I remember a Wednesday night as a late elementary aged child in which Jason Delaney and I decided that we would rebel.
Like most Wednesday nights growing up, we would travel with my mom after school up to our church’s building; getting there early enough to play old arcade games, shoot pool, or a little basketball in the Christian Learning Center, or CLC as we called it. All this before the “church” events started up.
Our mid-week routine as prepubescent children included an hour or so of choir and then RA’s (royal ambassadors), or GA’s (which I honestly don’t remember what it stands for!) depending on gender. RA’s was okay. I don’t have any negative nor strong memories except building our wooden racers and getting badges for things like bible verse memory and walking old people across the street (well, maybe not that one!). But choir; choir I remember. Not because I enjoyed it, but because I hated it!
I had (a still have) no musical aptitude whatsoever, and while our choir teacher was nice enough, there was nothing engaging about the music or the environment. All I could do was impatiently wait as the minutes dragged on before we switched to RA’s.
Week in and week out, this was our routine. Drive to the church building. Play. Bear the burden of choir, and pass the time through RA’s. Finally meeting up again with my parents where we began the evening. That is, until one late spring /early summer night.
It was a warm but not hot evening. The climate and clear skies beckoning us to rebel and cast off the constraints of religion and escape to the mysterious adventure of exploration!
Our church building was one of the older and larger buildings in our town. A massive expanse of a structure, especially to a young boy. Full of secret passage ways, hidden tunnels, haunted—or spirit filled—rooms with secret histories. Or so we imagined.
So, with the night clear and the rebellious spirit alive, we snuck away from the well-warn path leading our choir room; off to explore! We worked our way up onto the roof. Down rusted fire escapes. Found ourselves in darkened hallways that we were sure housed our church’s secret and most precious valuables. The adrenaline of adventure heightening our sense! It was amazing! Until we ran into a familiar face.
A woman in our church, whose name escapes me but whose face never will. She knew us, me particularly. She asked if were supposed to be in—at the moment—a back elevator leading to an adults only part of the building. Of course we were not, and of course she knew that. Yet, she did not stop us or tell us to get back to our sanctioned routine. She simply kept on her way. And allowed us to keep on ours
Oh the cruelty! Despite our momentary freedom, we knew we were caught! The rebels found out. It would not take long for this lady to find my mom, to tell here where she had spotted us. No chance of returning to the CLC and claiming to have gone to choir and RA’s—as was our brilliant plan. No, we were going to face judgment for our great rebellion.
The half hour or so before we were to return to the CLC and connect with my family was excruciating. Expecting the just wrath of my parents. The prospect of impending doom only mounting as my parent’s calming told we would have to wait until we got home to discuss the evening’s events!
The weight of anticipated judgment sat, almost crushing, on my small shoulders. A weight that has stuck with me in greater detail than the actual judgment itself; for I cannot remember the details of the consequences of our rebellious escape! All I know is that it was properly devastating for an elementary boy.
Like Naomi, I could declare that the “Almighty [the one who determines right and wrong]—in this case dad and mom—has brought calamity upon me.”! No playing with Jason for a week or more. Knowing my parents would be checking in on me now on Wednesday routines. Maybe some other form of cruel exile from play and friends.
This story might seem a bit silly, such emotion for such seemingly small crimes. Nevertheless, it was my most formative memory of judgment. Being discovered in my rebellion, unarguably guilty, and knowing that there were consequences coming. Even today, when I think about judgement, the feelings of the night are awakened anew.
You may not think about judgement very often, but when you do, what experiences fill your imagination? Does your memory of judgment carry weight, it is missing, misappropriated, shaping discipline, or oppressing punishment? Is judgment a subject avoided?
Judgement may be a word that we do not much appreciate. A word we use against our enemies but one seldom used on ourselves. Yet it is a word that we cannot avoid in a life of faith. Our faith in the Almighty, the one who determines good and evil (i.e. the one Judge), as creator, redeemer, and King; requires that judgment be a part of our vocabulary and our experience.
As together we read the pre-exile prophets like Isaiah, Amos, Joel, Hosea and the like; my rebellious Wednesday night returns. Judgment. Guilt. Consequences. Everything we have done known and now called to court. The weight, almost crushing, as judgement looms.
Judgement is a word we are meant to know in all its weight, and yet, curiously throughout all the prophets, it is never the final word in our faith history nor our personal stories.
The prophet Isaiah helps us comprehend the nature and necessity of judgment most poignantly. Let’s watch this video, and as we do see if you can recognize the good news of judgment.
At this point in Israel’s story since Sinai, they have proven themselves to be no different than everyone else on earth. Rescued in order to be holy, set-apart in order to bless the nations; they are no more holy than their neighbors, just as often the oppressor as they are the oppressed.
No more God fearing, God trusting, than the Egyptians, Philistines, Moabites, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. Like everyone else, they trust in wealth, in power (political and military), in religion as a type of magic to wield—whether their intimacy deprived devotion to the one true God or superstitious inclusion of the gods of others.
So, finally, after much warning, guilt unarguably theirs, judgment is rendered.
The Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, is emptying Jerusalem and Judah of all the basic necessities, plain bread and water to begin with. He’s withdrawing police and protection, judges and courts, pastors and teachers, captains and generals, doctors and nurses, and, yes, even the repairmen and jacks-of-all-trades.
He says, “I’ll put little kids in charge of the city. Schoolboys and schoolgirls will order everyone around. People will be at each other’s throats, stabbing one another in the back: Neighbor against neighbor, young against old, the no-account against the well-respected.
One brother will grab another and say, ‘You look like you’ve got a head on your shoulders. Do something! Get us out of this mess.’ And he’ll say, ‘Me? Not me! I don’t have a clue. Don’t put me in charge of anything.’
“Jerusalem’s on its last legs. Judah is soon down for the count. Everything people say and do is at cross-purposes with God, a slap in my face. Brazen in their depravity, they flaunt their sins like degenerate Sodom. Doom to their eternal souls! They’ve made their bed; now they’ll sleep in it.
“Reassure the righteous that their good living will pay off.
But doom to the wicked! Disaster! Everything they did will be done to them.
“Skinny kids terrorize my people. Silly girls bully them around. My dear people! Your leaders are taking you down a blind alley. They’re sending you off on a wild-goose chase.”
God enters the courtroom. He takes his place at the bench to judge his people. God calls for order in the court, hauls the leaders of his people into the dock:
“You’ve played havoc with this country. Your houses are stuffed with what you’ve stolen from the poor. What is this anyway? Stomping on my people, grinding the faces of the poor into the dirt?”
That’s what the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, says. God says, “Zion women are stuck-up, prancing around in their high heels, making eyes at all the men in the street, swinging their hips, tossing their hair, gaudy and garish in cheap jewelry.” The Master will fix it so those Zion women will all turn bald—scabby, bald-headed women.
The time is coming when the Master will strip them of their fancy baubles—the dangling earrings, anklets and bracelets, combs and mirrors and silk scarves, diamond brooches and pearl necklaces, the rings on their fingers and the rings on their toes, the latest fashions in hats, exotic perfumes and aphrodisiacs, gowns and capes, all the world’s finest in fabrics and design.
Instead of wearing seductive scents, these women are going to smell like rotting cabbages; Instead of modeling flowing gowns, they’ll be sporting rags; Instead of their stylish hairdos, scruffy heads; Instead of beauty marks, scabs and scars.
Your finest fighting men will be killed, your soldiers left dead on the battlefield. The entrance gate to Zion will be clotted with people mourning their dead—A city stooped under the weight of her loss, brought to her knees by her sorrows.
Because this people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…therefore I am going to do something to shock them awake, something so bold that they will be astonished… (Is. 29:13-14a)
Wealth and power and religion removed. All that was trusted shown to be what it is, fleeting. No one to show them the way. The highway to the mountain of good—the road to his dwelling—cut off.
Yet, what does judgement do? What is the purpose of such judgement? Is judgement simply punishment? Does God judge simply to destroy, to condemn, or is there something more to his judgement?
In Isaiah especially, judgment puts an end to the rebellion. The rebellion of Israel and the rebellion of her neighbors. Judgment ends evil. Judgment means that the evil within us and the evil around us is not the last word! That evil does not win. That what you have done is not your final identity. That what you suffer—because of your direct rebellion or the rebellion of others—has an end, but is not the end!
Judgment purifies. It makes holy, makes way for something new! For the presence of the Lord to once again dwell amongst the nations; but now as Immanuel!
[Judgement] will be the day when seven women will gang up on one man, saying, “We’ll take care of ourselves, get our own food and clothes. Just give us a child. Make us pregnant so we’ll have something to live for!”
And that’s when God’s Branch will sprout green and lush. The produce of the country will give Israel’s survivors something to be proud of again. Oh, they’ll hold their heads high! Everyone left behind in Zion, all the discards and rejects in Jerusalem, will be reclassified as “holy”—alive and therefore precious. God will give Zion’s women a good bath. He’ll scrub the bloodstained city of its violence and brutality, purge the place with a firestorm of judgment.
Then God will bring back the ancient pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and mark Mount Zion and everyone in it with his glorious presence, his immense, protective presence, shade from the burning sun and shelter from the driving rain.
From judgement sprouts a new and better way, a new and better relationship…
A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch. The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.
He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay. He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.
His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.
The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide. On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious.
Judgment is the consequence for evil, and yet, judgement from the Almighty—the only judge of good and evil--was meant not to destroy but to resurrect! Cutting down in order that a new seed might shout up. Exiled that there might be a new land (all the earth), a new temple (Jesus himself) raised up, a new highway to the presence of God (Jesus!).
This is what Jesus says about himself in the gospel according to John.
- TEMPLE | So the Jews said to [Jesus], ‘What sign do you show us for [clearing out the temple courts of money-changers and traders and calling it ‘your Father’s house’]?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (2:18-22)
- THE WAY | Thomas said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ (14:6-7)
- JUDGE OF EVIL | ‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (12:27-32)
- JUDGE WITH GOD EYES | [Jesus said], ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ [The man born blind whom Jesus healed] answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped [Jesus]. Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to [Jesus], ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus answered to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see’, your guilt remains. (9:35-41)
- JUDGE TO SAVE | And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who send me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.’ (12:44-50)
- JUDGEMENT FOR SOMETHING NEW | Jesus said to [Martha], ‘Your brother [Lazarus] will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (11:23-26)
Immanuel, God with us, judged for us and in his judgment putting an end to evil of this world and evil within us so that it will not be our end!
Judgment is a word that we need to know. A word whose weight we should not disrespect. A word that brings finality to evil and new life to you, me, our neighbors and all the nations! Jesus! Our new hope! I am judged, found wanting, purified and made holy and made new (Heb. 4:11-16)!
The weight of judgement purifies into conviction and conviction to repentance and repentance to a fruitful life of faith! Judgment means that the evil within us and the evil around us is not the last word! In Jesus our old self has an end but is not our end! Through Jesus in us, the evil of this world does not overcome but has been overcome. The last word spoken in history as we know it is Jesus—alpha and omega!
As we read through these pre-exile prophets, let us hear the warnings, feel the weight of judgement. Recognizing that it is not the final word, but that Jesus is! See him throughout in the hope of what God is promising to do in the story of our faith. Rejoicing to be ones who can see him for who he is!
So, when we receive communion, when we take the broken body of Jesus and shed blood of Jesus on our behalf we recognize judgment. That evil—within us and around us—has been judged, has been ended so that we do not have to be. Do you believe it?!
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Is 1:31–4:6). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Is 11). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.