On Friday there was yet another school shooting. There were ten people who lost their lives and more who were wounded. We ought to lift up the victims and their families in prayer. Our thoughts are with them. My heart breaks when we hear about things like this happening in the world. We always ask what we can do to fix it. This world is broken at its core. Evil people do evil things. When people are responsible for such atrocities, it is proof of just how broken the world is. On this side on eternity, rarely, if ever, is there any closure. People are responsible for breaking the world according to Scripture, but God, who is sovereign, has permitted brokenness to accomplish a good purpose. I don’t want to trivialize what has happened. It is a terrible thing. Doubtless, it will be politicized just as every other tragedy is politicized in our current system. No law will stop the next tragedy. People need to be delivered in the depths of their souls. Physical brokenness is evidence of a deeper, more profound brokenness in the human spirit. There is a condition that we need to be delivered from.
Brokenness is part of God’s plan. We experience brokenness in our lives so that we realize we need to be delivered and because God desires that we abide in His glory rather than trying to seek self-glory. I seem to remember a point in my own life when I surrendered to Jesus. I gave my life to Him. I was the property of God Almighty. Still, I experienced brokenness. There was and still is suffering that I experience. If God has delivered me from sin, why is it that I still experience trials? Why, if God has already won the victory in my life, do I still experience failure? If God has brought me into His glory, what is now the point of suffering? Has its purpose changed? Why did God not simply transport me to heaven at the moment I gave Him my life? Why did He leave me in this broken condition?
Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; 10,000 men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.
Now Heber the Kenite had moved away from the Kenites, the sons of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law, and pitched his tent beside the oak tree of Zaanannim, which was near Kedesh.
It was reported to Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up Mount Tabor. Sisera summoned all his 900 iron chariots and all the people who were with him from Harosheth of the Nations to the Wadi Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Move on, for this is the day the Lord has handed Sisera over to you. Hasn’t the Lord gone before you?” So Barak came down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him.
The Lord threw Sisera, all his charioteers, and all his army into confusion with the sword before Barak. Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth of the Nations, and the whole army of Sisera fell by the sword; not a single man was left.
Meanwhile, Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.
God is saving all of Israel physically. This is a representation of God’s saving people from the oppression of sin. This pattern that we see in the book of Judges is no accident. The people would sin, so God would sell them into oppression. The people would repent and God would deliver them from oppression. God wasn’t merely punishing the nation. He was disciplining His people in order to teach them a deeper truth. Sin is oppressive and we need to be delivered from it.
What is salvation? Simply put, it is deliverance from the oppression of sin. When we think about oppression in the world, we are able to think about it more deeply than merely considering the physical acts one perpetrates against another. We’ve already discovered together, over the past two weeks, why God has permitted suffering and oppression. It is that we might realize our own depravity and come to grips with the seriousness of our sin. God desires to deliver us and establish us. Oppression in the world today teaches us something about what sinfulness does to the human spirit. It weighs us down. It causes our souls to be heavy. Sin makes us anxious, makes us feel like we have to correct all of the world’s problems, and makes us overly critical. In Genesis 4:7, we read the beginning of Cain and Abel’s story. Abel has made an offering to God that God has accepted. Cain has made an offering to God that God has not accepted. Cain has become jealous and God takes the opportunity to teach Cain as a father would a son:
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”
God takes the time to teach this lesson to humanity about the nature of sin. Adam and Eve, Cain’s parents, lived for some time in a world that was not broken. God introduced this command to them as a test. The purpose of God’s tests is not “pass or fail.” God tests His people in order to produce endurance within them, and that endurance will have its perfect result making the people of God perfect and complete (James 1:3-4). Through His test for Adam and Eve, then, God’s purpose was to continue to establish them. When they sinned against God, there was a new oppression that entered the world. Sinfulness in the hearts of people now contended against people. Sin’s desire, according to God, is to have us, to rule over us, to domineer us. It is an active force in the human heart that God has left in the world to test His chosen people. We remember that God’s tests are not pass-fail. They are to cause us to realize our insufficiency and to bring us into greater faith in Christ because this is God’s work, not ours. We cannot rightly make any claim that contradicts the fact that salvation is a work of God.
It amazes me, though, that we try to fix the world’s problems the way that we do. With every school shooting, and since there have been schools there have also been regular, systematic mass acts of violence in the school system (our sight is just limited to what has happened in the last couple of years), we are now protesting, introducing new legislation, investigating the gaming industry, elevating security in schools, signing executive orders, arguing with one another about the need for gun control, and so on. Believe it or not, the Bible actually gives us an answer; but as a culture, we’ve stopped turning to the Bible for real answers. They are right in front of us, but we have chosen to be ignorant. The point of the book of Judges, remember, is to show people that trying to achieve their own glory will not help. The human systems and human answers to societal problems have did not help in Scripture. God had to deliver His people. Look at the mountain of evidence in our own society. Is God not showing us that the same thing is true, here? Mass school killings have been happening and increasing in frequency since the 1800’s. No law or program or emphasis or campaign or protest has even slowed the violence. Then, we look to Scripture and see the same thing happening. God’s answer, “Sin’s desire is to have you, but you must rule over it.” Cain felt like he had to earn his way and he simply couldn’t do enough. If you don’t get good grades, you probably won’t go far in this society. If you can’t get a girlfriend (which was at least part of this last guys issue), you are probably not worth that much to society. When there is another mass-school killing, instead of realizing that what we are doing to prevent this isn’t working, we just do more of the same stuff we’ve always done to try and fix the problem. That is insanity! This very works-based type of mentality was the very thing God was warning Cain about. The only way for us to rule over sin is to trust in the grace of God. We are not worth something because of what we have to offer, like Cain thought and like we are taught in this society. We are worth something because we were created by God. We need to be delivered from sin. God was speaking this message to the human race before the first mass-school killing, but we did not listen. The longer we ignore God’s message as a society, the more oppression we will see not only in the form of mass-school killings but overall. I’m not talking about this weird form of popular evangelicalism. I am talking about genuine surrender to Christ.
The moment of conversion is part of God’s work of salvation for His people. This is the moment that we say, “Okay, God. Please deliver me from my sin and from the brokenness of this world.” This is part of God’s salvific work. God is saving a people for Himself through the brokenness of this world.
Brokenness reveals my need for a deliverer.
God is not only delivering Israel from their foreign oppressors, who represent the deeper oppression of sin. God is sanctifying all of Israel, in every generation through this process in the book of Judges.
Sanctification is the being saved part of this. Helps us to understand 1 John 3:9-10, which says, “Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. This is how God’s children — and the Devil’s children — are made evident. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother.”
I wonder how John, who followed Christ and who, by the time he wrote this, was the leading elder of the churches in Ephesus, could write that one of the signs that someone has been born of God is not only that he does not not sin, but that he is unable to sin because he has been born of God. I know Jesus and I still sin. I am known by Jesus and I still sin. Earlier in John’s letter, he wrote that even if we sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1-2). So, he can’t be claiming that if we sin on this earth we are without hope or that we don’t know Jesus. He also writes that because Christ is our advocate, and He is righteous, that He is the propitiation for our sins. This means that despite my mistakes, when I am measured, I am measured according to Christ’s righteousness, not my own because Christ is my righteousness and I have received His righteousness fully. We call that imputation. John goes on to write in chapter 2 before he makes this statement in chapter 3 that whoever keeps God’s word, in him the love of God has been truly perfected (v. 5). So, we arrive again at this saved and being saved idea. When I profess my faith in Christ, I am given the righteousness of Christ. Then, there is this continuing perfecting of God’s love within me. This is called sanctification. When God’s work of sanctification is complete, when I have been fully delivered through the snares and the thorns given in this world, I will be brought to a place where I do not practice sin. Not only this, but I will not be able to sin because I will be fully born of God. At my conversion I was saved. Through sanctification I am still being saved through the snares and thorns of this world. This is why John wrote later in his letter that those who are born of God overcome the world (1 John 5:4). There is still something to overcome in sanctification.
What does this mean for us in this life? It means simply this. If I am saved and being saved, God, through His work of sanctification, is bringing me to a place where I am forsaking sin. The longer I live in Christ, the more I will rest in God’s glory and the less I will try to achieve my own glory in this life. If I am in Christ, I ought to be able to look back at my life in this broken world and see that I am forsaking sin more as I follow Christ. There will be a day when I have forsaken sin altogether because I am born of God and He has freed me from my bondage to sin. If I am not being brought to forsake more of my sin through sanctification, then I am not being sanctified and will not overcome the world. This looks different for everyone. Even for the deathbed salvation, when it is genuine, God sanctifies His people. He is not limited to our timeframe such that we can only be sanctified after conversion. No, God is always working all things together. I hope desperately that you understand that I am not higher or better or holier than anyone reading this. I am being sanctified, too.
I want to take just a minute and boast in my weakness. I’m not referring to physical weakness. I am referring to insufficiency. I am referring to how, in the context of a sinful world, insufficiency leads to sin. Even last week as I preached, I said something that made someone feel small and I did not consider how what I said might be perceived or whether someone might be impacted negatively. All I can do is apologize because that is never my intention. Because I am a depraved person living in the brokenness of this world, my weakness is far more evident. It is good that my weakness is evident. Too often, I see the pastor or the preacher or the leader in any context pretend to be strong, and by strong, I mean sufficient in and of themselves. It’s like we haven’t even read the Scriptures that we try and teach.
When we pretend to be strong in this way, we work against the message of the Gospel. We keep ourselves from being genuine in our message. The message is simple: In my weakness, God’s strength is made evident. Paul, the apostle, wrote that in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Because of this, Paul didn’t pretend to be strong. He didn’t pretend to be the premier example or moral goodness. He did not pretend that he had all the answers. No, he resolved to boast in his weaknesses because that was the very reason that God placed a thorn in his side as we either discovered or were reminded of two weeks ago. Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that I am weak. I preach from my weakness. I serve you from my weakness. In my weakness, God’s strength is made evident. Please don’t ever hang on my words but on the words of God. Let me be this example to you not in my strength, but in my weakness. None of us has to pretend to be strong. We can be genuine, here. Let God’s strength be made evident in our local churches. James and tests.
What this means as we come together in praise? It means that when I sing to God, present my financial offerings to Him, and engage His word, I so so from a place of weakness that God’s strength may be made evident. I have nothing to offer the God to whom belongs everything and all glory. When I make those excuses, “I’m too tired,” “This isn’t the right genre of music,” “I’m just not in a good place financially to give for God’s work to be done,” “Writing checks is just too inconvenient,” “The preaching is boring,” or, my personal favorite, “I don’t need to go to church to love Jesus,” we essentially come from a place of self-perceived strength. When we do this, our worship in life is meaningless before God; who is sanctifying all of His people through brokenness, by grace, and in their weakness. How good is this news? It is not only okay for me to be weak, but it is good for me to recognize my weakness because God’s strength is made evident and His grace sufficient even though I don’t have anything to offer! How good is this news!
In this brokenness, God is sanctifying me.
This isn’t the end of the story. There will be a new life on the new earth. This new life will not even be like Adam and Eve’s life in the Garden before the Fall. Remember, God has been wonderfully establishing His creation from the foundation of the world. God, this whole time, has been moving His creation from the garden to the city.
We arrive in Revelation 21:1-7, and what we read is amazing:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:
“Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things have passed away.”
Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars — their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Do you see what is going on, here? The previous things are passing away. That is all previous things. The glory and majesty of creation and technology and this city (which is representative of God’s bride) cannot be mistaken as the work of people. We miss this when we read Revelation trying to put together some eschatological timeline. That wasn’t John’s goal! It is not for us to know the time of or the order in which events will unfold (Matthew 24:32). When we do this, it is simply another attempt of humanity to achieve glory for self by trying to figure out the plans that God has purposefully withheld for our good. I have a feeling we are all going to be amazed at how God works together the judgment of the world for His glory and for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Adam and Eve did not accomplish this work that we read about. If they hadn’t sinned, they might have mistaken it as their work as they cultivated the earth. So, God introduced a command, people disobeyed because they were predisposed to seek glory (remember, they were created in the image of a glorious God), and God was working all this together as He establishes His creation for His glory. Notice the language that John uses in Revelation, when he records the completion of God’s salvific work. The New Jerusalem comes from God. God’s dwelling is with humanity. He lives with them. God is their God. He is the one who wipes every tear. The previous things have passed away. Adam and Eve are not in a garden working and doing the right things for approval. The previous things have passed away. God desired a deeper, fuller existence for people than that. He wants us to abide in His glory. The Israelites are no longer ensnared by false God’s and subject to the thorns that God put in place to humble them. The previous things have passed away. God is the one making all things new. God is the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. God gives water from the spring of life as a gift. God will give an inheritance to the victor and God will be his God and he will be God’s son. The self-righteous. Those who remained in their pursuit of self-glory and sinned will have earned their own place, the lake of fire that is the second death.
God is the one doing this from the foundation of the world for His glory because glory is His right. When He brings me to abide in His glory rather than try to achieve my own, I get to have an inheritance from God- a good estate. When I try to earn my own glory, then I earn a place with the damned because I, much like Adam and Eve before they were humbled, have been working for my acceptance. This, though, is not about earning something good. It is about God working out the salvation of His people from the foundation of the world and giving them an inheritance in His glory for His glory. It always forks out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
God is reserving a good inheritance for His people.
Brokenness reveals my need for a deliverer.
In this brokenness, God is sanctifying me.
God is reserving a good inheritance for His people.