Its funny the things we remember. Today I’ve been remembering a time in my early teens and that was many years ago! I’m not sure how it all began but some of my friends started shoplifting, small things at first like chocolate bars but later bigger and bigger items. They would go on trips to Cardiff with the aim of stealing from shops. They would later talk of the excitement of almost being caught and we would all laugh at some of their triumphs, one actually managed to steal a fishing rod by hiding it down a trouser leg.
I’d like to think that it was common sense that prevented me from becoming an accomplice in their crimes but looking back it may well have been fear of the thought of my parents ever finding out. Of course, for my friends the inevitable day of reckoning arrived, a store detective, the police station and the angry and disappointed parents. I didn’t feel satisfied or vindicated, just an overwhelming sense of ‘there but for the grace of God’.
This week, high ranking politicians have had their own sort of ‘day of reckoning’ as they have been called to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Former Prime Ministers, the Chancellor, the Leader of the Opposition and incredibly, even the current Prime Minister have all been summoned to give evidence. Personally, I have found some more credible than others and since some of the evidence contradicts the evidence by previous witnesses, its fair to say someone is telling lies. Some have questioned the principal of summoning the Prime Minister to be questioned before TV cameras but by common consent he had questions to answer.
Whether we enjoy seeing others held to account or not, we will all have our own ‘day of reckoning’ when we stand before God. We can only wonder as to what is meant by John’s description of the final judgement.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.” (Revelation 20:11)
There is considerable debate among Christians regarding the final judgment but allow me to make some points;
There will be justice – many of the most evil people of the last century died without ever being held to account for their crimes. The fact that we will all stand before God means that there will ultimately be justice because God is just.
We are sinners – we say ‘nobody is perfect’ and that’s true. We will be measured against God’s standard where all of the facts will be known and our own thoughts and actions exposed. It is a terrifying prospect.
Jesus has faced the reckoning for us – on the cross Christ took all of our sin upon himself, as Isaiah prophesied hundreds of years before the events;
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
I’m told that the Welsh evangelist David Shepherd was once taken around one of the Steel Works in South Wales. When he saw one of the huge blast furnaces containing molten metal, he remarked; ‘It reminds me of the holiness of God, anyone approaching would be instantly consumed without being covered by the righteousness of Christ’
For believers the judgment need hold no fear.
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
I love the NIV, I’ve been using it for over thirty years and still regard it as the most effective translation but here, it is to my mind a little weak. The phrase “the atoning sacrifice”, should read “the propitiation”. Now I understand why the NIV translators gave the word ‘propitiation’ a miss as it isn’t exactly a word in common use but it is important. As the New International Bible Dictionary explains;
“Christ propitiated God in the sense that he turned God’s wrath away from guilty sinners by enduring that wrath himself in the isolation of Calvary.”
If I’m honest, I enjoy watching powerful men held to account for their actions and squirming under cross examination. Then I think of my own life and how I would hate to be placed under the same spotlight. Without Christ, I am without doubt guilty, fallen and sinful but praise God, Jesus has died for me. On the cross he has carried my sin, and borne my punishment so that I can be free.
Just before his execution in 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a fascinating poem called “His Pilgrimage”. His own trial had been a travesty of justice. He writes of his desire to die well (in the event he showed great courage) and contrasts the court of heaven with the corrupt court of his own trial;
“From thence to Heaven’s bribeless hall,
Where no corrupted voices brawl,
No conscience molten into gold,
No forg’d accuser bought or sold,”
He then speaks of his own guilt before God and his dependence on Christ;
“And when the grand twelve-million jury
Of our sins with direful fury,
Against our souls black verdicts give,
Christ pleads his death and then we live.”
Death and judgment need hold no fear. Christ has triumphed. Hallelujah!
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”(Philippians 1:21)
Finally, if you are not a Christian, this is beyond any question, the greatest decision an individual can ever make. Please feel free to contact me through the comments option, talk to a Christian that you know or there is further help available here. You could also pray to God right now, ask for his forgiveness and that he would take his rightful place as Lord of your life. It will be the best thing that you have ever done.