A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on John 5:16-30 on Sunday 26 April 2020
With ten minutes to go in the World Cup soccer final between France and Italy, the most extraordinary thing happened. French captain Zinnadine Zidane head butted the chest of his Italian opponent. And so the judgment of soccer came down upon him. Zidane was sent from the field in his last professional game. And without their captain and best player, France lost the final in a penalty shoot out. As commentator Martin Tyler said, “It takes 15 years to build a career and only 15 seconds to destroy it.” Judgment is never nice or polite but it is necessary. Soccer needed that action, that judgment for the sake of its reputation and for the sake of the children who watch and play it.
The world needs judgment, this sifting between wrong and right. In fact, we demand it. What else can explain why anyone watches A Current Affair? You can watch in vain to find any current affairs. What you’ll find instead are stories about shoddy builders, nuisance neighbours and bad employers. What can explain it except that we need these judgments to make life fair, to right these wrongs? We demand judgment.
We need judgment. I need to know that my tie isn’t straight. I need to know that something is caught between my teeth. I need to know that I can’t just do what I like, but that I will be held accountable for my actions. We demand judgment. For crime to stop and for wars to end and for the poor to receive the bare necessities of life.
But the Bible is adamant that God is not content to confront evil in a piecemeal fashion like a firefighter trying to put out fire storm with a hose. No, God intends to send the driving rain of his judgment to put out the whole world that is set on fire with evil. And so he has appointed a day when every soul that has ever lived will appear before his judgement seat to give an account for what they have done in their lives and to receive his justice.
This is why the Bible teaches about a Day of Judgment. A day at the end of history, when God will establish his kingdom in righteousness and the wicked will receive their just deserts. Not to frighten us into being good. But because God’s very nature, his justice, his holiness, demands a day of reckoning. The world cries out for judgment, for an end to injustice, for an end to evil and violence and suffering. And if there is no one with the right, with the power, with the will to judge, if there is no one who will bring all people to account for their actions, who will hold them responsible to face the consequences of their choices, then evil will reign forever in this world. The world needs judgment or there is no hope. For the sake of the weak and the powerless and the oppressed, the world demands God’s judgment. It is God’s cure for the disease of evil in the world.
And yet for some strange reason, we fear judgment. We fear the cure of evil more than we fear the disease. We fear it so much that God’s Day of Judgment has become like the church’s family secret. The thing we know is true, but we don’t like to talk about it in front of others. Perhaps we fear judgment because we are embarrassed about God making such a fuss. We are used to the injustice all around us and are happy to put up with it if God will just leave us alone. Or perhaps we fear it because we are honest enough to realise that God’s searching gaze might find us out, that our own lives might be weighed in the balance and found wanting. Or perhaps we fear it because we have forgotten who it is that God has appointed as judge. When we stand before the judge, we won’t recognise him from his picture in the paper or from his voice on the radio. We may not recognise him at all, until he holds up his hand for silence and we see the scars from the nails in his cross. For the judge of the living and the dead will be the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in John chapter 5,
I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father.
Jesus was in the middle of a dispute with the Pharisees. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath Day, the day that God had said must be kept holy by doing no work. But when the Pharisees confronted him with breaking the fourth commandment, Jesus asked, “What have I done wrong? My Father is always working, and I am too.”
This got them almost tearing their beards out. Imagine daring to call God his own Father, like he’s equal with God.
Jesus tried to explain, “I can’t do anything on my own. I do what my Father shows me. But because he loves me, the Father has given me two things, the power to give life and the authority to judge.” As the apostle Peter said in Acts chapter 10,
God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen by us who ate and drank with him. He commanded us to preach to the people to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
As the Apostles Creed says as well, “He is seated at the right hand of the Father and will come again to judge the living and the dead.” It is Jesus, the Saviour of Calvary, the risen and ascended Lord, before whom we will all kneel on that final day, and whom we will all confess as Lord.
Which means that if the judge of judgment day is the Saviour of the world, our only hope, our only way to God, our only source of joy and peace and blessing, if the judge of judgment day still bears the scars of his saving work upon the cross, then what are you so afraid of? If you have given your life to Christ, if you have put your faith in him, if you trust in his death and resurrection as the sole basis of your relationship with God, if you have received his Spirit, if you seek to follow his example, then what are you so afraid of? That you will turn up on the Day of Judgment to find out that the judge has changed his mind, that life has just been some kind of reality TV show, that you are the weakest link, that the tribe has spoken and you have been evicted from the House, that you are on your own with no one to help you, that it really is all up to you and that you have failed and your body soul and spirit will be consigned to hell forever? Is that what you are afraid of? Is this why judgment is such a big secret, because you are afraid of failing the test? Then listen to what Jesus says,
I tell you the truth. Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned. He has crossed – already crossed over – from death to life.
As Paul says in Romans chapter 8,
There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
Our judge, Jesus, suffered our judgment on the cross so that when he returns to destroy evil forever, we might survive the procedure. Our hearts were sick with sin, but Jesus took it from us so that the cure for us might not be worse than the disease.
There is nothing to fear from judgment, unless… Unless you have not given your life to Christ. Unless you do not trust in him. Perhaps you believe that he is a good man, but not that he is Lord. Perhaps you believe that he is a great teacher, but not the way and the truth and the life. Perhaps you believe that he is the founder of one of the world’s great faiths, but that it is not your faith. To you God’s word simply says, don’t be afraid. Repent and believe the good news. Take up your cross and follow him. Swallow your pride and find your significance and worth in him. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and receive his comfort. Step out of your darkness and self-centredness and let his light shine. And you will cross over from death to life. And you will not be condemned. Whatever anyone else says or thinks about you, your saviour and your judge will receive you. And God’s justice will reign and the rule of evil will be ended forever.
The world demands judgment. Corruption, violence and inequality cry out for justice. And Jesus Christ who was judged on the cross in our place is coming to bring that justice. And our judge still bears the scars. If you love him and trust him and serve him, not by your own strength but by his grace and by his Spirit, his promise is that there will be no condemnation. His coming in judgment should not be the church’s family secret. It is the promise of the cure for evil in the world. It is what we should live for and hope for and pray for, because it is what we have been saved for.