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Many are looking for answers to make sense out of the tragedy that took place in our country on September 11, 2001. Everywhere, people want to know where God is in disasters like these and how or why things like this happen. In the midst of grief and fear, God's Word offers us peace, hope and wisdom for living in a world plagued by sin and tumult.
Sovereignty, Hurricanes and Terrorism: What They Mean for Us Today
War, What's it Good For? Peace, Pacifism, War and the Word
9/11 - The Day That America Did Not Change Forever
Jesus' Response to Towers that Fall
Lord, as I have a chance to stand before folks who you love desperately, whether they know you or not, no matter how far from you they've been before last Tuesday, no matter how far they are from you they are right now, you love them, and you are just in the midst of your pain at watching your people suffer.
Your mercy and your grace and your heart of compassion also aches at those who are going to face far more pain than we can even tolerate to think about right now. I believe it's that heart Lord that you want to be communicated this morning. I think you don't leave us in a void just to make up ideas about what to say in times like this.
You've given us the very word of God, that we might know the mind of God that we could speak the wisdom of God. So we are not stuck with the very limited, often perverted mind of a 38-year-old to speak to this issue. We have the wisdom of eternity today. It's in that that everybody here excitedly waits, myself among them.
God, my prayer then is that your Word goes forth. I pray that it will do what you say it will do. It will pierce hearts, and it will judge the thoughts and intentions of our heart, and it will lead us, Father, to a place where we understand how in the midst of our cry for justice, we among all people are grateful for mercy. Would you teach us?
Your Spirit, which is alive and real, that comforts us and sustains us. Instruct us, teach us, and transform us that we might not be conformed into the attitudes of this world. But that we might be people who are literally supernatural in our thinking, and Lord, then, therefore, by our humility before you in our living. In Christ's name, amen.
Well, there are lots of places we could go right now, lots of different things we could touch on in the midst of what we all have seen repeatedly played out on our television sets and heard talked about on our radios and around the office cooler. I have asked myself, "What would be the most appropriate way to address this topic.
I thought about how unbelievable it would be to have certain individuals address you this morning. People who have been through many more horrors and circumstances like I have. I am grateful for men like Billy Graham, who addressed our nation and our world on Friday. But you're going to hear today from somebody better. And, as I hopefully made it clear in my prayer, it's not this 38-year-old friend of yours.
There was a time when horrors had stricken the world when Jesus was on it. Some individuals came up to Christ and demanded that he explain to them why those horrors had happened. It's a section of Scripture that most folks rarely are aware of. We're going to get there, but before we do, we're going to see what led to the place where the question was asked.
So turn with me to Luke 12. We're going to start in verse 49. You're going to hear from Christ today. I'm going to let his words speak, and then I'm going to do all that I can to take the acorn, the mountain of great truth that Jesus planted in his word, and grow it into an oak of understanding by his grace. Luke 12:49.
This is a side of Christ that we don't typically see. We, in our culture, as we had mentioned last week, and I'm going to talk about again next week, have two views of Christ in the Scripture (or the Messiah). Christ is a Greek name for Messiah, which is the Jewish term: the long expected one, the one anointed of God to bring all people free from the horrors of the bondage that living on an earth afflicted by sin bring.
Those two images are one of a suffering servant and another of a reigning and conquering king. What we typically have seen in our day and age is Christ being lifted up as a suffering servant, as this weak and tepid, as this gentle and congenial, often pale-skinned male who spoke words of compassion and truth. And he did.
But he also spoke some very specific words sometimes, some straightforward words and made it clear that this lamb who had come to take away the sins of the world will also be at the appropriate time this lion of Judah, which is what the folks who lived when he lived expected and looked for (this conquering king). Jesus was a conquering king, but the first thing he came to conquer was death.
We often see the lamb side and miss the lion side. They saw the lion side and did not anticipate the lamb. The lion speaks this morning. In Luke 12:49, it says this. "I have come to cast fire upon [purify] the earth…" Fire being a symbol of purification. "…and how I wish it were already kindled!" In other words, "I wish we could get on to the purification because I mourn at the tears of my people. My heart breaks at their pain."
"But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!" He's saying, "I need to identify myself with sin." That's what baptism is. It's a symbol of identification, and Jesus is going to identify himself. In fact, bear our sins on the cross. The disciples and those who were with him were going to begin to understand how he was the Lamb of God who would be baptized in the wrath of God as he was identified with the justice that was due us.
He said, "Before I can kindle the fire of purification, I need to go through the fire of the wrath of God so that those who turn to me can escape that." This is what he says. "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division…" What's that mean? He says,
"…for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
"I'm going to come to present a choice. I'm going to come to present a fork in the road, and because choices are going to be cast out as a result of who I am and what I've come to do, it's going to divide people." The world is divided over who this Jesus is. Jesus speaks very clearly and authoritatively into the world that he's speaking in right there, and he speaks authoritatively today. He says this.
"Listen, folks. You have to make your own mind up, and not just read what the pundits of the day say about me. I want you to look at what I have said and what I have done, and you figure out if those pieces fit. If they do, you respond appropriately, because you may not be an editor of a national magazine, but you are responsible for editing your own thinking process. What you do with me is everything."
What Jesus is going to do at this particular time in his life was to unfold his evidences before folks in such a way that he says, "You must make a decision about who I am." The evidences that we have today about the person of Jesus Christ are primarily threefold.
The Word of God (its veracity, its authenticity, its integrity, its uniqueness), the resurrection of this one who spoke these words, the power which came from this one who offered a promise to those who would believe him after he left, which would bring about transformation in the lives of those who said they walked with him.
The love of Christ, which transforms self-willed, self-serving men and women. That sign is all before us. We see it, again and again, played out through the compassion of followers of Christ. Life change. The miracles of the church with all its ills, still often prevailing against a wicked world and demanding good. This is what Jesus says then.
"And He was also saying to the crowds, 'When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming,' and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing…" In Israel, it would tell you that it's going to come from the desert, so, "…you say, 'It will be a hot day,' and it turns out that way.'" Now watch this. "You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?"
"My works and the things that I say and do. If I walk like a duck, talk like a duck, I might be a duck. If the Messiah was to heal the blind, let the dumb speak, the deaf hear, and the lame walk, you might want to try and put the pieces together. If the wages of sin is death, and I tell you that I am sinless, watch my gave and see if it's not empty. You determine what to do with those signs." He says,
"And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, in order that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison." Debtors prison where you will be beaten mercilessly until someone pays your debt. "I say to you, you shall not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent."
Christ is using a very human analogy to say simply this. "There isn't a single one in here who wants to go to jail. You will do no small thing in order to stay out of jail. If you'll make an effort to stay out of a sentence which is temporal, how much more should you consider what you should do to stay out of hell?" That's the argument of Christ.
He says, "It should anger you when somebody gives you false meteorological reports, when they give you bad barometric pressure readings, when they lie about wind direction and velocity so they can ruin your picnic or parade or your outdoor wedding plans. That should annoy you. But even more than being annoyed by a bad meteorologist, you ought to be annoyed by a bad interpreter of the signs of God who will misdirect you from me and not just miss out on a picnic but the wedding feast of the Lamb. That ought to annoy you.
You are responsible to go outside and see where the wind is blowing itself and to consider the person of Christ individually. Because there is going to be a time when you will be held accountable for what you do for me. If you make an effort to stay out of jail, the justice of men, how much more do you want to stay out of jail with God." Those are the words of Christ. In effect, what he's saying is this. "You're not sure when that judgment day is coming. You'd better make sure right now, on the way to justice, that you are secure when you stand before that judge."
Right now, our world is totally affixed and attuned to how our life is a vapor. Tragedy always shows us about our mortality and about the uncertainty of tomorrow, whenever death grips us the way that it has.
I want to tell you about an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News by a guy, Steve Blow, six years ago. I want to read you this because this happened the last time Tuesday happened. What Steve is saying very honestly is this. "I'm struggling with the reality of what's put before me on the television set." He's speaking about Oklahoma at the time.
He says, "My heart wants to lie to me. My heart wants to get over it." I was listening to the radio, and there was a gentleman who came on, and he said two things. He goes, "My parents have not been to church for over a decade, but Tuesday, when they heard about the events, they found themselves aimlessly wandering the streets, literally, until they found themselves a church."
He said, "At 12 noon in Ohio, my parents were at church, and everybody had just found their way there. My parents, who haven't been there for 15-plus years, found themselves sitting there looking for answers, realizing that their world was not something they could control." But then right after that, he said, "But folks, come Monday, after our weekend of mourning, we have to get over this and get on."
While there is truth to it, be careful that our getting over it isn't missing it. Our nation's grief and mourning are so appropriate. It's biblical, and God does not look at us and mock our lack of faith because we weep at the horrors at this world. He himself wept at the loss of a friend. He himself wept at the horrors going on over in Jerusalem. Do we show a lack of faith when we see pain in this world which crucified our King? Absolutely not.
When that pain controls us, defeats us, and imprisons us by fear, strips us of our hope, and paralyzes us from doing the very things that God has left us here to do, we begin to cross a line. But in that mourning, and in that grieving, in our turning to him until he strengthens us, it's what Christ did.
Steve Blow goes on to say something like, "What a lovely little lie we create for ourselves. We carefully weave the illusion that life is safe, that it's predictable, that people are good, that we can work together to solve problems and settle differences. I'll admit it. I'm one of the worst. I desperately want to believe the best about our world. As journalists, we are regularly called upon to examine our biases, to ponder our prejudices, and look for our blind spots.
I certainly know one of mine. I am a Pollyanna. I expect the best to happen. This is not some Zig Zigler 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da' brand of manufactured enthusiasm," he writes. "If anything, it's probably closer to a character flaw. I need to believe that the best will happen. My defense against the uncertainties of life is a stubborn, probably irrational insistence that everything will be fine.
It drives my wife crazy. She considers me dangerous in this regard. One who's judgment is simply not to be trusted. A husband and father who sometimes puts his family at risk through his cockeyed optimism. 'Don't worry,' I say. 'Life is good,' I say. Then Oklahoma City comes along. That enormous building stands there. Its jagged wound revealed to the world proclaiming that everything I want to believe is wrong. Life is not safe. People are not rational, and our lovely little lie is torn asunder.
Of course, there are lots of tragedies in the world. Thousands die in Japanese earthquakes, 900 drown when a ferry sinks, plane crashes in this country kill 264 (in 1994). So why is it that one such poke in the stomach like this hurts? Because it destroys our illusions in so many ways. You know them. This was Oklahoma" He doesn't say this, but he implies it means it can happen anywhere.
"When we watch bombings in Beirut or mortar fire in Sarajevo or mayhem in New York, we can erect a little mental barrier between those places and ours. Those are hot spots. Those are troubled areas. Those are not our home. But a terrorist attack in Oklahoma City? That sounds like a setup to a joke. Now the notion of a home-grown terrorist seems even more absurd. Children died.
Has there ever been a photo that pierced your heart like the firefighter holding that limp little ragdoll? Adults do all sorts of horrible things to each other, and somehow we can live with that. Adults make their own decisions about where they go and what they do. Whether it's fair or not, we create a rationale that says people often put themselves in harm's way. In other words, their sin was the cause of this, we tell ourselves.
But none of those children put themselves there. We can dream up absolutely nothing to separate our own children from the evil that befell the children in 1995. It was so senseless. If there must be death and destruction, at least give us a logical reason. Mental illness. Okay. A metrological swirl. Okay. Political rivalry. Maybe. Pilot error. Something. But we don't have that comfort. Not yet anyway. Pure madness reigns for a few days, and we lose our equilibrium. The ground shifts; our illusion of safety is gone. So what do we do?" Listen to this.
What do we do? Because this is just five years ago, folks. This is just five years ago. I want you to think about April of 1995 and September of 2001. What do we do? He exposes the fallacy of his own Pollyannaism by essentially saying, "So what do we do? We go right back to reweaving the illusion, stitching the tapestry together again. Rescuers rush in to impose order upon the chaos. Investigators round up suspects. Journalists scramble for the facts and figures that will make the horror manageable in our heads. Volunteers swarm in, tripping over each other, determined to prove that good will triumph over evil." Could that be written today?
"The rest of us do what we can. We talk." Just what I'm doing here. "We babble. We state the obvious. We mouth platitudes. 'Horrible. Awful. What's the latest?' We speak of the unspeakable, trying to diminish it's smothering power, and we begin to breathe again. Bit by bit, we manage to resurrect our lovely little lie. For most of us, it will only take a few more days. For some, it will be months, and others, even years. But once again, we will believe that people are good, that our lives are safe, that somehow we can make the bad disappear. We need this little lie. We call it hope."
He doesn't. I know I don't call that hope. A lie is not hope. A lie is an illusion, and we have reweaved the illusion in this country in just five years. I want to make myself very, very clear here. One of the first things people do in an event like this is they start to go, "Where does this fit on end times' scenarios. I do agree that we should not see what happened this week so much as a sign of Christ's imminent return as much as we should see it as a reminder of the horrors which can happen when he is absent in the hearts of men. That's what this week teaches.
The Scriptures tell us that in the end times, there will be a series of wars, of earthquakes, of natural disasters, and famine, and they will happen with an increasing rate. Sacrifice calls them birth pangs. Those birth pangs become more and more and more severe. What happens when a woman has birth pangs? The labor pains get closer; they become more intense. Eventually, a son arrives.
Okay. It's a birth pang. Maybe it's Braxton Hicks for those you who, like me, have endured a worthless (until now because I could use that) Lamaze class. The point is they're going to come, and they will come with increasing intensity. Can I tell you one of the most amazing facts of Scripture?
After Christ removes his church and horrors abound as pilots, drivers, world leaders, responsible individuals are removed from this earth (if they have faith in Jesus Christ), and the world starts to stabilize again, after roughly three and half years, the Scriptures tell us that there's going to be a series of events that go on. If you put biblical events on a scale from 1 to 50 on a Richter scale, folks, we did not even hit 1 on Tuesday. We didn't even get to 1.
The Scriptures tell us that in the end times, there will be an event in a series of events that actually lead to 25 percent of the world's surviving population being eliminated. Then, after that, of the group that remains, another third will be eliminated. You do the math. We're talking billions of people will die suddenly, horrifically, and tragically. Do you know what the Scriptures tell us in Matthew 24?
I want to say again. I don't believe that this week has as much to say about the imminent sign of Christ returning. It is imminent. Know that. There's nothing in God's eschatological end-times calendar that needs to happen before he comes to deal with his people the church and remove them and take us to a place of judgment and reward. At which point, when that happens, it'll be seven short years before those birth pangs eventually deliver a child, a reigning child, a reigning king who will sit on a throne and will deal thoroughly with justice.
The Scripture says that the hearts of men will repeatedly grow cold. You think about what happened. Folks who have not been to church for 15 years found themselves wandering until they found one at 12 noon on Tuesday. In 1995, when Oklahoma happened, we all grabbed our hearts, we all grabbed our stomach, we all lost our breath, but what did we do? We re-weaved the illusion. We got back to life as normal.
Do you know what the Scriptures tell us? That half the world's population (billions of people could die) in an accident like we saw on Tuesday. In our desperation to not turn to our own frailty and to not admit our own helplessness and hopelessness, billions of others will not turn to our King, who in his grace today, says to you, "Think not about why these events happened in New York. But think about the fact that there's going to be an event in your life which leads to what led to the lives of those 5,000 people in New York. They stand now before the Judge."
After Jesus said what he said in Luke 12, some people came up to him and said, "I have a question to ask you. Recently, there've been two tragedies." Really, frankly, I take that back. They came to him with one. The reason these men came to him with a tragedy is because they were trying to set him up. They were enemies of Christ. In their hatred of Christ, they were trying to make him either an enemy of Rome or an enemy of the people that he said he was there to serve.
If you have your Bibles, look at Luke 13:1. This is a rarely discussed passage of Scripture. If Christ was here today, I believe this is what he would say. "Now on the same occasion…" Right after he just got through saying, "Listen, judgment is coming. You'd better make sure that you are prepared to meet the Judge. Do all you can on your way to this Judge to solve your case, to solve your debt, to take care of your need. Because if you get there, it's going to be awful."
Some folks came to him. They reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. We don't have any other record of this event other than right here in Luke 13. Nor the event that Christ himself was going to volunteer.
One of the great historians of the time of Christ was a guy named Josephus. He does talk about some other events that we could maybe work our way in here, but we're not sure. There were times when Pilate, for instance, who was the governing authority of that area, would "appropriate" money from the temple treasury to advance some government project that he was working on. He would go into the Jewish temple, and he would take money that the Jews had offered to the Lord, and he would appropriate it towards an aqueduct.
This would always cause a severe problem amongst the Jews. There was a revolt that happened one day, and Pilate had individuals who were soldiers in the Roman army dress up as civilians to go in the midst of other unarmed, innocent Jews in the midst of their gathering and would methodically begin to stab random people until the crowds dispersed. It was an act of terror in order to get the people away from being concerned about what Pilate did and to teach them, "You don't want to mess with me."
There seems to be another time some folks from Galilee, some Jews, came down, and it might've been during this time, to offer their sacrifices in Jerusalem. While they were offering their sacrifices, apparently these Galileans who were more prone to being zealots than others had offended Pilate, and so he mingled their blood with the blood of their sacrifices. Do you understand what's being thrown at Jesus right here?
"Jesus, how in the world are you going to address this issue? Do you know some faithful followers of God, your Father, you say, was worshiping in Jerusalem, and a terrorist mingled their blood with their sacrifices? Explain that to me, please." Listen to the words of Christ. "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Now, that's an amazing statement. He did not try and explain it at all. He just said, "Folks, let me just tell you something. If you believe that the reason that certain folks went down in a building in New York that you didn't go down in was because they were more wicked than you, you have your categories all wrong. If you think the reason those Jews suffered at the hand of Pilate was because they were more wicked and sinful than you, you have it all wrong."
Do not ever make the error of believing that tragedy is necessarily a result of sin? That was the error of Job's friends who they saw tragedy, and in order to explain it and put it in a nice little category, said, "Job, you must've done something to make God mad." It was the error of Saul and other Pharisees who led the campaign against followers of Christ who saw the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as evidence that God was against him. They could not have been more wrong.
It was the error of the religious leaders who, in John 9, came to Jesus and said, "Why is this man blind? Because of his sin or because of his parents' sin?" Jesus says, "Beware of the sin of judgmentalism." That the reason all of these years that terror has been happening in Israel is because they are more wicked than you. That the reason 2 million Sudanese have died in the last 18 years is because the Africans are more wicked, godless, and paganistic than you are.
No. He says it happens because sin is in this world. Judgment is going to come. I just got through telling you. Everybody is going to stand before a judge. It sometimes is going to happen rather quickly. I love what Jesus does. He ups the ante. He says, "You think that's a tough one. You want me to blame Pilate so Rome can be mad at me, or you want me to say Pilate should've done what he did so the Jews think I betrayed them. I choose not to participate in that. You deal with your sin, or you too will likewise perish."
"I have a tougher one for you," Jesus says. "What about the 18 guys who were working on that tower of Siloam that the tower fell on?" What about the 5,000 folks who just went to work so our capitalistic world can continue, and so they can provide for their families. They didn't do anything wrong as far as we know, except ride in the elevator to the 110th floor. What about them? Why do you think they perished on Tuesday?
Look what Jesus says. He says, "I tell you no. They weren't worse culprits than all of the other men in this area." In verse 5 he says, "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Who are you going to blame for that one? In a sense, our New York incident is a combination of the two. We want to blame bin Laden. What I would say to you is this. Did you listen to what happened last night?
I was riding from a friend's house from Plano to the offices about 9:30. I just turned my radio on, and believe it or not, they did not talk about New York City. They talked about the fact that some folks were driving to Padre Island last night, and two 80-foot sections of a stinkin' two and a half mile bridge that most of us in this room have driven across crumbled and fell into the gulf. Nothing to do with a terrorist act. It was a tragic mistake with a tug boat and a barge. Four people were known dead, 15 cars they knew were in the ocean that they hadn't recovered yet. Why do you think that happened to them?
Right after that, they said, "Recently in South Dallas tonight, a pedestrian was just hit." Gone. Yesterday, a driver in the American Memorial 500 in Germany, coming out of the pits, his car slid. Another car at 200 miles an hour clips him. Both his legs are gone. Our prayer ministry gets emails all the time. Listen to this one.
"I know that our nation right now is struggling, but I need to ask you to pray for us. My nephew, 37 years old, has children and a wife, was in a horrible accident just Saturday. He's still in a coma. We don't know if he's going to come out. Now, why did that happen to Steven? Would you please pray for him?
We can't blame those ones on Osama bin Laden. There's no enemy who we can start to have journalists do investigative work and governments speak so we can get on with our illusion. If he was here, Jesus would say, "You live in a world that is racked by sin, that has evidence of the absence of holiness in people's hearts. It leads to horrors and atrocities, and there are events that will happen all the time. Towers will fall, and life will end. I tell you, unless you repent, you too will likewise perish." Let me explain what he meant by that. I think we can put, "…you will all likewise perish," into two categories.
Firstly, he meant you will perish in judgment from one who is in authority. For the Israelites it was at the hands of Rome. They had one who was an authority over them who had the ability to execute injustice over them. That was the first scenario. There is one who has the ability to execute justice over you. He is your Creator and your King. Justice will come for every single one of us. If you don't repent now, you will stand before somebody who has the authority to judge you and to rule over more than just your mortal body but your eternal soul.
Secondly, what's it mean to likewise perish? It means without time to prepare yourself for death. Billy Graham, in one of the things he mentioned Friday at the National Day of Prayer in remembrance, is this. "How many of those 5,000 men and women who went to the World Trade Center thought that was going to be their last day up an elevator?"
There wasn't one who had any sense that this was their day of judgment, this was their day of reckoning. Not one. What Jesus says to these folks is this. "Those folks who were working on the tower of Siloam had no idea, but I tell you, unless you repent, you will likewise perish," which is to say, "You will stand before one who has authority over you. You will die without having any chance to prepare yourself for death."
Looking back at his previous words, prepare yourself. Determine the signs. Realize that life is fleeting. The issue and the question is not what the degree of sin was that caused this to happen. But Jesus just flat out says, "The presence of sin is a problem." The question is not, "How could this happen in New York?"
The question is, "Why has this not happened to me yet?" Because it hasn't happened to me, what do I need to do so when it does happen I don't go to jail and pay until every last cent is atoned for. When you have a debt that is eternal in its scope before an eternally holy God, it's not going to get paid unless it's tetelestai right now, unless it's paid in full now. Those are the words of Christ.
There are some questions we want to answer and want to deal with a little bit, and I want to do it with some basic applications and some principles that flow out of this. Let me give you the first one. When I do this, I want to be careful that we don't try and explain this away. But here's the truth.
Times of suffering are sovereignly allowed by God to bring truth to light. I want to be very careful here. This is not my effort to make sense of these events. Evil is always senseless. Evil is the absence of good. Let me just give you a little quick theodicy, which is the theology of justice. Where is justice in this? We all cry for justice.
Is evil nothing? No, that is Eastern that evil is an illusion. One of the beautiful things that comes out of Tuesday is that the lunacy of relativism and pluralism, the lunacy of the absence of absolutes, is not being currently debated.
Did you see any individual who believes that evil is an illusion on the radio or on the TV saying to you, "Reality is this state of consciousness we can get if we just visualize it and quit being limited by this material evil world that we're in, which is itself an illusion, and reality is a utopia which we can achieve if we can all attain to the mental ascension which is enlightenment"?
How many of you all found comfort in those pundits and those books this week? Of course not. Because evil is not nothing. It is a something. But wait a minute. If evil is something, and God created everything, therefore, did God create evil? No. Evil is not something. It is not nothing. Evil is a no thing. What I mean by that is, if you will, evil is the hole in the sweater that the moth ate. It is the absence of what should be. What is darkness? It is the absence of light. What is foolishness? It is the absence of wisdom.
I am not going to stand here and give you a rational reason why something irrational was done. You can't do it. This is not to make sense out of that which is senseless, which is by definition evil, which is by definition a no good thing. It is the absence of what should be. What should be is love and justice and righteousness and peace and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control and faithfulness.
That was not evident on Tuesday. Frankly, it wasn't evident in my home during certain bursts of insecurity and immaturity in my life this week. It's evil. There's no rationalizing. I try to rationalize it by the way my wife provokes me and incites me. It is sin. It is the absence of what should be in my life. It is darkness. This is not to make sense of evil. This is not to say that evil is good as I talk about some good that can come out of this. God does use evil. God does use evil for good. But this does not make evil good. Evil is evil.
Times of suffering are, though, sovereignly allowed by God to bring truth to light. Let me read you this little quote which I've had for many years at a place where I often go and read it. "Both the delays in God's judgment and the previews of God's judgment are part of his mercy and ultimately for our good. They remind us of our need to and provide for us an opportunity to repent."
When people asked how in the world this could happen in New York City, he says, "Wait a minute. The issue is not how this could happen in New York City. The miracle is why hasn't it happened to you? I tell you, unless you repent, you too will likewise perish." What's that mean?It means you will stand before someone who sovereignly and authoritatively has the ability to make a decision over you. Secondly, it'll happen without having any time to do that well.
What happened on Tuesday was senseless and evil. But in the midst of that evil, God will and can use it for good. Not in a way that I would've voted or tied. God did not meet my expectations this week, and I have no problem saying that. But, you know what? I have no problem with that either. For he is good. I'm not. I'm perverted. I'm full of self-will, and my strategies typically serve me and are limited in their understanding.
God's are none of those. God is good and just. He is sovereign, but he is God. There are things that happen that, frankly, we will never understand or be able to ultimately explain. He is not a vending machine where we can put in certain things and guarantee certain results. He is not obligated by our actions or our expectations. He is obligated only by his own character and nature.
Where was God on Tuesday when this happened? There's one response and only one we can give. He was the exact same place that he was when his Son died on the cross: identifying with our pain and sin, acting to resolve the suffering in ways we cannot see or understand, and he was sovereignly enthroned in the heavens accomplishing his eternal purposes.
Had I stood at the cross pronouncing Jesus as the hope of the world, watching him nailed to a tree, I would've done what Peter did and said, "This makes no stinkin' sense." It would've been a decision completely uninformed by Easter. Listen to this great quote.
"A post-Easter consideration of the cross, compared to the way it was seen on Good Friday, [is what informed a gentleman by the name of Martin Luther's rejection of the logic of the world and of natural theology that we can use to obligate God.] He wrote, 'He does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.' By contrast, he said a true theologian of the cross, 'comprehends the visible and manifests things of God as seen only through the suffering and the cross.'"
Here are one man's comments on that. Please listen to this. "Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word—it must be judged and shown up as deceptive and misleading. The theology of the cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God. God is active and present in His world, quite independently of whether we experience him of being so. Experience declared that God was absent from [the cross], only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on that third day."
Do you hear what that says? Anybody who looks upon the invisible things of God and interprets what they can see does not deserve to be called a theolog, one who speaks of the Word of God. The cross must be informed with Easter. Evil must be informed with ultimate justice. Now, back to my point. Times of suffering are allowed by God to bring truth to light.
Listen to what Paul wrote in Romans 2:4. "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" Second Peter says it this way.
"Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.' For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water."
** ** These are individuals who are called uniformitarians, who say there's a uniform flow of history where nothing supernatural intervenes. Peter is saying, "Folks who say, 'Life is just unfolding, and God is not going to do anything about it. Where is your God?' Just because God doesn't act on the day does not mean that God will not act. People who say God has never acted neglect the way that God has acted already." Look down at verse 8.
"But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."
What did Jesus say when we said, "How in the world could that happen in New York? How could those businessmen have their blood mingled by Osama bin Laden or whoever did it?" Jesus says, "What? Do you think their sin was worse than yours? Is that why you think it happened? Let me just tell you something. You, too, should repent unless you, too, will likewise perish." He doesn't argue for the fact that sin exists. He just knows it does. He says, "You'd better deal with your judge." Here's another point. This one is not near as fun.
Judgment is certain. Hebrews 9:27. " … it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…" That's why Jesus said what he said in Luke 12 and led where he did in Luke 13. He said, "Deal with your heart. See the horrors of this world as evidence that I am absent, that the goodness and nature and character of God has been thrown away in rebellion."
I just need to make this comment because this wee, two people who are too often held up as the paragons of the religious right said some very stupid things. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson got together and had a little chat. In the midst of that chat, they spoke out, and they said that the Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, feminists, homosexuals, and abortion-rights supporters need to bear responsibility partially for Tuesday's terrorist attacks because their actions have turned God's anger against America.
In Colossians 3:5-6, this is what it says. Just listen. "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come…" Here's the question. Is what happened Tuesday in New York the wrath and judgment of God?
Here's the answer. I don't know. Unless Jerry Falwell has had God speak to him the way that he spoke to Isaiah and Jeremiah he is out of line in trying to attribute what is happening in our country to any one specific sin group. Notice also this. The sins that Jerry Falwell mentioned as the cause for God's judgment to fall on America are sins that are, I am sure, joyfully absent in his life.
If what we saw happen on Tuesday was a result of the sins of our nation, we got off scot-free. If what happened Tuesday in New York was a result of the sins of the nation, I am responsible for that plane flying into the World Trade Center. There's been no abortion at these hands. There's been no immorality at these hands in the gross sense. I'm sure there's been some greed.
I know there's been arrogance. I know there's been self-will. I need mercy in my life. If it was a result of America's sins that we were just attacked, it was my sins which brought that attack on. Not just theirs. Last one. There's going to be a place and time where if you've not yet started praying, it won't matter if you do. Let me say it this way.
While there's often a second chance, there is always a last chance. I believe if Jesus was here today, he'd say, "I am not going to try and pour into your finite brains my infinite understanding. It would do you no good. I am sovereign. I am good. I weep with you at the horrors of sin in this world.
That is why I identified with your sin. That is why I wept at your pain. That is why I bore our sins on the tree. Come to me. Come to me. Come to me. Repent. Unless you, too, will likewise perish. You will find yourself before a judge who will rule rightly and will come suddenly without a chance to prepare."
If you are here today, and you have never made a decision for Jesus Christ, you have made a decision against Jesus Christ. He loves you just like he loves me. He grieves at pain. He wants to offer you peace. Peace not as the world gives, but peace gives the world when we find evil men, and we start to explain it away so we can reweave our illusion until the next bridge collapses or building falls.
That is no peace. It is a lie and an illusion and as fleeting as the cycle of evil in this world. He offers peace that is a fortress that cannot be broken. He offers it in the shed blood of his Son which reconciles you into a relationship with him and gives you a peace that passes understanding. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…"
Then, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, as we acknowledge his greatness and sovereignty, we let every request be known to God, and we trust that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds even in the midst of towers of Siloam falling on our heads. Come, come, and bear fruit in coming.
On your own this week, I beg you to read Luke 13:6-9. Listen to what Jesus says. To those trees who say their entrenched in the soil of his Word he says what John the Baptist said when those went out to be baptized as a religious act and said all the right things, showed up in all the right churches, had all the right candlelight vigils. Jesus said what John the Baptist said in Luke 13 and in John and Matthew where John the Baptist said, "You brood of vipers. Bear fruit in keep with repentance."
This is not about walking the aisle today. It's not about our nation putting prayer back in schools, and it's not about us, as a country, having a national prayer service. Praise God, it is about our hearts being transformed and those hearts that are transformed leading again to brokenness before God where we acknowledge our sin, and while we cry for justice, which is appropriate, we celebrate mercy and we bear fruit in keeping with our repentance. Let's pray.
Father, we come to you because we have nowhere else to go, and I thank you that we have you to go to. I thank you that in our coming and in our weeping and in our rending our clothes and rending our hearts and putting sackcloth and ashes on our head and showing for the weeks and months ahead, funeral after funeral, weeping after weeping, tragic story after tragic story, our heart will break.
I thank you that, Father, you are not fed up with our tears. You yourself walk this earth. You wept at the loss of friends, and you died that sin would no longer reign and that the wages of sin would be ultimately done away with in your death and resurrection. While we live on this earth, which is filled with the horrors that nailed you to a tree, we pray that your Spirit would hold us, and we pray that we would supernaturally, Father, experience the reality of your resurrection hope.
It is with that firm foundation that cannot be shaken that I say today, Lord, even in the midst of the horrors of my world, I will trust in you. I will be still and know that you are God. I will learn from the horrors committed by the absence of you in people's lives, and I will proclaim your salvation and your hope until that day.
Father, would you keep our nation from reweaving the illusion that we're okay, and that we're safe because we're strong and rich and away from the pain? Would you help us read the signs of mortality that are all around us right now? Would you help us see the wrecks and the planes of devastation that we have thrown into each other's lives in this room with our gossip, our insecurities, our foolishness to our spouses, and in our marriage, our indifference to what is right?
We thank you that your justice against our sin was poured out on the cross, and we hide in Jesus today. We repent that we might not likewise perish, fully now, Lord, secure. We pray for our nation's leaders, and we pray for our enemies, Lord, We pray for our hearts that you would break them and in being broken that you would mend them again and make us strong in the Lord that we might bear fruit for you. In Christ's name, amen.
We're going to sing, "Break Our Hearts," and then we're dismissed. We've never done this here before. If you have never dealt with the reality of sin in your life, and if your heart is broken with the conviction that you need a Savior and that God is judge, and that you will stand before him and you want to know how you can find peace with God, would you just come?
Friends, guys and gals who are mature in Christ, and I will be down here. We'll just love you today. We'll tell you the hope that we have. We'll tell you how we are purposeful about bearing fruit as best we can by the grace of God in keeping with repentance. I love you guys. I'm so grateful to be a part of this body.
We have a world out there that wants to know there's hope. So we can weep, but we also ought to offer hope and tell our friends to come. Next week, we're going to tell him about the King who reigns. He's the Lamb who died, but he will come again. Let's have them here to be encouraged. Let's love them and serve them this week and bear fruit in keeping with our repentance.
Many are looking for answers to make sense out of the disasters that have taken place in the last few years. Everywhere, people want to know where God is in events like these and how or why things like this happen. In the midst of grief and fear, God's Word offers us peace, hope and wisdom for living in a world plagued by sin and tumult. Looking at more than just terrorism and hurricanes, this series addresses all sin and its consequences and offers God's answer to our great need.