Salvation and Judgment
How easy it is to focus upon symptoms and fail to get to the root cause of a problem! Of course it's a lot easier to focus upon a symptom. If we're in pain we just want the pain to go away and if we can succeed in succeeding calming our pain we may be satisifed even though the underlying problem that caused the pain in the first place remains unresolved and may even be getting worse.
It is the same in the spiritual realm – the symptoms or consequences of our rebellious lifestyle may trouble us and we want to put an end to the suffering we experience. Many, however, instead of questionning themselves, will even lay the blame at God's door. "How can a good God allow such suffering in the world?" they ask and most don't wait for an answer. They assume that if such a good God existed then he would do things differently, that he would do things their way, that he would protect them from every bump and scrape that might come their way. What they really want is to be free of God because when attention is drawn to God's Law ie. to a detailed description of how God wants men and women to live men and women respond as though he were a kill-
The question of suffering is a vast one and I don't intend to try to deal with it this evening other than to say that suffering itself is not the root problem but rather a symptom of a much deeper one. It is the problem of sin. But until the Spirit of God begins to work in the life of a man or a woman none of us will take the matter of our sin and of rebellion against God seriously enough.
The Westminster Catechism answers the question "What is sin?" in the following way:
"Sin is disobeying or not conforming to God's law in any way."
This definition is very helpful because it brings clearly into focus that man's sin is directly related to God and is not simply a set of lifestyle choices with consequences that are limited to the material realm in which we live. Sin is ultimately against God and God will deal with sin whether men and women approve or not.
We love to focus upon one of the ways in which God deals with sin and we are right to do so – salvation is not first and foremost about delivering people from the mess they've made of their lives and patching up the web of battered relationships that they find themselves in, it is about glorifying the love of a Holy God who has found a way of dealing with the extreme offence caused by human sin without destroying them for ever. This salvation results in men and women being freely granted a right status with God on the grounds of what Jesus Christ has done in his cross-
But in centering our thoughts upon salvation we must not erase from our minds that this is but one side of the coin of how God deals with sin. The other side of that coin concerns judgment.
God's righteous wrath is provoked by sin – he cannot look upon it with approval – the wages of sin are indeed death. Think of God's judgment against sin as a machine gun sweeping across no-
Now think too that Jesus stands in that line and he too is hit and killed only he wasn't there because he had sinned. He was there because he had taken his place so that those lined up behind him might be protected and live. In this way sin is dealt with, all sin, God does not wink at sin and does not trivialize it.
But what has this got to do with Isaiah the prophet? Let's turn now and see.
A Watchman on the Walls Cries Out
Remember Isaiah is using picture language and he sees a watchman up on the walls and looking towards the southeast, in the direction of Edom with it's capital city Bozrah. Now Edom was an inveterate enemy of God's people and the east in general represents the godlessness of the nations.
As the watchman looks out he sees an impressive figure arriving – this figure is dressed in fine military garments, he has the appearance of one coming direct from battle. And so the watchman asks a series of questions: Who is this? Why is he dressed as he is? Why are his clothed spotted as they are?
Isaiah has already shown us this warrior before in ch.59. There the warrior was clearly identified as the LORD himself coming in wrath, coming himself because no-
He came in his uprightness to bring salvation (v.16 & vv.20-
Do you see in Isaiah 59 both salvation and judgment are bound up with his coming?
Now here in Isaiah 63:1-
This conquering character has garments that are spotted red as if with grape-
What a picture it is! This is a picture of the Final Judgment and it is a picture that is picked up and developed in the Book of Revelation.
In the Book of Revelation chapter 14 begins with a glorious picture of salvation, a picture of those who follow the Lamb, of those who have been redeemed from the world, but soon the imagery moves on and judgment becomes the theme. The One who initiates this judgment is described as being "like a son of man and seated on a cloud" and this One swings his sickle across the earth to reap the earth. He sends out angels to gather the grape harvest, a harvest that is to be cast into "the great winepress of the wrath of God" (v.19). When this winepress is trodden rivers of blood flow out.
Judgment is a serious and awful matter.
But John in Revelation has not done with the theme of the last judgment and returns graphically to it in ch.19. Once more salvation and judgment are placed side by side. God's enemies are being defeated (ch.18) and ch.19 opens with rejoicing in heaven. This is the rejoicing of a great multitude – this is the rejoicing of the whole united company of God's people – OT saints and the NT church. And their rejoicing is linked to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
v.9 "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
The Lamb is then presented to us only not under the guise of a Lamb but instead as a mighty warrior and what a vision John now sees:
During his ministry on earth Jesus taught the Word of God, it was constantly on his lips as he went about preaching and teaching. It was the message he passed on to his followers when he commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations. During this NT dispensation in which we currently live the Word of God acts as a penetrating sword that pierces our hearts and thoughts revealing and correcting our errors and calling upon us to turn and be saved.
But now in this vision although it is still the Word of God in the mouth of our risen and glorified Lord Jesus the time of salvation has finally passed – the One who is called the Word of God, the One who once lamented over a Jerusalem which he longed to gather safely in – now issues words of final destruction "Depart from me for I never knew you" and treads the "winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty". Rejected, ignored despised through the centuries this One is now to reign and to be known forever as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
This is the scene of which Isaiah had his vision so many centuries ago. And what a solemn and sobering vision it was and is!
Isaiah had spent the preceding two chapters outlining something of the glorious future of the people of God – his description was a description of the final salvation that the Lord has planned for his people. But such a final salvation could only be realized when sin was finally definitively dealt with and removed from God's world. For sin to be left undealt with it would forever remain a blot in the copybook, a corrupting putrefying fly in the ointment.
Isaiah will go on to speak of ways in which God's people should live their lives in the light of this coming judgment; he will encourage God's people to remind themselves of what has been done for them in the past and he will encourage them to pray expectantly and earnestly concerning the future, but we don't have time to move on too that this evening even though we might be longing to get passed this subject of judgment. But I need to warn because the word does indeed solemnly warn us!
Fools talk glibly about not wanting to be in heaven because the company in the other place will be better, where they will be more excitement and fun to be enjoyed. But the other place is called hell and the lake of fire. It is a place prepared not for men and women but for the devil and his rebellious angels. The 'fun and excitement' that godless men enjoy on earth are don't proceed from Satan's generosity but from God himself and which sadly men twist and pervert. In hell there will not even be those. We struggle to comprehend what hell will be like because we cannot imagine a world from which every last influence of God's goodness has been withdrawn – but that is what hell is like, no happy times, no riotous company only regret, endless gnawing regret.
But it need not be your destination! Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the World. Have you lined up behind him? Are you trusting him? Are you following him?
We can escape this judgment of the Last Day but only through faith in Jesus Christ – how shall we escape if we neglect so great a Saviour, so great a salvation?
May God have mercy upon us.