Stand Before Jesus
If you’ll open your Bibles to 2 Corinthians, the 5th chapter. As you’re opening there, I want to share with you that even studying this week brings back to me one of the most vivid memories I have of an event that took place 25 years ago as a young boy. I remember my father dragging me out of my sleeping bag somewhere in northern Canada, about 3:45 in the morning. I remember getting up, having slept in my clothes. It was dark, it was damp, you know how heavy the dews are up there in the early summer, late spring. I remember climbing into this cold canoe. We had walked there having backpacked in, as a young lad, with my intrepid exploring father. We were finally on a great northern Canadian lake at 4:00 AM to catch Muskie’s, Walleyes, and Pike. I remember wondering, why was I there. I was cold. I was wet from stepping in the water. I couldn’t move in the canoe because it would scare the fish away. I remember very coldly putting my chin on the edge of that canoe and looking off across the black water and waiting.
What happened in the moments that followed are so deeply etched in my mind. As I looked across that black water and as the moments passed, finally the first light of dawn came. That little red disk of the sun began rising up across the horizon. Those rays of light pierced through the darkness of that lake and came all the way to our canoe. In that moment, and for the next five or 10 minutes, I saw an imaginary world, which every morning occurs on a cold lake as those warm rays cross the cold water, and as the mist rises up. In that moment of heat and cold meeting, there is a little turbulence. As I watched dawn breaking, a dream world of castles and mountains and valleys as the wisps of vapor were rising, swirling, and making all different forms.
For a while I forgot I was cold. For a while I forgot that I was supposed to be quiet. I could see that mist rising from the lake and making all those forms. Just when I had it all figured out, it evaporated as the warmth caused the condensation and the swirling mist to settle back down into the lake.
The apostle uses a very similar word in the 10th verse of 2 Corinthians 5. It’s the very last word of the verse. As I was studying this week, and as I looked into the various translations of this word, bad, one of the commentators and also one of the lexicons said, this word is the word used for the rising mist of a cool lake on a warm summer morning. mists I thought of those rising miss 25 years ago, vividly etched in my mind, as I saw a whole city before my eyes evaporate to nothing because of the heat. I think of what Paul says in this 10th verse, that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good,” or if you want to put that last word instead of bad, good for nothing. There’s a day coming, and I wish for you to join me briefly as Paul introduces us to the judgment seat of Christ.
Just two facets for us to consider this morning. Verse 9, we have an ambition that is consuming. If we want to be prepared for the judgment seat of Christ, Paul said, have one ambition that consumes your hearts, and minds, and lives, and time, and energy, and resources. Finally, verse 10, he notes for us that we have an appointment that we mustn’t miss. It’s an appointment that is constraining. The first word in verse 9 that’s interesting for us to note about this ambition where to live by as the apostle says, “Therefore we also have as our ambition.” He is telling us that we are to be by honor alone, activated to a motivation of, and look at verse 9, “whether at home or absent.” That doesn’t mean whether you’re down here in North Kingstown or on the road. It’s talking about whether here at home or absent, we are to be pleasing to Him. It’s talking about whether or not we’re on the Earth or with the Lord. Actually, when we’re here on the Earth, we’re absent from His presence. When we’re here, we’re absent from our eternal lives. We are either here or in our heavenly home to be, and look at the last part of verse 9, this is to be our ambition, “to be pleasing to Him.” Isn’t it interesting that before he walks us up in front of the judgment seat of Christ, he says, whether you’re alive or in the presence of the Lord, while you’re alive and before he takes you, you and I are to have one singular ambition that carries us through life. What is that? “To be pleasing to Him.”
Paul spent his entire writing life writing no less than 13 New Testament epistles. All the way through them he uses the same weaving of ideas to prepare us for this day. Let me read to you from a very helpful book by Erich Sauer called In the Arena of Faith. In one brief paragraph, he pulls together all the different motifs and all the different analogies and word pictures that Paul uses to describe our lives on Earth.
“Is not the whole an astounding, many sided picture of the race and completion of the spiritual life? The arena of faith, the training, the self-control, the ruthless denial of self, the herald, the entrance to the race course, the different kinds of contests, the racing to the goal, the boxing, the wrestling, the rules of a combats, Christ as the umpire, the danger of being disqualified, the appearance of the victor before the exalted throne of the divine Judge on that great day of the distribution of prizes. It is out of His hands the victors will receive the wreath and the palm. The list of victors ‘the book of life,’ the triumphal entry into the homeland, the banquet (the marriage of the Lamb), the festival, the gifts, the place of honor. In fact, scarcely one essential feature of the whole course of games has escaped the writers of the New Testament and not employed in their figure of speech.”
In other words, the entire beautiful portrait of ancient Greek/ Roman civilization, as it centered around so much athletic competence. Much of the daily preparation for those grand games that all the people love to attend, the apostle draws from that imagery and distills it down. He says here, that we are all going to someday stand before the Judge’s raised seat. It’s not the judge in a criminal courtroom. It’s the judge as in the one who is going to hand out the rewards at the end of a great athletic endeavor. He said, we’re all going to stand there and we’re all going to have run a race. The only thing that’s going to be rewarded is verse 9, whether or not we have been pleasing to Him. In fact, Paul’s last words written. If you remember from 2 Timothy chapter 4, as he stood, “I fought the good fight, I finished the course.” “Henceforth there’s laid up for me the crown.” It’s amazing, those words he used, if you were to walk into the British Museum today, into the room called the Ephesian room, there’s a whole room up there of all the artifacts from Ephesus. The very first little tablet that they have brought back, that they have by the door as you walk in, has an inscription on it. Underneath is the translation of that inscription. This is from an arena in the 2nd century, in the ancient city of Ephesus. That arena as you’d walk in the arena, here’s what it says. He fought three fights and twice was crowned with wreaths. Let me read you what Paul said. I have fought agōnizomai agōnis. I’ve fought the fight, the same words. “I’ve finished the course.” “Henceforth there is laid up for me a wreath of righteous.” The exact same wording as found on the arenas of the ancient Roman competitions. Paul drew directly from what all the people could visualize of the runner, and the boxer, and those people involved in intense competition. He said, that’s what spiritual life is like for me.
In fact, the commentator McLaren says, the struggle for eternal things is so important that life becomes a mere trifle when compared to the eternal weight of our future. You say, it’s not trifle for me. It was hard for me to get up and get to church this morning. It was hard for me to get through this week. That’s true, but sometimes we have our focus down here and like Peter, we start sinking into the waves around us instead of looking up at where we’re truly headed and the fact that we have secondly, verse 10, an appointment that we mustn’t miss. We cannot miss because it’s constraining.
Let’s spend the rest of our time in verse 10. Let me describe to you the appointment that is constraining upon us. There are just six elements about it. I want to draw to your attention first of all, Paul said, “For we must all appear.” What’s the time of this? We know from the scripture that the time of this appointment we have is the day of Christ. The blessing hope of the Church, Titus 2:13, is the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ. We are to be constantly looking for the blessed hope and His glorious appearing. That blessed hope is connected not only with heavenly privileges, but with holy responsibilities, we are coming to the great and momentous moment of the day of Christ. I want to remind you that this judgment is not to be confused with three other judgments that are coming. The judgment seat of Christ has nothing to do with the judgment of Matthew 25 and 26 of the nations. That is the division of those that are left on the Earth after the tribulation, between those that believe and those that don’t. Nothing to do with that. It has nothing to do with the judgment of Israel. When the Lord Jesus Christ is going to, as it says in Ezekiel the He will finally sit and judge His people. It also has nothing to do with that great judgment so many of us have read about in Revelation chapter 20, which is the great and final great white judgment throne, of those who will be found to not be in the Lamb’s book of life. It’s not that, this is totally different. It’s the day of Christ. It’s the Bema seat. It’s the judgment of believers.
Secondly, not only the time is the day of Christ, but secondly the Judge is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Look at verse 10 again, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” The one who bought us, the one who paid a price for us, the one who suffered on our behalf is the one who is going to sit on that Bema seat. It’s a raised seat. In fact, again in the museums you can see them. They have been transported into the British Museum and into the Vatican Museum and other places around the world. These were raised diocese or raised pedestals where the governor or the judge would come walking up the back steps and would sit. Before him would stand those contestants, or if it was a military, or if it was a criminal court, the other people would stand before him. He would point out the one that was accused or the one that had won the award. That person would be elevated for all to see, either for shame, or for glory and honor. It’s the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the judge.
In 2 Timothy 4:8 Paul says, “The Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me…” In fact, also in John 5:22 Christ Himself said, that the Father has “committed all judgment unto the Son.” In Romans 14:10 Paul says, that it’s the judgment seat of God, as Christ sits in judgment for Him. We are going to appear before the Judge, Christ Himself. What’s the intensity of this? It says here, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed…” Keep your finger here and turn back to 1 Corinthians. There’s an intensity of this judgment that many of us perhaps have not meditated upon. Perhaps if we realized how intense it’s going to be, we would apply ourselves a bit more to holy living. Chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians in verse 12. “Now if anyone builds upon this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear, for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed with fire; and the fire will test each one’s work.” Very intense, it’s fire. “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
This is not just tinsel, and crate paper, and pom poms, and a great celebration. It’s a very intense moment. The intensity is compared to fire. Also, it says in Hebrews 10:30, “The LORD will judge His people.” 1 Corinthians 3:13, we just read, for that day will be revealed in fire. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 verses 10 and 11, that there is a terror of the Lord associated with it. There is an awareness that in one instant my whole life will be assayed, and will be tested, and refined by the fires of God. Those things which are, if you notice verse 12 of 1 Corinthians 3 where we’re looking at, those things which are imperishable. You notice what those are? Gold, silver, precious stones, that’s the contrast. Here are things that are precious and fireproof. Gold, silver, precious stones. Here are things that are non-precious, worthless practically, and are very, very prone to burning up. Wood, hay, stubble. It’s not that some people are woody Christians, and some people are silver Christians, and some people are gold Christians, but rather there are those that are laboring to build their lives out of something that is enduring. There are those who are endeavoring to pursue things that are transient. The intensity of that day will reveal. What’s interesting also is that it says in 1 Corinthians 3:15, that some will suffer loss. Not salvation loss, not judgment from God, but rather the awareness that everything that they have lived for was very temporal, very temporary, and it just all goes away. It’s gone because the day is intense, and the Lord will judge His people with fire.
While we’re in 1 Corinthians 3, go on down to the end of the chapter and start in the first verse of chapter 4. 1 Corinthians 4:1, the fourth aspect. Not only is the time, the day of Christ, and the Judge is Christ Himself, and the intensity is it’s going to be a day of fire testing our works, but the basis of the test is very, very unique. It’s faithfulness to what Christ commanded. Look at verse 1 of chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians. “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy,” or faithful. We have been left on this world with a sacred charge, with a sacred trust. Just as in the parables of our Lord, before He left, He talked about the leader of the home, the ruler that gave to each of his servants, a sacred charge, some talents, some responsibilities, and then he went off into a far country. Our Lord was here. He paid the price for our sins. He called us to Himself, and He left us on this Earth with a sacred charge, with a trust. He said, someday I’m going to come back and require that from you. I’m going to ask for the sum total of your life, your deeds, and your opportunities. Our Lords half-brother said this, James in his 4th chapter, the 17th verse, he said, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it’s sin.” That’s an example of something that will be burned up. An opportunity not taken, our responsibility not fulfilled, a person not ministered to, and a life not fully lived faithfully as a steward.
What really counts in this faithfulness test? In our works? Sacrifice counts. Remember, the Lord said it’s when you give out of sacrifice, when it costs us something. As David said, I’ll not give that to the Lord which costs me nothing. In our attitude it’s only when it’s a selfless love, our Lord says that we are supposed to love Him selflessly. We don’t put our offerings in the temple as they used to and make a big clanging sound so everyone will see it. It’s the widow’s mite that the Lord drew attention to, it’s the breaking of the bottle of nard over His feet, of the woman who was a sinner that Christ said will always be spoken of in the Church. It’s those type of things, works that were sacrificial, attitudes that are selfless.
Look at verse 5 of chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians. Chapter 4, verse 5. “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time.” What time? The time when God is going to pass judgement. “But wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives,” or motivations, “of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” What is the basis of our rewards? It’s God revealing the motive. Was it a sacrificial offering to Him of our time, of our talents, of our resources? Was it a selfless giving? God’s going to reveal that.
Let’s discuss those rewards. We need to press on to this. Back to 2 Corinthians chapter 5. I’m going to quickly list off for you the fifth aspect. We’ve seen the time as the day of Christ. We’ve seen the Judge is Jesus Christ Himself. He will be sitting there. He is going to intensely allow our lives to be tried with fire, to see what is lasting. The basis of that fire will consume upon is consuming away all that which is not sacrificial, all that which has been done for self, and not for selfless love to Christ. What is the reward going to be? It’s going to be the imperishable elements of what we’ve lived for in this world. Here in 2 Corinthians 5 it says, we are going to receive, “according to what he has done, whether good or bad,” verse 10.
That contrast of the lasting and that which will perish is all the way through the New Testament. Let me read to you a few of them. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts, the permanent with the temporary, he contrasts gain with loss, fireproof things with ashes. In Luke 19, our Lord taught a parable and He said, those that obey My Father will be great, those that do not obey My Father will be nothing in His kingdom. They’ll make it, but there is a great inequity between those who have obeyed and those who haven’t. Revelation 3:17, our Lord Jesus Christ says, labor to be rich and not poor, get true riches. In 1 Corinthians 9:27. Paul says I labor to be approved, not disqualified. I don’t want to run outside the line. He was talking about an athletic endeavor and he said, if you step out of your lane, you’ll be disqualified. He says, I want to live my life running down the lane that God has picked for me. In 1 John 4:17, he said, let’s have boldness when Christ comes, not as 1 John 2:28 says, some will be ashamed before Him at His coming. Do you see, that even among Christians there are those who will be bold, who will have fireproof lives, who have lived for that which is gain, who have lived for that which is great, and there are those whose lives will be reduced to nothing but ashes, whose lives will be reduced to loss, whose lives will be reduced to being ashamed before Him.
You say, does this have to do with our salvation? No. As sons of God, we get Christ’s life. Turn to the very last chapter of the Bible. I want to show you this because some people question this. The very end of the Bible, not quite the end, verse 12 of chapter 22 of Revelation, almost the end. As a son we have gotten Christ’s life, but once we get His life we enter into servanthood to Him. As a servant, we are someday going to get His recompense. Look at verse 12 of chapter 22 of Revelation. “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man, according to what he has done.” Those who have denied Christ, we know what’s going to be rendered to them, eternal destruction. To those who have claimed the name of Jesus Christ, He is going to render to them some very specific rewards and crowns. What are those? There are five of them listed in the scripture. There are five glorious rewards that He is going to pass out. I’m going to read to you the setting, and then I’ll read to you the crowns.
It says in Revelation 19, verse 6 at the end, if you want to turn back there, this is the setting when we’re going to be getting these rewards and the joy and the greatness of that hour. “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.” Verse 7, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said, ‘Don’t do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ “
What are those rewards we are someday going to get? There are five of them. The crown or wreath of incorruption, it says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25. In a race all run, but only one receives the prize. They do it to receive a corruptible one, but we an incorruptible one. I wonder, can we be crowned as a racer who won the race if we’re not running it? The Lord says we’re supposed to be running a race every day, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts.
The second crown is the wreath of rejoicing. It’s the soul winners crown, 1 Thessalonians 2:19. What is our hope or joy or wreath or crown of glory, you before our Lord Jesus Christ. Can one be crowned for turning many to righteousness who’s never turned one? That’s the questions that will be asked at this judgment seat.
There’s the third one, the wreath of glory, that’s 1 Peter 5:1-4. This is a special one. “The elders who are among you I exhort,” tend the flock of God. “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you’ll receive the wreath of glory.” can a disciple be rewarded for shepherding the flock of God who never did? It was a special calling to shepherd sheep, even in this assembly.
The fourth great reward is the wreath of righteousness, that’s 2 Timothy 4:7-8. “I’ve kept the faith,” Paul said. “Henceforth, there is laid up for me, the [wreath or] crown of righteousness.” “Not to me only.” Praise the Lord, others can have it too. “To all who have loved His appearing.” I ask the question, can the wreath of righteousness be given to him who never watched? There’s a special reward attached for those who get their eyes off from this Earth and are watching for Jesus Christ’s return. Anyone who chooses in their heart to be watchful and waiting, He will crown them with a faithful crown.
Finally, there’s the wreath of life, the crown of life. Those who are willing to suffer for Christ on Earth, in two places… Revelation 2 and in James 1 it says, blessed are those that endure temptation for when he has been approved, he shall receive the crown of life.
What a blessing to receive from Christ, a crown for being a rejoicing one, leading others to Christ, for running the race and staying within the bounds, for shepherding the flock, for keeping the faith and loving His appearing, and for never giving in but suffering for the cause of Christ.
Check Out All The Sermons In The Series
You can find all the sermons and short clips from this series, 52 Greatest Chapters In The Bible here
Looking To Study The Bible Like Dr. Barnett?
Dr. Barnett has curated an Amazon page with a large collection of resources he uses in his study of God’s Word. You can check it out here.