God’s Judgment Is a Mighty Act of Salvation
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 28 C Psalm 98
November 13, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear peoples to be judged,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Don’t judge me!” you often hear people say. Well, there are some times when we do, in fact, want to be judged. If you are attempting a world record achievement, whether it be for lifting the heaviest weight, running the fastest race, or eating the most hot dogs, you want a judge to be there to judge you so that there is no disputing that you have won the title. At sporting events we have referees and umpires and officials judging in order that you are not cheated and to declare a winner. At music festivals and competitions there are judges and adjudicators to give due reward and recognition to achievement.
Even within the civil, legal, judicial system, there are times when we want to be judged. We want to have our day in court. We want all the evidence to be laid out and an undisputed, authoritative declaration to state clearly and unequivocally that we are innocent of all charges and the case is closed. My dear listeners. This is what Jesus wants to do for you when He comes to judge the living and the dead.
When God comes to execute His judgment, He does so in awesome and marvellous ways. When He judged Egypt for holding His people in slavery for 400 years, He executed His judgment upon them in ten awe-ful plagues: some of which we might say were nasty (flies and frogs and gnats and boils); and some that were truly terrifying (water turned to blood, fiery hail, darkness, and the death of the firstborn in every family).
When Pharaoh refused to accept God’s judgment and pursued the children of Israel to the Red Sea, God’s awesome judgment parted the waters to bring His people safely through, and closed them up again to drown the Egyptian army so that the dead bodies washed up on the shore—a terrible and terrifying sight of God’s saving judgment, which led Moses and the people to break out in song with tambourines and dancing (Exodus 1-15). “I will sing unto the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:1). Apparently we can sing and dance even when God comes in judgment because He works His mighty acts of salvation in marvellous ways.
Even when God brings judgment on His own people, they can rejoice. Isaiah prophesied about the Babylonians coming and taking God’s people away into captivity as punishment for their unfaithfulness to Him. But in and among those prophesies Isaiah also spoke about there being a fitting end to God’s judgmental discipline and a time when He would lead His people back home. The city of Jerusalem that had been emptied and torn down would be rebuilt and filled once again, not only because God had judged that there be a determined end to His people’s exile, but also so that Babylon and all other nations would see how God’s judgment brings salvation to His people.
And so, just like Moses and Miriam led the singing by the Red Sea, Isaiah bids the people of Jerusalem to sing. “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:9-10).
Yes, we can sing and dance even when God comes in judgment upon us. There will be a gracious end to His punitive judgment for those who look to Him with faith in His gracious acts of salvation, His mighty and marvellous deeds for His people.
We do sing. We sing along with Moses and the people who were at the Red Sea. We sing along with Isaiah and the exiles and those who returned. They sing now before the heavenly throne in praise of God’s judgment which brought them salvation. We join with them in songs and hymns and psalms like our psalm for today. We sing Psalm 98 toward the end of the church year, a psalm of joyous praise before the LORD “for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9).
We also sing this same psalm at Christmas. It is the basis for one of our favourite Christmas carols, Joy to the World. At Christmas we praise God for that mighty and marvellous act of judgment when He sent His Son into the world. When the good news was announced to Mary, she replied with a song praising the LORD for His judgment. Her soul magnified the LORD because “He scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51-52).
God’s judgment is gracious and is welcomed by those who humbly look to Him for salvation. Not only was the humble maiden Mary exalted to become the mother of God, but all of fallen humanity was exalted when God took our human nature upon Himself. That in itself is a judgment proclaimed by God, that He has declared humanity to be the beneficiary of His grace, mercy, and love.
When God has stepped in as judge with mighty and marvellous acts of judgment for the sake of His people, the Scriptures describe it as God baring His mighty and holy arm. He rolls up His sleeves for the job. We roll up our sleeves when we want freedom of movement to chop wood, or when we don’t want to get our clothes dirty unclogging a drain. But God rolls up His sleeves for a different purpose. I dare say that is more like a body builder who wants to show off his biceps and triceps. God wants everyone to look at Him, but not in an egocentric, prideful way. He wants everyone to see that He has the strength, might, and power to save them.
Mary’s song says, “He has shown strength with His arm” (Luke 1:51). Isaiah said, “The LORD has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10). Moses sang, “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy” (Exodus 15:6). And we sang with them, “His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him” (Psalm 98:1).
On Friday, before going into the funeral service for Pastor Frank Silver, I sat in the church parking lot and listened to a little bit of the Remembrance Day ceremony broadcast from Ottawa. You could hear the booming sound of the heavy guns being fired in salute. You could hear the roar of the fighter planes doing their fly-by overheard. Those are demonstrations of the mighty arm of our nation’s military, their armaments. But perhaps what gives us more confidence and hope (a baring of a holy arm) is the presence of the veterans. When the military pass by in a civil parade they like to have a tank or a gun carrier, but what inspires the crowd even more is when the veterans parade by, showing the bare arm of our nation, those who may not have bulging muscles but a will and inner strength to fight for their people, to fight for justice for us.
In mighty acts of judgment God bears His holy arm for the nations to see. Not only do they see the power that parted the sea, they also see the mighty heart of God who brought His people back from captivity and who became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that with bared arms outstretched upon the cross He might carry out God’s judgment in an awe-ful, terrible, yet wonderful and marvellous act of salvation.
These acts of salvation show all nations the Lord’s righteousness, mercy, and faithfulness. These acts of salvation show us who our God is and what He has done for us in order to judge justly and have that judgment be the source of our salvation. Our God is righteous in that He judges to apply the right punishment to the crime. Nothing is swept under the rug. There is no bribery. There is no favouritism. He judges with equity. Every debt is paid. Every restitution is made. Every sin is punished.
And yet there is mercy in His judgment—undeserved, unmerited—to unworthy sinners. In God’s judgment there is mercy for those who humbly confess their sins, not because those sins can then be ignored, but because God Himself has already paid for them. His Son has suffered the punishment for them in our stead. In a marvellous and terrible judgment Jesus Christ suffered death and separation from God upon the cross.
In righteousness God’s judgment is: that the sins of the whole world have been covered in the death and resurrection of His Son. His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death is more than enough to pay for everything you have done and everything that your loved ones have done and everything that your enemies have done. In mercy God’s judgment is that all who look to Him for forgiveness and salvation have it in abundance.
In His judgment there is also faithfulness. He is faithful to His own Word. He doesn’t go back on what He has stated or promised. His Law remains in full effect and He is true to it. It is reliable and we have a solid basis for knowing what are the good and right things for us to do and where we have failed to do them. We can be fully aware of our need for His mercy and grace, and that also comes with His faithfulness. He is faithful to forgive whenever we turn to Him in repentance. His grace is as reliable as His holy Law. In fact, as we have seen, you cannot separate His judgment from the salvation that He brings. They come together in Christ and they come to us in Him.
That is why we sing and dance even over the coming judgment of God. We sing because He has made known His salvation. He has revealed His righteousness. He has remembered His steadfast love. We break forth into joyous song and sing praises. The sea roars. The rivers clap their hands. The hills sing for joy because “He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” We praise Him along with the heavenly host and heaven and nature sing. Creation joins in, as we noted in last week’s Psalm (148).
So although it may still strike us as strange and difficult to comprehend, after Jesus gives such a long list of disastrous things that will take place as the last day approaches—nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom; earthquakes, famines and pestilences; terrors and signs in sun, moon, and stars; the roaring of the sea and the waves; people fainting with fear and with foreboding on what is coming on the world—His concluding words of relief and joy are are to take notice that God is baring His holy arm. “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:10-11, 25-28). God’s judgment is a mighty act of salvation for you.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.