September 7, 2015

Two kinds of judgment

Joel 1:1–2:21, Acts 7:1–53, Job 18:1–21, 2 Corinthians 5:18–21

In ancient times, when the people of God resisted Him, He judged them with things like crop failure, famine, invasion of enemies, even captivity in foreign lands. However, after severe chastening there was redemption.

“Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, ‘Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations . . .’ Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield. Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.”

God also made promises for their future, pointing to the time when Christ would come and all people of faith would be saved: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.” (Joel 2:18–32)

In other words, God’s judgment on them was to purify and save them from their sinful ways. It was not so with those who were without faith and without His favor. Job’s ‘friend’ Bildad was right in saying: “Indeed, the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of his fire does not shine. The light is dark in his tent, and his lamp above him is put out . . . . He is thrust from light into darkness, and driven out of the world. He has no posterity or progeny among his people, and no survivor where he used to live. They of the west are appalled at his day, and horror seizes them of the east. Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous, such is the place of him who knows not God.” (Job 18:5-6, 18–21)

He referred to the second kind of judgment: unrepented sin for which there is no redemption. That is, Bildad thought Job was being judged for unfaithful wickedness and accused him accordingly, but God later told Job to pray for this ‘friend’ because he had not spoken right words. Bildad missed the truth: God was not judging Job for sin or chastening him; instead, this was a test of faith.

In the NT, Stephen preached to the people, first retelling their history of always resisting God: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53)

After these words, the religious leaders were enraged and killed Stephen for telling them the truth — God judges even those who think they are His people but actually resist Him.

It’s important to recognize there are two kinds of judgment. One is against those who sin without regret, who hate God and resist Him to the end. The other is a judgment that reveals God’s hatred of sin, but also His mercy, a mercy that restores. Those who experience the redemptive kind of judgment are eventually blessed with transformed lives. Those who experience that other kind are separated from God and eternally lost.

People often ask why a loving God would destroy anyone, but that is the wrong question. If we realize the awfulness of sin, our question should be, why does God allow anyone to live? The Bible gives the answer: We can live because Jesus died to give His righteousness to those who believe in Him. It is as 2 Corinthians 5:18–21 says: “God, through Christ, reconciled us to himself . . . . For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  

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