In Ephesians 1:16-18 we are given insight into the prayer life of an apostle. Writing to the church in that region Paul informs them that he was praying for them, but also gives them the content of those prayers:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
So, Paul’s greatest desire for these Christians is that they would know something; or rather, that God would help them to see a truth/greater reality. Particularly that they would know the “hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Another translation puts it this way:
“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called.”
Paul believed it was deeply important for Christians to have a greater understanding of the hope God has given them through Jesus Christ—so important in fact that it was at the center of his prayers.
It is with that same belief that we started a series on the Christian hope titled, “The Weight of Glory” (taken from 2 Cor. 4:17). My desire for our church is the same as Paul’s: that we would have a greater comprehension of our hope as Christians. So far, we’ve seen that this hope grants us daily renewal; that in the midst of the “wasting away” that comes from this life, we can stare death in the face and refuse to blink because of the glory we are promised (If you’re interested you can find these sermons at our website www.dschurchofchrist.com). This allows us to live with confidence and courage as we know that, if we die, we will be with Jesus, and ultimately, he will resurrect us to live with him in a New Heavens and a New Earth (2 Pet. 3:13).
But, is this hope simply for our benefit? Does it not require anything of us other than to passively sit and wait for God to make everything right in the end? Certainly not. Of course, God will put everything right in the end, but he calls us to partner with him in a grand mission to reach others and to share what we have received. Often, we refer to this as evangelism; today we will refer to it as “mission” as we examine how our hope is “A Hope with a Mission.”
This missional aspect of our hope is seen as we continue in 2 Cor. 5:10-11
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.
What does this short statement about the judgment teach us about our hope?
A Future, Universal Judgment
In Acts 17:31 Paul spoke to the Athenians in Greece and informed them that God, “Has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” This “appointed” day is like a gravitational force of, pulling all of creation closer and closer to the righteous judgment of God. This concept of divine judgment was central to the preaching of Jesus and the early church.
“Unless you repent you will all likewise perish”—Luke 13:3, 5
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”—Matt. 10:28
“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment”—Acts 24:25
“On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”—Col. 3:6
This is a message often unheard of in modern Christianity. In the past, Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” set the tone for most preaching in American churches, but not any longer. While there was an overemphasis on God’s wrath at the expense of his grace by some, I am equally—if not substantially more—concerned with a church that refuses to preach a message which was so central to the mission of the early disciples. Maybe one of the reasons we don’t see the amount of conversion we saw in previous generations is due to our hesitance to restore scripture’s message of the coming wrath of a holy and righteous God; the bad news which terrifies us enough to seek out some way of escape (which of course, is the good news of Jesus).
For Paul, this was an unavoidable part of our hope as Christians because, by hoping for future salvation, we imply that we need to be saved from something; that is, the wrath and judgment of God.
“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”—1 Thess. 1:10
In 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 we discover several important facts about this coming judgment:
It is unavoidable. As a child I remember the sheer terror of, when I acted up while we were out as a family, my father saying, “When you get home, you’re getting a spanking.” There was always the slight hope that he would somehow forget; that, for a moment, he would have a sudden lapse in memory or get too busy. Of course, I tried to help this along by buttering him up and being exceptionally respectful and helpful. Yet, I came to learn that what dad said he meant; that if he promised coming punishment, it may take a while, but it would come nonetheless. Paul tells us here that, God has made a promised return, for judgment and salvation. And, while it may take some time, it is still going to come.
You may can get out of jury duty. If break the law and are desperate, you may even run and avoid capture from an arrest warrant for some time. Yet, there is one court and one judge that cannot possibly evade: the judgment seat of Jesus Christ.
Paul says we “must” appear before the judgment seat of Christ. We can scream and yell about it; we can stick our heads in the sand and try to avoid it; we can live as if it isn’t coming, but that won’t change the inescapable reality that one day the Lord will return and we will have to answer for our choices.
It is universal. Here we get to the heart of the missional side of the Christian hope. Why do Christians believe they must evangelize? Why do we feel the necessity to share the gospel with others? Because scripture tells us that all people, everywhere will be held accountable for their lives, their actions, their thoughts, their responsibilities, to Jesus. Since we believe that we are convicted that everyone deserves a chance to receive his offer of pardon; to be released from the condemnation that comes from that judgment through the gospel.
Again, the universal nature of this judgment is something attested to by Jesus and the early church.
“The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”—John 12:48
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhereto repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the worldin righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”—John 12:48
Your neighbor with the two-car garage and the well-behaved kids; your boss who is so kind to you and gives you great bonuses; your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson; your President and your congress; your spouse—all people everywhere will one day come to stand before the court of Jesus Christ.
There is an equally clear message in all of this as well: that it is judge Jesus we will stand before and no one else. This is a role we would rather not like to think of Jesus in if we are honest. Sometimes people say, “You’re not the judge of me!” which of course is true, but I doubt people would find comfort in the alternative. Friend, savior, redeemer, brother, yes; judge, not so much.
In fact, we may would like to stand before someone else in judgment: Buddha, Ghandi, the Pope, our parents, our preacher, but it will be none of these. All religious people will stand before Jesus—and unless they are members of the one true religion of Christianity, saved by the grace of God in obedience to the gospel of Jesus—they will be under the wrath of God and lost for all eternity.
It is personal. All of this makes this judgment scene very personal in a variety of ways. First, this means that no one can take my place on judgment day; that is, my mother can’t explain away my sins or defend my case; my friends can’t take the blame and say the reason I made that stupid decision was due to their influence; my father can’t say it was all his fault because he was never there. Instead it is me and the Lord. If I have made him my king, my advocate, my high priest through faithful submission to Him in this life, then I can stand before him confidently; if not, then I can only tremble.
Secondly, this means that I must answer for all the secret things that I thought no one would ever know about; the little things that were actually big things; and the serious things I thought were trivial. As Paul puts it, “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Actions have eternal consequence; either eternally good or terrible. And I will receive what is “due.” Which, if we are honest, is a terrifying thought. To receive judgment for every lie we’ve told, every evil thought we’ve had, every time we’ve gossiped or slandered someone, every time we’ve cheated someone. Even more terrifying is the standard by which you will be judged: the perfect character of Jesus himself and his truth. If I was being judged by being compared to someone at the local jail, I might look pretty good, but before Jesus Christ I am shown to be the sinner that I am. Generally speaking we think of most people as good, but scripture reminds us there is no such thing (Rom. 3:10; 23).
All of this—the fact that a future universal judgment which is both personal and unavoidable is coming—is what pushes us to mission; or as Paul puts it, “To persuade men.”
The Mission of Hope
There are certain truths which compel us to action. Its why medical professionals feel the need to share any cures they find for a disease; why meteorologist feel compelled to warn communities when there is a tornado in their area; why there are warning signs ahead of a dangerous construction area. If we know then we are morally obligated to tell others.
Paul says, “Therefore”—that is, since we know everything we just discussed—then it is our responsibility to warn others. Notice that it is the “fear of the Lord” which motivates us to reach others. Another translation says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord” (NIV); that is, since we have trembled at the coming judgment, we have a responsibility to try and convince others of this same fear so that they will respond to God’s offer of pardon. Yet, it isn’t simply a matter of yelling to the crowds of a coming judgment but “persuading” them.
The word for persuade in the Greek means, “To convince them to agree and believe.” This implies preparation, knowledge, and training in the word of God. Yet it is a sad state of affairs that, overall, there are fewer works that the church has devoted less time, money, and effort to than evangelism. Doesn’t this mission demand everything of us? Isn’t it worthy of our time to do everything we can to reach anyone we can for as long as we possibly can? Don’t people at least deserve the chance to have hope?
Of course, the question is, do we really “know” what Paul says we know. Do we really believe that 1) Judgment is coming 2) People are lost without Jesus and aren’t saved simply because they are “good people” 3) That we have an obligation to tell them? Because if we did, we would make it a part of our daily walk with Christ; to reach out and warn, and to give people hope through the saving message of Jesus. We would sacrifice time, money, and effort to equip ourselves to better “persuade” people.
In fact, we are doing that very thing starting this week at the Dripping Springs Church of Christ. For some time now we have tried to get different evangelistic works going, but we have come to realize that, in order for this to work, we need more accountability. With that in mind, we will be starting, this Wednesday at 7pm, monthly meetings for those interested in three different aspects of this mission: bringing, teaching, and keeping. These will be meetings used to discuss different methods, but also provide an opportunity to hold us accountable and make sure we are doing what we say we believe.
- Bringers are those interested in learning how to better invite people to church and set up Bible studies.
- Teachers are those who will actually conduct and “persuade” others.
- Keepers are those who will help new Christians mature in their faith and keep them devoted to the Lord and his people.
If you seriously believe what we have discussed this morning then you must now plan to partake in these classes. Those interested in bringing will meet this week, the teachers the following week, and the keepers the next week. We must feel the great urgency of our central mission as God’s hope bearers. People must know. They must hear. They must be warned.
There is an old song the church used to sing when I was growing up titled, “You never mentioned Him to me.” The lyrics depict the judgment day when someone we knew very well looks at us and says these haunting words:
“You never mentioned him to me,
You helped me not the light to see.
You met me day by day, but knew I was astray
You never mentioned him to me.”
Who in your life will say that to you on judgment day? God has given us a great hope, with an equally great mission, to reach out to others who don’t have that hope. The question is, will we accept it?