Topical Scripture: Hebrews 12.25-29
Some children wrote questions for God, including these: “Dear God: Instead of letting people die and making new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have? Johnny.”
“Dear God: I read the Bible. What does ‘beget’ mean? Nobody will tell me. Allison.”
“Dear God: Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? Norma.”
“Dear God: Did you really mean, ‘do unto others as they do unto you’? Because if you did, then I’m going to fix my brother. Love, Darla.”
We have many questions for God. But none is more pressing than ours today: is God fair? How can God be fair when a fifteen-year-old kills two innocent high school students and wounds eleven more? How can God be fair when an American submarine crew makes a mistake and kills nine Japanese fishermen? How can God be fair and allow so much that is not fair?
If God were only fair, this would be a better world, we say. Let’s see if that’s true.
Consider these facts
Let’s begin with the facts of our text. First, God speaks to us: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks” (v. 25a).
More than 300 times in Scripture, God speaks to his people.
Mother Teresa said that at the beginning of her spiritual life she spent 90% of her time talking to God, and 10% listening to him. At the end of her life it was the reverse.
He spoke from Sinai in giving the Ten Commandments: “At that time his voice shook the earth” (v. 26).
He has spoken in his word: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (Hebrews 1:1).
And now he speaks most fully in his Son: “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:2). God is not an apathetic deity, removed from our lives and fears and problems. God speaks to us, every day.
Second, we must obey what he says (v. 25b).
The Jews at Sinai refused to obey what God said to them, and so died wandering in the wilderness far from their Promised Land (cf. Hebrews 3:16-19). The author says, “they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth” (v. 25a).
Now Jesus speaks to us, and we must listen: “how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?” (v. 25b).
Have you ever refused to obey God? Refused to obey his word? His Spirit’s urging in your life? His will for you?
Third, God will judge our obedience.
Verse 26 is clear: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'” This is a quote from Haggai 2:6-7, the promised judgment of God.
He will do this to separate that which can be “shaken” from that which cannot (v. 27).
We will each stand before God in this judgment: “If any man builds on this foundation [Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
God will judge our obedience to his word and will.
Last, we must approach God with reverent gratitude.
But despite our failures and sins, “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (v. 28). This is by God’s grace. So we must be “thankful,” the NIV says. The Greek says: “let us live in this grace,” or “let us be grateful.”
We are to come to God in reverent gratitude because of what he has done for us, and because of who he is: “Our God is a consuming fire.” This quote from Deuteronomy 4:24 evokes the purity of God, his power, his justice and judgment, his awe and righteousness.
And so, because of his grace and because of his purity and power, we must approach God with reverent gratitude.
Friedrich Schleiermacher, the most famous theologian of his day, defined religion as a “feeling of absolute dependence.” While religion is certainly more than a feeling, it is at least this.
Remember Isaiah before God: “Woe is me! I am ruined!” (Isaih 6:5). Remember Jeremiah before God: “Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (Jeremiah 1:.6). Remember Peter’s response to seeing Jesus’ miraculous power: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Remember John’s response to the risen Lord: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17).
If his best friend on earth, and his leading disciple, and two of his greatest prophets had to come to God in reverence, awe, and humility, what of us? When did you last come to him in this way? Not flippantly, or easily, but in deep awe and reverent worship?
If God were fair in judgment
Now, in light of these facts, let’s address our question. Is God fair? Well, if God were fair, what would happen to us when we stand before him in judgment one day?
Scripture is clear: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). What would happen to you and me then, if God is truly fair?
Let’s think about that question for a moment.
We know that a hospital operating room must be absolutely sanitary for surgery to be successful.
When I visit someone in an isolation room at the hospital, I must wash my hands and face, and put clothes over my clothes and hair, so that I don’t bring germs into the room which could kill the patient.
In Rio Rancho, New Mexico, chips are fabricated for computers in rooms larger than three football fields. The technicians spend their shifts encased in GORE-TEX “bunny suits.” Workers also wear helmets which pump their expelled breath through a special filter package. Powerful pumps in the ceiling replace the air in the lab eight times a minute. All so computer chips will be clean enough to work.
Of course, God’s heaven is perfect, more pure and perfect than any computer lab or hospital room. The God who is a consuming fire must have a perfect realm for himself. What happens if he lets us in his heaven with sin in our lives?
Please raise your hand if you’ve never lied. If you have never stolen something, or acted out of ego and pride, or lusted after someone, or broken another of God’s laws. If God were fair, what would happen to us at our judgment?
Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermon was titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Preached to his congregation at Enfield, Connecticut, in 1741, its words still haunt us today. Here are some of his closing statements:
“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”
He’s right. If God were fair, what would happen to every one of us at our judgment? Where would we spend eternity?
Thank God, literally, that he’s not fair. His Son died in our place, to pay the price for our sins and failures, so that we could be spared from hell and given heaven with God. His perfect, innocent Son died for our crimes. That wasn’t fair.
Now because of Jesus “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (v. 28). A kingdom we did not earn or deserve. That isn’t fair.
If you have not received this salvation, you have the opportunity to do so today. The opportunity billions do not have—precious souls who live in the third of the world that has never even heard of Jesus, that has no access to the gospel. You are no better than any of them, but you hear it. That isn’t fair.
If you have received this salvation, this gift doesn’t make you better than others, just forgiven. This isn’t fair. Have you thanked God? Our text is clear: “let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (v. 28). Today.
If God were fair in life
We’ve thought about God’s fairness with our judgment before him one day in heaven. What about his fairness with respect to our lives today on earth? Why isn’t God more fair here? Why does he allow pain and suffering and disaster in our world? Some of the principles from last week still apply:
Some suffering comes from the natural world, not from God.
Some comes from the enemy, not from God.
Some comes from our own wrong choices, not from God.
In such a world as this, think about the way things would be if God were always fair.
If God were fair, he would never help us with our problems, never forgive our sins, never redeem our suffering, never strengthen us as we go through it, never intervene miraculously, never walk with us in our pain. If he were fair.
If God were fair, we’d get caught every time we sin. A ticket every time we speed; jail for every law we have ever broken; public exposure for every private sinful thought; no pardon from anyone we ever hurt or wrong.
If God were fair, no one would hear the gospel twice until every person has heard it once. I heard the gospel in the seventh grade, at a Christian concert to which a friend invited me. I didn’t understand it, and didn’t accept it. If God were fair, there would have been no bus ministry three years later, no knock at my door, no invitation to church, no explanation of the gospel, no salvation, no sermon today. If God were fair.
Think about the sins you’ve committed which no one else knows, which God has pardoned and forgotten. What if God were fair? Think about the mistakes you’ve made for which there has been little or no price to pay. What if God were fair?
Think about the multiple opportunities God gave you to hear his gospel. Are you better than people living in Saudi Arabia, with no access to God’s word? Think about the freedom you have to worship him today. Are you better than those who live in Communist China or Afghanistan? Think about the prosperity you enjoy. Are you more deserving than starving souls in Ethiopia? Think about the health your children enjoy. Are they more deserving than AIDS babies in Africa? What if God were fair?
Do you wish God were fair, or are you glad he isn’t? If you’re grateful for his grace, have you told him? Did you come to worship today with “reverence and awe”? Will you tomorrow?
A dear friend gave me a profound theological thought Wednesday night after prayer meeting: “I prove my love to God by my obedience. Not my words, my obedience. I love him to the degree that I obey him.”
If God has been not fair but gracious to you, would you obey his word? Would you worship him with reverence and awe every day this week and beyond?