Love and Justice
Hey, everyone. I’m Justin and I want to welcome you to North Hills Church, especially if this is your first time joining us. We’re going to get started in just a few minutes. But first, here’s this week’s Need2Know. Several weeks ago, we asked each of you to pray that God would work in the hearts of students while they attend the winter retreat in Andrews, North Carolina. We want you to know that God did just that. Here’s a short video that the students put together to give you an inside look at their great weekend.
This year’s Pure and Holy Retreat was a weekend filled with great teaching and conversations on the topic of sexual purity. Praise God for what he is doing in the hearts of the students at North Hills.
One of our goals during this time is to make sure that you have accurate information in a timely manner. Although there have not been any major announcements regarding COVID-19 restrictions in the last few weeks, we want to make sure that you have future announcements as quickly as possible. If you have not subscribed yet, please text “UPDATES” to 864-999-2525. By doing this, you will receive weekly notifications from our elders and links to the sermons when they become available online. This will ensure that you have the most accurate and latest information at all times. There are so many opportunities to get connected at North Hills. Please visit the Need2Know section of our website to learn more about different ways to connect and get involved. That wraps up this week’s Need2Know. Have a great week, everyone.
Good morning, North Hills Church. I wish that we could be together and worship together, but here we are. I’m looking at a camera lens that’s about four feet in front of my face, and you see me. I wish that I could see you. I wish that we were gathering together to worship, but we’re doing the best with what we have, and it has been so good in many ways. Our family has gathered together on our living room sofa every Sunday morning. We’ve enjoyed the singing together. We’ve listened to God’s Word being preached. 1 Peter 5 has been exactly what our hearts have needed during this season. That’s been good, but it’s not the same as when we gather together to worship the Lord. I miss standing in the congregation and listening to you sing. That is such an encouraging thing for my heart and soul. I miss sharing the Lord’s Supper together, remembering Christ’s broken body and shed blood. And I miss the fellowship. I miss seeing your face. I miss the handshakes and hugs. I’m thankful for what God has given us. The worship team — Ryan, Peter, Quinn, Jenny, and Bryan — have all done so well. Thank you guys for serving us and putting in the hours of serving us. We appreciate it. It has been the best for what we have. And I miss gathering with the church, God’s people, to worship our King. I look forward to the day when we can meet again together, shake hands and maybe even hug when the time is right.
This week, as I was thinking about Sunday, God’s providence was the theme that kept coming back to my mind. Even during times that are good or bad that God’s providence rules over all, that he is still King, that he holds dominion over all things. A very old catechism called the Heidelberg Catechism asks and answers that question about providence. I want to read the question and read the answer (you’ll see it on your screen) and then ask you to consider it as I read it, to think about what this is saying from the Scriptures about God’s providence. And then I’ll ask the question again and invite you in your home and me in my home where I will be on Sunday to all respond together regarding God’s providence.
So, here it is from the Heidelberg Catechism. Question 27 asks: What do you understand by the providence of God? Answer: God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand. I love that picture of God being in control, King, and allows good and bad to come to his people. But it’s all under the protection of his fatherly hand. It’s that theme from Scripture that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. So, let me ask that question again, and will you in your home respond together? Here’s the question: What do you understand by the providence of God? Answer: God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.
Such truths as these remind us and assure us that every microbe, every virus is under the control of God’s fatherly hand. As we worship together today, Church, let us remember this wonderful truth. And let us not forget the things that we have learned from 1 Peter 5, that it is “the God of all grace who himself will restore, establish, strengthen and confirm us after we have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen.” He is the King. He is on his throne. Let’s together, in our homes, worship that King today.
Hello. So glad to be virtually with you. If anyone where you are has a copy of the Scriptures or a Bible app, if you could turn are open to Psalm 97. Whether you’re alone or with other people, have someone read Psalm 97 out loud. We’re going to play instrumentally for a minute and just give space to breathe and meditate and use our imagination and let these words guide our minds to picture God on his throne. What does it mean that he is King? And then Jenny is going to lead us in a hymn. We’re going to spend some time singing, praying through song, and fixing our attention on the King of kings. So, go ahead, Psalm 97. Take a little time.
Let’s sing together.
Revelation 20:11-15. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Jesus, your name is power, breath, and living water — such a marvelous mystery. You are holy, holy, holy, and we adore you. Open our eyes to see you more clearly. We pray that you would fill Toby with your Spirit. Empower him as he opens up your Word to us. Speak to us, we pray, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Before I introduce our speaker today, I want to take a moment to thank you just for the way you’ve been responding to this very unusual time. I don’t think any of us have ever experienced anything quite like it. It raises huge questions. Some things were as predicted, other things are not. And so, in all of that, I just want to thank you for the way you keep your eyes on the kingdom, seeking his kingdom first, and seeing this very unusual time as a time of gospel advancement, a time to seek the Lord and love our neighbors. And God is doing that. He is opening up hearts. He is reuniting marriages. He is doing many miraculous things. And I just want to praise his name and let’s keep praying for more.
I’m very excited today to be back in the Book of Revelation. It’s been about a month ago we postponed our study of Revelation in order to dip into Isaiah and 1 Peter 5. A month ago, Toby Woodard was scheduled to cover Revelation 20:11-15 as we journey through the Book of Revelation. He has patiently delayed that message, but today we get to hear it. We will be in the Book of Revelation approximately nine more weeks. So, we’re going to near the end slow way down, and we’re going to cover very small portions so that while we’re covering those portions, we can look back and see what God has been teaching us all throughout our journey through the Book of Revelation. Toby Woodard is married to Katie. They have five, four kids. I just about gave you another kid there, Toby. Four kids. And he is part of the Business Development Department at Fresh Water Systems. And you can see by this picture, this is his current office. Again, these are unusual times when someone with Fresh Water Systems is working from this location, which has a lot of water systems, but I don’t know about the fresh part. Either case, Toby is working hard and hearing from God and ready to expose God’s Word to us. May his Spirit empower him.
Well, it is an honor to be here. I want to thank the elders for inviting me to come. It’s said that one of the great fears that people have is public speaking, being in front of a bunch of people. I always had kind of the opposite fear that I would show up for a presentation and no one would be there and now that’s happened. I’m just going to roll with it as best I can. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never been in a pandemic. Never preached a sermon during a pandemic. When Peter approached me some months ago, he gave me some options of what to preach on. There were a couple of different options, and I looked at them, and I prayed, and I said, “Well, I’ll do Revelation 20.” And then, like a lot of things in my life, about 12 hours later, I said, “What is the matter with you? Why on earth did you do that?” Because it’s quite possible that this is the most disliked passage in the entire Bible. And if it’s not the most, then certainly in the top five of passages that make us uncomfortable. Joking aside, I was having a conversation with someone not long ago. They were raised in the church, and they said, “This is what I don’t like. I don’t like the idea of God plucking people up and judging them.” By the way, that’s not exactly what’s going on here, but you understand where he’s coming from. It’s uncomfortable. It’s an uncomfortable topic for me. It’s an uncomfortable topic for those who do believe, and much less for people who maybe have some questions. There are questions, intellectual questions, about this. There’s inevitably emotional pushback when it comes to this idea of God’s judgment.
I think what our culture likes more and what you’ll hear very often in many different ways is something like this: Well my God would never judge anyone. I have a God of love, and that God of love would never judge anyone. And I’ll admit that on the surface that sounds very, very attractive. But if you dig a little bit, I would also posit that that actually raises more difficult questions. That actually opens up another different kind of Pandora’s box because of one thing. What about injustice? What about bona fide, genuine injustice? I’m talking about Jeffrey Epstein taking an 11-year-old girl to his private island for him and his buddies’ kind of injustice. I’m talking about a homeless man being beaten simply because he’s homeless or a teenage girl being discriminated against simply because she’s a girl or because of the color of her skin. I’m talking about a dude taking an AK-47 and just start mowing people down kind of injustice. I’m talking about the sorts of things that have happened to some of you. I know some of your stories. And there is great injustice. And I think it’s a serious problem.
Let’s go a step further. What about Karaman’s House injustice? You don’t know what Karaman’s House is? It’s located in the Bosnian city of Foca. In the early 90s, there was a civil war in this part of the world. The Bosnians and the Serbs and lots of other different groups hated each other. The Serbs happened to have more guns and better guns. The Serbs had better guns than the Bosniaks. And they came into this town of Foca, little small town. One town in one war. And what they did is they took the women, the young women in this city, younger than 15, many of them, and they took them to Karaman’s House. And for eight months the soldiers would come in from the countryside at night and they would come to Karaman’s House where all of these girls and young women were. And up to 20 men for one woman, night after night after night after night, they would brutalize these women for the longest eight months imaginable. Many would say that the men had a better fate. The boys and the men were simply rounded up, taken outside of town to a mass grave and executed. And almost none of the men who participated in that injustice ever faced any sort of human justice. The women, in fact, tell stories that even 20-30 years ago, they still live in some of the same towns. They still see their attackers on a regular basis.
Now, I want to ask you a question. What will your God who would never judge anyone do with that? Miroslav Volf has his answer. He was actually raised in this country. In many ways, he had a front row seat. He’s a theologian at Yale now, and he’s talking about this idea that a God of love cannot judge. And here’s what he says,
“One could object that it is not worthy of God to wield the sword. Is God not love, long-suffering and all-powerful love? A counter-question could go something like this: if God were not angry at injustice and deception, and did not make the final end to violence, would that god be worthy of our worship? I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone. Among your listeners are peoples whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit … Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that God refuses to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.”
As we might say in the South, that dog won’t hunt. It dies. This idea that God would not take a place. And if you think just simply doing away with God altogether is helpful, in a moment of candor, Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, says this,
“If we do not acknowledge some sort of external standard, what is to prevent us from saying that Muslim extremists aren’t right? What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question.”
You’re right, Richard, it’s a genuinely difficult question. And so, it doesn’t solve things. There’s not an easy solution. But what we need to understand is that this was not a philosophical discussion for the people receiving the Book of Revelation. Sometimes we make huge mistakes in understanding the Book of Revelation because we forget that it was written to a people at a place and a time in history. And what was that time in history? Well, the people who received the Book of Revelation, by and large, were living in places like Foca. The persecution of the church had begun, and it would get much worse. And the things that we spoke of a moment ago, they would happen to the people receiving this book. This is not a philosophical discussion. This is a deep and personal question about justice and injustice.
And everybody has asked that question. When you’re a little child, your brother or sister doesn’t do something fair. It’s not fair. We feel that even as early as elementary school. They cut in line. It’s not just! Middle school, there’s never been a middle schooler who hasn’t experienced some sort of back-stabbing, or gossip in high school. Or past that, you’re at a job, and someone lies about you. Maybe it even affects your job, and much, much worse. Much, much worse injustice that some of you have experienced. And we cry out even as little children for justice, and God hears. That is the message here. If you’re his, then injustice is not the final word. So, I want to talk about three things today, why we need a God who judges. Yes, need a God who judges — why it’s bad news and why it’s good news.
Why would I say we need a God who judges? And the answer is pretty simple. Our enemies are more powerful than we are. Look at verse 14. You see who our enemies are.
“Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”
Death, are you stronger than death? What about Hades? What is being spoken of? They’re two different things. There are a lot of ways to understand this word. For the most part, Jews understood the grave, (which is how this word is sometimes translated) the grave as some place of great uncertainty, the unknown, something to be feared and no real answers. Does that sound familiar? And the Greeks actually had a god called Hades. He was the god of the underworld and this was written into a Greek world. The god Hades was kind of pitiless, as you might imagine. Even the other guys, the other gods, he wasn’t invited to Olympus. They didn’t want to have anything to do with him because there was just this kind of hands off. And the Greek god Hades loved dictators, oppressors, murderers. The Greek god Hades would have loved coronavirus and the fear and uncertainty and death that it creates. And here’s what God is saying. All of the unknown things, the uncertain things, the fearful things, the sub-microscopic things that we can’t see, and we don’t know when they’re going to get us, he says, “I will judge them. I will judge death. I will judge Hades. I will judge coronavirus.” And so, when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from evil,” this is God saying, “I will. I will.”
And I think this is remarkably good news for a world that is filled with fear of the unknown. Now, in some ways, more than ever, we need a God who judges because our enemies are strong and because this God judges purely. That’s why we need him. Well, what do I mean by that, that he judges purely? Well, we see it in verses 12 and 13.
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged [according to what they had done as recorded] in the books … And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.”
And what you see here is not a God who is flying off the handle, a God who is plucking people up and throwing them into something. In fact, you see something quite the opposite. The record is open. The facts are there. The verdict is given. There’s no rage. There’s no inappropriate emotion. It’s not like Hades, who has this perverse pleasure in getting more people there. It’s simply, justly based on the facts. And there are literally billions of witnesses. Nothing is hidden. This God who judges, judges rightly. And if you’ve ever been judged wrongly, you know how important that is. And he judges rightly because he is pure. His justice is right. It’s righteous. It flows out of his character, and you see this in verse 11 at the beginning of the passage.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.”
A throne, a King. THE King. A great throne. THE throne. A great white throne, signifying purity and majesty and perfection. And him who sat on it. The throne is not the point. Him who sat on it is the point. And who is this him? He’s the same him who said light be and light was. It’s the same him that Moses said, “Let me see your glory.” And God said, “If you look at my glory, even for a moment, you’ll die.” It’s the same him that Isaiah, the great prophet, got a glimpse of on his throne. And he said, “I’m a man of unclean lips.” And he fell down and he needed grace. It’s the same him that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who reclined on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper. The same John sees Jesus at the beginning of the Book of Revelation in all of his glory and he falls down as though he were dead. That’s the him that is sitting on the throne.
And John Calvin comments on what the proper response is to this him. He says this.
“Hence that dread and amazement which Scripture uniformly relates, as holy men [like Moses and Isaiah] were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God. When we see those who previously stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death takes hold of them, the inference to be drawn is that men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”
And I need to ask myself, have I ever met the real God? I saunter into worship casually. Do I know this God? You see, judgment is not really the point of this passage. It is him who sits on the throne, and I need a God like this whose justice is perfect and holy and righteous and pure. But that’s bad news, isn’t it? It’s bad news for a couple of reasons.
First of all, there’s nowhere to hide. Did you notice when we were reading through it earlier in verse 11? The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.” The earth and the heavens are fleeing. And I thought about, a few years ago, when we had the eclipse. Like a lot of people, I was able to take the afternoon off, and we had an eclipse watching party in our back yard, and we didn’t have to keep social distancing. And it was kind of a party. You know, this countdown for several hours. And we all had our safety glasses on, and you’d look up and it moved a little bit from last time you looked up. And then you ate some more potato chips, and you looked up again. And I thought I would do a little experiment. Now, I’ve already established that I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. And in case you didn’t know, inside every grown man is a middle school boy. And my middle school boy showed up. Now I am mature enough to know that it’s not wise to look directly at the sun. I got that part down. But I thought, what if I wait until the very last moment? We knew within seconds when the full eclipse would be. And so, I was standing there and there was a sliver of a sliver of a sliver. It was literally like 20 seconds away from full eclipse. And I said, “I’m going to do it.” And so, I took my safety glasses off and I looked up and “Ahhh!” I had to put them right back on. Failed experiment or maybe successful. I perhaps learned something. That sun is fleeing from the majesty of God. Maybe the heavens and earth know something that we have forgotten.
Now, are they fleeing because they’re sinful? Of course not. They’re fleeing because of him, because they get it. And this does change the score on worship. And this does change the score on judgment. And it does help us understand, no wonder John fell down as though he was dead. But unlike the earth and the heavens, we can’t flee. See, the image-bearers were standing. There is a judge to whom we must give account, and there’s nowhere to hide. And it’s bad news because no one’s innocent. Look at verse 12.
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged [according to what they had done as recorded in the books].”
And then in verse 15, if you skip down, it says, anyone whose name was not found “written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
And what needs to be clear in our minds is that there are two books. And the two books represent two ways. One is full of deeds, and the other is full of names. Now, what happens to those who are in the book of deeds, and that is where their hope is? And Jesus tells us very clearly what happens in one of the more disturbing passages in the Bible. In Matthew 7 he says this,
“On that day … [This is Jesus saying, “on that day” and he’s talking about this day.] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Workers of lawlessness, mighty deeds, prophesying, casting out demons? See, what’s going on there and here in this first sort of book is that they had faith that the “good life” that they had lived and the things they had done actually put God in their debt. They said they were doing it in his name, but they show that they’re not because they’re protesting. That’s what’s happening here. They’re saying, “Hey, Lord, Lord. Wait a second. Look at what we did. We did this, and we did it for you, and we did this, and we did it for you, and we did this, and we did it for you. You’re not keeping up your end of the bargain, God.” And God says that’s lawlessness. It wasn’t done for me; it was done to put me in your debt. And this is the universal principle of every religion that’s ever been invented, save one. And most philosophies, too. And it goes something like this: We develop a good record. We do good stuff. We pay it forward. We get some good karma, and we give it to God, and now he owes us. And we can compare ourselves. I compare really well to some people. There are some people that like, “I don’t do that.” And you probably do that as well. You can look at some people and you say, “Hey, I’ve got some blemishes here and there,” but you are maybe objectively, compared to the rest of us, a pretty good guy or girl. But not compared to him. And that’s the comparison that matters. And that’s why Romans 3:10 says this really stark thing. “There is no one righteous … [not even] one.” And it’s level. It’s a level playing field before him who sits on the throne.
And I’ve got some really bad news. If we really wrestle with what this means, here’s what it means. It means that we have far more in common with those Serbian soldiers than we will ever have with God. That’s what it means. Have we wrestled with that? I recently heard a testimony of a man who was not raised in a Christian home, and he came to faith as an adult. And here’s what he said, a simply profound testimony of his faith. He said this, “I realized how holy God was, and how sinful I was, and I was converted.” And that’s the second way. He knew his deeds were lawless. He knew the first way was hopeless, and he began to embrace the second way which we’ll talk about in a minute.
It’s bad news because no one’s innocent and the torment is real. Verse 15, they were “thrown into the lake of fire.” And here it is. It’s a lake of brimstone, fire and brimstone. In perhaps the most famous fire and brimstone sermon ever preached by Jonathan Edwards, he said this. He said he thought this was metaphorical. It stood for something infinitely worse. And what’s happening here is God is giving in death what they wanted in life. God, leave me alone. Okay, I’ll do some stuff to keep you off my back maybe. But I really want to just, you do your own thing and I’ll stay in my lane. And God is saying, “okay.” J.I. Packer, the great Anglican theologian, says this,
“Scripture sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it by loving darkness rather than light, choosing not to have their Creator as their Lord, preferring self-indulgent sin to self-denying righteousness, and (if they encountered the gospel) rejecting Jesus rather than coming to him.”
See, the worst judgment God could ever give is to remove his presence — no more light, no more springtime, no more azaleas and dogwoods, no more comfort, no more water, no relief, and no hope of healing. And in Greek mythology, there were tormentors. There isn’t in the Bible, by the way. But in Greek mythology, there were demons who tormented, if you will. The Scriptures see the torment of hell as aloneness, self-chosen. I wanted to live a lifetime away from you, and now I will perpetually die in an eternity apart from you. But even here, as hard as that is to think about, even here there’s a gracious warning. Warnings can be very gracious, right? That’s the point of a warning. Hey, wash your hands. You might not want to go to the hospital. Stay away from sick people. Wear a mask if that is helpful. And so, warnings are places that are meant to save lives. And every loving parent who ever had a child says, “Listen, if you keep doing this way (if their child was off the rails) you’re going to die. You’re going to self-destruct. And I love you too much not to warn you.” And every good God says this, “Your self-centered life will end in an eternity of utter aloneness being consumed by your narcissism and crying out to a God you chose to reject.”
It’s serious. And so, if your response is, man, I really need to clean up my act, you haven’t even begun to wrestle with what it really means, it’s utterly superficial. And as a side note, by the way, I actually find this to be one of the arguments for the existence of the God of the Bible. Because I’m telling you right now, if I were thinking up a religion, and probably if you were too, I wouldn’t come up with this. I would do something radically different from this. There is bad news here, but there’s good news, too. In fact, I would I would say that his judgment is the absolute best news you’ll ever hear, because judgment is the reason he came. Not yours and not mine, but his.
You have to understand if you want to understand Christianity at all, at the very heart, the very core, the very essence of Christianity (whatever window dressing is out here) at the very heart, the most essential thing is this: God receives his own judgment. That’s crazy. And that’s why there’s this great promise verse. Many Christians know it and have quoted it. And it goes like this, it’s from 1 John 1,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Now, did you catch that? He’s faithful and just. What does that mean? We expect he’s faithful and merciful, and he is merciful. He’s faithful and kind, and he is kind. He’s faithful and loving, and he is loving. He’s faithful and gracious, and he is gracious. But those aren’t the words that he uses. He uses, he’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins because justice has been served by Christ.
That’s what John Stott says commenting on this. He says,
“The concept of substitution may be said to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.”
And this is the reason Christ came. If you are his, this is the best news you can ever hear. God will never punish you if you’re genuinely his. In fact, he can never punish you for sins that Jesus has already paid for. There’s discipline, but that’s the opposite of punishment. And so, a couple verses later, you see this in 1 John, again,
“If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
This is my record. His judgment is the reason he came. His judgment shows the extent of his love. That’s why it’s good news. Judgment shows the extent of his love. Now, connect the dots there for me, Toby. Well, here’s how it works. How do I know my wife loves me? Is it because she gave me flowers on Valentine’s Day (which she did because she’s awesome)? Is it because she writes me notes or says kind things to me or does the thousand small and not so small things around our house? And those are wonderful expressions of love. But the reason I really know that my wife loves me is because she hasn’t left. And I’ve given her reason to. She’s still there. And yet, on the cross, in the last minutes, the last hours of his life, Jesus is hanging there, and he cries out to God. He says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What’s going on there? Yeah, the physical suffering of Jesus is unimaginable — whips that tear the flesh from your back, thorns just rammed down on your head, not to speak of these huge nails that go right through your hands and feet. And the Romans thought of the most masochistic way … I’m sorry, sadistic way to kill someone. But it was nothing compared to the mental and emotional and spiritual suffering that Jesus was beginning to feel. He says, “My God, my God.” And it is the only place in the book of Matthew that he doesn’t call God his Father. Because this eternal relationship, this eternal love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, an intimacy that we can never even begin to understand, is beginning to be ripped apart. My God, my God, where are you?
And we know that the length of a relationship and the depth of the relationship has everything to do with the pain of a relationship. If you know me a few minutes and you don’t like me. If you’re a friend for 10 years and you leave me, it hurts. If you’ve got a spouse who dies or leaves after 25-30 years, you hardly can recover from that. And here is the longest-lasting relationship ever and in his humanity, Jesus is crying out, “Why have you forsaken me?” And the godhead answers back, “Because this is the only way we can destroy sin without destroying them.” And Jesus is beginning to suffer an eternity of hell. In some way I can’t imagine, over the next hours and days, he would suffer an eternity of judgment for his people.
And so, what we find here is that God is so committed to ending suffering and death, he’s so committed to his people, that he entered into suffering and death in ways we can’t understand. And he was forsaken so that I wouldn’t be. That is the gospel. That’s the heart of the gospel, so that in Romans 3, God can say, “I can be just and the justifier of the ungodly.” See, there are two ways, remember? There will be justice. Either Toby will suffer justice, or Jesus will suffer justice. Here are the two ways. Those who trust themselves and reject Christ, your judgment is based on your record. And this is the horrific last chapter that never ends and always gets worse. And for those who trust Christ, the second way, and reject self-salvation, judgment is also based on a record, his. That’s why you can have hope, sure hope. He gets the guilt; I get set free. And I still have chapter 21 and 22 and an eternity after that of party, a party of grace that I know that I didn’t earn. And I am welcomed.
So, if the universal principle of every religion is, we develop a good record, we give it to God, and he owes us. The gospel is, God develops a good record, he gives it to us, and we do owe him our lives. So, I would ask you, if you have a God who would never judge anyone for anything, how much does he love? How much does his love cost? I suspect it hasn’t cost much. But I can tell you that my God loved me so much, he would suffer an eternity of hell for me. That’s real love. That’s a God of love.
So, I want to ask you three questions. First one is this. This is going to happen. What will you do with it? And here’s the thing, you will do something with it. You can kind of go, “Well, that was mildly interesting. Woodard’s no Hubbard. I’ll give it a 5 out of 10.” And I would agree with you completely, but then you would be worse off than you were at the beginning, because you will have totally missed the point. See, will you allow these truths to be the antidote to the flimsy, vapid, superficial religion that changes nobody and nothing? This is the antidote to your boredom with God. Maybe you don’t know him. Or, will you allow this to awaken you to both the holiness of God and the graciousness of grace? You cannot have one without the other. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter how we feel about it, whether we like it or not. What will you do with that?
Secondly, can you taste the good news of Jesus taking your judgment? The last chapter of Revelation says the church was given white linen to wear, and she was given these clothes of righteousness. And the New Testament talks about being clothed with the righteousness of Christ or being naked on our own. And here again is completely level ground. There’s no exclusivity. Everybody can come. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. You can wear white clothes. And it doesn’t matter how damnable your good works are. You can come too if you repent of them and cling to Christ as your only hope. So, rather than being naked before something that will kill us, clothed in the righteousness of Christ and none can touch.
And finally, The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563 and yet very relevant for today, asks the question that I’m going to ask. And wherever you are, I encourage you to answer with the words that are printed on the screen. It asks the question,
“What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?”
Answer, “In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted himself to the judgment of God for my sake and has removed all the curse from me. He will cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but he will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into heavenly joy and glory.”
Thanks be to God. Please pray with me.
Father, that’s good news. It’s good news that I need to hear because I know my record. And I don’t know it as well as you do. And I know Christ’s record for me. And I want that to awaken us, to awaken us to the glory of God and the goodness of grace, to shake us out of our doldrums and out of our superficial religion, our worship that is shrug worthy. Father, to enliven us. Father, do this work in us. Take your Word, drive it deep into our souls, and there it may grow and bear fruit for your glory. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, amen.
Wherever you are, if you’re willing to stand and receive God’s good Word to you, you can even hold out your hands if you feel comfortable with that. This is God’s blessing to you from the last words of the Bible.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”