Gospel of John (18) — Every Day is Judgment Day

            This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John.  In just a little bit, we’ll be in John chapter 19.

            In the late ‘80s, there was a group of musicians who formed a British-American band by the name of The Traveling Wilburys.  And even if you aren’t familiar with that group, you are probably familiar with some of the members of that group – Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison.  One of their biggest hits was a song entitled “End of the Line”. 

            It’s a song that celebrates anxiety-free living.  Being content with what you have.  Celebrating the tiny victories in life.  Letting tomorrow worry about itself.  In that song, they sing:

            Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze

            Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please

            Well it’s all right, doing the best you can

            Well it’s all right, as long as you lend a hand.

            But, then, later in the song, there’s this line that says, “Well it’s all right, every day is judgment day.”  And while the rest of the song makes a lot of sense, that line, not so much.  Because I don’t know about you, but to me, Judgment Day every day doesn’t sound all right at all!  In fact, it sounds downright terrifying.

            If you grew up in church like I did, and you’ve read your Bible, you probably think of Judgment Day as a scary time.  It’s a time when the world as we know it will be destroyed.  And we’ll all be standing before the throne of God, having to give an account of everything we did here on this earth.

            Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, “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.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

            And we also know that Judgment Day is a time when we will all have to give an account for every word that we’ve ever spoken – every careless word, every slip of the tongue, every word spoken in anger.  And we’ll have to give an account for all of those times when we should have spoken up, but we kept quiet.

            Jesus said in Matthew 12, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36)

            But perhaps the scariest thing about Judgment Day is what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).  Judgment Day is a day when absolutely nothing will be hidden and everything we thought we could hide is brought out in plain view.

            And so, Judgment Day just seems to be scary.  So, it seems weird to me that you have this song that’s basically telling you not to worry.  Don’t be anxious.  Do the best you can.  Make your contribution to the world.  Shake off the critics.  Don’t let the rainy days get you down.

            And then it says, “It’s all right, every day is Judgment Day.”  And for me, that one line seems to erase all the feel-good vibes of the rest of the song.  I mean, it’s scary enough that I have to face Judgment Day one day.  Why would I feel good about facing judgment everyday?

            But I think if we look at the story of the life of Jesus as it’s recorded in the gospel of John, it may be accurate, it may be biblical to say that every day isjudgment day.  For me, for you, for the whole world.  And that doesn’t have to be scary  

            In fact, I think once we understand that every day is a sort of Judgment Day, it can actually give us a peace of mind.  It can give us hope.  And joy.  And purpose.

            Let’s take a look at our video this morning as Jesus continues to stand trial before Pontius Pilate.  If you’d like to follow along, we’ll be in John chapter 19, beginning with verse 1:

            SHOW VIDEO

            So, here in this passage, we bring to a conclusion the story of Jesus on trial.  That’s where we’ve been for the past several weeks.  Jesus was first on trial before the Jewish leaders — the high priest and the Sanhedrin.  And then he was on trial before the Roman governor, Pilate.

            But I think John wants us to see the irony of Jesus’ trial before these authorities.  John wants us to understand that, to the rest of the world, it looks like Jesus is on trial.  But the truth is, Jesus isn’t really the one who’s on trial.  Everybody else is.

            It’s not Judgment Day for Jesus. The judgment really falls on the other people in this story.

            Now, to understand John’s perspective — and to see why this whole trial is so ironic — we need to go back to the very beginning of John’s gospel and remember who John said that Jesus is.

            John’s gospel begins with these words, “In the beginning was the Word.” (John 1:1).  And, with that, John takes us back to the very beginning of the Bible, back to the dawn of creation.  He takes us back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

            And then John tells us, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

            And then John tells us something absolutely incredible. John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

            And of course, now it’s obvious that it’s Jesushe’s talking about.  John is telling us that Jesus is God’s Son who has come in the flesh.  He’s telling us that God became a human.  He’s telling us that the one who created this world took on flesh and blood and stepped into this world to be with us.

            And so, we see just how absurdit is that Jesus is on trial.  Humans can’t put their creatoron trial!  You can’t sentence the source of all life to die.

            It’s obvious that Jesus wasn’t really the one who was on trial.  Everyone else in the story was.  This was a day of judgment for all of them.  For Pilate.  For the Jewish leaders.  Even for Jesus’ disciples, like Peter.

            We heard Peter’s story a few weeks ago.  While Jesus was being interrogated by the high priest, Peter was out in the courtyard being questioned about being Jesus’ disciple.  And John wanted us to see that Peterwas really the one who was on trial.  Every time he said, “I’m not this man’s disciple, I don’t even know who he is,”  Peter was on trial.  And his own words judged him.

            It was the Jewish leaders who had Jesus arrested and brought to Pilate.  They thought they were judging Jesus because of his claim to be the Son of God.  But John wants us to know that, really, it was the Jewish leaders who were the ones who were on trial. 

            Like when they brought Jesus to Pilate, and they refused to go into his palace.  We saw that in our last lesson.   John tells us in chapter 18, “They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.”  (John 18:28).  Pilate was a Gentile.  That meant that he was unclean and so was the place where he was staying.

            So, here’s the irony in that.  These Jewish leaders wanted to judge Pilate’s palace as being ritually impure, and if they went in, that would make them ritually impure and they wouldn’t be able to eat the Passover.  But, while they were making that judgment, they weren’t able to judge their own hearts which were unclean before God.  Because if they done so, they would have seen their envy.  Their hatred.  Their dishonesty.  

            They refused to step back and consider their willingness to send an innocent man, Jesus, to be executed, knowing that he didn’t deserve it.  All so they could keep up their illusion of control.

            We saw how they chose the criminal Barabbas over Jesus.By the way, Barabbas wasn’t just any common criminal.  In our society today, we would call him a terrorist.  Those Jewish leaders chose a terrorist over the Prince of Peace.

            And in our reading this morning, we heard the chief priests say to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15).  When nearly every page of the scriptures they read and taught proclaimed that God alone is king over his people, and king over all creation.  But that day, they professed their allegiance to Tiberius Caesar, who was the emperor at that time.

            Roman historians tell us Tiberius was a dirty old man who liked to have sex with anyone, male or female, old or young, even abusing newborn babies.  And when he was done with the babies, he would throw them off a cliff.  But, standing there before Pilate, the Jewish leaders chose that man to rule over them as their king.  Instead of choosing Jesus, the king that God had sent to save the world.

            It was Judgment Day for the Jewish leaders. And they condemned themselves by their own choices, and by their own words.

            And then there was Pilate.  He was on trial, too.  Pilate was the governor the Romans had put in charge of Palestine.  And historians tell us that he was also a very bad guy.  Ruthless, cruel, vicious.  

            Pilate was a powerful man, representing the most powerful empire the world had ever known.  But Jesus told him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”(John 19:11).  In other words, the only reason you and your empire can do all this to me is because my Father is God, and we’re letting you.  Which, of course, was true.  The whole trial is just filled with irony.

            And I think John must have had something bigger in mind when he wrote this story, more than just telling us about what happened when Jesus was put on trial.  John went to a lot of trouble to show us this irony.  How all of these people thought Jesus was on trial, but really, they were the ones who were being judged that day.

            And I think John wanted us to see our world, and ourselves, in this story.  I think John wanted us to understand that, in a sense, every day is Judgment Day for all of us.

            In our story, Pilate and the Jewish leaders represent the world around us.  Its nations and power structures and institutions and leaders.  And Peter represents those of us who follow Jesus Christ.

            And all of us are always on trial.  For the world, for the church, for every single follower of Jesus Christ — every day is Judgment Day.  And the question that is raised in this trial is this, “Will you accept that Jesus is your rightful King, or will you not?”

            And for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, the question is always, “Will the words you speak and the lives you live show that you are Jesus’ disciples, or will your words and your lives deny Jesus?”

            That’s the standard of judgment.  Those are the questions we face.  And for the world and for all of us — every day is Judgment Day.

            But that doesn’t have to be bad news.  And that’s how I want us to apply this idea that every day is Judgment Day.  I don’t want us to be afraid of it.  I want us to realize that Judgment Day every day might actually be good news!  Here’s why.

            Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus makes it clear that we are all responsible for our own judgment.  In other words, judgment isn’t just something that happens to us.  It’s not just something God doesto us.  Judgment has to do with the choices we make.

            The word that used for judgment in the New Testament is the Greek word “krisis”.  You can probably guess that it is the word from which we get our English word “crisis”.  Now, usually, when we think of a crisis, we think of something terrible happening, but crisis can also mean “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.”  A crisis is a critical point, it’s a time of decision.  It’s a crossroads.  And all of that is wrapped up in this concept of “judgment.”

            Listen to John 3:17-18 (NASB), “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

            John doesn’t say that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to be judged someday on the great Day of Judgement.  He says, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ve been judged already.”  Because you’ve made a choice, you’ve come to that crisis point in your life, and you’ve made your decision.

            And John wants us to know it’s not just some vague belief in Jesus that saves us.  Saving faith isn’t a once-and-done deal where you say you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and you receive a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.  It’s about making a choice.  It’s about choosing to keep on trusting Jesus. Choosing to keep on following Jesus. Choosing to yield your life to Jesus each and every day.

            Even when it gets hard.  Even in the scary moments.  Even when it hurts.  Even when it doesn’t make sense.  Even in those moments when you feel like it doesn’t make any difference.

            A saving faith in Jesus means that you keep on trusting Jesus even in those moments of crisis.  In those moments when you have a choice to make, when you have a decision to make.  And he says that we need to make choices that show that we believe in Jesus, that we trust in Jesus.  

            Because we believe Jesus is who the scriptures say he is — the Word of God who became flesh.  And so, we know that whatever Jesus has told us, and whatever he calls us to do is for God’s glory and for our good.

            Believing in Jesus isn’t a decision you make once.  It’s a decision you affirm — or don’t affirm — moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. 

            And all of these stories we’ve heard over the past few weeks — about Peter’s judgment, and the judgment of the Jewish leaders, and Pilate’s judgment.  John has told us all of these stories so we would see the kinds of choices we’re all faced with.  And how they all lead to judgment.

            Like Pilate, every day we are all faced with a choice: Am I going to do what is safe and convenient?  Or am I going to do what is right?

            And like the Jewish leaders, every day we are all given a choice:  Will I choose Jesus as my king, or will I look to the leaders of the world, like Tiberius?

            And like Peter, every day your discipleship may be called into question.  And, when that happens, do the words that you speak and the way you live your life, say, “I choose Jesus”?  Or, like Peter, do they say: “I’m not his disciple, I don’t even know what you’re talking about”?

            And every time we face one of these critical moments, every time we come to a crossroads in our life and we have a decision to make, whatever we choose to do will judge us.  And so, in the end, on the final Day of Judgment, Jesus won’t really do any judging.  He’ll only announce the verdict.  Our judgment will already be sealed.  Because we all have choices to make.  And we all have to live with the consequences of the choices we make.  That’s the judgment.

            And when we keep making choices that lead us in a certain direction, over time, those choices begin to shape our character.  We have to live with our choices.  That’sthe judgment.

            The choices we make every day will not only shape our character.  They will also determine our future.  Our future in this life, and our future in the life to come.  And we will have to live with the choices we make both now and forever.  That’s the judgment.

            And, so, in a very real sense, every day is Judgment Day.  Which may sound rather terrifying, until you realize that it doesn’t have to be.

            Because if every day is Judgment Day, that means every day we have an opportunity to be honest with God and to be honest with ourselves about the choices we have made.  About where they’re leading us.  And what they’ve done to us.  If every day is Judgment Day, then every day we have an opportunity to make better choices, to choose a better future.

            About 50 years ago, George Scarbrough wrote a book entitled “A Summer Ago”.  In it, he tells about a 12-year-old boy who went to a revival and he heard the preacher giving a hellfire-and-damnation sermon.  The preacher said, “Neighbors, on that great and awful day, what will your answers be?…It will be too late.  The old account will have long been settled, and you will be divided to the left, to the right, some into eternal morning, some into the blackness of hell and utter despair…The Judgment Day is coming.”

            But, after the service was over, one of the members of that congregation gave the boy a horseback ride home, and he told the boy how he saw things a bit differently.  He said, “I’d tell the people that every day is judgment day, as far as we are concerned.  Every sundown is the ending of the world and every morning is a new creation, with a new chance for us to make seven new and better worlds in a week.”

            What he was saying was that every day we have the opportunity to make better choices.  And the beautiful thing is if that we will judge ourselves now, then we can avoid judgment from God later.  That’s basically what Paul told the Corinthian church.  In I Corinthians 11, Paul is talking about the Lord’s Supper and how some of them had made a choice to exclude some of their poor brothers and sisters from their church meals and from the Lord’s Supper.

            And then, in verse 31, Paul said, “But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” (I Corinthians 11:31).  I love the way The Message translates this verse.  It says, “If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on.”

            And I lovethat idea.  If we can embrace the idea that every day is Judgment Day — that means we have the opportunity every day to make better choices.  Not just choices that will save us on the big Judgment Day.  But choices that will change our lives right here and now.  Choices that demonstrate our trust in Jesus Christ.  Choices that shape our character to be more like Jesus.  Choices that tell the world, “Yes, we are Jesus’ disciples, and we proud of it.”

            INVITATION

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