A Crime Against the Lord

Do you think that, were you to die and stand before God right now, he would welcome you to heaven or send you to hell? When that question is asked, most people who acknowledge the truth of God’s existence say that they hope for heaven. But if you ask them by what standard they expect heaven, they have no biblical answer. In most cases, they look to whether or not they believe themselves guilty of a damnable offense.

One of our greatest problems in relating to God is our inability to really understand what is offensive to the Lord. Yes, the Lord has shown us this in his word, but we are so very dull. Obviously we grasp that some things are wrong. There are things that nearly any human being would agree are evil. WE do not like to see other people hurt. We agree that things like theft and assault are wrong. We agree that murder is wrong.

The thing that is very difficult for the people of our world to imagine is that God would judge a person, eternally judge a person, based on issues of faith. It is an unwelcome idea in the world to suggest a person would be lost based on a refusal to believe in Jesus. Such a doctrine is seen as bigoted, closed-minded, and unsophisticated. A person will ask, “Are you telling me that I’m going to hell if I do not believe what you believe?”

When we are faced with the world’s scorn for suggesting that faith or lack thereof is the measure of salvation, we have one of two choices. WE can either compromise by ignoring the word of God, or we can allow the word of God to show us the truth. God has always judged men and women based on more than their participation in what we consider to be major evils. God also judges based on our hearts. And God sees a lack of faith in him as a damnable offense.

Zephaniah 1:12

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do ill.’

Notice whom God will judge in this passage. It is not that God says he will search Jerusalem for the vilest offenders only. HE is not simply after the murderers, rapists, and the like. For sure, those will face God’s judgment. But God is here telling his people that he will judge the men who are simply complacent about him. God’s judgment will fall on those who simply assume that God is a non-factor.

While I have no reason to try to justify the judgments of the Lord—he is absolutely perfect, after all—I will make a simple point here. God is the Creator. God is the Lord over the universe and beyond. God fashioned this universe for his glory. God created people in his image to acknowledge his lordship. It is an evil thing for a person, who has the responsibility to worship the Lord, to instead refuse to acknowledge him. God is not petty. God’s purposes are perfect. And to refuse him that for which you were created is to rebel against him deeply.

So, will a person be judged by God for something as seemingly trivial as not believing? Absolutely they will. This is because what seems trivial to fallen man is not at all trivial. God is our Creator. He created all things for his glory. He has every right to demand our allegiance. If we refuse him that allegiance, he has every right to judge us for that offense.

And before being offended about this concept, remember that the Lord has also given a global command. All people everywhere are commanded by God to turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ to be saved. Will you obey God’s call? Will you yield to the Lord who made you? If so, praise God, you will be saved. If not, do not be surprised that you will face the judgment of the God you refuse.

Let’s Talk Judgment

One of the worst human follies is to allow yourself to believe that present actions have no future or eternal ramifications. To live so much in the here and now as to pretend that there is no future, no tomorrow, no forever is a deadly thing. And this is an error that has gripped people through the generations.

In Isaiah’s day, he promised the judgment of God on a rebellious people.

Isaiah 26:20—21 – 20 Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. 21 For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.

In these verses, God calls on his people to hide while his judgment falls on the land around them. It is a simple picture of God protecting and preserving his own while he allows his justice to rain down on those around them. This happened in Egypt, when God preserved the Hebrews in Goshen but let judgment fall on the Egyptians.

What got my attention when I read this was the wording of the end of verse 21, “and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.” Part of the judgment of God on the people of the land is that he will not allow the earth to hide the sin of the people. The earth itself will disclose the blood shed on it.

Friends, we are total fools if we assume that we can sin in secret and not have the Lord know. We are fools if we believe that the Lord will allow any sin to go unpunished. And we are fools if we believe that a nation will stand under the favor of God when it is full of innocent blood shed by evil men.

Just imagine if, in our own nation, the land was to reveal all the innocent blood shed by people who assumed they were getting away with something. The blood of all the brutalized slaves would be seen. All the blood of innocent babies slain in the womb would cry out against us. The blood of the lives of those who have been consumed by our entertainment industries would stand out against us. The blood of trafficked women and children would serve as testimony against us.

Our nation has a history of many great things, but we would be fools to pretend that our nation does not also have a great deal for which to answer to the Lord. And we are fools if we believe that the Lord will not call the nation to account. The land will show what we have been. The Lord is just and must rightly punish sin, all sin, every sin.

Christians, take note. Our only way of escaping the judgment of God is found in faith in Christ and repentance from sin. All who are in Christ have our sin punished, not in ourselves, but in the Savior who died as a sacrificial substitute. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, took the wrath of God upon himself for every sin the forgiven ever commit. Our hope has never been in the idea that God will allow sin to go unchecked. Our hope is in the fact that the justice of God for our sin has already been done.

But for all not in Christ, the judgment of God is quite real and quite personal. You see, for all who refuse God’s grace in Jesus, there is only one alternative. All who refuse the grace of God and the Lordship of Christ will stand before the bar of God’s justice and receive for themselves the due penalty for sinning against the Holy God who made us. That judgment is infinite in scope, as to sin against the infinitely holy God is an infinite crime. And this is not limited only to individuals. Every nation that opposes the Lord and his ways will face the right judgment of the Almighty.

Our only hope as a nation is to receive the grace of God. As individuals, we are guilty. As a nation, we are guilty. The solution to our problem begins with the spread of the gospel. As individual after individual begins to receive the grace of God in Christ, as family after family comes under the influence of Scripture, then and only then might our nation turn from its rebellion against the Lord before it is too late.

Friends, may we as individuals and we as a nation turn to the Lord to seek his mercy. God is just. Jesus is our only hope. To ignore the coming justice of God is folly.

Hope or Vanity

Is it worth it to follow God? That was the question that I asked in a message on Malachi 3:13-4:3. You see, at the end of Malachi 3, we saw that there were some people who were claiming that following God was vain, useless, worthless. Why? They were upset that it looked like good people were not being rewarded by God and bad people were not being judged by God. And these folks believed that, if God was not making their lives better, God was not worth following.

The answer in Malachi from God was one of eternal perspective. God said that a day was to come when he would make it clear who had been his follower and who had not. In 4:1-3, God talked about the day of the Lord, a day of coming judgment and reward. God promised he will do justice. God promised he will reward those who have honored and feared him.

But what about the New Testament? Are we to think like Malachi? Or are we who are in the New Covenant to expect that things are different today? Should we assume that, regardless of what happens after we die, we get our best lives now?

In my reading through 1 Corinthians, I was reminded that Paul preached a nearly identical message to Malachi. Take a look.

1 Corinthians 15:19 – If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

When Paul faced those who were denying the concept of the resurrection, both that of Jesus and the future resurrection of all believers, he said this is a big deal. In fact, Paul points out that hope in this life alone would be vanity for the Christian. It is meaningless to live for this life and not for the one to come. No matter how good we may or may not get things now, hope in this life alone would make us of all people most to be pitied.

Malachi acknowledged that life is hard in the here and now. But he said that following God was worth it for the hope of eternity. Is that Paul’s message too?

1 Corinthians 15:58 – Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Paul says that we can know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. How? If you look back over the chapter, you will see that Paul pointed to the day of Christ’s return. Paul pointed to Jesus raising the dead, giving all believers new, eternal, resurrection bodies, and completing the arrival of his kingdom. Paul pointed to what will come in eternity future, and he said that it is because of that hope that we can know, in a hard here and now, that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Following God is worth it. Sometimes it is a real joy in the here and now. Sometimes it is really hard with joy deep down holding us together. But in the light of eternity, in the light of the judgment, in the light of Christ’s return, we can know that it is truly worth it to follow and obey Jesus, to honor and fear the Lord. That message did not change from Old Testament to New. So, let us set our minds and hearts on the eternity to come which proves to us that laboring in the Lord today is worth it.

Remember the Lord Early in Life

One mistake that people sometimes make is to assume that we have a good deal of time before we need to consider the things of God. After all, when we are young, are we not supposed to be thinking about other things? People assume that, once they are old and gray, they will be able to do the religious thing.

But the wisest man of the Old Testament gives us a significant warning not to wait. Solomon tells us to remember the Lord long before we expect our lives to take a turn toward the cemetery.

Ecclesiastes 12:1 – Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;

For the first eleven chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon has shown us just how messed up life can be. Nasty people get rich and have all they want. Kind people suffer. Whether a person is good or bad, the grave awaits them both. And thus, if one estimates the value of morality from a naturalistic bent, all is vanity.

But here, Solomon is drawing to a conclusion. And one of his final pieces of counsel is that we should remember the Lord when we are young. Then, from verses 2-9, Solomon describes the hardships people face in aging. He suggests you be right with God before your vision and hearing go, before your legs get trembly, your teeth get weak, and your sexual desire wanes. Solomon is telling us to be right with our Creator before we die, and since we do not know when that will be, we should start young.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

While we might think that life seems meaningless and unfair, God has assured us of this: he will bring all into judgment. There is no sin that will ever go unpunished. There is no wrong that will not be righted, no justice that will go unsettled.

How? God is just and holy. Jesus died as a substitute to suffer God’s wrath for all he will forgive and to transfer to the forgiven God’s righteousness. Thus, your sin will be punished. Either God will punish you for your sin, or he has punished Jesus for your sin. If he punishes you for your sin, his infinite wrath will be poured out on you. You cannot survive that. But Jesus, God in the flesh, could take our punishment, satisfy God’s justice, and rise from the grave.

Solomon tells us to get right with our Creator while we are young. Before you get old, before you lose pleasure in life, before your mind is cluttered, remember your God. He is a righteous judge who has offered you grace in Jesus. Rejoice in that gracious justice and surrender to Jesus before it is too late.

Speaking the Gospel Before the Powerful

How would you speak the truth of the gospel if you knew you were in danger? What would you say if you stood before someone who could hurt you but who gave you an opportunity to share openly? Would you be careful not to offend?

The apostle Paul found himself in a very curious position in Acts 24. After being unfairly accused by the Jews, Paul stood before a Roman official, Felix, and his wife, Drusilla. Felix had the power to release Paul or to abuse him. Felix was a harsh ruler who was guilty of having a Jewish high priest put to death. And Felix was blamed by many for causing the Jewish war from AD 66-70.

Felix’s wife, Drusilla, was a woman who left her husband to marry Felix. She was ethnically Jewish, though she was now a part of the oppressive Roman community. Married to Felix, Drusilla was very dangerous.

One might think that Paul would want to be careful with such a couple. Let’s see what Paul chose to preach when they asked him to deliver a little sermon for them.

Acts 24:24-25 – 24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”

Paul delivered a sermon about faith in Christ. This is no surprise. It is never a surprise to see that a Christian might call on people around him to believe. That is common, and generally acceptable. People like to believe in believing in general. And had Paul stopped there, his message would have likely done him no harm. The Romans like believing in all sorts of deities. Adding one more, Jesus, to the mix should have been no problem.

But then note the three topics in Paul’s little message: righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. These were dangerous. Righteousness is living rightly, guiltlessly, before the Lord. Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 that there is no one righteous, not even one. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Did he look these two in the eye and tell them that they too needed a righteousness they personally lacked? That is a dangerous message.

Paul next talked about self-control. And Paul was standing before a murderous official with his adulteress wife. Righteousness would not have been a comfortable topic. Self-control would have been even worse. These two were guilty of great sin because they both lacked self-control.

Then Paul preached on the coming judgment. We know that Paul had a well-developed eschatology, even by this time in his ministry. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes clearly about Christ’s return, the blessing of God’s children, and the wrath of God on the wicked. Paul had to talk about the fact that Jesus would come back and judge. He had to talk about the fact that only those who are covered by Christ’s grace and righteousness will go to heaven. He must have talked about the fact that those who refuse Christ will stand before God and be found wanting for their lack of righteousness and self-control. This would lead back to the preaching of faith in Christ as the only way that any person can be forgiven for their wrong and granted by God the righteousness they need to enter his eternal kingdom.

So, when Paul stood before a dangerous ruler, what did he do? He preached the gospel. He held nothing back. He told an unrighteous man that he needed righteousness that he could never personally achieve. He told a woman without self-control that she was guilty before God. Paul told both that they faced a judgment to come that they could not survive without personal saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

May we be people who are bold enough to tell this kind of truth, in love, to all. May we never hold back just because we want to impress a government official. May we never hold back just because the person we preach to could do us harm. May we honor the Lord Jesus and let his gospel message do its work.

Taking Warnings for a Joke

When God was about to rain judgment down on Sodom and Gomorrah, his angels told Lot to get out of the city. In kindness, the angels also told Lot to tell any of his loved ones, his daughters’ fiancés as an example, to leave the city too. The people of the cities had been wicked, and the wrath of God was on the way.

But when Lot warned people who mattered to him, they did not take him seriously.

Genesis 19:14 – So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

Why did the young men not take Lot’s warnings to heart? We do not know what about their own lives was right or wrong. But we know that, when they heard the warning of the coming judgment of God, they assumed it to be a joke. They thought Lot was playing some sort of prank. They did not leave the city, though the warning was given. And they perished with the two evil cities.

In truth, it is hard for human beings to hear warnings, especially warnings of supernatural judgment, as real. Part of the sinful nature is to deny the existence of God. Though the Lord has made himself plain to all human beings, though all people have enough evidence of God’s presence as to be without excuse before him, we often fight against that with our hearts. People want to live in a world that is not influenced by God so long as things are going the way that they want. People who do not know God do not want to imagine the concept of God actually judging, at least not of him judging any but the worst of the worst. And even those who do know God can sometimes function as though we do not expect God to play a role in the world we live in. While we pray, read our Bibles, and attend church, many do not live on Monday through Saturday as if God is active.

We need to take a warning from the mistake of the young men in Genesis 19. They heard a warning of judgment from God. They assumed that there is just no way that could be serious. But it was. We live in a world that is far greater than the one we can see with our eyes. The God who made us is real, active, and glorious. God has promised us the return of Christ and real judgment. WE must not pretend such is far-fetched. We must not ignore God’s warnings. WE must become a people who understand that the God we cannot see with our eyes is more important than all the world that we can see. And one day, that God will make his presence visibly known as he judges this world and changes the universe forever.

Singing of Wrath

When we sing as believers, we sing of happy things most often. At least that is true in our modern culture. We like to sing of God’s grace. We like to sing of his faithfulness to us and his comforting love. Songs on Christian radio like to sing of the way that the writers assume God views us and to claim victories over all sorts of issues.

But a look at Scripture tells us that the people of God often sin about things that might not make the pop station very popular. God’s word includes songs of sorrow and lament. God’s word includes songs of imprecation, of crying out for God to judge the wicked and oppressor. And God’s word includes many a song that declares that God is right in all his actions.

Revelation 15:1–4 – 15 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,

O Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

O King of the nations!

4 Who will not fear, O Lord,

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

In Revelation 15, we see a gathering of the saints of God. This chapter opens by declaring to us that God is about to pour out his wrath on the world for its evil. And we see that the people of God, forgiven in Christ, are set apart from that fury of god. And as the people of God are set apart, witnessing what the Lord will do, they sing.

Note the point of the song. Without a full exposition, I think we can see the truth that feels so strange to our minds. They see the judgment of god coming, and they declare that God is absolutely good and right and holy in all his ways. These people are not giving themselves the right of judgment over God. They are not declaring that God owes them an explanation for his actions. They are not faulting God for not doing things in the way that they expect. They just see who God is, what God is doing, and they know that all that the Lord is and does is right.

I am surely not suggesting that Christians become morbidly obsessed with wrath, judgment, and death. We are a people called by God to communicate the good news of his grace and to make disciples of all nations. We do not find joy in the death of the wicked. But, we also must be a people who are not somehow different than the saints that we see in Revelation 15. We will pray God’s mercy over the lost world. But we will also sing of the holiness of God when his judgment comes. Our God is perfect and right. That must be our first assumption. The God who has revealed himself in Scripture is our Maker, our Master, and our Judge. May we worship him, singing of his grace and his judgment with equal awe.