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The news this week took us into the courtroom. It showed us some of the testimony given in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. People will have their own opinions about whether he was guilty of murder or whether he acted in self-defense, but the opinions of the public won’t be the basis upon which the case is decided. It will be decided by the judge and jury, not on the basis of their opinions, but on the basis of the evidence presented and applicable laws.
The words of Jesus remind us that we will one day stand trial in a courtroom. It won’t be an earthly courtroom. We won’t be judged by a jury of our peers. The opinions others have about us won’t matter one way or the other. We will stand before Jesus in God’s courtroom. No testimony will be needed because, as the omniscient God, Jesus already knows everything about us. Nothing we did, or didn’t do, nothing we said or thought, has escaped his notice. It’s all on record. He alone makes the judgment and his is decision is final and eternal. He will declare us either guilty or not guilty. He will either welcome us into the kingdom of heaven or send us off to the lake of burning sulfur. How will he decide? On what basis will he declare us guilty or not guilty. What is the basis of true, eternal justice for us and all humans?
Jesus says that the time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out, just like Lazarus did when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out.” Everyone who has ever lived and died will be raised back to life to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Then Jesus says, those who have done good will rise to live, but those who have practiced evil will rise to be condemned.
I really like this translation because it emphasizes that Jesus used two different words when referring to the good and the evil. He doesn’t say those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. He says that those who have practiced evil will rise to be condemned. Paul says something similar when he gives a long list of the acts of the sinful nature and says that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God, and in another place he says, that is what some of you were (people who practiced evil). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
In God’s courtroom the basis of true justice is his law as reflected in the ten commandments. The question for the judge to decide is, did this person keep all of God’s commandments perfectly all the time? And the answer is the same for every person. NO. No one has kept all of God’s commandments perfectly all the time, every minute of every day for their whole life. Everyone has done evil. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No one can be judged not guilty on the basis of God’s law. So, what does it mean to do good or to practice evil?
Jesus says that because the Father has entrusted the task of serving as the Judge in his courtroom on the last day, he is worthy to receive the same honor as the Father. He is equal to the Father. He and the Father are one. He was with the Father in eternity. Therefore, whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. That means that anyone who says that there was a time when Jesus did not exist, or that he is a god-like being but not equal to the Father, or that he is a human who worked his way up to being a god; anyone who says that Jesus and the Father are not one, equally God and worthy of equal honor and glory, is practicing evil. They are practicing the worst evil possible. They are taking the honor and glory that is due the one and only true God and giving that honor and glory to an idol, to something that doesn’t exist except in their own minds. Practicing evil means refusing to listen to Jesus, refusing to believe that the Father loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten son, Jesus, into the world to save the world. Practicing evil means either thinking that you won’t have to appear before Jesus, or that you can be declared not guilty in God’s courtroom without Jesus.
Those who have practiced evil who will rise to be condemned are all who have rejected Jesus as the one the Father sent into this world to be their savior. Then, who are those who have done good who will rise to live?
Those who have done good are those who give Jesus the same honor as they give the Father. They acknowledge that God the Father sent Jesus, his only begotten Son into the world to save the world, which includes them.
Jesus says, Amen, Amen I tell you: anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He is not going to come into judgment but has crossed over from death to life. Again Jesus says, Amen, Amen I tell you: a time is coming and is here now when the dead (those who are born dead in sin) will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will live. His word, his claim that he is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God who has come to save, the only way, truth and life, the only way to the Father, this is the basis of the judgment. When you heard his voice, his claim that he is the savior, the only way of salvation, did you believe? Did you trust his claim?
One of the reasons the Father has entrusted all judgment to Jesus is that he is the Son of Man. He took on flesh and blood and lived on this earth. He knows what it is like to feel pain, and hunger, and thirst. In fact, the Bible tells us that he was tempted in every way, just as we are, with one difference. He never gave in to temptation. Because he experienced life on this earth, because he experienced everything we experience, we know he will be a compassionate judge. But having compassion doesn’t mean that he can ignore God’s law and the basis of justice that God has set up.
I witnessed a couple examples of this in earthly courtrooms. On one occasion a person was brought before the judge because he was listening to headphones while driving. The person’s defense was, “I didn’t know that was against the law.” As much as the judge might have sympathized with this person, he had to tell him that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. The person was found guilty and had to pay the fine. On another occasion a man was brought before the judge because he had chased another man through a parking lot and into a store and was threatening him with a tire iron. When he explained to the judge that the reason he was chasing and threatening the other man was that he had caught him with his wife, the judge had compassion on him. He understood that he would be angry that someone was trying to steal his wife. But he still had to declare the man guilty of making terroristic threats.
Because Jesus is the Son of Man, because he lived on this earth and knows what it’s like to be tempted, he has compassion on us. But that’s not enough to get us off the hook. We are still guilty, so how can he say we will not come under judgment, that we will be declared not guilty? Because the basis of true justice, God’s justice is not “did you keep the commandments perfectly,” no one has except Jesus. The basis of true justice, God’s justice is “do you trust that Jesus came to be your substitute under the law? Do you trust that he became your sacrifice of atonement and was condemned in your place?”
When Jesus came to earth, he came to do more than experience what it’s like and show us that he cares. He came to do what was necessary to set us free for all eternity. As he walked in our shoes and experienced hunger, thirst, temptation, pain and rejection, he did so in a way that upheld God’s laws as our substitute. When he went to the cross, he went as our substitute. He volunteered to take on himself the punishment God’s law demands for every sin. He willingly suffered hell in our place.
When the last day comes, and it will, and when you stand before Jesus in the judgment, and you will, remember what the true basis of God’s justice is. If you try to point to the good things you have done, you will be condemned because when the law of God is the basis of justice everyone is condemned. God’s law demands perfection so even just one sin outweighs all the good you might do. Remember that the basis of true justice, God’s justice, is did you hear the voice of the Son of God and believe? Did you trust that the Father so loved you that he gave his one and only Son to live and die in your place? If so, then you will not come into judgment, you have crossed over from death to life. You will rise to live, not because of what you have done or not done, but because the Father has credited what Jesus has done for you to your account.