Judgment Day Part One
Topic: Judgement Passage: James 5:1–5:6
Grace Community Church
Jan. 6, 2019
Judgment Day Part One
We’re going to return to our series in the book of James, so turn with me to chapter 5. We ended 2018 with a passage that perfectly encouraged us for the New Year to plan for tomorrow but not be presumptuous about tomorrow, but that has left us starting off this first Sunday of 2019 with verses that are all about the coming judgment of God. Please hold your applause. Apologies in advance that we’re not starting the New Year with happier verses! But these verses are unique in this letter becausethroughout this letter James is speaking to Christians until he comes tothese six verses. It’s like he stops speaking to believers and turns to a group of people – not Christians – who are literally on a highway to hell. They are hurtling towards judgment and condemnation. And we need to hear this. James is speaking to them, but he’s writing this for us. We are meant to read this and receive something from it.
These verses got me thinking about Judgment Day, that day when the Bible says God will settle all accounts and everyone will answer for their lives. So I decided to use this passage as our home base for a broader consideration of Judgment Day and God as Judge. So this morning is part one of a two part message titled simply Judgment Day.
On a visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, Charles Dickens came across the grave of a man named Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie and the inscription described Scroggie as a “meal man” – meaning a corn merchant. But Dickens misread the inscription to read “a mean man” – and in his imaginationEbenezer Scrooge was born! His book A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843 and has been in print ever since as one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time. At the last minute Dickens changed the ending of the story in one important way: the original hand-written manuscript did not contain the words “and to Tiny Tim, who did not die…” , this happy ending was added later during the printing process.
And that’s what is so endearing about Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. It starts out bleak and miserable and gets bleaker and more miserable as it goes. Its dark vision of the grave and Scrooge’s hopeless and condemned future is terrifying. But Scrooge is redeemed and wakes up with a second chance to change his future by changing his heart and actions. It’s that second chance for redemption that we love about it.
James, on the other hand, writes in equally frightening terms about a fast approaching judgment for the wealthy who use their wealth to indulge themselves and abuse and exploit the needy and there is no happy ending. James offers no hope, no exhortation, and no comfort as he declares that they are fattening themselves in the day of slaughter, and laying up treasure the last days, and his only advice for them is to weep and wail over the miseries their future holds on Judgment Day.
Few subjects are as controversial or get as strong a reaction from people as the subject of God’s judgment. I have read stories from people who grew up with a type of “angry gospel” that emphasized God’s judgment to the degree that made it seem like God couldn’t wait to throw you into hell for this or that infraction. There are churches that promote this view of God as angry and intolerant, and the members often start looking like the God they preach - angry and intolerant - themselves. When people reject their message and their judgmental spirit, they just see it as a badge of honor confirming they are doing something right. It’s not really surprising that so many people are walking away from this mean-spirited, judgmental type of church and the angry God they preach.
On the opposite extreme – and probably a reaction to the judgmental extreme - is the view that God is universally tolerant and nonjudgmental.His love is unconditional and doesn’t get bogged down with stuff like judging us for what we do. Nothing ruffles Him, nothing angers Him. The most extreme emotion this God feels is sadness when we are doingsomething really bad, but there’s no anger and no judgment.
Betty Eadie went from one of these extreme views of God to the other. She writes in her best selling book Embraced by the Light how she was abandoned by her parents when she was four years old and was raised in a Catholic boarding school. If she misbehaved she was knocked in the head by a pole with a rubber ball on the end. She watched the nuns beat her older sister with a hose and then make her sister thank the Nun who beat her. The nuns taught her that God was even more angry and intolerant than they were and Betty grew up believing it. In her book she writes, “[God] seemed angry and impatient and powerful, which meant that He would probably destroy me or send me straight to hell on Judgment Day – or before then if I crossed Him.”
Then, in 1973, while having a hysterectomy, Betty allegedly died on the operating table and went to heaven and met Jesus, who she explained, “didn’t want to do or say anything that would offend me.” His love for her and all people was totallly untethered from any sense of judgment of right and wrong. In the introduction to the book, we are told her vision of God and heaven is “compelling, inspiring, and infinitely reassuring” and “gives us a glimpse of the peace and unconditional love that awaits us all.” Her book reassures us there is no Judgment Day. Jesus just waits to love on us all. Murderer? Rapist? Abuser? It doesn’t matter – unconditional love is waiting on the other side.
Let me say that my heart goes out to Betty and the spiritual and physical abuse she experienced as a young child and the distorted perception of God that she grew up with. However, I believe the view of God and Jesus that she received in her vision, while far more attractive and appealing, is just as distorted and inaccurate as the other view.
The Bible is the only authoritative source for knowing what God is like because the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself – who He is, what He’s like, how He thinks, what He does. We can make up any kind of God in our own minds, but that has no authority or credibility at all. It’s just a god of our own devising. And more often than not the god we make up looks a lot like us, thinks like us, and has the same values as us. We can only trulyknow what God is like or not like to the degree that God has revealed Himself in His Word. What the Bible says clearly we can say clearly. What the Bible is less clear about we need to be less dogmatic about. Where the Bible is silent, we need to be silent or, if we do speculate based on what we know from scripture, we need to make it very clear that we are speculating. It can be biblically informed speculation, but it is speculation all the same.
Let’s begin by addressing the question of God’s anger. Is God an angry God as one extreme has taught? Or is God never angry, and totally chill about everything, as the other extreme proposes? The Biblical truth is this:
The Bible is clear about who God is: God is loving, compassionate, kind, forgiving, patient, merciful, gracious, and joyful.
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. — Psalm 86:15
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. — Psalm 145:8-9