"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Images of the Savior (19 – His Words of Judgment)

    Nevertheless I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for you. – Matthew 11:24

    During the course of our journey through the gospels, we have meditated much upon the meek and lamb-like qualities of Jesus, as he performed his mighty miracles of healing, forgiveness, and restoration. And it is fitting that we have done so, for he did not come to earth, at that time, to condemn it, but to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Truly has John declared to us, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). However, there is coming a day when the Son of Man will return again in great and terrible glory, with the flaming fire of fearful vengeance, to magnify the power of his wrath against all those who do not know God (II Thessalonians 1:6-10). At that time we will see the fullness of his Lion-like glory, poured out in righteous fury, joining together with the fullness of Lamb-like glory that he demonstrated before, when he stooped to the death of the cross – and woe to all those who have not called upon his name, when we see him thus a second time! In our next gospel account, we hear the slightest whisper of the coming winds of judgment, as our Savior sternly denounces those cities which have seen the gentle and incarnate God, and have despised him. Oh, let us tremble at this fearful presage, and flee for mercy to the only place where God's wrath will not then fall, for it has already fallen there and been assuaged – the bosom of Jesus our Savior. For if we be not found in him, we will drink from the same cup that has been promised to Chorazin and Bethsaida.

    As we look into this account, we find that Jesus the Savior has all authority to judge and condemn. He does not merely point them to some outside standard of judgment, as all the judges of the earth must do, but testifies with solemn and self-substantiating authority, “I say unto you”. Jesus the Savior is also the Judge. In him is the sole criteria for the eternal destiny of every man, for he alone is the man whom the Father has appointed “to judge the world in righteousness,” even as Paul testifies in Acts 17:31. And so also do Jesus' own words bear out this truth: for, “not even the Father judges anyone,” he declared to the offended Pharisees, “but he has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all might honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:22-23). And so let us be assured that we will indeed honor the Son one day, yes, even bow down before him and confess that he is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11); but will we magnify on that day the glory of his wrath or the glory of his grace? Oh, let us plead with him that it might be the latter – for he has never yet turned away one who thus pleads for his free mercy.

    But we must also notice how well-qualified Jesus is to carry out his judgment, as the Wisdom of God, who discerns the heart of every man. Jesus does not need anyone to testify to him concerning men; “for he himself knows what is in each man” (John 2:24-25). And so we see here that he speaks with absolute understanding of the thoughts, motives, and potential actions of every man, declaring what each would have done, and how he would have responded in other circumstances. And do we think that we can escape his piercing glance, or beguile him with our feigned expressions of piety and true religion, as we thus fool every other man? Let us rather be assured that the day is coming when God will judge all the secrets of men, as well as all their outward deeds (Romans 2:16).

    And now, let us take note as Jesus reveals just what standard will shape the decision of his court, and what will bring down his wrath in the greatest severity: for we see, as we look into his words, that the affair will not be handled as we might have expected. In human courts, a man is judged in proportion to the wickedness of his outward actions – and so they who hate their brothers are altogether acquitted, while they who murder them are dealt the harshest blows of the law. But Jesus has another standard, by which he calls an inwardly spiteful man a murderer indeed (Matthew 5:21-26); and by this standard, which weighs the motive as well as the deed, the action as well as all the ameliorating or aggravating circumstances, they who have done the most profane and revolting actions will not be held so liable as they who, although pure in the eyes of all men, have been given great opportunity and motivation to embrace the gospel-gift of Christ, and have rather despised and rejected him. Reader, if you have heard the gospel-story of Jesus, and think, “Yet a little time in the world, a few more of its fleeting pleasures, and perhaps then I will consider this message,” then tremble and melt as wax in the burning sun – your sin, in despising the Savior whom grace has brought before your eyes is worse than all the pagan atrocities of old. And ah, if you have been raised in the very bosom of true religion, taught true and biblical doctrine, been made to partake of the sacraments, seen displayed before your eyes the wonderful grace of the Savior in the lives of godly men – and for all this, your heart is not satisfied with Jesus, but you would rather spit in his face by choosing the fleeting pleasures of the world, then you may certainly number yourself with Chorazin and Bethsaida.

    Why does Jesus speak in such stern tones to these cities? Simply because, their opportunities have been many, and their excuses are none. They have been proffered grace in every conceivable manner, and they have despised it all. They have been exhorted to repent by the austere and solemn ministry of John, and have been taught by the gracious and familiar ministry of our own Savior, and they have despised both, calling one a demon-possessed madman, and the other a glutton and a drunkard. They have been like morose and sullen children who do not care to play with their mates, no matter how they ask. They may call out, “let us play at mourning,” and they will not hear; so they change their tune, and beseech them, “let us then play at dancing as if in attendance at a marriage feast”; but they despise this offer even as the other. John came with austerity, and they despised his pleas; and Jesus came with a humble willingness to eat with the worst of sinners, and they likewise mocked him. If they have so rejected all pleas, how fearful will it be for them in the day of judgment! And if we too have been confronted with the demands and sanctions of God's fearful law, and likewise consoled with the pleasures of his mercy and grace, and have rejected them both, are we not then the same?

    Or are we not rather worse off even than these stiff-necked villages? They despised John's message, but the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than that greatest of all prophets, John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). They saw Jesus' mighty miracles, but those who believed in him, after his ascension, were about to do mightier works yet (John 14:12). Certainly, the era when Christ walked on this earth was great indeed. Never before had men seen God in their very midst, heard his words and teachings with such forceful clarity, or seen his power to save with such poignant displays of absolute authority. But today, we have God dwelling in the hearts of his saints, through the Spirit whom Christ sent to convict and enlighten the world (John 16:5-15). And as great as were the sins of the Jews of Jesus' day, our sins will be greater yet, if we resist the Holy Spirit who testifies to the gospel of God's grace and power. If all the perversions of Sodom are but light in comparison to the sin of rejecting the Savior, then how will we escape, “if we neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3)? If the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba will condemn the Jews, who saw a greater than Moses and a wiser than Solomon, and yet did not believe (Matthew 12:41-42); then what will they say about us, if we despise the gospel-day of God's free favor?

    Let us finish by looking ahead to another occasion on which our Savior gave a foretaste of the terrors of his coming judgment, to those who were outwardly religious but inwardly filled with hatred of God's holy Son. In the days before his final and all-sufficient sacrifice, Jesus filled the hypocritical ears of the religious professors with railing denunciations, and physically drove the merchants from the Temple (see Matthew 21:12-17; 23:1-36). Were not these events given to instruct us of the coming day of judgment, when, just as Jesus drove out all those whose business was with the currency of this world, from the place where God's presence was said to dwell, so he will drive out eternally from the presence of God all those who love the things of this world and the fleeting pleasures of sin more than Christ? Oh, let us examine ourselves: we have heard the good news of Jesus the Savior; we have seen the power of the gospel, as the Spirit of God uses its weak and foolish words to turn the world upside-down, and to change the lives of the worst of men into shining images of Jesus. If we have seen and heard these things, let us not despise and reject the Son of God! For if we do, the day of judgment will rain down upon our heads in such fury that the fate of the pagans in Sodom will seem light in comparison.

    Posted by Nathan on April 28, 2007 10:03 AM

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