missionary travels; half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew.”

I spoke to a professor at a Christian university who told me a third of students surveyed couldn’t identify the four gospels in the New Testament.

My point is the full head/empty heart argument has left the building. We certainly still have spiritual decline, to be sure. But our spiritual problems have a different source than twenty-five years ago. We may still have cold hearts, to be sure. But the reason for our cold hearts isn’t the same as it was then. Our problem today is most Christians don’t know enough life-giving truth about Jesus to possibly have any kind of relationship with Him. We think we know more than we actually know. And the world in which we live has outglittered our minimal knowledge of the glory of divine truth.

So what about the subject of this series? Should we preach and teach about divine judgment in the church today? What does the Biblical teaching on divine judgment do to the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone? Does one doctrine cancel out the other?

Beside that, people don’t like talk of divine judgment. I can still remember the last time, quite a few years ago, when I preached on the subject of hell. I can still remember the shock (anger?) of some church people. Some of them honestly seemed to think that the notion of God as a divine Judge was the antiquated hangover of a much more primitive brand of religion.

Of course, the problem you have then is you really have to part company with the religion of Jesus Christ. More than any other New Testament figure, Jesus framed much of His teaching of God as One Who was the Judge to Whom we must all give an account. And, what’s more, He talked about His heavenly Father as One Who would avenge His glory by making all people accountable for their actions and attitudes in this world. In other words, in Jesus’ mind, God’s judgment had teeth in it.

And then there is the doctrine of eternal judgment. Hell is all but totally squeezed out of today’s church vocabulary. Very few churches actually read unedited blocks of Scripture in their corporate worship. The doctrine of hell and judgment is found in very few hymns. And it’s in virtually none of the contemporary worship song and choruses. As a result we’ve effectively bleached judgment from the corporate worship think of the evangelical church.

The problem is the “H” word is still prominent in holy writ. In fact, most of its New Testament occurrences are found on the lips of Jesus. Is there a Hell? Is it eternal? How does this belief fit in with the whole concept of a good and loving God? These are all subjects we will study in this series.

1) COMING TO TERMS WITH THE RELATED ISSUES OF DIVINE JUDGMENT

Once you say you believe in divine judgment, you open up a whole can of related issues. When does God judge? Does God judge each person immediately when he sins? Do we all experience His wrath right now, in this present age? Or, does all judgment take place at the end of this age? Is it all postponed and stored up for another time and another place?

And how does God judge? When judgment comes, does God turn people into salt like Lot’s wife? Do they get sick and die? Are there other ways in which judgment comes right in this present age?

And what about Christians? Do Christians experience divine judgment? Do they experience it the same way non-Christians experience it? If not, what is the difference? And what is the difference in the way judgment comes at the end of this age? What happens to Christians and non-Christians when Jesus comes again? Is there a difference between the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment of God?

These are some of the issues we will be examining in this series of teachings.

2) UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUES OF DIVINE JUDGMENT SHOULD HAVE PRACTICAL AND PRECIOUS RESULTS IN OUR WALK WITH THE LORD IN THIS PRESENT AGE

It would be a terrible mistake to think of this topic as morbid, or as though it were somehow beneath New Testament believers or unworthy of the greatness of Father God. We do not get to decide what the content of God’s revelation of Himself should be. The job of God is taken. God has taken on that role in His revelation to us in the Scriptures. Our task is to humble ourselves under what He has revealed. We must shape our brains around God’s self-revelation rather than conforming it of our own value judgments.

And make no mistake about it. The subject of divine judgment is becoming increasingly intolerable in an age where truth must be made palatable before we will digest it. It’s easy for the church to become like small babies - simply spitting out whatever doesn’t suit our liking in God’s diet of revealed truth. But there is something precious, something worth cherishing, in the truth of God as Judge.

I can think of at least four reasons for embracing the Biblical doctrine of divine judgment:

a) Only a Biblically sustained belief in the reality of divine judgment will sharpen our love for the lost:

John 3:36 - “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

If the lost are only psychologically needy there is no urgent need to reach them with the gospel. What does John the Baptist mean when he says the wrath of God abides on the one who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ? Here’s what we know for sure. Every New Testament writer saw this wrath of God as the primary motive for both evangelizing the lost and proselytizing those bound in other religions.

Missions is eternally worthwhile - demanding of every sacrifice on the part of the church - precisely because eternal realities are at stake for those yet to be reached with the truth. And the truth of God’s grace is virtually meaningless apart from the truth of God’s just judgment and wrath. If God won’t ultimately judge then the gospel becomes merely good advice. Apart from divine judgment, we aren’t actually saved from anything except, perhaps, a few brief years of slight sub-standard self-fulfillment.

b) Only a Biblically sustained belief in the reality of divine judgment will orient the soul of the redeemed to high praise and passionate thanksgiving as we worship the Lord from the standpoint of redemption accomplished on our behalf:

Here’s the neglected point. The doctrine of divine judgment is directly related to the worship and praise of the redeemed. Worship fueled by nothing but the Golden Rule will be shallow, cold, and sappy.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 - “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, [10] and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

Notice especially that last phrase in verse 10 - “....Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” What about this Jesus? What were they considering about Him specifically? Was it His Sermon of the Mount? His Miracles? No. Jesus. Consider Him. Wait for Him. Because He’s the one who “delivers us from the wrath to come!”

Sin brings its own punishment in this world, true enough. But that is just this present age. There’s a “wrath to come”(10). God is the One who punishes sinners in eternity. Sin, with all its bondage of habit and addiction, loses its hold when we die. But this “wrath” Paul described is something not even experienced until Jesus comes again, long after the unredeemed are dead and gone from this earthly scene. And this verse, in no uncertain terms, identifies Jesus as the deliverer from the wrath to come.

This is the Jesus we adore and praise and bow before. Whatever is going on in your present circumstances you have a sure, strong Redeemer from the wrath to come.

The present neglect of this truth is a great deficiency in the understanding of the contemporary church. Without a Biblically formed mind-set regarding divine wrath, Jesus Christ will never be held as precious as He truly is. In other words, in trying to tailor a picture of God the Father who is more worthy of our approval in this tolerant, non-judgmental world, we end up with a Christ who is less passionately adored as a sentimental guru rather than the One who saves us from the wrath to come.

This is always the danger of remaking God in our own image. The whole fabric of revelation and redemption and glory begins to come apart at the seams. The Biblical doctrine of divine judgment makes the magnificence of Jesus shine along with the loving heart of the Father who so loved the world that He sent His only Son.

We’ll continue this next Sunday morning.