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Quality Is Conditional
July 27, 1997

REVELATION 20:11-21:4

Continuing with the Apostles' Creed, in particular the section on Jesus Christ, today we look at the phrases which affirm Christ's resurrection, ascension, exaltation, triumph, and judgment. "On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead." In this section of the creed, we return to the affirmation that Jesus was more than a human being just like us. Jesus is God's only Son, our Lord.

He was raised from the dead-- evidenced by an empty tomb, appearances to his followers, and personal experiences by many, if not most, of us. The truth of the resurrection is proved when you and I experience the presence of Christ in our lives.

The descriptions of the ascension, exaltation, and triumph of Jesus use pictorial language.

Ascension into heaven presumes a flat earth where up is up and down is down. Living on a round sphere called Earth that is constantly rotating, we know there is no up and no down.

The exaltation of Christ is portrayed by Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father, the Creator, which in ancient times was the seat of honor and power; but, of course, God is Spirit with no hands and no chair.

The triumph of Christ is pictured by Jesus coming in the clouds where every eye will see him; but it is difficult for someone in China to see what we see.

But, this is all pictorial language. After all, humans must use human language; it's all we have! But, don't try to make the words say more than they mean. The meaning, the truth of these images is that Jesus is no longer shackled by the limitations of humanity. Jesus entered into a new life and new existence where he reigns as Lord and King.

As Lord, he "will come again to judge the living and the dead," affirms the Apostles' Creed. The phrase-- will come again to judge the living and the dead-- is not necessarily future oriented. Yes, Christ will come again in final victory, but Christ comes into our lives right now, again and again, to console, forgive, cleanse, guide, and judge us.

Perhaps you prefer not hearing about judgment, but it is the reality of judgment that makes life moral and ethical. If evil was never judged, where would there be hope of justice? Where would morality be if there were no consequences of immorality? Isn't it phenomenal how in this century, and in the lifetime of many of you here this morning, two immoral, evil empires-- Nazism and Communism-- were born, thrived, judged, and defeated. Thank God for judgment. Thank God for judgment in our lives, for it is through judgment we learn to change our ways in order to grow, prosper and thrive.

The Scripture lesson this morning, again using pictorial language, paints a graphic picture of the Final Judgment. (Revelation 20, beginning with verse 11) Picture a throne with God sitting on it. The dead stand before the throne while books are opened. And the dead are judged according to their works.

1 Peter 1:17, "The one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds..."

And, Galatians 6:7, which spells out clearly and specifically how the process of judgment works now, day by day, act by act, as well as in the future: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow." Don't try to fool God, don't mess with God! Impartially, deed by deed, whoever you are, you reap whatever you sow, you harvest whatever you plant. If you plant carrot seeds, you will grow carrots.

A few verses earlier, Paul lists fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and generosity. What you plant, you harvest. Impurity, fornication, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, produce impurity, strife, jealousy, anger, etc. What goes around comes around. You cannot be quarrelsome, jealous, envious, angry, and expect to have good friends, a happy marriage, loving children, and a successful job.

Some people can't understand why they are unhappy, why their home life is a mess, why they are not appreciated, why they are not loved, why they aren't successful. Have they never heard of judgment? Do they not understand they are reaping what they sow, harvesting what they plant? Don't try to fool God. Don't mess with God.

If you lie and cheat, you will be lied to and cheated. That's judgment.

If you drink excessively, your liver will rot and brain cells will die. That's judgment.

If you use drugs, your brain will fry and turn you into a zombie. That's judgment. If you smoke, your lungs and heart will be damaged, and you probably will die prematurely. That's judgment.

If you overeat, you get fat. That's judgment.

Don't mess with God! You harvest what you plant.

And, don't blame someone or something else for your life. Granted, some people have a more difficult time because they are harvesting a bad crop planted by their parents. It's difficult for people who were raised in an environment of anger, jealousy, drunkenness, carousing, immorality, abuse. But, God doesn't give up. Each of us must take responsibility for our own choices. By the grace of God, there are wake-up calls. Quit blaming your mother, quit blaming your environment, quit blaming other people, quit blaming the government, quit blaming society, and take responsibility. Turn your life around, repent, and turn to Jesus who will cleanse you, forgive you, give you new starts and new opportunities. You don't have to repeat your parents' mistakes. You are not forever shackled by their errors. Do your own planting and reap your own harvests.

I know a man who, while working with the Forest Service, was dazed when lightning struck a tree. A fellow worker handed him a cigarette. It was his first, and he hasn't stopped smoking since. How long will he blame lightning, and take responsibility for his actions, his choices? I know a man who died prematurely from smoking. That is judgment. His lungs gave out. Now, his two young adult children smoke. What goes around comes around. He set a terrible example for his kids, but they also must take responsibility for their own choices. Blaming their father and his bad example will not allow them to escape judgment. They are planting, they will harvest.

Parents do their children no favor by setting bad examples. Parents also do their children no favor by trying to protect their children from the consequences of their actions, from judgment! When I was in sixth grade, the class was particularly unruly one beautiful, spring day. In cold Minnesota, when spring comes, spring fever hits! Our teacher finally made us sit in our seats until we were perfectly quiet. Even after the dismissal bell rang, she made us sit there until we were quiet. When we finally were dismissed, I discovered that my bus had left without me and three other classmates who rode the same bus. We had to walk home. I walked the furthest, 3 1/2 miles. While we walked, we didn't talk about the consequences of our misbehavior. We didn't discuss the judgment we had experienced. We soothed each other's discomfort by saying, "Boy, will our parents be angry with the teacher for making us walk home. My parents will be livid. They'll probably storm the superintendent's office." As my father was on the school board, I was sure the teacher would get in big trouble. But, what was the reaction of my parents when I finally got home? They said, "Serves you right. Hopefully you learned a lesson."

I wonder how many parents today would have supported the teacher? If there is a consistent comment I hear from school teachers today, it is the lack of support from parents. Parents today often take the kids' side. Teachers today lack authority to do their job. They are expected to perform miracles with children, but they are given little authority. And, who is hurt? The children, because they are not learning to experience the consequences of their actions. They are not experiencing the reality of judgment. They are not being prepared for the certainty of judgment. Someday the books will be open, and they will discover there are no parents to stand up for them, no parents to protect them. They will be out in the cold, harsh world all by themselves, denying they did anything wrong, wondering who to blame .

Perhaps some of you by now are wondering, "Where is God's grace?" in judgment. Rarely does God's grace interfere with the process of judgment. Don't expect the miracle of God's grace to take off the extra pounds! But, it is by God's grace-- God's unlimited love for you-- that God never gives up on you. God is constantly knocking on your heart's door, asking to come in, asking to make changes in your life.

It is by God's grace that we are given the free gift of salvation, the gift of eternal life. A relationship with God is a gift, a covenant that God freely offers, but the quality of the relationship is up to you. That's judgment. Eternal life is a free gift from God. God so loved you that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. But, the quality of eternal life is up to you. That's judgment. According to the Scripture lesson read today from Revelation, if your name is not written in the book, you will be cast out. It is by God's grace, and your acceptance of God's grace, that puts your name in the book. You are then judged, says Revelation, by your works to determine the quality of eternal life.

A wealthy woman died and was met by St. Peter at the gate to escort her to her home. As they drove by beautiful, magnificent mansions she was awe-struck and filled with anticipation. All of a sudden, she saw her maid outside a spectacular mansion. "For whom is she working?" the woman asked. "Oh, no one," said Peter, "that's her house." Impressed by her maid's mansion, she began to fantasize about her mansion. "If my maid lives in a mansion like that, think what mine is going to look like!" she said to herself. They drove and drove and as they drove, the houses got smaller and smaller. Then they crossed a railroad track where the houses shrunk to huts. They stopped in front of a small one room hut and Peter said, "This is your house." "Mine?" she gasped. "This small shack is mine?" Peter apologized. He said, "I'm sorry, but we did the best we could with what you sent on ahead!"

Eternal life-- a relationship with God that survives death-- is a free gift from God, a gift of God's grace, undeserved and unwarranted by you, paid for by Jesus with his life. But, the quality of eternal life is up to you. The quality is conditional on how you live your life, on how generously you share, and how well you serve others, conditional on what you plant. That is judgment.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris