A Deafening Silence
So this was an interesting week…did anybody hear the news about Harold Camping? He’s the preacher that’s made all those predictions about the return of Christ. There’s been five or six different dates he’s proposed beginning in 1994, the most recent being October of last year. Something I discovered when I was looking at Camping’s stuff is that since the time of Christ, rarely has just five years passed without somebody giving a date for the Rapture. In fact, the only 10-year period without a proposed date was the first 10 years directly following Christ. Well, anyway, this past week Harold Camping announced from his radio show that he was wrong and asked God’s forgiveness for making what he called a “sinful mistake.” Somebody tell me why what Camping did is a sinful mistake? <…> It would be difficult for a non-believer to view the hundreds of dates of Christ’s return that have come and gone and come away with anything less than ridicule and mockery for the Christian faith. I mean, there are already enough hard questions people have that Christians have a hard time answering. And it’s even worse when it’s a non-believer who actually knows something about what the Bible says. So let’s think about this…a person who knows something about the Bible, but hasn’t put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Maybe they think there’s something to it, maybe they don’t…maybe their on the fence. Let’s say they start to read the Bible or maybe just ask questions to a Christian they know. The conversation goes something like this:
Joe: Hey, Larry. I have a question.
Larry: What’s going on, Joe?
Joe: You’re a Christian, right? What’s the deal with Jesus coming back all about?
Larry: Oh, well Jesus ascended to heaven after he rose from the dead 2000 years ago, and he’s going to come back to collect his people and bring fiery judgment on the rest of the world.
Joe: Yeah. I’ve heard that. I’ve also heard about all these people who’ve given dates for His return which have all come and gone. Are you sure this is all real?
Larry: Yes. I believe the Bible is 100% accurate.
Joe: Ok, well let me ask you this…Why is Jesus going to bring fiery judgment on the world?
Larry: Because the world is sinful. And God is a just God who punishes sin.
Joe: Why does He punish sin?
Larry: Because he’s just. He is incompatible with sin. The Bible says that God’s eyes are so holy that he cannot look upon evil.
Joe: Can’t look upon evil? … You know what’s going on in the Middle East? I mean, If God is a just God who must punish the sins of mankind, why doesn’t He do it?
Put yourself in Larry’s shoes…how would you answer? Have you even thought about it yourself? Hopefully you have, because you can see how easily this issue can come up unexpectedly in conversation. So now, I put the question to you. If there is all this evil in the world, why is God silent? Why does God answer the sins of the world with silence?
If God is so just and so holy…where is the storm? Where is the mighty hand of judgment? If God is just and perfect and holy, why are rapists and murderers and warlords running rampant in the world? If God has His eye on all the affairs of the world, and is in control, and is perfect and holy… why are 42 million babies killed in the womb every year? Why does God answer the sins of the world with silence?
If God is the one who declares what is good and what is evil, why does He seem to be the least outspoken about it?
When 400,000 people are slaughtered in Rwanda, where is the voice of God? Why doesn’t He speak up? When a four-year-old girl is kidnapped and raped, why is God silent? If God is the one who declared that He will punish the sins of the world as a righteous judge, where is He? If He is the Judge, has he recused Himself from the case?
All these unfulfilled proposals for the date of Christ’s return build skepticism in everyone’s mind who isn’t already a believer. But you know the sad thing? Even if a person is convinced that Christ is coming back…that does not guarantee their behavior will reflect it. In fact, at one time there was a whole group of churches in Turkey who had an influx of teachers who denied the 2nd Coming of Christ, even though they knew it was true, and they denied it for the purpose of self-indulgence, and they denied it using these arguments. These false teachers would say things like, “These sorts of things don’t happen! Be liberated from the fear of consequences and live how you want!” The false teachers would ask, “When is the last time you remember God bringing fiery judgment on the world? The prophets and apostles predicted Jesus’ return, but now we know that it’s not real.” The false teachers would tell you, “There are no consequences. Live how you like!”
Sadly, we can also be duped into that same way of thinking…and we do it all the time. That’s why we sin. We believe the promise of no consequences, even though we know they’ll come. But we believe it because so often the consequences don’t come. Christ has not returned to judge the world, and we witness evil all around us and God remains silent. Why does God answer the sins of the world with silence?
Well, what I said about the churches in Turkey is a true story…it’s in the Bible, and the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to these churches to address the issue, and I want us to take a look at just one small portion of the end of this letter, and what we’re going to see is that Christ’ delay in returning is not truly a delay; rather, what we’ll see is that if we think He’s delayed then our fundamental understanding of the situation is flawed, and then we’ll see why God does remain silent in the midst of all the evil in the world. This passage is found in 2 Peter 3:8-10. But this passage begins at verse 1, so I’m just going to read verses 1-7 to you and then we’ll look at verses 8-10. I’ll be using the NASB.
Chapter 3, verse 1: This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. So, no new teaching going on here. Just a reminder of what they’ve already been taught regarding the 2nd Coming of Christ.
Verse 3: Know this first of all, that in the last days…first of all, what constitutes the Last Days? The Last Days simply means the period of time prior to the 2nd Coming, the Rapture, more precisely since that occurs prior to the 2nd Coming. This is the time we’re in now; there is nothing else that needs to happen before He comes back, so we are living in the Last Days.
… in the last days mockers will come with their mocking following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? The irony here is great: the Last Days are characterized by people denying Christ’s Return, but by their own words they are testifying to the reality of His return! Don’t be disturbed by that denial; be encouraged because you’re witnessing prophecy being fulfilled before your eyes…For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice…now, that phrase there, as some of your translations reflect, means to intentionally ignore something. Like I said, these false teachers deny what they know to be true… that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word…by this same Word of God… the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
What Peter’s saying is that their denial of consequences is a denial that God intervenes in the affairs of this world. They’re saying, “God remains silent amidst our sin, so His judgment must not be true. We are by ourselves here.” But they’re denying what they know to be true to get what they want. They base their denial of consequences on the fact that they have yet to experience them. That’s the mindset that says, “Well, I didn’t get a ticket the last time I drove 30 over,” or “Well, my neighbors didn’t call the police the last time I screamed at the kids,” or “Well, I didn’t get caught the last time I watched porn online… so it won’t happen this time.” That’s dangerous thinking that is seriously detrimental to our relationship with God, and it destroys our witness.
So now, let’s turn to our passage, verses 8-10, and as I said before, if we think that Christ is delayed in His return, it’s because our fundamental understanding of the situation is flawed. There’s something incorrect about God that we are believing…Or, as is the case for these Christians in Turkey, there is something correct about that we are choosing to ignore. Verse 8: But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, …again, that’s that same phrase that means to willfully ignore…that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
Christ is not delayed because God cannot be measured by time. If God’s creation includes the sun and the rotation of the earth and the earth’s orbit around the sun, by which time is measured…how then can God’s actions be measured by our timeline? Does He not exist outside of time? Is God limited by His own creation?
When were learning math, we learned how to draw a timeline. There’s an arrow off to the left representing infinity into negative numbers, and an arrow off to the right representing infinity into positive numbers. Now, what goes in the middle? <zero> A line representing zero. Or, if this is a timeline, it represents present. Everything to the left is past, and everything to the right is future. Is this what God’s timeline looks like? No. God’s timeline has no mark for present. God, being eternal and outside His creation, which includes the mechanism by which we measure time, exists outside of time. God sees the timeline of the world the way we see this timeline right here. As you and I look at this timeline, one day and a thousand years…there’s not much difference. God equally sees past, present and future. And as Moody’s Old Testament professor likes to say, “God knows the end from the beginning, because He planned the beginning from the end.”
So the next time you find yourself watching the news and seeing all the killing and bombs and war, and you see that a 9-year old girl gets shot at school, and a six-year girl gets murdered by her own mother, and children are being held as slaves…and you start wondering where God is in all of this, the first thing you have to do is remember that God doesn’t operate on our timetable. We operate on a timetable He created for us, but He is not held to that measurement. So remember this timeline, and remember that this is how God sees it, not the way we do. Now, that’s not to say that God is negligent. Everything God does is exactly the perfect thing that needs to happen. God’s timing is perfect as we experience it, but we can’t hold God to the measure of time He created for us. If we think Christ has delayed, our fundamental understanding is incorrect, because God is not limited by time.
So now someone might say, “Ok, that sounds great, God’s not limited by time so you can’t call His delay a delay…but that’s still a delay! That’s not very helpful. That doesn’t help me understand this problem of evil in the world. That doesn’t help me resist temptation or otherwise live out the Christian life. That doesn’t answer the question you said you were going to answer. If He’s not delayed, then what is He doing?” Well, look at verse 9 with me because here’s the answer: The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
His delay isn’t forgetfulness, or a lack of initiative, or hesitance. His delay is, rather, an intentional, active display of patience. See, in English, the word “patience” is a noun. It’s a thing. In Greek it’s a verb. It’s something God is actively doing. He is actively showing His patience. Two seemingly opposite attributes of God’s character are at work here, his justice and his patience. On the one hand, God’s justice demands punishment for sin, judgment of the world, disclosure of the world’s deeds…but on the other hand, God’s patience is holding His justice in balance, and as it says, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
This is an amazing God we serve! There is no other god like Him found in all of the mythologies and all of the literature in all of world. He is the only one whose judgment is balanced out by his patience and his love. Yes, our sin breaks God’s heart. But His love for us is stronger than His heartbreak, which is why He took His own wrath for sin upon Himself and endured the punishment we deserve in the body of the Son, Jesus Christ. But that salvation He made available comes only by faith. So the whole world is not saved, and will not be saved. But He is waiting to come in judgment so that the world has ample opportunity to come to repentance.
He has not failed to intervene in this world to right the wrongs and punish sin. He is allowing ample time to pass so that the world can look around, and observe all the evil and injustice, and come to the realization that there is something wrong here, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the human race, because we blow each other up over religion, rob each other and rape children. God’s kind patience gives the world time to realize what’s wrong with itself, and repent. That is the grace of God, the kindness of God that leads to repentance...If you are not saved, your sins have not gone unnoticed. Rather, God is intentionally withholding His judgment because He cares for your life, and He wants you to repent and turn to Him. And if you do, all your sins will be forgiven, and you will be safe from the storm.
With all this talk about the silence of God…it’s worth asking, have you ever heard the silence of God?
God’s silence is not hesitance; His silence is not lack of initiative. The silence of God is also not silent... the silence of God is deafening, because the silence of God is the calm before the storm. It is active, intentional patience...an active answering sin with active silence. Have you ever heard the silence of God?...as a midwestern farmer sits on his tractor and looks across his acres of corn in the late afternoon, and he looks across what is probably ten miles or more of land, he looks across the sky and he sees miles and miles and miles of dark, gray clouds. Those enormous, anvil-shaped cumulonimbus clouds, the clouds that produce the famous midwestern storms that blow away houses and hammer down crops... Lightning flashes between the clouds, and more lightning spiderwebs across the sky and over his head...and then he turns off the tractor idling beneath him, and he listens...and what does he hear? Silence. Not even the whisper of a breeze...but in the midst of that silence, what does he feel? He feels concern for his crops, because the silence of that storm is deafening. Those storm clouds, those giant anvils in the sky are the warning to the ground that the hammer is coming... and it calls out to everything in its path, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” Have you ever heard the silence of God? Are you hearing it now? His silence to your sin is not silent. If, as you sit here this morning, God has answered your sin with silence...do not think that God has not answered; do not think that God has overlooked you; do not think it means that God doesn’t see it as a big deal... because His silence is calling out to you, “Get out! Repent and be saved!”
God’s kind and loving patience, as I said is withholding judgment, but that silence is really the calm before the storm…at this point in the sermon I’d love to say it gets worse before it gets better…but the reality is that, just like the false dates for Christ’s return, the good news has come and will eventually be gone. There is a time coming soon when the time to repent will be gone…
…because eventually, Christ’s promise will be fulfilled, and without warning the Son of God will collect His Church, and then will appear before the whole world. Look at verse 10: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements…that is, the heavenly bodies, the elements of the solar system…will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. That last word there “burned up,” means burned for the purpose of disclosing what’s inside, exposing the inner core of the deeds of the world. Eventually everything we do will be disclosed. If you think there is no future judgment for Christians, read 2 Corinthians 5:10 that says we, that is Christians, must appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive his compensation for what he did in this life, whether good or bad; or read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 that says that “each man’s work will become evident, for the day will show it because it is to be revealed by fire…” and then says that “if any man’s work remains…he will receive a reward,” but “if any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
The Bible says that God disciplines His children like a loving father. When we don’t experience consequences, the direct discipline of the Lord for our actions, there are still consequences in heaven. There is reward, and there is loss of reward. Remember, life is like a credit card. Just because you pay later, that doesn’t mean it’s free. Just because you don’t have to pay at the store doesn’t mean you’re not going to get a bill in the mail. When you are facing temptation…ask yourself this question. “What am I purchasing? Reward or loss? Can I afford this in the long run?” When we sin, we are either investing in problems in this life, or loss of reward in heaven.
If you are not saved this morning, if you have not accepted the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, heed the silence of God to your sin, turn to Christ and be saved. Don’t wait any longer, because your time is running out. Don’t ignore the patience of God for a few more sinful hours. If you are saved, if you are already a born-again child of God, and you’re also hearing God’s silence to your sin…heed the warning and abandon your sin like you’d abandon a barn in the path of a tornado. Repent and turn back. You don’t want to be the one in heaven without a crown to cast at the feet of God.
Above all, we all need to be people that live in light of the fact that Christ could return at any moment, and although He is showing His patience, His silence is the calm before the storm, and soon it will be His wrath that is shown…that fact should be reflected on every level in our lives. The Judge is coming to take His seat…do you hear His footsteps?