Judgment and Mercy
In the recent Mummy movies, Brendan Frazier and Rachel Weisz battle Imhotep, a mummified high priest from ancient Egypt who is brought back to life by the reading of incantations from the Book of the Dead. In this sort of upside down naming of things, the Book of the Dead brings Imhotep back to life. And reading from the Book of Life sends him back to the netherworld.
Sometimes we wish there were a Book of the Dead we could read from to bring back to life a loved one who has died. We long to see them again. We long to be with them again.
Toward the end of the Book of Revelation in the Bible, there is a scene of judgment. "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books." (Revelation 20:12 NIV)
Books are opened, and the dead (that's all of us) are judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. These are the Books of Our Deeds. Nothing is missing. All the parts we wish could be left out are recorded. The good deeds will shine and the sinful, selfish deeds will embarrassingly show up.
The great hope of most modern people is that our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, we are deemed a "good person" and welcomed into heaven on the basis of the good life we have lived. And based on our often self-constructed scale of right and wrong, of good and evil, we come out just fine - at least in comparison to "real sinners" like gang members and drug dealers and child molesters.
But God's scale of justice is holy and perfect. Deeds are judged not just on the face of them, but by the motive behind them.
In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus says, "“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."
Wait. What? I'll be judged not just by what I've done but by what's in my heart? Could it be that on God's scale of justice that inner voice saying "What a jerk!" cancels out smiling and politely allowing that person who budges in the long line at the grocery to check out ahead of me? Perhaps from God's point of view we are not as good as the good people we believe ourselves to be.
That's sobering. I'm pretty sure having my life exposed by what's in the Books of Our Deeds is going to be uncomfortable and embarrassing. And in the end, my life (and yours) are going to fall short. We cannot earn a spot in heaven. Tainted by our sin nature, our best deeds are too often motivated by getting something for ourselves - approval from others or from God topping the list.
What are we to do? Should we look at death and judgment in terror of being found guilty and cast away from God?
Let's look at the verse from Revelation again: "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books."
There it is. There is our hope. There is the mercy of God that supersedes our fear of judgment. The Book of Life. Hear what the Bible claims about this Book of Life a couple of verses later: "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:14-15 NIV)
The thing that exposes our lives to the holy judgment of God is not the piling up of our good deeds. (A follower of Jesus does good deeds simply because we love Him and want to honor Him, not to win His approval.) The thing that exposes our lives to the holy judgment of God is our name not being found in the Book of Life!
When we give our lives to Him and Jesus takes us as His own, He records our name in the Book of Life. He does so because He loves us. He does so because He died to take the punishment of all the deeds recorded in the Book of Our Deeds. He redeems us from sin and death.
And so it is by faith in Jesus (by trusting Him and abandoning our lives to Him) that we are saved from the judgment of the Holy God whose just nature requires that every wrong be made right and every sin be either punished or nailed to the Cross of Jesus Christ.
I am not trusting in my own holiness - my own good life - to be able to stand in the presence of the Living God who is holy and just. I am trusting in His mercy, poured out on a Cross outside Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago when Jesus took my place and paid the price for sin. I will not escape judgment because I am good. I will escape judgment because Jesus already paid the price for every sin I have ever committed or will ever commit. I will be delivered from judgment because I am His.
So you see, there really is a Book of Life that delivers a person from death to life. Reading from it cannot bring a deceased loved one back to life. That is not the way it works. But our names being recorded in the Book of Life means we will join our loved ones in heaven with Him some day. We will see them again and be reunited with them!
And the things that are being written in the Books of Our Deeds? Well, out of gratitude and love for the One who wrote my name in His book, I seek to fill those books with good deeds that bring glory to Jesus, not to me.
If you would like to know how to meet Jesus and find assurance that your name is written in the Book of Life, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And join us in seeking Jesus through worship via Facebook Live at 8:00 (with hymns) or 9:30 (with praise music) on Sundays. Or if you live near Dayton, Indiana, you can join us in person at 8:00, 9:30 or 11:00. We would love to welcome you and seek Jesus together with you.