Luke 12:49-53 (NLT)
“I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against–or two in favor and three against. ‘Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.'” Jesus wants to set the world on fire with the burning zeal of His followers!Would Jesus endure the baptism of suffering on our behalf so He could have half-hearted, lukewarm followers? Absolutely not! Jesus likes it when His followers are so zealous and passionate for Him that it stirs up a reaction in others to the truth. He wants people to see His light so they have to respond. He does not want light and darkness to peacefully co-exist with each other. He wants light to be so bright and bold that it exposes darkness for what it is and repels it.
As ambassadors of Christ we are called to be merciful and contend through prayer and the preaching of the Gospel for evil people to be saved, even those who persecute and mistreat us. However, this does not mean that we should deny, apologize for, or shrink back from God’s activity as a Judge. Here are five reasons that we should celebrate Jesus as a Judge:
1. Because a land without justice is a terrible place to live.
Ask someone who lives in a third world country where the justice system is corrupt and they will tell you that it is a terrible place to live. Those who are the most deceiving, the most violent, and the wealthiest thrive at the expense of everyone else in society. Corruption and injustice rule the day as evil men are allowed to pursue the fulfillment of their wicked and carnal lusts unchecked. As a result, the weak (usually women and children) and the poor are robbed, raped, abused, and taken advantage of without any hope of protection unless they too resort to wickedness as a means of self-preservation, adding to the downward spiral of society.
One of the fundamentals of good leadership is that you will always get more of whatever you reward and less of what you punish. Certainly, this principle applies to human behavior in society. The fact that Jesus is a judge guarantees that He will reward righteousness and punish wickedness without partiality, thereby promoting good behavior and discouraging bad behavior in society. His judgments comfort us because He insures that the vulnerable will be protected, the bad guys won’t get away with evil, all the wrong things will be made right, and the earth will be a glorious place to live forever!
2. Because Jesus’ character is consistent, pure, and incorruptible.
God doesn’t give us a moving target to aim at. His standards and expectations have always been the same since the beginning of time. Because of the consistency of His standards and His judgments we can always know what He likes, what He hates, what He rewards, what He punishes, and what He expects of us. Romans 2:6-11 states clearly that “God will ‘give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”
God’s impeccable integrity guarantees that He cannot be bribed, manipulated, or intimidated. Therefore we can always know for certain where we stand with God. He leaves no room for confusion. If we follow His ways we will be blessed. Conversely, if we don’t follow His ways we will be cursed, which alerts us of our need to repent of our ways and ask Him for mercy.
3. Because Jesus is a merciful judge.
Not only is Jesus a just Judge who punishes sin, but He is also a merciful Savior who delights in forgiving rebellion, showing kindness, and lavishing good things upon us that we don’t deserve. In Ezekiel 18:23 God says, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their wicked ways and live?” While it is true that the wages of sin is death, it is equally true that God’s preference is to show mercy, and He passionately works toward this end.
God’s intense hatred for sin and love for the sinner is seen through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. On the cross, the sinless Son of God willfully bore the sins of the world and was therefore crushed by the wrath of God, thereby making a way for us to be pardoned from our death sentence and liberated from sin’s dominating power over us. Jesus bore the wrath of God that we deserved for our sinful life so that we could inherit the blessing He deserved for His righteous life. It’s the ultimate trade that has nothing to do with our worthiness and everything to do with God’s mercy! The merciful heart of God motivates Him to go to such extreme measures to show us kindness because He is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
But doesn’t the message of the cross also tell us that God is just, that He will condemn sin, even when He sees it on His beloved Son. I find it interesting that the same Lamb of God who bore God’s wrath for us is the Lion of God who dispenses God’s wrath upon us if we do not repent. The message of the Gospel is to flee from the wrath of God by leaving our rebellion, running to Jesus, and receiving God’s mercy by faith. Those who receive God’s offer of mercy will be saved while those who refuse to repent of their rebellion will still bear the full measure of God’s wrath for their sin because He is a just judge.
Another aspect of God’s mercy as a judge is seen when He uses judgments to break through hardened hearts. Often, Jesus’ judgments are themselves acts of mercy. When we are stubborn and unresponsive to God, He can release these disciplinary judgments to get our attention and provoke us to repent while there is still time to do so. In His kindness, God will often do this as a last ditch effort to help us avoid a worse and more permanent punishment.
A great example of this type of judgment is seen in Daniel 4 when God humbles a very arrogant King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon by driving him away from people, making him eat grass like cattle, and drenching his body with the dew of heaven until his hair grew out like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. This judgment lasted seven years until finally, at the end of the seven years, Nebuchadnezzar learned the lesson and his sanity was restored to him. Nebuchadnezzar writes in his own words the redemptive transformation this judgment produced in his life: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” (Daniel 4:37 NKJV).
All Jesus’ judgments are redemptive and purposeful, never harsh, undeserved, or excessive. Jesus’ judgments can be very intense, yet He “always uses the least severe means possible to reach the greatest number of people at the deepest level of love without violating anyone’s free will in training the rulers of the earth.” (Mike Bickle, The Omega Course Manual, p. 31). His judgments are wise and thought through well, never rash and unpredictable. Even when we deserve judgment, God often patiently holds back the punishment we deserve, working to help us see the error of our ways in the hope that we will repent, turn from our wicked ways, and live! Knowing that Jesus is a merciful judge gives us confidence to approach him when we sin and receive help to overcome our sin rather than condemnation because His preference is to give mercy. In my next blog we will examine two more reasons to celebrate Jesus as a Judge.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV).