Summary: Using the lections for Christ the King Sunday, particularly Psalm 94, this sermon develops four ways in which a conviction of coming judgment is vital for the spiritual health of a Christian.
Christ the King Sunday
Today is the last Sunday of Trinity season, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, and we celebrate it as the Feast of Christ the King. It is a fitting idea for the end of the liturgical year, for as Paul tells us in the Second Lesson appointed for today, God’s great work of redemption will be conclude with the rule and reign of Christ his Son. “25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”
Did you notice a theme running through the lectionary for today? We began with Psalm 94, which opens with the cry “O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!” And the rest of the Psalm continues in the same vein – a plea for God to come forth to judge the wicked and put an end to them.
In the OT Lesson from Ezekiel we find God promising his people that he will come to rescue and to redeem them, and to judge their enemies. At the end of that passage, God says 16 “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.” The NT lesson, as we have already seen, speaks of Christ’s coming rule and reign until death itself is finally destroyed. And, of course, the Gospel lesson today shows us a scene at the end of the age, when Christ comes in judgment and in this scene he is judging the nations.
The doctrine of judgment doesn’t get a lot of exposure in pulpits these days. The preaching of judgment, or sermons or homilies on the judgment passages of Scripture are not often heard among Christians. Instead, such messages from the pulpits of Christendom have become a kind of charicature for all that was supposedly bad and wrong and misguided about that old-time religion, which traded on fear of a wrathful God in order to keep social order. And, yet, the theme of judgment is probably the one theme in all of Scripture which has more words devoted to it than any other topic.
It is emblematic of the spiritual indifference of our age that the Church in any of its forms is saying less and less about judgment, less and less about what the Bible mostly is concerned with. And, I would suggest to you that the judgment which God promises will come on both the living and the dead, upon the small and the great, upon every soul that has ever lived – that coming judgment is a key ingredient to all normal and healthy spirituality.
We see this most dramatically in the Psalm appointed for today, but we also see it in the other passages we heard read. I’d like to lay before you four ways in which God’s judgment at the end of the age is critical to your present spiritual health. Without a firm conviction of the coming judgment, your own service to Christ is impaired, your own stability as a Christian is weakened. How, then, does the knowledge of the coming judgment make you a better servant of Christ?
First of all, the coming judgment gives you strength to bear with the evil in this world. And, most certainly, the evil in this world is abundant, the wickedness around us often appears to be incorrigible, and the sheer injustice inflicted on the weak and the innocent and the helpless seems to be beyond repair.
So it is that the Psalmist in verses 6 and 7 complains about the oppression of the wicked. 6 They slay the widow and the stranger, and they murder those who have no father. 7 Yet they say, “The LORD does not see Nor does the God of Jacob under- stand.”
Over the years I have noticed a regrettable characteristic of some very old men. Some of them become fountains of complaining, often bitter complaining, about the wrongs of the world. Sometimes it is the wrongs done to them, or to their loved ones that they complain about; but many times it is the same complaint that you find here in Psalm 94 – that the wicked go about their wickedness, and nothing happens to them. They face no judgment, there are no brakes on them, they are never restrained in their wickedness, nor are they ever resisted by a greater or more righteous force. In their younger days, these old men were often galvanized by injustice and oppression, in order to rise up against it and to turn it back. But as they grow older and older, what they see is that the tides of evil come in and out over and over again during their lifetimes. And, so they grow despairing, and bitter, and the end of their years is perpetually stained by complaining.