Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Wrath of a Loving God Revelation 16:1-21

Revelation 16:1-17

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth."

The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.

The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.

Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: "You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve."

And I heard the altar respond: "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments."

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.

Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed."

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!"

Somewhere here in town, I’m not sure where, there is a billboard proclaiming, “God is not angry.”

I understand what they are getting at here, but that sign bothers me because I am not sure that the sign is true.

To put on a billboard and say, “God is not angry,” is to declare that God is a loving God.  That God is patient.  That God is compassionate.

But to say that God is NOT angry seems presumptuous to me.

Because I do not think for a minute that our loving God is not angry.

On January 18, 2015, Brook Turner, a student athlete at Stanford, sexually assaulted an unconscious 22-year-old woman. According to police, prosecutors, and a jury, she lacked the capacity to give legal consent. He was found by two passersby who testified that they intervened because the woman appeared to be unconscious. They restrained him until police arrived and subsequently arrested Turner on charges of rape.  Now, over a year later, the trial is over and Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault.  The charges made him eligible for 14 years in prison.  Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to six months of jail and three years of probation. People all over the world are angry, so much so that you can barely turn on the television or social media without hearing someone giving an angry response to this light sentence. People are so angry that there is a campaign for the recall or resignation of Judge Persky.

People are so angry – do you think that God is not angry?  I’m not suggesting that God does not have love for Brook Turner, or that God does not feel compassion for both the victim and the criminal.  But do you really think God is not angry?

My wife and I went to a concert last night.  Meanwhile, at another venue, right up the road on Bumby, there was another concert.  That other concert ended with a tragedy with the 22 year old artist being shot and killed by someone who then took his own life.  I don’t know all the details.  I don’t know very much at all, in fact, but I know this.  I believe God is angry when things like that happens.

This past week two men went into a place in Israel.  Videos show every one having a good time.  It seemed very relaxed.  Until guns were drawn and innocent people were being shot and killed. 

Is God not angry?

We don’t want to think about God being angry, or to use an old fashioned term – the wrath of God.

Wrath of God? How backward. How yesterday. How embarrassing.

We would much rather think about the more enduring themes of the Christian faith: a God who is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love; a Christ in whom all the promises of God’s love are fulfilled, and a Holy Spirit who is the true Comforter of humanity.

There may have been times in the past when people, fearful and guilt-ridden, felt that they had to join the Church of God’s Wrath, but fortunately our understanding of God’s grace has grown and matured, and we spend our Sundays in happy thoughts.

The Wrath of God? We find it out of style and embarrassing.

But then we turn to the news reports online or on television – and we look at Revelation, chapter 16.

What are we to make of this “wrath of God” business.

My old preaching professor, Tom Long, said this about these chapters of Revelation, “It is an account of the wrath of God in all of its sea-boiling, thunder-rolling, earthquake-rattling fury. Here we see the very kitchens of heaven serving up brimming bowlfuls of God’s wrath to be poured by angels upon the face of the earth. And what we read is not just a description of the wrath of God; it is a hand-clapping, hallelujah-shouting celebration of its coming.”

So what do we make of this business of the wrath of God?

What we make of it is that the God of Love we worship, is capable of great wrath and anger.

We’re not talking about a little anger – Revelation speaks of 7 bowls of symbolic wrath.  Seven is the full and complete and perfect number in the Bible.  And the bowls are full, running over.  And so is God’s wrath. 

This is not the mild anger of a parent who is trying to discipline a child for breaking curfew by 5 minutes – this is full and complete wrath.

            The first bowl causes harmful and painful sores upon the people.

            The second bowl kills everything in the seas.

            Another bowl scorches people with fire.
Shall I go on?  No – this is gruesome stuff.

Now to fully appreciate what this text from Revelation is all about, you have to consider the original readers of Revelation.

We don’t know a lot about the first people to read Revelation, but we do know a few things for certain.

They were Christian. 

They were undergoing terrible distress, which was probably in the form of a persecution by civil government.

They were believers in the God and accepted His Son as Lord and Savior – and they were paying a heavy price. 

They were a people without power.  They had no resources.  They had no First Amendment rights.  No friends in Congress, city hall or the American Civil Liberties Union. 

They had no friends at all.

They had nothing at all to sustain them.

Except for one thing.

The promise of God.

And so they repeated over and over the promises:  "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  (Rev 21:6-7)

They sang their hymns over and over:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.” (Rev. 4:8)

They pray the prayer that one hears in the last verses of Revelation – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)

Come to think of it – that has been our prayer.

Every time terrorists strike, we look to God and pray for the wrath of God to fall upon the terrorists – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

When we read in the newspaper about a man who takes 2 guns and a hunting knife into a small Orlando venue and kills a 22 year old singer, we pray for the wrath of God to run over and extinguish the life of the drunk driver – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

When we read about sexual predators exploiting an unconscious woman, or children taking guns to school and killing classmates, or suicide bombers killing innocent people, or … the list goes on, and on and on – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

 “Where is God?”

“Why doesn’t God do something?”

“Why did God allow this?”

It is in response to these cries that Revelation speaks a word of hope.  It is a promise to the victims. 

The problem with our understanding of the wrath of God is not that we have made too much of it, but that we have made too little of it.

Or, to be more exact, we have conceived of God’s wrath in ways that are too small, too insignificant, and too ineffective.

We always picture God with the flawed impression of understanding God as a flawed human.  In this case, we understand the wrath of God in terms of the wrath of a typical person.

For a typical person, our wrath comes when we are the least loving, and we assume the same is true of God.  Human wrath is destructive and angry and bitter.

But that is not true with the wrath of God.  It does not come when He is least loving, nor is it destructive and angry and bitter.

God’s wrath is that of a loving Father who speaks up for the victims and says “enough.”

There is a limit of the suffering God will allow. 

The forces on our world that make for poverty, crime, rape, abuse, sexual predators, wars, dictatorships, terrorists – these will not be allowed to continue forever.

God’s wrath will be poured out – seven complete bowls of it, filled to the brim and running over – all about to be poured out so that the wrath flows upon humanity.

Not like human wrath that seeks bitter destruction, but rather divine wrath, that seeks loving restoration of a broken relationship.

In the brief New Testament book of Jude, we read, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way.”  (Jude 1:14-15)

The purpose of convicting is not to punish, but to convince and restore.

The writer of Psalm 30 said it eloquently: 

“Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”[1]

The wrath of God is meant to bring people back to God – but not everyone will be brought back.  Not everyone will be convicted or convinced to return to God. 

And those who continue to reject God, to reject his ways, to reject his love, to reject his mercy, to reject his presence, will eventually get exactly what they desire.

They will have a total absence of God’s presence, mercy and love.

Revelation can be a depressing book.

And the wrath of God is itself a depressing thought.

But the writer of Revelation does not mean for this to be depressing.  John means for it to be a message of hope that will go to the victims of the world who have seen injustice and misery and pain.  These are the people who long for evil to end, who want desperately for crime and violence and wars and cruelty to come to forever cease.  Who pray over and over and over, “Come quickly Lord Jesus…”

[1] Psalm 30:4-5

Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Spoiler Alert - Revelation 19:1-6


Revelation 19:1-6

1          After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
2          for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants."
3          And again they shouted: "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever."
4          The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: "Amen, Hallelujah!"
5          Then a voice came from the throne, saying: "Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!"
6          Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.

          Several years ago, I was very wrapped up in the World Series.  I don’t remember which year this was, but it was an exciting series and I reserved my calendar for every night’s game. 

          No committee meetings.  No family gatherings.  Nothing was going to keep me from the television.

          But one night I got a call from a parishioner and I had to go meet a family in the emergency room.  I had enough time, however, to turn on the VCR before I left.

          I got home too late to watch the game, so I left notes all over the house – on the television, on the refrigerator, on the bathroom door – “Don’t tell Maynard how the game ended until he sees the video tape.”

          I woke up the next morning and left the newspaper on the driveway.  While the family ate breakfast, it was forbidden to turn the television on to watch the Today Show.
          Finally, when everyone had gone to school or work, I settled into my easy chair to watch the previous night’s game.

          I was just about to settle into my chair and watch the game when I decided to call the office and tell them I’d worked all night and was taking the morning off.

          My secretary answered and before I could say anything, she said, “Could you believe that game last night?  I can’t get over how badly the Braves lost.”


          We don’t like to know the ending until we live through it.

          Don’t tell us how the game ends, let us watch it and savor the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

          Don’t tell us how the book ends, let us read through the chapters on our own.

          Don’t tell us how the movie ends.  Let us buy the ticket and enjoy the film.

          How many of you are familiar with the term “Spoiler Alert?”

          I see that more and more in the newspapers and on the Internet.  Anytime a writer is dealing with a movie or television series and is about to reveal the ending of the show, the writer will warn the reader that there is a “Spoiler Alert.”

          In other words, if you don’t want to know the end of the movie until you see it, the phrase “spoiler alert” is a warning not to read any more of the article.

          Today’s sermon is a spoiler alert. 

I’m not going to tell you the end of the movie – I’m going to tell you about how reality turns out in the end.  The end of history.  The end of time as we know it.

In fact, this is what the Book of Revelation is all about.

Revelation is a confusing book.  We get bogged down in all of the strange parts of it.  We know there are important clues, but we don’t know how to interpret them.  666?  What’s that about?  All those earthquakes and fires and floods?  Meteors falling to earth?  How are we to understand all of that?

You can get bogged down in a lot of little issues in Revelation, but I’m going to give you the bottom line, big picture of how it all comes out in the end.
The answer to the most important question is not – what does 666 mean.  The most important question is “who is in control here?” 

The answer is -- God is in control.

That is what Revelation is all about.

When you were in school, you often had to pick out the thesis sentence of an article or a book.  Or if you wrote a paper, you sometimes had to write and identify the thesis sentence, which was a sentence that identified the purpose of the paper or article.

The thesis sentence of Revelation is in our Scripture lesson for this morning.  It is the spoiler alert that reveals what Revelation is all about.  It is the answer to what life and history are all about.

Verse 6 of our reading lays it out very clearly.

“Our Lord God Almighty reigns.”

God rules!

God is in control.
God never stopped being in control.  God was never threatened.  God has always been on his throne. 

Now that sounds great.

Until you lose your job.

Or you can’t finance your home.

Or the doctor tells you that you have cancer.

Or you discover that in a low-crime area a man broke into a home, brutally stabbed and killed a 67 year old woman in the wee hours of the morning. 

If God is in control, why doesn’t he just stop all of this? 

Why must evil exist?

C.S. Lewis imagined a world without pain and suffering and evil.  He wondered why God didn’t just stop evil, but he came to realize that such a world would make little sense.

Lewis wrote, “We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.”  (C. S. Lewis The Problem of Pain Harper Collins:New York, 1996 p.24-25)

In other words, God is in control, but not in the same way that a puppeteer is in control.  God created, and allows us the freedom to reject the Creator.

So here we are in a world of evil.  So when a child is molested and killed, do we simply smile and say, “God is in control?” 

To simply do that seems so shallow.

Almost silly.

In fact, it is almost to be in denial that there is so much evil around us.

What does it mean to live in an evil world and to say, “God is in control?”

When the Book of Revelation was written, it was during a time of tremendous violence and evil.

Christians were being killed for their faith.  There was no religious freedom.  There were wars.  There were terrorists.  Crime was rampant.  The city of Rome had suffered a terrible city-wide fire.  Ethics were out and scandals were in.

It would have been easy for Christians to lose their faith.

It would have been easy for them to respond to violence with violence.  It would have been easy to have given up on ethical living, and to have lived like everyone else.

But when John told his church, “God is in control,”  it meant, “we know how the movie ends.  We’ve read the spoiler in the review.  We know what the last page of history says.” 

To know that God is in control is to be able to live justly, in unjust world.

To know that God is in control is to be able to love, when there so much hate in the world.

To know that God is in control is to be able to watch the television news with its stories of rape and violence and murder and not go crazy.

In 1770, an incident in Boston led to British soldiers firing upon civilians, killing five Americans.  You’ve read about that incident – the Boston Massacre.  The colonists were outraged and this incident contributed to a growing movement of American independency.  Many wanted to hang the British without trial, calling them enemy combatants.  John Adams, one of our greatest founding fathers, agreed to defend the British troops in a court of law.  He believed that even in the face of great evil, the rule of law and the right of trial must be held sacred.

But he and his wife faced threats of violence, and they were concerned for their lives and for the lives of their children.

In his diary, John Adams reflected on the encouragement he received from his wife, who had told him that, “she was very willing to share in all that was to come and place her trust that God was in control.”

To say that God is in control is not to understand God, but to trust God.

God is in control.

He was in control at the time of creation.

He was in control at the time John wrote Revelation.

He is in control today.

And someday, Christ will return and establish his rightful and righteous kingdom and there will be no longer any doubt that God is indeed in control.

That is the good news of Revelation.

I heard a story recently about a mother who was struggling with her strong-willed 3-year-old son, Thomas, who looked at him with a stern eye and asked a question that she thought would bring the child in line.

“Thomas, who is in charge here?”

She did not get the answer she expected or hoped for, which was that she, the mother, was in charge.

But she was not disappointed with the answer.

Apparently quoting what he had learned in Sunday School, Thomas answered without batting an eye, “Jesus is in charge.”[1]

We live in a time of violence, but it will not always be this way – for God is in control and Jesus is coming back soon.

We live in a time of illness and disease and terrible deaths, but it will not always be this way for God is in control and Jesus is coming back soon.

We live in a time of terrorists and crime and natural disasters, but it will not always be this way – for God is in control and Jesus is coming back soon.

Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

[1] – A Higher Order; Citation: Susan C. Kimber, Brea, CA. Today’s Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart."