Scripture Reference: Jeremiah 5:30-31, Obadiah, Ephesians 5:5-7
God's Judgment Of The NationsDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | June 22, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
God doesn’t ignore national sins—we see Him judging nations throughout the Bible because of their sins. And He isn’t ignoring the sins of today’s nations. In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us some of the sins that God will hold a country accountable for.
My topic today is God’s Judgment of the Nations. How does God judge a nation? At least we’re going to cover the sins for which He judges nations. As I began to study this I realized that there’s a lot more here than I can do in simply four messages. So next week I’ll be speaking on the specifics of how God judges nations. Today we’re going to speak about the sins for which God judges nations. And as we begin to think about this I want to make some introductory comments.
This is a series of messages entitled God and the Nations.
We have spoken about the origin of the nations. We have talked about God’s sovereignty in providence in the nations, how God rules over the nations of the earth, and now today, God’s judgment of the nations.
Let me say a few words by way of introduction. First of all, when God judges a nation the righteous suffer with the wicked. Jesus said regarding rain, “He sends rain on the just and the unjust.” If you get a shower to water your crop, your neighbor does too, even if he is an atheist. In the very same way if there is a national judgment, the righteous and the wicked are caught up in it together, and we’ll see that more clearly next time.
And the judgment might take many different forms. Again I’m really speaking about the message that I hope to give next week. So many people think that God judges only in one way. Maybe He sends war, or maybe He sends famine. Well, the answer is that God has many different kinds of judgments and we need to interpret them properly as we think about our nation, and that is going to become clearer.
There is such a thing as immediate judgment. Did you know that all sin has immediate judgment connected to it? We’re talking about even individual sins – my sins and your sins. There is an immediate penalty connected with that sin. Now if it’s a small sin (I put small in quotes) and it’s confessed and forgiven, the penalty or the judgment may scarcely be recognized, but it is there because God hates sin and He is continually judging sin – always judging sin. But then there’s a future judgment, a future temporal judgment, and then there’s also such a thing as eternal judgment, which we’re not going to get into in this series.
Keep in mind that all of the sins that we’re going to mention today are sins that are found in every single nation at every single era of history. But today we’re going to speak about the preponderance of sins, and I want you to know that as I go into this I hope that as we talk about the United States, as we are going to be, and evaluating our country as we go through this laundry list of sins, I want you to realize that I am a great optimist regarding the United States of America. The fact that there are so many hundreds of thousands of people who would like to get through our borders is in itself proof that America is a tremendously great country, and there is no doubt that the blessing and benediction of God has been upon America. We need to affirm that as we begin today. (applause)
Furthermore, I am optimistic when I see Promise Keepers with nine or ten thousand men in 18 different cities throughout this nation. That ought to birth hope, and it ought to birth encouragement. And there are many other streams of blessing that God has in this country, and what we need to do is to pray that they will become a mighty river.
I want to say something else. As I go through I am going to be commenting on the United States of America throughout these seven sins for which God judges a nation. And I want you to know that some of you may disagree with me at certain points, and that’s perfectly okay. I’m not claiming at this point infallibility. Alright? There are some who may claim infallibility, but I don’t.
And there may be some things about which you may say, “Pastor, you overlooked this.” And I may have. Can you imagine even beginning to think about all of the sins listed in the Old Testament and then boiling them down to seven? And of course we live in a unique time. For example, gambling was not a sin that was condemned in the Old Testament because they didn’t gamble in those days. Thankfully they were smart enough not to do that I guess in those days. So there are some that I may have overlooked, but I’m going to give then to you here the way in which I perceive it.
And now with that introduction we’re going to begin. And if you are visiting here, you need to know that this message is going to be different from some in the past because most of the time we’re looking at one passage or two passages, and we’re trying to understand those passages. Today the message is completely topical, and so I’m going to be reading verses. And you’ll notice that the verses are going to be evident also and readable for you, so I want you to pay attention, and we’re going to begin.
Let’s start with sins for which God judges a nation. Number one, the sin of unprincipled expansion – means of expansion. God says this in Isaiah 1:13: “This is what the Lord says, ‘For three sins of Ammon, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders.” What an awful thing to read I suppose even publicly. But I read it because I want you to understand here that what we have is a nation that is willing to be ruthless and cruel simply to extend its borders. And God says, “You’re not going to get by with this.”
Now as we think about the nations of the world, there are many nations that still do this, and the whole intention is to intimidate. It is intended to demoralize the victims so that the nation can run roughshod over other nations. America has many sins, but I do not believe that this sin is high on the list. Thanks to our Constitution, America has experienced tremendous power. America today could conquer the world if it wanted to, but America does not conquer the world because we have limitations in our government. We have a Judeo-Christian ethic that helps us to be compassionate to other nations. And you may agree or disagree with the war in Iraq, but the simple fact is that that war was not fought in order to extend our borders. Not one square mile of the United States is going to be increased because of that war. And if you are still critical of the United States at this point, compare it with nations such as Germany under Hitler, the Russian czars (By the way, the history channel had an awesome series on Russia and the czars. Fascinating!), Napoleon, men who thirsted for power and who were ruthless. And God says, “For that ruthlessness of the expansion of your borders, I will judge you.” Ammon, about whom we read, was judged by God. The city was burned and the king was captured just as God predicted.
Let’s go on to a second, and we must hurry here. And I hope that in our hurry we won’t miss anything significant. Secondly, arrogance! Listen to what God says about Edom in the book of Obadiah: “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’”
Some of us have been to Petra. That’s where Edom was. You can’t get to Petra except through a narrow passageway between huge cliffs that go hundreds of feet into the air. All that they needed to do was to control that passageway, and they basically controlled their city high in the cliffs. God says, “I’m going to bring you down,” and God did bring them down because of their arrogance.
Listen to the words of Ezekiel: “Therefore, this is what the sovereign Lord says, ‘I will bring a sword against you and kill your men and animals. Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord because you said the Nile is mine; I made it.’” Oh really! So you made the Nile!
You see, what Egypt was saying was: “Even if it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t matter because the Nile is this huge river that we can depend upon, and it will always be there, and because of the Nile we’re going to have food, and we’re going to have water, and it is an inexhaustible supply, and we have made it.” God says, “Oh? Therefore, I am against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Kush.” And God did it for 40 years. Egypt was decimated and desolate because it was overrun by another tribe because God said, “I am sick of your arrogance.”
Well now! Do you think that America is an arrogant country? We won’t vote on it, but I think so. And do you know what I think? I think that America was probably more arrogant right after 9/11 with all of those stickers that said, “God Bless America.” Obviously God should bless America. We are the citadel of capitalism, of democracy, of freedom and of all of these values. And we’re sure a lot better than all those other folks. Obviously God should bless us.
Well, God has blessed America, but what I found after 9/11 were two things. First of all, God was back, but Jesus wasn’t. He was excluded, and God says, “If you don’t honor my Son, you don’t honor Me.” The second thing I noticed was a tremendous amount of prayer, but very little repentance. Somehow we saw the other people’s sins much more clearly, and they were huge and evil sins. But somehow we saw them and their sins much more clearly than we saw our own. There is this sense of arrogance that Americans know how to do it right. And they do know how to do it right. Americans are envied all over the world because of their pragmatism, because of their business, because of their inventions. But wait a moment! Could we be saying in our hearts, “It is because we have done thus and so, God owes us a blessing?” That’s arrogant. God does not owe us a blessing. God owes us judgment. Blessing comes because of His mercy.
Are you still with me here? Do you still love me after all this? (laughter and applause) Alright! I’m just going through a little bit of self-doubt up here, you know.
Thirdly, deceitful practices! You know, I should have actually called this violence I think. Listen! “Charging cavalry, flashing swords, glittering spears, many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over corpses all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring the mistress of sorceries who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.” That’s probably a reference to Ishtar, the goddess of sex and war. And God is saying to the people of Nineveh, “Because of what you’ve done (You see, if we read all these passages in context we’d know that every one of these sins has a judgment connected with it.), because of your ruthless violence, you will be judged.” And they were. Listen to what God says about Egypt. “Egypt will be desolate, Edom a desert waste because they have shed innocent blood.”
Has America shed innocent blood? I want you to know today that when I selected these passages I selected one or two out of dozens in the Old Testament that speak of these same sins. Yes, we are a violent nation. Isn’t this interesting that there are more people who go to church in America by far than go to church in Europe, and yet in most of the large cities of Europe where I have been, we are told that you can go out at night and walk anywhere. During the day there may be pickpockets but nobody is going to knife you or kill you. And then, dare I mention the violence against the innocent in our abortion clinics, where we have said to little ones, “You have no right to live?” And I know that there are many women who are listening to this who have had an abortion. I understand that. And as I always say, “We offer to you the cleansing and the forgiveness and the complete restoration of God.” But how are we going to answer to God for shedding innocent blood?
Let’s go on to number four. Indifference to God! Zechariah says this about Israel: “But they refused to pay attention. Stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the Law or to the words that the Lord God Almighty sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord was very angry.” And the passage goes on to say: “For that you are going to be judged.” They stopped up their ears. They said, “We don’t want to hear it.”
Isn’t it interesting that here in America the very groups that we would think would be the great protectors of our liberties (some of the liberal groups that are supposed to make sure that America remains free), are the very ones who are the new thought police, putting a muzzle on Christians, who if they are Christians are supposed to keep their faith to themselves because they cannot compete in the marketplace of ideas because if you are a Christian, that is offensive to other people, and therefore, keep your mouth shut. And our liberties are being eroded by the very people who used to pride themselves in freedom. And they are saying, “We do not want to hear it. Our ears are shut. Keep your Jesus and your Christianity to yourself.”
But now notice! I am throwing in two more verses of Scripture here. Jeremiah 5:30-31: “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land. The prophets prophesy lies. The priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” People love to hear false prophets. They love it!
About a month ago I was in a major American city. I was talking to the man who picked me up from the airport about a certain televangelist who has his quarters there. And he said that this man said, “If you send me your bills, we’ll have a bonfire and we’ll burn all of them, and your mortgage will be miraculously paid.” And then this man, and I’m just going by what he told me, said that in order to have your bills burned you had to give the man $2,000. Now the simple fact is this man is on television and has preached to more people than probably I’ve ever seen. And the people love it this way because he says what everyone wants to hear. And it’s a false gospel, and the crowds flock to it. Indifference to God! We don’t want to hear about repentance. We don’t want to hear about holiness. What we want to hear is how we can use God to get rich.
Number five: the acceptance of witchcraft! There are so many verses about this but I’m going to just begin reading here from Isaiah: “Both of these will overtake you in a moment on a single day. Loss of children and widowhood will come upon you in full measure in spite of your many sorceries and your potent spells.” You think that your witchcraft is going to keep you. There’s this theory going around that witchcraft has a good side and a bad side, and what you need to do is to plug into the good side, and then it can be used. Just ask Harry Potter, and he’ll tell you how.
“You have trusted in your wickedness, and you have said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none beside me.’ Disaster will come upon you that you will not know how to conjure.” The Hebrew word means you won’t be able to charm it away.” Your charms are not going to help at this point. “Keep on then with your magic spells and with your many sorceries, which you have labored at since childhood. Perhaps you will succeed. Perhaps you will cause terror. All the counsel you have received (and you think of all the people going to astrologers) has warned you out. Let your astrologers come forward. Let those stargazers who make predictions month by month save you from what is coming upon you.”
God says, “I challenge those of you who read horoscopes (horror scopes).” I challenge you, you know, who are going to live your life by the stars, and you are going to avoid God, and you are going to end up worshiping the creature rather than the creator. I challenge you for what is coming. Wow!
About fifteen years ago in this church (I’m just guessing) I did a series of messages on the New Age Movement. It was one of the early messages on that topic. Now New Age is just mainstream. I mean if you go into a bookstore you see rows and rows and rows of books on occultism. And America is into that stuff. They are into spirituality – not organized religion, not doctrine, but spirituality. Well, my dear friend, there are only two spirits in the universe. There’s the spirit world of God and the good angels. And then there’s the demonic world. And if you’re in this spirit world without a map, just going on your own, you are going to bump into the wrong spirit world and get plugged into the wrong power that will come to you, dressed in light to deceive you. And our nation is drowning in occultism of various kinds.
Deuteronomy also has a passage but because of time we’re going to have to avoid it. God just talks about those who practice divination, sorcery, omens, witchcraft, cast spells, spiritists and those who consult the dead. There are about 40 different occult practices that the Bible condemns.
Now we’re on number six: Prosperity without compassion. If I were to take a poll among Christians and say, “Now why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?” you’d say, “Well, because of homosexuality.” Yeah, the place was full of homosexuality. There’s no doubt about that. But the shocker is that Ezekiel gives a different reason for its destruction. “Now this was the sin of your sister, Sodom. She and her daughters were arrogant, overstuffed and unconcerned. They did not help the poor and the needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them, as you have seen.” So the real cause was people who were overstuffed with food and wealth and prosperity and they did not care about the poor among them.
You know that America has done a lot of things to try to help the poor. Some things maybe work better than others. We can argue the benefit of welfare and so forth, but I want to tell you also that we could include in this racism of the past, where the poor were used to certain ends to serve the wealthy. This could go in a number of different directions, but isn’t it interesting that God in the Bible repeatedly talks about the need to take care of the poor among you? So we have to ask ourselves what are we doing for the poor, and are we overstuffed? And are we saying, “Well, we’ve got money. It doesn’t matter to us whether the stock market goes down or up, you know, because we’re sitting in our place, and we are secure.” God says, “Oh yeah? It’s for that, that I’m judging you.” An insensitive heart toward those in need and the poor!
Let’s go on to number seven: immorality. Here I turn to the New Testament. Now in the Old Testament there are many, many passages I could have used, but I chose Ephesians 5:5-7: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.”
Over and over again in the Scriptures, in the Old and New Testaments, God identifies sexual sin as a sin that eventually brings national judgment. Now you think of the United States of America with all of our blessings, and I need to keep mentioning that, the simple fact is that we are exporters of pornography around the world. All throughout the world there are people who are being addicted, and those who produce pornography keep saying, “We want younger and younger and younger men and women to become addicted,” and so they are thinking of all kinds of ways now to give us pornography not just on television, not just in movies, not just on the Internet, but in other ways as well, so that we are being bombarded by it. And God says, “Because of these things the wrath of God falls on the ungodly.”
And isn’t it providential that this morning I happened to turn on the news just to see if the world was standing? Every morning I turn on the news just to say, “Is the world still standing?” I know I am but I am worry about the world. And there was a report on the news regarding sex slavery where people go to some of the countries of the world and bring young women even here to America. And then you think of other countries that are even more gross than we are at this. And young women are sold into sexual slavery, and my heart just fell within me. And I said, “Oh God, thank you for letting me hear about it. It is terrible. But thank you for this message, for this time that I should be reminded of the tremendously huge sins of people and nations that excel and allow, without prosecution, these terrible atrocities toward young men and young women, and God.
Let me give you three very important conclusions. First of all, the sins of the world in our generation are also the sins of the Church. Is there anything that I listed here that you’d say, “Well, this is a sin of America, but it’s not a sin of us – not a sin of the Church?” I don’t think so. Name it and we’ve got it. Remember that Jesus said that the Church is to be in the world like a ship is in the ocean, but when the ocean gets into the ship, the ship is in trouble. And in America here the evangelical ship is taking on water.
Isn’t it interesting that when Paul wrote the book of I Corinthians to a culture that was very immoral, he didn’t say too much about the sins of the culture? You know, they prided themselves in having a thousand prostitutes up in a temple on a hill, and you can still see the ruins of the temple in Corinth. And there were both male and female prostitutes. I mean they were into immorality. The whole book of I Corinthians is written about the sins of the Church. And what he’s saying is that the sins of the culture have come into the Church, and if you want God to bless you, you had better take care of the sins of the culture that are within the Church. And then God is going to use you to transform the culture.
I guess what I’m trying to say, and I hope I’m clear in saying it, is that really repentance, as the Bible says, must begin at the house of God. It has to begin here. We don’t want to point too many fingers outside of ourselves without recognizing that true repentance has to begin with the best people that God has got. And that’s us! I’m sorry! We may apologize to God and say, “God, we’re sorry that we’re the best people that you have,” but you know it is true. Oh I know that there are some people who are more holy than we are. There are some people who pray more than we do. I understand that, but we are the redeemed ones, and we have the sins of the world in our churches, and that we should purge out.
Second, our battle clearly is not cultural, moral or political. We can’t just fight it on cultural grounds or rational grounds because we live in an irrational world. How are you going to use reason for people who are not given to reason? The whole postmodern mindset is to not accept rationality, so you can’t argue with people who don’t believe in reason. So it isn’t just cultural. It isn’t just moral. It isn’t just political, all of that being important. It is important to fight cultural battles and moral battles. The political arena is incredibly important, but we will never take America and make it Christian just because we have the right person in Washington. Our problems are far deeper than that. It’s a spiritual issue.
Years ago I told you the story of Martin Luther who threw an ink well at the devil in the Wartburg Castle. And it used to be that tour guides would always rub a little bit of soot on the side of the wall because you know you pay for your plane ticket and you stay in a hotel and you ride so far. And then you get into the room and you don’t see where the ink well landed, and so they wanted to make sure that you got your money’s worth. The ink well landed here!
Actually Luther might not have thrown an ink well at the devil. What he said in his table talks was, “I fought the devil with ink.” In ten weeks in that room he translated the entire New Testament. Not the Old! That took years and years that he worked on later, but he translated the entire New Testament in ten weeks in that room. The way you fight the devil is to give the German people the Bible. That’ll fight the devil. The right weapon for our enemy is the Scriptures. And the right weapon for us at the end of the day, when everything is said and done, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the cross of Christ. And have you ever noticed when everything is said and done, more things are usually said than done? Did you ever notice that?
Years before Hitler, a Jewish poet by the name of Heinrich Heine said, “Only the cross of Christ is keeping Germany back from war.” Now he thought of the cross as a talisman, as a magic charm I guess, so he didn’t understand the cross totally. But this is what he said: “Only the cross of Christ is keeping Germany back from war. And should that cross be broken from Germany, a terror will be unleashed that will cause the whole world to wonder.” I’d like to paraphrase it. “Only the cross of Jesus Christ is keeping America from total disintegration, and should that cross be hidden, should that cross be neglected, should that cross not be proclaimed, a stench will arise from America that will cause the whole world to wonder.”
The message of the cross reconciles us to God, and some of you listening have never been reconciled to God by the cross, and I appeal to you. The message of the cross reconciles us to God. It forgives our sin, and then it does something else. It changes our desires so that we no longer love sin. We may still sin, but when we sin, our misery index goes off the charts because there is something within us that says, “That’s not me. I have the blessed Holy Spirit of God within me.” And as a result of the transformation of those desires, you have the transformation of individuals, and through those individuals you have the transformation of a country.
And so, third, I appeal to you, as I appeal to myself. We must be willing to pay the price of reversal, beginning with repentance in our own lives, beginning in our commitment to God and to the Church and to His people, and our desire to speak of Christ wherever He has planted us, even at great personal cost whether you are an engineer or a plumber or a banker. Whatever your vocation is, wherever God has planted you, you say, “I’m going to represent Jesus Christ no matter how much it costs me. No matter how many people tell me I have no right to talk of Jesus, I will talk of Him lovingly, but I will talk of Him.” (applause)
Folks, we’ve got the message that the people of the world are looking for and don’t know it. They have no clue what they are looking for. The Bible says in the book of Proverbs that the wicked stumble and they have no idea what it is that they are stumbling over. All that they know is that it is dark out there and it is empty out there. And they don’t know that they are looking for Jesus. And God has appointed you to lovingly share that. Just go to them and say, “What is it that you really want out of life?” Begin a conversation like that and ask them what they really want out of life, and let them talk for a while. And then say, “Do you know what? Something happened to me and I discovered that there is something else in life that’s really important and that fulfills me.” And then go into your testimony and the Gospel.
Do you remember that in about 650 A.D. (or something like that) there’s a legend that Pharis the Horseman had 26 horses. And as he was going through the desert, off in the distance his very thirsty horses saw a mirage, which they evidently interpreted as water. And all of the horses galloped off toward the mirage. And he blew his trumpet, and only six mares turned in their tracks and stood and obeyed his trumpet. And it is said that out of those six that the famous Arabian horses have been bred.
This nation, and God knows I love it as you love it, is headed for a mirage. It looks like water out there but nobody knows really where it is and what they are going for. Mirages of various kinds! And God today in heaven is blowing His trumpet and saying, “How many are there who are willing to stand against the tide and to listen to my trumpet from heaven and say, “Don’t go there because it is only a shimmering mirage, and what I want you to do is to dedicate yourself to me for whatever it takes to be the person that you should be in an age with so many opportunities, and yet an age also with so many, many challenges?”
Are you willing to be that person, willing to say, “God, that is me? Whatever the cost, whatever the commitment, whatever it is, I stand against the sins of this culture and dedicate myself today to Jesus to make a difference.”
If you feel that way would you just stand where you are? Would you just say that you are willing to make a difference in this culture, to say, “By God’s grace, we will not participate in the sins that have been outlined; we’ll repent of them and get rid of them. And we will, by God’s grace, represent Jesus, even at great personal cost. And someday we’ll hear from heaven and send the breath of His Spirit that this nation so desperately needs.”
But he’s not going to do it apart from us, as if to say, “You know, He’s out there doing it, and we’re doing our thing.” No, He’s going to do it through us. That’s the way God always works. It begins with His people and leads them to repentance, and says, “Now that you’ve done that, now we go the next step.”
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, blessed Holy Spirit, given to Your people to point out our need and sin, we ask today in Jesus’ name that You’ll help us to make a difference in this wonderful country. We pray, Father, that as the temptations are so strong to be caught up in our culture, we pray today, Father, that you will enable us to stand against that culture through repentance and faith and discipline and church attendance and the ministry of the saints, one to another, and then to represent You wherever You’ve planted us, to let people know that we belong to Jesus, and lovingly share a word, whether it’s received of unreceived, to not be ashamed of the one who redeemed us and the One who is not ashamed of us, and is willing to call us His brothers.
Now Father, You’ve raised up this church, and this congregation in this great city. Help us, oh God, in our great need, to make a powerful difference for Your Kingdom. We pray for all who are standing, for all who perhaps who have not stood, and for all who stood just because somebody else stood. We pray for them as well. Do it in us, oh God, we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.