In Ephesians 1:16-18 we are given insight into the prayer life of an apostle. Writing to the church in that region Paul informs the disciples that he was praying for them and subsequently records the content of those petitions:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
Paul’s great desire for the Ephesians was that they know something; or rather, that God would help them to comprehend a truth/greater reality. Particularly that they would know the “hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Another translation puts it this way:
“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called.”
Paul believed it was deeply important for Christians to have a greater understanding of the hope God gives them through Jesus Christ; so important that it was at the center of his prayers.
It is with that same belief that we started a series at the Dripping Springs Church of Christ on the Christian hope titled, “The Weight of Glory” (taken from 2 Cor. 4:17). My desire for our church is the same as Paul’s: that we have a greater comprehension of our hope as Christians. So far, we’ve seen that this hope grants us daily renewal; that in the midst of the “wasting away” that comes from this life, we can stare death in the face and refuse to blink because of the glory we are promised (If you’re interested you can find these sermons at our website www.dschurchofchrist.com). This allows us to live with confidence and courage for we know that, if we die, we will be with Jesus and ultimately be resurrected to live with him in a New Heavens and a New Earth (2 Pet. 3:13).
But, is this hope simply for our benefit? Does it not require anything of us other than to passively sit and wait for God to make everything right in the end? Certainly not. Of course, God will put everything right in the end, but he calls us to partner with him in a grand mission to reach others and to share what we have received. Often, we refer to this as evangelism; today we will refer to it as “mission” as we examine how our hope is “A Hope with a Mission.”
This missional aspect of our hope is seen first in 2 Cor. 5:10-11
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. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.
What does this short statement about the judgment teach us about our hope?
A Future, Universal Judgment
In Acts 17:31 Paul spoke to the Athenians in Greece and informed them that God, “Has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” This “appointed” day is like a gravitational force pulling all of creation closer and closer to the righteous judgment of God. This concept of divine judgment was central to the preaching of Jesus and the early church.
“Unless you repent you will all likewise perish”—Luke 13:3, 5
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”—Matt. 10:28
“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment”—Acts 24:25
“On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”—Col. 3:6
This is a message often unheard of in modern Christianity. In the past, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” set the tone for most preaching in American churches; yet this is no longer the case. While there may have been an overemphasis on God’s wrath at the expense of his grace by some, I am equally—if not substantially more—concerned with a church that refuses to preach a message which was so central to the mission of the early disciples. Maybe one of the reasons we fail to see the amount of conversions we once did is due to our hesitance to restore scripture’s message of the coming wrath of a holy and righteous God. For, this is the bad news which terrifies us enough to seek out some way of escape (which of course, is the good news of Jesus).
For Paul, this was an unavoidable part of our hope. In hoping for future salvation, we imply that we need to be saved from something; that is, the wrath and judgment of God.
“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”—1 Thess. 1:10
In 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 we discover several important facts about this coming judgment:
It is unavoidable. As a child I remember the sheer terror of, when I misbehaved while we were out as a family, my father saying, “When we get home, you’re getting a spanking.” There was always the slight hope that he would somehow forget; that, for a moment, he would have a sudden lapse in memory or get too busy to care. Of course, I tried to help this along by buttering him up and being exceptionally respectful and helpful. Yet I came to learn that what dad said, he meant. If he promised coming punishment, it may take a while, but it would come nonetheless. Paul reminds us that God has made a promised return, and while it may take some time, it is still going to occur. You may get out of jury duty. If break the law and are desperate, you may even run and avoid capture from an arrest warrant for some time. But, there is one court and one judge that cannot possibly evade: the judgment seat of Jesus Christ.
Paul says we “must” appear before the judgment seat of Christ. We can scream and yell about it; we can stick our heads in the sand and try to avoid it; we can live as if it isn’t coming, but that won’t change the inescapable reality that one day the Lord will return and we will have to answer for our choices.
It is universal. Here we get to the heart of the missional side of the Christian hope. Why do Christians believe they must evangelize? Why do we feel the necessity to share the gospel with others? Because scripture tells us that all people, everywhere will be held accountable for their lives, their actions, their thoughts, and their responsibilities, to Jesus. The universal nature of this judgment is something attested to by Jesus and the early church.
“The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”—John 12:48
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”—Acts 17:30
Your neighbor with the two-car garage and the well-behaved kids; your boss who is so kind to you and gives you great bonuses; your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson; your President and your congress; your spouse—all people everywhere will one day come to stand before the court of Jesus Christ.
There is another equally clear message in all of this as well: that it is judge Jesus we will stand before and no one else. Honestly, this is a role we would rather not think of Jesus holding. Sometimes people say, “You’re not the judge of me!” (which of course is true) but I doubt people would find comfort in the alternative. Friend, savior, redeemer, brother, yes; judge, not so much.
In fact, we would like to stand before someone else in judgment: Buddha, Ghandi, the Pope, our parents, our preacher, but it will be none of these. All religious people will stand before Jesus—and unless they are members of the one true religion of Christianity, saved by the grace of God in obedience to the gospel of Jesus—they will be under the wrath of God and lost for all eternity.
It is personal. All of this makes this judgment scene very personal in a variety of ways. First, this means that no one can take my place on judgment day. My mother can’t explain away my sins or defend my case. My friends can’t blame my stupid decisions on their bad influence; my father can’t say it was all his fault because of his absence. It is the Lord and me.
Secondly, this means that I must answer for all the secret things that I thought no one would know about; the little things that were actually big things; and the serious things I thought were trivial. As Paul puts it, “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Actions have eternal consequence; either eternally good or terrible. The text says we will receive what is “due.” Which, if we are honest, is a terrifying thought. To receive judgment for every lie we’ve told, every evil thought we’ve had, every time we’ve gossiped or slandered someone, and every time we’ve cheated someone. Even more terrifying is the standard by which we will be judged: the perfect character of Jesus and his truth. If we were compared to someone at the local jail, we might look pretty good; but before Jesus Christ I am shown to be the sinner that I am. Generally speaking we think of most people as good, but scripture reminds us there is no such thing (Rom. 3:10; 23).
This of course is all quite terrible; truly bad news. Quite depressing. Sadly, some stop here at the severity of God. This all seems quite hopeless not hopeful. Are we then as the church simply trying to convince people to be saved from this scary God; is God a force of absolute terror that we are trying to get save people from apart from his true desire to judge them?
No. In fact, it is quite the opposite: that God isn’t set on our destruction but on our salvation.
God on a Mission
Notice again that the judgment will be universal: All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Yet, that isn’t the end of the text. Rather we should draw a circle around the “all” in v. 10 and draw an arrow to v. 14-15:
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
All will be judged, but all can be saved; all are worthy of condemnation, but God has provided a way of salvation. The love of Jesus is the compelling force which has provided, out of sheer mercy and grace, the means by which you can be saved. How? If I have done terrible, sinful things how does Jesus dying for me make that better?
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”—2 Cor. 5:21
You are due punishment and condemnation, but God has taken and endured and paid what you were due by his son. He (God) made him (provided what we couldn’t) who knew no sin (and thus wasn’t due condemnation) to be sin (to suffer for us what our sin deserved) that we might become the righteousness of God (that we can stand before God in judgment as pardoned and right). He has taken what was due in your body and placed upon his body. But why? For our sake!
If we take this together with last week’s lesson: God, by Jesus, has taken what was due for the things done in your body (2 Cor. 5:10) and placed it on His body (2 Cor. 5:21) so that, in dying through His body (Col. 1:22), He might one day give life to your mortal body (Rom. 8:11) and be resurrected to glory as His body was (Rom. 6:5).
Hallelujah, praise Jehovah!
This isn’t a story about some vindictive, malicious cosmic tyrant set on your eternal destruction. This is a story about a Father who loves you so much that he endured hell to be with you forever.
And, if we have received that gift of pardon, we have been given the mission of hope (as we will discuss in a moment)—but it isn’t our mission.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”—2 Cor. 5:18-20
This mission of hope is God’s mission in which he calls the church to partner with Him as we reconcile (make peace) the world to God. This is why Peter calls God “The God of all hope” (Rom. 15:13).
The Mission of Hope
There are certain truths which compel us to action. It’s why medical professionals feel the need to share cures they find for diseases; why meteorologist feel compelled to warn communities when there is a tornado in their area; why there are warning signs ahead of a dangerous construction area. With knowledge comes the moral obligation to share and warn.
Paul says, “Therefore”—that is, since we know everything we just discussed—then it is our responsibility to warn others. Notice that it is the “fear of the Lord” and the love of Christ (v. 14) which motivates us to reach others. Since we have trembled at the coming judgment, and stood at the foot of the cross, we have a responsibility to try and convince others of this same fear so that they will respond to God’s offer of pardon. Yet, it isn’t simply a matter of yelling to the crowds of a coming judgment but “persuading” them.
The word for persuade in the Greek means, “To convince them to agree and believe.” This implies preparation, knowledge, and training in the word of God. Yet it is a sad state of affairs that, overall, there are fewer works that the church has devoted less time, money, and effort to than evangelism. Doesn’t this mission demand everything of us? Isn’t it worthy of our time to do everything we can to reach anyone we can for as long as we possibly can? Don’t people at least deserve the chance to hope?
Of course, the question is, do we really “know” what Paul says we know? Do we really believe that 1) Judgment is coming 2) People are lost without Jesus and aren’t saved simply because they are “good people” 3) that we truly know the love Jesus has for people 4) That we have an obligation to tell them? Because if we did, we would make it a part of our daily walk with Christ to reach out and warn and to give people hope through the gospel. We would sacrifice time, money, and effort to equip ourselves to better “persuade” people. We must feel the great urgency of our central mission as God’s hope bearers. People must know. They must hear. They must be warned.
Paul uses a strong word for “control” in v. 14 to say that the “Love of Christ controls us.” It’s a word used at times to mean “taken captive” by or even to be “taken by a terrible malady.” So, Paul is saying that the love of Jesus has absolutely taken him captive, it is a sickness which he can’t get over, and it drives him to reach others with that love.
Are you sick over lost people? Is your life so absolutely held captive by the love of Jesus that you can’t help but push through the awkwardness, the fear, and the rejection to give people a chance for hope. Are you will willing to accept the mission that hope demands?