Friday, April 29, 2005

The Wrath of God (2)

God's wrath is utterly terrible
What does the wrath of God entail? What is it?

As we think about this we need to keep at the forefront of our minds that God is not cruel, his wrath is not a loss of self-control, it is not wounded pride lashing out, not a bad temper. It is God's just reaction to our sin. It will be utterly fair. "God is only angry where anger is called for" (Packer).

In this just wrath there are four elements:

(Headings taken from Edward Donnelly's book on Heaven and Hell)

God's wrath means Absolute Poverty
2 Thessalonians 1:9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

Hell is a place of separation from God. That doesn't sound so bad a thing. Many people would want to be separate from God. They think that Hell will be a place of fun and games, with no big brother looking over them with a disapproving eye.

But what they fail to realise is that every moment of pleasure, everything that is enjoyable - the very ability to enjoy anything is a gift from God. Here on earth we are surrounded and blessed with God's goodness and his gifts. In Hell there will be nothing that is good, nothing that is pleasurable.

Everything that makes life worthwhile will be taken away. It will be absolute poverty in every sense. Nothing pleasurable to look at, to hear, to taste, to smell, to think about, to touch. In this life every good and pleasant thing comes from God. It is God's goodness that makes life pleasing to us.

Sometimes people say things like, "I would rather be in Hell because all my friends are there." But there will be no friends in Hell. Friendship is a blessing from God. There you will hate the people who have been your friends here on earth, because you will see that their friendship came between you and God. In Hell there will be no laughter, no enjoyment of any kind.

God's wrath means you will be stripped of any and every blessing.

God's wrath means Agonising Pain
But there is something worse. There is pain amidst the poverty.

Revelation 14:10 He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever."

Fire, smoke, burning sulphur. Elsewhere it speaks about a worm that does not die.

The imagery of Revelation isn't literal. When it speaks of fire and burning sulphur, and of worms eating at the damned, like the rest of Revelation it is using symbolic language. But that symbolism corresponds to something real. And in Revelation the reality is always cranked up a gear from the picture.

It speaks to us of pain, pain beyond anything we can imagine. Perhaps the pain of a stinging conscience, that will rebuke and it will be like a worm that gnaws at our memories. And will it be that the damned will remember every person who displayed Christian love to them, and every sermon, and every person who witnessed to them, and it will seem so clear to them and they will cry out, "Why didn't I see it? Why did I ignore what was so obvious?"?

The weeping and gnashing of teeth. How often have we wept over something that has broken us, or when we have been unbearably lonely? Jesus says that there will be such weeping in Hell as people face the wrath of God, as they find themselves unbearably lonely.

There will be agonising pain. But it is worse than that.

God's wrath means an Angry Presence
God is not absent from Hell. Often we are told that Hell is where God is not. That is wrong. Hell is part of God's creation, and he is present everywhere. Rev 14:10 tells us that he is present in Hell. This makes Hell infinitely worse. The essence of Hell is the fire of God's holy and righteous anger poured out unrelentingly on sinners. Popular opinion has the devil as the master of Hell, where he rules and gives out pleasure to his cronies. Scripture teaches something more awful. God rules even in Hell. He has prepared Hell for the devil and his angels. (Matt 25:41)

Perhaps this is what it means that they will be tormented. The same word is used of Lot as he lived in Sodom. It says that his righteous soul was tormented as he saw the wickedness of men around him. Have you ever felt that? Have you seen the foulness of men's sins and it has burned itself into your mind and it has made you want to weep. Perhaps as you have looked at what is done in abortion, or in countries where children have been murdered. And the images of wickedness have lingered in your mind and tormented you.

As the wicked live for ever in the presence of God they will be tormented by the sight of his holy righteousness. It will blind them with its dazzling purity. It will be a sickening terror to them. No matter where they run to they will not be able to escape. The presence that should have comforted them anywhere in this world will hunt and haunt them. The righteous that could have been applied to cover their sins will always be before them accusing them.

And it will be utterly just.

But more than that. Hell is the mighty releasing of God's wrath, unrelenting and unrestrained and indescribable. In v 19 we have a picture of the utterly appalling nature of it. Its taken from the vineyards of Palestine. The harvesters would go out and fill their baskets with grapes plucked from the vines. Then they would return and tip these baskets into a huge press, where the servant girls took off their shoes and trampled through the grapes, thousands and thousands of them, crushing them until the juice ran out through the fine holes in the floor and ran in rivers through channels and into vats where it was collected.

Here it is angels harvesting the earth, and it is not grapes but people, and they are tipped into the press, thousands of people, and there why face the wrath of God. And it is so vast and terrible that the blood rises to a height of 6ft for nearly 200 miles all around.

The treading of the winepress is meant to convey the violent thoroughness of God's wrath when it is finally poured out. It's only an image. But it is an image that is meant to convey a reality that is beyond our imagining. It is utterly terrible.

Here is the ultimate horror of Hell, the presence of an angry God. And still there is more.

God's wrath means an Awful Prospect
It will never end.

Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."

"Hell is as eternal as Heaven. In life, even in the darkest moments, there is always the hope that things will get better. There is no such hope in Hell." (Jeffery)

"Oh eternity! If all the body of the earth and sea were turned to sand, and all the air up to the starry heaven were nothing but sand, and a little bird should come every thousand years, and fetch away in her bill but the tenth part of a grain of all that heap of sand, what numberless years would be spent before that vast heap of sand would be fetched away! Yet, if at the end of all that time, the sinner might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but that word 'Ever' breaks the heart. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up 'for ever and ever.' "

There will be no rest. What an awful phrase - no rest for the wicked. We use it in jest. But behind it lies an awful truth. Wanting with every fibre of your being to stop, to slow down to rest, but not able to.

God's wrath will never let up. The wicked have trampled over the Eternal Son, and his sacrifice planned in eternity, they have offended the eternal God. And therefore their punishment will be eternal.

Lessons we need to learn
Turn to Jesus Christ now, while you have time
The Bible labours to point out that God is good to those who trust in him, and terrible to those who do not. If you haven't turned from living life your way and turned to following Jesus, and trusted in him to take you punishment, then you will find out how terrible he is.

Come now. Then it will be too late. Why would you risk all. Don't think for a moment that you can come to him later. Each day you continue in sin you slap Almighty God in the face. And then some day you expect to be able to turn to him and say, "I'm ready now, please forgive me now". God doesn't respond to demands like that. He says, "Come to me today, while there is time. The offer is on the table now - It may well be withdrawn tomorrow."

How thankful we should be to Jesus
If you have put your trust in Jesus, then this wrath has been faced. You don't have to face it. Jesus took the eternity of your deserved wrath on himself when he hung on the cross. Oh thank you Lord Jesus. Oh how we should praise him and love him and delight to serve him.

How this should draw our soul into fervent praise to Jesus.

There is nothing more important than Heaven and Hell
This vision establishes what it important - there is nothing more important than Heaven and Hell. People are going to Hell. Your friends and neighbours and family members are going to Hell. Nothing is more important than that fact.

Not our reputations, not our comfort, not our standing in the community.

Those nice people you look at day-by-day sitting in cars, walking on the pavement, drinking coffee - God is as angry with them at this moment as he is with the damned in Hell. Does it bother you? Does it bring tears to your eyes? There can be no glee or pleasure in this. We can only think of these truths with tears in our eyes.

God sends us out to beseech, to plead to urge them to turn from their rejection of him and turn to Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Too often we are afraid of what people will think of us, we might offend, we might insult them, we might irritate them. Now I'm not suggesting that you stop everyone you meet and announce that they are going to Hell. Everyone is not your responsibility. But there are those whom God has placed in your circle of contacts - family, neighbours, friends - that are your responsibility.

We need to help them see the awful danger that they are in.

There can be no delight, only sorrow
Nor am I suggesting that you have to announce to them in a self righteous voice that they are going to Hell. But it has to bother us that they are. It has to trouble us that they are under the almighty eternal wrath of God. And when it really starts to bother us we will find ways of telling them, and they will see that nothing matters more to us than their eternal welfare. They will see that we love them. They will see that we are only doing this because we care.

And here is where it starts by grasping the immensity of God's wrath, and seeing that it is directed at real people, that we know. And pleading on our knees before God for them.

Tomorrow, someone may ask you what you did at the weekend. What will you say? You could say, "I went to church and the minister spoke to us about the fearful wrath of God." And see where it leads you. They might then say, "You don't believe all that do you?" And you could ask, "why did Jesus come to die then?".

We need to help people see that our greatest problem in life is God because of our sin, and he is the only solution to our sin.

Some people think that it isn't loving to talk about these things. But it is the most loving thing we can do.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Wrath of God (1)

If we arrived home late one night and saw our neighbours house on fire and no sign of them outside. We wouldn't worry and shouting and yelling and embarrassing ourselves. We would do all we could to alert them to the danger.

But when it comes to the gospel, we don't. And perhaps part of the reason that we don't is that we aren't sufficiently convinced of the danger people are in.

Some people think it is wrong to speak about Hell and God's wrath, because we are scaring people into Heaven. They think that we should speak only of the love of God, and the wonder of being loved. What nonsense! When someone's house is on fire you don't stand outside telling them that really the grass is a wonderful place to stand, and that the view is better outside, and that the people are much nicer here. You tell them to get out because their house is on fire. And they thank you for it.

So it is with the gospel. Some people think that you shouldn't talk about sin, and Hell, and God's anger. But rather that you should talk only about his love and mercy and acceptance.

And then we are surprised when no-one is remotely interested.

The wrath of God is often played down by Christians today. It is a topic you will seldom hear preached on in churches. Yet the Bible speaks constantly of wrath. It labours the point that God is good to those who trust him, but terrible to those who do not.

But why do we need to think about it? Can we not just move on to nicer pastures? No, it is essential that we pause here and look at this aspect of God too.

We need to think about it for three reasons:

Because it is real
Because it applies to every human being
Because it is terrible

Our text is: Rev 14:9-11

"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."

God's wrath is real
It shouldn't take much to convince us that God's wrath is real. Although many people have tried to ignore this, or hide from it, or pretend it isn't there, it is present the length and breadth of scripture.

Nahum 1:2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies… 5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. 6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.

Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Ephesians 2:3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

Revelation 6:16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!

God's wrath is as real as the passages that speak of his love and mercy.

We see glimpses of God's wrath throughout scripture - the curse for one sin of Adam and Eve. The flood. Sodom & Gomorrah. Egypt, the plagues, and the destruction of Pharaoh's army. The fall of Jerusalem in 587BC, the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. God's wrath is real and severe.

God's wrath is real. But it is more terrible than we imagine. What we have seen up to now has been greatly diluted. But in Rev 14v10 we are told that in Hell God's wrath will be poured out "full strength".

We need to think about it because the Bible speaks so much about it. And if the Bible speaks so much about it, then I cannot be silent. It would be nothing short of deceitful and sinful to preach about the character of God and not mention his wrath. And churches or ministers that fail to teach this doctrine, or who are embarrassed by it, or who see it as a blemish on the character of God have created for themselves an idol, a false god.

God's wrath falls on everyone who fails to follow Jesus
Who is it that God's wrath falls on? This chapter talks about two groups of people.

V1-5 tell us about a group of 144,000 people - that number is a symbolic number in the book of revelation, it refers to all the people of God in the Old Testament (12 tribes) and the people of God in New Testament times (under the 12 apostles) times 1000(a number depicting vastness) - in other words the fullness of all the people of God in all times. These 144,000, not a literal number, have been redeemed (v3), and they have the fathers name on their foreheads. This name on their foreheads in imagery taken from Ezekiel where God is about to judge the city of Jerusalem, and Ezekiel sees in a vision a scribe sent out to put a mark on the foreheads of the true followers of God to identify them as God's people.

V6ff describes a second group - this group are also identified by a mark on their head or on their hand. It is the mark of the beast, the anti-God figure in the book of Revelation. Again it is not a literal mark, and we see its roots in the previous chapter. The beast mimics God's judgment in Ezekiel. He is about to pour out his anger on the followers of Jesus, and before he does he puts a mark on all who have refused to follow Jesus. They will be exempt from the anger of the beast.

But ch14 shows that although God people have to face anger and hardship in this life, they are exempt from it in Heaven. And it shows that those who fail to follow God in this life, who are not redeemed by Jesus are exempt fromt he wrath of the beast in this life, but they suffer the wrath of God in the next.

There is wrath to be faced by every human being, the question is "Whose wrath will it be?" - Will it be Satan's wrath because you follow God, or will it be God's wrath because you have ignored him and gone your own way?

You see everyone is marked out in some way. There are only two types of people in the world. Those who follow Jesus and have been redeemed by Jesus, and those who don't. Those who don't are automatically marked down as being against God. And they will face his wrath.

There is no third category of nice decent people, who although they didn't follow Jesus, were particularly bad. Ch 13:16 tells us that everyone was forced to receive the mark of the beast, except those who had refused to worship him - ie those who worshipped Jesus instead.

Who does God's wrath fall on - yes the extremely wicked, but it also falls on your nice next door neighbour who doesn't follow Jesus. It falls on the man behind the counter in the shop. It falls on the person sitting next to you in church it they have not subjected themselves to the authority of King Jesus. It falls on the person across the breakfast table from you.

There is a false notion that goes around that God hates sin and loves the sinner. It is only a half truth. Because while God loves the sinner enough to provide a means of salvation, he also hates him because of his sin. We cannot detach sin and the sinner. They cannot be detached. If only they could then Christ would not have had to go to the cross, but God's wrath is on the sinner. Scripture reminds over and over again, God abhors the liar, God hates the sinner. God's anger in on the wicked. The Psalms repeatedly make this point:

Psalm 5:5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. 6 You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

Psalm 11:5 The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.

Friends how we need to keep it before us. We can't hide behind half truths. We need to remember that God's wrath is on the wicked for their sins. They committed them. They will be punished. It is real people with real names and real faces.

The wrath of God falls on anyone, and everyone who has not been redeemed - bought by Jesus. Rescued by Jesus. Jesus came to save people from the wrath they deserved. He himself took that wrath for those who would ask him to stand in their place. That wrath was poured out in all its fullness. But there yet remains the wrath due for the sins of all the other people. Their rebellion has not been paid for.

How this should affect our hearts! When we look at people we should see the word 'wrath' written across their foreheads.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Book Reviews

One of the problems of using Blogger is that it's hard to index things. Over the last while I've reviewed a number of books - Here are all the links gathered together into one post. I'll stick a permanent link to this on the sidebar and add all other book reviews to it.

The Power & the Fury - Dale Ralph Davis (2 Kings)
Apostasy, Destruction and Hope -Roger Ellsworth (2 Kings)

Basics for Believers - DA Carson (Philippians)
Be Patient: God hasn't finished with me yet - Roger Ellsworth (Jacob)

A House of Prayer - Andrew Stewart (1 Chronicles)

Corner Conversations - Randy Newman
Questioning Evangelism - Randy Newman - Kregel Publications

Preaching & Church Issues
Preaching Christ - Edgar Andrews
The Big Picture for Small Churches by John Benton - Evangelical Press

Christian Living
Being a Christian Husband - Colin Hamer
Humility: True Greatness - CJ Mahaney
Sex, Romance & the Glory Of God by C. J. Mahaney
Why does being a Christian have to be so hard - Peter Golding - Evangelical Press
Not even a Hint - Joshua Harris
Don't Waste your Life - John Piper - Crossway

War and Grace - Don Stephens

The Potter's Freedom - James White
God, Satan & the Jews - F.S. Leahy
The Bond of Love - David McKay - Christian Focus
The End Times made Simple - Sam Waldron - Calvary Press
The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven and Hell - Edward Donnelly - Banner of Truth
The Existence and attributes of God - Stephen Charnock - Baker Books

The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God - John Piper with photography by Ric Ergenbright
The Cross he Bore - Fredrick Leahy - Banner of Truth

The DaVinci Code on Trial by Stephen Clark - Evangelical Press of Wales
Cracking DaVinci's Code - James Garlow, Peter Jones
The Da Vinci Code – From Dan Brown’s Fiction to Mary Magdalene’s Faith
Garry Williams

The Edge of Known Reality and Beyond – Jonathan Skinner

And here's a link to another couple of posts on reading

Friday, April 22, 2005

Your God is Patient (3)

God's patience has a limit
One of the old Saxon kings set out with an army to put down a rebellion in a distant province of his kingdom. When the insurrection had been quelled, and the army of the rebels defeated, the king placed a candle over the archway of the castle where he had his headquarters. Lighting the candle, announced through a herald to all who had been in rebellion against him that those who surrendered and took the oath of loyalty while the candle was burning would be spared. The king offered them his clemency and mercy, but the offer was limited to the life of the candle.

Exodus 34:7 reads:

"Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

"Yet" - There is a time when God's patience will cease. And it will not be because he has become impatient. He will have displayed his patience so long with people that no-one will be able to accuse him of being rash or hasty. But his patience will come to an end. For it has a limit.

It had a limit in the days of Noah - Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man for ever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."

It had a limit in the days of the Children of Israel - after experiencing God's patience in many ways, after trying it most severely, God said, enough, and hundreds of thousands of them perished outside the Promised Land.

God's patience has a limit. And this limit isn't just a limit for the world, when he will finally come in judgment. Each human being has their own personal limit. There is a marker in each of our lives.

That dam that holds back the reservoirs of God's wrath will be removed, and the full weight of the wrath of God will fall on those who haven't made use of God's patience to seize the salvation offered to them in Christ.

Unbelievers need to be helped to see on how slender a thread their lives hang.

Charnock writes "When he is invaded in all his attributes, it is astonishing that this single one of patience and meekness should withstand the assault of all the rest of his perfections; his being, which is attacked by sin, speaks for vengeance; his justice cannot be imagined to stand silent without charging the sinner. His holiness cannot but encourage his justice to urge its pleas, and be an advocate for it. His omniscience proves the truth of all the charge, and his abused mercy hath little encouragement to make opposition to the indictment; nothing but patience stands in the gap to keep off the arrest of judgment upon the sinner"

And the more patience God shows, the more guilty boys and girls and men and women will become. And the less excuse they will have. The more patience is abused, the more severe his wrath will be. And his justice will take account from the hands of patience before exacting punishment.

Justice will ask patience, how patient have you been with these people? How much time have they had? And patience will explain the times God held back his judgment to give time, time and more time.

And because there has been so much opportunity wrath will be increased.

Chartnock again writes: "All the time men are abusing his patience, God is whetting his sword, and the longer it is whetting the sharper will be the edge."

And when he puts an end to his patience, his wrath will be swift. We each live our lives as a man looking at a clock with no hands. It still works, but we don't know where the hands are. The hour maybe about to strike when God's patience will reach its limit. And when that happens the hour will strike with unavoidable swiftness.

Make the most of today. Today is the only day you can be sure of God's patience.

And fellow believers, let us learn to delight in this attribute while we can. In Heaven we will have no opportunity to enjoy his patience. "For this perfection hath the shortest time to act its part of any, it hath no stage but this world to move in; mercy hath a Heaven, justice hath a Hell, to display itself to eternity, but longsuffering hath only a short lived earth for the compass of its operation."

We should think often on his patience and if we do we will grow to see God as a loving father, we will be more convinced of his friendliness and kindness. It will help us to be patient with others when we consider how much God is patient with us.

And lets not abuse this patience, even those of us who are Christians, by continuing to sin once we are aware of it, presuming on his patience.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Your God is Patient (2)

God's patience has a purpose
Why is God patient? It isn't that he lacks power. He has enough weapons in his armoury to ruin us instantly.

Peter explains it to us:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

There is a purpose to his patience. He isn't just sitting in Heaven twiddling his thumbs waiting until the time for Christ's return. Peter tells us that he is giving people time to repent.

This is an awesome privilege that mankind has. We rebel, and God gives us a chance to mend our ways, to seek forgiveness. That's the purpose of it. Think about that for a moment. It is simply stunning. God owes us nothing. We don't deserve a second chance.

Even the angels didn't get a second chance. When they sinned, all it took was one sin for the fallen angels to be cast out of Heaven, never to be given a chance to repent. Charnock writes, "O admirable patience that would bear with me under so many, while he would not bear with the sinning angels for one."

"Let it be considered, that that God that would not wait upon the fallen one instant after their sin, nor give them a moments space of repentance, hath prolonged the life of many a sinner in the world to innumerable moments, to 420,000 minutes in the space of a year, to 8,400,000 minutes in the space of twenty years. The damned in Hell would think it a great kindness to have but, a year's, month's, nay, day's respite, as a space to repent in."

With us, instead he doesn't punish each sin instantly. Instead he holds back, and back, and back. Providing opportunities for repentance. He does this with our world.

All the warnings that he gives in his patience are continual invitations to repent. Public disasters, personal calamities, are all much less than we deserve - and God lightens the stroke of his judgment in order that we might survive, so that we might repent. And all the blessings he gives as well as the problems, all of these have a purpose in mind - repent, repent.

This most glorious attribute reminds us that divine justice is not a vindictive thing. Charnock again: "Who can charge God with an eagerness to revenge, that sends so many heralds, and so often before he strikes, that he might be prevented from striking… Hereby he shows, that he would be rather pleased with the conversion, than the destruction of men."

He delays fitting the arrow to the bow, he draws his aim slowly, he hesitates before releasing - all to give the sinner time to repent.

How does this apply?

Obviously - Repent, if you haven't already done so. That's why you are still breathing. God is giving you time. Why hasn't he struck you down? Repent. That means - turn completely around in your life, stop living without God, and start living for him. Come to Jesus and seek forgiveness, and believe in him.

Don't think that God hasn't noticed you, or that because nothing has happened to you that somehow he mustn't be too concerned or angry with you. Don't mistake his patience for indifference

What about those of us who are Christians? God's patience has a purpose for us too - we can't think that we are so holy that God doesn't need to be patient with us too. We have a long way to go. And we should be immensely thankful for his patience. We need to repent too. Repentance is a daily feature of the Christians life. We are a repenting people.

There is comfort here for the Christian. When we look around us at the world, with all the injustice and suffering, we can wonder what God is doing. Here we see - it isn't that he is inactive, or powerless, or careless, or uncaring, or unloving. He is displaying his patience to sinful rebels.

And often those sinful rebels are quite close to home - they live next door to us, they are on our Christmas card lists, they are at our breakfast table, they are at our family get-together's. We talk to them on the phone, we sit across the desk from them at work, we cut silage along with them, or mind their children. They are respectable rebels, but they are rebels. And God is being patient with them, but his patience has a purpose - and we need to help them to see that they are dangling on a very slender thread.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Your God is patient (1)

How come you are alive today? How come I'm alive today? I'm a sinner, you're all sinners, already today we have disobeyed God, let him down, left things undone. I want to know, how come we're still here?

You've probably never thought about it have you? But it's a miracle!

Have you ever wondered why does God allow suffering? Or how could a God of love send people to Hell?

These are important questions that need an answer. But they start off with a wrong assumption. They assume that we deserve something other than suffering. They assume that we deserve to go to Heaven.

And really a much better version of the two questions is:

Why do sinful people enjoy so much pleasure in life for so long? And How come a holy God hasn't sent us all the Hell much sooner? How come God's world is filled with people who defy his commands minute after minute after minute?

Either he isn't powerful enough to do anything, or there must be another reason

That other reason is that he is patient. In Ex 34 God gives us his self portrait. He describes himself to Moses in these words

"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."

God is not a God who ignores sin, he will act, but in the meantime he is slow to anger.

What a great phrase. It should be the cause of praise for every human being. We owe our every breath to this attribute. There are three things that this verse teaches us about God's patience.

God's patience is great
Often we are forced to be patient in circumstances because we are powerless to do anything else. We can't change circumstances, and we have no choice but to grin and bear it, or be crushed by it.

Such patience is commendable. But it isn't half as amazing as God's patience. God is slow to anger. He is longsuffering. Not because he has to be. Not because he has no choice, and he just has to tolerate sin. Not because he is short of power and has to wait until his batteries recharge before he is strong enough to do anything about his rebel subjects. God's patience is the most real, and most incredible patience in the universe. Because it is a powerful patience. He could wipe us out in an instant. Nothing is beyond his control.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power - Nahum 1:3

But he doesn't wipe us out, because God's patience is real. It is his choice. That's actually quite frightening. Each of us is hanging here suspended between life and death, heaven and Hell by a slender thread, and that slender thread is the patience of God. And the astonishing thing is that some people attack the very thread that holds them and supports them.

Scripture is filled with examples of God's patience. We see it in Gen 3 when Adam and Eve introduce sin into God's perfect creation, and God comes into the Garden, and he knows Adam and Eve sinned, he knows where they are hiding, and yet he doesn't wipe them out.

We see it in Gen 6. God looks at the earth and sees that every inclination of man's heart was only evil all the time. And he declares that he is going to judge this wicked world, and destroy it. In 120 years time. During which he will send a preacher to warn them, and provide a way of salvation so that these rebels need not perish.

We see it over and over again in the story of the exodus, that forms the background to these verses.

God had rescued 2 and a half million people from slavery and cruelty in Egypt. They got to the Red Sea, and what did they do? Grumbled!

And what did he do? We was patient with them and rescued them.

A few verses later we read, "When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. So the people grumbled. And God was patient with these grumbling people. He gave them water.

Next chapter Ex 16: "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt!" And God was patient and provided food.

And so it goes. Ch 17 they quarrelled about water. Guess what? God is patient.

They are camped at Mt Sinai, and they make a golden calf, and God threatens to destroy them. But he doesn't, why? Because he is patient.

And it is just after this incident that he proclaims to Moses, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger…"

Slow to anger - I'm sure Moses said the Hebrew equivalent of "You bet". God is patient.

But stop a moment and marvel at the greatness of his patience.

It's a great patience. We see the greatness of God's patience in the fact that he gives warnings about his anger and his judgments. He sent prophet after prophet after prophet to Israel, he has sent preachers all over the world. Like a father who says, "Don't make me have to get up to you" instead of just reacting instantly. He warned Nineveh, he warned the world in Noah's day. He warns us.

We see his patience in the fact that he delays sending judgment despite great provocation. We see his patience in that he often continues to send blessings and happiness and pleasure to his rebel creatures.

He warns, the world ignores, he warns, it ignores, he sends little reminders - storms, floods, sicknesses - the world ignores, and still he is patient. And when he does send these mini judgments "he doesn't empty the quiver of his arrows" (Charnock). And he doesn't reel in his blessings from this rebel world. He still sends rain, he still gives laughter.

We see his greatness in the multitude of sins that he is patient with daily. Peter thought he was doing well if he was to be patient with his brother 7 times for the same offence. Jesus said "more like 77 times." Think how vast the multitude of sins that rise each day from this earth towards heaven. 6.5 billion people who sin daily, and who sin by not doing what they should as well doing what they shouldn't, in thought word and deed. Lets say a bare minimum of 1 wrong thing per person per day. 6.5 billion sins per day. 45 billion per week. 2 trillion 400 billion sins per year. And its been nearly 2000 years since God the son came to this earth to die to set people free from their sin.

And when we grasp that each person commits more than 1 per day. We sin often daily in thought word and deed. We sin often by doing wrong and not doing right. And when we add to that the immense insult that every sin is to the holiness of God.

Can you see the greatness of his patience? Peter's 'generosity' in forgiving his brother 7 times seems microscopic in comparison.

And it is even more amazing when you consider that the vast majority of people on this planet have no time for Jesus, the beloved one and only son of God, that they couldn't care less that he took the wrath of Hell on us so that we don't have to face it. And when you consider how much the son went through and how much the son means to the father, it is an unbelievable miracle that most of this world isn't struck down instantly for rejecting such a magnificent offer, that was bought at such a high price.

Hebrews 10:29 "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?"

But still he is patient with you.

And fellow Christians - we can't just point the finger at all the unbelievers out there and speak about how they are really pushing God's patience.

Look at us - we whom Christ has died for, who should know better, who have had that precious blood poured out for us, who have been set free from the power of sin, who don't have to sin anymore, and we do, we return to our sins like a dog to vomit, and we should know better. And God is patient with us.

At the cross, and since the cross we see God's patience in a whole new light.

It is a great patience.

Encouragement here for believers.

It is encouraging when we look at our lives and we feel so unworthy and so unfit to be loved, and times we feel so deserving of judgment. We have a God who has great stocks of patience.

It gives us great comfort to trust him.

"If he hath so rich a patience to exercise towards his enemies, he hath a greater treasure to bestow upon his friends." (Charnock)

If he is so patient with unbelievers, how much more certain is our salvation.

God's patience is great

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Some Photos from Donegal

Ok, so I downloaded the picture software and wanted to try it out! But for those of you on the far side of the world, here is some of the scenery around here.

Milford, Co Donegal

Evening at Glenveagh, Co Donegal

Sunset at Kerrykeel, Co. Donegal

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pope John Paul II

Many tributes have been paid to Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. And rightly so, for he was a great man. Among the world leaders in the later half of the twentieth century he stands head and shoulders above many. While other leaders were concerned about their popularity and appeal to the masses, the Pope was concerned for those who had no voice, for the underprivileged, for the unborn, for the poor, for the sick, for the oppressed.

His input into the downfall of communism especially in Poland have been highlighted often in the past few days. He was a man who, more than any other pope, spent himself in travelling to other countries, 129 in total. His third overseas visit was here to Ireland in 1979.

He was not afraid to take a stand and to say what needed to be said on issues like abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia etc. It was refreshing to see someone who took their standards from God's word, and not from the opinion makers of popular culture.

He was a great man. And we need men like him to be leaders in the world today.

But he was still only a man.

And Jesus himself said, "No man comes to the father, except through me." (John 14:6)

You see it isn't how much good we do that gets us into Heaven, rather it is coming through Jesus, and trusting in him that gets us there.

There is no denying that Pope John Paul II did a lot of good in his life. But if he is in Heaven, it will not be because of the good he did, but simply because of Jesus. Over and over again the Bible tells us that it is not the amount of good we do that gets us into Heaven, but rather whether or not we have asked Jesus to be our saviour.

This is wonderfully comforting because not many of us could live as influential a life as the Pope, and we might be inclined to think that we haven't a chance of getting into Heaven.

But it doesn't depend on us, but on Jesus. He said, "whoever comes to me I will never drive away." (John 6:37).

It was Jesus who said to a murderous thief who hung on the cross next to him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." That man had no time to do enough good to outweigh the bad, if such a thing were possible. Instead he threw himself on the mercy of Jesus, and asked for forgiveness and peace from him. And Jesus holds that offer out to each of us today.

And yet if Jesus said that a thief and murderer could enter Heaven "Today", why are all the prayers and masses being said for Pope John Paul? Apparently they are to speed his journey into Heaven.

Where is he if he isn't already in Heaven? Saint Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that when the believer is absent from the body, he is immediately present with the Lord. For the person who has trusted Jesus as their saviour there is no journey, just an immediate appearing in God's presence.

Again, I find this wonderfully comforting - no journey of the soul through some shady underworld; just immediate transportation to the present of God.

I would ask my Catholic readers seriously to consider this question: Why are you praying for the Pope? Does the Pope require the prayers of 1.1 billion Catholics to get him into Heaven, after all his good deeds? If so, what hope is there for the ordinary man or woman? What about you; are you trusting in the good life you are living, and relying on the prayers and masses of loved ones after you die to get you into Heaven?

It doesn't have to be like that. Saint Paul writes, "Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory."

Notice that it is our faith in what Jesus has done for us that saves us, not our good works. And notice also that the "highest privilege" and the confident expectation of being in Heaven are a present reality for the believer.

There is no uncertainty for those who turn from their own efforts to please God and who come to Jesus seeking his salvation.

Friday, April 01, 2005