I Believe Jesus Will Judge the Living and the Dead
How does the confession of faith, "I believe...Jesus shall come to judge the quick and the dead" drive your daily life? You confess to believe that the last great moment in history, before the new heaven and the new earth, will be a grand courtroom scene with Jesus on the bench and all men, women, children from all times and places before Him to be judged. The last page of the novel called, "Planet Earth" is a judgment scene. How does this faith drive your day to day life?
Maybe even though you confess Jesus will judge us all, it isn't a reality to you. It's just something you say. Maybe you have a hard time seeing Jesus as judge. In His earthly ministry, He didn't look like one. In the Passion reading we followed to the judgment hall and far from seeing Jesus judging we saw the Lord of life arraigned. He was put on trial before Ann-us and then Caiaphas. They judged Him; He didn't judge them. And Jesus didn't even get a fair trial.
The world around us sure doesn't look for Jesus to judge the living and the dead, does it? If it sees anyone, whom does the world see as judge? "God". When the world portrays judgement 2 things will be evident, people go to heaven to be judged; Jesus doesn't return to earth, and Jesus won't be the one judging. God, depicted as an old man or a voice, judges, or St. Peter whose blasphemous, cowardly denial of Jesus we saw again tonight.
What about you? Whom really is the judge of your life? Whom do you really believe will judge your life in the end? I think many of you really believe you'll be standing before a judge named Success or Wealth or Health. If you can be judged successful, wealthy or healthy, that's enough. The rich man in the parable thought so too, and concluded that he could rest because he had sufficient wealth, health and success. But what did Jesus judge? He judged him to be a fool and required his soul to stand in the divine courtroom that very night. So let your peers judge you a success; let your broker judge you wealthy and your doctor judge you healthy. What counts is the verdict from the lips of Jesus, the real judge of all.
You will certainly hear a verdict from Him because Scripture plainly says so. Last week we read 2 Corinthians 5: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." 2 Timothy 4 says, "The Lord Jesus Christ...shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing." Twice in Acts, Paul says God the Father has ordained Jesus as the judge.
Although there is no public celebration like Christmas or Easter connected with Jesus' returning to judge, the Church has always confessed it in Her creeds, sung about it in Her hymns, and celebrated it in Her art. If you've seen some of the art, it probably stuck with you. Judge Jesus looking stern, fierce even, high on His throne and some, just a few, entering into the joy of their Lord. The rest, the vast majority, you see tumbling down into hell where ghastly tortures not fit to be described here are inflicted on them.
Yes, this is what all things come to: standing before Jesus in a courtroom. "What do you think of Jesus?" is the burning question that runs through all of this life. But at life's end what counts is "What does Jesus think of me?" Proud, bold Peter was sure He knew more than Jesus, but thankfully in the end he cared more about what Jesus thought of him than what he thought of Jesus. Judas too cared in the end about what Jesus thought of him, but he wouldn't believe those were good thoughts unless he could undo his horrible sin. When the church leaders would not take back their blood money, Judas found out that not so easily is a deed undone. He must answer for what he had done to Jesus, and he has no answer, so he hangs himself so violently that he split in two and "all his bowels gushed out" on the ground.
No one escapes the judgement of Jesus not the living, not the dead. You don't escape His judgment by extreme suffering, works of charity, or by going to church. You don't even escape Judge Jesus by confessing He will be your judge. That fact alone may well drive you mad in this life and will certainly make you miserable. This was the Roman Catholicism of Luther's day. They knew Jesus "only as judge and avenger." That's where those paintings come from which delight in picturing Jesus as a pitiless judge who enjoys sending people to hell. Believing that Jesus will judge the living and the dead, including you, is only bad news unless you know Jesus as the Savior, Redeemer, Propitiator, who suffered and sacrificed to save you.
What you heard, saw, felt going on in the Passion reading isn't the tragedy of a man unjustly accused and not getting a fair trial. It's not about how mean and rotten sinful men are to the nice Jesus. What is going on is our redemption. It's true; Jesus is unjustly condemned because He is innocent, but He goes the way sinners like us should go in our place. His mouth is hit as if He had lied because you tell lies with your mouth. False witnesses testify against Him because faithful witnesses could testify against you for things you've done that you would die if anyone ever found out. The leaders of the church spit on Jesus, blindfold Jesus, beat Him with their fists, and mock Him because you have mistreated the Church that badly and ought to be punished for it.
Now that's going to far, isn't it? You're in Church on a Wednesday aren't you? It's those people who won't come to Church who are the ones who mistreat the Church. Well friend, as long as you maintain your innocence, Jesus cannot be your innocence. As long as you maintain there is something about you that can pass the judgment of Jesus, Jesus can't bear it for you and away from you. You go on believing that at least in regard to the Church you don't need forgiveness, and you will find yourself condemned by Judge Jesus because those who maintain they're not guilty are guilty, even as those who think they have saved their life are really the ones who have lost it.
Here's where people get confused. They read John 3:17, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him," and think, "Jesus won't judge me." Wrong! The first time Jesus came into the world wasn't for judgment but for redemption, salvation, and forgiveness. But Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. The only ones who will be able to stand before Judge Jesus are those who have stood under the redeeming Jesus who suffered, sighed, bled and died to satisfy God's eternal wrath against their sins.
Hear the wonderful truth stated in John 3:18, "He who believes in Jesus is not judged." And in John 5:24 Jesus says, "He who hears My Word and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment." Or how about Romans 8:1, "There is now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus." Though you be a proud, denier of Christ like Peter or a greedy betrayer of Him like Judas, see your sins as being paid in full by what Jesus went through tonight. See that the judgment you deserve for those sins of long ago that still bother you today has been carried out against Jesus, so it cannot be carried out against you. See before you tonight what it means for a sinner to be condemned by an angry God, and know therefore that there can be no condemnation left for you.
Our confession that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead can drive your life in a wonderful direction. Though your conscience, the world around you, or the even the devil himself, judge you guilty of this or that sin, you know you don't stand before them on judgment day. You stand before Jesus, and He who bore your judgment already will not forget what He did. Though by every human judgment, you are less than a success, though by every financial judgment you aren't wealthy, and though by every medical judgement you're not healthy, in the judgment of Jesus you are victorious, rich, and robust. And His judgement, not yours, mine or the world's is the only one that counts.
It gets even better. One day a doctor, a corner, an EMT is going to stand over you and judge you dead. But you won't be. You will be alive because Jesus will judge you to be. Isn't that the truth? Jesus judges the dead, alive even as He judges sinners, saints; the lost, found, the sad, happy; and the empty, full.
This faith we hold that Jesus will judge the living and the dead drives our daily lives not in a gloomy, fretful way but in a glad, even fanciful way. All of my judgments must be pushed aside. Who am I to judge whether I'm winning or losing, healthy or sick, forgiven or guilty, happy or sad? I live from every Word that comes from mouth of Jesus not mine. So when Jesus judges in my Baptism that I am born again, I am though I be old, grey, sick or dying. When Jesus judges in my Absolution that I am forgiven, I am though others or even myself won't or can't forgive me. When Jesus judges that I am a worthy guest at His table because of what He did for me, then I eat His Body and drink His Blood for life here and eternal life in the hereafter. I go by Judge Jesus' words not my own.
Peter went by Jesus's words. Judas went by his own words and that of other men. Peter stood in God's courtroom. Judas stood in man's. Jesus judged both men's sins as paid for. How could He judge otherwise? He was there to suffer and die to pay for all men's sins. But Judas went by the judgement of men that he must pay for his own sins. Peter went by Jesus' judgment that there is no sin that could not be forgiven, covered, carried away in the flood of Jesus' holy, precious blood. Flee from the court of men into the court of God, and rejoice that the one who bore your sins, forgives your sins, and forgets your sins is the One returns to be your judge. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek III (Passion Reading 3); 2-23-05