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Controlled Burn


“…each man’s work will become evident;
for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire;
and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”

1 Corinthians 3:13

In the days of the pioneers, when men saw that a prairie fire was coming, do you know what they would do? Since not even the fastest of horses couldn’t outrun it, the pioneers would take a match and burn the grass in a designated area around them – controlled burn.   Then they would take their stand in the burned area and be safe from the threatening fire. As the roar of the flames approached, they would not be afraid. Even as the ocean of fire surged around them there was no fear, because fire  had  already  passed  over  the  place where they stood.

We are told in the scriptures that a day of reckoning is coming. This Day of Judgment has been appointed by God (Acts 17:31). It is a day when not only the fallen angels will be judged (2 Peter 2:4), but all people that have lived upon the earth will appear before the judgment seat of God to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds. It is a time for receiving “reward”, a time during which each person will receive according to what he has done in his body, whether it be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

The reality of divine judgment is a fact set out clearly on page after page of Bible history…Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden…the flood during Noah’s day…Sodom and Gomorrah…Nadab  and  Abihu…Korah,  Dathan,  and  Abiram…Achan…unfaithful  Israel (the Northern Kingdom) taken into captivity by the Assyrian armies…Judah (the Southern Kingdom) swallowed by Babylon…the Jewish people rejecting Christ…Ananias and Sapphira…and it goes on…

It’s standard fare to think of God in the Old Testament as the God of wrath and judgment. There are those who tell us that God in the New Testament is a God of love, but all you have to do is read a few pages of your Bible beginning in the chapters after Malachi and you will find at once that the Old Testament emphasis on God’s action as Judge, are not diminished, but are actually intensified.

The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment. We
find  that  Jesus  Christ,  ‘the  righteous  judge’ (2 Timothy 4:8) is the one who has been designated by God to execute judgment (Romans 2:16, John 5:22ff). Jesus of the New Testament, is Savior and also Judge!

What is involved in the idea of the Father, or Jesus, being a judge?

 J. I. Packer in his book Knowing God  lists four thoughts that must be considered…

1) The judge is a person with authority. God is our Maker.  He owns us.  As our Owner, He has a right to dispose of us as He wishes. He has a right to make laws for us and to reward us according to whether or not we keep those laws. He is both the Lawgiver and the Judge.

2) The judge is a person identified with what is good and right. We have this modern idea that a judge should be cold and dispassionate, but the biblical judge is expected to love justice and fair play. He hates all ill-treatment of man by his fellow-man. God loves righteousness and hates sin. He is “wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” He can be no other way. It is because He is the God of Love that he must be the God of Judgment.

3) The judge is a person of wisdom, to discern truth. In biblical terms the judicial system has no jury! “It is the judge’s first task to ascertain the facts in the case that is before him. It is his responsibility and his alone, to question, and cross-examine, and detect lies and pierce through evasions and establish how matters really stand. When the Bible pictures God judging, it emphasizes His omniscience and wisdom as the searcher of hearts and the finder of facts. Nothing can escape Him. We may fool men, but we cannot fool God. He knows us, and judges us, as we really are (Packer, p. 128).” This judgment is according to factual as well as moral truth.

4) The judge is a person of power, to execute sentence. The modern judge by way of the jury’s  finding  only  pronounces  the  sentence.  Another  department  of  the  judicial  system executes  that  sentence.  “The  same  was  true  in  the  ancient  world.  But  God  is  His  own executioner. As he legislates, and sentences, so He punishes. All judicial functions coalesce in Him (Packer, p. 129).”

The reality of divine judgment must have a direct effect on our view of life. Leon Morris in his book  The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment puts it this way…

“The doctrine of final judgment…stresses man’s accountability and the certainty that justice will finally triumph over all the wrongs which are part and parcel of life here and now. The former gives a dignity to the humblest action, the latter brings calmness and assurance to those in the thick of the battle. This doctrine gives meaning to life…The Christian view of judgment means that history moves to a goal…Judgment protects the idea of the triumph of God and of good. It is unthinkable that the present conflict between good and evil should last throughout eternity. Judgment means that evil will be disposed of authoritatively, decisively, finally. Judgment means that in the end God’s Will will be perfectly done.”

As in the days of the pioneers, the ‘prairie fire’ is coming. The day is coming when the quality of each man’s work will be tested by fire. Where have you taken your stand? The roar of the flames is approaching.

For godless men, this thought has frightening implications. But for those who have taken their stand in the place where God has already poured out his wrath upon sin – in that place of controlled burn –  that day will be filled with joy in knowing that ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

“While I draw this fleeting breath; When my eyelids close in death; When I soar through worlds unknown, See thee on thy judgment-throne; Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.”

Rock of Ages – a hymn by Augustus M. Toplady, 1776

Blessings and Peace to You all,

Pastor Mark

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