Episode 39: Turn or Burn

Read the sermon text at Spurgeon.org

This sermon is a hard and harsh one, and understandably so.  And this is one of Charles Spurgeon’s earlier sermons, so it is perhaps a bit “rougher around the edges” than some later ones, after he has spent years experiencing the grace of God amidst the peaks and valleys of life.  But I read it because I find it immensely relevant, because God’s justice is a subject that must be discussed if the gospel is to have true meaning.

The justice of God is such a hard subject to talk about, and it is one that is unfortunately neglected in many places.  The simple reason is that there are many who fancy themselves teachers of the flock who believe, for one reason or another, that to speak at length on the holiness of God and His wrath against sin somehow dishonors the work and life of Jesus, or maims the testimony of God’s love.  But I want to take a few moments here and refute that idea, and speak to why it is just as important to do exactly what Brother Spurgeon here has done and speak boldly to the truth of the coming punishment for sin.

Firstly, because it is a reminder that though tragedy continues to infect our world, it is not so simple to look at death in any form or fashion today and say “This right here, this is God’s punishment for sin.”  Though death came into the world through sin and was defeated at the cross along with sin, tragic death is a reality of life in this sinful world and not something you can necessarily use to draw a straight line from Sin A to Death B.

It was a little over a year ago that a man shot up a nightclub in Orlando, and I wrote a few blog posts discussing issues related to that.  I also read a sermon based on a text that was read in this sermon, Luke 13:1-5:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Now let’s be clear: Jesus is not saying that if you repent, you will not die.  He is calling the hearers to prepare their hearts lest they experience their own tragedy, and denying the superstition of the day that said that one could clearly see who had sinned, by what ill befell them.  Jesus called His disciples to serve the brokenhearted, the sick and needy, the widows and orphans.  He commanded them to lift up the ones who were laid low, and to make themselves low to serve the ones who desperately needed it most.

All of that is tied in to the fact that God is a God of justice, just as much as He is a God of mercy.  He is a God of wrath against sin, as much as He truly is love.  And all of you who feel the deep pain of injustice in our world, I would point you to this truth: firstly, because there is absolutely hope of justice.  Secondly, because if you seek that justice apart from the truth of God,  then all will you do is create a new injustice in place of the old, one stamped with your image and one that will be burned up on the day of judgment as a structure built out of straw and twine.  And finally, because if you cannot right an injustice in your time but must endure, you can endure knowing that perfect justice will be done on the Day of Judgment.

Charles Spurgeon was a man who despised the injustices of his day and preached boldly against them.  Indeed, this sermon was recommended to me by someone as a sermon that upset Southern slave owners, perhaps because they felt the barbs of conviction pricking very deeply.  Of slavery Spurgeon once said,

By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.

If you’ve listened to this podcast for more than thirty seconds, you know Spurgeon preached boldly and unapologetically against the evils of sin in his day and for repentence and faith in the grace of Jesus Christ.  My brothers and sisters, we must do the same.  We must be balanced and biblical in our judgments, we must model mercy and pour out love on those who hate us, but we must remember that love and truth are equal partners in the worship of the One True God.  Therefore we must preach the truth about the evils of our time, not because they win us political points (because often they won’t), not because we love to shame our neighbors (because apart from the grace of God we join in that shame), but because we love God and we love our neighbors, and we desire most deeply to see them know Christ and live.

Next episode: a special observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

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Episode 28: Accidents, Not Punishments

Sermon text here

This week’s song: With Peace Like A River (It Is Well) by the Loverlies

I suspect that some may consider it inappropriate or insensitive to read this sermon, in light of the recent tragedies that have been in the news, both the senseless shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and the little boy who was tragically killed on what should have been a dream vacation, to visit Disney World, by an alligator.  Even now as I write this, the news has just broken that Anton Yelchin, the young actor who played Pavel Chekov in the newest Star Trek movies, was killed as the result of what appears to be some kind of auto accident.  Wait, you might say, for healing to happen before reading this sermon.

I disagree.  I cannot think of a more appropriate time for this to be brought to the forefront.  After all, as I hope was made clear in the course of reading the sermon, Charles Spurgeon did not wait until all was calm and death could be viewed dispassionately to preach this topic.  In the weeks prior to his preaching it, not one but two terrible railway accidents had claimed many lives very suddenly.  And of course, as this was in 1861, across the ocean a terrible war was just starting to begin, one that would claim countless lives and spill much blood.  Yet we can’t look at this and just point directly from Sin A to Punishment B so simply.  Death is judgment for sin—but it is a judgment upon us all, because sin is an infection in this world and death is the only method by which it is expunged.

But as Christians, we cannot let ourselves be so haughty as to look at the suffering and pain and loss occurring in a place like Orlando and say “Well, they were engaged in sin, so we can call it judgment and move on.”  No, we are not able to because we must walk and speak in such a manner that is consistent with the message of the Gospel of Christ.  The truth is that just as easily as that man brought his weapons to a gay nightclub, he just as easily could have brought them to a mall, or to a city street, or to a church.  In fact, I suspect very much that I would not have to search very long before finding a story of churchgoers elsewhere slain in a similarly senseless manner.

I think there is a danger in reading the passage being preached on and thinking that Jesus is being callous about the deaths of the people being mentioned, whether those killed by Pilate’s men or those killed by the tower.  No, I think it is very clear that Jesus saw death very seriously, not as some sort of fake thing that didn’t matter, but as a horrible effect of sin upon the world.  He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, His friend and disciple, and wept with the mourners—and this was even knowing that He was about to bring Lazarus back to life!  No, Jesus was very direct in His response to the questioners because He did not want them to start thinking that they had any kind of superiority to them, or to make them turn aside from seeing their own sin compared to the righteousness of God, to instead compare it to the sin of others.  Jesus has great compassion on suffering, and yet He does not stop at healing it or at sympathizing.  He calls the sufferers to come to Him, to follow Him, and…to pursue more suffering in this world.  Not like some kind of monastic self-flagellation, but rather to follow after Him, to give ourselves up for the sake of others, to love others as ourselves and God above all, and to remember that this world is one that will eventually end, to give way to one that never will.

This is getting a bit long but I will encourage you, if you have the patience, to take a look at the series of blog posts I have put up over the last week, as I have attempted to address the particular questions and objections that have come up in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings.  Most importantly, I want to use even this horrible incident to point everyone to what matters most of all, to the cross and to the empty tomb.  If you are a Christian and you are in a position to minister to a suffering person, let that knowledge that Jesus calls us to empathize with the hurting drive you to dig deep in obedience.  If you are a Christian who is suffering, let the fact that Christ has passed through this road before us and now sits in glory encourage you even in your darkest hours.  And if you are one who hurts and cries out but do not know Jesus, I encourage you, do not waste a moment.  Stop holding on to things that will not last, stop clinging to the weight that drags you down in the deep farther, and look to Jesus and love Him.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace