Preaching and Worship Resources about Judgment
In Scripture, the judgment of God is understood primarily as good news. It is an act of salvation that is rooted in God's goodness, righteousness, and love. When God comes to judge, the pronouncement of right and wrong and distribution of punishments and rewards are just the beginning of his work. As Judge, God also determines to put right all that has gone wrong in the world; God says "Yes" to all that is good in his creation and "No" to all that seeks to diminish and destroy it (including human sin). While God's judgment was inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, it will only be fully realized when Christ returns. Those who put their hope in Jesus can anticipate this day because they know (as Karl Barth once said) that the "judge has been judged in their place."
Examples of Judgment as God's "No." There is no shortage of instances in the Bible when God's judgment looks like bad news for those who rebel against him. Examples include the removal of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden (Gen. 3), the flood narrative (Gen. 6-8), the ten plagues (Ex. 7-11), David's sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12), the exile of Israel (1 Chron. 9:1), and a sizeable portion of the book of Revelation. While these passages need to be taken seriously and cannot be overlooked, preachers should always be careful to place them within the context of the bigger story of restoration and renewal that Scripture seeks to tell.
Judgment as Good News. "Say among the nations, `The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.' Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth" (Psalm 96:10-14).
Judging with righteousness "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins" (Isa. 11:1-5).
Confidence in the Face of Judgment through Jesus. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . . If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom. 8:1, 31-35).
Points to Ponder
Is the judgment of God good news or terrifying news? Daniel L. Migliore rightly observes that this is a key question preachers must answer for themselves and their congregation when addressing the Christian affirmation that Christ "will come to judge the living in the dead.
Anything good about "judgment"? For most people sitting in the pew on Sunday morning, it will be difficult to imagine that there could possibly be anything good about "judgment," divine or otherwise. Not only do North American congregants live in a world where judgment is frequently pitted against love (what could be worse than being "judgmental"!), but their imaginations have also been shaped by countless artworks and movies that portray "judgment" as something to be feared. From Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel to Arnold Schwarzenegger's T2: Judgment Day on the big screen, "Judgment" appears to be about destruction, vengeance, retribution, and wrath. The one thing judgment does not appear to be about is "good news." Because of this, many Christians — and indeed, many preachers! — may think we would be better off leaving notions of God's judgment on the shelf. In one of his sermons, Tom Long tells about a student of his at Princeton Seminary who was ready to do exactly that. The student, a middle-aged mother of two named Emily, approached him one morning after class. She explained that she had a problem she needed help with and asked him if he might have time for a cup of coffee. The two made their way to the student cafeteria, filled their styrofoam cups with coffee, and settled into a small table in the corner. Dr. Long cut straight to the point. "So," he said, "what's the problem?" "Well," Emily replied, "I'm doing an internship in a church near here. And my supervising pastor says I have to preach this Sunday." Dr. Long replied, "Good! You are a preacher! You should preach!" "I know," she said. "But he says I have to preach the assigned texts from the lectionary this week." Dr. Long replied, "Good! The lectionary is a helpful tool!" "Well, yes," said Emily, her voice growing quieter. "But the lectionary texts are about the judgment of God." Dr. Long replied, "Good! The judgment of God is an important biblical theme!" At this, Emily paused, apparently at a loss for words. She fingered the rim of her coffee cup for a moment. Then she said, "But you see, Dr. Long, I don't believe in the judgment of God. I believe in a God who is good, a God who is loving, a God who is forgiving. How can I possibly preach judgment?"
Judgment is good news When God's judgment is placed in opposition to his love, it will be difficult truth for most people to celebrate — no matter if they are in the pulpit or in the pew. While there may be a few people in our lives whom we hope will be on the receiving end of this sort of judgment, very few of us are eager to endure it ourselves! But as Long observes elsewhere, this is not the best way to understand God's judgment. In the Scriptures, God's judgment is not opposed to God's love. Instead, it is an expression of that love. Long writes: "In the biblical sense, judgment is God's exercise of good judgment, repairing all that is harmful to humanity. Judgment is God's repairing of the broken creation. Judgment is God's scalpel carefully removing the malignant tissue that threatens life. Judgment is God's burning away of all that is cruel and spirit-killing in order that we may breathe the air of compassion. Judgment is good news; it is God setting things right."
God's judgment is about restoration and renewal This is a point that will be hard to overemphasize, and an analogy may be helpful.
Putting things right Imagine that you are awoken one night by a terrible crash. You make your way out of your bedroom and discover that someone has driven their car through your front yard and into your living room. Eventually, you and the perpetrator end up in court. What does the judge do? Most of us imagine that after she has announced a verdict (guilty or innocent) her duty is complete. But when the Scriptures picture God as judge, they take things a step further. When God exercises judgment, God not only declares a verdict, but God also climbs down off the bench and gets to work putting things right again.God provides all that is needed to make things whole — for you, your home, and for the offender.
It really is good news And that takes us back to Dr. Long and his student. The two talked for some time, but for all his theological sophistication and biblical insight, Dr. Long couldn't seem to convince her that God's judgment was something worth believing in. Eventually, he let the topic drop and their conversation drifted to the subject of Emily's teenage son, Alex. Emily confided that Alex, who was once a good student, was barely scraping by in school. They'd had the police ring their doorbell more than once. And just the week before, they had received a phone call from Alex's school informing them that drugs had been found in his locker. Emily told her professor all of this without looking up from her coffee. And then she began to recount something that had happened just the night before. The dinner dishes had been cleared, and Emily and her husband were sitting at their kitchen table, speaking in hushed tones. They were talking about what they always talked about — their son. The two had grown quiet, and then Emily said what was on both of their hearts. "What are we going to do?" She said. "What are we going to do?" They sat in silence. And then Emily pushed her chair away from the table and walked down the hallway to her son's bedroom. She stood outside his door for a moment. She took a deep breath. She opened his door. Then she said, "Alex, I love you too much to let you live this way. I love you too much. . . . " Emily trailed off as she told Dr. Long the story. The two sat in silence for a moment. And then Dr. Long cleared his throat and said to his student: "Emily, you've been asked to preach on the judgment of God. I think you just did."
God loves us and this world The good news of God's judgment is that God loves us — and loves this world — too much to let us keep living like this. God loves us too much to let things stay the way they are. And so God promises that one day, he will come and exercise his good judgment. One day, God will come and put things right!
Kassem In Kassem, a language spoken in the African nation of Burkina Faso, “to judge” means “to eat the word.” The word “eat” is used in a metaphorical sense to refer to gaining something. One may eat friendship (build a friendship), eat money (a corrupt use of money), or eat the kingdom (become king). A judge “eats the word” in the sense that the judge is in charge of a problem or dispute. He or she gets to decide the outcome.
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|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|