Prosperity of the Wicked Finally Addressed in Eternity (Job Sermon 13)
May 30, 2021 | Andy Davis
Judgement Day, Heaven
Pastor Andy Davis preaches a sermon on Job 20-21, covering the difficult question: what about the prosperity of the wicked?
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Well, this morning we'll be looking at two chapters, Job 20-21, and we're going to address the prosperity of the wicked, the problem of the prosperity of the wicked, and I'm going to assert that that problem is only going to be solved by the display of God's justice and eternity, not in this world. This is a big problem, it's an ethical problem, a problem for those of us that believe in a sovereign God, a holy God, a good God, and as we look at the problem of evil in the world, it's sometimes difficult to address this issue of the prosperity, the seeming even final success of many wicked people.
I. The Problem: The Seeming Final Success of Many Wicked People
In the closing days of World War II in Europe, many high ranking Nazi officials were able to slip away in the confusion, May of 1945, and escape the justice of the world for their heinous crimes against humanity. The paths of their escapes came to be known as rat lines, as though they were rats escaping. By these means, many of these high-ranking Nazi officials were able to affect their escape to Argentina or to other South American nations and other places around the world and make a new life for themselves, often using money, much money they had stolen from their victims when they were in power.
Now, it is true that in subsequent years, a few of them got caught. For example, Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped in Argentina by Israeli operatives in May of 1960, but others did manage to live out the rest of their lives in obscurity, and in many cases, luxury, and then die of old age. And when their stories were then uncovered and told to the world in the years following their peaceful deaths, the sense of outrage was palpable, not only from Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, but from all who may question the existence of God.
One of the greatest issues that continually troubles the hearts of all people who believe in a sovereign, wise, good, and loving God who rules directly over the affairs of our earth is this, what about the prosperity of the wicked? Why does it seem that the wicked always win? The cheaters get ahead. The tyrants win battles on the battlefield and build evil empires. The corrupt in business overwhelm their smaller and more honest competitors and drive them out of business. Why do corrupt politicians with huge war chests for their campaigns win the elections and then are able to pay off their corporate sponsors with legislation that's favorable to their businesses? Why do organized crime syndicates succeed in corrupting the legal system and then crushing opposition with murder and with illegal business practices? Why do communist governments succeed for decades in crushing Christian house churches, incarcerating and torturing their leaders with, it seems, impunity? Now, that word impunity means “no punishment,” and it doesn't go far from that to “no justice.”
The agonies just go on and on. The wicked seem to prosper and dominate. The weak get overwhelmed and suffer and lose and die. And worst of all, there seems to be absolutely no response from God in heaven. The mighty, omnipotent, perfectly good King of Kings and Lord of Lords just seems to do nothing, and lets them get away, literally, with murder in some cases, lets them build massive mansions and live high on the hog, and there's no answer at all. It seems like so many escape the hangman's noose and beat the system. Now, this is the problem that is addressed, that is raised in Job 20-21, these two chapters, but it is not answered, not fully. Zophar will try to give an answer, but Job swamps him with some of the reading you just heard with Job 21 and wins the debate, I think. If we look a little further in the Old Testament, we will see the beginning of an answer in Psalm 73, and we're going to look at that this morning, but the full answer waits for the clearer revelations that were entrusted by God the Father, to God the Son, to Jesus Christ. Fuller answer given to Christ.
And we will see in the end, final and full satisfaction on this question. The apostle Paul spoke of his own expectation of future reward, eternal reward, reward in heaven. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” In other words, Paul did not expect his rewards for his faithful service to Christ in this life. He was clearly warned by the Holy Spirit to not expect it in this life. In Acts 20:23, he said, “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” Well, in the same way, I believe Jesus taught that the ultimate display of God's justice concerning the wicked will not be in this world.
Actually, we can only see it now by faith as we read the scriptures and understand God's intentions and what God will do. We can only see it by faith. But the Scripture is clear, that in every single case, meticulously, God will display his justice, either on the one hand, by the genuine repentance of the evil doer, coming to faith in Christ, where upon all of their wicked deeds were punished by the wrath of God poured out on the substitute Jesus Christ on their behalf, but everything dealt with directly by the blood of Christ on the cross. Or on the other hand, by the eternal condemnation of the wicked, of the unrepentant wicked in hell, not in this world, but in eternity. And so I believe as Jesus threw open the gates of resurrection and gave a clear vision to all who lived after Christ rose from the dead of what the world to come is going to be like.
So he is also, it was given to him to throw open a revelation of what eternal condemnation and hell would be like and his apostles as well, so that we can understand the eternity that's coming and live accordingly. And that is the subject of today's sermon.
II. Zophar’s Assertion: God Crushes the Wicked Quickly (Job 20)
We're going to begin in chapter 20 with Zophar's inadequate doctrine, Zophar's assertion: God crushes the wicked quickly. God crushes the wicked quickly. Job 20, “The joy of the wicked is brief,” says Zophar. The time the wicked enjoys his ill-gotten gains is very brief. Job 20:5, he says, “The mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.” Well, friends, actually, this is in one sense true. Hebrews 11:25, speaking of Moses, it says that “[Moses chose] rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” The fleeting pleasures of sin. So, that's true. Sin offers only fleeting pleasures, fleeting times of pleasure, then the feast is over. Done. But that is also true of the righteous as well. It's true of every human being, every mortal, for it says in Isaiah 40:6-7, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them.” So both the righteous and the wicked have a brief time here on earth. So, to some degree, that's no real answer. Zophar continues, “No matter how high the wicked soar, God brings them down.” Look at 20:6-7, “Though his pride reaches to the heavens and his head touches the clouds, he will perish forever like his own dung; those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’”
This reminds me of that ancient myth of Icarus who sought to slip from gravity and fly by making some wings, and the wings were held together with wax, but he flew too high, and the sun melted the wax and he came crashing back down to the earth. That's the image that Zophar gives. He's going to crash down, he's going to crash and burn, the wicked is. And Zophar says, “The fall of the wicked comes quickly.” Chapter 20:8-9, “Like a dream, he flies away no more to be found, banished like a vision of the night. The eye that saw him will not see him again; his place will look on him no more.” So it's going to come quickly.
Zophar says the children of the wicked do not enjoy the fruit of their parents' wicked doings. Verse 10, “His children must make amends to the poor; his own hands must give back his wealth.” So Zophar says, “The kids aren't going to enjoy the ill gotten gains. They're going to have to give it back and quickly. And,” says Zophar, “the wicked will never enjoy all the fruit of their ill-gotten gains,” verses 12-15, “Though evil is sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue, though he cannot bear to let it go and keeps it in his mouth, yet his food will turn sour in his stomach; it will become the venom of serpents within him. He will spit out the riches he swallowed; God will make his stomach vomit them up.” Verse 17-18, “He will not enjoy the streams, the rivers flowing with honey and cream. What he toil for, he must give back uneaten; he will not enjoy the profit from his trading.” That's Zophar saying, “He's not going to get to enjoy it. God's going to force him to give it all back. All the pleasures the wicked imagine they would lay around and enjoy, they will not get to for long. At some point, their ill-gotten delicacies will become like poison in their stomachs and they'll vomit them out, God's justice will see to it. God himself is going to hunt down and slaughter the wicked.”
Look at verses 23-29, “When he has filled his belly, God will vent his burning anger against him and rain down his blows upon him, though he flees from an iron weapon, a bronze-tipped arrow pierces him. He pulls it out of his back, the gleaming point out of his liver. Terrors will come over him; total darkness lies and wait for his treasures. A fire unfanned will consume him and devour what is left in his tent.” Verse 27, “The heavens will expose his guilt; the earth will rise up against him. A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God's wrath. Such is the fate God allots the wicked, the heritage appointed for them by God.” In other words, God is a skillful heavenly hunter, and he's going to hunt the wicked down and he's going to shoot them and they will die. No one can escape God's wrath.
Now, the hard part about all this, as with all the three friends and their speeches in the book of Job is the clear implication is that this is what's happened to Job, applying it to Job. Job is the wicked man who's amassed all of this fortune and God didn't let him get away with it.
This is the basic premise that Zophar and two other friends have had concerning God and concerning Job, that Job is suffering the just desserts of his hidden wickedness. He's implying that all of these things he's saying in chapter 20 happened to the wicked, that God does the wicked. “Look, they've happened to you. All of your wealth and your luxuries were taken from you in an instant.” All right, so that's chapter 20. That's Zophar.
III. Job’s Response: Actually, the Wicked Do Quite Well in This World (Job 21)
Now it's Job's turn. And Job's response is basically this: “Actually, the wicked do quite well in this world.” That's Job 21.
Now Job questions Zophar, he refutes him, calls his doctrine and his statements nonsense by the end of this chapter. But his real issue is not with Zophar at all, it's with God. And to some degree Job in Job 21 speaks for or speaks the words of some of the most hostile skeptics against Christianity. He speaks their thoughts for them, he's not trying to do that, but he does. His real issue is vertical. His real issue is with the justice of God. Zophar's premise is that the wicked get crushed very quickly by the relentless active justice of God, but Job is not buying it. His experience tells him otherwise. He is questioning God and his justice, his way of ruling the world. As far as Job can tell, the wicked do very well in this world and there is no justice for their many wicked acts. So this is an issue of theodicy, it's an issue of the justification of God and the attack amazingly comes from Job himself.
Now he begins his assault Zophar, but it's really God he wants to talk to. Look at 21:4, “Is my complaint directed to man?” No, it's not. He's not complaining to Zophar. He's going up, he's going vertically. “My real problem here is not with you, my mocking, arrogant friend. My real problem is with God; Almighty God, the just and righteous ruler of the ends of the earth. The real issue: the wicked do in fact prosper.”
Look at Job 21:7-13, you just heard them read, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not upon them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of tambourine and harp; they make merry to the sound of the flute. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace.”
Fact of the matter is a lot of wicked people make it safely through this world successfully—right to a peaceful death in their beds. They are successful in all their business ventures. They live very long, healthy lives, generally healthy. They have large, loving families. They die in their beds surrounded by doting children and grandchildren who weep and lament when they die and will miss them. They have no fears because nothing bad ever seems to happen to them. As Job said, the rod of God is not upon them. God leaves them alone, lets them prosper, seems to bless them, actually. Their agricultural ventures go very well. Their bulls breed, cows calve, as he said. Nothing ever seems to go wrong for them. Their children laugh and play and dance and sing. They're well fed, and the children don't know that their comfortable lives were paid for by sinister business deals or by tyranny, the wicked defrauding of the poor. They don't know that; it doesn't really matter to them.
Those healthy, happy kids never learn in their childhood why they are so wealthy, healthy, and happy. Now later in life, they're going to get read in. They're going to find out, and they will, for the most part, join the family business. The corrupt, wicked family business and continue the multigenerational prosperity and wickedness. Now the head of the clan, the founding father of the whole corrupt enterprise dies at age 95, passing away sweetly in his sleep. Why, oh Lord? Why, oh Lord?
1969, Mario Puzo published a novel, which eventually became one of the most famous movies in the history of American cinema, The Godfather, the violent tale of a mafia family, fictitious, but based on real families, crime syndicate families through multiple generations. And on the facing page of chapter one, Puzo put this quote from the French philosopher Balzac, "Behind every great fortune, there is a crime". Well, that's a sweeping generalization, but what he's saying is certainly in the case of the Corleone family, it was true. The whole thing was based on murder and corruption, and the story is the movement from Vito Corleone, the godfather, to the son, Michael, who originally didn't want any part of it, but then gets drawn into it and then becomes the next godfather. Now those are fictitious examples of the very thing that Job is bitterly lamenting. Both of them died peacefully an old age, and they were apparently prosperous.
Now, Job says, these people openly mock God. Look at Job 21:14-15, “They say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’” They have no time for God. They're too focused on advancing their own evil agendas, their own empires, furthering their earthly realms. They're pragmatist. Piety doesn't pay. It's a waste of time to go to church. It's a waste of time to read the Bible. It's a waste of time to pray. They don't spend time on those things. They're godless. Job speaks his frustration about their perspective. Verse 16, “But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the council of the wicked.” Job knows full well that every good thing they've ever gotten came ultimately from God, but they don't acknowledge that. They never thank him. They don't give credit to God for any of the good things they enjoyed, and yet God doesn't do anything to them. Look at verses 17-18, “Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them, the fate God allots in his anger? How often are they like straw before the wind, like chaff swept away by a gale?” His implication is not often. That's what he's saying in this chapter. “It doesn't happen to them, usually not. They don't get paid back evil for the evil they've done. This is what should happen to them but it doesn't.” Now, one practical answer to this whole thing is that the punishment falls on the children. Look at verse 19, “It is said, God stores up a man's punishment for his sons.” So that's one possible answer, but Job's not satisfied with that at all.
Look at verse 19-21. He said, “Let him, [meaning God,] repay the man himself, so that he will know it!” “So if God's going to do that, I'm going to give God some advice. Let God repay the evil doer himself.” Verse 20, “Let his own eyes see his destruction; Let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty. For what does he care about the family he leaves behind when his allotted months come to an end?” Doesn't do any good. He escaped, he died, so whatever happens in the next generations doesn't matter to him. Both the wicked and the righteous, however, end up in the same place. They both die. Look at verse 23-26, “One man dies in full vigor, completely secure and at ease. His body well nourished, his bones rich with marrow. Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. Side by side they lie in the dust and worms cover them both.” So they both died. If that's your answer, yes—but look, he died. Yes—but so did his victims—same thing. So how can that be an answer concerning this? So fundamentally, the wicked don't get paid, repaid in this lifetime.
Verse 27-33, “I know full well what you're thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me. You say, ‘Where now is the great man's house, the tents where wicked men lived?’ Have you never questioned those who travel? Have you paid no regard to their accounts—that the evil man is spared from the day of calamity, that he's delivered from the day of wrath? Who denounces his conduct to his face? Who repays him for what he's done? He's carried to the grave, and [then] watch is kept over his tomb. The soil in the valley is sweet to him; all men follow after him, and a countless throng goes before him.” He made it through, and everybody loves and misses him. So, in conclusion, Job says in verse 34 to his friends, “Your theology is deeply flawed.” Verse 34, “So how can you console me with your nonsense? Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!” It's the end of the chapter. The Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all come at Job with the same basic theology, the law of retribution, the law of sowing and reaping: You reap what you sow.
“But there's a double flaw to your theory,” Job was saying. “Actually, two sides to the same coin. First of all,” Job would say, “look at me. Though you surmise that there's all kinds of deep-seated closet wickedness in my life, it's not true. And look what's happened to me.” But then the flip side, this chapter is, “So many wicked oppressors never get what's coming in this lifetime. They never get punished. They escape justice by death. They die old and vigorous and beloved and prosperous, surrounded by their doting families. Their kids and grandkids laugh and dance and play and eat good food. And where is the justice of God in all of this?” And Job has no answers. He's simply refuting the theology of his friends. In one sense, this is a continued frontal assault by Job on the justice of God. It's a consistent pattern on Job's heart. He just thinks God's unjust, and he doesn't see any fair solution to this problem of the prosperity of the wicked. The solution must come somewhere else.
"This is a continued frontal assault by Job on the justice of God. It's a consistent pattern on Job's heart. He just thinks God's unjust, and he doesn't see any fair solution to this problem of the prosperity of the wicked."
IV. The Final Answer Comes in Eternity
Now, I could just say, there's Job 21, let's pray. And you're like, wow, how depressing is that? But in the kind providence of God, there's an unfolding of wisdom in the 66 books of the Bible. It doesn't end with Job 21. There's more to say on this topic. All I'm saying is Job doesn't have an answer, but there is an answer. Now the final answer must come in eternity, and the beginning of that, we can see in Psalm 73. So turn there, if you will, or you can just listen. Psalm 73 covers basically the same ground, but comes out a little bit more hopefully, but still not a full answer. The problem of the prosperity of the wicked is addressed directly. You don't have to wonder what Psalm 73 is about. It says right out. Psalm 73:1-3, “Surely God is good to Israel to those who are pure in heart.” So in other words, God is good to his own children, he's good to the righteous, I really believe that. However, I have a problem, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” and then he unfolds the problem. This will sound very familiar. It's the very same thing as Job 21, “They have no struggles.” Psalm 73:4-5, “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They're free from the burdens common to man; they're not plagued by human ills.” Verse 8-9, “They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.” Utter arrogance, no fear of God at all. Verse 11-12, “They say, ‘How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?’ This is what the wicked are like—always carefree, they increase in wealth.” And so for the Psalmist, the issue’s exceptionally burdensome, the Psalmist said he almost slipped into unbelief and rebellion, at least in one side bitterness, but a strong temptation toward if you can't beat him, join him.
Well, what good is it to be righteous if this is how it is in this world? He says in verse 13, “Surely in vain, I've kept my heart pure. In vain, I've washed my hands in innocence.” He says this whole topic was a burden to him. In verse 14-16, it says, “All day long, I have been plagued; I've been punished every morning. If I said, ‘I will speak thus,’ [if I'm going to talk about what's on my heart,] I would've betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.” But then the turn happens in the song. The solution comes to him, “[Till] I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” Now that'll sound a little bit like Zophar, won't it? But they're going to be cast down and crushed finally, their final destiny is that. Has the same limit according to Job, the judgment doesn't seem to happen in every case. It doesn't seem to happen in this world.
However, the Psalmist has a view of eternity. His mind goes beyond this life. Psalms 73:21-26 are some of the sweetest verses in the old Testament. Absolutely beautiful. This is what the Psalmist said, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand, you guide me with your counsel and afterward you'll take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire beside you. My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Sweet. And the Psalmist is saying, “I'm really thinking about heaven now. And I'm thinking when I get to heaven, what do I get? I get God, that's what I'm going to get, that's my portion in heaven, and therefore, that's all I really want here on earth. “
Therefore it is quite possible as he has this vision of eternity, the psalmist, that he sees the destruction of the wicked as eternal as well. Though he doesn't mention it, he does say this in verse 27, “Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.” So he does think about the destruction of the wicked, and he just mentioned eternity. He says “afterward you will take me into glory.” After what? After death. So he is thinking about after death. He just doesn't clearly lay it out, and I'm saying to you in the 39 books of the Old Testament, I don't see hell carefully, clearly laid out anywhere. Nothing contradicts, it just doesn't talk about it. That was given to Jesus. That task was given to Jesus. The final solution of this is eternity in hell. Jesus Christ gives us the full picture of what happens after death and on into eternity. It was given to him by the Father to teach us about hell. And I say to you, you will not really understand what Jesus accomplished if you don't understand hell. If you don't understand that Jesus died to set us free from eternal conscious torment, you don't understand what Jesus came to do. You don't understand what he did for you when he was willing to drink that cup in Gethsemane, which I can scarcely talk about sometimes without weeping. It chokes me up almost every time when I think about the courage it took for Jesus to be willing to drink that cup. And what was in that cup? Hell. And you may think I need healing. I need money. I need this job, I need, I need, I need. What you need, is you needed Jesus to drink your cup for you so you don't have to drink it. That's what I needed. And he did it. So what else do you need? Not much. In drinking that cup, he's given you heaven forever.
And what else? Like the psalmist said, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has [What?] nothing I desire besides you.” And so it was Jesus who came to teach us details about hell, details that are not found in the 39 books of the Old Testament. For example, Luke 12:4-5, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do nothing more. I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, God has the power to destroy both soul and body in hell. Jesus quoted Isaiah 66 to give us some picture of what hell is like. In Mark 9:48-49 he says, “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Everyone will be salted with fire, a fire that has never quenched.
He said in Matthew 25:41, “He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” He said this eternal fire would be exquisite torment. In Matthew 8:12 he said that the wicked would be “thrown outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He gave a clear picture of what hell would be like in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which directly addresses the issues brought up in Job 21, directly addresses the cavalier, wealthy, powerful, rich oppressor who couldn't care less about the poor people and then dies and seems to do well. Yeah, but this story’s not over.
And so in Luke 16, it's parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Rich man lived in luxury every day, never cared for the poor Lazarus at all who was right at his gate, and when the rich man died, Jesus said he went to hell where he was in fiery torment. Lazarus died and went to heaven where he was joyfully at peace, and the rich man begged for Lazarus to come and cool his tongue from the fire but that was impossible because a big gap was set between the two. This is the final answer to the problem of rich oppressors. The answer does not happen in this world. It doesn't happen in this life.
The apostle Paul continues to expand our comprehension of this. The wicked, says Paul, are actually storing up wrath against themselves every day by how they're living. Romans 2:5-8, he says, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, your storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence and doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But to those who are self seeking, who reject the truth and follow evil, there'll be wrath and anger.” Trouble and distress for everyone who does evil. Romans 2, the wicked reprobate exist to put attributes of God on display. Why did God knit them together in their mother's womb? Paul addresses this deeply in Romans 9:22-24, said, “What if God choosing to show his wrath and make his power known bore with great patience the objects of wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us?”
So all of that is God knit Judas Iscariot in his mother's womb. He knits the wicked together for the purpose of displaying his own attributes. What are they? Wrath, power, and great patience. And he does this to put those attributes on display for us, the elect, the vessels of mercy, he says in Romans 9, so that we can know how much grace and mercy he's shown to us. We can get an education in God's glory. I'm saying to you, the fullness of this display cannot happen in this world. It can't—because God lets the wicked spin out their stories right to the end.
And we don't know in this life who the reprobate are, because we always have a good hope that the gospel can convert them right to the very end, that even on their deathbed they might find mercy, like the thief on the cross did. So we can't see God's power, wrath and great patience in this life—the display must be in eternity, it must be in the next world. Heaven will be a place of eternal education for the redeemed, and this will be part of the lesson. It will be to see and to understand how God waited patiently, channeled the wickedness of the wicked, used it amazingly for his own purposes, and in the end specifically punished those who never did repent. That is the answer. And God tells us he will do it, he will repay. Romans 12:19-20 he says, “Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: [I will] avenge. [Your vengeance is mine.] I will repay.’” Do you hear that? “I will repay. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he's thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you'll heap burning coals on his head.” So this display must be in eternity not before, and we will see it. So for the arrogant wicked, there is no escaping justice, a far more terrifying enemy awaits. I don't know exactly how Hitler committed suicide. Maybe he blew his brains out or took a cyanide capsule, as the red army was burning Berlin down right over his head, and he thought—maybe, I don't know what he thought—that he's escaping the wrath of the Russians. But we know that a far more terrifying adversary was waiting for him when he died.
And Jesus made that very, very plain in Luke 12, when other wicked men chuckled to themselves, as they lay on their deathbed, surrounded by loving family and confident of passing on a vast fortune amassed by crime, when they felt they had beat the system and escaped an invading army, maybe, or a peasant uprising, maybe, or an FBI inquiry, maybe. As they slip from this world in peace, they cannot conceive of the terrors that will await them in the next world. As Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body and after that there's nothing more they can do [to you]. But…fear the one who has the power to destroy both soul and body in hell.” And these verses will at last come true in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
V. Applying It to Ourselves
All right, what applications can we take from this? First, we need to apply this to ourselves. God is being patient with all sinners, all sinners, not just the extremely wicked. It is wrong for us to become angry with the patience of God toward big notorious sinners while we ourselves are sinners as well. And we forget that we're included and God's being patient with us. We should realize the central point. All sin deserves condemnation by God, all sin, and God's patience with sinners is meant to bring us to repentance. As it says in second, Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
"God is being patient with all sinners, all sinners, not just the extremely wicked. It is wrong for us to become angry with the patience of God toward big notorious sinners while we ourselves are sinners as well. "
Secondly, flee the wrath to come, as John the Baptist said. We're all sinners. We should realize that we all deserve to be judged. God sent Jesus Christ to die under his wrath to free us up from eternal condemnation. When I share the gospel with people and I'm explaining these themes, and you have to understand these themes in some sense, or you will never come to Christ. You will not see why you need to. But I look on Jesus as a lightning rod, that device that is designed to attract a lightning strike and take it safely away from the home and its inhabitants. And we live in the home of his security and peace, and he took the strike for us. So I would just say to you who are a sinner just like me, flee the wrath to come by fleeing to the cross, fleeing to Christ, let him be your lightning rod. Let him accept, absorb the lightning strike of the infinite wrath of God against you and carry it safely away from you for all eternity.
Thirdly, trust God concerning the wicked oppressors. Some of them may yet be converted, and we have good hopes, but most of them won't. And Scripture is very clear what's going to happen to them, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, it says, “God is just.” That answers Job, doesn't it? “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you, [speaking to Christians who are being persecuted.] He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power,” 2 Thessalonians 1. That's what's going to happen. It's consistent teaching in the New Testament, and their Christian victims are going to be rewarded for their suffering and their service to Christ in the next world. As Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Fourthly, patience for those who are being oppressed. Some of our brothers and sisters around the world are being oppressed right now. They're being crushed by power structures, and they cry out for justice. And Jesus addressed it in the parable of the unrighteous judge in Luke 18, he said, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused but finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming.’” It's a parable about prayer and it's a how-much-more argument, that if that's what the wicked judge does, worn out by this persistent widow, we should be faithful in prayer. That's the point of the parable, but listen to what Jesus says, “And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” That's what Jesus said. So our brothers and sisters that are being crushed by structures that we can hardly even imagine in other countries, God's going to see that they get justice, Christ said.
And fifth, answering the charges of skeptics. Unbelievers frequently bring up this issue, like the Holocaust and wicked oppressors never get dealt with in this life. Now you have heard a sermon that addresses it, and the answer is eternal conscious torment in hell. That's the answer. There is a judgment day coming and the wicked oppression will be dealt with. But the question, dear friend, is you. You have a sense of justice inside you. God gave that to you, but that justice comes back on you. You also are sinner, flee to Christ. So that's how I would handle that apologetic situation.
I want to close with a story I heard some time ago. Over a century ago, there was a farmer in a Midwestern state who had a strong disdain for God and for Christians, and he openly worked out in his fields, plowing his fields on Sundays, Sunday mornings, so that he could mock the churchgoers who were walking by as he did his work on Sunday. October came and the farmer had his best crop ever, the best actually in the entire county. And when the harvest was complete, he placed an advertisement in the local newspaper, belittling Christians for their faith in God and near the end of his ad he wrote, “Faith in God must not mean very much if someone like me can prosper.” Well, one Christian in the community was provoked by this, decided to respond and in the next edition of the town paper, he put in this small advertisement, it read simply, “God doesn't always settle his accounts in October.”
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the time we've had to study the deep themes of Job 21. As he, our brother, has raised these questions, but really did not have the clear answer that we have. Lord, help us to absorb the truth, Lord Jesus, that you taught us about hell and also the truth that you taught us about heaven, and that we would realize the truth of our situation, and that we would be eternally grateful to you for drinking the cup of God's wrath on our behalf, and that we will be motivated as never before to evangelize those who are still walking under the wrath of God so that they can flee while there's still time. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.