The Bema: The Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ
We are a record keeping people. Even from the time of our birth a medical record is started. The first day you start school; a scholastic record is kept and will follow you all the way through college. Businesspeople keep financial records to show either a loss or a profit.
In life we are constantly called upon to give an account of ourselves. The IRS requires us yearly to give an account of our financial affairs. Students are called to account for themselves through examinations.
The Bible says repeatedly that God keeps a record, not only of our deeds, but even of our thoughts and motives. Throughout the Scriptures we are taught that each of us will one day face our own record. Acts 17:31, tells us that the Judgment Day has been set and that the Judge has already been appointed. We have an appointment with Jesus.
What do you want God’s record to say about you? If you could write your own record, what would it say? This morning, I want to look at Paul as he looks forward to being with God. Paul wants us to see that our record should be about Jesus living and dying in our lives.
Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-3
In chapter 4, Paul tells us that we are a “Treasure in earthen vessels.” This is a powerful double metaphor that recognizes the awesome trust God bestows upon each of us and at the same time honors our fragility as bearers of God's grace and might. The image allows Paul and us to celebrate the awesome blessing of life and joy in tribulation, limitation, and difficulty. Because we are God's chosen vessels, we do not need to build cathedrals or make pilgrimages, to engage in extraordinary actions to prove our faith. Instead, we simply need to live our lives each day in ways that love and honor one another and God.
We have a building from God. We have a hope of an eternal dwelling place that cannot be destroyed. Paul thinks that living for this heavenly dwelling is worth all the struggles of this life on earth.
Paul talks about the death and life of Jesus being in our bodies may help us to reflect on our physical limitations and problems. We are accustomed to thinking of our bodies as having problems, getting fat, or not working as we wish they would. Paul thinks that physical problems are everyday reminders of Christ's death and of our association with it. Likewise, our moments of joy and delight, forgiveness and reconciliation, are windows onto the life of Jesus (i.e., resurrection), making its way into our very existence.
We tend to glorify biblical characters and paint them as almost perfect and think they are so much different than us. It is not one of our better moves. We surmise that they do not suffer, that they have no doubt, that they do not struggle as we do. But note well that Paul describes himself (much as he did in chap. 1) as being near the brink of what he can bear, as about to fall over the edge.
Maybe we hold up the biblical characters out of self-doubt; perhaps, worse, our doing so may be driven by self-loathing or self-pity. As downtrodden and crushed as Paul was, however, he was convinced that God would never let him go.
Are you not often taken a back when you meet someone again after several years have passed? “How they have aged!” you might think. Paul takes it for granted that what people see about us, the externals, is wasting away like rust eats into iron. But he also believes that is not the whole story; inside we are being renewed day by day. From inside, the Spirit is working to express its fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22)—in us. Perhaps we should be making every effort to get out of the Spirit's way and let these fruit show through from our inner selves to those around us. We may be growing older but we are also growing spiritual.
Read 2 Corinthians 5:4-7
“We walk by faith, not by sight” (5:7)—a refinement of Paul's earlier comments about looking to things that are not seen (4:18). This is one of Paul's great pieces of wisdom. Where should we get our clues about purpose and direction, about what to make of what is around us?
Fueled by his apocalyptic outlook, Paul knew that to reckon from what is seen, from appearances, is a sure way to be misled about what is really important and about what is truly going on. We all know how easily people can misunderstand when they know just the externals or when they make assumptions from superficial knowledge. Yet, that awareness does not keep us from doing the same thing regarding others.
So it is with God's purposes: Imagine how far astray you might go if you made your own decision about Jesus on the basis of his being born out of wedlock; of his keeping company with prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors; and of his being killed in that culture's most shameful manner (the equivalent of the electric chair or the gas chamber or lethal injection). Paul's care to distinguish between externals and internals should caution us about making superficial, snap judgments regarding the truth about someone. Conclusions and conjectures based on external, superficial information or impressions will more often prove wrong than right—and can do a great disservice, if not injustice, to others.
Read 2 Corinthians 5:8-10
Most popular representations of the final judgment have the smell of sulfur and the sounds of Armageddon about them. Too often the last-day judgment is presented as a fearsome event. Some writers and speakers even use it as a means of frightening their followers into compliance. Note that Paul does not have even the slightest hint of a fearful understanding of the last judgment. It is worth thinking about why Paul does not stoop to fear-mongering when he thinks of the last judgment and of giving an account of his life, of his decisions, of his actions, of his “deeds done in the body.” Two reasons for this suggest themselves: First, he knows that the love he is supposed to show toward others is generated by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), so it is quite present if he will simply let the Spirit do its work in his life. Second, in his everyday life Paul always aims for love and seeks to glorify God.
We have an appointment with Jesus Christ. Jesus sits on the judgment seat. Paul with his frailties knows that ministry is important. That coming to church is important. He knows that caring for our members is important. He knows that loving others is important and all the struggles and time, the headaches, etc. are what God records. We are on the way to our appointment with Jesus. Jesus will remember our struggles in ministry. What is our record?
It is good for us periodically to take a look at the record we have made for ourselves. The record of our achievement has already been written. In reality we can in no way change the record of the past. We can only deal with the consequences of the choices we have made.
While the record of the past is important, it is not nearly as important as what we hope to do in the future. God is more concerned about our todays and our tomorrows than he is about our yesterdays. It would be wise for us to face the future with a sincere and steadfast determination that the record of the future will be better than the achievements of the past.