Yesterday was a lesson in God’s goodness. First, the trees that fell didn’t hurt anyone or damage our house or the church. Second, Doug brought his chain saw to clear a path to our front door. Third, Brian graciously gave me electricity and internet and a place to study and write my sermon, and dinner on top of that. Fourth, when their generator ran out of diesel Bill happened along and filled the tank. Isn’t God good? There is an old, popular saying in Christian circles: God is good all the time and all the time, God is good. It rolls off our tongue so easily as to sound trite and cliché. We usually say that when it’s obvious God is good, so obvious that it doesn’t take any faith to say it. Is God really good and is He good all the time? What about all the bad things that happen in our world and in our lives? What if God had not done any of those good things yesterday, would He still be good? Let’s start with that foundational truth, God alone is good.
Introduction. For decades, no for centuries, no for millennia believers in God have cried out in their misery and suffering, “How long?” That question has a very long history. Psalm 13:1-2 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? “How long?” has been the prayer of those in sickness and exile, of refugees and slaves, of those in bondage and addiction, of those suffering staggering loses. Hurting people cry for relief, bullied and oppressed people want fairness, the pushed down seek dignity. How long do they have to put up with the arrogance of the mighty, the meanness of the strong? How long do they have to endure man’s inhumanity to man? This world is filled with injustices, small and great. Every child has an instinctive moral sense when something is not fair. Every delay deepens the frustration and despair. How long? John’s first answer was not what anyone expected.
What is truth? When Jesus stood before Pilate and said He came to bear witness to the truth, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” For the past two thousand years philosophers and theologians, politicians and scientists, poets and bloggers have been trying to answer that question. The sound they make is as one man put it, “like the sound of empty pails falling down the cellar stairs” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p. 94). When Pilate asked Jesus the question, how did Jesus answer? He just stood there, He just stood there in front of Pilate staring right into his soul. The Truth just stood there. It was one of the greatest ironies in human history, the Truth of God standing right there in front of him and he’s questioning, “What is truth?” The judge of the people without a clue. Pilate is the modern man, or I should really say the post-modern man. What is truth? Is there really any such thing as truth, are there any absolutes? And who is the final arbiter of truth? For us in this post-modern culture of ours each individual and his own experience is the judge and arbiter of truth. We each have our own personal and subjective perspective and who is anyone else to argue with or challenge us. Each of us gets to do whatever is best in our own eyes. Of course this means that no one can ultimately be right or wrong. This means that the Christian faith can only be subjective and experiential. You have seen those Coexist bumper stickers with the symbols of a bunch of religions. The implication is all religions are equal, equally true and equally false, so let’s just tolerate each other and realize whatever we believe tolerance is more important than truth. But the truth of the matter is truth is not determined by political correctness. Truth is not determined by the shifting sands of time and culture. Truth is not determined by majority votes or Supreme Court decisions. Truth is not determined by the Pilates of the world, nor is it toppled by the questionings of the Pilates of the world. The question is not what is truth, but who is truth?
Are you beginning to sense the pattern of cycles in Revelation? We keep starting over with sevens. We keep hearing about the end of time but with different images or analogies. The seven seals ended with the final judgment, and the seven trumpets ended the same way. You can’t outline Revelation on a straight line chart, it is more of a series of overlapping circles, sort of like one of those roller coasters that takes you in a series of loops, each one a little scarier than the last. Now we come to the cycle called the seven bowls and it will conclude with a great judgment at the end of chapter 16. The seven bowls of the seven plagues form this next major section of Revelation But before we get to the seven bowls themselves we are given a prelude of things to come that describes a scene in heaven.
Adam lived 930 years. Methuselah set the record at 969 years. He was the father of Noah who lived 950 years and had his three boys after he was 500. If Methuselah had died today he would have been born in 1046. If he was born today he would live until 2984. Now that’s old. That’s a long time until you begin to think about eternity and then a thousand years is less than a drop in the ocean. If a thousand years is a day and a day is a thousand years to God then by God’s math old Methuselah didn’t even live one whole day, he only got to 969. How can we comprehend how long eternity is? James Joyce, in his 1916 classic novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, gives a description of eternity that has been borrowed and revised many times over. Imagine a mountain of sand a million miles tall and deep and wide. Three times past the moon, a million cubic miles of sand. Once every million years a little bird comes and carries off one grain in his beck. Try to imagine the millions of millennia, the billions of eons upon eons of ages before the once in a million years bird carried off the entire mountain grain by grain by grain. When that immeasurably vast mountain of sand was gone that would be one second off the eternity clock. The mere thought makes our head spin. And for the next second of eternity you would have to start the process all over again, another million cubic miles of sand. Eternity. As we have been reflecting on the attributes of God this summer it’s becoming quite clear that there are no limits to God. He is not hemmed in by any boundaries or limitations. His knowledge and wisdom is perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. His power is absolute, whatever He wills to do He can do. His presence fills all the universe, there is no place where God is not. The dimension of time doesn’t limit God in anyway. God is always, from everlasting to everlasting.
As I read this part of Revelation did you think well finally something in Revelation that I almost understand. We know a thing or two about harvests around here. And we remember the parable of Jesus about the wheat and the weeds (tares), where the wheat is gathered in and the weeds are thrown into the fire. John has a vision of two harvesters and two harvests, two reapings of the earth. The first harvester is called one like the son of man and the second is an angel. It appears the two harvests are different and what happens to them is different. We have before us yet another of several descriptions of another aspect of the Second Coming. There will be a close of the age, an end to time and it will be like a great harvest.
I have here our church directory from about 1985. Wow, I mean wow, have you all ever changed. You have change hair style and color and amount, look at the size of those glasses and all those mustaches, and the change in the number and sizes of these kids. We live in a world filled with change. Just look at a 50 year old map of Africa. It seems like everything is changing, that nothing is fixed and stable anymore. Even what we thought were absolutes, seem relative now, old truths are giving way to new opinions. I often reflect with our 80 plus year old members that they have seen more change in their lifetime than any other generation that has ever lived and maybe more than any generation to come. There are several among us who remember horse and buggy and no electricity and no phones and no indoor plumbing. And now we are taking pictures of Pluto and pictures of ourselves with phones that have more computer capabilities than NASA had when they launched John Glenn into space in 1962. But actually it has always been like this in our world. Change is an inescapable part of our world, birth, growth, death, rising and falling, coming and going, the endless cycle of seasons. We talk about climate change like it’s a new thing, when that’s what climate has always done, change. Change is the one constant. In our summer series on the attributes of God we come this week to God’s unchangeableness. Again this morning we will seek to get a better understanding of the mysteries of our infinitely holy God and we will conclude with how this matters to us today, what difference it makes in our daily lives and daily struggles. Are you eager to learn all you can about the God with whom you will be spending eternity? Wayne Grudem: God is unchangeable in His being (essence), nature (perfections), and in His purposes and promises. But God does act and feel emotions, and He acts and feels differently in response to different situations.