To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
I don’t know about you, but being evaluated is not my favorite thing in the world. Maybe it’s the uneasiness that comes with knowing there are people watching me work, investigating my efficiency, and discussing the results, all without any input on my part. Throughout my years of school from college to the Seminary, all the other students and I were all evaluated by the faculty on a regular basis. Topics for discussion - work in the classroom, gifts, weaknesses, and overall outlook on ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t anything sinister about this evaluation – they did it to determine the gifts of the students as well as some areas that might need some work and encouragement. The whole point is to encourage faithfulness to the task of studying for ministry and to get a feel for what kind of ministry setting would be best served by your particular gifts. There’s nothing shady about it, but it can make a person uneasy – knowing that somewhere behind those closed doors where I’m not allowed to go, there’s a file with my name on it; what I’m good at, where I’m weak, what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve left undone. Maybe you’ve got similar feelings about being evaluated – a performance review at work makes you cringe, an unexpected phone call from your boss makes your stomach sink a little. I think much of that discomfort comes from uncertainty about what the evaluator might say. Or worse, that he might make me feel bad. People don’t like other people evaluating or judging them. That’s why you hear the common refrain that could become our national motto: “Who are you to judge me?”
As much as people don’t like being judged by other people, how much more do they hate it when they realize that God will judge them? Judgment Day, the Last Day, the Final Judgment – all names for the “big day” we’re focusing on this Sunday. As much as people might try to push the idea of God’s righteous judgment against sin into the background or laugh it off as some kind of Dark Ages scare tactic – Judgment Day is very real. The conscience living inside you tells you that there is a higher power and that you’re accountable to it. The writer to the Hebrews said it this way, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” By nature, our conscience will tell us this. As Christians, we go one step further. We know this judgment we must face is not conducted by some nameless deity, but by the one true God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures. We go so far as to confess this truth every Sunday in our creed. We stand, shoulder to shoulder, and proclaim to each other and anyone who will listen: [Christ] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We know Judgment Day is going to happen. Our conscience tells us as much. Scripture makes it plain as day. We confess it as part of our Christian faith. Judgment Day is coming! Are you looking forward to it?
People, in general, and Christians, in particular, don’t like to think about Judgment Day. Can you blame them? You heard what Malachi said in our Old Testament lesson, “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. That sounds terrifying. On the Last Day, all humanity, both dead and alive, will stand before the judgment seat of the only righteous Judge. Then he’ll render his verdict. There will be no appeals, because his judgement is final – heaven or hell, for all eternity. People don’t like to think about Judgment Day. The pictures of burning fire and destruction are bad enough, but even worse is this: there’s so much finality and no way out. Once the verdict is rendered, there’s no going back, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. Everything around us is temporary, but Jesus delivers a verdict that will stand forever. Judgment Day is coming. Are you looking forward to it?
Our gospel lesson for today comes from John 5. In the context of John 5, the Jewish leaders are enraged with Jesus, accusing him of blasphemy because he’d just equated himself with God. But they hadn’t heard anything yet! In the verses of our gospel lesson, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does”... “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” … “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” Do you see what Jesus is claiming here? Jesus has been given all authority by his Father. Jesus has the power to bring dead sinners to spiritual life in him. Jesus will render the final judgment verdict over each and every human being of all time. The Son is the Judge, the Father upholds his judgment. It’s final. Judgment Day is coming. Are you looking forward to it?
When we hear that Jesus is going to be our judge, is that good news or bad news? Since Jesus is true God and knows all things, shouldn’t we be afraid that our all knowing God is going to be the one assessing and judging our lives? Remember how the prophet Malachi described Judgment Day. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire. Every evildoer will be stubble fit for the fire of hell. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that I start to think, “That’s me.” You know what you’ve done. You know what sins trouble you and what you’d be ashamed to admit - and so does your Judge. The One who gave you your eyes, ears, hands, and mind knows what you’ve done (and haven’t done) with those gifts. The lusts and the lies, the neglect and the hurt –the sins we try to keep secret from everyone, even ourselves, are as plain as day before the One who knows all things. Jesus is going to be the judge on Judgment Day – not just the judge of the nameless, faceless mass of humanity out there. Jesus is going to be MY judge and YOUR judge. Make no mistake, Judgment Day is coming. Are you filled with fear or brimming with hope?
Consider who your judge is: Jesus. Yes, he’s true God – all knowing, all powerful, and perfectly just. But Jesus is also true man – our brother who came to live with us. He took on our flesh so he could live under his Father’s law in our place. Jesus endured the punishment that our sins deserve by giving his life on the cross. There, on Calvary, Jesus endured the harshest and most brutal of all judgments – abandoned by God to suffer the hell that was rightfully ours, so that we’d never have to. The One who gave you your eyes, and knows what you’ve done with them, closed his own eyes in death and opened them again on Easter morning to pay for your sins. They One who gave you a mind to think (and knows every thought you’ve thought) turned his every thought to saving you. The One who gave you your hands (and saw as plain as day what you did and didn’t do with those hands) is the One who had his own hands pierced to bleed and cover your sin. The One who is the all-knowing God who couldn’t possibly forget a thing - promises never to remember your sin. Jesus, your judge, is also Jesus, your brother, your Savior, your Life. In the gospel lesson, your brother is going to give you a sneak peek at what his verdict will be on that great Day of Judgment. 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. Jesus left his throne in heaven to come to earth and die and rise for us. Jesus himself crossed over from life to death so that we might be brought from death to life. Through faith in Jesus, listen to the verdict your judge will give on that last day: “Not guilty. Innocent. Free from blame. Holy in my sight.” Judgment Day is coming. Are you looking forward to it? With a Judge like that?! Me too!
For all our fears, uneasiness, and uncertainty about the Last Day, in his word, Jesus takes us by the hand and says, “See, this is what’s going to happen.” Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. Did you catch it? Whoever hears and believes HAS (present tense, right now) eternal life. Your eternity isn’t something that’s off in the future. Because of Christ, it’s right now!
Do you know how the Germans talk about the Last Day? (That might sound like a completely irrelevant question, but I assure you, it’s going somewhere cool). In German, the “Last Day” is translated “der jüngste Tag,” literally, “the youngest day.” In their way of reckoning time, they would call the first day of creation “the oldest day” and the last day of earth’s existence “the youngest day.” Without intending to do so, they’ve identified the beautiful hope of the Christian on the Last Day. For the believer in Christ, Judgment Day isn’t a cataclysmic terror, but the best day of all. Because of Christ, the believer can actually look forward to Judgment Day, because that’s when your Savior is coming to take you to be with him forever. It’s your jüngste Tag, your “youngest day,” your first day in heaven that will never end. This is the confidence you have facing the Last Day. The ‘not guilty’ verdict will ring in our ears, but not because of anything we could have done to earn it. This is purely an act of God’s undeserved love to us through Jesus, our Savior. He credits his perfect life to your account. He drapes you head to toe, body and soul, in the robe of his righteousness. Judgment Day is coming. Are you looking forward to it? With a Judge like that?! Me too!
And that’s great news. It’s so assuring to hear what Jesus says about the Last Judgment. But you’re going to walk out of here today, and you’re going to go back out into the world. So what about when doubts come creeping in? What happens when the devil whispers in your ear and your conscience annoys, your guilt overwhelms, and your shame of the past paralyzes you in the present? If it hasn’t happened yet, it very well might. What happens when you wake up in a cold sweat, dreading the thought of the righteous God slamming down his gavel of judgment on your eternal sentence? If the thought of God’s righteous judgment terrifies you because of your sin, look again at the One who’s holding that hammer. The hand that swings the gavel has a hole in it, where a nail held it to a cross – for you. The hand that swings the gavel looks so familiar, because it’s the hand that scooped up some water and poured it on your head in the name of the Triune God, marking you and claiming you as his own for time and eternity. The hand that swings the gavel of your eternity is the hand that places in your mouth His body and His blood – given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. The hand that swings the gavel on your eternity is the one that traces over you again and again and again the cross of your baptism – I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.
Do you see what that means? The same One who sits on the eternal throne of judgment is the very same One who was nailed to the cross of Calvary – for you. The same One whose voice calls forth the dead from their graves to stand before him in judgment is the One who walked out of his tomb on Easter morning, so that you could stand before him clothed in his righteousness, without fear.
In our world today, there’s no shortage of evaluations we’ll have to endure. A performance review might make you squirm; an unexpected meeting with your boss may bring some nerves. But when it comes to God’s great Day of Judgment, you don’t need to be afraid. The One who sits on the judgment throne is the One who hung on Calvary’s cross and walked out of his tomb on Easter morning – for you. We can face the Last Day with certainty and lift up our heads with confidence and joy – not because of who we are, no, never because of who we are! We can lift up our heads in joy because of who our Judge is. Judgment Day is coming. Are you looking forward to it? With a Judge like that?! Me too! Judgment Day is coming. So rejoice! Because your Judge is your Savior.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.