Elihu Speaks

             I.      Introduction

We’ve been in the book of Job; we’ve studied Job’s loss, his suffering, then speech after speech from Job’s friends.  Today we’re going to study Elihu, or as I first asked when I started studying for this lesson – Eli Who?  I know everybody has been faithfully reading your scripture in preparation for today’s lesson, so here’s a pop quiz – which of Job’s friends is Elihu?  Is Elihu the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd of Job’s friends to speak?

The answer is d), none of the above.  Elihu often gets lumped in with Job’s 3 friends, but after spending a lot of time with Elihu during this study, I don’t think Elihu is like the three friends at all.  In fact, I think Elihu is a foreshadow to the Lord’s appearance to Job.

Biblical commentaries I studied both praised and condemned Elihu’s speech.  I think if you read it quickly and make Elihu the 4th friend, then you conclude Elihu to be a brash, young kid, speaking up to his elders.  Young whippersnappers should learn their place.

If you’re studying along with the bible study guide provided by the church, it generally says Elihu says the right things, but he applies it incorrectly to Job.  I’m not as sure; that’s not my conclusion after I completed my studies.  So let’s study together, and then decide.  First, let’s talk about who Elihu is not: Elihu is not one of Job’s three friends.

          II.      Job’s Three Friends

Job’s three friends were Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and they’re well known for giving incredibly long and theologically inept speeches.  The three friends begin talking in Job 2 and don’t shut up for like 300 pages.  And if you’re trying to live the good Christian life, don’t use their speeches as advice.  Not to say their words should be discarded; I used to joke that my mother would tell me, “Son, if you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.”  Job’s friends give crooked theologically advice that trip up every Christian at some point in their walk, so their words are instructive on what we should not do.

Eliphaz spoke first.  Eliphaz spoke of God’s perfect justice.  Therefore, if Job is suffering, it must be because of Job’s sin.  Is that true?  Well, maybe sometimes.  I can think of sin in my life that had really bad results, so I can see sin leading directly to punishment.  But Jesus specifically addresses this theological error in John 9:2-3,

And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

We can spend the entire lesson studying Jesus’ response; I think it even supports a sanctity of life argument.  But let’s just stop there and say that Eliphaz was wrong, Jesus said so.

Job’s 2nd friend, Bildad, spoke next.  Bildad’s position is that sinners can only expect death and suffering.  In fact, it was because Job’s children had sinned that they were killed.  Is that true?  Well, it is true that unrepentant sinners can expect death and suffering.  But not necessarily in this life.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-45,

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

I know there are some awful people that have prosperity and long life, but God will provide perfect justice according to His will someday.  Revelation 20:12-13 has a scary verse for unrepentant sinners,

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.

Eeek.  But this verse does not apply to Job who was righteous and still alive.  Also, it’s New Testament and hadn’t been written yet.

The third friend, Zophar, then piled more judgement onto Job.  Zophar said Job deserved to have lost his wealth and his entire family.  In fact, Job deserved even more suffering, and whatever sins Job was hiding, he should confess and repent.  Is that true?  Well, it is true that we deserve punishment for our sins, but it’s not true that all punishment is for our sins.  God gives us difficulties in this life that we cannot overcome on our own.  Paul had his thorn.  You have yours, and so do I.  And we keep that thorn as a reminder that we are not in control and cannot solve all of our own problems and we should continually turn to God for guidance and healing.  But it is not true that Job’s punishment was deserved.  We cannot see the mind of God, except for what He has revealed to us in His Word.

These were Job’s closest friends, giving Job really bad advice and telling Job he deserved it.  Sure they got a great many things right – when Job was suffering in Job 2, his friends came to sit with him quietly, and to mourn with Job.  They wept with him, they tore their clothes, they sprinkled dust on their heads.  And they sat with Job in empathetic silence for 7 days before they spoke.

But then they made a mistake by opening their mouths.  Not that you or I have ever done that, have we?  They opened their mouths and started their incredibly lengthy speeches that last nearly to the New Testament.  And they went on and on and on.  At one point, in Job 16:2, Job says

With friends like you, who needs enemies?

Actually, that’s a paraphrase.  Job actually said,

You are miserable comforters, all of you!

We can gain wisdom by studying what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar said, both the correct things and the incorrect thing.  If we have a friend that is suffering, encourage our friend to endure faithfully, knowing that God sees all and has a purpose for our pain.  Romans 12:15 says,

Mourn with those who mourn.

But let’s not be judgmental and tell our friend that they must have some hidden sin and they’re being punished for it.  With friends like that, who needs enemies?

       III.      Who is Elihu

And then there is Elihu who doesn’t show up until Job 32:2 –

Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger.

Elihu says a few words and disappears for a while.  Most people don’t even notice Elihu.  They’ve been reading poetic criticism of Job for 32 chapters already, verses that can be summed up like

  • You’re a sinner.  Repent.
  • You’re a sinner.  You deserve this.
  • You’re a sinner.  Repent.
  • You’re a sinner.  You deserve this.
  • You’re a sinner.  Repent.
  • You’re a sinner.  You deserve this.

You get the idea.  Your eyes have glazed over after reading 300 verses of bad theology.  You’re looking at the words over and over and they no longer make sense.  Perhaps you pause in the middle and take a nap.  I think the long drawn out speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are some of the most sleep-inducing verses, just behind all those “begat” statements most of us never get all the way through.  And so when Elihu arrives, we don’t even notice he’s not even one of Job’s friends.

Besides a little of Elihu’s genealogy, we know  –

  • Elihu is young (Job 32:4, 6)
  • Elihu is raving mad (Job 32:2,3, & 5)
  • Elihu is full of criticism for Job (Job 33:12, 34:7-8, Job 34:35-37, etc)

So here’s where understanding of Elihu goes sideways and leads to differences of opinions among theologians.  The source of the confusion is that in many ways, Elihu is just like the three friends.  Here –

  • Eliphaz: “Job has sinned” (Job 4:7, 15:4-6, 22:5)
  • Bildad: “Job has sinned” (Job 8:5-6, 18:4)
  • Zophar: “Job has sinned” (Job 11:6, 20:29)
  • Elihu: “Job has sinned” (Job 34:7, 37; 35:16)

So Elihu is just like the other three, right? 

There are some strong commentaries that support this, including the study guides we have for the book of Job.  In these commentaries, they focus on these similarities, and toss even more criticism on Elihu – they say that Elihu at first seems humble and willing to defer to the wisdom of his elders, then his youthful arrogance takes hold, and Elihu repeats all the same errors that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar made.  They say Elihu is unteachable, thinks he’s smarter than his elders, thinks he has all the answers.  He’s just a summary of what the other 3 said, but with the additional error of youthful arrogance.

Is that true?  The more I studied Elihu, the more I disagreed with that conclusion.  I think Elihu is more complex than that.  I think Elihu uses many of the same arguments the same friends did, but applies them to Job truthfully and in line with God’s wisdom.

So we see how Elihu is the same as the three friends, but let’s look at another comparison.  Later in the book of Job, God talks directly to Job.  During Job’s conversation with his 3 friends, Job says God is being unfair.  Job says God isn’t paying attention to His faithful servant.  Job says because Job is so faithful, he wants to appear in the Court of God and present his case, and God will surely find Job innocent.

To understand Elihu, we have to say something about Job first.  He begins in Job 1:1 –

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.

But by Job 38,

  • God call Job a faultfinder (Job 40:2)
  • God says Job speaks without knowledge (Job 38:2)
  • God says Job has put God in the wrong (Job 34:5-6)

In Job 42:6, Job repents in dust and ashes, and in response,

  • God clears Job of all charges (Job 42:7-8)

So it’s clear that, although Job begins the book blameless and upright, by Job 38, Job has revealed himself as a sinner.  Job then repents, and the Lord forgives.  Let’s look at Elihu’s statements –

  • Elihu accuses Job of finding fault with God (Job 33:9-11)
  • Elihu says Job speaks without knowledge (Job 34:35)
  • Elihu says Job has put God in the wrong (Job 34:5-6)
  • Elihu desires to justify Job of all charges (Job 33:32)

Whoa.  Elihu opened in Job 36 by saying that Elihu will be speaking on God’s behalf.  I think there is merit to that – Elihu makes the exact same points God does.

But that’s not really enough evidence to support Elihu – after all, we noted earlier that Elihu accused Job of sin, just like the three friends did.  So why would Elihu’s speech be any different?

We know that Elihu was a younger man who waited for all the speeches to end.   When Elihu spoke, Elihu was angry at Job because Job claimed his own righteousness before God.  Elihu was also angry at the three friends because they condemned Job unfairly.  Who gets to condemn Job fairly?  That is reserved for God Himself.

Though Elihu makes the same conclusion that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar make, Elihu’s argument is very different.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar argue over and over again, “You must have sinned, that’s why you suffer.  Repent!” 

Elihu makes a different case: “After your suffering began, then you began sinning.

The three friends are convinced Job is doing something secret and sinful.  They don’t know what it is, but Job’s suffering must be evidence of that sin, right?

But Elihu doesn’t make that accusation.  Elihu is listening to Job’s words, and saying it’s the words Job is speaking now that demonstrate sin.  Job’s arrogance, pride, anger.  Elihu is right.  By demanding his own justification before God, Job is displaying his own sin.

When we dig deeper into the speeches, there’s a lot of difference.  Sure, each speech is like 500 pages each, but each speech is different.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar give like 3 speeches each, and Job refutes each speech with a speech of his own.  I think Job gives a total of 8 speeches.

Elihu gets 4 speeches, and these lines are very illustrative in Job 33:31-33,

Pay attention, Job, listen to me;

Keep silent, and let me speak.

Then if you have anything to say, answer me;

Speak, for I would take pleasure in justifying you.

If not, listen to me;

Keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom.”

What does Job say?  Nothing.  Job has no response to Elihu.  I believe Job recognizes the wisdom of Elihu.  To the three friends, Job says, “You’re wrong!” but to Elihu, Job stands convicted.

We can also look at the evidence of Job’s sins.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have no evidence, only accusations, though Job challenges to provide any evidence in the early chapters, in Job 6:28-30.   Elihu, on the other hand, brings specific charges:

  • You say … (Job 33:8-11)
  • You say … ( Job 33:13)
  • You say … (Job 34:5-6)
  • You say … (Job 35:2-3)
  • You say … (Job 36:23)

Elihu himself says his words are different.  Elihu is angry at the three friends and Job – furious at the three friends for accusing Job without evidence, and furious at Job for his prideful and arrogant responses.  Elihu has something different to say, Job 32:14 –

“[Job] has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches.”

Job 32:3 says Elihu

“burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.”

          IV.      Elihu’s Declaration

 Elihu argued that there is a purpose, a greater meaning to Job’s sufferings.  They are designed to teach Job, to bring Job into a deeper understanding of God.   And Elihu admonishes Job in Job 36:19-21,

Will your cry for help keep you from distress,

Or all the exertions of your strength?

Do not long for the night,

When people vanish in their places.

Be careful, do not turn to evil,

For you preferred this to misery.

There is wisdom here.  When afflictions come, when pain and suffering arrives, when death is knocking at your door or has taken a loved one away, Each one of us will try to find comfort.  Some turn to evil.  Their misery makes them bitter, and they want to take their own revenge on somebody, anybody.  Sometimes they blame God for being uncaring or unknowing.  They go through this logic I mentioned back in our study of Job 1 and the purpose of a trainwreck in our lives –

  • If God is truly all-loving, then He would not allow evil and suffering.
  • If God is truly all-powerful, then He would have the power to stop evil and suffering.
  • But evil and suffering exist, maybe God isn’t all loving?  Or maybe not all-powerful?  Or maybe He doesn’t even exist?

And in their misery, the weak in faith turn to evil, revenge, bitterness, hate.  The godless become angry and accuse God.  The righteous who suffer, on the other hand, turn to God, submit to His instructions, and learn from it.  Elihu cautions Job not to turn to evil in his misery.

Where should Job turn?  Elihu continues in Job 36:22-26,

Behold, God is exalted in His power;

Who is a teacher like Him?

Who has appointed Him His way,

And who has said, ‘You have done wrong’?

“Remember that you are to exalt His work,

Of which people have sung.

All people have seen it;

Mankind looks at it from afar.

Behold, God is exalted, and we do not know Him;

The number of His years is unsearchable.

We cannot truly fathom all that God it.  All we see is what God has revealed to us through His Word, and that allows us only to see through the glass darkly.

            V.      Conclusion

I believe Elihu paves the way for God’s declarations in the latter chapters of Job.  Elihu says to the three friends that, despite their age, they are not wise, and true wisdom comes from the spirit of God.  And then Elihu goes straight to the heart of Job’s problem.  Elihu accuses Job in 34:23 that Job is setting himself up as an equal of God, demanding that God be accountable, and that is Job’s arrogance and sin.  Elihu observes correctly that Job, instead of bringing his misery to the Lord, Job had turned to evil and accused the Lord of being unfair and unavailable.

Amazingly, God speaks immediately after Elihu.  God says in Job 42:7, clearly condemning their advice –

“I am angry with you [Eliphaz] and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me.”

Whose name is missing?  Elihu.  God is angry at the three friends, and then elaborates on the same themes that Elihu made. 

I believe there is a lot of confusion about Elihu because he sounds just like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  All four draw the same conclusion: Job has sinned.  But as we dig deeper into the verses, we see that what Elihu means is not what they mean.  Elihu’s speeches ring with truth desperately needed by any innocent sufferer:

  • God has not been silent; he speaks through your pain (Job 32-33).
  • God is not unjust; he will eventually strike the wicked (Job 34).
  • Righteous living is not pointless, though we are insignificant next to God (Job 35).
  • You’re in no place to criticize God; remember to fear him (Job 36-37).

Elihu then launches into one of the most-profound declarations of praise of the Lord God in all of the Bible, and then God reinforces Elihu’s fourth point with some of his most aggressive and fear-inducing words in all the Bible, declaring the awe-inducing, almighty power and wisdom of the creator of the universe in Job 38-41, which Tony and Koren will happily tell you about over the next two weeks.

May we all repent of our pride before the Lord and humble ourselves before Him.  Let us learn from our sufferings, turning to the only true source of comfort.  Let us always remember to fear Him, for fear is the beginning of all wisdom

To God be the Glory.  Amen.

The Wrath of God

A study of Zephaniah 1

   I.      Introduction

Wrath of God

The wrath of God by John Piper:

I thank the Lord again for my opportunity to serve Him today, and I pray my words are full of His truth today.  Often my lessons have some humor, some lightheartedness because I truly believe that being a child of God should be a joyous occasion and bible study should be a happy place.  Today’s lesson is from the minor prophet Zephaniah, and I do not know how to present this in a lighthearted way.  In many ways, lessons on encouragement and love and kindness are easier to teach than fire and brimstone.

One of the things I like about Second’s bible studies is that, if you stick around long enough, we will study every book in the bible every 7 years, including little three-chapter books like Zephaniah, tucked in between Habakkuk and Haggai.  It may be a little book, but the first chapter alone has a powerful message.  It’s not comfortable, it’s not warm, it’s not fuzzy and feel-good … but it’s the Bible and it’s a Revelation from God and of God.

Tim mentioned a few weeks ago if I believed God was still a God of wrath, and I answered in the affirmative.  Little did I know that that very lesson would be given to me to study and to teach.

I was so concerned about the tone of today’s lesson that I ran it by one of the Second Baptist pastors this week.  He made a few tweaks, suggested some small changes, and he is now hiding under his bed waiting for the thunder and lightning to begin.  One of his insights, though, was that if I felt that a study of God’s wrath was difficult, imagine what it was like for Zephaniah, bringing these words to the Jewish people?

Not much is known about Zephaniah.  He lived about 640 BC, he prophesied in the days of King Josiah, and was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  The purpose of his prophecy was to speak out against religious and moral corruption and idolatry in Jerusalem.  His prophecy was fulfilled a few decades later when Jerusalem collapsed under a wave of immigrants.

Let’s turn to Zephaniah 1:1-6 and see the prophecy of the Day of Judgment of the entire earth.

The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
“I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
the very names of the idolatrous priests—
those who bow down on the roofs
to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
and who also swear by Molek,
those who turn back from following the Lord
and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

Have we been led to believe that our God is only capable of love?  That Yahweh is not capable of anger?  That Jehovah God incapable of wrath and justice?  Do we simply discard scripture that deals with His anger and wrath?  Is our God limited and powerless against evil?

If we do not know that God hates pride, arrogance, and evil, then we do not know Yahweh.  Proverbs 8:13,

To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.

If we do not believe that God Almighty will right every wrong, then we do not know Yahweh.  2 Thessalonians 1:5-9,

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.  God is just: 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 glory of his might.

God’s wrath in the Old Testament gives us examples of His tolerance for disobedience and sin.  In the Old Testament, we can see God’s balance between love and justice and mercy.  When Egypt held the Jews in captivity and in the fullness of time God when reached out to save his people, the Egyptians received God’s wrath.  Psalm 78:43-48,

the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the region of Zoan.
He turned their river into blood;
they could not drink from their streams.
He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
and frogs that devastated them.
He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
their produce to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
He gave over their cattle to the hail,
their livestock to bolts of lightning.

Against Pharaoh who had hardened his heart against God, God turned their river into blood, sent swarms of biting flies and frogs, sent locusts to devour their crops, destroyed their vineyards with hail and sleet, destroyed their livestock with lightning.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of eradication of sin that sometimes involved destruction.  The plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood of Noah, the destruction of Jerusalem.

It says in Psalm 78:49,


He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility—
a band of destroying angels.
He prepared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death
but gave them over to the plague.

Satan is most certainly behind all evil in this world, but Satan uses mankind to carry out his evil ways.  God’s fury, God’s burning anger, calamity, and result of his anger is against mankind who serves Satan.  God has been unjustly accused by Satan and mocked by unfaithful mankind.  We have been offensive and insulting.  This pride and arrogance on the part of man leads to calamity, a mighty correction of the perversion of justice we have done.

I want you to note carefully here that these plagues are not brought about by Satan, but by God.  God is a warrior and will destroy evil.  These end times plagues and judgments, the very wrath of God serve a purpose to cleanse His creation of all evil.

As Christians, we need to be able to reconcile the God of Love with the God of Wrath.  Churches that teach only prosperity or love are teaching a watered down version of Truth that neglects to tell people the source of evil, the effects of evil, and the ultimate judgment of evil.

Our God is Love.  Our God is Wrath.  How do you explain this dichotomy? Or sometimes, the question is phrased this way:  How can a loving God send people to hell?

We’ll come back to that question, but first, let’s take a look at ourselves.  We are made in God’s image, and we know we are capable of love.  But if someone lies to us, applies a false label to us, accuses us unjustly, do we not get angry?  If we are capable of both love and anger, then it should not be hard to believe that our God who created us can be both loving and full of righteous anger.

We have a God of love, a God of beauty.  But we also have a God of justice.  A God who will judge the wicked, righting all wrongs.  God hates sin.  Intellectually, we know this, and we approve of this.  God should punish the wicked.  But we’re only ok with this philosophy as long as God is punishing others.  “God, while I was changing lanes, that man cut me off.  Smite him, Lord, either in this life or the next.”  But our own sin?  “God, I only stole because I needed it.  Forgive me, Lord.”

 

II.      Revelation

What does the future hold for sinners?  When we ask ourselves about all the evil in the world, what will God do?  We have to go to the back of the bible, the book of Revelation, to see.  (Just as an aside, after our study of the minor prophets, we will be studying Revelation this summer, ironically while it is hot as blazes out there.)  Revelation describes end times philosophy, it begins with a greeting to the seven churches who served the Lamb of God, then gives praises to the king, and every creature in heaven and earth saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”   In Revelation 6, The Lamb of God begins to open the seals of judgment against the earth, and the 4th seal, well let’s read Revelation 6:7-11,

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”  I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Then, the martyrs who have died for God beg God for justice (Revelation 6:9-11,

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Who can stand from the wrath of God?  Revelation 6:15-17,

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

Here the wrath of God has not yet begun, but just opening the seals of judgment was terrifying enough that people hid in caves and begged for the mountains to fall on them.

In Revelation 8-9, the Seven Trumpets then announce the approach of God’s final judgment, and Revelation 9:20, mankind still refuses to give up idol worship.  By Revelation 14, the Seven Angels bring Seven Plagues, and Revelation 17 the Seven Bowls full of the wrath of God are poured out upon the earth, punishment to wicked men for their evil ways.  And even while the bowls of wrath are poured out over man, man curses God and refuses to repent.

God will destroy this evil in His creation, just as He said He would do.  Evil will be destroyed, and Satan will be bound and cast into the Lake of Fire to burn forever.  And those men that choose not to worship God, who choose to do evil in His sight, whose carnal desires are living away from the one true God, will receive the justice they deserve.  God will not be mocked.  Back to our minor prophet Zephaniah 1: 14-18,

The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
That day will be a day of wrath—
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness—
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
“I will bring such distress on all people
that they will grope about like those who are blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
Their blood will be poured out like dust
and their entrails like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.

III.      Where are we?

We are mankind.  We are all sinners, born of original sin.  Born to make a choice in this world, who we will serve and honor.  We are all born from the father of lies.  We are born into sin.  We want to sin.  We are slaves to sin.

And when I say “we,” I mean everyone is born into sin.  Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  And the consequences are dire.  Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”  The world is under God’s judgment, and we have been warned.  God’s wrath is upon all men.   We are all dead.  Ephesians 2:1-3,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

 

In Jeremiah 5:7-9, God’s people have asked for mercy, but God tells them adamantly that their sins will be their destruction.


“Why should I forgive you?
Your children have forsaken me
and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs,
yet they committed adultery
and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for another man’s wife.
Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

As a people, as a nation, we are so far from God’s purpose, but we have become hardened and used to evils.  We like our evils.   What we once tolerated, we now celebrate.  We are in the midst of the end times, where evil is called good and good is evil.  Mankind has proven itself to be of Satan, and mankind celebrates it.  We should fear God, holy and righteous, who not only has the power to judge what is good and what is evil, but he has the right.  All sin will be destroyed in judgment and in the lake of fire.  The sinner inside each of us will be judged and found wanting.  Hebrews 10:30-31 says,

For we know [God] who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Our God is a consuming fire, and we are without excuse.

IV.      Who then can be saved?

Is there no hope?  If we are born in sin, and celebrate our sin, and die by our sin, is there no hope?

Not by our own strength.  Even the apostle Paul famously said he continues to do what he does not want to do.  The apostle Paul was a sinner, deserving of judgment and God’s wrath.  You and I are sinners and deserving of God’s wrath.  We can say that since we are churchy people, we are good and holy, but that is untrue.  1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus’ disciples worried, too.  In Matthew 19, the rich man asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life, and Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  Wealth, both then and now, are often seen as blessings, rewards for a life well-lived.  It was thought by others the man was wealthy because God had found favor with him, but Jesus said, no, he too is condemned.  And the disciples cried out, “who then can be saved?”

Who indeed?  Who is righteous among us if we are all sinners?  How do you reconcile the God of beauty, of creation, of truth and righteousness with the God of revenge and wrath and destruction?

We have all sinned.  Little white lies, or even the truth can be sinful if we’re being hurtful.  Gossip, adultery, pride, lies, murder, stealing.  What are some of the things God hates?  Romans 1:18-32,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

We are bound for destruction, the penalty for sin is death.  We have no place next to the pure holy Jehovah God with even the tiniest sin.  And His wrath will be complete, and we are right to fear God’s wrath.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

We need help.  If the punishment for sin is death, then we need somebody else to *be* sin and die for us.  We need a savior.  Somebody fully man who understands life’s trials and temptations, yet remained fully innocent.  He would have to be innocent; the guilty cannot take the punishment for another person when he himself is guilty.  And not just a man who can take the place of one person, but someone who can take away the sins of the world.  We need Jesus.  Oh Lord, how we need Jesus.

There is cause for celebration in the midst of our message today.  Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  He took the punishment we deserve.  We are saved from the destruction and the wrath of God we deserve.  Hallelujah.

Our holy God of Wrath and justice is also a God of mercy and hope and ultimate love.  Our God has always given His people hope. John 3:16-18,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

That’s ultimate love and sacrifice.  I stand deserving of the wrath of God for the sins I’ve committed.  I deserve punishment.  But God so loved me that he sacrificed His only son to take the wrath I deserve.  And God so loved you, that he gave up His son to take the wrath for you.  Not because we’re such fabulous people, but he did this for us while we were still sinners and deserving of wrath.  Why?  Because we have a beautiful living awesome God of love and mercy and forgiveness.  I don’t know why God loves me, but I am so grateful that He does.  He’s forgiven my sins, clothed me in the blood of Jesus, lets me walk boldly to His throne with my prayers, and has made me His adopted son.  I am a child of the one true king.  Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did.  I am no longer condemned.  Jesus saves, Amen.

So let’s go back to our earlier question, “how can a loving God condemn people to hell?”  It’s not the right question.  The question completely misses the character of God.  God’s wrath will come to those who deserve it, and God’s mercy and grace will come to His people who do not deserve it.  A better question might be, “Why are any of us saved?”  God has provided a savior for us, freely available to all who choose it.  He has reached out His mighty hand and asks us to take it so we may live.  It is available to everyone.  It was the purpose of Jesus, to save us.  We often refer to Jesus as our Savior, but do we truly grasp what He saved us from, the Wrath of God?  1 John 3:8 says,

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

We may be saved from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, but God still hates sin, even this sin in us.  But as children of God, it is not God we war with.  We battle Satan and His plans, we put on our full armor of God and brandish the sword of truth.  God still hates the sin we think, the sin we speak, and the sin we do.  But on that Day of Judgment, we escape the punishment because our savior has already paid for our sins.  God’s full wrath was on Jesus that day and God poured out His wrath painfully on Jesus who became sin for us so that we might live.

God’s judgment on the world is still yet to come.  Why has God not yet pronounced judgment?  That day is coming quickly.  2 Peter 3:8-10 says,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

So that no one may perish, He stays his wrath.  God has so far exhibited two thousand years of patience with us, but one day God’s justice will demand satisfaction.  Time is running out.  God loved you will you were yet a sinner; who do you love?  God forgave you while you were still a sinner; who will you forgive?  Spread the Good News that Jesus loves them, too.  They just have to accept the free gift, to allow God’s son to bear the burden for their sin.  Evangelize.  Save those who you love.  And who do you love?  Family, friends, and the good book says we are to love our enemies.  God gave his son for the world, so that no one may perish.

But one day his patience will end.  Time is running out.  The coming of Man will be sudden, God will call the righteous home and promises that all the indignities that we have suffered, the abuse we endured for His sake, He will avenge, He will make right.  His wrath will be poured out.  It is not for us to fight that battle; revenge and wrath belongs to the Lord.

It is time for all of God’s selected to accept the gift of life that God has freely offered.  Tell others that time is running out.  John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

It is a fearful thing to know that God’s wrath awaits.  Philippians 3:18-20,

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even in the wrath described in Zephaniah 1:7 we find hope –

Be silent before the Sovereign Lord,
for the day of the Lord is near.
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited.

  V.      Conclusion

When will this Day of Judgment come?  Scripture tells us that no one knows the day or the hour.  That’s why the time to accept our Savior is urgent.

Are you ready?

Time is running out, the wrath of God approaches.  Choose life.  Choose Jesus.

To God be the glory.

It’s Not My Fault!

I. Introduction

Ezekiel 18 opens with a discussion of a proverb, “”The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” I thought, for illustrative purposes, I’d go to HEB and buy a bunch of sour grapes, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I guess they were all sold out. Super popular, those sour grapes. Anyway, I bought some Extreme Sour Warheads. I’ll need a volunteer, Chris. I want to try an experiment to see if this proverb is true. Those of you in the class, can you tell how sour this candy is? Does it make your face pucker just thinking about how sour the candy that somebody else ate is? Well, I don’t want anybody to be left out of this face-puckering illustration, so pass the box around and everybody help yourself.

Well, I’m going to make an observation that the proverb we’re going to study today is not true.

II. Sour Grapes and Other Bad Proverbs, Ezekiel 18:1-3

In the meantime, let’s open to the book of Ezekiel, chapter 18, verses 1-3. The prophet Ezekiel says:

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.

As we’ve seen, just because Chris ate an Extreme Sour Warhead, my teeth were not set on edge, my face didn’t pucker. And like the Lord says, “you will no longer quote this proverb,” it doesn’t appear in the book of Proverbs.

Let’s put our lesson today in the context of time – what’s going on, and when. The Assyrian empire was an early world superpower, and at its height ruled much of the middle east, including modern-day Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Palestine and Cyprus, together with large swaths of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Libya, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But with the death of the Assyrian king in 627 BC, civil war erupted.

map

During this time, Egypt regained independence, and then seized Judah and made it a vassal state, and Jehoiakim was installed as king of Judah. But then Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (wouldn’t that be a great name for a rock band?) defeated Egypt during a crucial battle and seized Judah. Jehoiakim must have thought this was a good time to revolt and regain their freedom, but Nebuchadnezzar crushed the revolt, killed Jehoiakim, and took 10,000 Jews, including our prophet Ezekiel, to Babylon.

Egypt was still fighting the Babylonians, and they promised Judah military support in another rebellion against the Babylonians. Different factions in Judah developed – some wanted to side with the Egyptians and revolt. Others, including the prophet Jeremiah, warned against another revolt, remain in Babylonian captivity.

The occupation of Judah, first by Egypt and then by Babylonians, were the result of the rebellion of the people of Judah and God’s discipline. But the people living in Jerusalem at the time took no responsibility on their own. The blamed their problems on previous generations. They sinned, rebelled, offered gifts to false idols, worshipped pagan gods, they were rebellious and disobedient, engaged in sexual immorality, there were dogs and cats living together, and the people threw up their hands, saying, “Hey, it’s not my fault. It’s my parent’s fault, and my grandparent’s fault. *They* are the ones who sinned. They made me who I am. And it’s not fair for God to punish *me* for what they did. My parents ate sour grapes, and my teeth are set on edge. I can still taste what they ate. God isn’t fair.”

In essence, the people of Judah claimed that they were not responsible for their own sins. The sins were the result of something their parents did, so they weren’t responsible. The blamed their ancestors and perhaps God Himself, and the people of Judah are simply being punished for the sins of their fathers.

Where did they get this idea? One likely source is the beginning of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 which begins:

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The Lord’s Words, of course, are true. In many respects, we are the product of our upbringing and our environment. Whatever life our parents chose to live and the other choices they made have an impact on us, and likewise our grandparent’s choices had an impact on our parents. But while past sins influence our lives for generations, they are not an excuse for our behavior. In other words, we are not always responsible for our circumstances, but we are always responsible for our response to those circumstances. How we react is entirely up to us.

Ezekiel tells us the Lord holds us individually responsible with several examples:

First, the case of a righteous man. Let’s call him the Righteous Grandfather. Turn to Ezekiel 18:5,

“Suppose there is a righteous [Grandfather] who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife […], he does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live,” declares the Sovereign Lord.

In other words, the Lord is pleased with the Righteous Grandfather because he does what is right. But let’s say Righteous Grandfather has a son. We’ll call him the Faulty Father. Righteous Grandfather was so pleasing to the Lord that the Lord will give the Faulty Father some of that good credit, won’t he?

Ezekiel says no, Faulty Father is faulty and will take the blame for his own actions. Look at Ezekiel 18:10-13 (and I’m going to use the Michael’s Abridged Translation because the Faulty Father’s rotten behavior is the exact opposite of Righteous Grandfather:

Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them): Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.

No credit for his Righteous Grandfather there; no fix for Faulty Father’s fantastic first-class failures. But then Faulty Father has a Super Son who does what is right. Surely he takes some of the blame for what his Faulty Father did, right? Ezekiel 18:14-19, again Michael’s Abridged Translation,

But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.”

So, Super Son’s sacrificial service saves his soul from supernatural servitude in Sheol. Faulty Father may have led a terrible sinful life that surely had an influence on his son, but the son alone is responsible for his actions. If he does what is right, the Lord is pleased with him.

The Prophet sums it all up in Exodus 18:20:

“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”

One would think this settles it; if you’re wicked, you’re wicked, and if you’re good, you’re good. But the stubborn people of Judah would still like to lay the blame somewhere. “It’s not our fault!” they exclaim. Well, if it isn’t their own fault, and it isn’t their parent’s fault… then it must be God’s fault. It was God who punished our parents, and I’m having to live with the punishment! God is not fair!”

God answers this charge directly; the people of Judah cannot charge God with being unfair because God, by His very nature, is fair and just. By what standard can we use to judge, if not the standard of God? The Lord again speaks through Ezekiel, verses 25-29:

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

Well, I’m having a little trouble here finding somebody to blame. The Lord says I can’t blame my parents, and I can’t blame my circumstances, and I can’t blame the Lord. Who’s left to blame? Who should they blame?

III. Take Responsibility, Ezekiel 18:29-32

The Lord God tells them to man-up. Take responsibility, there is no one else to blame. Ezekiel 18:29-32, the challenge from the proverb:

“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

Get a new heart and a new spirit. Rid yourselves of all offenses. Repent and live.

God doesn’t pleasure in the death of anyone, including the wicked. God would have all come to repentance, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. God’s message, through Ezekiel, is clear. The people of Judah may object, yes, but they cannot claim they do not understand the message. Repent and live.

Our world is like that today. John 3:16-21 says,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.

It’s been the same message from the beginning. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, hiding in shame due to their original sin. God said, the garden is yours, just don’t eat the fruit of this one tree. And of course they ate it, and then the finger-pointing begins. Adam blaming Eve *and* God simultaneously, “This woman, who you made, gave me the fruit.” And Eve says, “Me? Wasn’t my fault. The serpent tricked me.” And if there was anything about this story that disturbs me is that the serpent doesn’t blame anyone.

And the people of Israel in the time of Moses: God had just finished amazing them by leading them out of Egypt. There were ten plagues and there were pillars of fire and then, while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the people make a golden calf to worship. Their excuse? “We don’t know what happened to Moses! We need to make a god to worship!” So Aaron, Moses’ second in command, collects all the gold, melts it in the fire, and makes a golden calf. And the worst excuse I’ve ever heard throughout history is in Exodus 32, Moses asks Aaron, “Why did you do that?” And Aaron answers, “The people gave me the gold and I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!”

And today? Here’s a story from Ewing, NJ. Florence Schreiber Powers, age 44, was on trial for shoplifting two watches, and called her psychiatrist to testify that Florence Powers was under stress at the time of the incident and was unaware of her actions from “one minute to the next” for the following 19 reasons: a recent auto accident, a traffic ticket, a new-car purchase, overwork, husband’s kidney stones, husband’s asthma (and breathing machine that occupies their bedroom), menopausal hot flashes, an “ungodly” itch, a bad rash, fear of breast cancer, fear of dental surgery, son’s need for an asthma breathing machine, mother’s and aunt’s illnesses, need to organize her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, need to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 20 relatives, purchase of 200 gifts for Christmas and Chanukah, attempt to sell her house without a realtor, lawsuit against wallpaper cleaners, purchase of furniture that had to be returned, and a toilet in her house that was constantly running. She was convicted anyway.

It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death, rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. But in order to do that, we have to recognize the source of our disobedience. Our disobedience doesn’t come from our parents or our location or our circumstance or our friends or our children or our spouse or a cheeseburger or Nordstrom’s or an Apple iPhone or the government or our boss. Regardless of our circumstances, our disobedience comes from within us.

IV. Deliver Us from Evil

Many times we want to do the right thing, but sometimes the right thing is too hard. Or the wrong thing is too easy. I think Paul said it best in Romans 7:14-24:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Thanks be to God who delivers us through Christ Jesus. We are afraid to take ownership of our sin and say, “The blame rests on me. I did it.” Because we want to value ourselves more highly than we should or we fear the punishment of being bad. Especially if we have to face the almighty power and glory of God and say, “Look what a mess I did.”

But that’s exactly what God would have us do. Say to God, “Look what a mess I did. Look what a mess I am.” And it’s still the same message today as it was in Ezekiel’s time, God takes no pleasure in death, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. We accept the grace and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit, we get a new heart of forgiveness and humility, we repent of our sins, and we live forever in Him.

We do not have to be afraid of the punishment God would have as a sacrifice for our sin. I want to make sure you fully understand this point; there is no punishment, but often times there is God’s discipline. There is a huge difference. Punishment looks backward in anger and wrath and demands a price for the offense. Discipline looks forward in mercy and kindness in order to make our paths straight. If we eat too much, our weight is our punishment, going to the gym is discipline. If we shop too much, credit card debt is our punishment, a budget for future spending is discipline. God does not punish his children, but he may discipline them.

Our sins still demand God’s justice and His wrath and His punishment, but the Good News, the gospel, is that Christ has already born the stripes for our transgressions, He has paid the price, He has willingly accepted our punishment. We’re still in Romans 7, right where we left off, but let’s continue into Romans 8:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Why can we be brave and confess? Because there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We are not going to surprise God with how bad we are. God already knows. But God so loved the world, including you and me, *especially* you and me, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Our sin has already been paid for. God wants us to confess it to Him and instead of punishment, we receive cleansing. We receive peace. We receive grace, God’s favor on the undeserving. While we are wretched sinners, God doesn’t see us as wretched sinners. If we read further down in Romans 8, verse 14,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

We cry, “Abba, Father.” We can confess freely our sins to God because we have already been forgiven. One of the great mysteries of God’s creation is that if only just admit our sins to God and confess our unworthiness and say, “I did it, it’s my fault, and I’m sorry,” God separates us from those sins as far as the east is from the west, and instead of wretched sinners, we become children of the Living God. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

V. Conclusion

Ezekiel’s message to the people of Judah from the Lord hasn’t changed in 2600 years. Stop blaming others, accept responsibility for our thoughts, our behaviors, and our sins. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid ourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.

God promises to forgive us all trespasses and make us heirs in the kingdom of God. Amazing grace. To God be the glory.