I’m going to make a confession here today. And I’m going to be very frank about two matters of truth: (1) my own spiritual struggles, and (2) a warning from God. So here we go.
I’ve been reading through the Old Testament prophets for months, now, and I have to confess–this has been my most difficult journey through the last seventeen books of the Old Testament. Why so difficult? Among other things, prophecies against ancient civilizations like Edom, Moab, Assyria, etc. are repeated over and over and over again. If truth be told, in my rebellious heart, I’ve pretty much said, “Alright, I’ve got it! Don’t be cruel to Israel, or the boom’s gonna be lowered on you!”
And really, through Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, et al, God told Israel pretty much the same message over and over again: “Don’t take advantage of the downtrodden! Use fair scales when you sell stuff. Quit worshiping gods made with human hands. Quit offering up your children as human sacrifices to those false gods. Return to Me, the One God, the Maker of heaven and earth!”
Again, in the hardness of my heart, I said to myself, “Got it. No false gods. No cheating. Look out for poor people. Got it. Don’t need to read it again in Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, et al.”
What I Was Missing and Why It’s Super Important
This may not come across as profound. It’s so obvious I would ordinarily bypass saying it. But since (in my dullness of heart) I missed it for days and weeks on end, perhaps I need to say it for the sake of people like me.
Yes, God was repetitive to the extreme in His warning of doom and judgment on His people Israel/Judah, as well as on their neighbors. But they didn’t believe Him that the judgment would ever come! They kept saying, “It’ll never happen!” Check what God said through the prophet Zephaniah.
At that time I will search through Jerusalem with lamps. I will punish the people who are entrenched in their sin, those who think to themselves, “The Lord neither rewards nor punishes.” (Zephaniah 1:12)
And suddenly it occurred to me, how many of us are just like that? How many of us think to ourselves all the time, “The Lord neither rewards nor punishes. Life goes on. The evil do evil, and that never changes. The good strive to do good, and they seem to just get trampled underfoot. Judgment is not likely to come in my day.”
Well, judgment did come–on Assyria, Babylon, Tyre, Edom, Moab, Philistia, Egypt, and yes, on God’s own people Israel and Judah! And no one could say, “How could You, God? We weren’t given fair warning!”
Not a Popular Message
The message of coming judgment was not a popular message in the era leading up to Israel’s and Judah’s destruction and captivity. Kings, political leaders, and ordinary citizens threatened to kill God’s Old Testament prophets to get them to shut up and quit preaching coming judgment. (1 Kings 19:10; Jeremiah 18:23)
Preaching the coming judgment of God was not palatable to God’s prophets, either. Several of them begged God to let them off the hook of having to tell their countrymen, “If you don’t repent of your disgusting behavior, God is going to have to deal with you harshly. He cares too much for you to let you destroy yourselves that way. He will intervene.”
Today, judgment is about the most unpopular message a person can preach. Tolerate! Accept! Coexist! Don’t judge! And yet, here we are, slogging our way into self-destruction. God loves us too much to let us do that forever!
Jesus is going to return! (Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-16) It is as certain as the judgment that eventually befell the kingdoms of Old Testament times. Yes, the message has been preached countless times, and too many of us keep saying,
“Where is His promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)
And this smacks of, “The Lord neither rewards nor punishes. Life goes on. The evil do evil, and that never changes. The good strive to do good, and they seem to just get trampled underfoot. Judgment is not likely to come in my day.”
Let’s Police Ourselves
Why ignore or even dread the day of Christ’s return? Why not respond today as Isaiah said,
Seek the Lord while He makes Himself available; call to Him while He is nearby! The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle and sinful people their plans. They should return to the Lord, and He will show mercy to them, and to their God, for He will freely forgive them. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
We can’t make ourselves righteous, but we can submit to the One whose blood was shed for the very purpose of making us righteous. And rather than fearing His return, or rather than ignoring His return, we can be among those of whom the apostle Paul said,
Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day – and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)