Apostle's Creed - To Be Judged
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, July 2, 2017
“To Be Judged”
Revelation 20: 11-15
Matthew 25: 31-46
1 Peter 3: 19
1 Peter 4: 6
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Dan 7: 13; 10:6
Revelation 14: 14-16; 19: 11-16
Exodus 19: 18-19
LIfe is a sermon whether you want it to be or not. In the final hours of preparing for this weeks’ service our family lost a good man. Today I would like to speak with you with the intention of honoring the life of Stan Kowolski and an offering of prayer for the glory of the committal of his soul to heaven.
A couple of weeks ago I gave a message entitled “Storming the Gates of Hell”. The design of that message was threefold. First and foremost, it was to let us know that there is a Hell. Second, it was to let us know that Hell is a place we will find ourselves if we don’t accept the grace and redemption of Jesus Christ into our hearts as a matter of faith. There is, however, some confusion over what I meant when I said Jesus continues to fight for us. So, as we talk about the final judgment mentioned in the Apostle’s Creed, I would like to further develop that statement. We are going to go a little deeper and some of this may be a bit awkward or new to some of you, so I am going to try and simplify as much as I can. When speaking with my Dad this week, he said, “David you are going to confuse those poor people.” My intention is to do the exact opposite.
Doctrine of Time between Death and Resurrection
There is no doctrine, at least in the Methodist Church, about what happened to Jesus during the time between his death and his resurrection. As I offered in my sermon, it is perfectly acceptable and scriptural refutable to state that Jesus descended to Hell and saved those who had passed before he died for their sins. Thus, freeing them from a life separated by God, just as he had done for the living. This understanding is not a tenant of our faith however. If you do not believe this is what happened, then that is okay, and you are likely not alone. Remember there are two versions of the Apostle’s Creed over this point. But, just as Adam Hamilton writes in his book, I find comfort in this understanding and this development of the salvation of Christ because He leaves no one behind and he goes to the depths of our spiritual separation as well as our worldly separation from God. In total, when this understanding is taken into account, Jesus has experienced the full spectrum of the human condition.
Afterlife and Judgment
To be fair, I said that Jesus was still fighting for us. How is that possible and what did I mean by that? Well, this is where I have to get specific and the subject matter can get tricky because, quite honestly, the Bible leaves a lot of the afterlife open to interpretation. The reason for that is because when the Books of the Bible were written, most people thought that Jesus was coming in their lifetime. When the original disciples started passing away it became important to write the narrative down and to provide guidance for the new generation of Christians, but the thought was that Christ was coming soon. Now, 2000 years later we must try and understand the Scripture knowing that we are still waiting for the return of Christ. It is not until that return of Christ that we will experience the final judgment and take our eternal place in Heaven or in eternal condemnation in Hell.
So, let’s put the afterlife in the context of the Jewish understanding of Biblical times. The Jewish tradition held the afterlife, or the place of the dead, had to areas, Sheol/Hades (where evil people found themselves) and Paradise (where good people found themselves). These were places that the spirit, or soul, rested after leaving the corruption of the fleshy earthbound body. Maybe, some of you recall Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, “Surely you will be with me today in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 43). These two places of spiritual rest are not the same places as the Heaven and Hell that you and I commonly refer to as Christians. That is somewhat shocking I know, so let me explain.
The passage from Revelation that we have read this morning reveals to us the nature of the Final judgment. This is the time where everything we have done in our lives must be accounted for before the throne of Jesus. The time of Final Judgment is following our complete resurrection, when we are taken from our Spiritual state and placed back into our earthly bodies for a new life in the new creation on earth.
The difference in the understanding of the afterlife in the Bible is that we find ourselves in different states. After death we find ourselves spiritually separated from our corruptible flesh in the places of Sheol or Paradise. In this spiritual state we await a reunion with our bodies in a fully resurrected state in the presence of the returned Christ awaiting final judgment. Once that resurrection has taken place, our bodies and spirit are judged by Christ. If judged to the fires of Hell, there is no return. It is eternal. If judged to be part of heaven, we take our place among the righteous for eternity.
This is the language of the Bible, this is the basis of our understanding. The basic nature of what I have shared, is that we cannot be judged twice for our sins. Meaning, we cannot be judged immediately after death and again at resurrection, we will only be judged one time by Christ after His return and after our resurrection.
The criteria for that final judgment is stated clearly in the scripture we read. It is to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. In doing so, your actions in life will attest to that acceptance...for mere words are not enough, your heart must be changed.
John Wesley on the Matter
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote many sermons over his long life and I have found three that deal specifically with the nature of the afterlife. It is interesting to me that as he got older and more accepting of the state and nature of death his views altered slightly, but he always prefaced his discussion with the important acknowledgment that scripture was inadequate on this concept to draw hard conclusions. While his first sermon was open to the idea that the Spiritual state of the human could be changed through further intervention of Jesus, his final sermon ever preached does not. He uses the narrative of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16: 19-31) to draw his conclusion that when the Spirit find itself separated from God in the place of Sheol, it can see the place of Paradise, but there is a great chasm preventing the crossing from one side to the other. Therefore, this spiritual condition, this place of the dead cannot be changed.
This is some meaty stuff, so what does it mean for all of us. First, let’s deal with the certainties:
We will be judged according to our faith and the way we lived it out. Faith, when it is true, will always win.
Our deliverance into Heaven or into Hell is final and it is eternal. This deliverance is based upon our faith. Not of mere words, but a changing of the heart.
Now, let’s deal with those items that deal with some speculation and a whole lot of faith. Jesus told the thief he will be with him in Paradise. So, in death, we will not be separate from God when we have lived a life of faith. It is an acknowledgment that our Spirit rests in the realm of glory with Creator, Son, and Spirit. But, if our faith is false or non-existent, if we deny the love of Christ in life and choose not to believe in the gift of salvation and grace, then we may find ourselves on the other side of the chasm. If found here, in this spiritual state, prior to the final judgment, can we still find salvation? Any answer would be speculation. I believe in a Savior that has the keys to unlock death’s door and has defeated the grave, so if the chasm can be bridged, Jesus is the only one capable of doing so. To me, Jesus has shown his love for us in every way possible, so I would like to think that if there is still a chance, then He will continue to fight for us.
The best answer for us, today, is to have faith. To give your life to Christ while your heart still beats. In doing so, whenever that final judgment comes you will find the sales tipped toward your eternal life in heaven.