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Archive for the ‘National Holidays’ Category

Independence Day Sermon preached on July 5, 2009

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever. Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight. Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.”

Psalm 97:17-20

            Yesterday, we celebrated our independence as a nation.  When we look over the history of mankind, and compare ourselves even with the nations that exist around the globe now, we marvel that we, as a people, have such independence, such freedom.  We should celebrate the fact that we have the wonderful freedoms to choose the way of life we want to pursue.  We have so many occupational freedoms, educational freedoms, political freedoms, and religious freedoms.  As our forefathers celebrated their freedom from the tyranny of a king, the tyranny of a government that oppressed them, we continue to celebrate that no despot has absolute control over every facet of our lives.

            But sadly, many people in our nation, and I think we can say, the majority of people in our nation, and certainly our political leaders, have taken this idea of freedom to an extreme—the deadly extreme of declaring our independence from God.  In our desire to be free from the tyranny of wicked king, we have also manifested our desire to be free from the sovereign king of heaven and earth.    In our desire to be free, we have proclaimed that we want to be free from the law of God.   In the words of the Psalmist, we have forgotten God.

            Now, when I say that we have forgotten God, I don’t mean that we never think of him.  We think of him, occasionally.  We ask his blessings before a high school football game.  Even Congress opens its sessions with a prayer to an ecumenical God, as long as the name of his Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords is not mentioned.  We go through these rituals, asking for the blessing of God, and then proceed to put him out of our minds and thoughts.    Actually, this god that we think of when we say, God Bless America, is not really the God of Scripture at all, but rather a nebulous sort of presence that we have invented to make us feel like we are still a God-fearing nation.  The God of Holy Scripture has long since been forgotten, forgotten even by the churches themselves, much less the nation as a whole.  The God of Scripture has been marginalized, put into a corner as a figurehead, but who must not ever be allowed to enter into public life, especially the life of our government.  You see, forgetting God does not mean that you never think of him.  In Scripture, forgetting God means that you refuse to obey him, that you refuse to regulate your conduct as an individual, as a nation, according to his holy laws.  In Deut. 8:11, we read, “Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day.”  You see from this verse how Scripture defines “forgetting God.”  Forgetting God is not keeping his commandments, his judgments, his statutes.

            What happens to those people and those nations that forget God.  The Psalmist tells us that they shall be turned into hell.  The word that is translated “hell” in this verse is the word “sheol” which can mean hell, the eternal condition of torment experienced by the ungodly, or it can mean “grave.”  This is the word Jacob used in Gen. 44:29, when he said, “And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.”  Jacob wasn’t saying that he was going to hell.  He was just saying that he was going to the grave.  Certainly, those who forget God, those who refuse the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord will experience the agony eternal separation from God.  But when we read of nations being turned into Sheol, what does the Psalmist have in mind.   He means that the nation will die, cease to exist, and be forgotten.  In Job 7:9– As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. The word here for “grave” is Sheol.  For a nation to be turned into Sheol means that it will die and that is will not rise again.  In Ps. 31:17– Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.  For a nation to be turned into hell, means that it will never speak again, never be heard from again.  In Isaiah 14 we read a prophecy about how God is going to judge the king of Babylon.  Isaiah 14: 4 That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased…. 11 Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.  For nation to be turned into Sheol means that no matter how glorious a nation might have become, that glory, that wealth, that power, that splendor, can be lost, and figuratively speaking, perhaps literally, the worms eat it. 

            As we look at our nation today, could it be said that we are in danger of being turned into hell, turned into Sheol?  Could it be said that we are already being turned into Sheol?  Don’t get me wrong.  I love this nation.  There is no place I would rather live, simply because of the freedom and the prosperity we enjoy.  But the glory of a nation does not rest in its prosperity, its military might, or its freedom.  The glory of a nation resides in its righteousness, in its obedience to the law of God.  As the wise man said in Prov. 14:34– Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.  As we look at our country, with its widespread sexual immorality, its determination to live for pleasure and pleasure alone, its sanctioning and support of abortion, its greed and selfishness, we are becoming a reproach, a thing of shame.  When a nation forgets God, when it continues to rebel against his laws, it invites the judgment of God, and the judgment of God is that just as that nation forgot him, he will cause that nation to be forgotten.

            Is there any hope for a nation that seems to be on the verge of being turned into Sheol?  In our text for this morning, the Psalmist prays, “Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men.”  The cure for our arrogance and our pride, the cure for our forgetfulness of God and our refusal to live in obedience to his law to remember that we are just men.  That seems to be a strange thing to say.  We need to remember that we are just men.  What else would we think ourselves to be?  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  We think we are God.  The reason we forget God is that we come to the place where we think we no longer need him.  The reason we forget God is because that we believe that we are no longer accountable to him, to anyone but ourselves.  This is why we have cast God’s law behind our backs—we are more enlightened now.  By our own reasoning, we can come up with a better way to live our lives.  We don’t need an objective standard of truth, an eternal standard of right and wrong given by God himself.  We can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.   With the scientific advances that we are making, we seem to think that we are on the verge of becoming gods.  Now that we have uncovered the power of the atom, now that we have learned how to manipulate DNA, perhaps we are on the verge of immortality itself.  Perhaps we will be able to clone ourselves, download our consciousness into the memory bank of a computer.   We will control the weather.  We will conquer all forms of disease.    Surely, we think that we are more than men.

            Every time we think we are close to becoming gods, the Lord reveals to us that we are but men after all.  Early on in our history, we got the idea that we would build a tower to reach into the heavens and become gods, so the Lord confused our language.  Every time we think that we have reached the place where we no longer need God, he reminds us of our frailty.  Every time we think that we have somehow become morally superior, a war breaks out to reveal that deep down inside, man is just a cruel, depraved animal.   Every time we think that we are on the verge of conquering death, a new disease makes its appearance, and we find that we are frail human beings after all.   As a matter of fact, the word that the Psalmist uses in verse 20 for “men” is a word that emphasizes the frailty, the weakness, of man.    We need to be reminded that not only are we just men, we are weak, fragile, mortal men.    During the past couple of weeks, the deaths of some of America’s most popular icons have reminded us that no matter what we may achieve or accomplish in this life, we are just men, just women.  We have seen the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, the comedian Fred Travelena, and even the Oxyclean pitchman Billy Mays.  All of these deaths serve as reminders that no matter how famous, popular, wealthy, or beautiful, we are but men.  All of us tend to think, especially when we are young, that we are special.  Our strength will never fail, our beauty will never fade, and death will never come for us.  In that false feeling of confidence, tend to forget God.  We come to think that we are in control and that we will determine our own destiny.  But the years have a way of revealing to us that we are but men.

            Just as individuals need to realize this truth, nations must ponder this fact as well.  The United States of America is not unique or special in this sense among the long list of nations and empires come before us.  We are just a nation like all the nations that have come before us, a nation of mere men.  Several years ago, a famous preacher wrote a book entitled, “America Is too Young to Die.”  What he was pointing out is that in comparison with some of the other great nations and empires of the world, the United States is a baby, still in the crib playing with its toes.  When we think of all the great empires that have existed in the world, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, the different dynasties that existed in China and Japan, how old are we in comparison?   We have this arrogant assumption that the United States is going to last forever, or that perhaps we are part of some great prophetic plan about the end of the world.    It may be, that because we have forgotten God, we may be forgotten even by history.  A thousand years from now, two thousand years from now, the history of this country may take up a paragraph or two in a brief survey of world history.  In that sense, we are nothing special.  Remember how the Lord said in Isaiah 40: 15] Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
[16] And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
[17] All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.  That is the United States of America.  The drop of a bucket, dust in a balance, nothing, and less than nothing.  God could bring this nation to nothing this afternoon, and his plan and purpose would not be thwarted, delayed, or disappointed.  We could be turned into Sheol and forgotten tomorrow, but God would still be God and he would still work all things according to the good counsel of his will.

            Of course, as individuals, we don’t believe this.  As a nation, we don’t believe it.  We are independent.  We don’t need God and we don’t need his law.  Is there anything that could happen that could prevent us from being turned into Sheol as a result of this arrogance.  Yes.  We need God to arise and put his fear into our hearts.   Now, the Lord can arise and put his fear into our hearts in one of two ways.  First, he could send terrible judgment upon our nation in the form of all kinds of disasters in order to get us to realize how much we need him.  If we look through the Old Testament, we see how often God sent foreign armies, plagues, droughts, famine.  Sometimes, God had his people carried away into captivity in order that they might know who they were and who God was.  In the Book of Ezekiel, God threatens his people with severe punishment, and time and again, after each threat, God says that the purpose of all this punishment was so that the people might know, that I am the Lord.  For example, in Ezekiel 6 we read:  [1] And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
[2] Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them,
[3] And say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD; Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.
[4] And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols.
[5] And I will lay the dead carcasses of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.
[6] In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.
[7] And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
[8] Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.
[9] And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
[10] And they shall know that I am the LORD, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them.
[11] Thus saith the Lord GOD; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.
[12] He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them.
[13] Then shall ye know that I am the LORD, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols.
[14] So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath, in all their habitations: and they shall know that I am the LORD.

If God intends to save this land of ours from this sin of forgetting the Lord, it may be that these are the kinds of measures he must take.  Sometimes, his judgments have to come in this form before his fear will once again resume its rightful place in the hearts of people.

            But there is another way in which God could arise and put his fear in us, and that is through powerful preaching of his word through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I know that we are living in a time when it appears that the preaching of God’s word has no effect.  Thousands of sermons will be preached this day, but will be said afterward that God truly arose and put his fear in the hearts of his people?   Nevertheless, God is still God, and God the Holy Spirit could attend the preaching of his word even this day with power, hearts could be changed across this land, and God would be honored as God in every institution of our society.  When we think of what judgments it may take to put his fear into our hearts once again, how we need to pray that God would be merciful to us, and ordain that it would be through the preaching of his word that his fear would arise in our hearts.  It is this merciful method that we pray for in the words of our hymn:

God the All-merciful!  Earth hath forsken

Thy ways all holy, and slighted thy word;

Bid not thy wrath in its terrors awaken:

Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

We don’t want God wrath to awaken with all its terrors.  May God be merciful to us, and plant his fear in our hearts through the preaching of his holy gospel.

            But whether it is through preaching or through the wrath of his judgment, God can reveal himself to be God, and reveal to us that we are mere men.  This is our only hope, or else we shall be turned into Sheol.  But we have this hope, this confidence, that God, in his providence,  can arise, and he can put his fear in our hearts.  This hope is expressed in the words of our closing hymn:

God the All-provident! Earth by thy chast’ning,

Yet shall to freedom and truth be restored;

Through the thick darkness thy kingdom is hast’ning

Thou wilt give peace in thy time, O Lord. 

Amen.

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