God And The United StatesErwin W. Lutzer | September 7, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
The tragedy of September 11, 2001, seemingly permitted God to return to the public sphere—but this only lasted for a short time, and under certain rules. This god only blessed. This god was tolerant. This was a god of freedom and democracy.
But look at the Scriptures and we find a God who not only pours out blessings on people and nations, but also judges them. We also see that He regularly used wicked nations to chastise His people—and the United States may face a similar end, if we don’t repent.
God bless America! After the 9/11 terrorist attack, God Bless America signs were everywhere. God was back! The ACLU looked on in dismay as members of the Congress sang God Bless America on the steps of the Capitol. God was allowed off the reservation, and He was allowed to enter into American life, into mainstream American life once again. He was able to at least get His toe off of the reservation.
But what kind of a god was back? Well, a very tolerant god, a god who accepted everyone no matter what religion you were! I’m told that there were two porn shops in Nashville who had God Bless America on their marquees. It was a very tolerant god. The god who was back was a god who could never possibly judge America, but only bless. He was only allowed to bless America. He was the god of capitalism, the god of freedom and democracy, the god that obviously would bless America because look at who we are as Americans! Just look at all the things that America has done and given the world.
Very interestingly, when religious leaders (some of them perhaps unwisely) suggested that this was a judgment of God, the media began to hyperventilate. I mean there was no possibility that this could be God’s judgment. God was not allowed to judge. He was only allowed to bless.
Now I have to say that such remarks are probably unwise for a number of reasons. Number one, we don’t know exactly what God is up to. And number two, it may be more of a judgment on the Church than America at large, but anyway, the very suggestion that maybe God would judge us was inadmissible. The god who came off the reservation was not permitted to judge. But it’s interesting that in the Old Testament God said to Israel, “I lay before you two ways – the way of blessing if you obey Me, and the way of cursing and judgment if you don’t.” And today we’re saying there’s only one side to God’s attributes, and that is blessing.
Well let me ask you this question. This happens to be a series of messages on God and the Nations, and this is number five in the series. Is God actively involved in what happens in nations, in terrorist attacks for example? The Scripture says in Isaiah 45:7: “I form light and I create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I the Lord do these things.” And Amos asks: “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” Wow! That’s strong language. It doesn’t mean that God does it. But it does mean that it’s part of His providential work. I mean He does let it happen, and He could prevent it from happening. So God is involved at the end of the day, is He not?
What I’d like to do in the next few moments is to invite you to look with me at Isaiah 10, because Isaiah is going to give us a window into God’s purposes. And we will use the principles that we learn there as a backdrop to do a very, very quick discussion of God and America, all too briefly, I might add. One of the problems with this series always has been that I’ve got more information and so much more could be said, but we will give you an overview as we talk about God and America.
Isaiah 10 is very fascinating as it gives us this window into God’s purposes because of the fact that God is going to show us there principles by which He judges nations, principles that if properly interpreted are still applicable to us today.
The tenth chapter begins with God listing some of the sins for which He was going to judge them. “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression.” I need to stop there because someone has said, “Show us your laws and I will show you your God.” And how true that is! And the great battle in America is for laws. It’s for the judges. It’s for the Supreme Court. It’s for who says what can happen and what can’t happen. But God says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws,” and then He says, “to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, (Someday I’m going to preach about that because the Old Testament particularly says so much about the poor. And God often judges people on the basis of the way in which they treat the poor.) that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!” God says, “That’s what’s happening in Israel.” And that isn’t a total list of all of Israel’s sins but many of them, and God says, “For that you are going to be judged.”
And now the principles of God’s judgment! First of all, God uses an evil nation to judge His own people, a nation that is more evil than His own people. You’ll notice He’s going to use Assyria (verse 5 and 6): “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.”
Do you see what God is saying? He’s saying that Assyria is my rod to discipline Israel; it is the club of my anger. Well, what about this nation Assyria? Now when I speak about Assyria today I’m not talking about the Assyrians that we have here at The Moody Church. You know that we have Assyrians here at The Moody Church. In fact, one of our staff members is an Assyrian. I won’t give you his full name, but to give you a clue, his last name is Milco. (laughter) He’s completely Assyrian. Alright?
These Assyrians (and now we’re talking centuries and centuries ago) were barbarian. They were ruthless, and they were cruel. And they worshiped the god Asher. And God said, “They are my club for Israel. I’m going to send them into Israel because My people have forsaken Me and I’m going to use these people to judge My people.”
Now I can imagine every chariot in Israel during those days having a bumper sticker (if chariots have bumpers), and the bumper sticker said God Bless Israel. All that God can do is to bless us.
Many preachers on television today (not all of them) say, “All that God is willing to do is to bless you. He’ll give you money. He’ll give you health. That’s all. There’s no judgment. There’s no need for repentance. He’s the God who just blesses. That’s His job,” like somebody says.
I want you to know today that God can also judge. And the terrorist attack coming from evil people with a network of fanatics who are evil, God may indeed use people just like that to humble and to judge America. That is the first principle.
There is a second principle of judgment, and I might say, by the way, before we go on to it that it’s also possible for God to sometimes use better nations to judge more evil ones. We would say that that happened during World War II when the allies ganged up on Nazi Germany. And I would say it also when the United States fought its war in Iraq. So God uses one nation to judge another, but sometimes the most evil nation is His club, His rod.
There’s a second principle, and that is that God judges the evil nation that He uses. It says in verse 7, “But he does not so intend.” Who is the “he”? It’s the Assyrian, the king of Assyria. What God is saying is, “Now, I intend to use Assyria as this rod, this club,” but he isn’t saying in his mind, “Let’s obey God and let’s go out there and do something for Jehovah.” No, no, no, he has entirely different intentions, but this is not what he intends. This is not what he has in mind. His purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. God says, “That’s what his purpose is. It is an evil purpose, and because his motive is evil and against Me, he will be judged even though I use him.”
You’ll notice what it says now in verses 12 and 13, “When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.’” God says he’s going to be judged. Specifically, verse 16 says, “Therefore the Lord God of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire.” God says, “I will judge Assyria for its wickedness.”
Now you say, “But God used Assyria.” Yes! Somewhere along the line I came across a story that beautifully illustrates this juxtaposition between God’s will and His sovereignty and human responsibility. There was a nobleman who had a grove of trees that he loved very, very much. In fact, he gave a name to every single tree. But there was an evil neighbor who wanted to do something very wicked to this nobleman. So the neighbor climbed over the fence and spent almost all night sawing down one of the nobleman’s most cherished trees. But as the wicked man was trying to leave, he ran in the wrong direction and got pinned to the ground, and there he was.
Well, the next morning, the nobleman came to look at his trees, and he had a man with him, and he came across the felled tree, and this man who was pinned under it said in a choked whisper, “I got your tree.” He knew he was going to be punished, but just the idea that he had cut down the nobleman’s favorite tree delighted him. And the nobleman said, “The man that I have here is a contractor, and I want him to build me a summer house, and the reason we are taking this walk is so that I can show him which tree I intended to have him cut down. Thank you so much for doing my work for me.”
Now did that mean that this evil neighbor didn’t get judged? Of course, he got judged because his intentions were evil. But in his evil work he still did what the nobleman wanted. And that’s the way God is. God says, “Assyria, you are judging Israel, but you too will be judged.”
Rest in the fact that the terrorists, not just in America, but around the world, will be judged by God in this life somewhat indiscriminately – from our standpoint haphazardly, because some may live to have long lives - but in the end God’s judgment will be meticulously balanced and we will praise God forever for the accuracy of His judgment. Nothing goes unpunished.
There’s a third characteristic, and that is that God’s purpose is judgment. His purposes in judgment are really two-fold. First of all, regarding unbelievers, very quickly verses 18 and following: “The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the Lord will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few that a child can write them down.” He may be talking about the Assyrian soldiers. God says, “I’m going to show you My power and My ability to even destroy you.” God shows to the wicked the fact that they will not repent, even if He shouts from heaven.
Now let’s apply this to America. Where are we here in the great United States, a nation that has been so wonderfully blessed by God? After the terrorist attack, church attendance increased. I’m told now it is lower than ever, but thankfully not here at The Moody Church. You know that our attendance has been growing during the last years and continues to grow. And every time I am here I see the balcony come out further and further and further. And I say, “God be praised.”
But across America today what you find is a decline in church attendance, and so what we have is just a blip on the screen. The Tribune after 9/11 came out with an article that said it’s okay to talk about evil now. It even suggested that maybe we lived in the end of the postmodern age where evil was not admitted into public discourse. But somehow all that is forgotten and lost, is it not? And what we have in our society today is taking out God’s laws. God is being pushed back onto the reservation. The public square is being scrubbed clean of anything that has to do with God. God is not supposed to inform or to govern or to control what politicians might do. And that’s the nation in which we live.
Yesterday I was speaking at Promise Keepers in Atlanta. There were 15,000 men at Promise Keepers there in Atlanta. If you want to hear something that’s good about America, think about what God is doing in so many different areas of this great nation. I met Judge Moore from Alabama there, by the way, and regardless of what you think of him, he was telling us, and showing us really (and I spoke to one of his attorneys) that constitutionally, if you look strictly at the Constitution, those Ten Commandments had a place there in the Supreme Court Building. Those commandments constitutionally should have belonged there. (applause)
Now we can argue whether or not this was really the cause to fight and say this or that, but I’ll tell you what is happening. There are judges in America today who are no long interpreting the Constitution and interpreting the law. They are making up the law in the United States of America. (applause)
Now let me ask you this: What happens when law no longer rules? The vacuum is filled with power. Let me give you an illustration from our childhood days. Fourth grade – here’s me, and I have a teacher by the name of Mrs. Watson. She was a meticulous disciplinarian, a good teacher though. She was good and fair, but tough. She had certain rules for our playground, you know, because we used to play various games that I won’t tell you about because I’m in too good of a mood right now to go into that. But the rules were you shall not hit another, you shall not talk naughty to one another and you shall share all of the equipment (the sports equipment and so forth). And every once in a while she came out of the schoolhouse during recess just to check on how the kids were playing. And we played reasonably well. There were very few hassles when Mrs. Watson was there with her rules.
Now let’s suppose we said, “You know, these rules sound Christian. In fact, Mrs. Watson, God bless her, is an informed Christian, and we can’t have those laws. And so what we need to do is to take the rules and we need to get rid of them. And we need to get rid of her too.”
Now let me ask you a question. Whose will will survive out on the playing field when the rules are no longer there, with no one enforcing them? You can answer that. The school bully! Whatever he wants will go. And I’m going to speak to you candidly. In America today there are people who do not respect the rule of law or the rule of morality, and they are into one thing and one thing alone, and that is power. And they will destroy. They will distort. They will vilify. They will do all that they possibly can to get their way, without conscience, because power is taking up the place that law and morality use to have in America. And people can no longer even resolve the simplest thing without some kind of an appeal to law, and to the laws of this nation. And that’s a great story in itself because America no longer is rooted in God.
What did the terrorist attack prove about unbelievers? It proved something I guess that we should have known. Dead people don’t hear very well. God sends the alarm from heaven, and it lasts for a few weeks, and then you’d think that nothing had ever happened, and everything goes back to where it was.
What’s God’s message to us as believers? And here I just want to read very quickly verses 20, 21 and 24. Verse 20 and 21: “In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.” And then very quickly verse 24; “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: ‘O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did.’” God says, “Don’t be afraid of them because they don’t have the final word in your life anyway. I do.”
Let me make two observations in conclusion here. Number one, when it comes to such things as terrorism, when it comes to such things as a bad economy, and the economy right now is as unpredictable as a new bottle of ketchup, it seems to me we shouldn’t ask the question, “Why us?” but rather “Why not us?” It seems as if God has just chosen to bless America in ways that no other country is blessed. Other countries: huge earthquakes, tidal waves, wars, civil wars, poverty and hunger, and certainly we have that here. But we have resources the likes of which no nation on earth has ever had. But can it be that we can always just expect blessing, blessing, blessing when God says, “I set before you a path, and the path is one of blessing and a path of judgment and cursing,” and all that we expect from His hand is blessing? I don’t think so.
So the question is are we ourselves getting the message? What about the church – Episcopalians I believe it is - ordaining homosexuals? Everybody says, “They’re apostate!” Oh my friend, they were apostate long ago when they gave up the uniqueness of Jesus as the only way to heaven. That’s where apostasy happens. (applause) This other is just the end result of years of doctrinal erosion.
So what you have today among the believing church is a lack of recognition that what God is always trying to say to us is to get back to the Word, back to holy living, back to witnessing. And I wonder if we as a church are hearing that message.
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that for the believer there are no permanent tragedies, but for unbelievers there are no permanent blessings? Always remember that. If you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior you may have made it in many, many different areas of your life, but there is no permanent blessing. You may have survived a terrorist attack but in the end everything is going to be sorted out and you will have to die and you will stand in God’s presence. And remember the only ones who will be admitted into heaven are those who have the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to their account and therefore meet God’s requirements. And so there is no real permanent blessing for you today if you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior. In the end it will all come apart.
I remember a wealthy man, worth millions and millions of dollars before he died, who spoke about life and all of its heartaches and tragedies, and spoke disparagingly of the life that he lived. I will not quote it because it’s really not quotable in a public meeting. What a way to go! He had it all but there were no permanent blessings. But for the Christian there is no such thing as a permanent tragedy.
Since we are speaking about terrorism I am reminded of Flight 93 over Pennsylvania with Todd Beamer and his famous line, “Let’s roll.” And then we think of Lisa Beamer, a widow, and the witness that she has had for Jesus Christ in the truth of the Gospel. Of course, it is a tragedy to lose a father, and to lose a husband. We won’t even have to exaggerate that for you to know that it’s a great tragedy. But it is not a permanent tragedy. God says to His people, “Do not fear the Assyrians. Don’t worry about them because I am there for you at the end of the day, and I will not leave you, and I will not forsake you.”
This really does come home to Rebecca and me right at this time. As you know, our son-in-law (God bless him – a fine young man) is in Baghdad in the Peace Keeping Corps of the United States Army, but his father, here in the Chicago area, is greatly struggling with cancer. And we spent two hours with him this past week. And you say, “Here’s a young man, 53-years old, who wants to see his grandchildren.” He has seen one grandchild, but he’d like to be able to see another grandchild. It’s a tragedy isn’t it? But it’s not a permanent tragedy. There’s all of eternity out there. There’s all of eternity for God not only to explain it. Whether he wants to explain it or not is His business, because at the end of the day, when we see Him face to face, I don’t know that we’re going to need a whole lot of explanations.
And God is with His people in a troubled economy with the possibility of terrorism. With fearful things on the news, God is with us to the end. There are no permanent tragedies for those who know Jesus. And it is in that that we rest.
Yes, at another time I’m going to be telling you what we should do in light of our great need here in America. That’s coming up soon, but for now, I just want you to rejoice in the fact that our confidence is in Him who said, “I will never leave thee, and I will never forsake thee,” and you need not fear news from a far country, the Bible says, if you fear God. So we are in His hands.
Would you join me as we pray?
Our Father today we thank You from the depths of our souls that You have revealed Jesus to us. And because we know Jesus, we thank You for this promise. We need not fear the Assyrian. We need not fear the terrorist attacks. We need not fear all of the ups and downs and the questions of this nation. We need not even fear federal judges. We need not fear those who are destroying and getting their way with raw power. We pray against them, but we need not fear them because we are in Your hands. Grant us that kind of confidence as a church and as a people. May we leave here today knowing that we belong to You, and that’s really all that matters! Give us that faith, we pray.
If you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, right now even while we are praying say, “Jesus, be my Savior. I want to be on the right side of the great divide.”
Oh Father, our needs are great, but so is Your grace. We thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.