WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE YOU TREMBLE?
Time to wake up! Are you a “leaper” or a “creeper”? – In the morning some people leap out of bed as fresh as a daisy – others of us, well it takes a bit more to get us out of bed! I tend to be the first up in our house – how do you go about waking someone when it is time to get up? You may start quietly telling them the time; if there is no response, you may tap them on the shoulder lightly; [P] if they just creep lower in bed you might flap the sheets to let a bit of cold air in; before you resort to the shock tactics of ripping the blankets off or a bucket of cold water. You start subtly but, when there is no response, you get firmer; because “IT IS TIME TO WAKE UP!” [P] I think that sometimes God does a similar kind of thing with us. He gives us a warning, if we ignore it, the warning becomes more severe; increasing until we pay attention – until we lay it to heart. We see an example of this in [P] [Amos 4:4-12 “Enter Bethel and transgress; in Gilgal multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days. Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, make them known. For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,” Declares the Lord יְהוָה (He declares their transgression – they were religious but far from God). “But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities and lack of bread in all your places, yet you have not returned to Me, declares YHWH.... (1. sent famine). “Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another city I would not send rain; one part would be rained on, while the part not rained on would dry up. So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water, but would not be satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares YHWH... (2. sent drought). “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares YHWH..... (3. sent disease and pestilence on their crops). “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, and I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares YHWH..... (4. getting more severe, disease and death through war). “I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze; yet you have not returned to Me,” declares YHWH.... (5. judgement from heaven sparing only a remnant) “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.” ] They ignored five warnings, so they had to face God, meet their Maker in judgement. If only they had repented! God was very patient, trying to get their attention. Do you think that God might be trying to get our attention? [P]
It is now 4½ months since the earthquake – enough time to look at it with a bit of distance and perspective, not just a knee jerk reaction. First I want to look at an example from relatively recent history, and then have a look at what the Bible says regarding earthquakes, before lastly applying it to our own situation.
Historical earthquake: At the beginning of last century, in 1906, there was a devastating earthquake in San Francisco. [P] Now that is before the Richter scale was invented, but based on the destruction caused, it is estimated to have been about magnitude 7.9 – 10x more powerful than that we experienced. There was a man called Frank Bartleman who was an early leader of the Pentecostal movement at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, California. There was a great spiritual revival there in 1906, it was really the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement. He was a central figure in that revival, but he was also a journalist. His reports published in the holiness press heralded a world-wide revival. Bartleman's journalism helped to inform the world of the Pentecostal renewal and was largely responsible for promoting the revival. His account has been republished (“Azusa Street”), and he records that the earthquake to the north had considerable spiritual impact. I want to read a portion from his book: “I found that the earthquake had opened many hearts – distributed 10,000 tracts, the workers seized them eagerly and scattered them quickly throughout the city. Nearly every pulpit in the land was working overtime to prove that God had nothing to do with earthquakes and thus allay the fears of the people. The Spirit was striving to knock at hearts with conviction through this judgement. I felt indignation that the preachers should be used of satan to drown out His voice. I had been much in prayer since the earthquake, after the shock in Los Angeles the LORD told me definitely He had a message for the people. (He wrote another tract) I kneeled before the LORD and He met me in a powerful way, a powerful witness that the message was from Him. I was wonderfully taken up in the spirit of intercession. I seemed to feel the wrath of God against the people and to withstand it in prayer. He showed me He was terribly grieved at their obstinacy in the face of His judgement on sin. San Francisco was a terribly wicked city (it is again today). He showed me all hell was being moved to drown out His voice in the earthquake, if possible. Men had been denying His presence in the earthquake – now He would speak. The question in almost every heart was: “Did God do that?” But instinct taught men on the spot that He had. Even the wicked were conscious of the fact. (He records that the enemy tried to hinder, part of the type was smashed in the press, followed by a man raving like a maniac, who tore up his tract publicly). Many threw down the tracts in a rage, only to pick it up again and read it. The saddest part was the fact that nearly all the preachers worked with the enemy in the matter. But I was only giving them the Word of God (in fact the portion of the tract in the book is 100% Scripture). A policeman was put on my track, the people were stirred up so. 75,000 distributed in three weeks – all by hand. Another 50,000 were distributed by another brother. The following are some extracts from the “Earthquake” tract: “"But what had God to do with earthquakes? ’When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness' (Isaiah 26:9). 'Which removeth the mountains, when He overturneth them in His anger, which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble' (Job 9:5-6). 'The mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt; and the earth is upheaved at His presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken asunder by Him' (Nahum 1:5-6). 'And I will punish the world for their evil. Therefore I will make the heavens to tremble, and the earth shall be shaken out of her place, in the day of His fierce anger' (Isaiah 13:11, 13). 'Then the earth shook and trembled, the foundations also of the mountains moved, and were shaken because He was wroth. There went up a smoke in His wrath, and fire out of His mouth devoured. The Lord thundered from Heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice. Then the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were laid bare, by the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of His anger' (Psalm 18). "'Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. The foundations of the earth do shake, the earth is utterly broken, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall stagger like a drunken man, and shall be moved to and fro. The transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it.' (Isaiah 24:1, 18, 20). 'Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of Hosts with earthquakes, and great noise, and the flame of a devouring fire.' (Isaiah 29:6). 'Men shall go into the caves of the rocks, from before the terror of the Lord, when he arises to shake terribly the earth' (Isaiah 2:19). 'And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air and there was a great earthquake' (Revelation 16:17,18). And will you claim there is no God in earthquakes? John Wesley has said, 'Of all the judgments which the righteous God inflicts on sinners here, the most dreadful and destructive is an earthquake.'" - From "Earthquake Tract," April 1906.” The San Francisco earthquake was surely the voice of God to the people of the Pacific coast. It was used mightily in conviction, for the gracious after revival. Bartleman was adamant: It was the hand of God! [P] It is interesting that there was a great response of repentance and turning to God amongst the poorer classes in Los Angeles, but the spiritual effect in San Francisco was limited. God acts – what is our response? [P] Terror in San Francisco, but revival in Los Angeles, transformation in the lives of those that repented and God touched.
Earthquakes in Scripture: So that is an example in history of how God used an earthquake, what does the Bible have to say on the matter? What do we learn about יְהוָה’s use of earthquakes from the Scripture? I was reading through the book of Amos just before Christmas (there was an aftershock around that time) and he has a bit to say about earthquakes. So we have looked at the example of San Francisco [P], now let’s look at the example of Amos. Remember it was from Amos we read about the wake-up call. The whole context of the book of Amos is an earthquake that occurred in the days of Uzziah – that’s how he starts the prophecy, there was a message from יְהוָה in that event! [Amos 1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoa, which he envisioned in visions concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.] He prophesied the event before it took place. He warned that there was coming a shaking. [Amos 8:7-8 יְהוָה has sworn by the pride of Jacob, “Indeed, I will never forget any of their deeds. “Because of this will not the land quake and everyone who dwells in it mourn? Indeed, all of it will rise up like the Nile, and it will be tossed about and subside like the Nile of Egypt.] He foretold a coming earthquake – and it was for a reason: יְהוָה said that He would never forget any of their deeds – it was because of what they had done [P]. Amos describes the shaking, people staggering: [Amos 8:12 “People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of יְהוָה, but they will not find it.] – They are unable to hear from יְהוָה anymore, revelation ceases [P]. He speaks in [Amos 8:11] of their being a famine for hearing the word of יְהוָה. It happens at יְהוָה’s command: [P] [Amos 6:11 For behold, יְהוָה is going to command that the great house be smashed to pieces and the small house to fragments.] – He commands destruction, and earthquake that smashes the houses. It is יְהוָה who makes the place shake: [Amos 9:1 I saw יְהוָה standing beside the altar, and He said, “Smite the capitals so that the thresholds will shake, and break them on the heads of them all! Then I will slay the rest of them with the sword; they will not have a fugitive who will flee, or a refugee who will escape.] He gives the command and terminates the lives of those that survive – it is God acting in judgement [P]. [Amos 9:5 יְהוָה of armies, the One who touches the land so that it melts, and all those who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises up like the Nile and subsides like the Nile of Egypt;] It is יְהוָה’s doing and the Scripture makes no apology for the fact [P]. יְהוָה is quite happy to take responsibility for what He does: [Amos 9:9 “For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground.] It happens at יְהוָה’s command. The shaking is not metaphorical; He was literally going to shake the land in an earthquake. It happened two years after the prophecy warning the people. But did you pick up the mercy in judgment – not a kernel would fall to the ground [P]. The worthless chaff would blow away in the shaking, but not one kernel of valuable grain would be lost. There will be restoration, rebuilding after the shaking of the quake: [P] [Amos 9:14 “Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit.] The cities would be ruined in the earthquake and need rebuilding. The background to the whole prophecy is the earthquake. So what is the lesson that Amos brings from this imminent earthquake? What should be their response? What is the application? How can they avoid this calamity? [Amos 5:6 “Seek יְהוָה that you may live, or He will break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, and it will consume with none to quench it for Bethel,] [P] It is a wake up call – it time to seek יְהוָה until He comes to rain righteousness on you. The message is: Seek יְהוָה and live. That is the way to escape certain coming judgement. [P] Let’s briefly look at other Scriptures where יְהוָה used an earthquake and see what His purpose in it was:
· Expression of יְהוָה’s anger [P] – In Ezekiel we read: [Ezekiel 38:19 In My zeal and in My blazing wrath I declare that on that day there will surely be a great earthquake in the land of Israel.] – so that shows us that יְהוָה uses earthquakes as an expression of His anger.
· Means of punishment [P] – In Isaiah it says: [Isaiah 29:6 From יְהוָהof armies you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, with whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire.] – Earthquakes are a means that יְהוָה uses to punish, an instrument of punishment.
· Means of deliverance and conviction [Acts 16:25-34] [P] – You recall the story in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi because they had cast a demon out of a girl. Then at midnight there was an earthquake that released all the prisoners from their bonds. The jailer was scared that they had escaped and he would have to forfeit his life, and cried out: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Salvation came to him and his family. So God used an earthquake to set His servants free and bring conviction upon the jailer. At least the jailer, unlike many today, made a spiritual response to the act of God.
· Means to make people flee [P] – An end-time earthquake is prophesied in: [Zechariah 14:5 You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then יְהוָה, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!] – The earthquake will provide a means of escape, it will cause people to flee – the same thing happened with the earthquake that Amos prophesied that happened during the reign of Uzziah.
· Sign of the end times [P] – An oft quoted reference is: [Matthew 24:7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.] It is a passage in which Jesus is giving His disciples signs of the end and His return. Earthquakes will be one of the signs of the end-times. We are in the end-times – Jesus return is near!
· Opportunity to witness [P] – A parallel passage to that in Matthew is: [Luke 21:10-15 Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.] From Luke’s account we see that these things taking place will provide an opportunity for God’s people to witness – as in San Francisco it will make people stop in their tracks and consider things of God. The circumstances create a spiritual receptivity as people see the hand of God at work.
· Used in end time judgement [Revelation] [P] – Earthquakes feature prominently in the book of Revelation: there are five earthquakes recorded in Revelation [P]: It is not surprising since they are particularly associated with the end-times. They are used in יְהוָה’s end-time judgement. Let us look at them:
1. [6:12-17] – [P] expression of יְהוָה’s wrath – Firstly in: [Revelation 6:12-17 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”] – it is evident that the earthquake is the expression of יְהוָה’s wrath. Doesn’t this come through consistently in the Biblical record of earthquakes? The earthquake generates great fear – people know that it is יְהוָה’s doing and they try to escape Him.
2. [8:4-5] – [P] יְהוָה acting in response to the saints’ intercession – Secondly in [Revelation 8:4-5 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.] Here we see that the earthquake is יְהוָה responding to the prayers of their saints. Their intercession causes Him to act, His act is to bring an earthquake.
3. [11:13] – [P] causing people to fear יְהוָה and give Him glory – Thirdly in [Revelation 11:13 And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.] We see the devastating effect of an earthquake – it causes great fear among the people. A fear of יְהוָה! How we need that! How that is absent from our society! People know that this is YHWH’s doing and they fear and give Him glory. Praise God! יְהוָה acts for His glory and the earthquake causes people to glorify Him as is His due.
4. [11:19] – [P] indication that יְהוָה is about to act – Fourthly in [Revelation 11:19 And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.] We read of this earthquake as the final of the 7 trumpets is sounded – יְהוָה is about to act, pour out the bowls of His wrath, unleashing His judgement upon the earth. He announces this judgement with an earthquake and the thunder of His voice. God is about to act!
5. [16:18-19] – [P] judgement upon humanism (man excluding God) – Then lastly we read of the greatest earthquake of them all: [Revelation 16:18-21 And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.] It is יְהוָה’s judgement upon Babylon – that great unifying of human effort in opposition to God, started by Nimrod (in Genesis 10:10), judged by יְהוָה in (Genesis 11), and it has been at work ever since then. Man, by cooperating, think that they can do without God – that is the spirit at work in New Zealand today! We can do it, we can solve any problem; man is the pinnacle. Babylon is humanism and יְהוָה is going to destroy it in the greatest earthquake ever to strike this planet! God’s fierce wrath is going to be poured out. Man knows that what hits them is from God, yet still they blaspheme. They will not turn to Him no matter what.
Christchurch earthquake: [P] When I was preparing this message we had a renewed flurry of shocks – what is the message? Judgement is coming! We have had the gentle shake, to wake us up. Canterbury is one of the least earthquake prone regions of NZ but we get hit by an 7.1 Richter earthquake – what is my response? – Firstly: make sure I have water, power and sewerage; make sure that everyone knows that we are OK. That is the initial thing, taking care of the necessities of life, then what? I check for damage, make a claim with EQC, contact the insurance company; get on with life. But do we ever stop and ask “Why?” “What is God saying?” “What is the reason?” Do we heed the warning?! My grave concern is that: “no one takes it to heart” [Jeremiah 12:11 They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart.] What does it take to make you tremble? [P] Oh people trembled at the shaking, but do any tremble at God who sent it? Do we lay it to heart? Do I carry on life as normal? Do I consider the coming judgement and tremble? What does the Christchurch earthquake have to say to us? What is יְהוָה saying through it?
· It is the hand of God – [P] We reduce everything to fault-lines and movement of tectonic plates, the operation of natural forces – we fail to see the hand of God, discern His voice in the events that take place. There is a cause behind it all – the lesson of history and the testimony of Scripture is that it is the hand of God. God is sovereign, in control of all things. Nothing happens apart from Him. He sent the earthquake and He did so for a reason. It is not just a “natural event” that just happens. To dismiss it as a natural event is to close your ears to God shouting with a megaphone.
· It is a warning – [P] God has power and can act in judgment, and in fact, the record of the Scripture that we have read is that He will! There will be yet more earthquakes! You may not have like the experience of the shaking; but if I may give you a word of encouragement: “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” [Haggai 2:21-23 “Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah, saying, ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the sword of another.’ ‘On that day,’ declares יְהוָה of armies, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,’ (picturing Jesus reigning as King) declares יְהוָה, ‘and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ ” declares יְהוָה of armies.] A far greater shaking, a shaking of everything, is going to take place. What we experienced was a warning, a mere foretaste. As we saw in Amos, God acts in order to get peoples’ attention, to get them to turn to Him and avoid the judgement that is coming.
· Judgement is coming – [P] Because judgement is coming. The quake came and I guess I saw it as God’s hand, a sign that the end is nigh. But with the aftershocks, I stopped and looked at myself – was I ignoring the warning? Were there things that needed addressing in my life? I have preached from the Minor Prophets, judgment is a major theme – we have had the testimony of Scripture, but here is a warning directly to us that it is coming. Am I ready? Are there things in my life that need dealing with? Judgement is coming! A far greater shaking, a shaking of everything, is going to take place. The prophecy of Haggai is quoted in Hebrews, it is yet to be fulfilled: [Hebrews 12:25-29 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.] I think the earthquake revealed people’s foundations. Were you shaken? If our foundation is in God’s Kingdom, then we will not be shaken. Rather we will be grateful for the foundation we have that doesn’t move no matter what is shaken on earth. Because our foundation is not on earth, our citizenship is in heaven, the kingdom which we have received cannot be shaken. Judgement is coming, a far greater shaking, but it will not shake those who belong to the Kingdom.
· Mercy in Judgement – [P] There is a principle in God’s Word: that God shows mercy in judgment. And people have noticed it. People have spoken of the “miracle” that no one was killed. Things could have been a lot worse. God’s judgement? Yes, but also His mercy. We should not presume upon and abuse such mercy but be grateful of the leniency and take the opportunity that we have been given. We were spared; but if we ignore God’s mercy the warnings will become more severe.
· It is time to wake up – [P] As I alluded to at the beginning; I see the earthquake as a wake up call. It is a warning of coming judgment, that the end is getting nearer. Am I ready to meet my Maker? I look at my life and see that there are things need to be cleaned up and brought into order. I have let things slip, become slack. It is time to wake up. [Romans 13:11-12 Do this (that is: love your neighbour), knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.] We need to get things sorted out while grace and mercy are still being shown.
· Seek the LORD that you may live – [P] It is time to wake up! What was the message of Amos in the earthquake? Seek יְהוָה that you may live! Many were scared in the earthquake and on edge with the after shocks – but it was fear of the quakes, not of the One who sent them. Where is the fear of יְהוָה? The seeking after Him? Our response at witnessing the mighty hand of God at work and being spared, should be to seek Him with extra earnestness; no longer be taken up with the cares of this world. We need to look at our priorities. The only thing that matters is seeking יְהוָה. All else is inconsequential. All else will be shaken and removed. While there is time we should seek the LORD that we might live.
· Motivation to revere and fear יְהוָה– [P] we see the power of יְהוָה, we see Him at work – our response must be one of fear and reverence. Not fear of the shaking, but a fear of the One who has the power to shake. We serve a mighty God – these are but the fringes of His power! Experiencing such a demonstration of His power should inspire us to reverence and awe.
· The time is short – [P] The Scriptures tell of earthquakes as a sign of the approach of the end-times and the LORD’s return. The King is coming! The earthquake reminds us that this is imminent! Jesus is coming soon. The message of the coming King and Judge needs to be proclaimed. The earthquake is a motivator to witness. The time is short and we need to be proclaiming the message of the Kingdom that cannot be shaken – for it is the only hope. The time of Jesus’ return is near! It is necessary that people turn around from going their own way and follow the King – because when He comes those opposed to Him will be destroyed. We have been privileged to have received a dramatic warning – don’t let us ignore it but lay it to heart. It’s the old message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”