I grew up in the 1950’s in the Deep South and enjoyed a largely-idyllic childhood that now seems a world apart. In the summertime, we played yard softball, explored in the woods and swam in the creek. Every night for two special weeks, we also attended a “Gospel Meeting” conducted under a big tent with sawdust floors. There we sang from floppy, paperback Stamps-Baxter hymnals and fought back the heat with cardboard hand fans usually bearing the advertisement of a local funeral home. Heaven intersected earth in those meetings as visiting evangelists warned of inevitable death and imminent judgment. The sermon always ended with an “invitation” — a fervent exhortation to get right with God while there was still time and opportunity — followed by an “invitation song” that often brought chill bumps to youths of receptive minds and tender consciences.
Not uncommonly, the preacher drove home the urgency of the occasion with the words of Hebrews 9:27 from the King James Version: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” The point was clear. “Life is short. Death is sure. Judgment is certain.” I thank God for such a childhood, for those spiritual experiences and for their permanent contribution to my life. I also thank God that he later revealed to me the far richer meaning of Hebrews 9:27 along with the following verse which completes the sentence. Far more than a warning of certain judgment, this Scripture passage is actually a word of assurance, a gospel proclamation full of comfort and assurance and hope.
Just as mankind is appointed to live once, die once and be judged, this unknown Scripture author tells us, so Jesus Christ also lived one life, died one death and faced God’s scrutiny in judgment. But because Jesus lived and died as the representative for all his people, his life and death count for those who trust in him. The outcome of our judgment is therefore certain, for Jesus is already at God’s right hand in glory — and he is our representative!
This joyful news is the theme of a 17-page booklet I published in 1978 titled One Life, Death and Judgment. It could accurately be styled “The Gospel in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” for that is what it really is. The booklet has long been out of print but its message remains as fresh as this morning and now free on my website. The author of Hebrews urges us to “consider Jesus,” our representative and Savior. I invite you to join me in doing that for a few minutes by clicking here.