OUR FRIENDS AT THE JUDGMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-24-87 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Who Are Our Friends in the Judgment? In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 5, and the text is in the last three verses of that chapter. Our Lord says to those who rejected Him:
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father, in that great final judgment day: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom you trust.
Had you believed Moses, this holy Book and his writings, you would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me.
But if you believe not his writings, if you do not believe this Holy Word, how shall you believe My words?
In keeping with Memorial Day, this subject concerns a great and a final crisis that all of us shall face in our lives. There is no one of us excepted who shall not someday, somehow, somewhere enter into a critical juncture between heaven and earth and life and death.
On the body of an American soldier, slain in this last Vietnam war, there was a poem, a doggerel actually, penned by that lad. And they found these words penned by his own hand on the body of this fallen American soldier:
Look, God, I have never spoken to You.
But now I want to say, “How do You do?”
You see, God, they told me You didn’t exist.
And like a fool, I believed all this.
Last night from a shell hole, I saw Your sky.
I figured then, they had told me a lie.
Had I taken time to see things You made,
I’d have known they were not calling a spade a spade.
I wonder, God, if You’d shake my hand?
Somehow I feel that You’ll understand.
Strange I had to come to this hell-hole place.
Before I had time to see Your face.
Well, I guess there isn’t much more to say.
But I’m glad, God, I met You today.
I guess the zero hour will soon be here.
But I’m not afraid since I know You’re near.
The signal. Well, Lord, I’ll have to go.
I like You lots. this I want You to know.
Look now, this will be a horrible fight.
You know, I may come to Your house tonight.
Though I wasn’t friendly to You before,
I wonder, God, if You’d open Your door?
Look, I’m crying. Me, shedding tears.
I wish I’d known You these many years.
Well, I have to go now, God. Goodbye.
Strange, since I met You, I’m not afraid to die.
[“And God Was There,” first published circa 1945]
Somewhere, sometime, somehow, all of us will meet a crisis like that. How infinitely, ineffably better to meet it in the presence and grace of God. When we stand at that final judgment day, who will stand with us? Who will befriend us? Who will be our companions in love and grace and encouragement?
The text is one of the most astonishing and amazing I’ve ever read in the Bible. Our Lord says: “When you stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God, you who are rejecting and denying Me, when you stand there, who will condemn you? You will be condemned by those whom you love.” What an astonishing thing! You love and revere and honor and trust Moses. When you stand before God, to be judged as to whether you live or die, he is the one whom you trust and whom you love and revere, he is the one that will condemn you [John 5:45-47].
I say, that’s one of the most amazing revelations I could think for in all God’s Holy Word. When we stand at the great assize, and God judges us, who will befriend us and who will condemn us? These will condemn us, these whom we love; your children, your children. When they stand in the presence of the great God Almighty and are sentenced to an eternal damnation in burning hell, what are you going to say when they avow, “Mother, Father, the reason I’m lost is because you never won me to Christ. You never told me about Jesus. You never prayed for my soul. You never took me to Sunday school and church. And now I face an everlasting damnation in hell because of you.”
This happened over sixty years ago when I was the pastor of a small country church. In the county seat town they had a hanging. He was almost a lad, just a youth. And as they did in those days, they asked the lad, “Before you are hanged, do you have some last word you’d like to say?” And he said, “Yes. Could I say something to my mother?” They brought her into the presence of that lad, soon to die, and he said to her, “Mother, had you taught me about Jesus and had you prayed for my soul, and had you taken me to Sunday school and church, I wouldn’t be here, dying, today.”
Who condemns you at the great judgment day of Almighty God? These whom you love. Rejecting Christ and standing before God at that great assize, who condemns you? That gang you run with, the peer pressure you feel, this bunch. “Hail, well met, boon companions.”
One of the most unusual phrases in the story of the prodigal son is this: he took his father’s inheritance and wasted it in riotous living [Luke 15:13-14]. “And when he had spent all and lived in want, deigning even to eat the husk that the swine did eat,” there’s a little phrase there that says, “and no man gave unto him” [Luke 15:16]. Isn’t that remarkable? While he had money and while he was on top, and while everything was swinging his way, everybody was for him, but when he came to want and despair, not one cared about him. And that’s the way it will be at the judgment of Almighty God. All of those boon companions that loved you when you were beautiful, that had a good time with you when you had money to spend, when you were in the top and owned the whole world, but when you come to the end of the way, they forsake you and condemn you.
Who condemns you at the final judgment of Almighty God? That barkeeper and that liquor dealer. What a good time you have and how he loves to see you when you’ve got money to spend, but when you come to the end of the way, he’ll be the first to cast you out.
In those days when I was a village pastor in Kentucky, there was a member of our church, a man that had the most vitriolic, denunciatory attitude toward the liquor traffic that I ever heard in my life. We lived at that time in a part of Kentucky where there was a distillery behind every hill and an illegitimate, illegal still behind every green tree. And he was viciously ahead of the whole traffic. Well, one day I asked him, “Why is it that you have such a bitter, such a bitter renunciation and denunciation of the liquor traffic?”
And, he said, “Early in the morning, in the little place, little town, the little village, early in the morning, I was walking by and saw the form of a man in the ditch. It was in the midst of the cold wintertime, and the form was partly covered in snow.” He said, “I pried it up, and I looked at that man covered with ice and mud and dirt, the form of a man.” And he said, “I asked and inquired, ‘Where did he come from? And why should he be there?’” And he said, “I found that, the night before, drinking in that saloon and drunk, and having spent all that he had, the keeper of the bar pushed him out, shoved him out the door. And, staggering away, in his penniless drunkenness, he fell in the ditch and froze to death, a man, in God’s image, with frozen mud and dirt on his face and on his figure.”
You think they’ll stand by you? You think they will affirm? They will condemn. Who condemns you when you stand at the great judgment bar of Almighty God? Your burning and remorseful remembrance. “O God! What I could have been and what I could have done. And now I stand at the end of the way. In the great judgment day I stand lost and condemned.” Like the fable of the eagle that I heard. Someone shot an arrow and it pierced his heart. And as the eagle fell to the ground in death, the eagle looked at the arrow that had pierced his heart. And the tip of it were his own feathers from his own wings. And the eagle cried as it fell to the earth in death, “Oh, that it should have been my own feathers, from my own wings, that guided the missile to my death.”
Who are our friends in the judgment? In that great final assize of the Lord, rejecting Christ and saying “No” to His overtures of grace, these whom you love in this world will rise to condemn you and to damn you.
Who are our friends in the judgment when we stand at that great and final day? Who are our friends who would stand by us? He who died in our place: Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, He will stand by us. He gave His life. And He claims me for His own [1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 4:25]. “This,” He says, “is one of Mine, he belongs to Me. His sins are washed away, his life is hid with Me in God, and he is Mine” [Colossians 3:3-4].
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I’ll never, no never, devote to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
[“How firm a Foundation”; John Rippon, 1787]
Jesus will be our friend. He will stand by us in that ultimate and final hour [Hebrews 13:5].
One of the most unusual things in the life of Christ; when He returned to heaven, with whom did He return? Did He return with the king? Did He return in the company of a great chieftain or a commander? With whom did He return when He went back up to heaven? He entered heaven arm-in-arm with a thief [Luke 23:43].
Redeemed by the blood of the Crucified One!
All praise to the Father. All praise to the Son.
All praise to the Spirit, The great Three in One!
Redeemed by the blood of the Crucified One!
[“All Creatures of Our God and King,” St. Francis of Assisi]
When Jesus went back to heaven, He entered the courts of glory arm-in-arm with a thief, redeemed, bought, saved. He is our friend.
Who are our friends in the judgment, in the great assize of God? Who? The angels who watch over. I’m not saying that I am correct in this exegesis, in this interpretation of God’s Word. But it’s something that I believe. And it just comforts my heart to think of it. Jesus says that when our little babies are born into this world, that there is an angel in the presence of the Father, looking up into the face of God Almighty, there is a little angel that watches over that little tiny baby [Matthew 18:10]. And through the years of the upbringing and life of that little one, there’s an angel in heaven that watches over it.
In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, Jesus says that an angel bears our souls to God when we die [Luke 16:22]. I’m not saying that I’m infallibly correct. But you know what I think? I think the same angel that God appoints to watch over us when we’re a little baby is the same angel that bears us to heaven when we die, and he introduces us to glory. This is the child that I have watched over, and cared for, and loved, and ministered to in the days of his flesh, and now he’s come to live with us in heaven.
Sweet people, there are a thousand times that I can see in the lives of people, you and me, that I can see where an angel watched over, where an angel took care of, where an angel saw us through, took notice of a tragic accident and delivered us from it. Sometimes people will facetiously say, “There was an angel riding on his shoulder.” I can see that. There have been times and times in my own life when I have had felt that an angel of God was watching over and taking care; they’re for us. And in that great assize in the judgment day of Almighty God, the angels will affirm us and own us and befriend us.
Who stands by us in the great judgment day of Almighty God? The saints in heaven. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord says that there is rejoicing in the presence of those angels over one sinner that is saved [Luke 15:10]. Who are those in whose hearts, paeans of praise and glory arise, who are in the presence of the angels of God when you give your heart to Jesus? Who are they? They’re God’s saints.
From all of the beginning of the creation, when one somebody you walks down that stairway, comes down that aisle, they rejoice. And in the day of the great assize, they’re there to praise God and to befriend you. Who are these who befriend us in the judgment? The saints of God who live and minister in this earth and in this dear church, our pastor, our preacher. When you come down that aisle and kneel here before the Lord, and give your heart and life to Him, he so overflows with rejoicing that he cries and can’t help it—struggle against it; just weep, just glad, just praising the Lord. Somebody you has come to Christ, come to the Savior, been saved.
All of these deacons, these godly men; this choir that sings the hymn of appeal, when you come down that aisle, they rejoice and are glad. And God’s sainted people in the pew, to the back topmost seat of the balcony, down to these who are on the front row, the whole congregation of God, they rejoice and are glad when you give your heart to the Lord. And at the judgment day of Almighty God, they are your friends.
Who rejoices in your coming? And who, at that great and final day, will welcome you into glory? These who love you, and pray for you; a godly mother or a godly saintly father or a dear friend, an associate, They will rejoice and they will be your friends in welcoming you in the day of glory.
Dear people, one of the most moving of all the services I have ever been in in my life was when I was a student in the university. Lee Scarborough, wonderful man of God, was holding a revival meeting. In the university was a young man as wayward and as ungodly as he could be, but marvelously gifted—a born leader. And there in the university, for those beginning years a leader in the group, and just as worldly as he could be. Sweet people, that night, in that revival meeting, he came down that aisle, confessing his faith in the Lord Jesus. And he asked Dr. Scarborough if he could say a word to us.
The young fellow came to the pulpit, and to put together in a brief word what he said, it was this; the young man said, “My mother was a godly Christian woman, and she died before I came to the university. But my mother took my hand just before she died and pled with me, ‘Son, won’t you give your heart to Jesus? And Son, won’t you meet me in heaven?’” Then the young fellow lifted up his face and his arms and his hands, and said, “Mother, I have come to the Lord, and Mother I will meet you in heaven.”
Not long ago, the young fellow died, and when I heard of his death, I thought of the sweet and precious rendezvous when he met his mother in heaven. These are our friends, these who love us and pray for us and stand by us. Why should I choose to be with those who reject our Lord and lead me away from His grace and mercy, and finally forsake me and condemn me?
Lord, shall it not be that I will take my stand with our Savior, our great Lord Jesus, my Christ, and these who love me and rejoice in my coming and my dedication and my consecration; Lord, shall it not be for Thee that I stand and move and have my being?
And that is our invitation to you this solemn Holy Sabbath day. “This day pastor, God helping me, I give my heart and my life to the Lord Jesus. And I’m putting my days in the fellowship of this wonderful church.” And we’ll grow in grace together until that glorious day when we stand before His throne, and praise His saving name, forever and ever, world without end. God be praised for His wonderful goodnesses to us.
Now may we bow our heads? O, God that we had the eloquence of an angel, to proclaim the marvelous grace and goodness of Jesus our Lord. What a tragedy to pass Him by, to face an eternity without His love and grace. O God in heaven, what a happiness and what a joy indescribable and unspeakable, to give heart and life, finding meaning in every providence of the journey, in Christ Jesus our Savior. And our Lord, we pray in this solemn hour that many, many will come, dedicating heart and life and home and every tomorrow, in the love and grace and meaning of our blessed Savior. And in a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I’m coming.” Down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me and here I stand.” And our Lord, bless them as they come, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.