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Death, Judgment and the Hope of the Gospel

Death is a fact of life that all of us must face, but what happens after death? Is it possible to face death without fear? Is death something some people ought to fear? These are questions I suspect every person has thought about at one time or another. I would like to ask you to consider a text from the Bible with me that addresses some of these questions. The text is Hebrews 9:27-28. There God's Word says: "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation." There are three truths or realities referred to in this text that are very important for everyone to understand.

First, there is the reality of death. "It is appointed for men once to die." Unless Christ returns first, every one of us is going to die. The Bible is very clear that death is certain, and experience confirms this. Look at the world around us; look at human history. What do you find? Every person who is born into this world eventually dies. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second, you and I are moving closer and closer to death; and it may be closer than we realize, because your life or mine could end at any moment. Ultimately, there is nothing we can do to avoid it. However we may wish to try, and however we may wish not to think about it, we need to think about it! Because death is a fact, and it's a reality everyone must face.

Second, the text points us to the reality of the judgment to come. "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." Death is not the end. For after death, there is the judgment. The Bible teaches that we must stand before God to give an account for our lives. We are reminded by this that there is a Holy God and that He is our Creator and Judge.

Have you noticed how people sometimes try create their own gods? Usually they like to think of God as One who is nothing but a kind of soft teddy bear who always smiles upon us no matter what we do. He's kind of like a big Santa Claus who only exists to make us happy. There's no sense of justice in this type of god, no righteousness. We don't really need to live pure and holy lives. God always forgives no matter what; that's this god's job, you see; and of course, everybody will go to heaven in the end.

This is not an accurate picture of God. It is true that God is a God of love. He is a God who is full of love and kindness, but what kind of love is it that cares nothing for holiness, justice and truth? A love that is not grieved and angry at everything that is contrary to love and destroys love is not true love. The fact is God has so made us that deep inside we all know better.

Yes, it is true that God is a God of great love and mercy but never at the expense of His justice and righteousness, and He has given us His law to direct us how we are to live and to glorify Him.

"I am the Lord your God...you shall have no other gods before Me; you shall not make for yourself any carved image. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, honor your father and your mother, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal."

Also, there is the tenth commandment: "You shall not covet," which means you're not even to desire to sin. According to God's Word, simply to desire to sin is itself sin. This should be obvious because such desire reveals a sinful heart even when it doesn't break out into the action. "As a man thinks in his heart so is he," the Bible says. "Man looks upon the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart." The essence of all that God commands is summarized in those two greatest commandments, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." In God's eyes anything less is sin. God has said the soul that sins shall die. The wages of sin is death, and the reference is not merely to physical death but eternal death and torment in a place the Bible calls hell. For God not only commands us to keep His law; He has told us those who do not do so must be punished. You see, though God is a God of love and mercy, He is a God who delights in mercy, yet the forgiveness of sin is not an easy thing for Him to do. Because He is the righteous God that He is, He only can forgive sin in a way that is righteous, in a way that upholds justice. Otherwise, He ceases to be God, and the entire universe is thrown into moral chaos and confusion.

So there is a day of judgment coming for all of us. We can't escape it. We may try not to think about it. You may try to ignore the warnings of your conscience and pretend all is well, but nothing you can do ever will change the fact: "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment."

Now if that's all there is to say, there would be no hope for anyone. For none of us can stand before God on that day on our merits. Scripture says, "There is none righteous, no not one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." If death and judgment are the end of the story, every one of us would be doomed; but there's another truth in our text that I draw your attention to, and it's this:

Third, God has provided a way of salvation in Jesus Christ for those who repent and put their trust in Him: "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many." Jesus Christ, God the Son Himself, came to this earth sent by God the Father. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." Our text, as well as the rest of Scripture, tells us that in His death He was bearing the sins of many. He was bearing the sins of all who turn from their own way and look to Him by faith for mercy.

What does that mean that He was bearing their sins? It means that on the cross, Jesus was dying as the sinners' substitute. He was dying in the place of sinners. He was receiving from the hand of the Father the punishment that we deserve. The justice of God was satisfied when His own dear Son was punished in our place, and God declared that His sacrifice was sufficient and accepted by raising Him from the dead. Now the resurrected Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory as Lord of all and by His Word; and through the preaching of the gospel, He is calling sinners—men, women and children—to turn to Him and be saved. When they come to Him in faith, putting their trust in Him alone for salvation, all their sins are forgiven and they are accepted by God. Furthermore, He also gives them new hearts by which He enables them to begin to live new lives. The most wonderful thing of all is that this salvation is a free gift. Scripture says, "By grace we are saved through faith in Christ; and that not ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast." Think about this: It is the gift of God. This salvation is a wonderful free gift to be received by faith when a sinner puts his or her trust in Jesus. That's why it's called the gospel. Do you know what the word gospel means? It means "good news, glad tidings of great joy"!

Yes, "it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment"; but Christ Jesus came to bear the sins of many. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and He is willing and able to save you; but you must be willing to stop going your own rebellious self-directed way and entrust your soul and life into the hands of Jesus Christ. By nature, our sinful hearts don't want to do that. We desire to be our own gods and to control our own lives, but Christ can give you a new heart. He can make you willing to come to Him. Perhaps He is doing that now. You only know He has when you truly come to Him and receive Him as your Lord and Savior. He has promised that anyone who comes to Him He will in no way cast out. It is my prayer that you will seek the Lord while He may be found. His ear is open to sinners who cry to Him for mercy.

Jeffery Smith has been a full-time pastor since 1990. He began ministering in Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Easley, S.C., as a church plant in 1994. He holds a B.A. in Religion from Gardner-Webb College and an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He serves on the faculty of Reformed Baptist Seminary and as a contributor to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review. He and his wife, Kelly, have five children, three boys and two girls. The first two born in 1991 (twins) and the last in 2003. As of September 2009, Pastor Smith accepted the responsibilities of pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coconut Creek, Fla., where he presently labors. 

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