My goal this morning is to move us out of our spiritual complacency. It is essential to our eternal souls that we have an encounter with the living God. Apart from Him we are nothing, we have nothing, we will come to nothing. Only in Him do we live and move and breath. Do you know God? I mean do you really know God? An unknown God can neither be trusted, served nor worshipped. Consider with me some divine, holy encounters with God in human history.
We come this morning to the last attribute and perhaps the toughest attributes to talk about. This is that attribute of God that some Christians feel like they have to apologize for. There might even be someone here who is a bit embarrassed their pastor is talking about this out loud. God’s wrath certainly isn’t an attribute that we think should be cause for worship, something we should thank God for and praise Him for. This attribute is closely related to several other of God’s attributes such as God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s jealousy, God’s justice. I think it will help us get a handle of this attribute if I approach it through a brief consideration of God’s jealousy and God’s justice. This will give us a better context for understanding God’s wrath.
We have spent the summer looking into the character and nature of God through His attributes. Americans in general and Christians in particular on the whole have a very anemic and shallow view of God partly because we have not spent time seriously reflecting on what the Scriptures teach us about God. This weak and shallow understanding comes to light especially as we look at the last two attributes. Love and wrath. I have saved two of the biggest attributes for last. I debated with myself about which I should do first. Should I do wrath first and get that out of the way and end on the high note of love? Or should I do love first so we have a context for understanding wrath as coming from a loving God? My choice is obvious, but one of my reasons will be clear next week.
In India cows are holy. Muslims wage Holy War. Catholics have holy water. Monty Python searched for the Holy Grail. Israel is called the Holy Land. We observe holy week. What is truly holy today? What is truly sacred? Is anything sacred anymore? Have we lost a sense of what is holy? Have we become so familiar with what is unholy that we have made our peace with it and become comfortable with it? Does anything make us blush or ashamed? With easy divorce, marriage is no longer sacred. With abortion, life is no longer sacred. With sexual immorality, sex is no longer sacred. With casual familiarity toward God, worship is no longer sacred. The more our culture banishes God from the public square, the more it also throws off any sense of what is holy or sacred. When we lose a sense of the holiness of God then nothing is holy or unholy. And with this goes any notion of sin, that anything is against a holy God. What can be done? How do we recover a sense of the sacred, of reverence and awe? The best place to start is at the source, at the beginning, with the One who is holy. We need an encounter with the Holy God like Moses and Isaiah and Peter and Paul. When talking about the holiness of God the classic text is Isaiah 6:1-8.
What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen? What was so beautiful, it took your breath away or fixed your gaze and mesmerized you? What is beautiful beyond words or description? Do you enjoy and find delight in beautiful things? Do you love beauty? Atheists say that the existence of suffering and evil is evidence there is no God. I reply beauty is evidence for the existence of God. Suffering and evil are our own doing. Beauty has no practical reason to exist except to reveal to us the nature and glory of our creator.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Ever since the fall man was wanted to be like God and with the help of computers and the internet it seems like we are getting close. Google cameras and satellites have mapped and recorded just about every square inch of this planet allowing us to be present everywhere and see everything God sees. Facebook wants to be everywhere, recording every idol thought. Judging from all the selfies it’s in every bedroom and bathroom and social gathering. They stirred up some controversy last year when they moved to offer a limited free internet to India and Africa. What they miss Instagram and Twitter pick up. NSA wants to be everywhere and know everything, listening to everyone, reading everyone’s e-mail. But let’s talk about who really is everywhere. We come this morning to the third of the three big omni’s about God. With regard to knowledge, we know God is omniscient, He knows everything and His knowledge is infallible. With regard to power, we know God is omnipotent, He can do anything He wills to do. When we think of God as infinite with regard to space, we call that omnipresence. His presence has no limit, it is infinite. God is Lord of space and cannot be limited by space. He is close to and next to everything.