A Greater Evil
Following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, a few days later I preached the following message (slightly edited) to the congregation I served in Kokomo, Indiana, on the Lord's Day of September 16. As my heart is heavy today as I recall those tragic events, I offer these sober meditations on its anniversary.
This is a time for serious reflection by God’s people, and in His providence we have a strong passage to consider this morning as we continue our study of the book of Deuteronomy. Please listen to Deuteronomy 7:1-11.
When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly. But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire.
For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.
As many have said, the terrorist events of September 11th will change permanently life as our generation has known it here in the United States. As God’s people we need to meditate and prepare ourselves for this change. As we do so, a question needs to be asked in view of all the responses that have taken place to this national tragedy. As this question is asked, like this passage this morning it will jar us, and most certainly will offend many of our fellow flag-waving, church-going Americans. But as a church-going, United States-loving citizen myself, this question needs to be asked. For even as we face going to war as a nation, God’s people must be equipped for a greater battle that lies ahead in our country.
The question I ask with a certain amount of trembling is this: Could it be possible that a greater evil took place on September 14th than on September 11th, a disaster far worse than the destruction of the towers or the bombing of the Pentagon?
What happened on September 14th? You may be trying to remember. September 14th, you will recall, was the National Day of Prayer our president called.
Like many, certainly you were glad to hear our president encourage us to pray and call on God to bless our nation in the face of this disaster. But are you aware of what actually happened in our capital on this day? On September 14th, our president, along with other leaders of our nation and important dignitaries, gathered for prayer at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Here is a partial recounting of what happened during this prayer service:
· A certain “Right Reverend” (as she was introduced) welcomed those gathered by saying that they had come to a “house of prayer for all faiths,” and then she listed these faiths by welcoming Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians – about ten or twelve different religions in all were mentioned.
· The next “Right Reverend” to participate began his prayer of invocation with these words, “O God, the father of Abraham, Mohammed, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
· The Koran was read by an Islamic cleric.
· Our President spoke, and at the end read this beautiful Scripture from Romans chapter 8, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” He emphasized this last phrase, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God.” The problem is that he stopped reading in mid-sentence. That last phrase reads "nothing shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
· In this entire service there was nothing to speak of that called our nation to repentance, but rather the resounding message was a call for us to find comfort in the God of our choosing.
The reason this is disastrous, a great evil, is that in each of these events – and there are others that could be mentioned - the Triune God was openly blasphemed. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord was openly rejected. Though God will judge the terrorists for their wicked acts, realize they sinned with little knowledge of the truth. But this nation, blessed with the knowledge of the gospel for centuries, has now sinned openly, defiantly, and officially by rejecting the one and only Lord for a pluralistic God, a nationalistic idol of our own making. No greater evil exists than to knowingly reject Christ.
If one wants to accuse me of being dramatic, or insensitive in light of this great tragedy, or simply overstating my case, then hear this: This is not my judgment on these events, but the view the Word of God has on them. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 11? Speaking against cities that had seen His miracles, heard His teaching, and yet rejected Him, Jesus said to them, “I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” Tremble as we note a few things about this statement.
Note that Jesus implies here that the judgment that had already fallen on Sodom and Gomorrah – fire and brimstone from heaven – was not the fullness of their judgment. A greater judgment yet awaits those who populated these cities. And note that those cities which rejected Him as Lord (He was speaking to the first century cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon and Capernaum – see Matthew 11:20-24.), those who should have known better, will face more severe judgment than even Sodom has and will experience. Can we not see from this the great evil of September 14th? We are not “One nation under God.” Oh, the Congress might be singing “God bless America,” but we know the real tune they are singing is “Gods bless America.”
O beloved ones, it is time to reflect and to see the great responsibility the church has during this time not only of national tragedy, but of national confusion. It is time to remember the martyrs, and recall that most of their lives would have been spared if only they had said Christianity was one option among many viable ones, if only they had stopped believing and proclaiming Jesus alone is Lord. Recall our duty from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” We have the duty to instruct our nation, our fellow citizens, during this momentous occasion. How must we disciple our fellow citizens? By taking the opportunity this tragedy offers to explain to them three lessons we see in this passage.
Teach them that ancient Israel provides an example for the nation, not just a quaint reference point.
We have spent considerable time as a congregation the past few years seeing how Israel was to be a model for the church. We have emphasized that the church is the true Israel, because we have become sons of Abraham by faith in Christ (Galatians 3). We have discussed how dispensationalism, the popular teaching that divorces the Old Testament from the New, that so separates Israel from the church that it makes them unrelated, has made it difficult for the modern church to see the rich inheritance that we have in Jesus Christ. All the promises given to Abraham have become “Yes” for us in Christ (II Corinthians 1:20). If it is difficult for the church to see how Israel is a model for us, then how much more difficult will it be show the nation that Israel is also to be model for them?
How is this so? Read carefully Deuteronomy 7:1-2. Notice that Israel was to go into the land of promise and dispossess not just tribes of people, but seven nations that each had their own rulers, culture, laws, and customs. This reminds us that Israel was a nation herself. She was established forty years prior at Mount Sinai, where the covenant law was drawn up that would teach her how to live as a nation. Remember the laws and history contained in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy not only consist of laws that instruct Israel on “religious matters,” but these books of the law are also filled with civil or political laws that governed them as a people. As God told them in Exodus 19:6, He was forming them into a “holy nation.” God had a purpose for Israel that transcends to all times and to all nations.
As we see here, God was forming them in part to serve as a rod of judgment against these pagan nations that are listed. The Lord drove these nations out after enduring hundreds of years of their sin against Him (see Genesis 15:12-16; note verse 10 in this seventh chapter of Deuteronomy). He was establishing Israel in what was then the center of the world to show the rest of the nations how they were to live in fear of the Lord. He called Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” to the nations. As He placed her in that part of the world known as the “Fertile Crescent” – the land extending up from Egypt and around Mesopotamia to Babylon in the east – God knew the nations of the earth would travel through Israel in their trade and commerce. The peoples were to come to Jerusalem and learn to fear Jehovah. They were to return to their own lands and govern them by the pattern set by Israel. And if they failed to do that, God would judge them like He was now judging these nations.
In our study over in the city of Marion, we are studying the ”Minor Prophets,” which are the last twelve books of the Old Testament. Do you know that out of these twelve books, three of them are not even written to Israel per se? Three of these are written explicitly to pagan nations. Two of them are written to the same one, a nation that was one of the most wicked nations of the earth. Jonah was written to tell of his ministry to Nineveh, the great capital city of Assyria. You will recall that this Jewish prophet preached to this city, and the whole city under the direction of the king repented of its wickedness and sought the God of the Hebrews. Yet sadly their repentance was short-lived, and 150 years later the prophet Nahum tells of the impending destruction about to fall upon Nineveh and Assyria. (The third prophet that wrote of God’s dealing with a pagan nation was Obadiah, who similarly warned Edom of her impending doom). Almost all of the prophets spoke to many other nations besides Israel and Judah. I mention this because I want you to understand that the prophets from Israel went to pagan nations to tell them of their responsibility before God. The nations were to learn from Israel, or face the consequences. Indeed, when Israel herself failed to fulfill her role and turned from God, her history shows she also faced the consequences.
As we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament account of Israel’s history, we see that Jesus chose 12 disciples to symbolize His building of a new Israel. Following the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, another apostle was chosen to replace Judas. Then at Pentecost these twelve men stood together as Peter preached the gospel in Jerusalem to “men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5; see the listing in 2:9-11). These men stood as the New Jerusalem there in the Old Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecies such as this one in Isaiah 2:1-3, that has the responsibility Israel had woven into it regarding the work that the church now has to do:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say,“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
God’s plan in the new covenant age is that instead of bringing the nations of the earth to one centralized nation devoted to the Lord so that they can learn from it, He is now sending the new Israel, the church, to the nations. As the church engages in spiritual warfare among the nations, it is to teach the civil governments, and the nations they are over, the responsibility they have to the law of God. The church is to take the nations to the heavenly Mt. Zion and tell them they are to serve the Lord and obey His laws!
During the services we have seen across the nations, how many have turned, interestingly enough, to the Psalms and Prophets for comfort. Again, at the service at the National Cathedral, they had a Jewish leader read from the book of Lamentations. Can we not see the irony in this? To suggest that the United States should model its society after Biblical Israel would result in being charged with fundamentalism. Yet our leaders use the very words to lament Israel’s downfall to provide comfort during this tragedy. Why do they not also use the words given to Israel in the Psalms and Prophets, often located in the very context of the passages of mourning they are reading, to also show us how to rebuild?
We must teach our fellow citizens that God does have a blueprint for the nations of the earth to follow, and then go on to teach them this as well.
Teach them that wickedness cannot be tolerated by the nation, but must be removed fully.
During the past days, it has been easy once again to use the words “evil” and “wicked.” Americans, who have found it increasingly difficult to identify evil, can readily see it when hijackers take planes and send the helpless victims aboard them as suicide bombs into great buildings. As you listen to our leaders speak against this evil, they make statements that sound like messianic pronouncements. We have heard many pronouncements that this is a “battle of good versus evil, that they will “rid the world of this evil,” that they will “not stop until terrorism is removed from the face of the earth.” Not only are these overstatements, but is it not troubling that America cannot see its own wickedness?
Look again at verses 3-6 of our passage. Israel was not allowed to let other gods flourish in the land of Canaan because of the insult to God this was and the certain evil it would cause them to fall into as a nation. Just as they would many years later see the nation of Assyria raised up as a “rod of judgment” to smite them for their sin (Isaiah 10), they were called by God to remove these seven nations who had sinned for so many generations. In the name of freedom, our humanistic land is openly displaying its beliefs by allowing wickedness to flourish in many forms, be it abortion, pornography, homosexuality. With the torch called “freedom” held high, it has allowed peoples with anti-Christian worldviews to come in the land and set up shop in our backyard. Rather than seeing this as a great wickedness and a war against the laws of God, our leaders, blinded by a false sense of freedom, defend this as the purest and greatest human kindness the world has known. Now we are paying the consequences.
Perhaps you remember that the Taliban, the ruling party of Afghanistan, was in the news several months before the events of the past few weeks over another “explosion.” Earlier this year, they ordered that centuries-old Buddhist statutes, towering idols carved into rock cliffs, to be blown up with dynamite. When this occurred, there was a great outcry over the destruction by those who considered these statutes sacred and/or historic. Westerners cannot see that this is consistent with the Islamic worldview. They cannot tolerate any rivals.
The week before the terrorist attack, I told you about the article written by a young mission worker laboring among the Islamic people here in the United States. Recall that he had seen something recently that had surprised him while driving along the cornfields. He said he had seen a mosque out on the countryside. He pointed out that Islam is no longer confined to urban areas but is making its way into rural America. You will remember that what disturbed me even more than this trend he observed was this man’s view about this. He said that this is a good development, because it means God is bringing the mission field right to our back doorstep. Though I commended him for his enthusiasm for missions, I questioned his wisdom. Can we not see here the hand of God’s judgment? Has not the church become so divided and so irrelevant that many Americans are turning to pagan religions instead?
After all, are we so blind that we cannot see what happens to nations where Islam gets a stronghold? Despite what all the Islamic apologists are rushing to tell us in the major media, Islam tenets hold there is only one God, Allah, and one prophet, Muhammed, and they must be served by all. They are working to bring the nations to subjection to their beliefs. The dedicated Muslims are not impressed with our pluralism, and they will not be content with many gods. They cannot tolerate any rivals, and in that they share something in common with our God. Neither will He. If our country rejects serving Him, He will reject us. He has already begun.
At times like this, you need to slowly digest the words of Psalm 2, which I read to you now and commend to your meditation. When you hear God speaking of His Son, think of Jesus the King seated as Lord over the nations. When you hear of heathen nations fighting against His cords, think of countries like our own that are trying to throw off His laws. When you hear that He has an iron rod in His hand, think of how we have been smitten:
Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel." Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed all those who put their trust in Him.
Yes, I know a famous preacher got into a great deal of trouble with the media this week for stating that this act was God’s judgment. But he made two mistakes.
First, he tried to associate this terrorist act as a direct result of the sin of certain groups. Instead, we need to acknowledge our entire nation stands guilty before God for the wickedness that we have allowed to flourish here. He should have blamed the church first and foremost, for the church is guilty in not only tolerating but promoting our perversions.
The other mistake he then made was in trying to correct his first one. Not only did he apologize for it, he then went on to respond to the outcry by saying that these disasters were in no way God’s judgment, but only caused by the free choice of certain evil men. Let God be God, man! The Lord uses the perverted wickedness of men such as these terrorists to do His holy bidding. His wrath is kindled. We need not kiss up in fear to the talking heads to turn away their wrath; we must kiss the Son and repent of our evils, His wrath to turn. Teach the people the Lord will not stand idly by and watch their evil continue to grow. He shall, and He has, responded.
Finally, teach them that their God cannot be chosen by the people, but has been revealed to us.
If there is one thing seemingly associated with being an American, it is the freedom to choose. We elect our politicians, claiming that we live in a democracy. But the ideology of political freedoms has bled over into every other area of life in the States. Americans trumpet loudly their right to choose their lifestyles, regardless of how wicked or harmful they might be. We claim that we are also free to choose whatever god we desire.
As our leaders have declared war this past week, we have been told that what is at issue here is that the principles of democracy and pluralism have been attacked and must be defended. We have been told that the American spirit is strong, and will not be broken. That concerns me. Where is the sense of brokenness and repentance that should be there? I am not speaking of just the due mourning for what has happened and the lives that were lost. But where is the broken-heartedness and horrific shame we should have that something like this could have happened on our soil? Where is the question earlier generations would have known to ask: “Why did God allow this to happen?” No, we remain proud and exalted, calloused to what the true God may want to be teaching us. As we head to war it hardly seems possible that it could result in our defeat, but in our pride are we perhaps heading for more humiliation?
It is time for us to remember our nation’s history. As we continue on in this passage (see verses 7-11), can we not see parallels to Israel’s history and our own? Like Israel, America started small. God blessed our forefathers, and He has blessed us, not because we were greater than other nations, for indeed we were least. Had you asked the European nations a few centuries ago if this land of poor, backward, immigrant farmers would soon become the greatest nation on the earth, they would have laughed at the thought. But the hand of the Lord was upon the United States. Historical biographies, the Colonial charters, and the founding documents of our schools show that in many ways this was a developing nation seeking to be devoted to the Lord, the same God that Israel had known. Like Israel, the Lord blessed us with great faithfulness and prosperity as we sought in many ways to keep covenant with Him.
Yet Israel was also warned here (read verse 10) that if they began to hate God, they would be “repaid to their faces.” Eventually that happened to Israel, as their prosperity rather than their God became their trust, and enemies overcame their land. So has our prosperity led us to become intoxicated with the god of every religion, and if we continue in our present course we will see our land shattered. This nation did not choose its God. It is not Allah or Buddha that have blessed us. It is the Lord! And it will be the Lord who will remove that blessing.
Despite the current climate, we must rise to the true battle before us and with all our soul and every ounce of our strength give ourselves as the church to calling our nation back to the One true and living God. The truths we have reviewed this morning have been revealed to you. You know therefore that “the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps His covenant.”
Explain that to your confused neighbor, who attends church but thinks it's “neat” that Muslims, Jews, and Christians are all praying together. Teach your coworker that choosing any god you want to believe in may be what it means to them to be an American, but the true God calls it something else. Idolatry.
While in Elkhart last weekend with some pastors, we saw one of these yard signs with the Ten Commandments on it, with a slight twist to it. In bold letters on the side with red highlighting it said, in typical campaign fashion, “Elect Jesus!" One of us commented, “Well, at least they are making a connection between the Ten Commandments and Jesus. That usually isn’t the case anymore.” But another one said, “But to what office do they want us to elect Jesus? He already is the King of kings, the Lord over all the nations, chosen not by us but by God Himself.” Our land does not see that truth.
Friend, in the humble boldness of those who have had revealed to them the knowledge of the Lord, get your fellow citizen’s attention by telling them these terrorist attacks have far more to do with Jesus than Allah. Then explain why.
What a serious responsibility we have in the days that lie ahead.