Understanding The Wrath Of GodErwin W. Lutzer | June 29, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
God can use many ways to judge a nation. Some of these ways are illustrated through His relationship with Israel. He can withhold blessings or send disaster, oppression, even war. All of this is done so that the people will turn back to God.
Though we live in a different age, we shouldn’t think that God no longer judges nations.
A homosexual activist, speaking to his constituency this past week said, “Welcome, you Sodomites.” He was, of course, referring to the Supreme Court decision that was made to overturn a Texas law, which banned homosexual relationships.
Whatever we may feel about the right of homosexuals to live together, the problem with the Supreme Court decision is that it was not based really on the Constitution, appealing once again to the doctrine of privacy, which was really the basis upon which abortion was legalized. And also we have to face the question of whether or not it indeed opens the door to adult incest, bigamy and prostitution, and a host of other such sins.
It’s really interesting to live at a time in the United States of America when so many of the fences that have been put up are being torn down. And nobody is even pausing to ask why the fences were put up there in the first place, as we begin and continue the descent into a moral vacuum.
This happens to be the fourth in a series of messages titled God and the Nations. We have talked about the origin of the nations, the providence of God in the nations and how God raises up rulers and takes them down. We’ve also spoken about sins for which God judges a nation. That was the last message. And today we come to another topic, namely the different kinds of ways in which God does indeed judge a nation for its sins. In fact, the title of the message is “Understanding the Wrath of God.”
Now maybe you are here as a visitor and you say to yourself, “Now that’s a strange topic for a sermon. We’ve come here to Moody Church today because we want to hear about the love of God.” Well, you’ll hear about that too, but you know, the Bible does talk about the wrath of God. It says in Romans 1:18 that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness, and those (notice this phrase) who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The imagery there that we would like to use is of a garden hose, with all of that pressure and the water coming through, and someone absolutely insisting that he hold his thumb over the spout. People suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
I was in Colorado this week and flew back, and God, in His providence, put me next to a woman who was on her way to this great and wonderful city of Chicago for the Gay Rights Parade. She was here for that purpose. And she has a partner, being part of that lifestyle, who is actually the pastor of a church in Colorado. So we had an interesting discussion.
But I could not help but think that in her life, and in the lives of many (and I don’t want to give the impression as if to say that homosexuality is the big sin that we should be opposed to) it is sin. But I couldn’t help but think that another individual, it became clear to me, was suppressing the truth. And you and I may be guilty of that as well. So we don’t point fingers unless we talk also to ourselves.
You say, “Well, what’s this business about the wrath of God? God is a loving God.” Most assuredly He is, but do you remember Lucy in C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series as she met Aslan? Remember Aslan is the lion representing Jesus Christ. And as she looked at Aslan’s paws, they were as smooth as velvet. In fact, those paws could have been used to stroke her face. But when Aslan’s claws were out, they were as sharp as knives. And that’s the way God is. He’s love but also wrath and judgment.
Let me make a few preliminary remarks before we dive into the text. First of all, please keep in mind that all sin has immediate judgment. As we shall see today, people say, “Well, someday God is going to judge America.” Yeah, there may be some future judgment, but we are being judged for our sins right now, just like individuals are being judged for their sins right now. When you and I sin, it has an immediate instant judgment. It has to be that way for God to be God.
One day God said to Adam, “Do not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the Garden.” And Adam and Eve ate, and God said, “In the day that you eat thereof you will die.” Well, there wasn’t an immediate judgment in the sense that Adam did not fall over dead, but the process of death began its laborious journey all the way to the grave. There are immediate consequences to sin.
But secondly we need to keep in mind that sometimes God’s full judgment may take centuries. Remember the case of the Canaanites. God says, “I am giving them 400 years, and I’m not judging them now because the cup of their iniquity is not yet full,” so God was willing to wait a long time. And eventually they were judged by Joshua whose armies basically, for the most part, exterminated them.
And then third, please keep in mind that God’s intention is always loving. His intention is to bring us judgment, yes, but the intention is that we would be driven to Him, that we might repent individually, and as a nation. God’s purposes are always loving and merciful, though they don’t appear that way when they first happen.
Now what we are going to be doing in the next few moments is to look into the Scripture, and I’m going to give you some verses to show how God judged the nation Israel. But as I shall make clear, it would be wrong for us to simply look at these judgments and apply them directly to the United States. And there are reasons why God’s judgment of Israel is somewhat at some point different than His judgment would be of other nations after the coming of Christ. They were a special people, chosen by God. They were there in the land, and God said, “I’m going to use the land to either bless you or curse you.” That’s different than it is today, but the principles and the secondary applications, as we shall see, directly impinge upon us who live in this great and glorious and blessed nation with all of its sins and lost opportunities.
Well, enough chitchat! Let’s get directly to the text. Now you know that what I usually do is take a passage of Scripture and expound it. Today we’re going to do it topically, as I did it last time. We’re going to look at the Scripture and just list six different ways that God judged Israel, and we’ll see its relevance. Then we’re going to wind it up at the end with specific applications and we’re all going to leave here changed and thinking differently because we’re been under the authority of God’s most holy word.
First of all, we have natural disasters. I could have used hundreds of verses from the Old Testament for this, but I chose only two or three. Psalm 107:33-34, “He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste because of the wickedness of those who lived there.” God says, “You’re going to have drought because of your sin.”
Jeremiah 3:3: “Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen, yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute. You refuse to blush with shame.” Notice God says, “I am sending you drought and natural disasters to bring you to repentance, but it’s having the opposite effect. You’re as hard as ever in your heart.”
Let me say a few things about natural disasters. First of all, God controls them. You say, “Well, I think the earth is fallen and that’s why it happens.” Yeah, the earth is fallen, but back behind the natural disasters you have the immediate cause. Meteorologists know the immediate cause of a storm and hail and so forth, but back of these movements of nature is God. You say, “Are you serious?” Yeah, I’m very serious. Who is it that caused the plagues of Egypt? Natural disasters, but God! Who is it that caused the sun to stay in the heavens during the time of Joshua but God? Who is it that caused the storm during the time of Jonah, or caused the storm to cease during the time of Jesus? God stands back of natural disasters.
In my book Ten Lies About God I go into this in great detail, but I can convince you that God is back of natural disasters if I simply ask you a question. You are running through a forest, and there is lightning all around you and above you, and trees are just splitting here and there because lightning is just decimating them. Would you pray, or would you not? Some of you who haven’t prayed for a long, long time would suddenly discover the discipline of prayer. Well, if God is not in control of lightning, why bother praying? Of course you’d pray. And you’d be wise to pray. God controls natural disasters and natural disasters are a picture of coming judgment.
Now I need to hurry here but you need to get this. This does not mean that Africa is a more wicked nation than we are because they have more droughts. This is where the difference comes between the Old and the New Testaments. But the drought of Africa, and the mud slides in Venezuela, and the earthquake in Turkey (all of those together, as we can show scripturally if we had the time) are a picture of judgment that is to come regardless of which nation must endure it. God says in the Bible in Job and elsewhere that natural disasters are a cameo. They are little pictures of His coming judgment of the world. And that’s why in the book of Revelation you have natural disasters connected with the final, final judgment.
Second, the deprivation of personal freedoms! I just chose one verse. Dozens could have been taken from the book of Judges and elsewhere, but Zechariah 11:6 says: “‘For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will hand everyone over to his neighbor and his king. They will oppress the land and I will not rescue them from their hands.’” God says, “You are going to be enslaved to others, and your personal freedoms will be taken away.”
Once again, let’s not think that Russia and China are worse than we were because their personal freedoms were taken away under Communism. Sometimes people must suffer because of their evil rulers. But one of the signs of the judgments of God upon a world that has neglected Him is the fact that people always end up serving others, and their personal freedoms are taken away.
We think of America. I mentioned this last time. Isn’t it an anomaly that you would have liberal groups that supposedly are the champions of freedom to be the greatest threat to religious freedom here in America? So students can read pornography on the bus as part of their freedom, but according to one principle, then cannot read a Bible because the bus is public property, and you can’t have religion on public property. Where is all this nonsense going to end anyway because of silly ideas of the separation of Church and State and political correctness, which in itself would be a dozen sermons?
But we must hurry on. Third, war! I chose just two passages again. It says in Isaiah 10:5-6: “Woe to the Assyrian the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath. I sent him against a godless nation. I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” Habakkuk 1:6 says: “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.”
I hope you understand how frustrated I am preaching because as I’ve been going through this I’ve been thinking, “You know if I had the time this would be a whole sermon. That’d be a whole sermon. That would be a whole sermon.” It would take about a year to say everything that needs to be said, but isn’t this interesting? Do you think that the Assyrians and the Babylonians were better than the people of Israel? Of course not! They were more wicked. They were pagans. They were sacrificing their kids to the fire, and what have you. They were evil. But God says, “I’m going to use a nation that is more evil than you to judge you.”
And when I continue this series of messages and talk about the United States of America, and such things as terrorism, we’re going to have to come back to this concept again. But notice what God says. He says, “I am raising up the Babylonians against you. I will use a people more evil than you to judge you because of your sins and your violence and your inability to call on God.” Wow! Remember that in war it is not always true that the best nation wins because God uses evil nations to judge those who should know better.
Number four, deaf ears! Isn’t this interesting? If you were with us last time, you know that I mentioned that one of the sins for which God judges people is ears that will not hear. And I quoted a verse that says that when the Word is preached they stop up their ears so they do not hear. Now what we learn in Scripture is that if you’re going to close your ears to the truth, God is going to make sure that your ears are closed as a judgment.
Isaiah 6:9-10: “He said, ‘Go and tell this people (He’s talking to Isaiah), “Be ever hearing but never understanding. Be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused. Make their ears dull. Close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”’” And God says in the New Testament, “Satan has blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel should shine on them.” God says, “You don’t want to hear My Word. I’ll give you blindness and dull hearing so that you won’t hear it. It’s a judgment from Me.”
Boy, we have to pause there, don’t we? A number of years ago Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel laureate, famous for Russian literature and his description of life under Communism, giving a lecture at Harvard University, warned the students about America’s pursuit of pleasure to the neglect of God, and said that the student body should turn to God. And he was booed off the stage.
We will not hear it! Eyes and ears dull of hearing! God, in His providence, has given me a good friend in London, England. He’s a pastor there, and this past week I was at a conference, and we were at the conference together so we spent many hours talking about Europe and London. A letter was sent from the Willow Creek Association to the churches of London that said, “We want to meet with all of the super churches.” We would call them in America mega churches. Do you know to whom the letter was sent? It was sent to anyone whose congregation was 250 people or above.
I tell you that I never have seen so many people on the streets as when we were in London a few years ago – just rivers and rivers of people. And I thought, “Oh God, is there no end to the people in London?” Yet a large evangelical church is one that has 250 members. This is the country that sent missionaries. This is the country that used to have huge Bible conferences. This is the country that produced some of the finest and the biggest and the best preachers - like Charles Haddon Spurgeon - during the 1800s, and God says, “I have given you a spirit of slumber, and your eyes are closed and your ears are stopped up because you would not hear.” And that is London today, and England.
And it’s no better in Europe. My wife and I have been there and we have gone into all the great cathedrals. Why? It’s because we’re interested in architecture. And we’re interested in saying that we were in these places. But you show up Sunday and you have a few hundred people at the most down in front, and whole churches are empty. And teems of people are going to the beach or enjoying themselves doing other things. They have no ears to hear. None at all! And that is a picture of the United States of America in a couple generations unless we repent.
I think of France. And by the way if you’ve never been to Versailles, what an exciting place it is to visit. My wife and I were there last summer. I could tell you all about Versailles but the sermon says, “Keep going.” Oh! The Hall of Mirrors! Unbelievable! But we’ll leave it alone.
At one time there were something like 2,000 congregations in France. And there was a belief that France might actually embrace the whole Reformation. But when Louis XIV expelled the Huguenots, many of them went to Germany and other countries (20,000 of them). He took away their jobs and he persecuted them until they all left. The Huguenots, of course, were believing Christians, converted through the ministry of people like John Calvin who trained ministers to go to France to preach the Gospel. But thanks to Louis XIV (and others like him) they were all expelled. He persecuted them all. You know, I can’t prove this scripturally, but from what missionaries in France tell me today, it’s as if God just pulled the blinds. And France today is one of the most secular countries of the world, turning against its heritage and Christianity because they do not have ears to hear God’s Word. God says, “That’s a judgment for turning from Me.”
We must hurry! The oppression of families! That’s number five. I have chosen only one verse from the book of Deuteronomy: “Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand.” God, of course, is referring to the captivities. You have the Assyrian captivity, and you have the Babylonian captivity when the people were hauled off to other countries because of their idolatry. God says, “That’s a judgment.”
And the final judgment really is the smashing of families. Do you believe that America is under God’s judgment today? Listen to the cries of little boys and little girls, crying for Mommy, crying for Daddy because Mommy and Daddy are divorced, and they can’t get along. And Daddy has found somebody he likes better than Mommy. God says that part of the judgment is the fact that there are infants and children who are crying and there’ll be nothing that you as a parent can do about it. It is the judgment of God upon that sin.
Now I know that there are hundreds of you here I am sure, and certainly listening, who probably are divorced. And divorce is not some great sin, as if to say it’s in a category by itself, and you need to know that I also believe that oftentimes there is an innocent party. There’s no question about it. I’m just telling you that as we embrace divorce as a way of life, as our nation is steeped in immorality which is almost always the cause of divorce (not always but almost always), God says, “You’re going to pay for it by your children, and they will grow up into adults and they will marry, and they will take all of their sense of rejection and their baggage into their marriage. And so on and on it goes. It’s a judgment against sin.
There’s one more and that’s number seven, which is the withholding of blessing. It says in Jeremiah 5:25: “Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good.” This is one judgment we’ll never be able to point to, and the reason is because we have no idea of the blessings that God might have given to us had we not turned from Him and stopped up our ears, and closed our eyes, and gone on our merry way.
Let me give you three or four principles as I try to conclude. First, all these judgments draw attention to God. That’s the whole point. God doesn’t give us these things so that we might be mad at Him and say, “Well, if that’s the kind of God You are, then I won’t have anything to do with You.” God is trying to put His arms around us. These judgments have two different sides. One side is that they are retributive. They are judgments because of sin. They are the natural consequences of sin.
There’s a second aspect and that is corrective. God says to you and to me and to the nation, “Don’t you see these judgments? Don’t you see that you need Me? What am I going to have to put you through before you call on Me and say, ‘Hey, we give up; we surrender the weapons of a rebel?’” God says, “These judgments remind you, or should, that you need Me.”
Third, I’ve already emphasized that we cannot judge a nation by evaluating the number of its judgments because this is a different era. But isn’t it interesting that the church in China (let’s take that), a nation that was deprived of its rights (and I find this fascinating) under Communism grew more and greater than the church in Taiwan, which supposedly has freedom. So do you see how God can even take something which appears to be a negative, namely the restriction of freedom, and He can actually use it to strengthen the Church to be what the Church should be? And you can go to China today, and there are estimates that there are between 30 and 50 million genuine believers in a country where preaching the Gospel is forbidden. So let’s not look down on other countries. Let’s just simply look at ourselves and see that we cannot judge others (even especially natural disasters), but I’ve already commented on that, and so we must hurry.
Fourth, God begins judgment with His own people. Now listen to this very carefully. I deliberately chose verses of Scripture that we have just covered that all have to do with the nation of Israel or Judah, God’s chosen people. Now there are judgments in the Old Testament regarding pagan nations, but I deliberately didn’t deal with those. These are God’s people. The Bible says in the New Testament that judgment must begin at the house of God. It begins with the best people God has, and when they are brought to repentance, through that, you see, God begins to flow out and to bless others. That’s God’s way of doing things.
But God is much more concerned, you see, about the sins that are in the Church than He is about the sins that are in the world. We should expect the world to have its sins. I mean, why not? Birds fly, don’t they? But among believers, that’s the problem!
You say, “Does God ever judge churches?” Well, last night I just decided to do a quick read of the seven churches of Revelation, the letters that Jesus wrote to these churches.
To Ephesus God says, “Because you’ve left your first love you will cease to exist as a Church.” I’d say that’s a pretty severe judgment, which was fulfilled because there is no church in Ephesus today. Pergamum: “You will find that the Lord will fight against those who are immoral,” the Bible says. Thyatira: “Those who commit adultery will suffer intensely,” God says, “as part of my judgment.” Sardis: “The Lord will come as a thief to judge those whose deeds are incomplete.” Wow! I’m reading that and saying, “What’s it like to have incomplete deeds?” God says, “I’ve not found them complete and I’m going to come to you.” Laodicea: “God will spew out of His mouth the Church because of its lukewarmness.” Of course God judges us.
Now for us as believers there’s no ultimate judgment. We’re going to be in heaven if we receive the gift of eternal life because we come under the protection of Christ’s righteousness, but in terms of God’s discipline, yes indeed, God does discipline churches.
I know of one church that is going through a church split. Those are awful things to endure, and I hear about them all the time. We have to pray that at The Moody Church God continues to grant us unity, which we have experienced so wonderfully. Oh just pray that God will grant that. But part of it, frankly, is that I believe that (and this is just a human judgment now) in this case that I am thinking about, there has been serious sin on the part of some of the people in the church, who are petty and who want their way, and who are doing this, and it’s a complicated situation. But the simple fact is that it may be a judgment.
I remember somebody saying of a particular church that every pastor that comes the church splits, and it always splits along the same lines. You have the same families on this side of the fence as you have on this side of the fence. It has systemic problems that have never been resolved because the repentance on the part of the congregation has been superficial. And God says, “That’s your judgment.”
Finally and last, the greater the grace, the greater the future judgment for refusing it! You see, God has granted to some countries tremendous blessings. I think of the United States of America. I just can’t get my mind around it when you compare it to other countries. I mean, here we have Bibles everywhere. We have churches that are still open that preach the truth. We’ve got television programs. We’ve got books. We’ve got all kinds of ways to get the message out. We have every kind of seminar, every kind of ministry that you can possibly imagine. It’s happening, and a lot of it is good. And in the face of that, as a nation, we’re closing our ears. We’re taking down the fences, and we’re going our own way. And God says, “The greater the grace (and has not this country been graced?), the greater the judgment.”
Now let me talk to you as an individual person. I’m not talking about America. I’m talking about you. The Bible says in the book of Hebrews: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” If God, in His grace, sent Jesus to die for us so that we could be reconciled to God, if God, in his grace, has led us to give us an understanding of the truths of His Word, if we neglect it in the face of such light, how shall we escape?
If I had the time I would prove to you that the judgment is going to be much greater for those who lived under grace than it ever was under the Law. Under the Law oftentimes there was immediate judgment. You touched the Ark and you dropped dead. And people think, “Oh, that was serious!” Oh no, not nearly as serious as eternal judgment in hell for those who stand in the presence of the living Christ and say no to Him. How do you, my friend, plan to escape if you’ve neglected the grace and the mercy and the forgiveness of God, offered in the crucified Savior? There is no escape.
Would you join me as we pray?
Our Father, we just want to confess to You that we have turned from tremendous light and opportunity. Thank You for all the good things that You are doing among us, and for the people who still love You and pray and witness. But Father, we have squandered. Help us as a nation. Help us as a church. Help us as The Moody Church to be the people that we should be, knowing that You, too, could judge us. And in some ways You may be judging us if we take it all for granted, living by the flesh and doing our own thing.
Now, if God has talked to you today, would you just talk to God now wherever you are? (pause) So what did God say to you today? What has He said to you today?
Father, if You’ve spoken, keep speaking. Don’t let us alone until we’ve dealt with the issues that You have brought to our attention. Give us no rest, no peace, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.