60 Seconds On Evil and God’s Judgment


One of the things the reality of the day of final judgment can do is give you comfort when you are confronted with violent, vicious evil.  God is a Judge, and He is returning.  So every finally unrepentant rapist or murderer or child abuser (or liar or gossip) will give an account and receive God’s fair, just wrath.  

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.

Romans 12:19

The Christian can know that His God, His Father and Friend and King, will account for every wrong and every wrongdoer.  None will slip by him.  Each and every sin will be dealt with in one of two places:  The Cross of Christ or Hell.  He can be comforted by the knowledge that every wicked evildoer who refuses to mourn his sin and believe in Christ will have his sin reckoned to him on the last day.  And for every day after that.  All of them.  Unto eternity.  

There are times when you’re confronted with pure, undistilled evil.  Toxic, nasty, virulent wickedness.  The Bible gives us many such cases, and the children of God often (in Psalms, Lamentations, and the Prophets, for instance) call out to God for justice in the face of them.  “Lord, they have ripped open pregnant women and murdered mother and child.  The have burned the homes of families for sport and spite.  They have maimed and scarred and slaughtered our people.  Please account for this.  Please judge them!”  These are adult feelings for an adult world.  In this groaning creation there are many times where humans do unspeakably evil things and then laugh at the pain they’ve caused and move on, with no true remorse and no second thoughts about doing more of the same evil as long as they can get away with it.  When the Christian sees these evils and is stunned by them, he can apply the truth of God’s final judgment to the grief and confusion in his heart.  

God is returning.  And all will give an account to Him.  

They do not escape His notice, these scoffers.  They do not escape His offer of pardon and re-creation, either.  

“Come, and be made new.  I saved a rotten thief who was right next to me on the day of my innocent execution.  I can save you.  But your sin must be dealt with.  It must be paid for.  Either here or in Hell.”

We can rest in the God of Judgment, Christian.  We worship a wise, loving, and just Judge.  All sins will be accounted for.  

Thankfully, even our own.  

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2:12

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How Do I Worship From the Sodom and Gomorrah Story?


What do I do with passages in the Bible like this?

The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.  Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.  And He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

Genesis 19:23-25

Or this one?

Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, He who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength?  ‘It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.’  Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?  ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel.  For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come.  I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me.  I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.’

Isaiah 63:1-6

Well, let me first give the answer I’d give my children:  Believe them.  God says here in the Isaiah one, for instance, that He has vengeance to be poured out on the nations.  He is God, so I am to believe Him.  

But I can lend a hand when it comes to passages that aren’t as plain Jane God-is-talking-and-telling-me-what-He’s-done-or-going-to-do by expanding on that a little.  So, if the questions are like this:

“What do I generally do with passages and stories in the Bible that talk about God’s wrath?  How do I worship from them?  How do I apply them to my heart?  How do I point my kids to Jesus with the Sodom and Gomorrah story when we come to it in family worship?”

Well, I’d start my answer with a question of my own to get to the heart of the matter:

“What is the Bible?”

The Bible is not a self-help book.  The Bible is not a collection of advice.  The Bible is not the best attempts of human beings to understand God.  The Bible is the Word of the only living God, and that Word is also a story that is all about Jesus.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.

Jesus, in John 5:39

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’  But He answered, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Matthew 4:1-4

So the Bible is God’s Word, His communication to human beings, and it is also a story that is all about Jesus Christ.

Well, if that is what the Bible is, then when we get to parts that are about God’s vengeance and wrath, His good anger towards sin, God must be telling us humans something that is ultimately about Jesus.

Okay, fair enough, Wade.  I’m with you so far.  But what?  What is He telling me about Jesus that I should be applying to my heart or teaching my kids or preaching from my pulpit in the stories and the passages like the ones below?

  • The Flood in Genesis, when He destroys all the land animals and people who have the breath of life, all except those on the Ark, because of sin.
  • The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, when He destroys two wicked cities because there aren’t any righteous people in them except for one little family.
  • The judgment laid on Israel and Judah when they are conquered and stripped bare and many slaughtered for their idolatry an wickedness, though eventually a remnant get to return home in peace.

Well, there are certainly more than one thing, but I will offer what I think might be the most important one:  God is showing us the unimaginably deep cup of ferocious good anger that Jesus took on Himself.  God is showing us what Jesus bore in order to spare those who would believe in Him.  

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’  And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22:41-44

Jesus was in agony in the Garden of Gathsemane because He was about to be slain on a Roman Cross for all who would believe in Him.  He was less than 24 hours away from being forsaken by God so that we wouldn’t have to be.  He was about to have the sins of the world laid on His scarred and innocent back.  I believe Jesus experienced more shame, more pain, more wrath than any human being ever has or ever will, and He was totally undeserving of it.  God chose, before the foundation of the world, to put Himself forward and receive His own vengeance so that those who trust in Jesus could be spared.  Like Noah and those on the Ark, we are rescued from the raging sea of God’s judgment.  Like Lot and his daughters, we are plucked from the fire even though we are undeserving.  Like Ezra and Nehemiah and Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar, we who have believed get to go home to God’s country despite our past sins.  And it is all because Jesus bore the flood of God’s wrath for our evils.  He received the fire that Sodom did.  He was exiled so that we could come home.

So what do I do with the stories and passages about God’s shocking vengeance?

I thank the living and loving God that Jesus bore that vengeance for me on the Cross.  Jesus fulfilled God’s Law so that I can receive His Gospel.  He took my sin’s penalty of death so that I can have His righteousness’ wage of life.

Jesus received the justice so that I can receive the mercy.

The cup my Jesus drank is one I am now spared.  And someday we will both get to share a far different one at a very special banquet table, one that He has been preparing for some time.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’  And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:11-14

She Must Not Be Silent


It seems to me that 21st century Western culture says that the church may be fine, but should stay in its own sphere and not really effect public life.  By contrast, God says that the church is His instrument of salvation and reconciliation in the world, and that, however much Hell would like to triumph over her, she will stand forever.  

Two very different views.  

Our day and place seem to view the Christian church with ambivalence mixed with a smidgen of scorn.  I argue that the Bible paints her as a blemished but divine sword, being forged (and slowly refined) in a fire to cut through Hell and sin and death and damnation.  She is an imperfect instrument being used perfectly.  She is a flawed body whose Head (Jesus Christ) knows exactly what He is doing.  The church is not a joke.  She is not irrelevant.  She should not stay in her Sunday school room and leave the world to do what it thinks best.  

She has the only message of freedom to an enslaved world, and she should not stay silent, no matter what the world says.  

“But we don’t want you speaking about that sin.”

You mean that thing over there, the one that will kill you and those around you?  That evil that promises God’s wrath on you and will afflict our fellow human beings and will bring judgment on our nation?  That’s the one you want us to pipe down about?  Well then I dare say our finger is actually on a very important nerve there, I’m afraid.  For I venture to say there is a reason you want us to stay quiet about that sin, as opposed to others.  

“But you must not carry that into work or public life.”

You mean I should check my Savior at the door, then?  I’m sorry, but that’s the very thing I must not do.  Both for your good and for mine.

“But you churches don’t even agree amongst yourselves.”

In some ways and in some things we don’t, it’s true.  But if we believe and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are a part of His massive body, His Church.  And He is faithful to help us speak His Word, albeit imperfectly, for the salvation of souls and the blessing of the world, even though each of our individual churches or denominations is almost certainly honestly wrong about some things.  The beautiful thing is that His Word is clearest where it is most crucial, and so Gospel-preaching churches will always be able to agree where it matters most:  The sinfulness of man, the perfectness of Christ, His death and resurrection as God and God’s Son to save those who will believe in Him, and His future return to make all things right.  

The church of Jesus Christ should not seek to be as harmless and quiet as our present culture would like her to be.  True, she is not a belligerent Bride, but she absolutely shares the convictions and the mission of her Husband:  The rescue and repentance of sinners to the glory of God.  

Christian churches, we are not to stay in a corner and do our best to not to bother anybody.  Read the book of Acts.  We have a grand mission.  And though it will frustrate many who are hardhearted (like our Savior frustrated many who were hardhearted), it will transform the lives of many others forever.   

We have a calling that only we can perform.  

And we cannot perform it by being silent. 

The Filthy We Were (Zechariah 3)

  

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.’

Zechariah 3

I preached Zechariah 3 last week.  I thought I’d share some points from within this fourth vision God gave to the prophet Zechariah and from the wider scope of the Bible story.  

  • There isn’t a single person on Earth for whom the question is, “Am I morally filthy?”  The question always is, “Will I confess my filthiness and trust in the only One who can cleanse me?”
  • Man-centered answers to Satan’s accusations, to the problem of our guilt before God, always say either, “You’re not that bad,” or “You are that bad and so there’s no hope.”  Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ says, “You are that bad, and so I’ll clothe you in my righteousness.”
  • If you think the most important piece of your salvation was something you did, thought, felt, or decided, you’re misunderstanding the Gospel.  We don’t hear a word from Joshua in this vision.  The hero in this salvation story is the hero in every salvation story:  God.
  • Those of who have trusted in Jesus worship a God who was willing to crush His Son rather than lose His rebels.  
  • No worldly philosophy can rebuke Satan, because the curse he invokes is real.  The best liars are usually telling a little of the truth.  Our sins are real and the curse of death sin brought is real.  And Satan knows it. 
  • If the best answer you have before God is that you are a good person, you won’t be able to stand before Him any more than Satan can.  
  • If your answer before God is that you are a filthy sinner and that you trust only in the mercy of Jesus, you’ll find that God is the most forgiving personal being in existence. 
  • God’s answer to your worst fears about yourself might not be that you’re exaggerating them.  The Gospel’s answer to our flaws and treacheries is that God is willing to snatch us from the fire that we deserve to be cast into.  And that, by the way, is written by a former drunk. 
  • Satan has no answer to God’s rebuke in this vision; the Gospel shuts up Satan and sinners, because the Gospel is the Good News that Jesus became a curse for His people and clothed them with His perfect righteousness. 
  • It took Jesus 24 hours to unspin a curse Satan spent eons invoking. 
  • People always follow what they trust.  God’s command to walk in His ways is a command to trust Him more than whatever or whoever you could follow instead.  

This vision God gave Zechariah breathed a lot of joy and confidence into my soul over the past few weeks.  I know I can stand right along with Joshua the high priest, knowing I deserved the fire, and say to Satan and the world:

Keep your self-help and political saviors and pyramid schemes.  I need to be rescued!  And you can’t do it.  We’re calling to the only One with hands strong enough to snatch us.  And we’ll shout over all your sales pitches.

God has rebuked Satan on my behalf because of the perfection and holiness of Jesus of Nazareth.  And now I can trust Him and follow Him forever.  It calms the heart.   

We worship an unspeakably wonderful God.  

Three Causes of Silence on the Sinfulness of Homosexuality

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I think it’s fair to say there are more than a few American Christians who are hesitant to say that homosexuality is sinful. I offer a few of the reasons, based on some observation and some examination of my own heart. This list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, I’m only submitting it as a description of the temptations to silence that I’ve seen lurking in my own heart and as the ones that I suspect I’m seeing play out in the public words (or lack of words) of some other Christians.

1) A genuine desire to not harm people.

This is obviously a good thing. Though God will slay the wicked, He does not delight in their deaths. He makes the sun shine on the repentant and the unrepentant alike, and gives the unrighteous rain and nature and general order in creation. God has intimate regard for His creatures, and that is especially true of His image-bearers, even those He will cast into the Lake of Fire. The Bible tells us these things. Even in the midst of His great wrath, our God has real and true love that makes ours pale in comparison.

But this desire to not harm has to be steered in the right direction by the truth of God’s Word. We often can’t see past the next e-mail or Facebook post, and so our palms can get sweaty over how someone will react to a digital communication when they should be sweating over how that person will stand before Jesus on the Day of the Lord.

God does not bless two men pursuing each other in romance and attempting to have sex with each other. We should desire the well-being of our friends and neighbors who are pulled in this direction or are engaged in this sin, but part of that well-being will be to pulled out of a behavior that only ends badly. We cannot be so nervous about causing short-term pain that we allow someone to cast themselves headlong into never-ending pain.

2) A desire to see the church of Jesus grow in America.

Again, a good thing. I want to see the redeemed, called-out people of God added to. But it is never a good strategy to try to hide parts of who God is and what He has said. We are not simply selling something, as Christians. Many of Jesus’ followers deserted him at one point, in John 6, after He said some very hard words. They were offended and left. That was okay with Him. The ones who stayed loved Him.

“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life…’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'”

When we evangelize, we are hoping for a miracle of God by which a spiritually dead sinner is brought to life. We are hoping a Peter is born, someone to whom God has revealed that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Salvation is when an individual goes from hating God to loving Him. It’s a miracle, not a sales pitch. We should work to persuade, but all the while remembering we are persuading them to someone the natural man will find offensive: A Holy Jesus who is King, Savior, and unapologetically Lord.

Trying to cover up parts of what He has spoken is a terrible method.

3) Sinful fear of what people will think.

I know what it’s like to want to fit in. And I know what it’s like to want to be thought well of and admired. But when that becomes where our identity rests, when we are more ready to act or speak with man’s opinion of us in mind than with God’s, we are in sin.

I’m encouraging you and I’m encouraging myself to internally ask questions about what we choose not to say in this image-obsessed day and place:

Are there words and sentences Jesus and His apostles and His prophets used that I could never imagine coming out of my mouth, unless they were preceded by something like, “Now I’m not saying…”? Words like “wrath,” “judgment,” “fire,” and “wicked?” Sentences like “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him”?

-Do I honestly think about standing before Jesus and giving an account for my life? And by comparison, how much do I worry about what other human beings think about what I say or do?

-In my heart of hearts, is my goal in what I say and don’t say about homosexuality faithfulness to Almighty God? Or is something else dictating my speech or silence?

The world needs us to have compassion and conviction. Grace and truth. Great mercy towards sinners, as those of us who have been washed were once headed to Hell, and great boldness towards sinners, as we also know what is coming for the unrepentant and would see them spared that.

Ephesians tells us to speak the truth in love, and we should never forget that last word. Love. It carries the beauty of the Cross and of our Savior in it. Speak the truth in love. We should never neglect the last word, there.

But my fear is that many of us are forgetting the first word.

Wrath and Compassion

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Jesus had incredibly harsh words to say to the unrepentant and unbelieving. He also had fierce, rescuing mercies to give to those who did repent.

True Christians should be ashamed of neither.

The same Jesus who said He would strike the unrepentant Jezebel in the Thyatiran church dead also told the sinful, broken woman who washed His feet at Simon’s house that she was saved and forgiven.

If you claim Christ but have believed or stated in the past that Jesus never judged anyone or would never condemn anyone or some similar thing, I am pleading with you to read Him. It is foolish to claim a man you do not know, and it is dangerous to misrepresent a man you do not read.

And if you claim Christ but believe there is something unredeemable about a homosexual or a pedophile or a Muslim terrorist or a gossipy co-worker, I am pleading with you to read of the Jesus who saved a criminal in the middle of his execution and a Christian-hater who was on his way to arrest believers. Jesus will save any who repent and put their faith in Him, any who will turn from their sins and call upon His Name.

Jesus will come in fierce, flaming wrath and He will come to finally rescue all the miserable wretches whom He has washed and clothed in white. Revelation tells us He will make the last war in order to make the final peace.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with His hard rebukes and His tender compassion. Jesus the Messiah has both wrath and grace. Judgment and forgiveness. He proclaims both the coming punishment and the coming reward
in the four Gospels and in Revelation. His apostles preach both in Acts and their letters.

In these days when we are stuck in the residue of a once Biblically-literate country, it is imperative that those who truly know Jesus proclaim Him as He has revealed Himself. We are surrounded by many people who think they are Christian but who have never read or believed in the real Jesus of Nazareth who is returning to judge the living and the dead.

If you claim Christ, follow the real Jesus. Not the one of your imagination.

When Everyone Sees What Matters

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To be a part of a church is to be a part of something big in a way the world can’t understand. Wal-Marts and soccer teams and small businesses and nation-states will all disintegrate and slip back into the sand someday. But the bride of Christ, the church of the elect ransomed by the blood of the eternal Messiah? Buddy, neither death nor height nor depth nor time nor persecution nor the gates of Hell will wipe her out. She will be beautiful and alive when every other human collective has broken up or broken down.

The world tries to trick us into thinking that its next big story, whether it be Bruce Jenner or Hillary Clinton or the finale of the Voice, is more substantial than a few Christians praying in a crummy room to a God somewhere out in space.

But the demons know otherwise.

I’ll bet you my lunch that the forces of Hell tremble more when a house church in China prays in a dim, unlit living room to their Father for faithfulness than when the lights come on and the Grammy Awards start or the kickoff for the Super Bowl takes place.

To followers of Christ: The headlines and images scrolling across our screens seem so real, so much more deserving of our attention than the worn Bible on the table or the gathering of Christians on Sunday morning. And not just them, right? I mean it’s not just the headlines that seem more real than the faith, is it? Phone calls, appointments, school events, papers to write, grass to cut, hair to have cut…

But the joyous eyes of Heaven and the furious eyes of hell know what’s real, know where the most important choices are made and where the eternal energies are spent. There isn’t one dead person who could come back to the living, whether they’re in judgment or in paradise now, who would tell me, “You should spend more time watching The Bachelor,” or “You spend just the right amount of time worrying about money.”

I’m pretty confident I’d hear something like, “What are you doing? Do you know what eternity is? Do you know what is coming? Why are you living like today is all there is?”

The church is the sort of the thing the world finds confusing or offensive or pointless because the world values the wrong things and loves the wrong things. But when this galaxy is flipped on its head and every human being gives an account to its Maker, all the series finales and track meets and financial anxieties that seemed so big and so real will look as small as they really were, and those who esteemed them too highly will see what bigness really looks like. Hell will be thrown into a lake of fire by hands of steel and every celebrity and pro football coach and president, soldier, and accountant will bend his or her knees before the beautiful Jesus who’s returned as rightful King.

And at that moment the church who most of humanity thought was weird or unnecessary will be presented to that King as the bride He’s come back for. And as the roughest places are made smooth and the highest of heights of leveled, there won’t be a single heart who won’t for the first (and last) time know what was really important.