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Entries in Tribulation (3)

Tuesday
Jul192016

The Coming Day of the Lord 4

Isaiah 24:21-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on July 17, 2016.

As we finish this look at the Day that God has appointed in which all the nations of the world will be judged, we will see that this leads to a time of blessing for those who are left.  It is typical for unbelievers to scorn the Bible’s warning of judgment.  Yet, at the same time they will complain that if there really was an all-powerful and good God why hasn’t He dealt with all the bad stuff in the world.  When you put these two complaints together you recognize that there is no way God can “win” with such a person.  On one hand we want Him to deal with sin and evil (i.e. bring justice) and yet on the other hand we don’t want Him to judge.  God must deal with evil because He is the creator and He is good.  However, the answer that God gives in the Bible is this.  If He brought judgment to all that was evil we would all be guilty.  He does not want us to receive judgment.  So He has provided a way for us to have grace.  Jesus took God’s judgment of our sin upon Himself so that we could be pardoned.  God has given two millennia of goodness and mercy, pleading with the nations to turn from judgment and into the grace of Jesus.  Thus His judgment is not a barbaric thing, but rather, something that has been a long time coming.

In the death of Jesus we see the love and character of God.  In the resurrection of Jesus we see the reality and power of God.  In the Church we see the faithfulness of God to send ambassadors of this Truth throughout every generation.  God will not be found wanting in any kind of trial that men may wish to convene.  Lay down your complaints and find the truth of God’s love for you in His Word.

The Lord Will Reign On Mt. Zion

Starting in verse 21 we see the completion of God’s judgment upon the rebels and the subsequent rule that He will have upon Mt. Zion.  Now Mt. Zion is a reference to a physical place on earth in the city of Jerusalem.  It is the old city of David that also contains the area of the temple.  Mt. Zion was the physical place of God’s rule over Israel.  However, in the prophets we find that Mt. Zion often comes to represent the spiritual throne of God in the heavens.  Thus the earthly object is a symbol that points to a greater heavenly reality.  Thus believers in Hebrews 12:22 are told, “But you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”  We also see this in the book of Revelation.  There it is revealed that there will be a day when these heavenly realities (the throne of God, New Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, etc.) will come down to earth and no longer be merely a spiritual concept.

Before this happens though, the Lord’s wrath will punish the rebels.  They have refused His attempts to draw them into grace and now the day of punishment is here.  If He does not judge, He appears to approve of the damage they have done among themselves and to the faithful believers.  Thus verse 21 points out two classes of those being punished.  The first is the “Host of Exalted Ones.”  This phrase is a reference to the spiritual beings (typically called fallen angels) that had been in charge of the nations after the Tower of Babel, and yet had rebelled.  They led the nations into worshipping them as gods and throwing off the Truth of God.  The judgment of these spiritual beings is further revealed in the book of Revelation.  They will be forced out of the heavens and onto the earth where they will be punished by either being put in the Lake of Fire or into the Bottomless Pit.  The second class that is mentioned is the kings of the earth.  The leaders of mankind have been following the lead of these wicked, spiritual beings.  They will be judged as well, along with their armies as we see in Revelation 19. 

We are then told that they will be imprisoned.  Since we are dealing with  natural and supernatural beings the imprisonment brings up several questions that are answered by Revelation 19/20.  In the Old Testament the pit is often a reference to the grave, or the place where the spirits of men go to await judgment.  It is the place of the dead.  Thus the kings of the earth and their armies are going to die and go into the grave.  Yet, we see Satan, the ultimate fallen angel, imprisoned in the Bottomless Pit.  Since angels cannot physically die and thus go into the grave, God has designed a place called the Bottomless Pit where they can be restrained from interacting with the material world.  Read Revelation 19:17-20:3 for more information.

Isaiah then says after many days they will be punished.  Of course Revelation reveals that there will be a 1,000 years of peace on earth under the reign of Christ and His saints.  At the end of this however, Satan will be released from the pit and cause another great rebellion.  When this rebellion is destroyed by God, the heavens and the earth are melted down and all spirits are brought before the Great, White Throne.  There all receive their judgment.  The wicked are put in the Lake of Fire, which is referred to as the second death.  Think of it this way.  At the first death our spirits are separated from our bodies and thus can no longer interact with the physical world.  We can still interact with the spiritual world, however.  At the second death the spirit is separated from all of creation physical and spiritual.  There will be no coming back.  God creates a new heavens and a new earth that they will never be able to see or influence again.

In verse 23, Isaiah switches from the devastation and punishment to look at the result.  The Lord will dwell with His people.  The sun and the moon will be ashamed in His presence.  This is a personification that is intended to show how gloriously Jesus will be at His second coming.  It can also include a slam against those fallen angels (false gods) who had been associated with the sun and the moon (Apollo, Helios, etc.).  No matter how great they tried to magnify themselves, they will be ashamed when the true God of the earth arrives.  The key here is that the long awaited Anointed King that God was to send would arrive and in fact would actually be the Lord Himself.  This same theme is mentioned in Revelation: God will dwell with His people.

Notice the descriptions.  First He will reign.  He is not just a king, but the King of kings.  Yes, currently Jesus reigns over believers of the earth spiritually.  But in the millennium his reign will become a physical reality over the whole earth.  This kingship will lead us into the new heavens and the new earth, or Creation 2.0, if you will.

Then He will reign upon Mt. Zion within Jerusalem.  The millennium involves a spiritual reality taking its place upon the physical earth.  Thus Jesus will reign from Jerusalem over the earth.  However, in the new heavens and new earth, we see a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven that will cause the earthly “old” Jerusalem pale in comparison.  Thus the physical places in the middle east today are only a shadow of the greater physical and spiritual realities that will be in the New Creation.

He will be before His elders.  The people of Israel would have seen this as the rulers of national Israel.  However, in Revelation we see that it is something more than this.  There are 24 elders that surround the throne of God.  Most scholars point out that the word “elders” is only used of humans.  Since their origin is not explained we are left with conjecture.  The number (2X12) has led most to believe that they are representatives of National Israel and the Church (12 from each).  In fact Jesus promised His disciples that they would sit on thrones with Him.  Thus the elders represent the righteous of all the nations who have finally been united into one body before the Lord.

Lastly, we are told that he will reign in glory.  This has two facets to it.  Jesus will no longer be cloaked in mere human flesh.  Rather, as the disciples saw on the Mt. of Transfiguration, and as John saw at the beginning of Revelation, Jesus will shine in a brilliance that is majestic and glorious.  Thus He reigns in a glory that emanates from Him.  Yet, we will also glorify Him.  Our natural response will be to bring honor and glory to Him in all that we do, which will no longer be tainted by our sin nature.  Yes we will worship Him in song and praise.  But we will also worship Him in the projects that we perform and do.

Let me close by recognizing that heavy things lie ahead for this world.  When and exactly how it will all play out, you cannot completely know.  However, you can know that you are ready for it.  Put your trust in Jesus today.  Cling to His words to you in the Bible with all your heart, and shine the light of the Gospel of Jesus to everyone that you meet.  Maranatha!

Day of Lord 4 Audio

Tuesday
Jul122016

The Coming Day of the Lord 3

Isaiah 24:17-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 10, 2016.

Today we continue in Isaiah 24 looking at the revelation that there will be a day of judgment for all the nations of the earth.  The chapters that follow will be a series of praises and songs to God for His promise of judgment.

As we look at the judgments of God that are described in this chapter, it is important to recognize that God is sovereign over the affairs of mankind and we are headed to a point in time in which we will be held accountable to Him.  No matter how much modern, secular society kicks against this reality, these things are going to come to pass.  The real question is this, “Are you prepared for them?”  Whether we live to see these things or not, believers will live their life in a way that is connected to the reality of the coming Judgment, rather than living in a way that is connected to delusion and fantasy.  Let’s look at our verses today.

The Day of Judgment is Unavoidable

Starting in verse 17 the prophet drives home the point that these things cannot be escaped.  Those who try to escape will caught up in it, one way or another.  There is an idea that has become more and more popular, whether in secular movies or in Christian teaching.  The idea is that if Christians do a good enough job the apocalypse, day of judgment, can be avoided.  They see these passages more as a warning of something that we can avoid if we listen.  The problem is that an honest reading of the Scriptures makes it impossible to hold such a view.  Yes, believers must strive to do a good job by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But judgment day will come because Scripture reveals that most of mankind will refuse to repent, even in the face of judgment.

Isaiah addresses the “inhabitants of the earth.”  We dealt with this in part one of this series.  This phrase is addressing those whose sole frame of reference is the earth.  They live without fear or concern towards God and heavenly matters.  They even persecute the people of God and unwittingly cooperate with the spiritual powers of wickedness.  They are in contrast to those whose minds are fixed on the things of God.  Though they technically inhabit the earth, they are heavenly minded and stand to inherit the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Isaiah points out 3 things that these “earth dwellers” are facing: Fear, The Pit, and The Snare.

The fear refers to some calamity that will give them cause for fright.  It is the thing that causes them to want to run.  Thus as the judgments of God begin to come upon mankind fear will take hold of their hearts.  However, when they run from their fear, they will do so only to fall into a pit.  Likewise, those who are able to climb out of the pit will only find themselves caught in a snare.  In the last days there will be no escape.  It is interesting that even our life today resembles a series of traps and snares that God uses to try and pin down our flesh.  The believer is someone who has been trapped by their own sins and yet has turned to God for grace.  The earth dweller will not turn to God.  Instead they devise their own answers.  This world is running scared away from the idea that it might be held accountable to a Creator.  Yet, this fear is only going to cause us to fall into worse things until eventually the judgments of God are finalized.  Thus Jesus referred to the end times as a snare in Luke 21:35f.  Only those who fear God enough to repent and serve Him will avoid this snare.  This imagery can also be helped by remembering Adam and Eve.  Their sin put them in a condition of fearing the judgment of God.  Thus they ran from God and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves.   This is a picture of mankind.  We run from the reality of God into a self-delusion that we can cover our sins by the things of this world.  Yet, God has stated that the things of this world are destined to wither and cannot cover mankind.  Only repentance and turning towards the very thing we fear can save us.  Run towards God and there you will find grace.

At the end of verse 18 we see that the judgments of God will come from above and below.  The phrase, “windows from on high” is an allusion back to the story of the flood in Genesis 7:11.  There the “windows of heaven” were opened and the rains of judgment fell upon the earth.  At the same time the “springs of the great deep burst open,” while water from beneath rose up in judgment.  Isaiah points back to this template of God’s judgment from above and beneath.  The judgment of the nations that is still ahead of us will not involve rain and floods.  In the book of Revelation we are given further understanding.  On the natural plane we see objects from space striking the earth and causing global catastrophe.  We also see the earth itself splitting and reeling from a global earthquake that is unthinkable.  This represents the judgment of God from above and from below.  Yet, Revelation also reveals a spiritual plane of God’s judgment.  We see Satan and his angels being forced out of the heavens onto the earth.  This is good news for the heavens, but bad news for the earth.  Satan will be angry and we should not deceive ourselves with thoughts that he has any good feelings for mankind.  Similarly we are also told of the bottomless pit that will be opened up.  This pit is a prison house for angels that broke God’s commands in the past.  It is pictured as beneath the earth.  When it is opened spiritual forces are released upon the earth and bring great torment upon the people.  Again we have spiritual judgments from above and from beneath.  The judgment of rebellious mankind is unavoidable.  God is hemming him in on every side and there will be no escape.

This fate of the earth dwellers is paralleled with the fate of the earth.  It too has 3 things that are facing it:  to be broken, split, and shaken.  The brokenness of the earth is a reference to the devastation and ruin that will come upon the structures of man and even the topology of the earth itself.  Everything will lie broken.  The earth will also be split by the greatest earthquake the earth has ever seen.  Revelation tells us that the mountains will be flattened and the islands will “flee away.”  Clearly all of these words are tied together.  The third word is “shaken.”  The world will undergo a powerful shaking in the natural.  Yet, there is a spiritual side to this as well.  In Hebrews 12:26 the writer reminds us of a prophecy in Haggai.  “‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire.”  The fate of the earth is to be broken, split and shaken.  But God gives to those who will turn from their rebellion towards Him, that which is unshakeable and unbreakable.  We are those who will not be destroyed by judgment, but shall come through to the other side.  Let us not smugly rejoice in our good fortunes, but rather plead with a world that keeps running from God.  Turn from your way and turn back to God.  This is the only way that the unavoidable judgment can be avoided- Jesus.

Isaiah then gives two metaphors to discourage putting your hope in anything of this earth.  The first is the picture of a drunk who stumbles to and fro.  He can’t even walk much less protect someone.  It is also possible that the wobbling of the earth from the natural disasters that are happening will resemble a drunk man from a heavenly perspective.  You won’t be able to build a bunker deep enough or get on a mountain high enough.  The earth will not be able to protect anyone from the wrath of God.  The second image is that of a hut in the middle of a strong storm.  Jesus once told a story about building upon the rock rather than the sand.  In that story the emphasis was foundation.  But the image of Isaiah points to the building materials themselves.  Thus the story of the 3 pigs is more appropriate.  When the hurricane-force winds of the judgment of God come upon the nations, the earth will be like a hut made out of sticks and straw.  It will be blown down and destroyed.  It will offer no protection.  No technology will be able to save man from the things God has decreed.

All of this time we have been talking about what God will do.  However the phrase “its transgression will be heavy upon it,” points to the sins of mankind.  We should recognize that whenever God judges us part of the judgment is directly caused by Him, but part is indirectly.  What I mean is that our sins actually have consequences that can affect the earth.  Of course God is the one who made creation the way it is.  Thus He has “hard-wired” the effects of sin into it.  This is why I used the word “indirectly.”  He has warned us.  But we keep running down the paths of sins bringing the ultimate judgment down upon our own heads.

We will stop there for today.  If you are not a believer in Jesus, I would challenge you to listen to these words.  The Creator has appointed a day in which all of mankind that has rejected His words and commands will be brought into judgment.  You will not survive that day.  Yet, when he died on the cross, Jesus was paying the price for your sins.  If you put your trust in Him, God can set you free from judgment and protect you from it.  All of this is possible because of Jesus.  Don’t run from God.  Rather, flee into the arms of the only One who can protect you from what is coming upon the earth and those who inhabit it.

Coming Lord 3 audio

Tuesday
Feb032015

Understanding Bad Events and God's Judgment

Today we will be looking at Luke 13:1-9.

No one likes to have bad things happen to themselves or their loved ones.  When they do happen, we often try to make sense out of the events and can run into some pitfalls.  Now the Bible gives us a strong framework upon which to understand bad things in our life and the Holy Spirit promises to give us wisdom regarding how to respond.  So the question is, “Am I trusting in these two supports, or am I trusting something else?”  When difficult times come, we need to take time to remind ourselves of the biblical truths involved and open ourselves up to what God may want to say to us.

When Bad Things Happen

In verse 1 we have some news of the day that is described to Jesus.  In the manner of “did you hear about so and so,” the crowd wants to hear what Jesus has to say.  This news event is about a situation where Pilate, the governor of Jerusalem and Judea, had killed some Galileans.  We are told that he mixed their blood with their sacrifices.  Several questions are not answered but are clearly implied.  Pilate most likely sees these Galileans as part of one of the rebel groups that existed in those days.  It also seems that he waited until they had entered the Temple to sacrifice their offerings before he killed them.  Thus the picture of a group being slaughtered in the act of worshipping God is shown.  Part of understanding the mindset of the people and why they are bringing this up to Jesus is to recognize their sense of judgment.  Pilate was not a righteous and godly man.  He mercilessly ruled Judea so as to keep Caesar happy and the Jews under control.  Yet, the fact that they are killed while worshipping God sets up a shock scenario: shock that Pilate would defile the Temple in such a way, and shock that these Galileans were killed in such a horrendous manner.  The whispers and “water cooler talk” would center around what God’s response would be.  Would God kill Pilate or did the Galileans deserve such a horrible death?  Was it a sign that God was about to remove Pilate (i.e. he has lost all restraint) or is it a sign that these Galileans were wicked and rejected by Him?  What do you think Jesus?

Jesus offers a very different response to these questions.  But, before we get into that, let’s look at the question of whether it was from God or not.  When bad things happen, whether to us or to others, we ask the question why.  Did God cause this, or is it just happenstance?  There can be no hard fast answers.  In fact part of the response Jesus gives is to point out another disaster that had happened recently and tie it together with this story.  In it a tower falls and kills 18 people.  Notice in the first story a wicked man kills some Galileans and in the second there is seemingly no one causing the tower to fall.  One thing to keep in mind is that we live in a fallen world that is under a curse.  Thus many things we call bad are a result of mankind’s choice to rebel against God.  We suffer disease and death as a result of it.  God is not necessarily directly causing our sickness and death.  Often, it is just the result of man’s choice in the Garden of Eden.  Also, much “bad” that occurs is a result of our own sin and the sin of others.  God didn’t make us sinful.  Sin is when we reject the directions of the One who created us.  We do so at our own peril.  In the midst of these two categories is the reality that some things are directly caused by God and some things are only indirectly allowed by him.

An example of direct involvement is when God pours out plagues upon Pharaoh in Egypt.  God generally reveals His involvement in such events through His prophets by both predicting, warning and explaining.  However, in the case of Job, we see that God is only indirectly involved.  It is Satan who is directly causing the trouble, but for some reason God is allowing it. 

In all of these things we have to exercise humility and caution in our judgments regarding the way in which God is involved.  Our first premonitions and analysis are not always right.  Even with a strong, biblical world-view and understanding of the above information, we can misjudge.  Job’s friends were sure that he was guilty of secret sin because of the horrendous nature of the things happening to him.  The Psalmist also recognizes that people looked upon his sickness as a judgment from God.  It is also the case that, when bad things happen to me, my flesh is quick to be angry with God and give up.  This fleshly dynamic is interesting to watch in others, but believe me, it is operating in you.  We are quick to judge (and even relish) the misfortune of others as proof that God is against them and quick to be angry with God when bad happens to us.  Jesus nips this in the bud in verse 2 with the words, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners?”  He even answers it, “No.”  God is not operating a universe in which the worse things happen to the worse of sinners and by extension nothing bad happens to the best people, as much as we may wish it.

Jesus turns his hearers away from judging those in misfortune and back to themselves.  When bad happens to others, I need to look at my own life.  We need to take time and judge our own life with the same soul-searching that the Psalmist cries for in Psalm 139:23-24.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And, see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The truth is that devastating events can teach us important truths.  First, it teaches us the reality of our frail mortality.  No matter how righteous and close to God we are, we are still frail and not guaranteed tomorrow.  Second, it teaches us to not pride in our position whether with God or with the systems of this world.  Such arrogant elitism can develop in the life of Christians as well as the lost.  God does not always protect the righteous from physical harm and devastation.  It keeps us humble and focused upon our true task, trusting God in a fallen world.  Third, I must always be ready to stand before God and give account for my life (i.e. to meet my Maker).  We can come up with many others such as how we come to see the reality behind why God has warned against sin and will judge sinners.  It is in the “Bad” times that we often draw closer to understanding God and being more like Him.

God Is Looking For Fruit

In verses 6-9 Jesus gives a simple parable to drive this point home.  To understand this parable let’s establish what the parts of the parable represent.  The “certain man” who owns a vineyard is God himself and Jesus in particular.  In this vineyard he has a certain tree that is not bearing fruit.  This tree is the people of Israel.  So what does the fruit represent?  The fruit of any believer is those godly actions that come from a heart of faith.  In fact, it might be good to point out that when the Bible speaks of the fruit of the Spirit being love, joy, peace etc. it is not talking about feelings in our heart as much as it is talking about faith in God (following the Spirit) expressing itself in actions of love, joy and peace etc.  Jesus came looking for actions of repentance from sin, righteousness and mercy towards others.  But the tree of Israel lacked fruit as a whole.  So who are the caretakers here?  This is less clear but it seems best to connect the caretaker with the prophets.  The digging and fertilizing are those drastic events and the warnings of the prophets that could open the “roots” of people’s lives to God’s truth.  The ground around our heart can be so hard that God’s Word is unable to penetrate and do us good.  Jesus warns that though the tree be given one more year to bear fruit, it will be cut down if not.  Cutting down here is a picture of final judgment.  It is the loss of life and standing before God.  Israel as a national vehicle of God speaking to the world was about to be cut off.

It is important to recognize that God periodically comes looking for fruit, whether in the Church, a nation, or an individual.  Obviously He knows at all times how we are doing.  But He works by seasons in our life.  He breaks open our hardened ground and inserts His Word.  He then gives that Word a season to grow and come to maturity.  He then has an appointed time of harvest.  This parable highlights the judgment upon those who do not respond well to His Word.  We should not take for granted the goodness of God.  Rather we should work to cooperate with it.  When we trust Him, we believe that He will work all things to the good (even bad things).  Why would we believe that?  We believe it because we know that He loves us and has called us for His good purpose.

Yes, God is looking for fruit.  But, that does not mean that all bad things are a sign of His final judgment upon us.  God is not quick to cut people off.  He is long-suffering and works continually even in the life of unbelievers in order to open their eyes to sin and to His purpose.  He works with His people as a parent with little children.  Most of the time, He is simply disciplining us in order to make us more like Him.  He is trying to lift us up and not push us down.  He knows that those things we often label as bad can work for our good.  Thus He allows some.  He knows that we need chastised for our sin from time to time.  Thus He causes others.  Even when God is punishing a nation, city, or an individual, the path of repentance is always open to them.  Even the threat of final judgment can be the devastating thing that breaks through our hardness and gets the Truth down to our roots; like Nineveh.

We can change our mind and thus walk a different path.  This is the beauty of God’s mercy.  He desires us to come into fellowship with Him.  Even the thief on the cross is welcomed into Paradise, though he lived a life of sin.  In the end he had a change of heart and publicly declared the innocence of Jesus and begged his mercy.  Such is the heart of God even in the midst of judgment.  Let us search our hearts.  But, even more important, we must allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and bring to our attention those things that keep us from bearing the fruitful actions of a heart of faith.

Understanding Bad Events Audio