Judgment Day Part Two
Topic: Judgement Passage: James 5:1–5:6
Judgment Day Part Two
Pastor Allen Snapp
Let’s turn together to James 5. The first 6 verses are unique in that this letter is written to Christians but these six verses are written to wealthy people who are using their wealth to exploit and defraud their workers and the poor. We know these verses were not written about Christians, because James offers no hope or comfort or exhortation to them. The only advice James offers them is to weep and howl for the miseries that are coming to them on the day of judgment. Last week we used verses 1-6 as home base for a broader discussion of Judgment Day and we’re going to continue that discussion this morning.
Before we look more closely at what the Bible says about Judgment Day, I think a point from last week bears repeating. A lot of people think that the Bible paints a picture of God as an angry God who can’t wait to condemn people to hell for the smallest infraction. Unfortunately some Christians and churches have been guilty of promoting an “angry gospel” that makes it seem like God is impatient, intolerant, and eager to inflict judgment on any and all who don’t tow the line. In a reaction to this, others go to the opposite extreme and present God as a universally tolerant, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving Being who doesn’t get bogged down with stuff like judging sin or evil.
The Bible tells us that God judges in anger but He is not an angry God. There is a difference. A person can get angry but not be an angry person. The Bible tells us that God is loving, patient, kind, merciful, compassionate, and joyful. Before He created anything, when all that existed was the Trinity, God was all those things. But He was not angry.
God’s anger is His loving response to moral evil. The wealthy people in James 5:1-6 aren’t condemned because they’re wealthy, they’re condemned because they are defrauding their workers and abusing the poor and indulging themselves while others suffered. Love must always get angry when it sees moral evil being carried out. Judgment Day is a necessary expression of God’s love, and God in His love has made a way of escape for anyone who wants it. We’ll come to that in a couple minutes. But it raises some serious questions. We get that God will judge the Hitlers and the Stalin types, but what about the sweet little old lady trying to cross the street? What about the average nice person who’s never killed or abused anyone? Are we all really guilty of serious moral evil? Are we really that bad? Do we all really deserve hell? Isn’t the punishment far, far worse than the crime and God far more severe as Judge than is fair?
These are serious questions and I totally get them. To be honest, I totally get that the concept of an eternal hell is incredibly hard to wrap our heads around, and if it were up to me there wouldn’t be a hell, but I also have to admit that I’d make a lousy judge of the universe (and so would you), so the safer ground is to trust in God’s wisdom and judgment more than our own. I am not going to pretend that I know what Judgment Day will be like, but I do believe we can know some things based on what God has revealed to us in His word. Let’s begin by affirming that the Bible clearly says there will be a Judgment Day. One of the clearest passages about that Day is found in Rev. 20:11-15
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Rev. 20:11-15
It’s a frightening picture of that day and it’s meant to be. Even the earth and heavens flee from the presence of God on that Day. And every human being who has ever lived, great and small, will stand before the throne of God and answer for their lives and God will pronounce judgment. Everyone whose name was not found in the book of life is cast into hell (lake of fire), which we are told is an everlasting existence in an everlasting place of torment. Again that raises objections: are we really that bad that we deserve such extreme punishment? The implication is that God is being unjust and not fair. In short, a bad judge.
The Bible tells us that God is the only perfect and righteous Judge, and only God is qualified to judge His creation.
Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" Gen. 18:25
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy James 4:12
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Isa. 40:23
Only God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge so His judgments are never lacking information or insight that would lead to a better judgment. And only God is perfectly loving and benevolent toward His creation so His judgment is never motivated by anything other than love. There is no unloving motive or selfish agenda that would corrupt, deceive, or misguide His judgment. Whatever Judgment Day holds, it won’t be unfair or unjust for anyone. So the bottom line is, we are worse than we think and God is better than we think.
- Mankind is far more sinful (morally evil) than we think we are
Ravi Zacharias tells the story of two brothers, both well known for their crooked dealings in business, and both guilty of ruining a lot of people pursuing their own wealth. Over time they became quite wealthy, until finally one of the brothers died. The surviving brother, wanting to improve his brother’s image (and by doing so, improve his own image) searched for a minister to give the eulogy. “I will pay you a great deal of money if you will do one thing,” the brother told the minister, “in my brother’s eulogy I want you to call him a saint. If you do I will reward you handsomely.” Well, the minister thought of all that he could do with that money and finally he agreed to the deal.
When the funeral service began, the sanctuary was filled with townspeople, especially the swindled business associates who were hoping that the man’s wicked character would be publicly exposed in the service. Then the moment for the eulogy arrived and the minister began by saying, “the man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint.”
One of our problems is, we tend to judge how good or bad we are by comparing ourselves to others, rather than God’s perfect standards. And even when we do that we’re very biased and not very honest. We tend to give ourselves a pass for things we condemn in others. We find excuses to justify the wrong we do. And we have blind spots in our self-assessment (you might say, I don’t see any blind spots in me – but that’s kind of the point). The Bible gives us a more accurate self-assessment in Romans 3:11-18
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Rom. 3:12-18
This is not to say that all people are equally sinful – not at all. There are people I would trust my kids or grandkids with, and there are people I wouldn’t. But deep within we all sin, and that sin is worse and goes deeper than we know.
- Think of the frequency of our sinning. Every day – every minute – maybe every second of every day we are sinning in some way.
- Think of the depth of our sin. All of our sin is high rebellion against our Creator, the Ruler of the universe. Sin is rejecting God’s rightful rule over our lives – and we are born doing that. Our sin also affects other people. Our sin can induce others to sin, and even turn people away from Christ, affecting them for eternity as well. Jesus said if we cause one child to stumble (in other words, our sin hurts a child or influences them to sin), it would be better for a millstone to be tied around our neck and we were cast into the sea. Think of the little old lady crossing the street. If the influence of her life on those around her was: you can be a good enough person, you don’t need to believe in Christ as your Savior, then her life may be guilty of doing tremendous spiritual damage to others around her.
- Think about the potential of our sin. God sees our hearts – not just the sin we have committed, but the sin our hearts are capable of committing given the right circumstances. As Spurgeon put it, a sleeping volcano is still a volcano, and our hearts even when not actively spewing sin are still deeply sinful and not to be trusted.
- Finally think about the secrecy of our sin. Like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, we only see the tip of other’s sins, but there are secret sins of anger, greed, lust, selfishness, apathy, jealousy, ungratefulness, deception, and so on that we hide out of view. But they’re there and God sees every one.
I was sad to read in the news a couple weeks ago that a 46 year old married father of four was found shot to death near an isolated trailer deep in the woods. He had left his kids telling them he was going quickly to the office to check his schedule but really he had arranged to meet an 18 year old female at an isolated place. Apparently he intended it to be a secret no one would ever know about but the 18 year old had lured him there to kill and rob him.
His family were understandably struggling to make sense of it. They gave a statement saying: 'We do not understand the reasons for this and we ask that everyone remember Roderick as he lived his life for 46 years; as a son, brother, father, husband, nephew, cousin, and friend to many.' It’s a good sentiment but it will be very hard for them to look past this last act to remember the way he lived his life for 46 years. And they will be tempted to wonder: was the way he seemed to live the previous 46 years the way he actually lived those 46 years? Or were there other secret sins they didn’t know about?
We don’t all have clandestine affairs going on in secret, but we all have things that don’t square with the image we present, areas of sin we don’t want publicized. The more integrity we have, the more our image and our reality squares, but none of us are perfect. The sins we commit are frequent, deep, and often unseen. All of us are morally sinful, none of us are morally pure compared to God. We are worse than we think – and we will see that clearly on Judgment Day.
- God will judge each person perfectly, fairly, and proportionately
When God calls every person to stand before Him and settle accounts, no one will get more punishment than they deserve. God will judge each person fairly and proportionately. James gives us piercing insight into the judgment of these defrauding rich people: their punishment is an outworking of the moral evil they chose:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. What miseries? 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. (vv. 1-3)
The miseries they will experience are all connected to the sinful choices they made. They put their trust in riches and wealth and their misery will come from seeing their riches rot and fine clothing eaten by moths and their gold and silver corrode. James knows that gold and silver are metals that don’t corrode– that’s the point. Even the treasures they think will last forever won’t. They will go bad, they will corrode and that corrosion will be take the witness stand and testify against them and the sorrow and regret and guilt of their choices will eat their flesh like fire. The temporariness of their wealth will become a curse to them. The insight is that the punishment not only fits the crime, it is a natural consequence of the crime. The punishment will be that they get what they want.
Sometimes I think we get the idea that because the Bible speaks of heaven and hell, that Judgment Day will be a one-size-fits all judgment for anyone who is not a Christian. But the Bible tells us that each person will stand before God and answer for their specific sins. Jesus said in Matt. 12:36-37 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” We will answer for every careless word that we speak – not every careless word other people have spoken. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Judgment Day will be exhaustive, individualized, and perfectly fair.
Sometimes I’ve heard people say, “all sin is the same”, but the Bible doesn’t say all sin is the same. If it were, God wouldn’t have to be much of a judge, would He? Judgment Day would be a one-size-fits-all affair. Aunt Matilda would get the same judgment as Osama Bin Laden. But a good judge doesn’t just throw out judgments indiscriminately. A good judge carefully and objectively weighs all the evidence, reaches conclusions impartially, and imposes equitable sentences on the guilty. All sin is sin, but all sins aren’t equal and the punishments won’t be equal. Jesus said that on that Day some would be beaten with many stripes and some with few stripes, all based on the level of evil they did. Jesus indicated that Judgment Day would look different for different people when he told his disciples that for towns that reject them and their message it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matt. 10:15. I don’t know how exactly that will look, but it seems clear that there will be degrees of punishment meted out on Judgment Day according to a person’s life. All those who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell, but it seems as if hell will have degrees of severity.
I believe the greatest torment of hell will be separation from God, the Creator and only good and wise Ruler of the universe. God is the only source of all that is good – all love, compassion, wisdom, intelligence, kindness, creativity. Hell is forever being separated from all goodness and love and dazzling creativity. I don’t think the fire of hell is a literal fire (there are many places in the Bible where fire is used as a metaphor), but the forever burning of regret and loss and guilt. To be condemned to a place where there is a complete and total absence of love and kindness and caring and compassion is a horrifying existence.
But the irony here – and I’m going to risk a little Bible-informed speculation here – is that those who are condemned to this hellish existence will be there by their own choice. If the state of our heart is rebellion and hostility against God, why would we want to spend eternity with Him? Hell will be horrible, but for those who have spent their life rejecting God, heaven would be worse.
It seems likely to me that each person’s sin will continue to rule their heart in hell. The person condemned on judgment day won’t become a righteous person in hell. If they were greedy and selfish on earth, they will be greedy and selfish in hell. If they chose to give themselves to lust on earth, they will give themselves to lust in hell. Jesus said their “worm never dies”. It’s a quote from Isa. 66 which refers to rotting, dead corpses being eaten by maggots. Some Bible scholars believe it refers to the lost person’s conscience that forever eats away at them. I think that’s likely but would add possibly that with their conscience is their pet sin that is also eating away at them. They will have the desires but not the satisfactions. An extreme version of how sin works in this life. It promises satisfaction but never delivers. Their choices and the direct consequences of their choices will be what torments them forever. Their condemnation will be that they get what they want. And they won’t get what they don’t want – which is God.
Hell is eternal because it has no redemptive power. Those in hell don’t move towards loving God or trusting God or loving others or any other good thing. If anything, they probably get far worse in the way that someone who gives themselves to sin becomes less and less humane and more and more depraved.
The bottom line is we should fear God and fear His judgment. Fearing God is wise – in fact the Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. God has made a way in Christ for us to never face God’s righteous judgment for our sin, because Jesus took the punishment we deserved on himself on the cross. For the Christian, our judgment was already meted out on Christ, and we are saved not because we’re better or good enough but because we place our faith in the finished work of Christ. The Christian will also stand before God on Judgment Day, but not to receive wrath. There is no wrath left, Jesus took it all. We will receive rewards – or the lack of rewards – based on what we did for the Lord. Our works will be judged for their Christ-centeredness and their eternal quality (worth).
Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will find that their name has been written in the book of life. It’s not something we earn, it’s God’s loving gift to all who will accept it. The greatest sin is to reject God’s sacrificial gift of His Son, who died to save us.
If you have never asked Jesus to be your Savior, I invite you to do so this morning. James reminds us that our lives are a mist – we don’t know what tomorrow holds or even that we have a tomorrow. If you sense God knocking on your heart, let Him in. Don’t reject Him. Ask Jesus to convince you that he’s real, and that he is the only One who can save you for eternity. God loves you so much He gave His one and only Son so that whoever – whoever – believes on him should not perish (hell) but have eternal life. Won’t you believe in Jesus who died for you?