Why Does God Delay Judgement?
2 Peter 3:8,9
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
We cannot help but wonder, sometimes aloud, why God delays judgement against wicked men. The story is told of a tyrant who cruelly oppressed the Faith during the days of the Roman emperors. As one saint of God was haled before that wicked man, the ruler gloated, “Now where is your God, Christian?” The saint of God responded with measured tone, “God is driving nails in your coffin, O tyrant.”
In Myanmar, Christians are compelled at gunpoint to worship before a Buddhist shrine and robbed to provide moneys for erection of Buddhist temples. Where is God? In Indonesia, Christians are murdered with what appears to be legal sanction or even government complicity. Why is God silent? In Vietnam, Christians are imprisoned and the churches taxed inordinately, as is true for the Faith in China and in Cambodia. Why does God wait? In Saudi Arabia, the Faith is severely restricted and Christians worship at risk of death since they are said to be insulting the prophet Mohammed. Why does God tolerate such injustice? In Nepal and in Pakistan and in Bangladesh, Christians are sentenced to death because they are Christians. Does God not care? In Somalia and in Ethiopia, Christian men are killed and Christian women are sold into slavery and prostitution. How long, O God? In Israel, Christians are discriminated against and Messianic Jews are denied citizenship because their faith is unpopular. Why, O God? In Greece and in Serbia and Russia, all Christians save the old line Orthodox Church are proscribed from open worship or practise of the Faith. Why does God delay judgement?
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People some years back. That book became a best seller throughout North America. The thesis of the book is that God is good, but He is not omnipotent. Though God wishes He could do more, He is powerless to stop suffering. The author concludes that people simply must make the best of situations and endure knowing that their sorrows will cease when they one day die. Is that really the situation? Is God truly powerless in the face of evil? Do we serve a fusty old deity who wishes good would prevail but cannot make it so?
That God delays judgement is evident. The reason for His delay is less obvious, especially to those who are determined to do evil. The message this day is an exploration of the reason for God’s delay. The Word is quite clear on one issue: God shall judge evil. In fact, sin has already been judged and sinners are already condemned. It is only the timidity of Christians that has today silenced the declaration that sinners are condemned.
The only issue still outstanding in the judgement of the wicked is when that judgement shall be accomplished, and that knowledge is reserved for God alone. We who are redeemed by the grace of God are confident that He shall put down all wickedness in His time. Yet, when we are ourselves oppressed, and when we see our fellow saints cruelly oppressed, we inwardly groan and wonder how long God will delay His judgement. At such times we need to review the Word of God which assures us that there is a reason for God’s delay. That reason speaks more of the nature of God than anything we could imagine. Join me in exploring these two exciting verses.
The Certainty of God’s Promise – God does not lie [cf. Titus 1:2]. Even the disgraced prophet, Balaam, acknowledged this truth when he said in his second oracle to Balak:
God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind
Just as God Himself does not change like shifting shadows [James 1:17], so His Word is sure. This truth is vital, for God cannot be God if His promises are unreliable. God can be neither holy nor righteous is He is capable of lying. Similarly, we cannot rely on God, we cannot trust His promises, if we do not know whether He is lying or speaking truth.
What does this mean to us either as Christians or as outsiders? As Christians we seize the rich multiplied promises of God so that we may be comforted. Has He not promised:
Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you
Just so, we say with confidence,
The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
We know that our Lord is ever with us. We are not alone. We are not left as orphans. Our Lord Jesus Himself walks with His people, and He is ever with us. Practically, the consequence of this knowledge is a life marked by peace, by joy, and by the love of God.
Is not the promise to believers which is recorded in John 16:33 precious? In Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. This is but an expansion of the earlier promise which Jesus gave in John 14:27. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. I find it of great interest that whenever Jesus appeared to His disciples following His resurrection He greeted them with the words: Peace be with you [cf. Luke 24:36; John 20:19]. Peace marks life of the one walking with Christ the Lord.
The Gospel began with an announcement of joy [Luke 2:10]. As the time for His Passion drew near, Jesus spoke frequently of the joy which would belong to His disciples. He told them to obey the Father’s command so that His joy may be in them and that their joy may be complete [John 15:11]. He told then that though they would soon grieve, their grief would turn to joy [John 16:20-23]. Such promises are the heritage of all the saints. What a great promise is John 16:23: Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer contains Jesus’ request to the Father that the disciples may have the full measure of His joy within them [John 17:13]. Christians may appropriate the command of the Apostle (which is less a command then exultation in the Lord’s grace). Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! [Philippians 4:4].
John’s Gospel begins with a statement of the blessing flowing from Christ’s grace. From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another [John 1:16]. That grace includes the deep love of Jesus for His people. The kindness and love of God in Christ was said to appear [Titus 3:4]. Who among us has not read and thrilled at the words of Romans 8:31-39? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Though an extended passage, scope in on that last promise: nothing … neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, no powers, neither height nor depth … nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God has given His Word, He has promised on His sacred honour; He cannot go back. Surely the child of God is in a pleasant place, secure in the knowledge of God’s sure Word and enjoying peace, joy and love. Among the Psalms is a wonderful statement flowing from this knowledge.
LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
You have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance
As outsiders, as those who do not know the grace of God and who are yet unsaved, what does it mean to you to know that God is true? Our text speaks of a glorious prospect to the individual who is yet unsaved. God seeks the good of so many as are willing to come to Him. He is pledged to receive everyone who comes to Him for salvation, for forgiveness of sin, for grace to be born into His family. Listen to these promises of grace abounding to the worst of sinners.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light [Matthew 11:28-30].
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life [John 5:24].
All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out [John 6:37 nasv].
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst [1 Timothy 1:15].
On the assurance of God’s Word and in certainty at His promise, I call all who know they are worthy of eternal death and who know they don’t deserve mercy to quickly seize the mercy of God which is extended to anyone willing to receive it. Listen: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [Romans 10:9-13].
There is a dark side to God’s promise, however. Though the promise of grace and mercy is extended you now, how shall you receive mercy in eternity if you reject it in time? How shall you be forgiven in eternity if you refuse to accept forgiveness in time? There is no second chance. The sinner is dead in transgressions and sins [Ephesians 2:1]. Should that outsider be called to account while yet unforgiven what mercy can be expected? The patient mercy of God is extended now that you might be saved, that your sin might be forgiven, that your rebellion might be discharged. Should you reject this offer of grace, there will be no opportunity beyond this moment we call now. Do not think you can spit in the face of Holy God and receive mercy at some point in the future.
The Consolation of God’s Patience – The abrupt transition from issuing a warning to announcing divine mercy permits me to emphasise the grace and mercy of God. Though I shall neglect neither God’s holiness nor His righteousness, I will declare His mercy. Perhaps then you will respond to this gentle call. Perhaps if one realises that God loves all He has created he will quickly embrace His offer of forgiveness and be saved.
Salvation depends solely upon God’s mercy and not upon man’s desire or effort [Romans 9:16]. It is perhaps of interest that the saved are referred to as objects of His mercy [Romans 9:23]. In the Book of Romans, Paul refers to the redeemed as those who were at one time disobedient to God [but who] have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience [Romans 11:30]. He concludes with this stunning insight. God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all [Romans 11:32]. God, knowing our rebellious nature and knowing our propensity to resist His call of grace, determined before time to show mercy to the rebel. Such mercy is unfathomable! Who could ever expect mercy from the same God against whom we have rebelled so grievously?
The ultimate expression of this mercy is life extended to all who are dead in sin. Ephesians 2:1-5 speaks of this life. As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Indeed, the Lord is full of compassion and mercy [cf. James 5:11].
God is patient with the sinner. Whoever does not believe [in the Son of God] stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of God’s One and Only Son [John 3:18]. Whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him [John 3:36]. Yet God calls the condemned rebel offering mercy and grace in the place of condemnation.
In all of human experience, where can we find anyone who accepts an enemy as a family member? Though some may tolerate the presence of one who was formerly at enmity, our psyche never permits acceptance of a foe as a beloved and trusted family member. Especially would we never accept one who had formerly sought to destroy us by destroying our own dear child. Yet this is precisely what God does with the sinner!
God chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ [Ephesians 1:4,5]. As saved people, we have received the Spirit of sonship. Therefore, by Christ we cry, “Abba, Father” [cf. Romans 8:15,16]. What comforting verses are Romans 8:17,18. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Such mercy and grace overwhelms the child of God.
There is a corollary to this comforting thought which is found in Galatians 4:4-7. Listen to the Apostle. When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
Do you have the witness of the Spirit within? Do you have confidence that you are adopted into God’s family? Do you have the certainty of the indwelling Spirit? Certainty, confidence, assurance – this is the heritage of the children of God. The inheritance of the child is of no value if the child is treated as an outcast. But God receives us as His own. We have access to His throne. He hears us when we cry out to Him. He receives us and lavishes His grace on us. He shows us unprecedented mercy.
Though sinners are now condemned and objects of divine wrath, it is yet because of His mercy that they are not consumed. Thus, with great confidence that you need not be condemned I invite you to trust the mercies of God, receiving Christ as Lord. His patience, His long delay in executing judgement, is a demonstration of His great love toward you. You need not die. You need not be condemned. You need not be an outsider. You may be adopted into the Family of God, and you may assuredly be set free of all guilt and condemnation and be made alive in Christ the Lord. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household [Acts 16:31].
The Consequence of God’s Pronouncement – God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. The patience of God should stir us as Christians to show compassion toward the lost. They reject Christ and resist the testimony of grace because of their blindness. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God [2 Corinthians 4:4]. Knowing this, Christians must be grieved over the condition of sinners and show them compassion, hoping that such gentle demonstration may lead them to the light. Ministers are counselled to gently instruct those who oppose them, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will [2 Timothy 2:25,26].
For a brief moment permit me to speak pointedly to each Christian among us. Are you convinced that God is merciful? Do you believe that He shows great mercy toward sinners? Has that knowledge changed the way in which you speak to outsiders? Are you one who endeavours to win the lost and to thus glorify the Lord?
I am often reminded of the story which Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusades, once told. He told of a student of Middle Eastern descent who was enrolled in studies at a California university. Mr. Bright diligently sought to win that student to the Faith. At last, after speaking of the grace and mercy of God throughout the long months, that young Arab student spoke to Mr. Bright.
“Sir,” asked the Arab, “do you actually believe this Jesus to be the Son of God?”
“I do,” replied Mr. Bright.
“Do you believe that He actually died to set sinners free? And do you believe that without Him people will actually spend eternity separated from God and in Hell?” asked the student.
“With all my heart I believe this,” stated Bill Bright.
“If I believed what you have told me, I would be willing to crawl across a desert of broken glass so as to keep one person from perishing,” responded the student.
“If I should believe what you tell me,” continued that Arab student, “let me tell you what it will cost me. I will be compelled to tell my parents that I have become a Christian. They will, of course, immediately stop all support and I will be forced to return to my homeland. Because I will be an infidel in their eyes, they will disown me and kick me out of the family. I will be denounced in the mosque and anyone who finds me can kill me with impunity. Do you still think I should believe this Jesus?”
How would you respond to such a question? What would you answer such a challenging query? Do you believe strongly enough in the glories of Christ the Lord and in the need for eternal salvation that you would call a sinner to faith … even though acceptance of your call would mean loss of wealth, loss of prestige, or even loss of life? Such a question humbles us, for our training as Christians leads each of us to casually respond that we believe the most precious possession in the world is Christ’s salvation. However, our practise too often denies what our lips say. Though we affirm our belief that our acquaintances need salvation, we are not often driven to call them to faith. Really, now, do we believe that God is merciful? If so, to whom have we witnessed in this month past? To whom have we spoken of His grace and mercy during the past days? Does our life reveal what our lips profess?
What of you, non-Christian friend? The Apostle asks a hard question of outsiders when he writes: Do you show contempt for the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance [Romans 2:4]? There is in the Book of Hebrews an unanswerable question. Listen to that question and consider it well. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace [Hebrews 10:26-29]?
If you actually understand that by means of the Word of God, God offers mercy, what excuse will you offer if you should exit this life without that mercy? How shall you stand in that day when all the lost must give an account if you have spurned mercy today? How shall you answer in that day if you have treated the Son of God with despite? There is no answer which will suffice if you refuse mercy now. He who offers to be your Saviour now must one day be your Judge; and how shall you answer?
Without apology I have pressed the issue to your heart and your mind today. Before God, to Whom each of us must answer, I am prepared to raise my hands and declare that I am innocent of the blood of all who have listened today. Ours is a merciful God, full of compassion and gentle with the rebel. Indeed, He is not willing that anyone should perish, but would that everyone come to repentance. Yet, as it is written of God: My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal [Genesis 6:3]. Just so, this is a day of grace and a day of mercy. While it is now you may be saved, being set free of condemnation and delivered from guilt and fear.
With the Apostle I plead with you: As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,
“In the time of my favour I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation
[2 Corinthians 6:1,2].
In a moment we will sing a hymn of appeal and dedication. This serves as an opportunity for you to openly respond to the message. For you who are outsiders, who are unsaved, we ask you to respond to the message by confessing Christ as Lord. We invite you to come to the front of the auditorium, taking the Pastor by the hand and telling him that you are deciding for Christ and for life. We will all rejoice with you and even the angels in heaven will rejoice, just as our Lord as said.
For you who are believers the questions are more varied, but the need for open response is no less insistent. Have you failed seriously in your witness to some someone? Perhaps the Spirit speaks to you to this day come confessing your failure and seeking a fresh anointing of that blessed Spirit that you will be equipped to speak with power? Perhaps you have trusted Christ, but since trusting Him you have yet to openly confess Him in the manner He commanded? Will you not come this day requesting baptism that you may honour Him and fulfil His command? Again, it may be that you have never united with the church. The call to you is to come, place your life among these people who love you and where the Spirit of God would have you serve.
Whatever the decision, in submission to the Spirit of God I invite you to respond. Come, confessing Christ and standing with Him and openly declaring yourself with His people come today. Amen.