Monday, December 11, 2017

‘Where Was God Last Tuesday?’

Monday, September 12, 2011, 20:08
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A Sermon Preached on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

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by Frank Smith, Ph.D., D.D.

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Has it really been ten years?  Who of us who witnessed the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, can forget the events of that day?  Just like December 7, 1941, it is a date that will live in infamy; just like the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the assassination of JFK, people will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

The events of a decade ago have continued to impact us as a nation and a society in numerous ways, and continue to shape even our everyday lives.  However, the broader issue is whether or not we have learned any lessons; or if, perhaps, we have, after receiving a wake-up call, hit the snooze button and gone back to sleep, spiritually speaking.

The sermon today is essentially the same one I preached on September 16, 2001, in the church I was pastoring at the time in Coeburn, Virginia.  In recounting the events of 9/11, I used the rhetorical question, almost as a refrain, “Where was God last Tuesday?”—a rhetorical device I will be using again today.

I began that sermon this way:

It’s been only five days—five long and agonizing and tiring and confusing days—since our world was turned upside down.  In the space of about a half hour, we saw both of the twin towers of the World Trade Center—magnificent skyscrapers reaching a quarter of a mile into the air—crumble into dust.  We witnessed an attack on this nation’s symbol and headquarters of military might, the Pentagon.  We came to understand something of the terror created in the hearts of countless people.  We experienced a sense of horror at the thought of the mass murders which had been committed.  We could imagine the smell of burning rubble, and maybe even the stench which would arise from the place of carnage.

It is at times such as these that many people believe that God has somehow failed.  Either He was impotent to stop the actions of the terrorists; or, perhaps He was caught napping.  Perhaps He was asleep, and was therefore unable to prevent the tragedies because He just didn’t know in time.  Or, perhaps He’s not really the morally perfect Being in whom we’ve been led to believe.

Let me assure you that God is absolute perfection.  Let me also assure you that He is also a God of love and compassion.  We know that Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, wept.  We know that God counts every hair of our head, and that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our heavenly Father knowing about it.  He writes down every tear of His people, and keeps them in a bottle.

I know that some of you may be afraid, and are wondering what is going to happen next.  Please be assured that if you are a child of God, He will keep you in His care, and nothing can happen to you apart from the will of a kind heavenly Father.

But, we may still wonder: Where was God last Tuesday?  My friends, He was where He has always been—sitting on His throne, ruling the universe in perfect holiness, working all things together for His glory and the good of His Church.

Now, ten years later, I declare to you that that basic message has not changed.  As we affirmed this morning in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A 7, “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

There are numerous Scripture texts which teach us of this truth of God, which tell us of His sovereignty (His rule over all), of His omniscience (His knowing all things), of His omnipotence (His being all powerful), of His omnipresence (His being everywhere present).  The text upon which I would like to focus this morning is from Isaiah 45.

As we approach this passage, let us first appreciate its context.  The prophecy of Isaiah is divided into two major sections.  Chapters 1-39 deal with the apostasy, or the falling away, of Israel, the people of God.  Chapters 40-66 emphasize God’s rule over the nations, and both their judgment and their eventual conversion to the Lord.

It is in this second of two major sections that the prophet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, asserts the sovereign rule of Jehovah, or Yahweh, with respect to the raising up of a powerful ruler by the name of Cyrus.  Cyrus would not be born for quite some time, yet the prophet was able to predict that that would be the name of the Lord’s “servant” who would be raised up for the good of the captive people of God.  This pagan king would provide for the re-building of the ruined city of Jerusalem.

Think with me of how difficult a time through which the people of God would go: the total destruction of the city of God, including its beautiful temple; and captivity in a foreign land.  It was a horrible experience that they would have to endure.  And yet, the prophet says that the Lord would go with them in their trials.  The prophet proclaims, “‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,’ saith your God.  ‘Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins’” (Isaiah 40:1-2).

You see, in the midst of trouble, the prophet is also able to sound a note of comfort and peace.  And overarching all of these themes is that of God’s absolute rule—the reality that He truly is in charge, that nothing takes Him by surprise, and that, indeed, He has planned and is directing even the tremendous tragedies which befall humanity.

As we focus on our text, which is verses 5-10 of Isaiah 45, notice with me several truths about God which we are taught.  (1) The Lord is the only true God.  (2) The Lord is sovereign over every event in the universe.  (3) The Lord warns those who reject His sovereign rule.  (4) The Lord sovereignly provides hope.

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The Lord is the Only True God

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First, we are taught that the Lord is the only true God.  Verse 5 begins by saying, “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me.”

There are, of course, many false gods in our world.  There are many false religions.  But there is only one true and living God.

Let us consider just who this God is.  Our catechism sums up the Biblical teaching regarding God by saying that “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

The true God has a spiritual nature.  He is pure spirit.  He doesn’t have a body like humans do.

Accordingly, He is not to be worshipped by means of images, which cannot possibly do justice to His holy and spiritual nature.

God is infinite—without limits.

God is eternal.  He is not bound by time.  And, He has forever existed.

God doesn’t change.  He doesn’t change His character, and He doesn’t change His mind.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.

God is all-wise, all-powerful, totally holy, totally just, totally good, and absolute truth.  And none of these attributes or characteristics of God contradicts any other attribute: they all are in perfect harmony with one another.  Therefore, we conclude that He is at all times holy, and at all times powerful, and at all times just, and at all times compassionate, for that is His nature.

There are many people who deny the existence of God, who are atheists.  But Psalm 14 tells us: “The fool is saying in his heart, There surely is no God.  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile, Not one of them does good.”  The fact that many people deny God, does not change the fact that He is.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Despite the best efforts by many New Yorkers and many Americans to live their lives apart from God, or to act as if He doesn’t exist, or to profess that He doesn’t exist, God was where He has always been—sitting on His throne, in light inaccessible.

This God Who exists, is a jealous God.  That is why He here proclaims so boldly that “there is no God beside me.”  That is why He says that “from the rising of the sun, and from the west,” everyone might know that “there is none beside me.”  And to highlight it once more, God says again, “I am the Lord, and there is none else.”

It’s a little hard to miss the message, don’t you think?

And yet, there are many who do miss the message.  We have already alluded to the fact that there are many false gods and false religions in the world.  Interfaith services notwithstanding to the contrary, the God of the Bible is not the same as the gods of human imagination.

The God Who is the living and true God, has revealed Himself in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  He has revealed Himself by means of His covenant.  His name is Jehovah.  He is the covenant-keeping God.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, asserting His sovereignty and destroying all idols.

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The Lord is Sovereign Over Every Event in the Universe

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That leads us to the second major truth we find in our text, viz., that the Lord is sovereign over every event in the universe.

Notice with me the Lord’s words which the prophet records in verse 7: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

The words, “I form the light, and create darkness,” remind us of Creation and the account of Creation found in Genesis 1.  We have already affirmed that God is eternal.  Another related truth is that Creation is not eternal, but that it had a beginning.  And God is the Creator, who brought into existence the light and the darkness.

It is out of that context of God’s creatorhood that He also proclaims the fact of His Providence.  “I make peace,” God says, “and create evil.”

When the Old Testament uses the term “peace,” the word which most often is employed is “shalom.”  This term conveys more than the absence of war or conflict.  It also signals peace in the fullest sense—a peace couched in a garden of prosperity.

It is perhaps not very difficult to affirm that God is concerned with the establishment of peace.  This is a truth which should and does bring comfort to our hearts.  This is an aspect of God’s providential dealings that all men undoubtedly appreciate and desire.  After all, who wants trouble?  And, when you’re in trouble, you want God to rescue you from it.  Hence our cries to God for help.  We witnessed something of that instinctive reaction from numerous people as they saw and heard the buildings collapse on 9/11.  They immediately cried, “Oh, my God!”  It was a plea for God’s comfort and protection.  It was a prayer for God to come to their aid, and provide them with peace.

But please notice with me that the Bible does not merely bear testimony to God’s sovereignty over the peaceful events, or the good things, of life, or the provision of prosperity.  The Bible also clearly indicates here that God is in charge of the bad things, too.

At this point, let me correct what may be a misunderstanding.  When our text tells us that God creates evil, this is not an ethical reference.  It is not a reference to wickedness.  Rather, it is a reference to disasters and tragedies.  The New King James Version captures that sense when instead of the word “evil”, it uses the word “calamity”.

The Bible is clear that God is not the author of sin.  Where sin comes from is a great mystery.  How could it be that in a perfect universe, Satan could rebel?  How could it be that a perfect Adam and Eve would succumb to temptation?  These are questions to which we do not have full answers.

We do know that God foreordained the fall of man and all subsequent sins—for God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.  Yes, even sinful actions are under God’s sovereign control.  But we also know that He is not the author of sin, and that He cannot tempt anyone, for He is of purer eyes than to behold evil.

But the point of our text here is not to address that ethical question, of the origin of wickedness.  Rather, the point is that all the “bad things” which happen are a result of God’s sovereign plan.  In a similar way as He created the universe, including light and darkness, He also creates the good and bad events of life, in that He brings them to pass.

This includes not just natural disasters, but also disasters which result from wicked actions by men.  In I Kings 11:14, we read that “the Lord stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite.”  In verse 23 of the same chapter, we are told that “the Lord stirred . . . up another adversary” against Solomon.  And the most awful sin of all, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, was according to “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

Does that mean that God knew ahead of time about all those things that happened on 9/11?  Yes, not only did God know about them, He also ordained them from all eternity, for His glory and the good of His people. Amos 3:6 says, “Shall there be evil [destruction] in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?”   “Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, directing all the events which took place.

This is a truth taught in multiple places throughout the Bible.  In point of fact, an almost countless number of texts can be seen to teach or at least to assume the sovereignty of God.

Take, for example, the acknowledgement by King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:35, that “all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he [the Lord] doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thou?”  Isaiah 14:24 quotes the Lord of hosts as saying, “Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.”  Isaiah 46:10 proclaims the Lord’s words: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”  Psalm 115:3 sings triumphantly: “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” Ephesians 1:11 speaks of our predestination which is “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”

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Why?

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But this may indeed lead us to consider the big question of “why?”  Why would God ordain such disasters and tragedies as we have witnessed?  How can they be a part of “the counsel of his own will”?

There is a very real sense in which we cannot discern the reasons for why God does this or that.  To use very down-to-earth language, Providence is poker-faced.  Providence often surprises us, and often does not reveal the cards it holds, or the “why?”  This is why the three friends of Job, the man who suffered such tragedies, were taken to task by God, when they tried to counsel Job in an inappropriate way—when they implied that Job’s troubles must have resulted from his having been a great sinner.  Accordingly, we must be careful in trying to read divine Providence.

Nevertheless, even though we cannot fully fathom all of the reasons for why God ordained for those jetliners to crash on 9/11, we can draw reasonable conclusions as to what message or messages God may be intending.  The sons of Issachar, we are told, were those who were discerners of the times.  These ancient Israelites were being held up as good examples to us, to spur us on to becoming discerners of the times in which we live.  And, my friends, it surely is not too difficult to surmise at least part of the reason as to why these disasters have occurred.

We live in a moral universe, in which actions have consequences.   The fact that we do live in such a world is precisely because a sovereign God reigns from His throne, and holds us accountable.

Moreover, we know from the Bible that whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.  It is a principle that applies not merely to individuals, but to societies, cultures, and nations as well.

We know that this nation has been especially blessed in so many ways, and therefore has had a special responsibility to recognize God’s rule over her and to keep His law.  Historians and churchmen may debate the exact nature of America’s commitment to the Christian faith; and one can argue that in the adoption of the U. S. Constitution, which is our civil covenant, there was deliberately no covenanting with God to be a nation officially committed to Him.  Nevertheless, it is also true that the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia; the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock; and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, all were very determined to found a Christian civilization in what was then the American wilderness.  Furthermore, it is abundantly clear that Christianity has been at least the unofficial religion of this nation since its founding.  It is also the case that in unique ways, this nation has been blessed with material wealth and other good things; and, for most of its history, with an absence of war—particularly war on its own shores.

Especially in light of America’s Christian heritage, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the nation’s apostasy from the Christian faith has resulted in God’s judgment.  We have forgotten God.  This is what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said of Russia.  This Russian dissident, who suffered imprisonment in a Soviet gulag, was quite certain that the troubles which befell Russia stemmed from a basic atheism.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Certainly not in the hearts and minds of many Americans.  Certainly not in the forefront of most American institutions.

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America’s National Sins

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That leads us to consider America’s national sins.  There are numerous manifestations of national sins in America today.  One could catalog a whole host of wickedness.  But allow me to focus on several themes which seemed to run through the events of 9/11, as a way of looking at our nation’s sins.

One is that of blood.  The Bible tells us that whenever human blood is shed in the land, the earth cries out for retribution.  Is it possible that the awful carnage we have witnessed is a divine judgment for national sins involving the shedding of blood?

For almost three decades—and now for almost four decades, abortion on demand has been the law of the land.  Millions upon millions of judicially innocent unborn children have been murdered in the womb.  Federal, state, and local governments have been complicit in this massacre.  I am sure you are aware of what is called partial birth abortion, in which a pair of scissors is thrust into a baby’s brain.  Not only is there partial birth abortion, but there have been cases of infanticide—instances of killing a child who made it completely out of his mother’s womb, alive.

What I would suggest to you today is that abortion is not merely a violation of the sixth commandment—“Thou shalt not kill”—but that it also is a direct assault on God.  It is a blatant shaking of the fist in the face of God.  It entails treating with disrespect the image of God in which each of those babies is made.  It is a manifestation of having forgotten God.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, and enforcing His law that the shedding of blood will not go unnoticed.

Another theme is that of money.  Mammon is America’s god.  And the World Trade Center was one of its primary temples.

Who would have thought that those mighty twin towers would have come tumbling down?  Who could have imagined the utter devastation of those symbols of wealth?

The smoke and pillar of cloud arising from those collapsed towers, perhaps bring to mind the words of Revelation 18:9-10, speaking of the mystical city of Babylon: “And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.”

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, rebuking the idolatrous materialism of our culture.

Another theme is that of immorality.  Who can forget that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, with fire from heaven, because of their open sexual immorality?

New York City was and is a very wicked city, with open expressions of sexual immorality, particularly homosexuality.  (Let me hasten to add that this is not to single out New York—Atlanta is not a bastion of righteousness.)  Greenwich Village is in lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center.  And there are many homosexuals who work in highly-paid positions in the financial world.

Let me suggest that homosexuality is not merely a violation of the seventh commandment, which deals with sexual purity.  It is also an attack on God Himself, in that the degrading acts of homosexuality are an affront to God and an assault on the dignity of a man made in the image of God.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, reminding this nation that the open acceptance of sexual deviance will result in death and destruction.

Another theme is that of power.  The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were potent symbols of economic power and military might.

Yet all the nations of the earth, Isaiah reminds us in chapter 40, are but as a drop in the bucket in comparison to the power of Almighty God.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, demonstrating that to Him belongs all the power and honor and glory.

Yet another theme is that of pride and arrogance.  The twin 110-story towers may call to mind another tower, from Genesis 11, viz., that of the tower of Babel.  Those building Babel’s tower desired that it reach unto heaven.  It was a prideful and arrogant manifestation of human presumption.  God scattered the builders of the tower of Babel across the face of the earth.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting in the heavens, humiliating the pride and arrogance of man who believes that he can build apart from God.

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Warning Against Those Who Reject His Sovereign Rule

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That leads us to the third major point of our text, which is a warning against those who reject the sovereign rule of God.  “Woe unto him that strives with his Maker!”  The prophet illustrates this warning by means of two comparisons.

First, the prophet rhetorically asks, “Shall the clay say to him that fashions it, What makest thou?  Or thy work, He has no hands?”  It would be absurd for pottery to try to talk back to the potter, questioning the maker’s wisdom or skill.  This is not the only place in Scripture in which this figure is used.  In Romans 9, the apostle Paul employs similar language, in highlighting God’s sovereignty: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?  Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?”

Secondly, the prophet utilizes terminology which refers to the begetting of children: “Woe unto him that says unto his father, What begettest thou?  Or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?”  Even though the figures of speech are different, they convey the same meaning: the Lord is in charge, and we ignore or reject Him at our own peril.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, continuing to warn those who reject Him.

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The Lord Sovereignly Provides Hope

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But there is also a message of hope, even amidst the warning.  Our text tells us that the Lord sovereignly provides hope.  Notice verse 8 of Isaiah 45: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it.”

Here we have a celebration of God’s rich and abundant spiritual provision.  Notice the reference to nature, as a way of conveying the reality of salvation.  The heavens are to drop down, the skies are to pour out, the earth is to open, and righteousness is to spring up.  These figures are designed to convey spiritual rather than sensual reality.

There are at least two crucial truths found here.  One is the close connection between righteousness and salvation.  Scripture tells us that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God.  But, we do need righteousness in order to obtain salvation.  The key is that it is not our righteousness, but the righteousness of Another, viz., the Lord Jesus Christ.  His good deeds as the God-man—God come in the flesh—are credited to one’s account, and that righteousness is received by faith alone.

The other essential truth here is that this is all of grace.  In this verse, we have the affirmation: “I the Lord have created it.”  It is the Lord’s doing, and not ours.  Salvation is of, by, and through Him, not ourselves.

Furthermore, this gospel—this “good news”—is for all the nations.  This theme of the conversion of the nations is in our text. Verse 6 says, “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me.  I am the Lord, and there is none else.”  Later in the chapter, verse 22 says: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”  But notice verse 14, where we are told that the Egyptians, the Ethiopians, and the Sabeans (Arab nomads in Arabia) would confess that there is no other God than the God of Israel.  Let me be clear—“Israel” is not a reference to the contemporary state of Israel, but rather to the people of God; or, we could say that the people of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Arabia will confess their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But this powerful theme is not confined to Isaiah 45; it is found throughout Holy Scripture.  Please consider with me that the Bible sometimes uses universal language and speaks of the nations in general, and sometimes names specific peoples and nations.  And what is especially amazing is the number of prophecies that foretell the conversion of what might be regarded as unlikely nations and areas.  In Isaiah 19, the prophet says that the Lord of hosts will bless “Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel Mine inheritance”.  Where were the Assyrians located?  In present day Iraq.  Psalm 72 promises that “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.  Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.”  Tarshish is in Spain, far to the west; Sheba was in the desert lands to the south; and Seba was probably northern Ethiopia.  In the last chapter of the book of Revelation, we read that in heaven, there is a tree whose leaves were “for the healing of the nations.”  In this regard, let us not forget that peace among the nations—the beating of the swords into plowshares and the spears into pruninghooks—will come ultimately not through shuttle diplomacy, but when the nations embrace the Prince of Peace who through His death has established peace between God and man.  We sang earlier from Psalm 68, which says, “That all may humbly bow themselves, Bring bars of silver ore.  For He has scattered peoples all Who take delight in war.  Then shall the princes proud and great Come out of Egypt’s lands, And Ethiopia to God Shall soon stretch forth her hands.”

Thus it is written—and this prophecy will indeed come to pass.

God says that He will shake the nations, and over the past few years, we have felt quite literally His shaking of the world.  We have experienced earthquakes, and tsunamis, and floods, and hurricanes, and tornados.  He has been shaking the nations politically, from Europe to Africa to the Middle East to Latin America.  He has been shaking the economic and social pillars of our own nation.  God is shaking things up, and the events of 9/11 are part of His plan—particularly His redemptive plan.  We don’t understand God’s ways, nor how he works everything together for good to those that love Him, those that are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  But we know that He does, in ways beyond our comprehension.

One thing of which we can be sure is that His gospel takes root not via Humvees or M-16s or stealth bombers or at the point of a sword, but by His Spirit, as He converts the souls of men.  As we sang today in the 110th Psalm, “A willing people in Thy day of power shall come to Thee.”  The Lord Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, convinces and captivates those who will submit to His Saviorhood and Kingship.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Sitting on His throne, as He promotes the gospel to all ends of the earth and brings the nations—all of the nations—into His kingdom.

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Words of Application

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As we contemplate the events of 9/11, I want to make three points of application.  The first point of application is to note that God has often used very wicked people to punish others.  This is what the prophet Habakkuk wonders about.  In chapter 1 of his prophecy, he is told that the Lord was raising up the “terrible and dreadful” Chaldeans (Babylonians) in order to punish the ancient people of God.  The fact that God uses pagan nations for this purpose does not absolve them of their own sins in the matter; and, eventually, they themselves face judgment.  But it is worth noting that the relative “goodness” or “evil” of various nations is not an indicator of who might be punished, or who might be victorious, in any given conflict.

The second point of application is the necessity to avoid hypocrisy.

Ten years ago, it was represented that the United States of America is a totally just and peace-loving nation, and one which would never engage in or support acts of terror.  But is that really true?

I am sure that the residents of Georgia and the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 would beg to differ.  I am sure that those who have suffered at the hands of terrorist regimes and organizations which have been supported by the U.S. State Department, would beg to differ.  I am sure that those directly affected by the destruction of an aspirin factory in the Sudan after a disgraced U. S. President fired cruise missiles, would beg to differ.  And many other examples could be given.

Please do not misunderstand this point.  We have been incredibly blessed in this nation.  We should be grateful for the fact that we enjoy great freedom here.  We should also be thankful for the display of courageous leadership in responding to the attacks against this nation.  Furthermore, I believe that the United States was totally justified in retaliating against those who directly waged war against this nation.  There is no doubt that “just war” doctrine virtually mandated that the government take decisive action.  What that action should be as long as it is within the parameters of “just war” doctrine is a purely political matter, which is beyond the sphere of the church’s expertise, and which is therefore left entirely to the civil authorities.

But we should not pretend that our national government has had clean hands and a pure heart.  Even with the premise that the terrorists who committed the awful crimes we witnessed ten years ago are far worse than our own government, it still does not absolve this nation’s government from its own guilt.

And that leads to the third point of application, which is that the answer to the present crisis is not a resurgence of patriotism, but rather repentance.  There’s nothing wrong with patriotism—love of one’s father-land—and indeed it is entirely appropriate to remember and honor those warriors and policemen and firemen and others who have sacrificed on our behalf.  But patriotism will not bring the solution or provide the final answers.  Our ultimate allegiance is not to our country, but to the heavenly kingdom.  Nations come and nations go; presidents and kings and dictators play their role on the stage of history, and then make their exit; empires arise and empires crumble.  But the kingdom of Jesus Christ will remain.

And it is our duty and responsibility, as individuals and nations, in the words of Psalm 2, to “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry” and we perish in the way.  It is our duty to turn away from our destructive ways and repent of our sins.  But, this is the lesson which we have failed to learn as a nation.

Does anyone believe that our nation is in a morally better position than it was ten years ago?  There is some statistical evidence that church attendance in New York has increased over the past decade; but, at the same time, the percentage of New Yorkers holding to sound Biblical doctrine has decreased.  “Churchianity” and religiosity are not adequate—whether in New York or Atlanta.  God calls us to a deep, heart-felt repentance, in recognition that He alone is God and He expects sincere obedience to His Word.  Jesus, in Luke 13, spoke of the contemporary incident in which 18 people were killed when the tower in Siloam fell; and He said, Do you think “that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”  This is a message not only for New York, but for all the great cities of our land.  Death and destruction swiftly and suddenly came upon New York and Washington and western Pennsylvania on a beautiful September morning ten years ago.  Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that we in Georgia are immune to a similar scenario.  And let us not forget the words of Jesus, who warned that we should not fear him who is able to kill the body only, but to fear—that is, to reverence—the One who is able to cast both body and soul into hell.  The theme of judgment cuts in numerous directions, including both temporal and eternal judgment.

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Conclusion

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In conclusion, we see the prophet Isaiah informing us of God’s sovereign rule, including all the “good” things and all the “bad.”  The Lord declares that He is God, and there is none else.

What we also discover is that the Lord provides salvation and comfort, as He brings all of His elect to Himself—a great company of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  The same One Who has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, particularly leads those whom He has predestined to eternal life.

“Where was God last Tuesday?”  Exactly where He has always been: sitting on His throne, working together all things for His glory and the good of His people.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of history and the King of kings, be pleased to bless this message to our hearts, for our comfort and our edification, to the praise of the glory of His grace.  Amen.

 

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Frank Smith, Ph.D., D.D., is the pastor of Northminster Reformed Presbyterian Church (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) of Alpharetta, Georgia; author of The History of the Presbyterian Church in America: The Silver Anniversary Edition; coeditor and contributer to Worship in the Presence of God; editor of Tales from the City: Real Stories of Urban Christian Ministry; Founding Editor of Presbyterian International News Service (PINS); and a Contributing Editor for The Confessional Presbyterian.

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