October 30, 2022 . . .“Back to the basics: He will come to judge the living and the dead” Acts 17:31

October 30, 2022 . . .“Back to the basics: He will come to judge the living and the dead” Acts 17:31

October 30, 2022

“Back to the basics: He will come to judge the living and the dead”

Acts 17:31

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

A little over five hundred years ago, back in 1510, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, what has since become known as one of the most incredible works of art of all time. Not bad for a man who said he was a better sculptor than a painter! Then twenty-five years later, Pope Clement VII approached him once more, this time to paint a wall in that same chapel depicting the Last Judgment.

So in 1536, at the ripe old age of sixty-seven, Michelangelo began to do just that, a work that would take him a full five years to complete.

And if you were to see it, you’d be impressed! Measuring as much as forty-five feet high by forty feet wide, it depicts more than three hundred figures, mostly men and angels, who are all taking their part in the last judgment.

At the very top, angels are bearing the instruments of Christ’s passion--a cross on the left and a post for scourging on the right. At the bottom, Charon ferries souls across the river Styx into hell. St. Bartholomew, the disciple who was flayed alive, carries his own skin behind him.

The entire scene is in motion. While some are already in heaven, others are still on their way to heaven. And while some are already in hell, others are still on their way to hell, either skeletons or fresh from the grave.

And at the center of it all stands the victorious and unconquerable Christ, risen from the dead. Wounds from the nails mark His hands and feet. A spear has pierced His side. And He has come, sent by the Father Himself, to judge the living and the dead.

And if you were to ever stand before it, you couldn’t help but ask, “Where in that scene am I?”

I’ll read the words of Acts chapter 17: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will the judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:29-31).

If you think about it, the Apostles’ Creed is very much about Christ! Though it begins with “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” and ends with “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints,” all the rest of the creed, the entire second article, is all about Christ.

At first we confess who He is: “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Next we move on to His incarnation: “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” Then we confess His suffering and death: “Who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” Then we speak of His exaltation and glory: “He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Finally we come to the end, what are some of the most important words of all: “From thence He will come to judge the living and dead.”

To put it another way, while much of the creed speaks of what Christ has already done or is doing for us now, these last words tell of what He’s going to do. He will come to judge.

Now when we hear those words, we might wonder why they’re even there. After all, this phrase has been described as the scariest one of all! I mean, isn’t our God good, loving and kind? Hasn’t He removed our sins “as far as the east is from the west”? So why include these words all? “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Because that’s what the Bible says! Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “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” (II Corinthians 5:10). Hebrews chapter 9 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). And Jesus said in Matthew chapter 12: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

When Luther talked about the Second Article, this is what he wrote: “Those tyrants and jailers, then, are all expelled now, and in their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation, and has delivered us poor lost men from the jaws of hell, has won us, made us free, and brought us again into the favor and grace of the Father, and has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protection, that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.”

It’s been said that the existence of evil represents a challenge to our Christian faith. After all, what kind of a God would create a world like this--one that’s so full of creatures who continually mock Him and rebel against Him, a world that’s filled with violence and selfishness, a world in which every act of God seems to fall on deaf ears, blind eyes and closed minds.

And as we look at this world literally falling apart all around us, we wonder--is God really in control? Is He really good? And can we trust His plans or His wisdom?

But then come the words of the Apostles’ Creed: “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” And when we hear them, we remember that evil, no matter how bad it is, is nothing more than a flicker in the endless arc of God’s great story. Goodness will win in the end.

As one author put it: “The common idolatry of the human race is that man seeks to become God. But the marvelous grace of God is seen in that God has become Man. For in Jesus Christ, God has become all that we are by nature, so that we might become all that He is by grace.”

“And He will come to judge.”

So what does it mean that “He will come to judge”? It means that the way in which we live matters. And the things we say and do matter. For if there is no God and if there is no judgment, why would it matter what we do? And why would it matter what anyone does? And that’s why we need to hear those words: “And He will come to judge.”

And what will He do when He comes to judge? He told us in the book of Matthew chapter 25. He said: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I needed clothes, and you clothed Me, I was sick and You visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:31-36, 40).

And who is this who will come to judge? It’s the One who once said to the Pharisees: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7) And who said: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear so beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones…You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:27, 33).

Yet this One who comes to judge is also the One who said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:2), who said: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), who said: “In My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), and who said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I came so that they would have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Or as the apostle Paul once wrote to the Romans: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Born in March of 1931, Haddon Robinson was a pastor and author and teacher of preaching. And in one of his sermons, he once told this story. He said, “I tried to picture judgment, and I tried to picture myself as I stood before Christ the King. Then He said to me, ‘Robinson, did you bring your date book?’ He answered, ‘Well, yes, Lord. I know they said I couldn’t take anything with me, but I managed to get it through. I’ve got it right here.’

“The King said, ‘Look up March 6, 1996.’

“‘Oh yes, I remember that, Lord. That’s when Newsweek said I was one of the better communicators in the English-speaking world. I remember that.’

“The King said, ‘Well, I never read the news magazines. You know how inaccurate they often are. But do you remember what you did after class on that day? You were headed for another appointment, and there was a young woman sitting in the back of class. She just sat there after everyone else had left, and you stopped and talked to her. She said her father had died, and the month before, her brother had died. And you sat and talked to her. Do you remember that?’

“‘I guess so, Lord.’

“Then the King said, ‘I remember it. When you stopped to talk to that young woman, you were talking to Me.’

“‘Now look up November 17, 1984.’

“‘Oh yes, I remember that, Lord. That’s when I was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. I remember reading a paper on the relationship between Bible preaching and Bible interpretation.’

“Then the King said, ‘Well, I didn’t attend many of those meetings. I found them to be a little stuffy. But do you remember that morning your wife, Bonnie, told you about a couple at the seminary that was having a hard time financially. They didn’t know how they would make it through the rest of the month, and you took some money and put it in an envelope and dropped it in their box?’

“‘I don’t know if I remember that.’

“And the King will say, ‘I remember it. What you gave to that young couple, you gave to Me, and I’ve never forgotten it.’”

As Paul once wrote to the Thessalonians: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (I Thessalonians 5:9-11).

As we live in a world that’s so full of grief and rage and violence, dear Father, You remind us that evil will not have the last word. Come soon, dear Father, and take us to live with You forever, for Jesus’ sake. Amen