The Judgment of God
by Jack Wald | September 15th, 2019

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After a year of marriage, I drove from Boston, Massachusetts with Annie and our baby daughter to my new position as youth pastor in a Methodist Church in West Virginia. We had a U-haul truck that towed out car. We made the 1000 kilometer trip, parked the truck and car in front of the house we were renting, and unpacked. I returned the truck but I had disabled the drive shaft to tow the car and did not have time to put it back. It had been a long day and we were tired, so we went to bed. As a result, the car sat there overnight and in the morning there was a parking ticket for illegal parking.

I decided this was not fair and went to court to contest the ticket. I stood before the judge, made my case, and was told to pay the ticket plus court fees.

It is not much fun to stand in front of a judge who holds your future in his or her hands. (I later talked with the judge at a social occasion and he asked me why I had not told him I was a new pastor in town.)

I have a friend who has made one film titled In My Sleep. He wrote it, raised the money to make it, directed it. He put his heart and five years of his life into it. And then he released it where the movie was critiqued. Some of the critiques were good, some were cruelly cutting. One review said, “Meant to be Hitchcockian … and maybe it is, if you think of it as, say, Hitchcock’s senior project for film school.”

I asked my friend about how he handles these cruel critiques and his response is that he focuses so much on what he is doing that he doesn’t really hear those critiques. He is the most positive person I know. He is an incredible optimist. He is just completing his second film, Hooked, that will be released before the end of the year. I have read the screenplay and am eager to see the film.

I would not be able to do what he does. Even if I had his talent, it would be difficult for me to put what I have created out into the world and have what I created judged. I did write my book about international church ministry, Pastoring a Parade, and received one three star review (out of five) – but it did not bother me so much since it is only a small part of my life and I thought what the person said was off base.

But this is my point – we do not like to be judged. When we stand in front of a judge, our fate rests in his or her hands. When it is a matter of a parking ticket, the stakes are not too high. When it is a creative effort, the emotional effect of the critique is more powerful. When we stand before a judge who holds our life in his hands, there are no higher stakes.

So there is a lot of effort made to cast God as a loving God who forgives sin, is merciful, and welcomes us all, regardless of what we do, into his kingdom. God does love us. He does forgive sin. He is merciful. And his deep desire is for all of us to come into his kingdom. This is all true. But there is a problem. Actually there are several problems, so let me explain why we are covering twenty-three chapters of Isaiah this morning.

Each fall we preach from the Old Testament and Elliot and I, after preaching on Zechariah, decided last fall to begin preaching from Isaiah. We preached through the first twelve chapters of Isaiah which was a great experience – but now, this fall, we come to chapter 13.

If you have ever read through the Bible, which I have done multiple times, there are points where the reading bogs down. All the detail about the Tabernacle in Leviticus is tiring to read. The lists of tribes in Numbers is hard reading. There have been times when I have read every word, but this past year I have skimmed over the lists and Tabernacle details. Another difficult section of scripture to read for me is the judgments of the prophets. In Isaiah this goes on for twenty-three chapters, interspersed with bits of good news. It is a bit boring and depressing to read about the judgment of God day after day.

Chapters 13-23 contain oracles of judgment and salvation concerning Babylon, the Philistines, Moab, Damascus, Cush, Egypt, then Egypt and Cush, then Babylon, Edom, and Arabia, then Jerusalem, and finally Tyre. These are all nations whose fortunes affected Judah. Isaiah makes it clear that it is useless for them to resist the Assyrian empire or the will of God. God used the Assyrians and later the Babylonians and Persians to bring judgment and to accomplish his will.

Chapters 24-27 are closely related to 13-23. It is a prediction of world judgment resulting in the redemption of Israel. These chapters teach the necessity of divine discipline and
redemption that awaits the faithful. Isaiah looks forward to redemption and speaks of it in the present tense.

Chapters 28-35 contain a cycle of prophetic warnings against alliance with Egypt, a current political problem in Isaiah’s Judah, closing with a prophecy against the land of Edom.

It took us thirteen weeks to get through Isaiah 1-12. At that rate, if Elliot and I preached from Isaiah 13-35, we would be talking about judgment for twenty-five weeks. That is not going to happen. We will talk about judgment today and then move on next week to Isaiah 36 which begins four chapters talking about Hezekiah, king of Judah, and Sennacherib, king of Assyria.

But don’t worry, this will not be the only Sunday in which we will have the opportunity to talk about judgment. Judgment is found throughout the Bible.

From Genesis through to Revelation, the judgement of God is a major theme and the gospel, the good news of Jesus, is incomprehensible without it. The theme of judgment begins with the flood story in Genesis. (Genesis 6:5–8)
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

After Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and headed toward the land promised to their ancestor, Abraham, they arrived at Mt. Sinai. Moses went up the mountain to receive the law from God and while he was up in the mountain, the Israelites began to be nervous, wondering if Moses would ever come back. So they asked Aaron, the brother of Moses, to make a gold calf, one of the gods of Egypt, so they could worship that god.

After all God had done for them, the people turned away and worshiped an idol. They followed Moses and his God, but it is clear that the God of Moses was not their God. God was furious and threatened to exterminate them. (Exodus 32:9–10)
“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

Moses interceded and God had to deal with the infidelity of Israel for the next 700-900 years. Despite all God did for them, despite the warnings of the prophets, Israel turned to the worship of idols over and over again until God’s judgment came and the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were conquered and the people sent into exile to Assyria and Babylon.

The theme of judgment continues all the way through the bible to Revelation where Jesus is portrayed as the judge, bringing final and ultimate justice to the earth. (Revelation 19:11–16)
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.

You may not like judgment, but there will be judgment.

Let me remind you why we were created. We are not the accidental product of evolution. God may have used evolution to create us, but our creation was purposeful, not accidental. We were created by God, whether by the snapping of his fingers or through the process of evolution. However you think about this, we were created by God – and we were created for a purpose.

I said last Sunday that God created us so we could share in the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were created to live with God in heaven. That is why we exist.

So our worship of God, our faithfulness to God, is absolutely essential to our future. And it breaks the heart of God to see us drift away from him.

When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, he began by telling the bad news so they could understand the brilliance, the wonder of the good news.

Paul began by writing of the wrath of God. Before he could share the good news of Jesus, the bad news had to be presented. He does this in his first three chapters. The bad news is that all of us, every one of us, deserves the wrath of God. Depraved, non-religious society deserves the wrath of God. Critical moralizers who think they are basically good people, better than those around them, deserve the wrath of God. Self-righteous, religious people who think because of their religion and behavior they are good, deserve the wrath of God. And finally Paul summarizes by saying that if you thought you escaped one of the previous categories, the whole human race is sick and deserves the wrath of God.

The Bible is full of judgment, but it is also packed with God’s intense and unwavering desire to create a people for himself, a people who will live with him in heaven. God’s desire to bring us into his kingdom is so intense that there is nothing he will not do to save us and bring us into eternal life in his kingdom.

So, when we were trapped, stuck, unable to be righteous, God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. (Romans 5:6–8)
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s great desire is to bring us into relationship with himself, but he will not force us. We must choose voluntarily. God could have created us to love him, but then, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, he would have created robots and what satisfaction is there in having a robot tell you it loves you because it has been programed to say that?

God wants us to choose to say we love him. God wants us to choose to worship him.

God created us with free will, the ability to choose to love him, be indifferent to him, or reject him.

So what happens to a good person who has no regard for God, someone like my father? My father was a moral person, everyone liked him. He was a good man, but he was completely indifferent about whether God existed or not. At one stage of his life he told me, “I believe in God. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. If I took it any more seriously I’d have to read my Bible every day and I don’t want to do that.” But at other times he wondered if God really existed. The truth is that he was forced to think about this because at least three of his children and several of his grandchildren talked to him about giving his life to Jesus, but he was uncomfortable with those conversations. He had the conversations because he loved his children and grandchildren, but he would have preferred to avoid them. His problem was that he was not at all curious about what happens after death. He was indifferent.

If you or I were God, we would talk to a man like my father, tell him he should have been more curious, tell him he did live a pretty good life and let him into heaven. How would we judge? A serial killer? No problem. “Go to hell.” A social activist who worked for the homeless? “Come on in.” A child abuser? “Hell is over that way.” A sweet grandmother? “Welcome and have some tea and cookies, freshly baked.” Why can’t God do that?

God is constrained in what he can do because he will not force us, we must choose voluntarily to follow him. God is also constrained by his character.

I cannot flap my arms and fly. No matter how hard I try, I cannot fly unless I step into an airplane. I cannot breathe under water. I can hold my breath, but when my lungs run out of air, without a tank to replenish the air in my lungs, I will drown.

It is impossible for God not to love. Love is his character. (1 John 4:8–11)
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

God is love. That is who he is. God is also just. That is also who he is. In writing to the church in Thessalonia where the followers of Jesus were being percecuted, he says, (2 Thessalonians 1:6–10)
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord

If God does not love, he is not God. If God is not just, he is not God.

You ask, Why couldn’t God simply overlook our sin? If God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, why can’t he accept the fact that we are not perfect and allow imperfect people into his kingdom? Why can’t he simply say, “I love you,” and let everyone into heaven? This is what my father thought. This is what many people believe. They are uncomfortable with the thought that Jesus will judge us and simply want him to love us, overlook our sins, and allow us into his kingdom.

In response to the question: Why couldn’t God simply overlook our sin? let me ask a question: Why did Jesus have to die?

Let me explain the problem with this analogy. If I want a fish to be my friend and live with me on land, the fish has to develop the capability of breathing the air I breathe. The gills of a fish are not able to do this and after a few short minutes in the air I breathe, the fish dies. What is necessary is for the fish to be transformed and be given lungs. No matter how much I love the fish, unless it develops lungs, it will die on land.

In the same way, unless I am transformed by Jesus, I will die in the air of heaven. It is not a question of God allowing me in or not. Only when you are protected by Jesus can you enter into his presence. If I am to live in heaven, I need to be transformed by Jesus in order to survive. It is not a matter of God choosing, it is a matter of you surviving.

Because God is just, sin must be paid for. There is not a choice for God to make. We must be made pure or we will perish in his presence.

And this is what is so amazing. Because God is love, he saw we were incapable of living according to his perfect law and did not want us to be lost. So he sent Jesus to be the way for us to come and live safely in his presence. This is why Jesus was born.

John 3:16–17 (The Message)
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

We do not understand how much Jesus sacrificed for us. We cannot understand why Jesus would do this for us. We will never fully understand the wonder of this love Jesus has for us. But we are grateful.

God is a god of love and a god of justice. Love and justice are both parts of God’s character, who he is. You cannot take away love without taking away who God is and you cannot take away justice without taking away who God is. Justice is not something God can choose to exercise or not to exercise. Justice is who God is and for justice not to be exercised would necessitate the nonexistence of God.

Our need for the salvation Jesus offers is not something about which God has a choice. God cannot choose to be who he is not. He cannot not love. He cannot not be just and he cannot overlook evil. And so God’s wrath is expressed as a holy reaction to the evil in this world, to the evil that is in our hearts.

God wants to create in us lungs that will be able to breathe the air of heaven.

There are two extremes. There are those who say there is no coming judgment. God loves us all and we will all come together in heaven. We will all be saved. These people ask the question: How could a loving God reject us?

The second extreme is that some say there is a coming judgment and let me tell you who will not get into heaven. Go on the internet and you will see a long list of those some people are convinced will go to hell. Catholics will go to hell. Homosexuals will go to hell. Mainline Protestants will go to hell. Those who are not baptized the proper way will go to hell. Communists will go to hell. Liberal politicians and those who vote for them will go to hell.

This makes me think of a joke where someone is being given a tour of heaven. It is a beautiful place with gorgeous, wide expanses of heavenly scenery. Then they pass a small enclosure with high walls and the new arrival to heaven asks the guide, “What is that? The guide replies, “Oh, that’s for the [insert name here, anyone who thinks they are the only true church]. They think they’re the only ones here and we don’t want to disappoint them.”

God is the judge. We are not the judges. God will decide who is saved; that is a decision that is above our pay grade. We consign people to hell because we disagree with them, or they disagree with us. But only God knows the heart. Only God knows the mind. And because God loves us so intensely, he will never stop trying to help us to voluntarily choose to follow him. God wants all people to be saved. He created people to be with him in heaven. But people have to choose to follow God and live their lives in obedience to him.

Here is my view. I reject the two extremes. God created us to be in heaven with him. The depth and extent of his desire for us to be with him is revealed in the sacrifice of himself so that we could be with him for eternity.

Do you think God would have made that sacrifice if there was any other way to bring us into his kingdom? Do you think any theologian or philosopher has come up with an alternative to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and now God sits in heaven thinking, “Gee, I wish I had thought of that.”

God came into the world as a baby born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. He did this because there was no other way for us to come into his eternal kingdom.

There is no salvation without Jesus. No religion will get us into heaven. No philosophy will get us there. No list of good deeds will get us there. Only Jesus can take us to where God wants us to be and where we, in our heart, long to be.

My father said to me many times that Christians are exclusive because they say that salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ. This is very frustrating and there are many in the world who are critical of Christianity because of this. If Christians do not want to be exclusive, they say, why don’t they agree that Buddha and Mohammed and any other guru who comes along, as well as Jesus, are all ways to reach heaven?

This would be true if Christianity was a matter of a council of men and women getting together and making a decision about what was true and what was not true. But the truths expressed in Christianity are not a function of what we believe, they are a function of what God has done. Of all religious leaders in history, only one has died and risen from the dead. The rest have all rotted into dust. Only Jesus has defeated death and can take us with him into eternal life.

It is like complaining that only a rocket will take you to the moon. That’s terrible! Why be so exclusive? Why can’t we get to the moon in a hot air balloon? Why not a catapult? Or a bicycle?

There is no exclusivity in Christianity, all are welcome, but it is necessary to put your trust in the one God provided for us. This is not an ice cream shop with 30 flavors. This is not a rack of clothes with many colors and designs. You can’t pick your savior. God has given us our savior.

We have been rescued by Jesus, God in the flesh, who has done for us what we are incapable of doing for ourselves.

There will be a judgment and when we come to stand before the throne we will have no defense to offer. Saying we were better than most other people will not be a successful defense. Saying that we did a lot of good things will not be a defense. Our only hope will be to cling to Jesus, to say to Jesus, “Only you can save me. You are my only hope. I need your grace and mercy.”

The bible tells us that we have been saved. When we become aware of the existence of God and submit to him, begin to follow him, we have been saved. Then begins the process of being made holy as the Holy Spirit works in us, transforming us into the people we were created to be. We are being saved. And then when we stand before the throne, the seat of judgment, we will cling to Jesus with hope and we will be saved.

It is the grace and mercy of God that will save us.

The good news is that Jesus has been dealing with people like us for centuries. No matter how bad you think you are, there have been people far worse than you who have been brought into the kingdom of God. No matter how good you think you are, there have been people far better than you who have had to submit to the love of Jesus to be saved. No matter how much you are unsure of what is true, Jesus has patiently pursued people just like you until their heart warmed and were able to receive his love.

There will be judgment. At the end of the judgments in Isaiah, there is a judgment against the nations of the world. (Isaiah 34:1–4)
Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!
2 The Lord is angry with all nations;
his wrath is on all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter.
3 Their slain will be thrown out,
their dead bodies will stink;
the mountains will be soaked with their blood.
4 All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

There will be judgment, but because of God’s great love for us, there is always hope. God is determined to do everything possible to encourage us to choose to follow him. And so the judgment of God is followed by hope.

(Isaiah 35:3–4, 10)
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

and those the Lord has rescued will return. 
They will enter Zion with singing; 
everlasting joy will crown their heads. 
Gladness and joy will overtake them, 
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

It is painful for me to see people I love who resist following Jesus. But I am patient. I know God is at work in their lives. God will never stop calling them to trust him, to follow him, to experience his love in their lives.

This morning, if you are on the fence between unbelief and belief, make the jump and begin to follow Jesus. You don’t have to walk to the front of the church to do this if you do not want to. You don’t have to raise your hand. When I first surrendered to Jesus after several months of exploration, I said to God, “OK, I will give my life to you, but not here in front of all these people.”

You don’t have to make a public display of your decision to follow Jesus, but you do need to tell someone about it. I told my sister and brother-in-law and then began going to church in Boston.

Coming to Jesus is stepping into a family and it is important to meet with your new family.

So decide in your heart and mind that you want to surrender to the love of Jesus and then reach out to your new brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.