Jeremiah was charged to bring words of correction from the Lord to the people of Judah. They didn’t like it and sought to kill him, as they had done with other prophets the Lord had sent. At one point a few wiser heads prevailed and they spared his life. The comment that seemed to turn the situation around at that time was like this. “If we do this we are committing a great evil against ourselves.”(26:19) That is the point of sin. It is not that God takes pleasure in bringing judgment upon those who reject His will. It is that they hurt themselves, and separate themselves from the good God desires for them. The point of all God’s commands is not to restrict us, denying us pleasure, but to guide us in finding the best life possible. There are God given absolutes established for life. They are meant to give us blessing and joy. Sin, ignoring God’s absolutes, only blocks that good from us and we hurts ourselves. Our Lord is always calling us to repentance, receiving His forgiveness, and finding our good life in Jesus.
I want to pick up on the last sentence of the GM I wrote yesterday. I was writing about the differences that exist between Christian denominations. I wrote, “They should not be reasons to condemn others who are acting in an honest faith to bring glory to our Lord.” First, we never have the right to “condemn” individuals. That means to judge with damnation. That is only God prerogative, not ours. However, we are not freed from making right judgments according to God’s Word. Some behaviors, some teaching, are directly contrary to the truth God has given us in His Word. For the strength of the Body of Christ such things must be confronted and declared wrong. There are some things that bring honor to God and some things that clearly do not. At times it’s a difficult call, and it is not done with the intention of driving anyone away, but that that person might be restored to full fellowship. Paul tells us to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…(Colossians 3:16) Our desire, whether individually or in our chosen Christian denomination, is to bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, and to show others the path to life.
In our world of ever increasing tolerance, both outside and within the Church, a principle that one is to love the sinner but hate the sin is rejected. In modern terms we are to love the sinner and accept everything he does as a normal or simply an alternate way of life. Christians often have Jesus’ words, “Do not judge and you will not be judged”,(Luke 6:37) thrown up to them any time they speak out against some sin. But if this is true, then all I wrote yesterday about Christians being different is meaningless, and further, it negates much of the Bible. God created mankind in purity and declared all that He had made “very good.” But we rebelled from God and blackened His purity, especially that which is in our hearts. God’s original holiness is the normal. What we have done, and gotten completely accustomed to, is not normal. It is evil, and separated from God. Unless God had come to us as the Redeemer we would all be lost and separated from Him forever. Christians are to judge right from wrong. Where we see wrong in a brother or sister Christian we are to “speak the truth in love”(Ephesians 4:15) so that we continue to live lives that show others a better way of life.
It is amazing how contemporary passages of Scripture are in speaking to the current situations of life. But it is not really amazing. The Bible is God’s word to the people He created, and the nature of those people has not really changed in thousands of years. We’ve added a lot of technological trappings, but man’s basic sinful nature is still the same. When a Christian reads the daily new, the words of Psalm 94 stand out. “How long shall the wicked, O Lord, How long shall the wicked exalt?” Read all of the Psalm and see if it is not speaking to our day. There will come a judgment on all of the folly that has exalted itself against the will of God. But as with all passages in the Psalms and Prophets, there is always a gracious invitation to turn again to the Lord, and the assurance that God will not abandon His people. “The Lord has been (our) stronghold, and (our) God the rock of (our) refuge.” There is nothing antiquated about the Bible. It speaks to our world, our hearts, and our needs for this day.
The high profile trial of Anders Behring Breivik is currently going on in Norway. This trial is rather different. There is no question of his guilt. He is the confessed killer of 77 people, the worse case of murder in Norway since world War II. The only thing at issue is what to do with him. Was he sane or insane at the time of the act. This case has strange turns to a just decision. Our own case before an even higher tribunal than the Norway court, is much more clear cut. We stand in judgment before the laws of God. There are only two possible outcomes to our trial, acquittal or death. But we are guilty, more guilty than Breivik, and the only possible verdict is death. The sentence is pronounced and carried out. Only it is not we who have been put to death, but Jesus. He stepped in an took the death sentence we justly deserve. He paid the complete penalty for all our sins. Now, through our baptism, we have died with Him, and been raised to a new life, freed from the law. We clearly see our guilt and our just sentence, but that drives us to Jesus, our only hope for life. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is a phrase repeated over and over in the Old Testaments prophets. God says, “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other.” Unfortunately, this statement comes most often after times of great calamity from judgments the Lord has had to bring. This should not have to be. It is also said, a number of times, that God takes no pleasure in judgment, or in the death of anyone. God constantly holds out a gracious hand. He seeks to love, forgive, and give in abundance. The guidance He give us in His Word is for our best good. God is not about a lot of legal restrictions, but showing us the path to the most fulfilled life. It is we, because of our sin, who block all that God desires to give. We have experienced this individually, and we certainly see it nationally and internationally. The Lord’s hand is always extended to us in grace. Forgiveness and restoration are available in Christ. We need to reach out and take hold of that hand.
Many of the prophesies of the Old Testament had to be very harsh because of the disobedience of the people. God sent prophet after prophet seeking to turn the hearts of the people back to Him. What is striking to read is how often they will end with words like, “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias. “(Joel 3:18) God take no pleasure in judgment on anyone, but He cannot ignore the sin that is so destructive of people He created. However, God gives the assurance that, in spite of their sin, He will complete the purpose he ordained. People will have to be confronted with God’s judgments, and some may choose to reject His grace, but His hand is always reaching out in love, and He will bring all things to their right conclusion.