Saturday, January 02, 2021

Judas: What Hell May Be Like

Today, during my quiet time with God, I was struck by a prayer of the early Church. In it, they ask God to show them who should take on the role of apostle abandoned by Judas, who had betrayed Jesus: “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:24-25) 

I was especially hit by the last words in verse 25, which says the Church understood that Judas had turned aside from the apostolic office entrusted to him "to go to his own place."

This rendering of the passage comes from the English Standard Version. It is, I think, to be preferred to the New International Version translation, which says that Judas left the apostolic ministry "to go where he belongs." But the Greek in which Luke originally wrote his account of these events simply says that the Church prayed: "...ἀφ’ ἧς παρέβη Ἰούδας πορευθῆναι εἰς τὸν τόπον τὸν ἴδιον." 

A more literal rendering of those words would be: "from which Judas turned aside to go into his own place." 

The implication is not, as the NIV suggests, that Judas went to hell, although absent repentance and faith in Christ, that might be the case. Rather, the words in the original Greek show us that Judas went to "his own place," not just to the field he purchased with the money he was paid to betray Jesus, but a place apart from God and others.

In these days of necessary social isolation, those who live by themselves yearn for community, while those who are isolated with family members alone, may long for their own places apart. But all probably desire larger social connections. That's part of how we're made as human beings.

Judas had chosen isolation from the Church and the other apostles. He acted as a "free agent," whatever his motives may have been, to get Jesus arrested. 

After he saw what his betrayal brought about, he wanted to go to his own place, apart from either the confrontation or the consolation that God and Christ's Church might have given to him. 

This was a tragic decision born of Judas' unchallenged inborn sinful nature. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus' arrest and trial, yet had come back to God and the Church. The other apostles had run that night; they too had returned to fellowship. Whether because of guilt, shame, pride, or preference, Judas went off to his own place.

And this, I believe is what hell is like: A place where for all eternity, people dwell in a world of their own making, of separation from the consoling arms of God or the friendship of those who have trusted in God as revealed to us in Christ. 

Jesus says that hell will be a place in which there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth," that is, a place of constant regret that the outstretched hand of love and forgiveness of God that's offered to all in the crucified and risen Jesus was rejected; a place of eternal regret for those whose pride prevented them from confessing that, like the rest of the human race, they were sinners in need of the Savior Jesus.

We all know that in these days of COVID19, love of God and love of neighbor will require Christians to be significantly isolated from others. To prevent the spread of this deadly disease requires God to give us that fruit of the Spirit, self-control, that does not come naturally to us.

Nonetheless, we were made for loving fellowship with God and others, for honesty before God and humility and love for others.

In the days after he betrayed Jesus, Judas appears to have fallen into despair. Pride kept him from reconciliation with God and others. It's clear to me that he wasn't happy to be in his own place. Although we may all need our "alone times," over the long haul, life without God or God's people, the Church, isn't life. It's death.

Father, You are the Author of all life and You will to give it to all who turn to You in repentance and faith. Help me to turn to You each day, honestly confessing my sins and trusting You, for Jesus' sake, to forgive me, because I want to be with You forever. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen

Friday, January 01, 2021

Want to Read the Bible Each Day This Year?

 If you're interested in reading a bit of the Bible each day during 2021, there are lots of good reading plans out there.

The Navigators have three terrific plans, one of which will take you through just the New Testament in a year and two others that will take you through the entire Bible. Here is a link to their plans.
Another way to go about it is to use a chronological plan, one which takes you through the historical progression of Biblical events. I've just finished using a chronological plan for the second time. It's helpful for putting things in context, although sometimes I confess to "getting lost." Here you'll find a chronological Bible reading plan.
If you own a copy of The Lutheran Study Bible, the material in the front contains a two-year plan. You read shorter excerpts from several Biblical books each day, which is true of one of the Navigator plans mentioned above. If you'd like me to send you a copy of this plan, I'll be happy to do so.
Reading God's Word each day has been an important part of my life and I highly recommend it.
For help in getting the most out of reading God's Word each day, you might want to look at this message which I shared with our church a few years ago.

Why I Need God's Word Every Day

During my quiet time with God today, I was struck by its assurance that the person blessed by God is one  whose "whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night." (Psalm 1:2)

The Lutheran Study Bible emphasizes that the word translated as "law" in both strophes of this verse might just as readily be rendered as God's "instruction."

This seems the more likely translation to me. That's because God's Law, while showing us God's will for human beings, cannot save us from sin, death, and condemnation. The Law can only show us how far our inborn sin carries us from God and how desperately we need the forgiving grace given to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

It's far more likely that the word translated as "law" carries the meaning of the Hebrew word Torah, which means "the way of God." 

To contemplate God's way, or instruction is to consider God's whole Word, both the Law which condemns us for sin and the Gospel, the good news of new and everlasting life with God for all who repent and trust in Christ, God the Son, as their Savior. 

So, why do we need to meditate on God's truth--Law and Gospel--day and night?

Martin Luther famously said, "We need to hear the Gospel every daybecause we forget it every day." 

I think that Luther is right. I get caught up in the living of life and the fulfilling of my daily responsibilities and am at risk of developing what I've previously called spiritual amnesia

I forget God's perfect Law, become proud, and think I'm a righteous person whose goodness earns me a place with God until I remember that whatever good is actually present in my daily life comes from God, not me. God's Word says that my supposedly righteous acts are nothing but "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). 

But I also forget the Gospel about the perfectly righteous Savior Jesus Who died and rose for imperfect people like me. This leads me to despair over my unworthiness and unrighteousness as I understand that I could never be good enough to merit God's forgiveness and life with God. Whether in worship where we receive the Word and the Sacraments, or in daily quiet times in God's Word, or in considering the Scriptures with our friends, families, spouses, or small groups, we need to see Jesus lifted up before us "that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14)

My prayer: Father, help me today to meditate on and delight in Your instruction so that through Christ and His death and resurrection, I will acknowledge all my sin and receive all Your forgiveness. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen

Monday, December 28, 2020