The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost November 4, 2007
604, 447, 407, 179
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.”
Fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, our Savior:
The letter to the Hebrews points out that “It is appointed for men once to die, and then, the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Man, with his sin-laden conscience, must have some way of dealing with this fact: he will be judged by his Maker one day for his deeds in this life. Throughout history he has found various ways to deal with that inner dread. Some have manufactured religions in the hope that one can right his wrongs, atone for his sins, and appease an angry God by his own actions. More recently, some have turned to non-religion believing our existence to be the result of cosmic accidents and eons of evolution. Many more have simply drowned concerns about the hereafter with a hunger for the here and now—an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we’ll die anyway” attitude.
In Jesus’ ministry the Jewish religious leaders had opted for the first option—a man-centered righteousness. They hoped that by their own virtuous lives they would be able to stand before God on the last day and be counted among His righteous ones. So they had quite a surprise one day when Jesus greeted them with the startling announcement that all judgment was to be given to Him, the Son of Man. Even we who know better tend to think of God the Father as the Judge sitting on a cloud-encircled throne. So it bears our prayerful consideration to answer the question: What does it mean that Judgment belongs to Jesus? We’ll reflect on this from today’s three scripture lessons as we ask I. What did that mean to Job? II. What does that mean to New Testament believers? and III. What does that mean to pious unbelievers?
What would it have meant to Job, who lived so long before Christ, to think that judgment would belong to Jesus? Job had plenty of reason to think about being judged by God. You remember how he is described as a good and righteous man, someone whom even God held up to the Devil as an example of righteousness. But then God allowed Satan to test and afflict Job. If ever a man would have wished to die and be rid of a painful, tragic life, Job would have been the man. He had great herds of animals, had many herdsmen and servants, enjoyed vast holdings of property and wealth. But it was all taken away—wiped out in the time an investor watches his riches melt away in a Stock Market crash.
Job was a family man with seven sons and three daughters who gathered “like olive plants around the table” (Psalm 127:3) to share a household of memories, laughter and love. But they were all killed and their memory was nothing but bitter. Job’s own health was ruined and even his wife suggested he might be better off dead. Job had friends, but they were “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) because they approached him, not with compassion and mercy, but suspicion and criticism.
But worst of all for Job, God—the God he had loved and served—seemed silent and angry. Never once claiming to be faultless, Job still couldn’t understand what he might have done to offend God and deserve such treatment. But the thought that he had done something terrified him. At the heart of our scripture lesson, which is a soliloquy on the mortality on man, Job asks the question “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4) This is the question that haunts him: How will he ever escape God’s holy scrutiny and pass muster with his Maker?
Even in his questioning and doubt, even while he suffers pangs of conscience, we find that Job—the Old Testament believers—has the answer. His bold confession of faith comes later and is stunning in its clarity. This man, even when he has lost everything and felt the angry hand of God, believed in his Redeemer: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
The key word here is “Redeemer.” The Spirit of God had caused this man to embrace the promise passed on through generations, first made to Adam and Eve, that the Seed of the Woman would redeem us from the curse of sin and would crush the dominion Satan has over sinful man. Job was a believer, looking not to his own righteousness, but to a Savior who would come. He would stand on this earth. All the resurrection would stand before Him. Job fully believed that his hope and salvation lay in the hands of this future judge, and he couldn’t think of a better place for judgment to be found.
When Jesus of Nazareth was manifested to Israel, we’re told that he was “a Man attested by God…by miracles, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22) Jesus certainly caused quite a stir in His three years of ministry until He suddenly seemed to fall from grace, was betrayed, rejected, and crucified. But the truth was that Jesus in His ministry did not try to attract attention. He avoided cynical attempts to gain a following outside of the select group of twelve disciples He had chosen. Instead, statements like we have in our Gospel lesson emphasize that Jesus saw himself as a servant of God, concerned only with doing the will of His Father (cf. John 5:19). Yet, the central truth of that divine will was that sinners believe in Jesus whom the Father had sent.
A number of Jewish people believed in Jesus. They took as their own joyous possession the sure statement of Jesus that “he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). They believed that Jesus had come from God, that He was indeed the Savior, that He had not only been crucified for their sins, but had risen again from the dead. They believed that they were clothed with Jesus’ own righteousness and that at the end of time it would be the beaming countenance of Jesus, not the angry face of an offended God, that they would see over the world.
What does it mean to the Hebrews and other Christians as New Testament believers? It means that we look forward to Jesus’ Second Coming. It means that we see the Final Judgment as our vindication. It means that we will finally be delivered from the pain and sorrow of a death-laden world. It means that we have a powerful antidote to the ups and downs that we experience in this world.
The Hebrews were learning all about this. This epistle was written to Jewish Christians who were challenged by a hostile environment in which they practiced their faith. The letter reveals a faith that can be plotted on a fairly familiar curve. They started out with a shared zeal and joy—the writer speaks of how they cheerfully endured persecution for their faith’s sake and showed compassion to others in the same circumstances. But time can wear on one’s faith. The Hebrews were in danger of losing the central truth of their faith. They were starting to weaken their confession of Jesus, they were no longer so sure of the things they once believed. In the face of that weariness and uncertainty, the writer lays out for them a doctrine of Jesus Christ, His divine nature, and priestly work. This renewed doctrinal foundation was what the Spirit would use to strengthen and mature their faith. They would end up with greater appreciation for their Savior and would enjoy a love that would endure and prevail over all their trials. The writer reminded them of an Old Testament passage: “The just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4). It was in Christ, who became Man to atone for their sins, that they would be justified before God. It was Jesus, to whom they looked as Judge, with whom they found comfort when harassed by those who claimed that there were other, better ways to get to Heaven.
They lived by their faith. Knowing that this world would end, they could put away covetousness, seeing that He was their true treasure. Knowing that they had received God’s compassion when they were in spiritual chains of darkness, they would have compassion on those who were hemmed in by sin, unbelief, doubt, or despair. Being counted pure and holy by Christ himself, they didn’t take that free righteousness for granted but were alert to any root of bitterness or evil cropping up in their hearts or fellowship.
What Jesus faced when he spoke those marvelous words of life was unbelief. What we find all too common in the world around us today is the notion that any religion is a good religion. It is true that an awareness of God has the effect of benefiting society, leading men to govern their lives and their nation in a better way. But this alone does not and cannot prepare sinful man to meet his Maker. Jesus emphasized what it means for pious unbelievers—religious people—who do not believe that Jesus is God’s Son come into this world to redeem us from sin. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5.25).
It was a profound thing for Jesus to say that the Father has given authority to the Son of Man. This means that such eternal and cosmic judgment as we have to expect is in the hands of someone as ordinary and human as the person sitting next to you. It will be in the hands of someone who has been under the same Moral Law as you, but did not sin—ever! It means that it will be in the hands of someone who has known and partaken of the human experience—your trials were His trials, your suffering was His suffering no matter who you are.
Any person who claims to be religious, to have a relationship with God, to be perhaps righteous enough to be accepted by God, needs to look at that person who walked this earth 2000 years ago. He will be the One who judges. For the one who accepts His gracious love that will be such a joyful event. For the one who piously passed Him by, it will be terrors unimagined when that face appears.
In these last days, God be thanked that He fulfilled the hope of Job and generations of others! God be praised for bringing Hebrew, Asian, African, Arab, and Western people to see in the face of Jesus the face of hope and salvation. Now may God also keep us faithful, and prepared for that glorious day to come. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.