Selected highlights from this sermon.
The ultimate day of calamity will come when you’re standing before God and watching all you’ve achieved – your status, your wealth – go up in smoke. And as you watch it fade away, you will find no reason at all for God to accept you as one of His own.
But if you’ve trusted Christ as your personal Savior, there’s no need to fear that day. “Be patient,” James says, “strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
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My friend, John Ortburg, wrote a book entitled When It’s All Over Everything Goes Back Into the Box, and it does, doesn’t it? When I was young I used to play Monopoly and because I was the last person in our family (the youngest), brothers and sisters weren’t there and I used to sometimes play against myself to see who would win. (laughter)
And John Ortburg also does something else that I want to do today and I hope that you have a good enough sense of humor and you are a good enough sport to do it. Would you take out your wallet just like I am taking mine out? Take it out of your pocket. Ladies, what I want you to do is to go into your purse, and find that bucket of credit cards and just take it out and look at it. You know, you can run your finger along the wallet and think of how much money means to you and what you would do if you only had more, and what you would do now that you only have less. Money! Mm, does it represent our life! Doesn’t it?
Now I want you to do something else. Give your wallet or your credit cards to the person sitting next to you. Would you do that please? (laughter) Let them hold it for a moment. I see a husband who is gingerly giving it to his wife. (laughter) You see, what I want you to do is to hold somebody else’s wallet and then what we are going to do is we are going to have an offering and finally you can be generous. (loud laughter) I think if we voted on that there would be a plurality. Money means so much to us. By the way, if you don’t have your wallet in your hands, give it back to the person to whom it belongs.
Today what I’m going to do is to speak about the time when all the toys will go back into the box when there’s not going to be one dollar, one dime, one Euro, one yen, one pound of sterling. It will all be gone forever. There are two different days of calamity that I could speak about.
Let me tell you about the next message in this series, a day of calamity, and the title is Faith at the Breaking Point and I’m going to discuss with you the one world order, how all of the nations of the world are going to be unified with one currency and one world order, and then the question we are going to ask is this: If your life and family were at stake would you still be willing to be true to Jesus Christ? That’s next time, and then what we’re going to do is we are going to have a prayer for the entire church. We are going to end with it—a church prayer I should say that delivers all of us from fear of the future. Maybe after that message we’ll really need that prayer even more than we do today.
But today I speak about a different day of calamity. I’m talking about the day of final judgment on this planet when everything will go back into the box because some day it will all be gone. I want you to take your Bibles and turn to James 5, and actually we’re going to begin in the last part of James 4. There is a discussion among commentators as to whom James is actually writing about in this section of Scripture. Clearly he is attacking the rich, not because riches in themselves are wrong, but he’s attacking those who love riches more than they love God, and who acquired it fraudulently. That’s whom he is writing about. But I have no doubt that there were some people who were within his church to whom that applied. But also there is a lesson there for us as Christians, and of course it is something that certainly applies to those that are outside the Church for sure, but James is aiming for both audiences. And what he does here is he gives us five warnings, five dangers when it comes to wealth, and he warns us that someday everything will be over in graphic terms as we shall see in the Scripture.
The first danger that we have is this – ignoring God in our business. I am now in James 4:13-16: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this and that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Wow! Here are businessmen who are planning their business plan for the future and they are going to go into different places. They are going to trade and they are going to make money and they are acting as if their money is theirs and not God’s. They don’t even acknowledge Him.
Remember the rich fool Jesus spoke about who built barns and said, “I, of course, have much grain,” and so he built bigger barns, and then God said to him, “You fool, today your soul is demanded from you.” That’s what the Greek text says. Today your soul is demanded. You are acting as if there is no God. You are acting as if God didn’t give this to you.
I am thinking of two men – true stories. One was a wealthy farmer. He bought much land and couldn’t buy enough, and couldn’t make enough money. God gave him crops. He hoarded it all, and then suddenly—boom—he was found dead in his pick-up truck. His soul was demanded of him. He lived as if God didn’t matter.
And then I am thinking of someone in real estate who bragged about the millions of dollars he made to sell all of his holdings, and then someone asked him for $25,000 to support a youth ministry that was having an impact on the youth of the city. And he said, “Oh, that sure is a lot of money. I really don’t think so. I’d like to but I do give some money to the church.” He was dead in his own home. His soul was demanded of him. He claimed to be a Christian. I don’t believe he was. I believe that to be that stingy you have to be unconverted. How can anyone stand in the presence of Christ who redeemed you and gave His life for you and you make millions of dollars and then you quibble over $25,000 instead of saying, “Lord, you gave this to me. How can I use this for the Kingdom?” He should have gotten a committee together and the committee should say to itself, “How can we best spend this money to promote the Gospel?”
Wait a moment now, you businessmen, who act as if God doesn’t exist. Your life is a vapor. It is here for a moment and then it is gone and then what? The first danger is ignoring God.
The second danger in the text is in James 5 and that is hoarding wealth. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.” Wow!
In those days there were three different ways that you maintained your wealth. They didn’t have banks like we do today, so one was the produce of the field, and you know there was grain and there were vegetables and so forth, and so what they would do is keep them in their barns trying to keep them as well as they could, but James says they are rotting. The second way in which to keep wealth was clothes – garments and robes. This was very important. All throughout the Scripture you can trace the importance of a robe and the importance of clothes as belonging to the wealthy and the form of investment.
James says, “You have all of these clothes and the moths are eating them. Why are you using your clothes to feed moths?” Ah, you say, “The problem with clothes is they get old, produce rots, but gold and silver! Don’t we all wish that we had some at today’s prices because at last we’d have something that is stable, something that we can depend upon, something that is there for us in the day of our calamity. Right? And James says, “You know your silver and your gold? They are rusting. They are corroding.” You say, “Well, that’s not possible. The reason these metals are so precious is because they don’t corrode.”
James is using this to try to get the rich to see that no matter how much you hoard, at the end of the day in the final calamity it will not help you. You’ll notice that it says this in the book of Ezekiel. “They put on sack cloth and horror covers them. Shame is on all the faces. They cast their silver into the streets. Their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.”
At the end of the day, the form of monetary investment that is most solid – gold and silver – will rust and it will not help you. By the way, the next verse says, “They cannot satisfy their hunger.” You cannot eat gold and silver. In the end it will not save you.
But these people were hoarders, and they acted as if as long as we’ve got lots, as if it is going to last forever or as if they aren’t going to have to confront God in the day of judgment. That’s the second danger – to hoard their wealth.
The third is misusing workers. Now we get to the whole issue of why James is so upset and uses such strong language because it’s not just that they acted as if God didn’t exist and they hoarded their wealth, but there was something else going on. They became rich by exploiting the poor. James says in verse 4, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
In the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 24 and elsewhere (and I’ll simply paraphrase it for you), it says that in those days there would be a place where men would go where they would be hired for the day. God very clearly says that if you have day workers, pay them before the sun goes down because they are poor and they have families to feed and you need to make sure that you keep your promise to them. If you say that you are going to give them a denarius, they get a denarius at the end of the day, and do it before the sun sets. They need it for their families and for food.
And these wealthy landowners didn’t do that. They exploited the workers. They made money off of them and then they didn’t pay them and God says that the cry of these workers has been heard by God, the Lord of hosts, the Lord of armies. God is listening to all of this injustice. So it’s one thing to be wealthy. It’s another thing to be wealthy and having acquired your wealth by theft and robbery and fraud, and God is watching said James. Wow!
There’s another danger and that is the danger of personal ease, and you’ll notice that there in the text. What were the wealthy doing? Verse 5 says, “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” You know, you’ve got all this money. The people over there are starving, but you don’t care about them. You are enjoying your luxury. The Greek text actually means living a life of softness. I think we understand that. Pretty cushy, but you don’t care about the needs of others! No! And he says, “You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
I remember. I’m a farm boy. We used to fatten cattle – fatten calves for the day of slaughter, and what you do is you give them lots of food, lots of grain, hay that you know that they will like and you just put it everywhere to remind them to eat whenever they want to, and they do and they are fattened for the day of slaughter.
James says that all of the things that you are doing are actually culminating to the day when God is going to judge you and your judgment will be more severe because you exploited workers. You used your money on yourself, and you didn’t care about anyone else, especially the poor who were crying up to God whom you defrauded.
John MacArthur says, “Blind to heaven, deaf to warnings of hell, insensitive to the impending day of slaughter and judgment, the unrepentant, selfish, indulgent hoarders stumble blindly to their doom.” That’s why I entitled this message The Day of Calamity – that day of calamity—not a day of calamity for those of us who know Christ. I’ll mention that in a moment.
But there is a final warning, and by the way, notice what James says in verse 6: “You have condemned, you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” The Greek word condemned actually is a word that was used for the law courts. James is saying, “You know, you use the courts against the poor.” That’s not a new idea, is it, especially in this very litigious society where constantly we’re in law suits? Everybody wants his or her own thing. “I’ll sue you because of this and this and this.” And so, what you are doing is you are using the courts to continue to oppress the poor, and he says, “They do not resist you,” and the reason is, how can they?
Now we read this through 21st century eyes and we ask ourselves why James wasn’t telling them what to do. They should have organized. They should go to court. They should have unions. Unions have done a lot of good in terms of helping people to get what is their due. We may argue whether or not they’ve overstepped their boundaries, but basically it’s a good concept.
In those days there wasn’t anything like that. All that you had were crops. All that you had were day workers during the harvest time, during the planting, and oftentimes after those things were over there wasn’t much to do. They had no recourse at all, and James says, “They are not resisting you and you are taking advantage of them,” and James appears to be very angry at what is happening because he knows how desperately wrong that is.
There is a final danger and that danger is, of course, the danger of eternal judgment. James warns about it, but I can’t help but think of a picture in the book of Revelation. When you read this, it ought to take your breath away. This is the day when there are no more dollars, there are no more dimes, no more money, no more gold, no more silver and nothing else matters. It’s the day when all the pieces get put back in the box. Listen carefully.
This is the destruction of Babylon. Now there are two Babylons. There’s the religious Babylon, and then there is the political/economic Babylon. This is what it says: “Come out of her, my people, lest you partake in her sins, lest you share in her plagues, for her sins are heaped high as heaven and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back as she herself has paid back others. As she glorified herself and loved in luxury so give her a like measure of torment. She says, ‘I sit like a queen. I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’”
For this reason, God says her plagues will come in a single day. “And the kings of the earth who committed immorality with her and lived in luxury with her will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They will stand far off. Alas, alas, you great city, you mighty city, Babylon, for in a single hour your judgment has come, and the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her since no one buys their cargo anymore—cargoes of gold and silver and jewels and pearls and fine linen, purple cloth, scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, costly wood, bronze” and it goes on, “wine, oil, flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, that is human souls.” And then the Bible says, “The merchants of these wares who gained wealth from her will stand afar off in fear, fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, ‘Alas for the great city that was clothed in fine linen and purple, scarlet and adorned with gold, with jewels and pearls. For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.’”
Wow! Well you say, how can it happen in a single hour? We don’t know how it all happened in a single hour but we could take it literally, and today with technology we can understand that very clearly. Cyber attack! Imagine all of the satellites being destroyed. Imagine an attack against our electronic world. Every computer, every cell phone, every means of communication suddenly destroyed totally! Everything would stop in its tracks. Why? God says, “The day of judgment has come. The day of calamity is here.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I was hoping for something a little bit more optimistic and hopeful when I came to church today.” Well, I know you were, and that’s why James has you in mind, and so do I.
James now is talking to believers in the midst of this situation. He’s talking to those who have been wronged by others, and the wrong continues and will continue until they die. And James goes on to say these words. “Be patient (verse 7), therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged. Behold the judge is standing at the door.”
James says, “Be faithful and patient until the coming of the Lord.” You say, “Well, yeah, that was sure a good message to give to those poor people. The Lord didn’t even come.” No, He didn’t and He still hasn’t, but the advice of James is embedded in biblical texts, and it is a very important piece of advice for us. The early Church was wrong in thinking that Jesus would come in that era, but they were not wrong in expecting the possibility of his coming. Furthermore, at this point it really doesn’t matter to the early Church because some day Jesus Christ will come and when he does, all of these wrongs are going to be made right and vindication shall at last take place on Planet Earth. Wow! (applause)
I believe that God’s judgment is going to be so meticulously tuned that throughout all of eternity we will say, “Just and true are thy works, thou king of saints.” We’ll look back and we’ll say every justice and injustice on this planet has been adequately and completely addressed. Now those folks who died in the first century, they haven’t yet received that justice. But be patient. The Lord is going to come. And how sure are we that the Lord is going to come? As sure as we are that He came once in Bethlehem and died on the cross and was raised, because remember those events were at one time prophecy and now they are history. And someday the coming of the Lord will be history.
Imagine what James is saying. Imagine a courtroom. Everybody is there and they begin to talk and this person has this complaint and this person says this. They are murmuring against each other and they are upset with their employers and their employees, and all of the murmuring and the complaining that goes on. This is what James is saying. He is saying, “Don’t do that because a man has stepped forward.” Imagine a man stepping forward suddenly in the midst of this and saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. The judge!” And just like that in mid-conversation people stop talking because the judge is at the door, and James says, “Don’t murmur with one another. The Word of God has promised the judge is coming, and He is at the door. And for those who do not know Christ as Savior, who have not come under the protection of His grace, who have not received the gift of eternal life that Jesus purchased for those who believe on Him, for those people it will be a day of calamity the likes of which we could not imagine. But for all those who have had their bill of justice paid by Jesus through faith in Him, it will be a day of vindication. It will be a day of blessing. It is a day for which all of us should be patient and look forward to the coming of the Lord.
Notice what James didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Now be patient my brothers until you get a raise.” Well, you can be patient until you do but you might have to be patient forever. The raise might not come. He didn’t say, “Now you be patient until the value of your house exceeds the value of your mortgage.” Well that would be a real nice thing to happen to many people, and we don’t know whether or not it will. All those are uncertainties. But there is one certainty and that is this: The judge is coming and James says He’s standing at the door.
James also goes on then and uses Job as this wonderful illustration. He says, “You’ve heard of the steadfastness of Job.” Of course Job had his doubts and there’s nothing wrong with doubts in the Christian life. If you tell me that you have never doubted, I know then that you might also lie to me about other things because we all have our doubts and Job did too at one point. But notice it says, “You’ve heard of the steadfastness of Job and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” That’s verse 11. “You’ve heard of the steadfastness of Job.”
The reason that that’s so appropriate is because you know we always say, “Oh I know. God owns everything. God owns all my bank accounts, all of my retirement funds, all of my investments. I know it all belongs to God,” and then after we’ve said that, what do we do? We leave the church and act as if it is our own. That’s generally the way in which we approach that. Did you know that the Bible says that Job had a great deal of wealth—7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and was the richest man on the earth. And then if you remember the story in Job 1, because of fire, because of the coming Sabeans (and the fire, by the way, is lightning) a servant comes and says, “Job, all of your animals are dead. The 7,000 sheep, the camels, the oxen, and the donkeys—they are all gone, and by the way, the Sabeans killed your servants also.
Job learned something that day. If you say that it all belongs to God, if you really, really mean that, you have to accept the implication. God has a right to take it whenever he wants. And you can’t tell me that your wealth and your money or my money belongs to God until we give him permission to take it if he wants it. So this is a real test for Job. It’s an economic test.
And then as if that wasn’t enough, the very same day—in fact, it says that one servant was running and then the other came. He says, “Oh, by the way, Job, a wind blew down the house. It fell on all of your ten children and they are all dead.” Calamity but not an ultimate calamity! Job, you remember, whose theology was more impeccable in some ways than ours, understood that the children were God’s, his wealth was God’s, and at the end of the day he says this. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” He came through that calamity very well because it wasn’t the ultimate one.
The ultimate calamity is, of course, standing before God with all of your achievements, which go up in smoke, and finding no reason at all for God to accept you because you have never transferred your trust to Christ. That is the ultimate calamity. And you know, when the Bible says be patient until the coming of the Lord, there’s no better way for us to be reminded of the coming of the Lord than to go back to the words of Jesus when He was saying goodbye to His disciples. “And the night before he was betrayed he gave them the cup and he gave them bread and he said to them, ‘This bread represents my body which was broken for you. This cup represents my blood,’ and then he said, ‘This do in remembrance of me,’” and Paul says, “When we participate we remember the Lord’s death until he comes.”
So let me look into your eyes today. Maybe you can see mine. Be patient, my dear sister. Be patient, my dear brother until the coming of the Lord, and like a farmer who plants seed, and that seed germinates later, your faith is going to germinate, and you will be rewarded by Christ, and at the end of the day we will all say everything, including the loss of my job, the injustice that I endured, the exploitation that I was a victim of, it was all worth it because when Jesus comes, I promise you, He’s going to set it all right. Be patient therefore till the coming of the Lord.
Let us pray.
Father, we want to thank you today for your faithfulness in our lives but we know that life is hard. This message fell on two different sets of ears—those who do not know you as Savior who perhaps love their money more than they love you, and then those who know Christ and yet life is hard for them. Would you birth in us today, Father, a deep appreciation for the fact that Jesus is coming? We can stop our murmuring, because the judge is at the door. We love You more than our silver and our gold. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
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