Picture yourself in the courtroom, awaiting the verdict. How are you feeling? It’s your verdict … your future. It’s a death penalty trial. You’re hoping your lawyer did enough, but ... in a moment, you will either be free — or condemned. Not a comfortable feeling, is it?
Now crank it up one more notch. What if you know the means of execution isn’t just the dull prick of the fatal injection or the sudden flash of the firing squad? What if we’re talking about an eternity of burning flesh and living through worms and maggots eating you alive? Are you ready for that kind of judgment?
I know. This all sounds a little extreme to our ears, right? Probably because so many people today try to put the focus of Christianity and church on what’s right in front of us — our lives here. And yes, having a relationship with Jesus does make our lives better here. Not that we won’t have problems. Everyone has problems. But when those problems come — when we are good with God, we have someone we can trust, someone who is in charge and makes sure it all works out for us. And that does make life better.
But really, that peace is only a side benefit, a byproduct of the real benefit of Christianity. Today, John 5 reminds us that what really matters is whether you are ready for eternal judgment.
So, are you? It’s coming.
This is John 5:28: "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice ... (5:29): ... and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."
Are you ready for that? Well, let’s think about it. Have I done good or evil? And, before I answer that, I should refresh myself on what exactly God means by those words.
What is God’s standard? Leviticus 19: "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy." Or how about Matthew 5: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Or James: "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."
And Ezekiel tells us: "The soul that sins is the one that will die." Those are God’s standards. Yes or no. All or nothing. Go or no go. There is no "sort of" with God.
So for your felony — you deserve an eternity of hell. For your divorce, you deserve separation from God. For your abuse, you deserve to be abused. That kind of person has no place in God’s presence.
But, just as severely — for your selfishness, you deserve God to stop considering you and drop you into that pit of raging fire.
For your anger, you deserve his wrath. Even for your thought, that one you stopped yourself from speaking — that one less than perfect thought should mean God wouldn’t think of you again.
How ready for that judgment are you?
It’s not looking so good — until you read the rest of what Jesus said. In fact, three times in this section Jesus calls our attention to something big. The first is in verse 19 where he tells us that He is truly God’s Son. He and the Father are united in what they do, they are united in love. They are united in judgment in the fact that the Father gave all judgment to the Son.
There is no contradiction between the Father and the Son. And, actually, think about that when it comes to being ready for judgment. Since this Son of God is the one doing the judgment — at least we know this — that we won’t have any uncertainty of some appeals process. Whatever the judgment is, it will be final.Which actually is a little scary when we consider our guilt.
But now look at the other two "Amen Amen" statements Jesus puts before us here. Verse 24: "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 over from death to life."
What?! Not condemned? But what about the standards? We know we’re not perfect. But, verily verily he says unto us — whoever hears and believes ... You see what he’s doing?
He’s telling us the standard of perfection is not according to what we see. It’s according to what God sees. It’s all about the Word. Just believe it.
That word changes things.
Believe when Jesus says he laid down his life for the sheep. Believe when he says that his blood washed away the sin of the world — our sins.
Believe when he says that he is clothing us with his perfection. Believe when he says that His Word gives us the power to believe. As he said in that verse, you have crossed over from death to life.
But how!? Our minds race.
"There’s no way I’m perfect, even after I believed. I still mess up. Does that mean I don’t believe enough? I mean, I know what I deserve."
So again Jesus says: "Verily Verily," (Amen, Amen) "I tell you the truth; A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."
The dead — yes, I recognize that name — that’s me because of my sin. Now what did he say about the dead?
The time is NOW when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God, and, because of that — we live. We have life. WE have crossed over from death to life. And that happens when we hear his voice.
So get into God’s Word. Get into His house. Hear His voice. Then you can take the question mark out of the title of this article and change it to an exclamation point. You are "ready for judgment!"
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington.