The God Who Tests Motives (Isaiah Sermon 10 of 81)
July 06, 2008 | Andrew Davis
Wrath of God, Judgment, Justice of God
The Bible is a constant amazement to me. I’m constantly in awe of this book. To me, it’s like the ocean. I picture my little children sitting in their colorful bathing suits right at the edge of the ocean, splashing in its rippling, foamy water, making little sandcastles, and just kind of playing there at the edges, never imagining the depths there really are in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They are just happy to be there and sit at its edges. In the same way, the Bible speaks of simple truths that they can understand. There is a God. God is love. God loves you. God will take care of you. God will protect you. God sent His Son. Jesus died on the cross for you. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. These simple things are right at the edge. And we can enjoy these things, and we can learn them right away, as soon as we become Christians. They never change. They are a source of eternal joy and security to us. But the Bible has a lot more to say than those kinds of things.
The Bible talks about milk doctrines that are really easy to understand. Then the Bible talks about meat, things that are more difficult to understand. This passage, Isaiah 10, brings us into deep waters today. I think about the depths of God’s counsel when the Apostle Paul was seeking to explain in Romans 9-11 about the difficult problem of why it was that the Jews were rejecting Christ, their own Messiah. He gives a multifaceted answer the depths of which would take us forever to plumb. It is very deep. He talks about eternal predestination. He talks about the Word of God going out to the ends of the earth and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. He talks about a remnant chosen by grace and saved by faith. He talks about olive trees and branches grafted in. He gives us this mystery that all Israel will be saved. Then he makes this incredible statement, “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He might have mercy on them all.”
After making all of these very deep statements, he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgment, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36) And so we come to a deep and difficult topic today. It has to do with this: how does the sovereignty of God overrule events in human history in such a way that God uses the wicked actions of evil people who do not know Him? He uses them to bring about gloriously good ends, then turns and judges those people for doing the very thing that He decreed that they would do. How is that fair? How is it just that God sovereignly overrules these kinds of actions? His decree is before the foundation of the world: the wicked actions will most certainly happen, and then He will judge them for doing it.
Think about the complicated case of Judas Iscariot. The night before Jesus was crucified, they were there at the Last Supper. Matthew 26: 21-25, “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.’ They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born!’ Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’ “
It’s astonishingly deep. Jesus said He would be betrayed by one of His disciples, and that it would happen just as it had been written. He pointed to the decree of God even before the foundation of the world. But then He goes on to say, “Woe to the man who does it.” Judgment is going to come down on the individual who does it. It would have been better for him if he had never been born. Well, how then was he born? Why was he born? Who knit Judas together in his mother’s womb? Who gave him breath? How do we understand these things? How is it just for God to judge Judas for doing the very thing that He decreed he would do? My answer to that is that I don’t fully now. I really don’t. It’s deeper than I can fathom. But I believe that Isaiah 10:7 gives us a glimpse of the truth of how God does it. Our passage today helps answer this difficult question. The key verse, I think, is verse 7. What does the evildoer intend in what he does? What are the purposes of his heart? What is he thinking when he does it? It is on these bases that God judges him. He is not judged based on what God intends nor what glorious principles can come out of the evil things that we do. What are our intentions? What are the purposes of our heart? That is what God is studying on Judgment Day.
God’s Surprising Messengers: The Assyrian Army
Assyria: On Mission from God?
Look at verse 7, “This is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind,” “He” being the Assyrian. “His purpose is to destroy.” Now in our passage, Isaiah calls Assyria “God’s rod of punishment for Israel.” He sends Assyria to punish Israel. Then He turns and punishes Assyria for doing it. How is this fair? How is this just? This is the meat of today’s sermon. This is what we’re going to take the rest of the morning to try to understand. God has these surprising messengers, the Assyrian army. Look at verses 5 and 6, “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hands is the club of my wrath! I dispatch him against a people who anger me.” Assyria on a mission from God? Isaiah plainly addresses the Assyrian in the singular, representing the Assyrian king, I think, and through him, symbolically, the whole nation. He is portrayed, amazingly, as being on a mission from God. He is called “the rod of my anger,” of God’s anger. He wields “the club of God’s wrath.” Clearly, he is sent by God. Look at verse 6, “I send him. I dispatch him.” He is the sent one, sent by God himself. He is dispatched. The Hebrew word means “to command, to lay a charge or a commission upon.” So God has a work to do against his own people.
The Shocking Mission: Destroy Israel
Later in the same text, in verse 22, it says “Destruction has been decreed.” This is a very strong word. In verse 23, “The Lord, the Lord Almighty will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land.” This is the decree of the Almighty God, this destruction. But it’s the Assyrian who is going to do it. The Assyrian is going to carry out this decreed destruction. Look at verse 12. God has a work to do against His own people. “When the Lord has finished all His work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem.” This is the work of the Lord, this work of judgment against Mount Zion and Jerusalem. It’s a shocking mission then, a mission to destroy Judah, to destroy Israel. Look at verse 6: “I send him against a godless nation. I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” God has ordained the destruction of Israel and the devastation of the promised land. God dispatches these wicked, violent Assyrians to trample the Jews down like mud in the streets. Why? Because Israel has forsaken the covenant of God for centuries. God is slow to anger, but time is up for Judah, for Jerusalem, and for the people of God, for Israel. Even more shocking is the assessment of Israel as a godless nation, an atheistic nation.
The Even More Shocking Assessment of Israel: A Godless Nation
He calls his own people a godless nation. Why? Because they had turned their backs on their God to worship those who were no gods at all, who really didn’t exist. Isaiah 45:5 says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me, there is no God.” They just don’t exist, these gods. The Yahweh that they thought existed didn’t exist either. The one who’s happy to share Israel with other gods didn’t exist either. So they are a godless nation. They don’t worship the true God, therefore they worship no God. Israel had exchanged the true God for idols of gods who were no gods at all, who didn’t even exist. Therefore the horror of it was that Israel had become a godless nation.
God’s Even More Surprising Message: Woe to Assyria!
Judgment is coming for doing precisely what God sent them to do
The even more surprising message from God, in verse 5, is “woe to the Assyrian.” Judgment is coming on the Assyrian. Why? For doing precisely what God told them to do. This is exactly what God had sent them to do, and now He’s going to judge them for doing it. Look at the judgment declared in verse 12: “When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say ‘I will punish the King of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”
The Key Issue: “What He Intends”
One of the Most Important Principles of the Bible
God has sovereignly ordained, commanded, sent, and dispatched Assyria to do a certain thing: to destroy Israel for their godlessness, for their rejection of the Mosaic covenant. God then turns on Assyria and punishes them for doing the precise thing He sent them to do. How can He do this and be just? How is this the God of love and the God of justice and righteousness that we worship in the Bible? Look at verse 7. The key issue is what he, the Assyrian, intends. What is he thinking as he does it? Verse 7 says, “This is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.” This is one of the most important principles in the Bible concerning judgment day. We need to internalize this principle. We need to understand what God is teaching us here. God is sovereign over the evil actions of godless people like the Assyrians. He uses them to do His will. Thank God for that! The world is not spinning out of control. God knows exactly what He’s doing. Nothing that any evil man or nation can do thwarts Him in any way. God actually uses their actions.
Central Issue: Why do you do what you do?
God orchestrates the flow of their evil actions and their evil intentions for His own sovereign purpose. God also weighs their hearts at every turn in the road. He’s staring at the human heart. And in these verses the issue is the motive of the Assyrian that God brings to judge Israel. So here we come to it, the central issue of motive. Why do you do what you do? What motivated you to come to church today? Why did you do it? Why did you get in the car and come? That took a great deal of effort and energy. For some more than for others, to get a family in the car is the big achievement of the week. It is a great deal of effort. Why did you do it? Why do you give someone a compliment? Is it genuinely to build them up, or is there flattery involved? Are you trying to get something back from them? Why do you do it?
Why did you choose the car you chose to drive? Now some of you may say, “I didn’t choose that car. That car chose me. And I’m stuck with it.” That may be. But still you have choices in the matter. Why do you spend your time the way you do? Every hour, every minute of the day, why do you do what you do? Why did you put an offering in the plate? Why did you not put one in? What’s going on in your heart? God studies this extremely carefully. It matters to Him immensely. In 2 Peter 2, it says, “With the Lord a single day is like a thousand years.” He carefully studies every tick of the clock, every inclination of the heart, every glance of the eye. He’s aware of everything you’re doing. God looks at motive.
God’s Motive: His Glory in Human Salvation
What are God’s motives? What is God’s motive in history? What is He about? Well, His motive is His own glory in the salvation of a multitude of sinners from all over the world. That’s what God is doing. He is glorifying Himself by saving sinners.
God is going to orchestrate history for His own purposes, according to His wise purposes for His own pleasure, so that He might be glorified in saving sinners. That is what He is doing. So God can bring an earthquake on a community and accomplish many different things at once. But they all tend toward the same: His glory and the salvation of sinners. The death of a stubborn rejector of the gospel in that earthquake may bring final judgment and wrath as well as a warning to those that still live. In the death of a Christian in that exact same earthquake, He may be bringing a Godly person to his eternal reward so that he doesn’t have to suffer any more pain in this wicked world. God escorts the Christian right through the earthquake and into His presence. In that same earthquake, a surviving non-Christian, seeing the devastation around him, may come to his sense and flee to the cross and Christ at last, finding forgiveness as he sees everything that he cared about fall apart.
A surviving Christian from that earthquake may be learning some lessons about idols that have been in his heart, or about the brevity of life, or the need to be more passionate about evangelism. God may be doing all of that through one earthquake. God is at work always to glorify Himself in everything He’s doing through the salvation of sinners. Isaiah 43: 6-7 says, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Sons and daughters of glory from the ends of the earth, created for His glory, redeemed for his glory, and preserved for His glory, will be resurrected for His glory. We will live for His glory in all eternity. That’s what He is doing. That is His motive.
Assyria’s Motives Displayed
But what about the Assyrian? What’s going on in his heart? What are his motives? They are put on display here in the text. We can find out what he’s thinking about, and it’s not the glory of God. That’s not what he intends. That’s not what he has in mind. He’s not thinking about the glory of God and the salvation of people all over the world. That’s not it. He’s not concerned about the glory of God at all. He’s concerned about his own glory. He’s building an empire. Those motives are put on display. Verse 7 says, “His purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.” The Assyrians simply enjoyed viciously crushing other people. They just enjoyed it. They were implacably cruel.
It says in Nahum 3, “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses.” That was Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. Implacable cruelty, that’s what is in their hearts, as well as arrogant empire building. In verse 8 he says, “Are not my commanders all kings?” “My commanders are all kings compared to you. I am a king of kings. They’re all kings.” In verses 9 and 10, he talks about the countries he’s conquered, “Places I’ve been, people I’ve seen, people I’ve killed and murdered and trampled down like mud in the street.” Let’s recount them in verses 9 and 10, “Has not Calno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria.” You have your idols too; they’re just not very good. They’re low class idols. The better idols were in the countries I’ve already conquered. In verses 13 and 14, he says, “I removed the boundaries of nations, and like a mighty one I subdued their kings.” He’s talking like a god. Do you see that? You see the lust of power, the delight of domination, of being in charge, of extending the empire as far as it will go, as greedy as the grave. It was like taking candy from a baby, taking eggs from a nest. No problem. He could do it again in a heartbeat. He could do it any time.
There’s also covetousness here. Look at verse 13, “I plundered their treasures.” Ah yes, the gold and the silver, the costly stones, the brocades of silk, the works of art, and all of the stuff in each of these kingdoms; I got it. It’s in my treasure house now.
Pride of Heart, Self-Worship
And of course, above all, pride of heart and self-worship. “I can be a god,” at least for a little while. In verse 12 he speaks of the “willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.” In verse 13, he says, “By the strength of my hand, I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.” I’ve got strength. I’ve got wisdom. I’ve got understanding. I can do anything. There’s arrogance here. The Assyrian is in love with his own wisdom, his own power, and his own understanding. He marvels at his self-achievement.
Missing Motive: God’s Glory
It never enters his mind that God enabled him to do it all. It never occurs to him to fall on his face and give God the glory for everything he’s achieved. “For in Him, we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) “You did not give honor to the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” (Daniel 5:24) These thoughts never entered their minds, though there was ample evidence for the existence of God all around them every day in the physical glory of creation. So that’s the motive of Assyria’s heart. And God’s going to judge him for it. He’s going to judge him for his motive, for why he did it.
Assyria’s Judgment Described
Human Arrogance Over God is Insanity
Look at the judgment described in verses 15-19 and also 24-34. We see first this parity of human arrogance over deity. It’s insanity. It’s insane to boast against God. Look at verse 15, “Does the axe raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up or a club brandish him who is not wood!” Which is greater, the club or the one who wields it? “You’re nothing. You’re a club. You’re a chunk of wood. I raised you up for a purpose,” He’s saying. “And you’re boasting against me!” God absolutely despises that kind of pride. Assyria is merely a tool in his hand. But at the very gates of Jerusalem, the Assyrians boasted directly against God himself.
Listen to one of the underlings of the King of Assyria. Remember when he said, “Are not all my commanders kings?” Well, they sure act like it. One of these underlings comes and arrogantly boasts in the hearing of Hezekiah and that tiny little remnant of Judeans that are left inside the walls of Jerusalem. This is what he says, “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘the Lord will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hands of the King of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand.” (Is. 36: 18-20). Ooh.
I said this morning in Bible for Life that it was Hezekiah’s one little glimmer of hope when he heard those words. He said, “Did you hear what he said? Of course, God, you heard what he said. It may be that God will hear the words of the underling of the King of Assyria that he sent to despise the Almighty God and will judge him for it.” Well, that’s precisely what God does! The Lord gave a response through Isaiah the prophet. Speaking to the Assyrian, “Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your messengers you have heaped insults on the Lord.” (Is 37: 23-24). And now you will die for it.
It’s actually insane! We’re created beings. Our very atoms are held together by the power of Almighty God. This is the God who holds our lives and all our ways in His hands. Death stands over all of our achievements to sweep them into dust. But God is enthroned above the heavens, ruling over all the nations. Isaiah 40: 12-15 says this, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who has understood the mind of the Lord or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.” That’s the One that the Assyrians boasted against.
Specific Judgment: Wasting Disease, Dead Soldiers, Single Day
So God’s going to send a specific judgment on the Assyrians. He tells them ahead of time what it’s going to be, right here in Isaiah 10. This is where you find out what happened that night. This chapter tells you how they died. It’s going to be a wasting disease. It’s going to be dead soldiers. It’s going to happened in a single day. He’s very plain about it. That’s what God does. He tells you ahead of time what He’s going to do, and then He does it to His own glory. Wasting disease, sturdy warriors, a single day. Keep that in mind. That is what He says He’s going to do.
Look at verse 16: “Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors; under his pomp a fire will be kindled like a blazing flame.” When I read that I think of the fire of fever, like they’re burning up. “The light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers.” It’s a burning image there. Verse 18: “The splendor of his forests and his fertile fields it will completely destroy, as when a sick man wastes away.” He’s telling them what He’s going to do. They’re going to die from a wasting disease. Verse 19, ”And the remaining trees of his forest will be so few that a child could write them down.” He’s speaking of his army. It’s one of the most dramatic moments in the whole Bible, a striking moment. Arrogant Assyria, is right at the walls of Jerusalem, ready to conquer that city, and the Lord sends out the Angel of the Lord. THE Angel of the Lord.
More Descriptions of Judgment
In many places in the Old Testament, it’s pretty evident that the Angel of the Lord is equal to God Himself. The pre-incarnate Christ does the work as He will in Revelation 19 with the sword coming out of His mouth. And so He comes. Listen to the account in Isaiah 37:36, “Then the Angel of the Lord went out and put to death one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning there were all the dead bodies!” In a single day. “A single night.” Isaiah 10:17. Dead. 185,000 of them. And the remaining soldiers were so few that a child could write them down. I don’t know how many that is, but it’s not many. It’s just enough witnesses of what happened that night. That’s what happened. Isaiah 10 explains how it happened. He struck them with a wasting disease and they died quickly. More descriptions of the judgment are in verses 24-34. It’s very dramatic. He says in verse 25, “Very soon my anger against you will end and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.” You’ll see what will happen. It will be like the day he struck down Midian. Remember Gideon? In a single night they were dead. It will be like the Red Sea crossing, when the water crashed down on Pharaoh’s army and they were destroyed in a single night. Like that, the army will be wiped out.
Verse 28 describes their progress. They’re coming in now. They’re going to invade. The Assyrians are coming. This is like a travel log. This is a campaign, a military campaign. They enter Aiath. They pass through Migron. They store supplies in Michmash. They go over the pass and say, “We’ll camp overnight at Geba.” Ramah, then Gibeah, then Gallim, and Laishah, and Anathoth, and Madmenah, and Gebim. It’s city after city, falling, falling, falling, falling. The water of the Assyrian river is going to come right up to the neck, city after city. But then they’re going to halt at Nob. That’s within sight of Jerusalem. They’re going to get close, and they’re going to shake their fists at the mount of Jerusalem, at Mount Zion. Why? Because they couldn’t get in there because the Lord stopped them short. He cut them off.
Effects: Assyria Loses an Empire
In verses 33 and 34, “See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. He will cut down the forest thickets with an axe.” Interesting. At the beginning of the chapter, Assyria was the axe in God’s hand. At the end, they’re the tree. God’s got another axe and He’s going to chop them down. Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One. What are the effects? Assyria loses an empire. That’s what happened. They lost an empire. Very soon Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar’s father, would rise up, come up the Fertile Crescent, and topple Nineveh in fulfillment of Nahum’s prophecy. Then Assyria is gone from the pages of history. They lost their empire because God will it so. Because they refused to glorify God, they fell from the height of glory
Israel’s Future Foretold: A Remnant Will Return
Remnant Chosen by Grace
What about Israel’s future? It’s summed up in this one phrase, “A remnant will return.” Thanks be to God for the remnant, because the Jews should not imagine they were any better than the Assyrians. They weren’t. Neither are we. Remember, I’ve said again and again that the danger in the book of Isaiah is thinking, “I’m different from the sinner that’s being described by Isaiah. That’s not me. I’m not like him. I’m not like the Assyrian, shaking my fist at God. I’m nothing like that. I would never do anything like that. I’m one of the good ones. I’m King Hezekiah kneeling down and humbling myself. That’s what I am.” I’m saying it’s dangerous to read it that way. Instead, God speaks of a remnant chosen by grace. That’s who is going to return. Look at verse 20, “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.” Verse 21, “A remnant will return.”
A remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God. “Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous. The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land.” Is 10:22-23. God’s going to bring an overwhelming destruction on Judah. Most of the people will die by the sword, famine, or plague. Most of them will die. Some of them will be exiled. And seventy years later a tiny remnant, 40,000 plus, will be allowed to come back and resettle. It’s the remnant chosen by grace. Isaiah has already mentioned this in Isaiah 1:9, “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we should have been like Gomorrah.” In other words, Isaiah is saying that we’re no different than Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re the same. We are sinners. We deserve the same wrath. Isaiah is going to mention this remnant again in Isaiah 37:31-32, “Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Key Characteristic: Trust in the Lord
Paul mentions the remnant of the Jews. In Romans 9 through 11, where he’s describing why the Jews have almost universally rejected Christ as their messiah, Paul says, “It’s not universal. I’m a Jew and there are Jewish Christians. There are Jewish believers in Christ.” “So too, at the present time, there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (Rom 11:5) That is what he is dealing with here, a remnant. A key characteristic of that remnant is trust in the Lord. Look at Is 10:20, “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down.” That’s the Assyrian. Remember how Ahaz turned to Assyria for hep? He’s looking to Assyria for help, a bad idea. Isaiah says they are not going to rely on Assyria any more for help. They are not going to rely on Babylon or any gentile. They are going to rely on the Lord. They are going to truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. This is the heart of the matter: the faith of God’s people. They had many false trusts, many false hopes. They had been trusting in idols and the idols couldn’t save them. They trusted in Assyria and Assyria came to destroy them. But now at last, finally, they will have learned their lesson. They will trust in the Lord alone, for He alone can save.
In the same way we also have many false trusts and hopes. There are many things we turn to and think are going to deliver us and save us. We are constantly drifting back toward our own good works and achievements and the basic essential good nature of our hearts. We think we’re essentially good people until the scripture lays us bare, and life lays us bare, and we start to see who we really are. The Lord works in us the same thing He was working in His people: humility and trust in Him and in Him alone. We can trust in our righteousness. We can trust in our technology, in our medical community and all of their achievements and research. We can trust in our wealth. We can trust in our military prowess. We can trust in all kinds of things as a nation and as individuals. But this remnant trusts in the Lord alone, for He alone can save.
God’s Judgment: Overwhelming, Righteous, Restrained
So the judgment is coming: overwhelming and righteous, but restrained. It says in I Peter 4:17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” If it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the Gospel of God? It is a basic principal concerning judgment. The more you know of God’s will and His word and disobey anyway, the more deserving of punishment you are. But where does that put us as 21st century American Christians? We have the Old Covenant. We have the New Covenant. We have Christ’s death on the cross as a matter of history. It’s already happened. We have his resurrection. We have the outpouring of the spirit. We have twenty centuries of church history and the fulfillment of all of Christ’s promises concerning the advance of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. We have more knowledge of God’s word and redemptive history than any generation that has ever lived. Therefore, our sins are all the more severe. I Peter says, “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” If it starts with us, what will be the outcome for those on the outside who don’t even know Christ?
This passage calls on me to repent. It calls on me to say, “What are the motives of my own heart?” God is bringing this judgment and it comes with surgical precision. It’s overwhelming. It sweeps across, but it stops right were it needs to. You’ve heard of the expression “collateral damage.” In World War II, there were bombing raids day and night. The bomb sites really weren’t that accurate. The bombs weren’t that accurate, and wind could blow them off course. Basically, they just laid cities low. London, Dresden, Tokyo, city after city, just laid low, completely wiped out. That’s what they call collateral damage. Nowadays, we pride ourselves in our advanced laser-guided smart bombs. You can watch, in the first Gulf War, a bomb go down an air intake in a modern skyscraper and say, “We can minimize collateral damage.” But there are still images of hospitals that are in rubble and that kind of thing. We can’t get rid of it.
Christ’s True Deliverance
Israel’s Experiences a Spiritual Lesson
There’s no collateral damage with God’s judgment. There is none. The wages of sin is death. The sinner deserves to die, every one of us. So this judgment that comes is overwhelming and righteous, but it’s also restrained. God saves a remnant. Do you find yourself there in the remnant that was saved by grace? This is the only deliverance there really is: Christ’s true deliverance.
True Oppression: Sin’s Crushing Yoke
It says in Is 10:27, “In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck.” The real crushing burden, the real yoke, is sin and hell and judgment day. That’s the real burden on our shoulders. We can’t throw it off apart from Christ. Thanks be to God that Christ has come and that Jesus died on the cross to take our yoke on Himself! The yoke of wickedness, and evil, and sin, and the wrath that it deserves, He takes that judgment on Himself. He offers us a lighter yoke: His kingly rule.
He says, ”Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30) That’s what He offers to you. It may be that you have never trusted in Christ and that God brought you sovereignly here today to hear the Gospel, to hear that God sent His son. He lived a sinless and perfect life. He died a bloody death on the cross as a substitute, not for His own sin, because He never committed any, but for our sins. All we need to do, as in the text, is trust in the Lord alone to save us from our sins. That is the Gospel.
If you’ve already come to Christ, then understand a few things from this passage. First of all, God uses the Godless to accomplish His purposes, and everything’s under control. He knows what He’s doing. It may seem unfair. It may seem like the tyrant has ascended for a while. Bu God is always watching and assessing their motives. Always. Even a tyrant, by the way, like Nebuchadnezzar, can repent and turn and believe in Christ. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul wants prayers to be offered for all kinds of men, including kings and those in authority, because God desires all men to be saved. So we can pray for kings and we can believe that God can actually turn their hearts. But He is watching the motives of their hearts at every moment. It is not unjust for God to use Satan and then judge him for it, for God to use Judas and judge him for it, for God to use the Assyrian and judge him for it. It’s not unjust because He is testing the motive of their hearts.
So, what about your heart? You’ve already come to faith in Christ. That’s fine. Is there any value to today, Sunday? Is there any value to tomorrow? Does God have any good works for you to do? Does He want you to live a certain way? Well guess what? He’s going to be searching your hearts and your motives as well. And on judgment day, you’re going to have to give an account based on your own motive, your heart motive. It says in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” That should be your motive. Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. That should be your motive. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” Romans 14:23, “…Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” What’s your motive? What’s going on inside your heart for everything that you do?
If you give to the needy so that you can be noticed and praised, Jesus says, “you’ve already received your reward in full.” If you pray so that everyone will say, “Boy, your prayers are just awesome. I love it when you pray,” Jesus said, “You already have received your reward in full.” If you volunteer for Urban Ministry or come to HOPE For Durham so that you’ll be noticed by other people, so that you’ll be praised by them, or because you’re single and you’d like to meet someone, you ought to be aware that God is aware of why you do what you do. Say, “Test my heart oh God, and show me why I do what I do. I want to study myself. I want to know what my motives are.” Because that’s going to be the topic on judgment day. By the way, if you do some specific thing, and then you’re disappointed by people’s reactions to the thing you did, what was your motive? Pride is at the heart of it.
Now, I recognize that there’s a little selfishness and self-centeredness in everything we do. All of our gold and silver and costly stones will have to be refined by fire. Thanks be to God, He will do it. He sees the motive of the heart. It says in Revelation 2:23 (this is Jesus speaking), “I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” My final word of advice to you is this: be humble when God chooses to use you. Live for the glory of God and have this attitude: “What is Apollos? What is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed. Apollos watered, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” (1 Cor 3:5-7) Close with me in prayer.