One reality we probably don’t speak of enough is that this is a world under looming judgment. All humans born after our first parents sinned are born already guilty, not near to God but rather a stranger to Him, and if nothing intervenes, we face an eternal death, sometimes called Hell.
At a person’s death his destiny is set. If he dies outside of Jesus Christ, his journey… his story has ended in eternal hell, a place of conscious suffering.
Because we are entertainment saturated and because we have a set of practices whereby we largely avoid confronting the menace of death, our society is flippant. We’re not troubled by this thought of impending judgment. There’s too much going on – real stuff – that prevents us from considering where everything is heading.
Sure, we admit to having problems, even many problems: we aren’t at peace, or our kids aren’t talking to us, we’re afraid of dying.
But all problems, even physical death, become minor before the great problem: the judgment against sin that results in eternal conscious death.
A day of God’s wrath looms over human history; every hour it draws nearer. This Day shouldn’t surprise us like a thief; we who have read the Bible know that there have been many prophecies uttered about an end of days judgment called the Day of the Lord.
By not thinking of it we don’t delay it for a second. By ignoring the facts of God’s wrath, and God Himself, and of what God intended when He created the human creature, we’re not avoiding wrath, but “storing up wrath for that day of wrath.” Refusing to look at judgment isn’t a way out of it, it’s a soil for more sin…and thus more wrath.
Let’s get this straight. As several of the psalms attest, that God intends to judge the world is actually good news, because it implies that our Creator is not abandoning this creation project. Rather He will judge it, deciding which part remains and what must go.
Nor has God turned away from His intention that the human is made in the image of God. One of the implications of that is that the rest of the creation rises or falls on the quality of image bearers. God is determined to govern and develop the creation through the image bearing human creature. So, judging the creation really comes down to judging humans.
So a day of judgment is coming, which is a day of God’s anger against all image bearers who resist the intention of God’s love and joy when He created the world. God is striding down the halls of history, approaching all humans who have lived and died on this earth… to judge them. The Judge is standing at the door. Who can abide the day of His coming?
Who can pass the test at the day of His coming? That’s the big question we should be asking! If that isn’t at the forefront of our societal discussions, the question that our public intellectuals wrangle with, what taxes our minds, there must be a great liar holding a spell over the world. Because judgment is the big thing! How can we pass through this judgment? Which humans will be saved?
And the Christian answer is: not the virtuous. And the simple reason for that is that no one is virtuous. That is, no one is righteous, living according to the truth of God’s intentions for them. All have sinned, and fallen short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23) We’re made to bear the image of God, to reflect His wisdom and goodness into our families and workplaces and to the next generation –but just consider, for instance, how we talk! Complaining, spreading poisonous attitudes, gossiping, lying, two-facedness, silence at all the wrong places…
We’ve especially been silent before God. Our mouths were supposed to be filled with praise. We’re supposed to become sophisticated at praising: nuanced, artful, intelligent, full of beautiful expressions about a beautiful God. We’re supposed to reflect on – not just what God has done for us – but what God has done for the non-human, non-speaking creation. And we were to gather up their praises – the ones they couldn’t express – and express those praises to God for them.
What I’m saying: to be a human being means that our lives are intended to be for God, lived toward God, attentive to Him, glad in Him, in communion with Him, morning, noon, and evening fellowshipping with Him. And this wouldn’t be called religion, or piety or morality, but simply human.
Let me say it again, but a little briefer: humans were meant to be alive to God.
But no: “none is righteous, no not one/ no one understands/ no one seeks for God/ All have turned aside/ together they have become worthless/ no one does good/ not even one.” Romans 3: 10-12
G.K. Chesterton was a London journalist and a writer-at-large at the start of the 20th century. A London newspaper challenged some well-known writers to answer the question, What’s Wrong with the World. Chesterton considered what his reply could be, and he came up with this: Dear Sir, I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton
I know some of you would like me to preach against the sins of the current culture – I know this because you’ve told me so. Get on the homosexuals, the transgender community. These are sins, sins +. But I don’t want to get into the habit of throwing red meat to the congregation, get used to stirring you up about all the sins out there. The problem is us.
We in ourselves are not what God was after when He came up with the idea of human creatures. Instead of spreading the life of God into the world, we’ve been – to one degree or another – a conveyor of death. Because anybody who isn’t alive toward His Creator is aiding and abetting the disfigurement of the world.
Only one human being passes the scrutiny of God, who instead of calling forth the anger of God, elicits the outcry: This is my beloved Son, with whom I’m well pleased. Now this is image bearing, God says! This is what I intended when I made the human being to reflect me, as a true Son of the Father.
Books have been written about what Jesus said and did. Many more books could be written that would fill the world. To plunge into His goodness and excellence could fill up a thousand thousand sermons. I’ve always fallen back on what Peter quoted about Him: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Not a shred of dishonesty. There was nothing off about Him. Nothing that lacked. There was all that should be at every second.
A man in full. The human creature as was intended. The Son who bore the image of the Father. So, let at least Him subdue the earth and have dominion over the birds of the air, and over every living that that moves on the earth. Here’s the human who should be ruler over the creation.
Yet, the Bible emphasizes, He was born to die. We all are born and then we die. He was born to die. Dying was why He was born.
Because God put forward Jesus as a propitiation. Meaning, the plan all along was that this judgment Day, the Day of the Lord, this anger of God directed at sinners, would be brought forward in time, and the fire of God’s anger against sin and sinners fall on the body of Jesus, the complete Man. Jesus, the Just One, entered the Day of the Lord for us the Unjust. And just as the prophecies envisaged, it was an awful death: at His death there was no anesthesia – he suffered all the pain of a body, His body, being crucified.
But this was more than a crucifixion. The physical pain executed over a few hours was only an important part of His suffering. Because Jesus the Man is also the eternal God, His death partook of the infinite. The infinite suffering of hell deserved by millions of image bearers was somehow, in those few hours, visited on the body and spirit and soul of Jesus. When Jesus bore the anger of God against sin, we should conclude that He bore all the anger against all the sinners and all their sins. Infinite suffering. Words fail here.
The New Testament insists that the death of Jesus Christ was legally the death of all image bearers. “We have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” – 2 Corinthians 5: 14.
Just as Adam’s sin was the sin of all men, even though it took place long before we were born and whether we ever realize it or not. His sin marked us who descended from him as sinners deserving death.
In the same way, Jesus’ death is the death of many image bearers for their sin.
Jesus, that complete image bearer and that Representative Man, died. And in Him all died. His body went into a tomb, turned cold.
Then, pooling blood began to flow again. Neurons began firing. He came alive again. He stood up. And walked out. And He’s still…
Same body…but new…renewed. Same body, yet a new quality of life. Not just an extension of life before death. But a life after death after life, beyond death, out of the reach of death.
Why…how did Jesus rise? The Scriptures provide several perspectives that eventually coalesce. We’ll name just two: First, as Peter preached in the first Christian sermon, God was stronger than death, and so Jesus was never going to stay down. “It was not possible for him to be held by [death].” Acts 2:24. He used death for His purposes, and then slipped its surly bonds.
Stronger than death. Stronger than death. God is stronger than death. Jesus stronger than death. So much stronger that He uses it as a tool. Then is there anything He’s not stronger than?
The second perspective is found at the end of Romans 4, when Paul says that Jesus our Lord was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised [from the dead] for our justification.
When God raised up Jesus after that judgment against human evil carried out in Him, He was saying this is (still) my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased.
But He was also saying about people Jesus represented in His death: …and these are my people. After Jesus’ death, they are in the right. They belong in this world. They are what I promised to Abraham to undo the curse of Eden. After the judgment, these are the ones I’m partnering with to subdue the earth, to have dominion over the creation.
When he raised up Jesus our Lord, God was saying “Yes” to us who believe Jesus, who follow Jesus. And through these human bearers he was saying “yes” to the rest of creation.
At the crucifixion of Jesus, the Day of the Lord was brought forward. But there still awaits a final Day of God’s Wrath, a day of tribulation and distress for some human beings. So how again will one be saved out of this end of history judgment?
Let’s turn to Ephesians 2: 4, 5; 8, 9: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved….For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [grace through faith] is not your own doing; [grace through faith] is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Paul couldn’t be clearer. Let’s work backwards. Being rescued from judgment, passing safely through judgment and out the other side, is of grace. That is, it is a gift of God. It is not a result of any doing of ours. We just believe…receive Jesus through faith, and in that believing we receive God’s gift of Jesus Christ.
And what exactly has God made possible through Jesus? God makes us alive together with Christ. He links us to Christ – to that Man in full – so that Jesus’ death to sin counts as our death – and thus our sins are atoned for. And in His resurrection we are granted life after judgment. Eternal life, by grace through faith.
God the Father sends God the Son in the power of God the Spirit, and the Son dies as an atonement for our sin. Through this atoning death we are rescued from the coming judgment and instead reconciled with the Father, to the degree that we now call our once-estranged God, Abba. This faith in what God has done for us as a gift has been brought to us by the Spirit of God.
This is who God is: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Whom we no longer fear as a wrathful God, but know Him as the God of salvation. We look forward to the day of judgment, when God’s glory will be displayed. (Romans 5:2). Because then it will also be on display that we are in the right, not because of what we’ve done but because of God’s grace.
Do you believe this? Have you been baptized into the name of this God, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit? Is God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, your God?
Have you confessed Jesus as the strong Lord over all? Your Lord? Have you done this publicly?
Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 28: 18: God has given me all authority – I am the great Image Bearer ruling the creation. Go make disciples of me – men and women and boys and girls who believe what God has done through Me and in whom I am restoring the image of God.
And then baptize them – so that they’re publicly announcing that their God is the Father, and the Son and the Spirit who has worked out salvation through death and resurrection. And then teach these baptized disciples to observe all that I’ve commanded you.
When you get baptized you go down into the waters – the waters representing death and judgment. You are raising a sign that you died with Christ, and His death was a judgment on sin, your sin.
And when in baptism you’re raised up out of the waters it’s like Noah being taken through and out the other side of the flood waters of judgment – by grace. And you’re expressing in this rising out of the waters that you have been delivered out of judgment into eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In baptism you are testifying through symbol that you are alive toward and elected by God…justified…saved not because of anything you did but through the doings of Christ. You’re belong in this world that God made because you’re united to Christ!
And you’re saying this publicly: Mom, Dad, Cousin, Husband, Wife, Friend, Neighbor – if you’re going to understand me at any depth, you’ll need to understand that I am among those whom my God who has saved by grace through faith in Jesus my Lord. This is who I am. Connected to Jesus.
You believe in Jesus. You believe that Jesus is Lord. Your Lord’s first command for you is to be baptized. So, let’s do this. Let’s schedule this. Next baptismal service is May 14 – Mother’s Day.
I’ll read the first 11 verses of Romans 6 in the Message paraphrase:
6 1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer captive to sin’s demands! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
What does it mean to be an image bearer? That we are alive to God. And that’s what Jesus did – He made us alive! How do we express that’s what Jesus has done? Paul replies, well, that’s what your baptism signified. You’re dead to sin, you’re alive to God.
Don’t miss the fact that here Paul just assumes that if you’re a follower of Christ, well, of course you’ve been baptized.
You might say: well, I’ve already been baptized… as an infant. But, of course, an infant can’t have decided to become a follower of Christ. Baptism expresses something that has happened in the heart of a person: s/he has believed God – God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit – has believed God has acted through the death and resurrection of Jesus to save from judgment. Has snatched us up from judgment, like a piece of wood, already charred and smoldering, out of the fire. Baptism is a testimony of believers of what has happened to them – rescue!
If you are not baptized, you are disobeying the first commandment of the one you’ve come to call Lord. Not a good start to this life learning from Christ your Lord how to be a human!
But you do have this Spirit of Christ, so you know what to do. It’ll take courage, but the same Spirit that empowered the Son to enter into the wrath of God for your sake will give you the courage of obedience.
And you’ll feel so good afterward. This is an act of faith, and obeying Christ by faith is a huge part of this “life to God” that Paul talks about. It’ll feel right.
Finally, this act of baptism is a signifier – these people are my people. Their God is my God. I’m a member of the Body of Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body…” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
To testify that these are your people in a way that’s even deeper than biology. To testify that you’ve been plucked out of the fires of coming judgment by grace. To testify that you are Christ’s and Christ is yours. To testify that your God is the God of salvation: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The God who joyfully made this world and knew what He was doing when He made man in His image. And through Christ you’re that image bearing creation who’s been snatched from the flames and delivered into becoming what you were made to be.