Prepare to Meet Your God

This sermon was preached by Brian Watson on May 3, 2020.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or read below). 

Many of us have been spending more time at home than we’re used to spending. Some of us have spent more time at home than we want to spend. A few weeks ago, my wife said she felt like she was “in prison.” Isn’t it strange to think that we don’t feel at home while at home? Shouldn’t home be where we feel best?

Perhaps what we’re longing for is something more than being home. Perhaps we’re longing to be in our real home, the place where we really feel best.

C. S. Lewis addressed this issue in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” He said that we have this “desire for our own far-off country,” our real home.[1] What we’re longing for cannot be found in this world. But still we try to find it here and now. We try to something that will satisfy our longings in beauty and pleasures. Some of us may try to find what we’re looking for in the past. If only we could back, then everything would be right. Lewis says, “But this is all a cheat. . . . These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”[2]

We all need a people, a place, and a purpose. Without those things, we will never be satisfied. We were made to be God’s people, to dwell with him, and to live for him. What we really need to be satisfied is a right relationship with God. We were made for God. Being with him is our true home. Taking pleasure in praising him is our purpose. As Augustine prayed over sixteen hundred years ago, “You stir men to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” [3]

The story of the Bible is a story about leaving home and getting lost in our wanderings. It is a story about God calling us back home. He sends things into our lives to get our attention, to summon us back to himself—if only we would listen and return to him. It is a story about God coming to take us back home. And the end of the Bible is a depiction of that glorious homecoming, when all things will finally be well.

Today, we’re going to focus on the part where God sends things into our lives to call us back to himself. I think that’s appropriate in the age of the coronavirus. I don’t know exactly why this virus exists, but I think it’s possible that God is using this event to get our attention, to remind us of how much we need him.

Today we’re going to look at the book of Amos, from the Old Testament. Amos is one of the so-called “minor prophets.” However, I wouldn’t use that name. Some people refer to the “major prophets,” like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. They use that name because these are some of the longest books in the Bible. And then they refer to the “minor prophets,” the last twelve books of the Bible, which are significantly shorter. But it’s a mistake to think of these books as “minor.” They are very important.

Let’s get a little historical background for this book. It begins with these words:

The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake (Amos 1:1).[4]

Amos was a shepherd who lived in the eighth century B.C. During this time, Israel had divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called Israel, and during this time Jeroboam II was king (793–753 B.C.). The southern kingdom was called Judah, and during this time Uzziah was king (791–740 B.C.). Both kings reigned for over forty years, which meant that this was a time of unusual stability. It was also “a period of unprecedented prosperity.”[5] Both kingdoms were wealthy. But these kingdoms were surrounded by enemies. In particular, the northern kingdom was threatened by the Assyrian empire, which was becoming the world’s superpower.

The book begins with a word of judgment against the nations around Israel and Judah. This is what the second verse of the book says:

And he said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers” (Amos 1:2).

Amos is sharing a word of judgment against the nations, a word from God, whose voice “roars” from Jerusalem.

First, there is a warning against Syria, represented by their capital city of Damascus (Amos 1:3–5). This was the country north of Israel. Then, there is a warning against the Philistines who lived to the west (Amos 1:6–8). There is also a word of judgment against Tyre, also to the west (Amos 1:9–10). Then, God promises to punish nations to the east: Edom (Amos 1:11–12), Ammon, (Amos 1:13–15), and Moab (Amos 2:1–3).

Why was God going to punish these nations? The Philistines helped Edom by exiling Israelites there (Amos 1:6). The Edomites fought against Israel (Amos 1:11). And the Ammonites did, too. In fact, Amos says “they have ripped open pregnant women” (Amos 1:13). That’s how brutal war can be.

Now, if you lived in Amos’s day, and you lived in Judah and Israel, you would be happy to hear that God’s judgment was coming against these nations. You would think, “Finally, God is doing something to punish these people!” It would be like a Christian who is a Republican hearing that God is going to punish Democrats. God was finally going to punish all the enemies that surrounded Israel.

But then Amos delivers some shocking news. God is going to punish Judah (Amos 2:4–5) and Israel (Amos 2:6–15). Why? Look at Amos 2:4–5:

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Judah,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have rejected the law of the Lord,
and have not kept his statutes,
but their lies have led them astray,
those after which their fathers walked.
So I will send a fire upon Judah,
and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.”
Judah rejected God’s word, his law. They didn’t keep his commandments.

Then, look at Amos 2:6–8:

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;|
they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
the wine of those who have been fined.

The rich and powerful in Israel bought and sold people. They “trampled the poor.” There was also sexual immorality. Father and son had sex with the same woman. This might have been connected to pagan worship practices. Strange as it may seem, sex was part of the worship in some religions. And the people committed idolatry, which is spiritual adultery. God was supposed to be their only object of worship, but they cheated on him. They worshiped at all kinds of altars built to worship foreign gods.

These are specific charges against a specific people at a specific time and place, but these are some of the major sins in the Bible: using and oppressing people, usually through some kind of economic means; committing sexual immorality; and worship false gods. In fact, you could say that misusing money means that your god is money. Having sex outside of the only proper context for sex—marriage between a man and a woman—means that sex is your god. When anything other than the true God becomes the most important thing in our life, the thing that causes us to love, trust, and obey it, that is our god. That is what we’re worshiping. But we were made for God. And God has every right to punish us when we’re destroying ourselves by failing to live according to his design.

Failing to love God and live for him is also a failure to acknowledge what he’s done for us. God says that he brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt and sustained them until he led them to their own land (Amos 2:10). For all of us, he has given us life and sustains our lives. He is our Maker, the one who sustains every breath and heartbeat, every second that we live. Yet we run away from him.

In chapter 3, we read this:

Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;|
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities (Amos 3:1–2).

God reminds Israel that he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And he says that of all the people on the earth, they alone were the ones he “knew.” Now, God is omniscient. He knows everything. He knows everything about us. What this means is that the Israelites were the only ones he made a covenant with. He revealed himself to them. He gave them promises that were tied to his commandments. If they would trust him and live life on his terms, they would live. But they didn’t.

So, God says, because you were my special people and turned away from me, I will punish you. The reason why they are going to be punished is because they should have known better. God had been exceedingly kind to them, and they didn’t appreciate him.

So, God warns them of punishment, punishment that will come through their enemies. He wants them to know that when enemies defeat their cities, it is because he has brought that about. In Amos 3:6, God says,

Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
unless the Lord has done it?

Nothing happens unless God has somehow planned it, or even caused it, to occur. That was true of the judgment that would come upon Israel.

But God doesn’t punish because he is unloving. He punishes in order to correct us. He was sending disaster upon Israel to get their attention.

Let’s look at Amos 4:6–13:

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

10  “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

11  “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

12  “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
13  For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

God gave his people famine, bad crops, pestilence, and military defeat—“yet you did not return to me.” That is such as sad refrain. God caused these things to fall upon Israel so that they would return to him, but they didn’t.

I want us to see that God has the power to control all these events. He controls the weather. He causes rain to fall, and he also causes drought. He can direct kings and armies. He uses these things to bring people back to himself.

Now, you may think, “Oh, that’s just the Old Testament. God in the New Testament wouldn’t do such a thing.” But look at Luke 13:1–5:

1 There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

People tell Jesus that Pontius Pilate has slaughtered some Jews. That’s a form of moral evil, the kind of evil that people do to each other. Jesus asks if this happened because these Jews were worse sinners. The answer is “no.” And he says something like that will happen to everyone who doesn’t repent, who doesn’t turn to God. Then Jesus mentions how eighteen people died when a tower fell. We don’t know why the tower fell. Maybe it fell because it was poorly made. Perhaps the people who made it made it on the cheap, or they didn’t calculate how strong the tower needed to be. Perhaps it was a minor earthquake that caused the tower to fall. It could have been a form of natural evil, the bad things that happen in nature. Again, he says that the people who died that way weren’t worse sinners. But everyone who fails to repent, to turn back to God, will experience something similar.

In short, every time that some evil occurs, it is a reminder to turn back to God. The reason why these evils occur is that humans turned away from God from the very beginning. God made us to love, trust, and obey him and we don’t do that. We want to be our own gods and goddesses. So, God uses evils to punish us, to get our attention, to cause us to turn back to him.

This reminds me of some of the words of C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. First, he addresses our problem with God. Because of our evil nature, we don’t really want to know God as he truly is. He writes,

What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they said, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’[6]

Then, Lewis says that God isn’t that way. God is love, and real love doesn’t coddle. Real love isn’t afraid to let someone suffer, if that is necessary. If your child needs a painful shot to be immunized, you don’t withhold that treatment because she doesn’t like needles. Lewis writes, “Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; . . . the mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love.”[7] God wants us to experience the very best in life, which is him. But, in our natural state, we don’t seek him. That is particularly true when things are going well, when we seem to be in control of our lives. To know that God is God and we are not, we must come to the end of our illusion that we are at the center of the universe. We must come to the end of thinking that we’re God, that we’re in control. God uses pain and suffering to bring us into that position. As Lewis famously writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[8]

So, after these words of warning in Amos, God says to Israel: “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4). “Seek the Lord and live” (Amos 5:6). And,

14  Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
15  Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph (Amos 5:14–15).

God tells the people to seek him, to seek good and forsake evil, so that they may live. Now, this doesn’t mean that we can return to God by doing good things. We cannot get to God through our own efforts. We know this from the rest of the Bible. Our sin, our rebellion against God, runs deep and it taints every part of us and everything we do. We can’t drive out the evil from within us. But if we seek God, we will want to do what is good.

But when we return to God, it’s more than just paying lip service. God wants more than just for us to do a few religious things. He wants our hearts. He wants changed lives. Look at Amos 5:21–24:

21  “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23  Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24  But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

One of the sins of Israel was religious hypocrisy. They thought they could worship God and also worship other gods. They thought they could go through the motions by praying and singing and offering sacrifices to God, and then go and live like all the pagan nations around them. But that isn’t pleasing to God. In fact, God says he hates that. He hates religious festivals when they aren’t done from the heart. He hates singing, even songs that are about him, if it comes from unclean lips. He doesn’t want sacrifices made by people who aren’t sacrificing their whole lives. Instead, God wants people to love him and to live according to his word. That’s what justice is.

You may notice that Amos quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. here. That’s a joke, of course. Martin Luther King quoted Amos as a call to justice. But this justice isn’t just “social” justice. There’s only one form of justice in the Bible, and that is loving God and loving people the way that God wants us to. If we do justice in the public square but do immoral things in our private lives, that isn’t justice. It won’t do to provide for the poor and then engage in sexual immorality, for example. God isn’t impressed by that. He sees our condition. He demands righteousness.

And that leaves us in a bind. We aren’t perfectly righteous. We are not just. Even when we try to praise God, there’s still some taint of sin. Amos knew this. When he was shown visions of judgment in chapter 7, he says, “O Lord God, please forgive!”

How can we be forgiven by God? Perhaps the clue comes in Amos. In chapter 5, God says there will be a “day of the Lord,” a day of “darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18). This will be a day of punishment, but it’s also a day of salvation. In chapter 8, we read these words:

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos 8:9)

On the day of the Lord, a day of punishment and a day of salvation, the sun will go down at noon. Darkness will cover the earth at a time when there should be broad daylight.

This day of the Lord came almost three thousand years ago, when the only righteous man who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, was put to death. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He came from a far-off country, from heaven, to bring people back to their God. He did this by living the perfect life that we should live but don’t, and then by dying in our place, taking the punishment for our sin that we deserve. When Jesus was crucified, darkness came upon the land at noon, a sign that he was enduring the wrath of God that we have earned. He didn’t do this for everyone. Only those who turn to Jesus in faith, who seek the Lord, are forgiven of their sins and will live with God forever.

We know Jesus is the one who brings us back home to God because in chapter 9 of Amos, God promises that after punishment, there will be a day of rebuilding. Look at Amos 9:11–12:

11  “In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12  that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,”
declares the Lord who does this.

God promises to rebuild “the booth of David.” That’s a reference to David’s kingdom. David, the second king of Israel, was a great king. But David had already died, and his kingdom was divided. Yet God promised that a descendant of David would come and build a kingdom that will never end. This perfect king would defeat Israel’s enemies and bring about peace and justice that would last forever. We know from the New Testament that Jesus is that King. And he is calling a remnant of people “from all nations” into his kingdom. This passage is quoted in the Acts 15 when Jewish Christians are trying to figure out how Gentile Christians should live. The point is that the true Israel is everyone—Jew, Gentile, American, Chinese, black, white, male, female, rich, poor—who is united to Jesus by faith.

And those people will go home. They will live with God forever in a perfect world. Look at the end of the book, Amos 9:13–15:

13  “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
14  I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,|
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15  I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.

This garden imagery reminds us of the garden of Eden, where humanity was first “planted.” We were kicked out of the garden because we didn’t love, trust, and obey God. How do we get back to the garden? Jesus. We’re told that he will come back to earth one day to make everything right. Those who trust in him will live in this perfect world. The images here are just a taste of what this perfect world will be like, a world of prosperity and pleasure. But most importantly, it will be home because our God dwells there.

Why do things like viruses occur? Why is the world disrupted economically? We could provide naturalistic answers, answers that only appeal to what we can see with our own eyes. Or, we could say, “Well, there’s no good reason.” Or, we could spend our time blaming politicians. But ultimately, God sends these things to get our attention. They are the megaphone he uses to rouse a deaf world. Are we listening? Are we turning back to God?

God lets us go our own way, running away from him to pursue our false gods. But God uses difficult events to bring us back to him. Will we answer his call? If you’re not a Christian, I urge you to turn to God while there is time. Learn about Jesus and follow him. If you want to know what that would look like in your life, send me a message and I’ll help you any way that I can. Christians, take God seriously. Don’t just pay him lip service. He deserves more than that.

Turn to God while there is time. If we continue to run away from God, he may very well let us go our own way—forever. And that will be a dreadful thing. Even in the book of Amos, there is a famine that is worse than lack of food, and there is a drought that is worse than lack of water. Amos 8:11 says,

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

The most horrifying thing is not to have God in your life, not to hear from him. Now, if you’re not a Christian, you may think that you don’t have God in your life and that you don’t hear from him now. But that’s not true. God is everywhere and all of creation speaks of God (Ps. 19:1–6). But there will be a day when all who have rejected God will be removed from him entirely. To be cut off from God means to be cut off from love, beauty, truth, light, and life. It’s worse than we can ever imagine.

But God has come to do everything you need to be put back into a right relationship with him. And right now, he is calling you back home. Come to Jesus, the truth, the life, and the way back to your God.

Notes

  1. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Harper One, 2001), 29.
  2. Ibid., 30–31.
  3. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.
  4. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  5. Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 423.
  6. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 35–36.
  7. Ibid., 36.
  8. Ibid., 83.

 

Cry to Him Day and Night

Brian Watson preached this sermon on September 1, 2019.
MP3 recording of the sermon.
PDF of the written sermon (or see below).

When something is wrong, to whom do you appeal? In our house, we have two boys, and they play together well—for the most part. But they can also be rough with each other. And if they play long enough, someone will take another’s toy, or someone will call someone a name, or someone will hurt someone else. Usually, they try to sort out their differences—often with a bit of “street justice.” That is, if tempers flare long enough, one will hit the other. But sometimes, they’ll appeal to a higher authority. They’ll call to one of their parents. “Mom, Simon took my Lego.” “Dad, Caleb called me a name.” In fact, I wish they appealed to a higher authority before they started hitting each other. But, eventually, they will appeal to a higher authority.

We all want to do be able to do that at times. When there’s an injustice, and we don’t see that injustice being righted, we want to call upon someone who can fix the problem. That’s why we have that all powerful line, “Can I speak to your supervisor?” When you’ve reached that point, something isn’t going your way, and so you play the “I want to talk to the boss” card. That’s why we have a Supreme Court. When it seems that the Constitution is being violated, we can appeal to a higher authority, and the Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in our country.

But what if the Supreme Court gets it wrong? To what higher authority can we appeal? What if there are injustices in other lands, ones to which our nation’s laws don’t apply? To whom do we appeal?

The good news is that there is an ultimate authority, one to whom we can always appeal. And that authority is God. And he stands ready, listening to his children. As someone said Wednesday night at our prayer meeting, “With God, there’s never a busy signal. The line is always open.” There are no waiting lines to talk to God. There’s no admission ticket that we need to pay to speak God. He is the ultimate judge, and we can appeal to him for justice at any time. And God has told us that he will bring about final justice, in his own time. And he calls upon us to pray that his kingdom would come, that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Today, we’re continuing our study of the Gospel of Luke, one of four biographies of Jesus found in the Bible. Today, we begin chapter 18. Last week, as we looked at the end of chapter 17, we heard Jesus talking about how the kingdom of God is here already, though not in its fullest. It’s already, but not yet. That means that people can come to the King of kings, Jesus, and bow down before him in faith. When people turn away from living as if they are kings, or as if other people are kings, and put their trust in the true King, they can be part of God’s kingdom. Yet look around the world. It doesn’t take much to see that many people don’t live as if God is their king. If God’s kingdom is like this, we may wonder if a better kingdom is coming! So, even though the kingdom of God is present, it’s not completed or perfected here. But Jesus promised that it will come in its fullest one day. So, Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).[1] But he also said that his disciples would “desire to see on of the days of the Son of Man [that’s a reference to Jesus], and you will not see it” (Luke 17:22). Jesus suggested that things would be difficult for Christians in the in-between times, the time between his first and second appearances on earth.

It’s important to remember that, because what we see at the beginning of chapter 18 should be read in that context. As we wait for Jesus to return, as we long to see “the days of the Son of Man,” we will see injustice. As another day without Jesus returning appears, we may become discouraged. And here, in this passage, Jesus tells us to keep praying for that day of justice.

Without further ado, let’s read today’s passage. Here is Luke 18:1–8:

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This passage itself isn’t very difficult to understand, but I did want to remind us of the context. This passage isn’t about prayer in general. It’s certainly not about praying for just anything. It’s about praying for God to make things right.

Luke tells us that Jesus told this parable, this little story, to his disciples so that they should always pray and not lose heart. The story concerns “a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” Earlier in the Gospel, we’re told that the greatest command is to love God with everything we have and also to love our neighbor—our fellow man—as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27). Apparently, this judge didn’t do either of those things. We’re told he was an unrighteous judge. In Israel, judges were supposed to fear God and to care about justice, particularly for those who were vulnerable, people like widows. In fact, there’s a passage in the Old Testament, in 2 Chronicles 19, when one of the kings, Jehoshaphat, appoints judges and he explicitly tells the judges, “Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes” (2 Chron. 19:7). So, we get the sense that this judge was far from an ideal judge.

Yet this judge had power. He had authority. He could correct some injustices. And so we’re told that a widow comes to him. She says, “Give me justice against my adversary.” We don’t know who her adversary is or what injustice she was suffering. It was probably something financial. At that time, widows were particularly vulnerable. A widow, especially one without children, had no men to provide for her and protect her. The injustice might have concerned her late husband’s estate. Women generally were not heirs of an estate. When a man died, his wife could receive financial support from the estate, but she depended on the male heir to do the right thing.[2] Perhaps her adversary here was that heir. We can’t be sure, but it’s as good a guess as any.

So, this woman comes to this judge looking for justice. We get the sense that she came repeatedly to him. At first, the unrighteous judge doesn’t give this woman the time of the day, even though the Old Testament explicitly talks about how Israel should care for widows (Exod. 22:22–24; Deut. 10:17–18; 24:17; 27:19; Pss. 68:5; 146:9; Prov. 15:25; also James 1:27). Yet the widow keeps coming to him, demanding justice. Even though he doesn’t fear God or respect humans, he doesn’t like being bothered by this woman. She is wearing him out with her demands for justice. So, he gives her justice to avoid being bothered any more by her.

Then “the Lord,” Jesus, gives his disciples the point of this story. He says, even an unrighteous judge will grant justice if he’s bothered enough. How much more, then, will the perfect judge give justice to “his elect, who cry to him day and night?” The point is not that God is an unrighteous judge. The point is not that if we bother God enough for what we want, he’ll get sick of hearing our prayers, and to shut us up, he’ll grant our wishes. Jesus is making an argument from the lesser to the greater. If an unrighteous judge will grant justice from bad motives, then the perfect Judge will certainly grant justice to his children.

Jesus says three very important things in verse 7. One, Jesus calls God’s people “elect.” That means they are chosen by God. One of the amazing truths that the Bible teaches is that God has elected certain people to be his people. He has predestined them to be adopted as his children, not because they are so lovable or so good, but simply because he loves them (see Rom. 8:28–30; Eph. 1:3–14). If you’re a Christian, God wanted you even before you existed. He wanted you knowing all the sins that you would commit, all the wrongs that you would do, all the times you have failed to love God and to love others as you should. God knew all these things, and he still chose you. And that should give us confidence that when we pray to God, he will answer. He knows we’re praying—he knows all things. But because we are his chosen children, he will answer.

The second important thing Jesus says in verse 7 is that God’s elect “cry to him day and night.” I don’t think Jesus means that only if we pray to God at literally every moment, then he will listen to us. But we are told in the Bible to pray regularly. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells Christian to “pray without ceasing.” In Romans 12:12, he says, “be constant in prayer.” In Ephesians 6:18, Paul says that we should be “praying at all times in the Spirit.” In Colossians 4:2, he says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” As a church, we should be praying regularly, and we have confidence that some Christian somewhere on earth is always praying to God for justice. Individually, we should do this regularly.

The third important thing that Jesus tells us in verse 7 is that God will not delay in granting us justice. He asks a rhetorical question: “Will he delay long over them?” The answer is “no.” However, God will do this on his own timing. God’s answers to our prayers are always perfect. He always answers our prayers, even if the answer is “no.” But we don’t always know how or when he answers our prayers. Sometimes the answer is “yes,” but it comes later than we want or expect. But God’s timing is always right.

In another part of the Bible, in the apostle Peter’s second letter, Peter talks about how some don’t believe that Jesus will come a second time. If you stop and think about it, the claim that Jesus will come again is hard to believe. It’s hard to believe because, first of all, the Christian claim is that Jesus is no mere human, but he’s also the Son of God. He’s the God-man, truly God and truly human. Second of all, we’re told that when he comes again, it will be in power and glory, and he will right every wrong. We’re told that he will remove all evil, all sin, from the world, he will judge everyone that has ever lived, and that he will recreate the world to be a paradise, a perfect place where God dwells with his people in peace and harmony. There will no longer be pain, disease, wars, and death. It’s hard to imagine all of that. And it’s no wonder that people who aren’t Christians would think this is just a fairy tale.

But Peter says it’s not. Jesus will come, but he will come according to God’s timing. Peter writes this:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Pet. 3:8–10).

The point is that an eternal God has a different time scale than we have. We want things done now. But for God, who always existed, a day is a blink of an eye. A thousand years in our experience are like a day in his. We’re told to be patient and to wait. The reason why Jesus has not returned is because God has given us more time for people to turn from their sins—to repent—and to turn to Jesus in faith. There is a day when Jesus will come, and God knows when that is (Acts 17:31). But if Jesus returned a hundred years ago, none of us would exist, and none of us would ever have the opportunity to be part of God’s kingdom.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John is given an image of all the people who died for their faith in Jesus. We read this in chapter 6:

10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been (Rev. 6:10–11).

That cry, “How long, O Lord?” appears throughout the Bible. It is a cry for justice. How long, God, until you set things right? How long until Jesus comes to remove all sin from the world, and all sin from our own hearts? How long do we have to live like this? The answer to those questions is, “Not long.” It may seem like an eternity to us, but not to God. God will not delay. His timing is right. Wait for it. In verse 8, Jesus says that God “will give justice . . . speedily” to his people.

But then Jesus turns the tables. He asks his own question. He says that when he, the Son of Man returns, “will he find faith on earth?” We ask that question, “How long?” and Jesus says, “Not long.” But then Jesus asks us what he will find when he returns. Will he find faithful people who are doing what has commanded us to do? Will he find people who are praying day and night for justice? Will he find people who trust that Jesus alone is King, that he alone is our Savior, that he alone is the perfect Judge who will right every wrong? Or will he find us putting our trust in lesser things?

This brings us to an important question that we should ask: What is the point of prayer? Earlier, I said that God is all knowing. God is omniscient. He has always known all true things. It’s not as though when we pray, we tell God anything new. It’s not as if we can say, “God, I have this great idea that you might not have considered yet. Maybe you should try this.” God already knows everything, including the content of our prayers. So, in that sense, we don’t need to pray.

But God has called us to pray. Why is that? It’s not to give him new information, or new plans. It’s not to inform him of our heart’s desire, because he knows that already. Why did God come up with the very concept of prayer? Why are we commanded to pray?

I believe the answer is that prayer keeps us connected to God. Prayer is simply talking to God. We don’t always have to request something of him when we pray. We can praise him. We can tell God we’re thankful for what he’s done for us. We can simply acknowledge who God is. We can think about his attributes and praise him for being almighty, all-knowing, holy, good, just, perfectly wise, and the creator of all things. We can tell God how we’re feeling and we can share with him our joys and sorrows. We can ask God for things. But whatever we say, he already knows it.

So, the real value of prayer is that it helps us focus on God. It’s a means of grace, something that keeps us in the faith and helps us grow in our faith. It’s a reminder of who is on the throne. God is all-powerful; we are not. God is in control; we are not. God is a perfect judge who will determine what is right and what is wrong; we lack the wisdom, the knowledge of all evidence, and the moral character to perfectly judge situations.

Our problem is that we want to be the judge. We want to be the decider, the one in control. To see this, all you need to do is think about how people react to the idea that God is judge. A lot of people are turned off by that idea. I have actually heard some people who claim to be Christians say that God wouldn’t judge anyone. Obviously, they haven’t read the Bible. God is repeatedly called a judge. He’s also a king. And, you might say, he’s the legislative branch, too. He makes the rules, which are a reflection of his moral perfection, his righteousness. He commands us to follow his rules. And he will judge us for how we have done.

And this, believe it or not, is a good thing. One reason it’s good that God is a judge is that it’s a guarantee that all wrongs will be righted. All crimes will be punished. If we didn’t have the assurance that God would do this some day, we would despair. We would look at this world, which has so much injustice, and think that justice is impossible. We would give up. We would become cynical and jaded. Or, we would try to bring about justice ourselves. How often do we see someone get away with a crime? Perhaps we don’t see this in our own lives, but we see it in the news. There are many times where a man rapes or sexually abuses a woman and he gets away with it, or he gets some ridiculously light sentencing. There are times when evil people don’t seem to be punished for their crimes. Hitler is a great example. He committed all kinds of atrocities and the committed suicide, never facing a judge and jury for what he did. Joseph Stalin, the leader of the USSR, is responsible for the deaths of millions of people who starved or who were sent to the Gulag. He died of a brain hemorrhage at age 74. He doesn’t seem to have paid for his abuses. The list could go on and on. If there is no God who judges, these men will never be punished appropriately for what they’ve done. If there’s no God, we may be tempted to seek our own “street justice,” to become vigilantes who take the law into our own hands. And that would go very badly.

But because God is a judge who will punish every crime, we can rest assured that though evil people seem to get away with crimes, no evil will go unpunished by God. He will deal with everyone’s sin. In the end, God will punish every sin, every evil. Nothing escapes his knowledge, and no one will escape his judgment. So, we have the promise that all injustices will be addressed. And that is a good thing.

There’s another good thing about God being a judge. Everything will be evaluated. That means that everything has meaning. This past week, I happened to listen to a few sermons online. That’s not something I actually do very frequently. But I happened to listen to a sermon by Tim Keller, who pastored a church in Manhattan for over twenty-five years. In the sermon, he referenced something he wrote about in his great book, The Reason for God. Keller mentions a play written by Arthur Miller called After the Fall. In that play, there’s a character named Quentin, who looks back over his life. He says that when he was younger, he thought of life as a series of proofs. You try to prove that you’re brave and smart, that you’re a good lover and father, that you’re wise, that your life has meaning. He said he expected that his life would receive some kind of judgment, some kind of verdict. He would be justified or condemned. But then he says this: “I think now my disaster really began when I looked up one day . . . and the bench was empty. No judge in sight. And all that remained was the endless argument with oneself, this pointless litigation of existence before an empty bench. . . . Which, of course, is another way of saying—despair.”[3] What is he saying? This character apparently is an atheist. He doesn’t believe there’s a cosmic judge. And what he realizes is that if there’s no God, no great judge who gives a verdict, then there’s no evaluation of one’s life. And that means that everything is ultimately meaningless.

Imagine you are in school, and you work very hard to get good grades. You want some validation for the work you’re doing. You want not only to be rewarded with a good grade, but you also want to know that you’re right. You want your work to be recognized. But then, at the end of the semester, the teacher says, “I decided not to give grades.” You would be upset if you worked hard. Now, if you didn’t work at all, you might think you’re getting a good deal. But most people want their work to have meaning. They want their lives to have meaning. That means we need to have our lives evaluated, to be judged. And we certainly want other people to be judged. All of us make moral judgments: “He should have done this; she shouldn’t have done that.” Where do you think that comes from? We’re judgmental because God is a judge. And we need God to be a judge, or else there’s no moral evaluation, and there’s no justice.

We all want God to be a judge—at least a judge of other people’s sins. But God will judge us for our sins, too. Earlier, I said that no one will escape God’s judgment. That’s not correct. There are some who will escape God’s judgment. The only way to escape is to come to Jesus. The fact is that all of us have done wrong. All of us have failed to love God and to love other people. We certainly have failed God’s standards. If we’re honest, we’ve failed to meet our own standards. We know in our hearts that we have done wrong. If we were to stand before God, we would be condemned. He would find us guilty and our crimes would be punished accordingly. And it wouldn’t be pretty. Because we have a tendency to be selfish, we would always live as if we were king. We would always sin. And God can’t have that. He can’t have people in his world destroying everything that he had made good. God will remove sinners from his creation so that he can perfect it. If God didn’t intervene, that means that each of us would be cast into hell.

But there is hope. We can escape condemnation if we find refuge in Jesus. If we turn to him, we will not be condemned. That is because he has already taken the judgment for the sins of his people. He has already paid the penalty for their crimes. Though he lived a perfect life—and he was the only one to do that—he died as a sinner. He bore not only terrible physical pain and suffering, but the wrath of God, something that goes beyond physical pain. This wasn’t an accident. It didn’t happen just because sinful people put Jesus to death, perhaps the greatest act of injustice ever committed. It was because it was God’s plan. It was the Father’s plan. It was the Son’s plan. It was the Spirit’s plan. From before the foundation of the world, the Son of God was destined to become man and die so he could save the elect from sin.

The question for us is, when Jesus comes again, will he find us faithful? Do we truly have faith in Jesus? If you’re not a Christian, I urge you to turn to Jesus now. A day of justice is coming. It will be a day of reckoning. If you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, whether you die or he returns in your lifetime, you will stand before him and you will be judged for everything you’ve ever thought, desired, and done. Jesus knows all the evidence. He knows all the ways you have failed. If you are not “in Christ,” you will be condemned. The good news is that Jesus has done everything you need to be rescued from judgment. But you must trust him. I would love to talk with you personally about what this would look like for you.

One mark of faithfulness is prayer. But we don’t pray to manipulate God. The point of this parable is not that if we badger God with personal requests, he’ll give in. It’s not that if I pray every day for money and good health, God will get tired of hearing me, and he’ll say, “Fine, I’ll give you whatever you want, just stop bothering me!” God isn’t like that. Jesus’ point is that if we cry out to our Father for justice, he will answer us positively.

Jesus told us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that his will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). We should pray that we would act as if God is our King. We should pray that others would do that also. We should pray continually for God to right wrongs, to fix the injustice that we see around us. God may lead people to do what is just in this life. Injustices like slavery have been addressed, often by Christians. I pray that injustices like abortion, racism, sexual abuse, and other evil practices will come to an end. But all evil will only be ended on that great day when Jesus appears. The apostle Paul has said, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). So, with Paul, let us pray, “Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22).

Notes

  1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  2. David E. Garland, Luke, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 709.
  3. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverhead, 2008), 163. The quote originally appears in Arthur Miller, After the Fall (New York: Penguin, 1964, 1992), 3.

 

Cry to Him Day and Night (Luke 18:1-8)

Jesus tells his followers to cry out to God day and night for justice, and God will faithfully grant that justice, at least on the last day. But on that day, will Jesus find that his followers have been faithful? Brian Watson preached this message on Luke 18:1-8 on September 1, 2019.

The Way of God More Accurately (Acts 18:24-19:41)

Pastor Brian preaches a message based on Acts 18:24-19:41. This long passage features several episodes that stress the need to know God accurately. We need to know God more accurately for teaching and evangelizing and for living as Christians. We also need to avoid manipulating the name of Jesus to serve our purposes and idolatry.