Allen Jackson - When Judgment Begins - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you today. We're gonna complete our study on what do we do, especially when God's judgment begins? The goal's not just to endure or to hide or to hope it goes away. We began with Josiah, a king who led a remarkable reform and led a great deal of repentance. And then we're gonna look at Jonah as we begin this session because Jonah led an entirely pagan city into renewal and revival. We need that in our nation. And I believe God could use us for that outcome. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
In Jonah, we have another story of judgment pronounced. Most of you know the Jonah story. Jonah's a prophet in Israel. He's Jewish. He's a prophet primarily to the Jewish people, but God says, "Jonah, I want you to go to the capital of Assyria, a rising world power, and prophesy in their capital city that I'm going to destroy them". And Jonah doesn't wanna go. And we know from the end of the book of Jonah why. Jonah said, "I knew you, God, that if I went they might repent and you would be merciful to them and I wanted you to destroy 'em, so I wasn't going". What a happy, happy man of God. And you know the story.
Jonah, when God said, "I want you to go north," he went south. God said, "I want you to go northeast", and Jonah went southwest by southwest, until he found himself in the belly of a fish. And when Jonah repented, he got to a better circumstance. He knew the character of God. He just didn't wanna do it. Do we have the courage to acknowledge that we wrestle with that? It's not that we typically don't know right and wrong. We just don't wanna do right. And we think God will grade on a curve or we'll get away with it or, on the other end of the set of decisions, we'll just kind of wave a hand and go, "Ha, ha, ha, ha. Sorry". Do you understand that is mocking of God? It's not the pattern you wanna build into your life. It's not the rule that you wanna learn to live by.
So in Jonah 3:3: "Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and he went to Nineveh. And Nineveh was a very important city; a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city and he proclaimed, 'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.' And the Ninevites believed God". That's an amazing sentence to me. These aren't the covenant people of God. They don't have a temple, they don't offer daily sacrifices. They don't keep kosher. They don't do the pilgrimage feast, they don't celebrate Passover or Sukkot or... some stranger, some man that speaks with an accent, smells kind of like fish, is walking through town, saying, "In 40 days you're gonna be overturned". They're a powerful city. Their economy's on an uptick. Their technology is surpassing all of their surrounding nations.
And some crazy foreigner says, "In 40 days you're gonna be destroyed," and they believed God. They believed God. I would submit to you, we should start to cultivate the attitude, the expectation, that people will begin to believe in God. Then we're gonna have to begin to say out loud in our, "Listen, I believe God. I believe God. The reason I'm making these choices and I'm behaving in this way is I believe God". "And they declared a fast, all of them, from the greatest to the least, and they put on sackcloth. And when the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, and he took off his royal robes, and he covered himself with sackcloth and he sat down in the dust".
I don't have a frame of reference for that. Imagine if that happened in our community, in our state, in our nation. Imagine if that happened in our Christian universities that are compromising on biblical principles. They're choosing diversity. Again, sackcloth is an expression of grief and humility and mourning. If we mourn because we recognize we have been so far from God, from the king to the least. And they began to fast. It's just a way of humbling yourself. "And the king made a decree: 'Don't let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; don't let them eat or drink. Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.'"
Do you understand how bizarre that is? They didn't say that in Jerusalem. When they found the book of the law, their family story, the book of the law is like their high school annual. They know the people and the places and the names. It's their story. And when they found it, the king tore his clothes, but the people were like, "Ehh, we like the temple prostitutes". "'That God may relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we won't perish.' And when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and he did not bring upon them the destruction that he'd threatened".
Now, ultimately, Nineveh's destroyed, but not in that generation. They repented in sackcloth, with humility, with a respect and a reverence for God. A group of people you wouldn't expect to. See, often, the most intractable, the most stubborn, the most resistant are those of us with the best pedigrees. 'Cause we feel pretty good about ourselves. We know who we're better than. Maybe we don't like to admit it. It's a little awkward, but we know. An alternative in Nehemiah chapter 8, Ezra and Nehemiah, you need to know where they fit in the chronology of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. They're figures that are leading the people of Israel back from the exile. They lost their place. Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple was destroyed. They've lived as foreigners in a foreign country, serving foreign kings. They've suffered the indignity and the humiliation. Because of the hardness of their hearts, not because of the power of the Assyrian army or the Babylonian army, but because of their heart condition.
If we lose our liberties and freedoms, and our children and our grandchildren grow up in a climate that does not afford the opportunities we have known, it will not be because our enemies outsmarted us. It will be because we didn't have the courage to stand for a biblical worldview, because liberty and freedom come from God and not from governments. And God begins, God told them through the prophet Jeremiah that at the end of 70 years they would go home. And God begins that process. They didn't all go at once. They went in waves. Nehemiah went back and he rebuilt the wall around the city of Jerusalem. It was a means of protection.
Ezra goes back with Zerubbabel. The temple is to be rebuilt in a very modest, a very humble way, not with the elaborate way that Solomon had built it. And Ezra, the priest, goes back to help begin to restore worship because for generations now, they've lived in a foreign place where they didn't have the freedom to worship God. They didn't all have copies of the Bible. They couldn't get cell reception in Babylon so their apps wouldn't work. It says: "On the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women who were all able to understand. And he read it aloud from daybreak until noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law".
He spent a half a day reading to them. They didn't all have a copy. They couldn't go home and read it for themselves. "He stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. And beside him stood," a lot of people. "And Ezra opened the book. And all the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. And he praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, 'Amen!'" We resist God so often. "I'm not gonna worship like that". Or, "I'm not gonna do this". Folks, we have so little gratitude for what God has given us. They have nothing more at this point. They're in a very defeated place. They're under-resourced, they're in the midst of the devastation that has come to them. They're oppressed, but they are so excited that they can hear the Word of God read that they will stand half a day and lift their hands to give glory and honor to the Lord.
Again, the topic is when judgment begins. Most of us don't think of Jesus's visit to the earth as an expression of judgment. We like to say he took the judgment for our sin, and that is true, but he came to offer an invitation to a generation. He still offers invitations to generations. Every generation has to make a choice for the Lord for themselves. Every generation has to choose the Lord for themselves. Parents, quit making excuses for your children's wickedness. Stop encouraging them to be ungodly. It's important. Every generation has to choose. Mark chapter 1, verse 14: "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near.'" "Join a church and find a worship style you like". "'Repent and believe the good news!'"
The pathway towards the kingdom of God is repent and believe. And I don't believe you can, I don't really think belief is unleashed in our hearts until we process repentance. If you wanna grow in faith, begin to practice repentance. If your faith in God is not as strong as you would like it to be, begin to ask the Holy Spirit to show you the things that you need to address with him. Your faith will grow. In Luke chapter 10, this is Jesus coaching his disciples: "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust on your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you.'"
Well, gee, hat doesn't sound very friendly. I thought Jesus was friendly. I thought Jesus came to initiate group hugs. "'You be sure of this,' he said, 'the kingdom of God is near. I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.'" And Sodom experienced God's judgment, right? "'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. So it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And for you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you'll go down to the depths.'"
Capernaum was the city Jesus chose as his base for his ministry. When he left Nazareth, he moved to Capernaum, and there were two villages very close to it where he did a remarkable number of miracles, and from which he recruited many of his disciples, Bethsaida and Chorazin. And he said something that did not make him popular in those cities. Again, for everybody who thinks Jesus was just always about happy words. The villages where they knew him the best, where he knew the most people, where the majority of his miracles took place, he said, "Because of your attitude and the hardness of your hearts, Sodom and Tyre and Sidon will receive better outcomes at the judgment than you will".
Now, that is not the pathway to popularity. But Jesus is speaking judgment. In the midst of miracles, in the midst of the incarnate Son of God, in the midst of enormous crowds of people coming from a very broad area, he's saying to the people that are his neighbors, that he's doing life with, he gets coffee with them at Starbucks in the morning. He's saying, "Your hearts are so hard". He doesn't stop there. In Luke 19: "As he approached Jerusalem and he saw the city, he wept over it. He said, 'If you'd only known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it's hidden from your eyes. The days will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you and will encircle you and hem you in on every side.'" They're gonna lay siege to the city. "'They'll dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.'"
Again, Jesus has been ministering there, speaking there, doing miracles there, inviting them to believe, telling them to repent and believe, sending out the disciples and they've been doing the same things. Lazarus was raised from the dead, the blind man in the city of Jerusalem had his eyes opened and he told everybody, "I'm the blind guy". And they didn't respond like Nineveh. They weren't ashamed, they weren't embarrassed, they weren't repentant, they weren't sorrowful. They didn't tear their clothes. They said, "We've gotta shut this guy down. He makes us feel bad. Who does he think he is? We know where he comes from. He doesn't come from an important place. Why would we listen to him"?
Now, there were some who listened. There were crowds of people. The leaders of the city were afraid of the crowds of the people. There were casual observers. There were kind of indifferent crowds. "Was there a miracle today? We'll go watch a miracle. Is he gonna feed the crowd again? We like free food". But they weren't tearing their clothes in grief. They weren't changing their hearts before the Lord. And in spite of all the miracles, in spite of all the things God did, in spite of a resurrection of the Son of God, in spite of the curtain in the temple being torn in two, in spite of the completion of the redemptive work of Jesus, that generation experienced the judgment of God. Jesus went on in Luke to give them many instructions about what to do. He knows what's coming. It's not obscure to him.
But I think you really need Acts 2:36 to get the balance of this, 'cause this story goes right on through the scripture, all the way to the book of Revelation. Acts chapter 2 is the Day of Pentecost and this large crowd has gathered. The same city where they, just a few weeks earlier, had screamed, "Crucify the Lord," and Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit's been poured out and they heard people speaking in tongues. We still like to argue about that. He said, "Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah". Again, those are not bridge-building words. You understand? He said, "Look, folks, you killed the Messiah". Awkward. "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and they said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'"
That is not a 21st century question. I have hope because people are asking that question, "What shall we do"? And Peter gives us an answer: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you'll receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". Now, revival starts in Jerusalem. Thousands of people accept the Lord that day. They're baptized publicly. And it grows by thousands more in the days and the weeks immediately following that. It's growing so rapidly that the religious leaders in Jerusalem that were threatened by Jesus were threatened by Peter and the disciples, and they begin to threaten them with the same kind of outcomes that they had orchestrated against Jesus.
In fact, they managed to have some of them murdered. And their behavior is brazen enough that there are other believers murdered in the streets of Jerusalem. And the persecution grows, and the disciples are scattered. In the cities where they're scattered, revivals come. Now, if I looked at that set of behaviors and I processed it through the grid of what I have heard in my lifetime in the church, you think, "Well, if there's thousands and thousands of people being born again and revivals are happening and whole cities are being changed and remarkable miracles are taking place". And in 70 CE what Jesus had said came to pass: Jerusalem's destroyed. The temple's torn apart, stone by stone. There were some people that responded to the Lord, but there were more who didn't.
So what's the outcome when judgment begins? Well, I believe you can trust the Lord. If you will give your heart to him, wholly, you can trust him. I think the outcome beyond that depends upon what God chooses to do in the hearts of people. So if you ask me for a response, and you didn't but since it's my outline, I'll wrap it up with this. I think we have to boldly tell our God story and invite others to know him. Because the best possible future hinges upon that. It's more important than our investments, it's more important than anything else. Boldly tell your God story and invite others to begin to live as if they were forming one for themselves. Secondly, live the truth you know and stop the compromise. Just quit it. Stop justifying it, excusing it.
What would it look like to become more godly? I went with a friend to the doctor some time ago and he was having some health struggles and the doctor said, "You've gotta be more healthy". And there was a little back and forth. He said, "Well, I am healthy". He said, "Yeah, but you could be more healthy. You're doing some things that are detrimental to your health". And he said, "Well, not as many as I used to". And the doctor wasn't deterred. He said, "If you want to be better, you're gonna have to make more healthy choices".
And if I could give it to the church in the same, we're gonna have to make healthier choices. "Well, we're pretty healthy". Yeah, but if we wanna see a healthier church. "Well, we won't earn our way". I'm not talking about earning your way to heaven, I'm talking about choosing godliness and righteousness and purity. What would that look like? What would it look like if I made choices towards that in a bolder way? "Well, who are you to judge"? I'm not judging, I'm just inviting you.
Number three, practice repentance. You practice it. Holy Spirit, Psalm 51, "If there's anything in me that is harmful, Lord, help me to see it". If I'm holding bitterness or anger, if I'm excusing sin. I tell you, one of the things I think this generation will be held accountable for is we have excused sin. We have known there was right and wrong and we didn't have the courage to say it. If we borrow Ezekiel's language, he said, "If you're the watchman on the wall and you see a problem coming and you don't sound the alarm, the blood is on your hands".
So I would submit to you that tolerance is not a godly response. We have to practice repentance. Third, we have to grow in belief. We have to gain greater confidence in God. Gonna grow in our belief. I believe God created the heavens and the earth. I believe he can part a sea, open a blind eye, raise someone from the dead. I believe that he will fulfill every word he's written in the book. I trust him with my eternity, but I need to grow in how I know the Lord, and so do you.
And lastly, I wanna encourage you not to be intimidated. Don't flinch in the face of wickedness. I know right now it's very popular and fashionable to celebrate the grossest expressions of immorality and wickedness. You know, we're finding more courage from people standing on secular platforms than we are from people standing in the church. We are. It's embarrassing. You say, "Well, we're rallying to them". We should be leading. We're the standard-bearers for godliness and righteousness and family and children, right? Got the idea? "Well, what we'd really like to do is go have a Bible study". Well, I'm all for studying our Bibles, but I'm far more determined to lift up the name of Jesus in the midst of this generation. We've got to stop being intimidated.
And let's see what God will do. I don't know what the outcome will be. Perhaps he'll look upon us with mercy and give us another season of freedom and liberty and abundance with which we can proclaim the gospel to the nations of the world. Maybe he'll restore peace to our cities and our schools will once again, begin to become safe places for our children to hear the truth. That they'll pray in their classrooms, that they'll teach them to honor the sacrifices that have been made so that we can know liberty and freedom. Perhaps we could see that again. I don't know. But I can tell you right now, it's crumbling around us. And the responses of the people of God are the most critical component, amen. I brought you a prayer. Won't you stand with me? We can pray it together. When we get to the "amen," don't run. I want to say a blessing over you, so I hope you brought a big blessing cup. I don't wanna leave any of God's blessings unrealized in my life, do you? Amen. Let's pray together:
Heavenly Father, we rejoice in the revelation of your Word. Holy Spirit, grant us understanding hearts and lead us into the truth needed for our assignments. Multiply our boldness that we might courageously proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord and King. Protect us from every attack of the enemy. Lead us in paths which you reward. Through our lives may Jesus's name be lifted up and his kingdom extended, amen.
And now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, amen. God bless you.