Article of Faith #16 – “Resurrection, Judgment, and Destiny”

Article of Faith #16 – Resurrection, Judgment, and Destiny
Date: Sunday, October 3, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell

Today we reach the conclusion of our sixteen week study on the Articles of Faith.  I know that several of you have enjoyed our study and found it a helpful refresher of what it is that we believe, and why.  I know this because you’ve told me so.  Some of you have had a chance to study our doctrines closely for the first time, others have benefited from a review of our stand on these important doctrines.  Some have grown from the study of our denominational distinctives, while others have appreciated the reminder that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves…part of the universal Body of Christ.

I’d be deceiving myself, however, if I didn’t recognize that there are some of you out there today who are breathing a sigh of relief because we are finally through a very long study…complete with twenty dollar words and theological concepts that might not always appear to have clear practical applications to our lives today.  I want to thank you for being patient with our study, and I do hope that you were able to glean some benefit from our studies on these beliefs.  Next week will be our Faith Promise Convention for Missions, and following that, I will return to the Gospel of Luke for the remainder of the Liturgical Year.

Before we look at the sixteenth and final article of faith, it may be helpful for us to take a brief survey of some of our lessons so far.  We began our series with a look at the Triune God.  Eternally existing in three-persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—God is Holy Community, showing forth divine love.  We learn from the doctrine of the Trinity that God is most basically described as “Holy Love.”

Since God is relational, he created us to be in relationship with Him.  We know that the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden broke that relationship, the consequence being that each one of us is born with an inherited propensity toward committing actual (or personal) sin.  In other words, even though we were created to be in relationship with a Holy Relational God, sin prevents us from being in perfect relationship with Him.  If the Grand Narrative ended there, however; we would be without hope, for we are completely unable to reconcile ourselves to God.

However, we know that Jesus, fully-divine and fully-human, enrobed Himself in human flesh in order to make atonement for our sins.  It is the death of Christ on the Cross that allows for our sins to be forgiven, and it is His resurrection from the grave that gives us hope for New Life in Christ.

We recognize that it is only because of God’s grace—unmerited favor—that Jesus came to earth. It is only by His grace that Christ died and rose again. It is only by His prevenient grace that we were called to Him before we even knew we needed a savior.  It is only by His grace that we can have the faith necessary to receive the free gift.  It is only by His justifying grace that justice and mercy can be served at the same time and we can be justified.  It is only by His sanctifying grace that we can be remade in His image.  It is only by His sustaining grace that we can have strength for each new day.  Indeed, we learned that it is all about God’s Amazing Grace.  We have spoken of how our faith is the necessary and appropriate response to God’s grace, in order that we might be saved.

In recent weeks, we spoke of the ways in which God’s plan is manifest on earth today, through the church and through the sacraments.  We spoke of what it means to be part of the Body of Christ as expressed in local churches, denominations, and traditions.  While there may be much that separates us from other denominations, there is far more that holds us together.

Last week we spoke of the certain hope that we have in Christ’s return to this earth.  We were reminded to encourage each other with these words, “Christ will come again!…When it seems like darkness and death are winning, when it seems like the forces of evil are too strong, when the clouds are covering the sky…look to the east, for Christ will come again.”

Today we turn our attention to the additional events that will happen at the end of time as we know it.  Our Sixteenth article of faith is entitled “Resurrection, Judgment, and Destiny.”  You can find the article in the inside flap of your bulletin, along with scriptures for you to read and study during the week.

20. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, that the bodies both of the just and of the unjust shall be raised to life and united with their spirits-“they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

21. We believe in future judgment in which every person shall appear before God to be judged according to his or her deeds in this life.

22. We believe that glorious and everlasting life is assured to all who savingly believe in, and obediently  follow, Jesus Christ our Lord; and that the finally impenitent shall suffer eternally in hell.

I suppose that nobody in our culture today seems to like talking about judgment.  With the increasing use of buzzwords like ‘tolerance’ and ‘relative,’ society attempts to persuade us that we can believe whatever we want, and that it doesn’t matter.  We are expected to be tolerant of all people and beliefs, to the point where we are chastised for suggesting that another belief system might not be right.

In an increasingly pluralistic culture like ours, it is extremely counter-cultural to suggest that there will be a final judgment, and that God will judge each of us, and that there will be a reward for the righteous in Christ, and eternal separation from God for the unrepentant.  It’s certainly not the sort of ‘feel-good’ message that we would like to hear when we turn on the TV, and I suppose that it might be messages like that which have turned some people against attending church at all.

And yet, we must be careful to never water down truth simply because it may be popular.  What we teach as a church and as individuals is to always reflect the truths of Scripture, not the whims of our culture.  While it may be popular to believe some sort of universalistic belief that all people will go to heaven, we must always check ourselves against the scriptures to understand what is revealed to us through the written word.

The Bible speaks often of final judgment, and of eternal separation from God in the lake of fire.  Perhaps one of the most direct passages referring to the final judgment can be found in Revelation 20, verses 11-15:

11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And 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. 13The 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 he had done. 14Then death and Hades  were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into  the lake of fire.

The critic of the Christian faith argues that a loving God would never send anyone to hell.  And yet, we can’t help but be reminded that it was always our choices which put us where we are.  Remember that we were created in the Image of God, with the ability to make our own decisions and guide our own life.  God gave us the ability to make that choice for ourselves.  In Deuteronomy 30, God set the same choice before the Israelites, and called all of heaven and earth to stand as witnesses. 

19  This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set  before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your  life…”     

God’s grace has always been present in our lives.  God has always offered unmerited favor to His creation.  He has been at work calling each one of us before we knew we needed a savior.  We simply have one thing to do—in faith respond.  All that is needed is to turn from our sinful selfish ways and receive the gift of God’s grace.  All that is needed is faith—and God’s grace even gives us the faith that we need.  The choice between life and death has been set out since the beginning of time.  We don’t choose death because of ignorance, but because of self and sin.  We choose life only because God’s grace enables us.

Some might have problems with the knowledge that we are judged according to our deeds.  After all, we preach salvation by grace through faith.  We don’t believe that you are saved by your works or your deeds, but only by God’s Grace.  And yet, scripture is clear, both in our passage from Revelation and from the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 that we are judged according to our deeds.

In order to think about this more deeply, I’m going to ask you to think back to our study on the book of James from a year ago.  Hopefully you recall the primary point of James (at least as I have come to understand it), which is that true faith, authentic faith, or saving faith is an integrated faith which infiltrates and informs every area of our lives.  True faith is something which moves from our head, into our hearts, motivating us to action.  In other words, faith is never defined as simple belief, but as a life-altering belief which changes the way we interact with God, with others, and with the world around us.  We are reminded that “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”  Indeed, you are saved by grace, through faith; but authentic saving faith will matter-of-factly produce good works in your life, by which all may know that you are a Christian.

We could spend our entire time today on the concept of judgment, but that is not all that is taught in the sixteenth article of faith.  We must also remember that in order for there to be a judgment, there must also be a resurrection.  There must be new life.  Our hope for resurrection life begins at the empty tomb.  Because Christ had victory over death and the grave, we too can be raised to new life.  Paul teaches this vital link between the empty tomb and eternal life for the Christian in First Corinthians 15, verses 12-23:

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not  raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

20But Christ has indeed been  raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For  since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also  through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be  made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits;  then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

The Good News of Scripture can be summed up in this…death came through a man—Adam.  Eternal life came through the God-man who was victorious over death.  He conquered death the only way possible, by dying and coming back to life.  Because Christ died, our sins can be forgiven.  Because Christ arose, we too can rise to new life in Him.  We don’t only have hope for this life…if we did, then we would be pitied most of all people.  No, we have hope for the life to come—resurrected new life in Christ. 

Paul gives us just a hint of what will happen at the resurrection of the dead in First Corinthians 15:50-58:

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the  imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

    55“Where,  O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His word.

The Gospel message is a message of hope.  While we teach a certain future judgment of all people, we know that God has given each one a choice.  He has placed within the fabric of our being the ability to choose Him.  Even when that ability was tarnished in the fall, He had a plan to bring us back into right relationship with Him, that we might again choose life.  It is because of this plan, because Christ rose from the dead, we have a certain hope for new life in Him.  Death has no power over the Christian, as it is merely a passageway to being more fully alive…forever being with the God who created us, loved us, and redeemed us.  “Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?  56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today as we conclude our study on the Articles of Faith, we are reminded again that while we are glad to call ourselves “Nazarene,” it is far more important that we find ourselves “In Christ.”  It is far more important that we identify ourselves as people of God called together for the purposes of God.  It is far more important that we recognize that we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

As we think about the final judgment, we realize that the day will come when we will sit at the banqueting table with the entire Body of Christ.  Christians from every land will gather together at one table.  Men and women; children and adults; the rich and the poor; people of every color, language, and culture will gather together united by the fact that they have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb and have been found in Him.  No longer will we be identified as Nazarene, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, or Charismatic…but simply by the name of Christ.  Those who are found in Him and have been forgiven for their sins will finally celebrate unity in the Body of Christ.

The first Sunday of October has been designated by many Christian traditions as “World Communion Sunday.”  While we may not fully experience the unity that Christ desires for us today, we can gather around this table and recognize that we are called together according to His purposes.  We are reminded that we are part of “the Church…spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity…”

In a sense, this table is but a shadow of the Table that is yet to come.  The communion we experience with God here is but a taste of the unbroken fellowship that we can have in the Kingdom of God.  It is a reminder of what Christ has done for us, and a foretaste of the life to come.  As we come today, let us remember Christ’s sacrifice, and celebrate our place in the Body of Christ—looking forward to the day when we feast around a table with the Lamb of God.

 

Benediction:   I Thess 5:23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through  and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the  coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is  faithful and he will do it.

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