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Only One Thing Is Wrong

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
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March 5, 2024 9:00 am

Only One Thing Is Wrong

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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March 5, 2024 9:00 am

Why would a loving God let so many bad things happen in the world? That’s a question nearly everyone wrestles with from time to time, even solid, Bible-believing Christians! But Pastor J.D. is flipping the question on its head.

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Today on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. How does the love of God square with the threats of judgment we see in places like Joel?

This is how. Any experience of the painful consequences of our sin before it is too late is God in mercy, in love, trying to wake you up. He's not trying to pay you back for your sin. He's trying to bring you back from your sin. Welcome to Summit Life, the Bible teaching ministry of J.D. Greer, pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh, Durham, North Carolina.

I'm your host, Molly Bitovitch. Okay, so I think there's a question nearly everyone wrestles with from time to time, even Bible believing Christians. And the question is this, why would a loving God let so many bad things happen in the world? Well, today, Pastor J.D. is flipping that question on its head. He's asking us to actually consider what if the hard things I'm facing are because God loves me?

Seems a little off, right? Well, it's a part of our study in the Minor Prophets called Come Back to Me, which you can find at our website, jdgreer.com. Pastor J.D.

titled this message, Only One Thing is Wrong. So grab your Bible and a pen and let's dive right in. The book of Joel is right after the book of Hosea. We are in a series on the Minor Prophets, which is a set of books that most people skip right over in the Bible. These 12 books are short, but they're really important because they describe how life in Israel went so wrong and then what they could do to bring about restoration after it had gone wrong. And that's really good news for us because there's some of us that our lives have gone wrong.

And so these books give us instructions about how it got that way and what we can do now that we're in that condition. Joel's book is the second in the Minor Prophets. You may not realize this, but Joel is actually one of the earliest recorded prophets. Most people miss that because Joel's book comes so late in the Old Testament, but your Old Testament is not arranged strictly chronologically.

It's arranged by different schemes. Joel lived and prophesied very early in Israel's history, a little bit after Solomon, but before the exile. Joel was probably, they say, a student of Elijah and Elisha, if you kind of know where they go in the biblical story. Joel's book was written during a time when a lot of things had gone wrong in Israel. They just had a slew of really bad leaders and they suffered through a national plague, which I will talk about with you here in a moment. There were civil unrest, there were economic problems, their stock market was down, foreign trade was low, national confidence was non-existent, their FBI director had just gotten fired.

Almost everybody believed the country was headed in the wrong direction. And so Joel writes to diagnose the problem and he tells them there's only one real problem. They feel like a bunch of things are wrong, but Joel says, actually, there's just one thing that is wrong. In fact, the book of Joel reminds me of the story I heard about the guy who went to the doctor and complained that everything on his body hurt. The doctor said, well, you show me what you're talking about. So the guy takes his finger and he points to his head. He said, it hurts right here. Then he takes his finger and he points to his shoulder and he says, it hurts right here. And he takes his, he points to his leg and he says, and it hurts right here. The doctor said, you idiot, you have a dislocated finger. That's why it hurts everywhere you touch, not because there's anything wrong, there's something wrong in one place.

You see, many times in our lives, we feel like a host of things are wrong when it's actually only one thing that is wrong. This book is really, really short. It's only three chapters and we're going to go through the entire book here in our time together. Joel opens the book in chapter one with a description of a gigantic locust plague that has just occurred. Here it is in verse four, Joel one, what the cutting locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust has left, the hopping locust has eaten and what the hopping locust has left, the destroying locust has eaten. Now, most of you have probably seen a locust before. They look like kind of supercharged grasshoppers, about three inches long, heavily armed grasshoppers.

But thankfully, none of us, at least in the United States, have ever seen the kind of plague that he is talking about here. We have a record of a modern locust plague that occurred in the region of Palestine around 1915. Observers of that event said that in March of that year, swarms of locusts just appeared in the sky. They came from the northeast and clouds so thick that they obscured the sun. Immediately, these locusts began to dig holes in the soil about four inches deep and about a half inch wide, depositing into each hole more than a hundred eggs.

These holes were literally everywhere across the landscape of Israel. After a few weeks, the young locust hatched. When they did, they resembled large ants. They hadn't formed wings yet, so they would just hop around the ground like fleas. They would cover between four and 600 feet a day as they did, devouring any and all vegetation in their path. As they grew, they would develop the ability to jump, at which point their range got higher and they would scour the trees and the vines. And a few weeks later, they would develop wings, at which point they would swarm over the areas that they had already devoured to destroy any plant life left within it. The sound of their swarms, they said, is terrifying. Witnesses said that within a few days, there was literally nothing living plant-wise left in the region. As they get more desperate for sustenance, they swarm into houses, eating food and clothes and fabric and wood.

They're like middle school boys at a pizza party. They leave nothing behind and literally everything is gone. Joel uses this locust plague as both an illustration of Israel's sin, as well as a warning about God's future judgment on their sin.

Let me talk for a few minutes here about the illustration aspect. Like the locust plague, the devastating power of sin, Joel explains, is total and it gradually destroys everything in its path progressively. The laws of God gave to us, our life, His commandments and His rule in our lives lead to our flourishing. We probably see this best illustrated in the creation account itself in Genesis 1. When God created the earth, Genesis 1-2 says that God first created the world as a kind of formless dark chaotic mass. And then into that dark chaotic disorganized mass, God spoke His word and out of that dark chaotic mass came life and beauty and order and design and all the other complexities of creation.

And the reason that God did it that way, He could have just created it all perfect from the beginning, but He did it that way because He was trying to illustrate for us what God's word coming into our lives would be like. Into the dark chaotic disorganized chaos of our lives, God's word speaks and out of it comes light and life and order and beauty. Sin by contrast unravels creation and plunges our lives back into darkness. And God's judgments throughout scripture often illustrate that. You might see God's judgments in scripture is just God zapping down lightning from heaven, but that's not usually what they are.

Usually His judgments are illustrations of the natural consequences of sin. And maybe one of the best illustrations of this is what happened in the 10 plagues. The 10 plagues were not like God's ultimate book of practical jokes against Egypt. That's kind of what people think is that God was just, you know, inflicting these plagues or He was just trying to demonstrate to Pharaoh who was really in charge. If that's all that God was trying to show, He could have had Moses walk in and like, you know, turn some of Pharaoh's soldiers into grasshoppers and mash a few of them or put the Darth Vader chokehold on Pharaoh or levitate in front. All these things would have convinced Pharaoh that Moses had God's power, but that's not all God was trying to illustrate.

He was trying to demonstrate to Pharaoh and to Egypt what their rebellion was doing to themselves and to the creation. And so what you see in the plagues is a systematic unraveling of creation. The Nile turns to blood, which causes the frogs to come out. The frogs bring the gnats, the gnats bring the disease. The disease brings the boils, the boils bring the death and then darkness.

And it's just illustrating for you creation literally unraveling. We're going to see that same kind of picture again here with the locusts. Creation, our lives unravel and they go into chaos and they're progressively destroyed as we pursue this type of self-centered, self-focused lifestyle. You might think the pornography, you might think the flirtation, you might think doing things your way is not really causing that much harm, but it is numbing your soul to the devastating effects that sin is going to have in you. And that's what this locust plague is an illustration of. The consuming destructive power of sin.

It's not just an illustration though. It's also for Joel, a warning about a coming judgment. One that Joel says is going to be much more terrible than the locust. Joel says that unless Israel wakes up, God is going to send in the armies of Babylon into Israel like a horde of locusts. So you notice that for the next two chapters, he's going to describe this coming invasion of Babylon. If Israel doesn't change their ways, he's going to describe it in terms of the locust horde.

Watch, I'll get to show you this. For a nation has come up against my land. That's a prophecy about Babylon. Powerful and beyond number like the locust. Its teeth are like lion's teeth like the locust. It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree. It is stripped off their bark. It has thrown it down.

Their branches are made white. The fields are destroyed before them. The ground mourns. The land is like the Garden of Eden before they get there. And then behind them is a desperate wilderness. That's just like the locust plague. Nothing escapes them as with the rumbling of chariots. That's the sound of the swarms. They leap on the tops of mountains like the crackling of a flame devouring the stubble. What you're seeing there is God saying your sin caused this kind of destruction in your life. I sent the locust as an illustration of that.

And if you don't wake up, there's going to be a worse one that comes. The armies of Babylon. What you're seeing there, watch this. This is a little nerd moment. What you're seeing there is an illustration of what theologians call the passive and the active dimensions of the wrath of God.

And you're seeing how they work together. Here's your definition. The passive wrath of God is God simply allowing us to suffer the natural consequences of our sin. God says, okay, that's what you chose.

I'll let you experience that. The active wrath of God is the lightning bolt of judgment from heaven. And what you see in stories like this one, listen, is that the passive and active wrath of God work together. And the active wrath of God is usually just an affirmation of, or an extension of his passive wrath. It is God simply affirming to you the choice that you've already made for yourself.

Give you a few quick examples on this. Genesis chapter three, Adam and Eve in the garden sin and God cast them out of his presence. But remember what Adam and Eve had already done? They'd hid themselves from God's presence. So God's active wrath casting them out of his presence was simply an affirmation of what they already chosen for themselves.

Or to go back to the plagues for a minute. The scripture says that God's judgment on Pharaoh was to harden his heart so that he would not believe. But that was only after it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart several times.

See, so what God was doing was he was affirming and solidifying the choice that Pharaoh had already made. In fact, the way that Jesus describes hell itself. Hell, which is of course the ultimate display of the wrath of God shows hell to be just an extension of his passive wrath. And sometimes we can miss that because the Jewish metaphors that Jesus uses to describe hell can be unfamiliar to us. Now I'm not saying these things are only metaphors, but you can see in them, the metaphor of what he's trying to describe. For example, he says that hell will be a place where the worm does not die.

The maggot does not die. That is an image of a conscience that's continually being eaten away by guilt and regret and shame. It is a place of outer darkness. Darkness to Jewish people represented the total absence of God and all of his goodness. It is a place of the gnashing of teeth. That was a Jewish image that meant self-condemnation and self-loathing. It is a place of fire. Fire represented the agony of God's displeasure. Hell is in many ways the full fruition of us telling God to get out of our life and God saying, okay.

It's like C.S. Lewis used to say. He's like in the end, we'll either say to God, thy will be done or God will look at us and say, thy will be done. You are listening to Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. To learn more about this ministry, visit us online anytime at jdgreer.com. Before we get back to today's teaching, I want to take a moment to remind you about an extremely helpful resource that we offer our listeners in addition to this daily teaching. If you have questions about life, theology, or the Bible, you won't want to miss Pastor J.D. 's all-new Ask the Pastor podcast. In each episode, Pastor J.D.

answers real questions submitted by listeners just like you using biblical wisdom along with practical advice he's gleaned from his many years as a pastor. You can access Ask the Pastor with J.D. Greer by visiting jdgreer.com slash podcasts or by searching for it on your favorite podcast platform.

And now brand new for 2024, we're also on YouTube. You can subscribe to Pastor J.D. 's YouTube channel, which is at jdotd.greer, and you can finally see what they look like live and in person.

Don't miss out on this great resource by subscribing to the podcast today. Now let's get back to today's teaching. Once again, here's Pastor J.D. here on Summit Life. Nobody has helped me get my mind around the wrath of God as much as C.S.

Lewis. And one of the things he explained, he said sin is like a cancer. One of the things about cancer is it never stops growing.

It just keeps multiplying and growing, and as long as you're alive or until you kill it, it will just keep growing until it consumes the host. He said sin is like that. He said, so there's a lot of things in your soul that probably you wouldn't need to worry about if you only were around for 70 or 80 years. But scripture says that God created you to live forever, either in heaven or in hell. He says, so what is it like when selfishness, jealousy, unchecked lust, materialism, cowardice, what do those things look like when they've grown unchecked in you for a million years?

He said hell is exactly the technical term for what that state would be. In other words, God doesn't destroy. Sin destroys. And when you understand that, listen, you'll start to see earthly experiences of God's judgment, like this plague of locusts, you'll start to see them as expressions of God's mercy, because God is trying to let you see where sin is taking you before it is too late for you to return. You see, a lot of Bible readers wonder how the threats of judgment we encounter in the minor prophets could be consistent with God's love, right? I mean, you know, we started with Hosea, which is the most mind-blowing illustration of the love of God, how God comes after his people like a husband comes back to a cheating wife who scorns his love again and again and again, and he says, I'm never given up on you. And people see that image of love and they're like, well, where is that love in the minor prophets? Can't we fast forward to Jesus all meek and mild and he comes petting lambs and looking pensively off in the sunset? I want that God. You say, how does the love of God we see in Hosea, how does it square with the threats of judgment we see in places like Joel?

This is how, I'm explaining to you how. Any experience of the painful consequences of our sin before it is too late is God in mercy, in love, trying to wake you up. He's not trying to pay you back for your sin.

He's trying to bring you back from your sin. Then one of the most gripping illustrations I've ever heard of this was from a Christian leader I knew of who got caught up exposed in this Ashley Madison scandal a couple of years ago. Remember that Ashley Madison was his website that facilitated adulterous relationships. And when the, you know, kind of the email thing broke and, and it came out to all these people that whose identities were no longer hidden. His was one, he was a national leader of a national ministry and he was publicly humiliated. And his board asked him to step down or removed him from ministry. And five, six months later he wrote this article. And what he said in the article is he said, you know, when this thing happened, he said, and I was exposed. He said, I thought the judgment of God against me was unusually harsh.

He said, because he says, here's the thing. I never, it was one night I just signed up. He said, it was, it was, I never acted on it. Nobody ever contacted me. I never contacted anybody.

I never met anybody. I certainly never followed through with the adultery. It was just a moment of weakness where I was kind of living out this fantasy. And he said, that was it. And then now I get publicly exposed, humiliated.

I lose my ministry. He said, so I thought of it as an unusually harsh demonstration of God's judgment. He said, now I am here five, six months later. And I see it as one of the greatest acts of God's mercy he has ever given to me. He said, because here's what would have happened had it not gone down that way. He said, I would have done what I always tend to do. And that is I wouldn't really have seriously dealt with this sin. I would have said a quick prayer of repentance and just swept it under the rug. You see what God does in his mercy is he allows you to taste some of these consequences of sin and it's painful.

It feels like locust, but God in mercy is trying to wake you up. So let me ask you, is something like that happening in your life right now? Like for example, maybe you're trying to save money, but God just keeps letting stuff break down. And you're like, come on God, we're trying now. We're trying to get back on our feet and you let, you let our car break down. You let our air conditioner go out.

Come on, little help here. Or you're trying to be better in your marriage, but new issues of conflict keep cropping up. You keep trying new strategies to be happy that work for a while, but they're like pseudo happiness and they don't make you that happy. Hey, can I tell you something? If you got to spend money every single day to keep yourself happy, you're not really happy.

If you're constantly having to find an escape from real life in order to be happy, whether that's a TV show or porn or shopping or a hobby or drinking or something like that, that means that you are rotten on the inside and God's trying to wake you up. And he's going to keep frustrating those strategies. No new strategy is going to fix you. And that's because the source of your problem isn't horizontal.

The source of your problem is vertical. There's not a lot of things wrong. There's one thing that's wrong and here's good news, bad news. God has more locust than you got solutions.

So you need to quit pursuing the solutions and deal with the one thing that's actually wrong. In order for God to bring you to your senses, he has to bring you to the end of yourself. You see, for some of you, he's been calling out to you for years, but you haven't yet been ready to listen because you haven't come to the end of yourself yet. But see, in order for God to make you new, he's got to rip out the old. That means he's got to tear you down. So do not be surprised when your world keeps crumbling.

Again, C.S. Lewis, if you'll let me quote him one more time in his book, Mere Christianity, he said, many people come to God as if, think of it like their house is broken down and they know they need help fixing their house. They got a leaky roof and mildew in the walls and the paint's falling off the wall. And so they come to God and they're like, God, my house is a mess.

Help me. He says, at first, what God does in their hearts makes sense to them because God's fixing the roof and God's painting the walls and getting the mildew out. He says, but then all of a sudden, God invariably starts to do things that don't make sense to them. He'll start to rip out a wall. He'll start to rip up the carpet. He'll start to be like, I wonder why are you doing that? He says, because it hurts.

It hurts abominably. And you suddenly look at God and say, what are you doing? I came to you for help. And you're giving me this. I'll tell you what he's doing. The explanation is that he's building quite a different house from the one you thought of.

Erecting a new wing here. He's putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage. He's building a palace.

One intends, he intends to come in and live in himself. You might be happy with little changes to that little cottage of your life. God's like, I don't want a little cottage. I want to live in a palace.

And that's what I'm going to turn you into. You might be just fine with that shag carpet in the living room. And Jesus says, I ain't living in that. We're going to rip out that shag carpet. I like the shag carpet. I don't like the shag carpet.

We're getting rid of that shag carpet. And all he starts making all these things. He has so much more for you than you ever had for yourself. And in order to give you that, he's got to send the locust into your life to eat it out and wake you up.

So where's this happening for you? Is there something in your life that maybe you've been asking God to take away? You've been saying, God, fix this, repair this.

But instead you need to realize that God is trying through it to send a warning to you, to wake you up. That's what God was doing with Israel with this locust play. So what is it that God says to them?

What does he want from them? Chapter two, verse 12. Yet even now declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning and rend. That means tear. Tear your hearts and not your garments. The thing to notice here is that what he's describing is a repentance that grows out of love.

That's the key thing. He's not talking about changing your behavior. He's talking about a repentance that grows out of a broken heart. See the words with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning, tearing your hearts. He's describing repentance that comes from a broken heart, not just a bent will, but a heart that is heartbroken over what its sin did to God. Because that's the only kind of repentance that actually works. And I tell you that not only do I know that from scripture, I know that from my own life.

Let's say a little something about me. When what bothers me about my sin is that it caused some painful circumstance, or it caused me to be embarrassed, or I felt guilty or ashamed like I wasn't a great Christian, or I wasn't a very good pastor. And then I make a change. When that's the source of my repentance, my resolutions to change are always really short-lived.

They don't go that deep. I've described it to you before like smacking a balloon. I've told you the only way to keep a balloon afloat if it's filled with your breath is to continually smack it. And I'm like, this is the relationship that a lot of us have with God. God has to smack us from time to time to get us to act right. And so you come to church and that's what I do is I smack you about something. And you change your behavior, but it never lasts.

You kind of hover for a little bit spiritually. Then you sag back down and God's got to send somebody else to smack you again. And I told you that that's not a fun way. God doesn't like it. You don't like it. There's another way to keep a balloon afloat that's better for everybody.

And that is you fill it with helium and then it floats on its own. No smacking required. What God wants to do is he wants a change of heart that leads to a heartbroken repentance in those areas where my heart has been broken over how my sin hurt God, how my sin drove out his presence from my life. Those are the areas of repentance that really changed me. God's presence and power flow through a repentance that grows out of love for him.

So if you can't repent effectively, it's most likely because you don't really love God. That's a hard reality today on Summit Life with Pastor JD Greer. To listen again or to catch up on previous messages, go to jdgreer.com. Here on Summit Life, everything we do is possible because of the generosity of our financial supporters and gospel partners. Your gifts are what allows us to reach your city and cities around the country with the life-changing message of the gospel. And as a way to say thank you, we offer a featured resource each month for those of you who make this ministry possible. We choose these resources specifically to help you grow as a disciple-making disciple. This month, we're offering Come Back to Me, a devotional and 21-day scripture guide, which coincides with our current teaching series right now on the program. It's a great way to take your study of scripture, particularly the Old Testament prophets, to the next level and maybe bring a friend along for the ride. Don't neglect this portion of scripture.

There is so much to learn and apply that will bring new life to your walk with Christ. To support this ministry and receive this month's featured resource, give us a call at 866-335-5220. That's 866-335-5220. Or give online now at jdgrier.com. If you'd rather mail your donation, our address is JD Greer Ministries, P.O.

Box 122-93, Durham, North Carolina, 27709. I'm Molly Benovitch inviting you to join us Wednesday as we continue our study in the Book of Joel on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-05 12:24:37 / 2024-03-05 12:35:47 / 11

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