All About the Judgment

All About the Judgment

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Dr. Jim Denison

A dear elderly saint was near death, and gave her pastor a strange request: “When my casket is opened at the funeral, and all my friends come by for a last look, I want them to see me ready to be buried with a table fork in my right hand.” She explained to her puzzled pastor, “I want you to tell the congregation, you know what it means when they clear the dishes from a big meal and someone says, ‘keep your fork.’ You know that something good is coming—maybe a piece of apple pie or chocolate cake. ‘Keep your fork’ means something good is coming. Pastor, I want to be buried with a dessert fork in my hand. It will be my way of saying, ‘the best is yet to come.'”

And so it was. Everyone who saw her body in the casket saw her final witness. For her, death and judgment were not a disaster, but dessert.

How can that be true for you and me, when we stand before God in judgment one day?

Will your building last?

Here are the facts of our text, centered in the metaphor of life as a house we build. First, the house is the gift of God (10). Paul’s abilities and opportunities to be an “expert builder” were given to him by God. His relationship with Jesus Christ is God’s grace gift to him. All we have and are comes by his grace.

The doctrine of judgment does not teach a works righteousness. We cannot earn God’s love or favor. Judgment means that we are to be faithful stewards of the grace gifts and opportunities of God, and are accountable for them. But no one deserves the rewards given at the judgment—they come by his grace.

Second, the house must be founded on Jesus (11). He is the unchanging, stable rock upon which to build your life. Not just your religion, or your Sunday mornings, but every priority, commitment, and ambition. Your life must be bolted to him.

Third, we are responsible for what we build (12). The foundation is determined. What we build on it is not.

Some of us use “gold, silver or costly stones” (marble and granite). We give God our best. We invest in that which is permanent and eternal. We put souls before success, family before finances, God before gold. When the “fire” of judgment comes, gold, silver, and marble stand the test. You’ve seen ancient marble ruins, standing for thousands of years, ready to stand for thousands more. So with some of us.

Some of us use “wood, hay or straw.” We give God what is cheap, convenient, easy. He gets the leftovers. And when we are judged, our disobedience will be obvious to all.

Fourth, God will judge our lives (13-15).

One day the judgment will come—the “Day” (13). Lives lived for God will be rewarded, as we’ll see in a moment (14). Lives lived for ourselves, for this fallen world, for that which is temporary and inferior, will “suffer loss” (15a). God cannot reward disobedience.

If we have made Jesus our Savior, we will be saved. Our eternal salvation is not in question. But our eternal rewards are, and if our house has been built out of wood, hay or straw, we will “be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (15b). How do people run out of a burning house? With nothing.

You’ve perhaps heard about the crooked building contractor who built a house for a wealthy friend, cutting corners wherever he could. Inferior products and workmanship throughout. When the house was finished, the wealthy friend gave the man the keys and said, “It’s yours.”

There’s a story about a business tycoon who made a fortune in money and fame, but gave little of himself or his wealth to God. When he died, Peter showed him his home in heaven—a small shack. He protested loudly, and Peter shrugged his shoulders and explained, “I did the best I could with what you sent me.”

You and I are responsible for what we do with the lives God has given us by his grace. They are to be founded on Jesus as Lord, built of our best commitment to him. One day the Building Inspector will visit our house. And his judgment will be eternal.

These are the facts of God’s word. Now let’s ask some questions.

Will you be judged?

First, will you be judged? Would a loving Father of grace and mercy judge his children?

Hebrews 9:27 is clear: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” All of us—no exceptions. Paul said, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

A man in the congregation laughed when the pastor said, “Members of this church, you will all die one day and face the judgment of God.” The pastor asked him why he laughed, and he said, “I’m not a member of this church.” But he is. So are we all.

By whom will we be judged? By Jesus: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The “judgment seat” was a raised platform where the ruler sat and judged those brought before him. At this “bema seat” Pilate once judged Jesus; now Jesus judges Pilate.

Jesus was very clear on this: “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

Peter said, “[Jesus] is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Paul agreed: “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).

When? At his return. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him,” and he will judge them (Matthew 25:31-32.


Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

John 14:1-6

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend recently sent me this story by e-mail. It seems an elderly lady finished her shopping and walked out to her car, to find four males in it. She dropped her shopping bags and drew her handgun, proceeding to scream at them at the top of her voice that she knew how to use it and would if required—so get out of the car. The four men didn’t wait around for a second invitation, but got out and ran like crazy.

The lady proceeded to load her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver’s seat. However, her key wouldn’t fit the ignition. She got out and found her car, identical to this one, parked four spaces down. She loaded her bags into her car and drove to the police station.

The sergeant to whom she told her story nearly doubled over with laughter as he pointed to the other end of the counter, where four pale white males were reporting a car-jacking by a mad, elderly woman. No charges were filed.

Now, when her key didn’t work in the car, what was the lady’s reaction? Did she say, “All keys are basically the same”? Did she complain that the car would only accept one key? No, she was grateful she had a key to her car (as soon as she found it!).

In our Yearning 2 Know series, we’ve asked what happens when we die, and what does the Bible teach about heaven and hell. Now we’ll ask the most confusing question of the entire series: Is Jesus the only way to God? Is he the only way to avoid hell and go to heaven when we die? And what practical impact does the answer have for us today?

What did Jesus say?

First, let’s make sure we know what Jesus actually said. Let’s get past all the popular opinion, and denominational differences. What did Jesus really say? In our text he states four facts.

One: he is God (v. 1). “Believe in God; believe also in me,” he says. Later: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). The disciples are troubled about his impending death, but he is not. All is well, he claims—I’m in charge. I am God.

Earlier the Jewish authorities had tried to stone Jesus for blasphemy, “because you claim to be God” (10:33). Make no mistake: Jesus clearly claims that he is God. Other religious leaders claim to reveal God; Jesus claims to be God.

Two: he is preparing a place for us in heaven (v. 2). “Prepare” means to go before and make ready for the arrival of others. Other religious leaders speak of heaven, and even tell their followers how to go there. Jesus says he is going there first, ahead of us, to make things ready. No one ever made this claim before.

Three: he will take us there himself (v. 3). “Take you to be with me” means “to walk alongside of.” Jesus hasn’t gone home and left us directions for finding our way there. He will come back to us and lead us there, personally. Again, no one else ever claimed this.

Four: he is the only way to heaven. Others said, “I know the way, the truth, and the life” or “I teach the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Earlier he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). He is the only way, truth, and life.

Do you hear these claims to uniqueness? I am God; I am preparing your place in heaven; I will take you there; I alone can take you there. Jesus is the only way to God—the text makes this claim clear.

And this is by no means the only place where the word of God makes this claim. Remember John 1:14: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:18 is dogmatic: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Jesus clearly claims to be the only way to the Father, and the rest of the New Testament says he’s right.

Aren’t all religions basically the same?

Now let’s ask some common questions. First, aren’t all religions basically the same? Don’t they all pray to the same God and teach the same basic ideas? Aren’t they just different roads up the same mountain?

Nearly two-third of all Americans think they are. 64% say they all pray to the same God. And 56% say that you can work your way to heaven by being good, no matter what religion you claim.

Hindu temples have increased 1000% in America in the last ten years. There are more Muslims than Episcopalians in our country. And they are people of reverence, too. I’ve seen Buddhists burn a year’s salary in paper money at the grave of an ancestor, and Muslims leave their mosques with their foreheads bleeding from praying on their rugs so fervently. What about them? Are they all the same? Decide for yourself. Consider these very basic facts:

Hinduism teaches that there are many “gods” but no “God”—no personal Creator who is Lord of all. We are “atman,” part of “Brahman,” and “moksha” or “salvation” comes through multiple reincarnations when we are absorbed into ultimate reality. No eternal souls or independent existence—we cease to be.

Buddhism affirms the four noble truths and eightfold noble path, by which we can come to “Nirvana,” a “blowing out” where we cease to be. No such thing as God in the sense of Lord; no heaven where we live personally with God forever.


When Will Jesus Return?

When Will Jesus Return?

Acts 1:6-11

Dr. Jim Denison

At one time Martin Luther thought the Pope was the Antichrist, and expected Jesus’ return during his lifetime. Christopher Columbus thought the world would end in 1656, and that his explorations would lead a Christian army in the final crusade to convert the world. Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicted the rapture in 1910 and the end of the world in 1914.

Closer to home, Harold Camping wrote the bestseller 1994? in which he predicted the end would come on September 6, 1994. Edgar Whisenant published Eighty-eight Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, and sold thousands of copies. Trinity Broadcasting Network president Paul Crouch predicted an apocalyptic event for June 9, 1994.

We have multiple end-times theories being taught and believed today. Preterists think Revelation has mostly been fulfilled already. The Continuous-Historical school thinks different verses have been fulfilled at different times in church history. The Symbolic school sees the book as entirely symbolic, with no reference to literal history. The Postmillennialists say the church will bring in the millennium, then Jesus will return; the Amillennialists expect neither a literal tribulation nor millennium. The Historic Premillennialists expect Jesus’ second coming and then the millennium; the Dispensationalists expect a rapture, seven-year tribulation, then Jesus’ coming and the millennium.

Each position is held by conservative, Bible-believing scholars.

I am a “pan-millennialist” myself—it will all pan out in the end. What are you?

In our Yearning 2 Know series we’ve looked at death, heaven, hell, judgment, and suffering. We close with the most urgent question of all: when will Jesus return? And, how does the answer affect your life today?

The perennial question (6-7)

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples “over a period of forty days and spoke to them about the kingdom of God” (v. 3). He then promised them the Holy Spirit (v. 5). They knew that the coming of the Spirit and the coming of the Kingdom were related. So in response, they asked the question Christians have been asking ever since: “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6).

Their question was logical, but wrong. Calvin said, “There are as many errors in this question as words.”

Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7). “Times or dates” refers to specific dates as well as years.

“Not for you” refers to Jesus’ first and closest disciples—Peter, James, John, the others, and even Mary and his brothers. If Jesus wouldn’t tell them when he would return, will he tell you and me?

If discovering the time of his return was possible by scriptural exegesis, or spiritual commitment, would they not have determined it? To say that I know what Peter, James, John, and Mary did not know is egotism, to say the least.

The Father has placed this decision in his authority alone. Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32-33).

Paul said Jesus’ coming would be as surprising and unanticipated as a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1). Peter made the same prediction (1 Peter 3:10).

Listen to Jesus’ warning: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him….It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:35-36, 38-40).

No one but God knows when Jesus will return. We must be ready every day, for it could be any day. This is the clear teaching of God’s word.

The practical response (8)

Why, then, does the Second Coming matter? Jesus makes clear the practical response to our perennial question: “You will be my witnesses.”

The Bible is not a speculative book. We ask rational, philosophical questions. We want to know about creation and the end-times, two subjects about which we can do nothing.

But God’s word was not written in the western, Greek, rational tradition. It is a Hebrew book, written from the Hebrew present-tense, practical world view. It seldom tells us all we want to know, but it tells us more than we can do.

And it is clear: “You will be my witnesses.” No one knows when Jesus will return, so everyone must be ready. You and I must be ready. Then we must help other people to be ready.

And we have only today to do so. The early Christians were sure about this. And so they lived in the daily expectation of Jesus’ imminent return. They wanted to be found doing what they would be doing if they knew Jesus were coming back that day. They wanted everyone they knew to be right with God, today. They had a passion for missions and evangelism, for they knew the time was short.

And they were right. Jesus may come back for us all today. Or you and I may go to him. Either way, the time is short.

Listen to the word of God:

Romans 13:11-13: “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime.” Are you living in the “daytime”?


Why Do God’s People Suffer?

Why Do God’s People Suffer?

Matthew 5:10-12

Dr. Jim Denison

Innocent suffering is the greatest single problem confronting the Christian faith. We Christians believe three facts about God:

God is all loving—he would want to end evil and suffering, it would seem.

God is all powerful—he could end evil and suffering.

Evil exists—it is not merely the product of wrong thinking or appearance, but very real and very deadly.

The easy answer to innocent suffering is to minimize one of these three convictions. Some will say that the Fort Worth tragedy happened because God is not all loving, and is somehow punishing them; or it happened because God either doesn’t or can’t get involved in such things; or it isn’t real. We’re past the stage of denial, so we must either question God’s love, his power, or both; or find a better solution.

Let’s find that better solution together today, from the word of God, not just for the victims of the shooting, but for every person who faces suffering today or tomorrow.

Truths for troubled times

Our text makes four statements plain. First, we will be persecuted.

Jesus does not say, “Blessed are you if people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11). He says, “Blessed are you when people insult you ….”

The Greek grammar actually says, “Blessed are those who have been and are now being persecuted” (v. 10). Suffering is a fact of the faith.

Listen to 1 Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Suffering is a part of the Christian life.

Around the world, 500,000 are killed every year simply because they are Christians. Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott were murdered at Columbine High School specifically because they stood up for Jesus. Seven people were killed in Fort Worth last Wednesday because they were Christians.

Jesus was clear: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Christians will be persecuted for their faith.

The second truth of our text is that such suffering is not our fault.

Christians die in plane crashes and car accidents like everyone else. We get cancer like the rest of the population. But sometimes we suffer specifically because of our faith. When we do, such suffering is not our fault.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness” (v. 10). He amplified, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11).

Listen again to Peter: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:15-16).

There is a great spiritual battle going on between God and Satan, between good and evil. We are the turf. And the African proverb is right: “When elephants fight, the grass is trampled.”

Those who died in Fort Worth were doing exactly what they should have been doing. After standing up for Jesus on their campus, they stood up for him at their church. Now they’re standing in his presence forever, blessed by his joy. Suffering for Jesus is not our fault.

The third truth of our text is that God will redeem our suffering for him.

We are to “rejoice and be glad” for this reason: “great is your reward in heaven” (v. 12).

Not because suffering is good, for it is not. But because God will redeem our suffering for a greater good one day. God redeemed Joseph’s slavery, using him to save the nation; God redeemed Moses’ years in the wilderness, calling him to shepherd his people; God redeemed John’s suffering on Patmos by giving him the Revelation; God redeemed Jesus’ cross with his crown.

God will redeem this suffering somehow. He will use it for good, as we’ll see in a moment.

And so innocent suffering has always been part of the life of faith.

Listen to Hebrews 11: “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. They were all commended for their faith” (vs. 36-39).

Remember Jim Elliott, the martyred missionary, and his motto: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Those who died in Fort Worth were not fools—they were faithful. And God will be faithful to them, and to us.

Why do God’s people suffer?

On the basis of this text and the larger word of God, let’s ask our question: Why do God’s people suffer? There is no single answer to the question. Instead, we need to build a “theodicy” together—a theological approach to evil and suffering. There are six facts which make up that approach, and I want us to be very clear about each one of them.

Fact one: God is love. Remember 1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God didn’t “do” this. He didn’t cause this. Rather, he grieved it. If a father in that sanctuary watched his child die, how would he feel? God did that at Calvary, and again in Fort Worth last Wednesday. No matter how bad this fallen world becomes, God is love.

Fact two: Satan is real. 1 Peter 5:8 is plain: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We have an enemy who wants to destroy us.

Jesus warned us that he “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). This is just what he did last Wednesday. John 8:44 says that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning.”