Controversial Jesus #2 - Justice
Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at the topic of justice and it helps us step out of our perspective of looking at today only and since we've been forgiven thru the cross, we can forgive.
This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.
Well, welcome again. Just before we jump into the teaching today, I want to just highlight a few things. You heard about this coming Wednesday the dedication in the Strip District. As a church, we are multi-site. One of the really cool things about being multi-site, we have a location in Butler, one in the Strip District, here in Wexford, seven different services every weekend, is that whatever you're part of, it's bigger than even the section or the part of Orchard Hill that you are part of because it allows us to all together celebrate what God is doing. What we have dreamed about and hoped for is that in this city, right in the heart of the Strip District, that we would be able to see a Christian community that would impact that part of our city come to life.
This Wednesday at 1620 Penn Avenue at 7:00 will be the dedication service for that space. It would be great if that's something you have time for or interested in, just if you want to be a part of that celebration, to be there and let that be a part of it. I was in the building on Friday. It looked great. It's going to be a spectacular place for what's ahead. However, I was in the building on Friday, so I want to say to you watch your email or check the website before you drive down there on Wednesday. Otherwise, you may find that we have to move it one more time. This month is actually a wonderful month here at Orchard Hill with that because our plan is to have a grand opening on May 19th there in that space. That shouldn't be in jeopardy, but do watch your email.
You know, this month is really great here. We had the baptisms, dedications this weekend. Next weekend is Mother's Day. Our team has worked hard to make that a special time. The weekend after that, the 18th, 19th here in the worship center, we'll have first communion with so many kids coming and publicly doing that, which is always a beautiful celebration. That same weekend, our adult choir will be in the chapel that evening. Our kids choir has a production. I think on Thursday night that week they have a production. The 19th is when the grand opening happens at the Strip District. Then, on Memorial Day, we have what's become just a great tradition here at our church where we celebrate veterans, especially those who have made a significant or ultimate sacrifice.
Ken Carlson will be here to speak and to lead us just in our reflection on that and also to think about our nation and direction there. I'll also, because it's just the second week down in the Strip District, be there live to speak and have an opportunity just to interact with the group that gathers after our grand opening. A lot of wonderful things that are ahead this month. I hope that it's something that you can participate in at every turn. Let's pray together. Father, we thank you just for this time and for each person who's gathered. God, I ask that you would speak to us wherever we're coming from, that my words would reflect your word in content and in tone and in emphasis. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This week, we're in John chapter five. One of the things we do here typically is we work through sections of the Bible very consecutively. Therefore, I didn't really choose John five for today thinking about baptisms, dedications. It was the next section of the text that was up for us to look at. My guess is when you heard that read just a few moments ago that you glossed over a little because there were all kinds of directions that it went. You may have picked out a thing or two, but you probably had a moment where you're like, "I don't know what this is about." That's understandable because as I read through it and thought through it today, I realized that this section is not really easy because it seems to go in a lot of directions. Not only that, where it is clear, it speaks of something that is not really one of our favorite subjects in our culture. That is judgment.
We're going to look at that today, but in order to look at that, one of the things that is true, generally, in our culture is that we're very interested in justice but not in judgment. What I mean by that is many of us will look at our world, and we'll say things should be different when it comes to racial issues, poverty issues, education issues in our world. We look at global issues or news stories, and we see a story about another country where birth control is forced on a population or we hear about a personal story of somebody suffering an injustice. We say that should be different. Apart from those global issues, probably many of us have experienced something in our own lives where we say, "That should be different. God, where are you in this? God, why haven't you acted in this instance in a way that appears to coincide with my understanding of justice?"
Maybe you've seen somebody get ahead who acts in all kinds of unethical ways. Then, you see somebody else who seems to do everything right and be ethical, and yet they don't seem to get ahead. They seem to be passed over, over, and over again or somebody else who says, "I've done everything right as far as I can tell, maybe not everything, but mostly right and yet things seem to go wrong for me consistently. Now I have this health issue. We didn't get to have a baby like some of these families on stage, or we had a different issue that came up in our lives even though we tried to do things the right way," or, "God, I tried to be faithful. I tried to give, serve, contribute to the greater good of this world. Yet, this is what's happened in my life. God, where are you?" That's the cry of justice, the cry for justice.
You're not alone. The Psalmists write repeatedly about the question of, "God, where are you? God why aren't you working in a way that seems to accord with our understanding of justice?" What we see when we come to John five is a very simple assertion. It's an assertion that Jesus Christ is the judge. The reason that I would say that this is somewhat controversial is because, for many people, they would say, "If Jesus is the judge, I don't see justice. Then, where is God? Where is Jesus in this world?" Here's where we see this in John in verse 27. It says, "And he has given him authority to judge because he's the Son of Man." The clear and simple assertion is that Jesus is the judge. Here's what we read about this in Revelation chapter 20 just to give you another broader picture of this idea of judgment. This is verse 11 and following.
It says, "And 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. 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 and was recorded in the books." Books here is something that's recorded in heaven about what's happened on earth. The statement is that there will be judgment around what has actually happened. Verse 13, "The sea gave up their 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." What we see here is an assertion that Jesus is the judge. Not only is Jesus the judge, but that people will be judged according to what they've done.
Why this is challenging is because there's a piece of us that says, "I want justice, but I don't want to be personally judged. I want God to work in this world to bring about some kind of justice in the broader world, but I want mercy when it comes to me," is our typical position. What we need to understand is that judgment in the Bible comes in at least three different timeframes. There's judgment in the past on the cross that Jesus judged sin and Satan. Then, in the present, there's judgment. This is what I think John five verse 27 is referring to because it says that he has been given the authority to judge. The judgment in the present is consequences for the choices that we make. We see this taught also in Romans chapter one. I won't take the time to turn there, but what we read is in verse 24 that God gave them over, speaking of people going their own way.
The consequence was God saying, "If you want that, here, you can have it. You can have the result of your own choices." Then, verse 26, it says, "God gave them over." Verse 28, it says, "God gave them over." In each instance, what's happening is people were choosing a path apart from God. God says, "Here, have it." In other words, you have a consequence. Then, there's a future judgment. The future judgment is what we often think about, although it is why we have a struggle with this concept of justice. We see this in verse 28 and 29 of John five. It says, "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice, and they'll come out. Those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will be condemned." This is pointing to future judgment.
Here's the challenge when you and I look at the world, maybe globally, maybe our own little section of the world, and we say, "God, why aren't you acting? Why aren't you doing something? Why is there not justice?" At least part of the answer is we have a timing problem. God will judge, but it may not happen entirely in this life and in a way that we can see, but there will come a day when we're told very clearly that the books will be opened and people will be rewarded or punished according to what they've done. Now, if you've been around Orchard Hill for any length of time, you probably are having a moment where you're saying, "Being judged according to what we've done. Isn't the message of the Bible that you talk about almost every week, Kurt, the idea that Jesus has paid for our sins and we don't face judgment? In fact, isn't that what John says just a few verses earlier?"
John chapter five verse 24, he says basically this, "I tell you: Whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life." You see, there's no real disconnect between verses 28 and 29 that says that those who do good will be raised up to life and those who don't will be condemned because what verse 24 says is that ultimately that the works that we do are the fruit, not the root of our faith. In other words, our faith is rooted in an understanding of who Jesus Christ is, and what we do becomes the fruit of that. The question that then comes is then: Does it matter what you or I do in any way?
Here's what's significant to understand. Although someone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ is clear that they don't face judgment in the sense of having to answer for all the wrong that they've done, what we know from other places in the Bible is that there's still a sense in which you'll be evaluated. Here's what we read in 1 Corinthians four verse five, "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in the darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive his praise from God." What you see here and in 1 Corinthians three is that even those who've come to faith in Jesus Christ will one day stand before God, so how does that square with not being judged?
Well, I think that the answer to that is in this simple idea. That is that if you've come to faith in Jesus Christ, you will not be judged for the things that you've done wrong, but your good deeds will be remembered and rewarded. Here's why I say this. This is Micah chapter seven verse 19, "You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." Psalm 103 verse 12 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far you've removed our sins from us." In other words, the ultimate good news here is this. That is if you come to faith in Jesus Christ, what the scriptures teach overall is that you don't face judgment for the wrong things you do, but the good things that you do will be remembered and rewarded. That's awesome because that's the best of both worlds if you get that.
I was thinking about this the other day. We have, in our house, a running conversation, I'll call it, over whose earbuds are whose earbuds. I don't know if any of you have ever had this kind of conversation, but as soon as anybody puts a set of earbuds on, somebody else will say, "Those are mine." I got tired of this the other day, so I went online. I bought an $8 pair of earbuds, got them shipped to my house. When they got there, I took them out of the package, and I put them in. I was about to go out for a run, connected them up correctly and everything. Somebody, sure enough, came out and said, "Those are mine." Do you know what I was able to do? I was able to say, "No, they're not. I have packaging. It's right here. I just opened these." It was sweet vindication.
Now, that's a goofy example other than this. That is the idea of judgment, when you've come to understand and embrace Jesus Christ, is not God will one day get you for everything wrong that you've done, but God will reward the good, and the good will be known, and you'll be vindicated. Here's why that's such good news. Because sometimes in the midst of difficulty, hardship, you make choices. Sometimes you'll make the wrong choices. What the Bible says is as far as the east is from the west, God will remove it, but the good things, 1 Corinthians 4:5, will be rewarded and remembered. That's amazing. Some of us will have a reaction to this idea and just say, "I don't see it," but if you can see it, if you can understand it, it can be encouraging. Some of us may have a reaction just simply to say, "I don't like it, the idea of a judge. I don't like the idea that there's a God who will judge me. I like the idea of justice, but I don't want a judge."
I was thinking about this, and I remembered an article I read several years ago. It was in Leadership Journal. It was about a man named Harry Caray. I don't know many of you remember Harry Caray. He was the old Chicago Cubs announcer on WGN. He would always come out and sing in the seventh inning half-drunk Take Me Out to the Ballpark. Yeah, now you know who I'm talking about. If you're a little younger, you may not remember Harry Caray, but for 50 years, he was the voice of either I think the Saint Louis Cardinals or the Chicago Cubs. He died in the late 1990s, so some 20 years ago now. When he died, this article quoted part of his autobiography. The reason I told you about the article is I wanted you to know that I did not read the autobiography of Harry Caray, which was appropriately entitled Holy Cow.
Here's what Harry Caray writes. If you don't know who Harry Caray is, it won't matter here in a second because here's what he says. He says, "I'm not a religious man. I've made some mistakes in my life. Dutchie is my third wife, and I've paid a lot of alimony in my time, but I've always believed that if you live your life as a decent person, the umpire in the end will call you good or tell you did it right." Now, here's the theology. The reason I pointed out the timeframe, if it goes back 40, 50 years of Harry Caray and another 20, this is 70 years of American theology. You may not like the word theology, but you're a theologian, meaning you have a view of how God works.
Here's what Harry Caray's theology is according to that. "There's a god. There's a divine being. I've made some mistakes, little mistakes. I mean, Dutchie's my third wife. I've paid a lot of alimony, but I'm a pretty good person. I'm a decent person. In the end, the great umpire in the sky, however you conceive the great umpire in the sky, will call me safe." That is American theology to a T in our day and age. There's a god. It may be the Christian God, may be a different god. There's some kind of divine being. I don't need to really worry about judgment from that divine being because even though I've made mistakes, I'm a decent person, and I'm sure that I passed the bar. You see that, in some ways, feels more comfortable, but it misses the entire point of the message of Jesus being the judge because what John five talks about in those verses that it's easy to gloss over, what it's talking about is it's saying that Jesus has the right to judge.
The reason he has the right to judge is because he came to take judgment. You see this in verses 19 and following. There's reasons here. It says because or for several times. "Very truly I tell you," this is verse 19, "The Son can do nothing by himself. He can only do what he sees his Father doing because whatever the Father does, the Son does, for the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does." Verse 21, "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives him life, even so, the Son gives life to whom he's pleased to give." Then, a little later, we see that they do this so that everyone may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The point of this is that Jesus has taken the place and has the right to judge, taken the place of those who deserve judgment and has the right to judge.
John Calvin, in writing about this some years ago, put it this way. He said, "Muslims and Jews give the god they worship beautiful and magnificent titles. However, we should remember that whenever God's name is separated from Christ, it is nothing more than empty imagination." It's nothing more than empty imagination. Jesus is the judge, and it's a good thing. Here's what this means, maybe for you, for me, as we hear this today and we think about justice. The first thing is that you and I can run to this judge for shelter. What that means is that you can say, "I'm not going to bet my life, my eternity, my future on whether or not my mistakes outweigh my decency and hope that the great umpire in the sky will call me safe." Instead, you can say, "I know that my sins, my mistakes are big enough that I need a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior." That's what it means in verse 24 to believe in the Son and pass from judgment to life.
That, just in and of itself, is a substantial place, to be able to say, "I don't just believe in God so that I get what I want here and now, but I believe in God because Jesus has done what I can never do." You see, that's offensive in our modern minds because we like to think of ourselves as being decent enough to earn God's favor. Secondly, what this can help us to understand is that we can take comfort in our hardships because the God who is just, this is what it says right at the end, that his judgments are just, will one day make things right. We can forgive because when somebody hurts us, we can say, "God has forgiven me, and I deserve punishment, but I can choose to forgive." I know that if you really play this forward, you might say, "Well, what if they go to Jesus Christ and get mercy too? Then they won't get the judgment that I hope that they get."
If you understand and I understand, again, the concept of how much God has forgiven you and me, then what will happen is we won't say, "I want to hold somebody else accountable for the way they've hurt me." Instead, you'll be able to say, "I've been forgiven. I can forgive." What else this will do is it will mean that you and I can choose to do right and to choose good things rather than expedient things because one of the things that happens when we don't have a concept of justice and judgment is we go through our lives saying, "I just want to choose what's expedient, what's easy, what feels best to me today," rather than saying, "I'll choose what is right and good even if it's not expedient or good for me today." When you understand this concept of future judgment and justice, then what happens is you're able to say, "I will choose what's right over what's expedient."
Maybe a way to think about this is if there's a little boy or girl who has a toy truck. Their toy truck gets broken, and they start to cry. They just start to bawl. You, as a parent, say to the child, you go over to the child, and you say, "You know what? It's okay because one day your grandparents are going to die, and they're going to leave you a lot of money, and you can buy a lot of toy trucks." Do you think that would help that child all of a sudden stop crying? Of course not. One, they'd cry more. They're like, "Grandma and Grandpa are going to die. What are you talking about?" They have no concept of saying, "One day I'm going to get an inheritance that will let me buy thousands of these toys trucks." They wouldn't care. What happens is, as that child grows and one day that child crashes his or her adult truck and somebody comes along and says, "I'll forward you part of the inheritance so that you can get yourself a new car now," they understand the value.
Here's what judgment and justice helps us do. It helps us step out of our perspective of today only and say, "I can look ahead knowing that God will one day settle accounts. The beautiful thing is, where I've blown it, it's as far as the east is from the west, but where I've been faithful, God will say, 'I remember it, and I will reward it.'" That, if you get it, if I get it, changes how we live. It takes Jesus from being controversial like, "Why hasn't he acted?" to saying, "I can be part of bringing justice to this world, bringing good to this world, choosing to be on the side that fights for just causes rather than simply saying, 'I'm going to do what's expedient for me,' because this world isn't everything. There's more to be told. I want to be on the right side of that."
Now, before we conclude here today, I just want to say this. If you're here and, as we've talked today, your understanding has been closer to that American theology, "I'm a pretty good person. I've made some mistakes, but I believe in a god, and I believe that god will call me safe," can I just say to you as plainly as possible that that is not a Biblical understanding of salvation? What the Bible teaches is very clear. That is there is a God, but all of us, our mistakes outweigh our decency to such an extent that we need a substitute, a Savior, Jesus Christ, not just that he'll say, "You're good." What John is about, what Jesus does is he pursues people until they come to a point where they hear his voice and obey or listen and believe and pass from judgment to life. What Jesus is doing often, maybe without you seeing it, is he's pursuing you and saying, "I want you to believe because I want you to share in this beautiful thing that says, 'I'll not judge you for what is wrong, but I'll give you credit for what you do that's right.'"
If you don't know Jesus, then one day you will face that judgment. The choice is: Will I know Jesus as judge or as substitute, as Savior and Lord or as the one who will point out all the places that I haven't lived up even to my own expectations, let alone his? You can do that today just simply by saying, "God, I know that I have not been somebody without mistakes. I've sinned, and I need a Savior." When that happens, then you pass, according to the book of John, from death to life and from judgment to being a child of God. Father, we ask today that you would help each one of us whose gathered here to not simply long for justice without a judge but instead to understand that the judge is what does bring justice, just justice, and that that's a good thing and that even where we deserve to be judged, the grace and mercy and goodness of what you have done through Jesus Christ provides confidence as we approach the ultimate reckoning of all things. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. Thanks for being here. Have a great weekend.