Summary: When we die we will all come under judgement - but who will do the judging?
Do you remember Perry Mason? Perry Mason used to be one of my favourite TV programmes. I used to watch it avidly every week until it became too predictable, and I became bored.
Perry Mason was a courtroom lawyer - each week he would be faced with an open and shut case. A murder and the police had caught the murderer, so they thought. But Perry Mason would go to work on the case and when they came to court, he would reveal who the real murderer was. Often it was one of the prosecution’s witnesses, whom Perry would cross examine mercilessly, until the hapless individual broke down and confessed that he had done it. All very interesting until, as I say, it became too predictable and I stopped watching.
I thought of Perry Mason again this week. I thought about him because it’s the season of Advent, when traditionally the Church examines four topics - Heaven and Hell, Death and Judgement. It’s the subject of Judgement I want to talk about this week, a judgement which the Bible says will happen when we die.
When we die everyone of us will be judged, the Bible says, and the whole of our future prospects of life with God in heaven will stand or fall upon that judgement. Imagine it! Standing before God , with the whole legal process arrayed against you. It’s enough to frighten anybody to death! - God looking at us and seeing exactly what we have been like in this life and passing judgement on us - some invited to be with Him but others cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and wailing a gnashing of teeth, as it says in St. Matthew’s Gospel (i.e. Good News!) chapter 25. Where does the concept of a God of love fit in with that? Is that Good News?
But there are other pictures in the Bible of what will happen on the Day of Judgement, pictures which lead me back to Perry Mason. Imagine that you’re the accused, and standing before God’s Judgement seat. The Prosecuting Counsel is about the begin his evidenc, painstakingly built up from the history of your life - "he did this, and that, and the other" .... the whole list of your wrong actions from birth to death - and more than actions, your thoughts as well, what you were really thinking when you said or did such and such a thing - and the way you did things to make people think you were loving when you weren’t, doing things from totally twisted motives - and you realise that you have no hope of being found "Not Guilty". But just as the Prosecution is about to start Perry Mason stands up for the Defence and says: "It’s YOU, Mr. Prosecutor, who is the guilty one - this man is like a stick snatched from the fire"......... and the judge believes him! He says: "Thank you Mr. Mason for your Defence" and turning to the Policeman who stands beside you he says, "Take away the filthy clothes this man is wearing, the whole record of his wrong doing". Then looking at you He says, "I have taken away your wrongdoing, and give you new clothes to wear - leave this place of judgement guiltless!".
What do you think of that? Could it ever happen? Well the answer, apparently, is "Yes". That story appears in the 3rd chapter of the book of the prophet Zechariah where just such a legal process and just such a legal judgement was passed on a High Priest called Joshua. Guilty though he was, he was declared innocent and set free to continue in the Lord’s service.
And in case you think it’s all right for High Priest’s, but not for ordinary run of the mill people like us, then turn to the New Testament and there you will see a similar judgement being offered to US.
In a remarkable passage about the love of God, we are told, "God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in union with God, and God lives in union with him. Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on Judgement Day...... where there is love there can be no reason for fear - God’s perfect love drives out all fear. If we are afraid it is because we have not yet realise how perfectly God loves us, because fear has to do with punishment" (1 John chapter 4 verses 16-18).
Do you see it? - It is the love of God which declares us innocent even though we are guilty - He showed this most powerfully when Christ died on the Cross. When Christ died on the Cross He set us free from the weight of the guilt of our failures, small and large. When Christ died on the Cross His love forgave us for all our faults and failings - every last one of them. We are declared "Not Guilty" - it is that judgement which sets us free from guilt, free to be with Him for ever.