************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 52 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 16, 2011
Q & A 52
2 Thessalonians 1:3-12
"I Believe Jesus Will Come to Judge"
Most of you have heard that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Based on this, there are movies and articles predicting that next year is the date of the apocalypse. Do you know what radio preacher Harold Camping says about this? "That date has not one stitch of biblical authority. It's like a fairy tale." The real date for the end of times, he says, is May 21, 2011. Camping even has some employees who wear T-shirts that read, "May 21, 2011." In that case, are you ready?
This is not the first time Camping has made such a bold prediction about the Judgment Day. On September 6, 1994, dozens of Camping's followers gathered inside Alameda's Veterans Memorial Building to await the return of Christ, an event Camping had promised for two years. Followers dressed children in their Sunday best and held Bibles open-faced toward heaven. But, as you know, the world did not end.
I am sure most of you can tell me what is wrong with Camping's prediction. Jesus Himself says what is wrong in Matthew 24:36. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." So, Harold Camping, you are wrong. And, by the standard of the Bible, you are a false prophet.
According to the Apostles' Creed the return of Christ is an article of true faith and part of the Gospel. So, with the church of all ages, we confess, "I believe in Jesus Christ ... who ... will come to judge the living and the dead."
I The Catechism's Approach: Comfort
A Take a close look at what the Catechism says, or rather, at what it doesn't say about the return of Christ. It doesn't say a thing about the time of the return. It does not have a heavy emphasis on hell and damnation. It doesn't mention the signs of the times. Nor does it tell us some of the great and wondrous things that will happen on the Last Day.
The Catechism approaches Christ's return from an entirely unique perspective. It takes an approach no other Catechism or Confession takes. It asks, "How does Christ's return 'to judge the living and the dead' comfort you?" Notice, the Catechism deals with the present rather than the future. It wants to know what comfort Christ's return as Judge gives us right now, in this life, on this earth, and in this body.
B Notice, also, the intended audience of this Question and Answer. The Catechism speaks to believers. It speaks to believers suffering through distress and persecution. In doing this, it follows the example of Paul in our Scripture reading. Paul, too, speaks about the second coming to believers who are suffering for the Kingdom of God.
Q & A 52, my brothers and sisters, is for Christians who are unemployed, sick, mourning, facing financial difficulties, having marriage problems, struggling with turmoil in their family. It speaks to Christians in China who are in prison for their faith. It speaks to Christians in Muslim lands who are persecuted for their faith. It speaks to the Christian poor of Central America who are plundered and mistreated by the wicked rich. It speaks to the Christian hungry and homeless of Haiti. It speaks to those Christians who are disabled by birth, disease, or age. It speaks to Christian minorities who are discriminated against because of skin color or nationality. It speaks to Christians who battle the forces of darkness in such areas as abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and the definition of marriage.
II Christ's Return: Make Everything Right
A "I believe in Jesus Christ ... who ... will come to judge the living and the dead." Someday, my brothers and sisters, Jesus is coming as Judge.
How vivid the Bible is in picturing this judging work: the sheep are separated from the goats, the wheat is separated from the chaff. The entire human race is split into two categories of people: the wicked and the righteous, the believing and the unbelieving, the followers of Christ and the opponents of Christ, the elect and the reprobate.
This reminds us that judgment always involves two parts: the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous. Look at verses 6 & 7 of our Bible reading:
(2 Th 1:6-7) God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you (7) and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
B There is more to judgment, however, than punishment and reward. Something much broader is in mind. What is in mind is that everything will be set right. God's purpose in Christ is to restore the beauty, perfection, sinlessness, and holiness of the Garden of Eden. The message of the second coming to the intended audience (remember, this is a suffering audience): everything will be set right – whether it is sickness, disability, persecution, injustice, oppression, turmoil, sin, or evil. It will all be set right.
We find the same teaching in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God's people waited and waited for the Messiah to come. They correctly believed that the Messiah would establish His Kingdom. And, in this Kingdom truth, justice, and righteousness would reign and oppression and injustice would come to an end. They waited and waited for the Messiah because they believed He would set all things right.
In Jesus, the Messiah did come. Jesus established His Kingdom. However, it is not until He comes again that His Kingdom will be full and complete. It is not until He comes again as Judge that perfect justice will be established, that all evil will be abolished, and that all things will be set right.
A "I believe in Jesus Christ ... who ... will come to judge the living and the dead." What is the comfort we get from the promised return of Christ as Judge? Our question and answer tells us three sources of comfort.
First, I can "confidently await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in my place before God and so has removed the whole curse from me."
To better understand this we have to consider the attitude of a guilty person before his sentencing judge. Such a person properly fears his judge. He is scared of his judge. And, when we consider that the Judge at the end of times is the almighty Son of God, the fear of the guilty is magnified many times over.
We are all guilty of sin and evil. The Judge has more than enough evidence to convict anyone of us and to pass judgment upon us; Jesus Christ does not have to look too hard for proof of our guilt. So, our attitude towards Him as Judge ought to be one of fear and tribulation.
Yet, we don't fear the coming of our heavenly Judge. Instead, we await His appearance with confidence.
Why is this so? Well, we saw our Judge as a baby, lowered to the straw, a human like us. We saw Him walk into Pilate's court as the defendant. We saw Him when He was executed upon the cross for sins we committed. We saw Him forsaken by God and man. And, when we stand in the final judgment and look up to the Judge's seat, Whom do we see – the One Who already stood trial in our place!
Therefore, we have nothing to fear. Our Judge is also our Savior! Our Judge has gone from the defendant's chair to the judge's bench. Our Judge was Himself judged for our sin and our evil. He has been found guilty for what we have done. And, no justice system punishes two times for the same crime. Christ was punished so we, who believe, won't be punished.
This is comfort, real comfort. Our Judge is our Savior. Isn't that awesome?!
B Secondly, says the Catechism, "All his enemies and mine he will condemn to everlasting punishment." There will come a day when everyone who makes our world such a horrible messed-up place will have to answer to God for what they have done and will be punished accordingly. As Paul puts it in our Bible reading:
(2 Th 1:8-9) He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (9) They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power ...
Now, who are the enemies the Catechism has in mind here? They are enemies we share with Christ. We share enemies with Christ because Christ and Christian are so united that the believer has no enemies except those who hate the Lord. Those who hate the Lord will be punished. The wrong, no matter how strong, will someday be punished. But, let's make sure we keep this in perspective.
When I was a student at seminary, four girls who lived close to us were raped. We knew one of the girls. There was little chance the rapists would ever be caught. There was even less chance that if caught they would be convicted. And, if convicted, there was even less chance that they would get a harsh sentence because they were minors. So, I found myself praying for the return of the Judge Who would give them what they deserve.
A few years after this I realized I took the wrong approach. My prayers for the two rapists should have been redemptive in approach, asking that they repent and come to Christ – for, then, they are friends rather than enemies. Furthermore, the Catechism is never once suggesting that we shout for joy when evil and judgment overtake our enemies and God's.
In all of this, the Christian knows it is not his to condemn, to punish, to judge. He rests in the thought that God will look after those who reject the Gospel, hate Christ, and fail to repent of their wicked deeds.
Remember how the Revelation depicts this work of judgment? OPEN YOUR BIBLES TO REVELATION 20.
(Rev 20:11-15) Then 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. (12) And 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. (13) The 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. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (15) If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
[KEEP YOU BIBLES OPEN.]
C Lastly, we get comfort from Christ's return as Judge because "me and all his chosen one he will take along with him into the joy and glory of heaven." The Judge's return signals the start of our eternal reward. If we only believe, ours is the eternal joy and glory of a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth. Surely you remember the portrait of this life from our study of the Revelation. TURN TO REVELATION 21.
(Rev 21:1-5) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (2) I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (4) He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (5) He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"On that day, says Paul to the Thessalonians, Christ will be glorified in His holy people. And Christ will be marveled at among all those who have believed (2 Thess 1:10).
D Three comforts, three joys, all because Christ is returning as Judge. We have nothing to fear, all enemies of Christ and the cross will be punished, and my eternal glory will begin. Knowing this, we cannot help but pray, "Your kingdom come. Your kingdom come in all its glory. Lord Jesus, come quickly."
"I believe in Jesus Christ ... who ... will come to judge the living and the dead." Is the return of Christ as Judge a comfort to you? Your answer depends upon your answer to another question: namely, is Christ your Savior right now?
Topic: ChristIf there is only one thing you remember from this sermon, remember this: if you do not know Christ as your Savior now, you will know Him as your Sentencing Judge then.
Subtopic: Savior and Judge
Title: Repent and believe now!
The story is told of a frontier town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy. Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon.
The child who was saved grew up to become a wicked man, and one day he stood before a judge to be sentenced for a serious crime. The prisoner recognized the judge as the man who, years before, had saved his life; so he begged for mercy. "You saved me once," he said. "Can't you save me again?" But the judge said, "Young man, then I was your savior; today I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged."
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