Issue #675 -------
September 18, 2015
For all we take we must pay,
but the price is cruel high.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
I have often stated in my preaching and teaching that one of the most chilling statements found in Scripture is a brief, three word (in English) utterance by "the angel of the waters" as this being beholds righteous judgments being poured out upon all godless, unrighteous oppressors of the children of God the Father. That angel said, "They deserve it" (Rev. 16:6c). In the Greek text the word translated "deserve" is "axios," which means "worthy, deserving," and "is used in Revelation in reference to the eschatological allocation of reward and punishment" [Exegetical Dictionary of the NT, vol. 1, p. 113]. Those walking with the Lord were "worthy" of life (Rev. 3:4), while those working against the Lord were "worthy/deserving" of death (Rev. 16:6). Both groups clearly got what was coming to them; they reaped what they sowed. It is the ageless principle of reciprocity, which I discussed in some depth over a decade ago in Reflections #172. Some are bothered, however, by the apparent (at least to them) "heartlessness" of this angel, who, it is said, almost rejoices at the fate of these impenitent persons. Isn't that rather insensitive? Should the righteous (including angels) regard such punishment with a sense of satisfaction, and perhaps even joy? Shouldn't they instead be lamenting this loss of life, even if it is the lives of those who oppressed and afflicted them? These are questions and concerns that have troubled Christians for centuries. What should be our feelings toward those who must suffer the outpouring of God's wrath?
The sixteenth chapter of Revelation presents to our view the seven bowls of God's just wrath which are poured out upon those who have arrayed themselves against Him. The statement by the angel of the waters that is being examined in this week's Reflections comes after the pouring out of the third bowl, which is poured out upon the rivers and springs of water, causing them to become blood (Rev. 16:4). The second bowl was poured out upon the sea, causing it to become blood (vs. 3). These two bowls (and remember: this is figurative language) represent "the utter putrefaction of a dead society. ... Society was dead in sins and trespasses, and now there occurs the blood as of a dead man, putrid and rotting -- a revealing illustration of the true nature of the spiritually dead. ... When the spiritual quality of a society decays, like a sea of coagulated blood from dead men, it putrefies and rots, issuing a foul and obnoxious odor. ... In such a society, morals decline to the lowest level; the family collapses, schools breed anarchy and rebellion, business ethics are forgotten, entertainment becomes base and sordid, and printing presses exude smut and filth, until the whole is strangled in its own death blood and suffocated by its own stench" [Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 328].
A solemn warning is being issued to those who follow the god of this world (Satan), rather than following the One True God: judgment is coming, and it will be severe! What will make this judgment even more severe is that those who have chosen to live godless lives too often persecute those who choose to live godly lives, and this shedding of innocent blood will return upon their own heads! "They poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it" (Rev. 16:6). Some translations read: "They are worthy" (i.e., of this punishment). The New King James Version reads: "It is their just due." As we look at the ills of our present society, and the many who are arrogantly arrayed against the Lord and His people, and who are persecuting Christianity, there is some comfort in knowing that God will one day pour out the fullness of His wrath upon them. When that day comes, and I pray it is soon, we can certainly exclaim, along with the angel of the waters, "They deserve it! They had it coming! They are finally getting their just deserts!" Yes, the Lord has done exactly what He promised to do: "Leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19).
Our God will see to it that those who shed the blood of the righteous will pay. This is good news especially to those who were martyred because of their faith, for in Rev. 6:10 we see them (again, speaking figuratively) crying out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?!" The timing of that ultimate avenging, of course, rests solely in the hands of the Father, but avenge He will, and that should be comforting to each of us who are troubled by the godlessness we see everywhere about us in society. Speaking personally here (and you are free to disagree), I truly feel sad that such persons have chosen a path that leads to destruction; I lament such needless loss of life. Yet, on the other hand, it is a path they chose, and their afflictions against the redeemed of God are not accidental, but intentional. Therefore, I do indeed long for the day, tragic though it will be for them, when His wrath is poured out upon them, for that day will be one of full and final relief for the people of God. Yes, it will be a day of rejoicing, for those who shed the blood of the righteous will pay with their own. They will get exactly what they deserve!!
Frankly, I pray for that day to come, and to come sooner rather than later! Is this wrong? The plea of the martyrs in Rev. 6:10 would suggest it is not. So also the several psalms that are imprecatory in nature: the godly beseeching God to rain down judgment against the ungodly. David, for example, calls down curses upon the wicked, asking God to destroy them, "and my soul shall rejoice in the Lord; it shall exult in His salvation" (Psalm 35:9). He calls for similar judgment against the ungodly in Psalm 58, then comments, "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance" (vs. 10). As God rains down judgment against the wicked world, we are told, "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her" (Rev. 18:20). Look also at Rev. 19:1-6, and see how the hosts of heaven and the multitude of the redeemed celebrate the destruction of all those who afflicted the righteous. "'Hallelujah! ... because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.' And a second time they said, 'Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever'" (Rev. 19:1-3). Yes, the unrighteous will have to face judgment for their actions, and they will be destroyed. They deserve it ... and I can't wait for that day to come! Lord, come quickly!!
From a Reader in South Africa:
Keep up your good work for the Lord, brother. Whereas it seems the Christian groups just after the first century lived reasonably close together (and were able to visit and worship in each other's homes), many small groups here in the East Rand have members who have to travel a good distance by car to meet together. One of our families is black (probably Zulu tribe) with a very limited command of English, but they are to be commended for coming faithfully. After we had recently finished our study of Psalm 139, this man had a question. It was exactly the same as the question asked by the reader from Tennessee at the end of the Readers' Reflections section of your last issue (Reflections #674) -- "What happens when we die?!" I would like to deal with this question next Sunday, but here's my problem: purchasing your materials (which you mentioned to the reader from Tennessee) is not really an option (it would be very expensive in South African Rands, plus the many vagaries of our shocking postal service). So, do you have any relevant scriptures or Reflections articles that would help in dealing with this subject?
Shipping my materials internationally has always been somewhat problematic, due to customs fees and paperwork, currency exchange, differing postal systems, and other such matters. However, with this particular topic especially, I have quite a bit of material on my web site that addresses the question posed by this brother in South Africa. I referred him to my Topical Index and the 27 Reflections articles under the heading "Conditionalism." These are studies he can access immediately and free of charge, which I pray will help him in his study of this topic. -- Al Maxey
From a Missionary in Peru:
Just read Reflections #674 ("Rewarding Those Who Seek Him: A Reflective Examination of Hebrews 11:6"), and had this thought: Isn't it interesting that there is not one mention of the works of all the saints in Hebrews 11? What do I mean by that? Well, if we read all about their lives, as recorded in the OT, and their works, they were all mostly pretty bad. It's quite difficult to find worthy works in Jacob the deceiver, in Gideon who continually asked signs from God, and in regard to Samson, for example, who seems to have broken every law possible! I could go on. Every one of these in Hebrews 11 had deep stains of failure and brokenness, just like us all (Isaiah 64:6), but there is not one mention of their sins and failures. So, if the legalists want to talk about obedience and works, then they are pretty much up a creek without a paddle, for based on obedience and works these people in Hebrews 11 would be lost forever! The works of those saints were not good, yet they were saved by FAITH! The only obedience to talk about and glory in is the obedience of Christ Jesus, because apart from that we are all up a creek without a paddle. I am ashamed when looking at my own obedience and works, but I will talk, sing, and wonder at HIS love and obedience and works for all eternity! How could any man talk of his own obedience and works with any confidence?! Praise God for the freedom and liberty of the Gospel, for we now know that the old man was nailed to the cross, never to be mentioned and resurrected! God does not resurrect the sins of Abraham, Jacob, Samson, Gideon, etc., because they are all buried in the sea of God's forgetfulness. But what He does remember, which is staggering beyond telling, is our FAITH and those actions prompted by this faith to His glory. THAT He will remember! Praise His glorious name!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, in reference to your latest article on Hebrews 11, I was reminded of something wonderful that happened to me the other day. I received a Father's Day gift from my daughter, a gift delivered to me while I was out gardening. Now, I had a choice: I could have said, "I don't want this," or I could have gratefully accepted it, which is what I did. The gift is because of a special relationship I have with my daughter. I didn't earn it, but it came as a result of an ongoing relationship that I have with her. The writer of Hebrews, as you have well pointed out, is contrasting faith with a Judaistic works-oriented mindset. All our Father wants from us is a heart-motivated relationship. I have pondered at times: at what point was Abraham saved? Was he not on a journey of faith? It is obviously apparent that he had a monotheistic faith before he left Ur of Chaldees, and he then grew in faith (Romans 4). I can look back at my own life: I was not baptized until I was 21, but God had been working in my life even as a young child long before my baptism! God bless you, brother.
This brother's story about his daughter bringing him a gift reminded me of one of my early Reflections articles in which I dealt with a similar situation -- Reflections #21 ("The Law According To Pa: Whims of an Old Hermeneutics Fossil"). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
Other than Romans 8, I have no other more favorite portion of Scripture than Hebrews 11. Not only does it speak to the fact that nothing of value ever precedes faith, but that great things of value can be produced by faith. By faith we rise up and be the men and women of God that our Father wants us to be. But, without faith we are reminded that whatever it is we think we can accomplish or become is useless and of little value. And how awesome it is to know that the Lord of all the universe only asks that we sincerely want to know Him. We don't have to become a suicide bomber, or live a solitary life on some mountain top, or go through the motions of doing the "five acts of worship" at the right time, the right way, with the right understanding, or that we are immersed in water which is at the right temperature and properly chlorinated, in order to enter into a personal relationship with Him. We just have to believe that He exists, search for Him, and believe that He will show up. WOW!! Not sure I learned anything I didn't already know in this latest Reflections (which is quite rare!), but it was no less a blessing to be encouraged to marinate in the realization of what I already knew: that He loves me and will let me know Him as much as is humanly possible. Love ya, brother. Keep 'em coming!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
I read your article on "The Guilt of National Stupidity" (Reflections #671) shortly after I got it. The next week the preacher at the church I attend delivered a sermon similar to what you wrote in that article. I don't know if he read your article, but maybe he did, for I know that he gets your Reflections. I'm fascinated with history, and how, curiously, we seem to repeat it. Your article hit the nail on the head and drove it in deeply. I love the way you connected Ezekiel and Isaiah and applied them to what is happening to our nation today. Not many people get that connection, but you do! Thank you very much for your work for the Lord!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I just read your Reflections article titled "Rewarding Those Who Seek Him" (Reflections #674). I have to tell you that I just don't get the point you are trying to make. In my understanding of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, Faith = Obedience and Obedience = Faith. One cannot be separated from the other. Faith is not faith until it is expressed in obedience. God knows exactly what we are going to do ahead of time in response to His Word, so He was able to declare Abraham righteous before he offered Isaac. God is also able to declare a believer righteous before actually "getting wet," even if the believer dies on the way to the baptistery. Good works are the result OF salvation. However, works of obedience (repentance, confession, baptism) result IN salvation, in my opinion. What is so wrong with believing that God demands obedience to Him in order to be justified and saved? Is it not the same thing as saying that God demands faith in Him in order to be justified and saved?
I very strongly disagree with the premise that faith equals obedience (and vice versa). The Scriptures teach that faith is evidenced or manifested in acts of obedience to God's revealed will, but faith and obedience are NOT one and the same. The "point" I have sought to make (and continue to try and make) is that far too many disciples of Christ over the years have indeed equated the two (and worse: they have elevated obedience over faith), and in so doing have done great harm to the Gospel Truth: i.e., we are saved by grace through faith, and NOT by any acts or attitudes that we ourselves may lay before God so as to gain His approval and acceptance. I suggested to this reader that he might profit from reading the following studies which address his concerns: 1) Reflections #157 -- "Obedience of Faith: Our Response to God's Gracious Gift" ... 2) Reflections #369 -- "The Assurance of Faith: How Do I Know I'm Saved?" ... 3) Reflections #393 -- "Faith's Work, Love's Labor: A Reflective Study of 1 Thess. 1:3" ... 4) Reflections #501 -- "Can We OBEY the Gospel?: Reflecting Anew on Three NT Texts." -- Al Maxey
From an Author in Texas:
"Rewarding Those Who Seek Him" is an excellent study, Al. Keep up the good work! Also, I am in contact with a member of the Church of Christ church who keeps referring to my dependence on "cheap grace." You have probably heard the expression. It is my considered opinion that the expression itself undermines God's plan of free salvation, and that it borders on rebellion. This man relies entirely on James' comments about works, yet completely ignores Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5, and Romans 5. Would you care to comment on this?
The idea of "cheap grace" can be traced back to a book written by the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), called "The Cost of Discipleship," which was published in 1937. In that book, Bonhoeffer defined "cheap grace" as "the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." Those who advocate a works-based, knowledge-based, performance-based salvation cannot long tolerate those who promote salvation by grace through faith: a salvation that is a free gift of God, one not based on our own effort or goodness. In the eyes of the former, the latter are advocates of "cheap" faith, grace and salvation. They could not be more wrong, in my view! Yes, I have heard this expression many times, and I find it offensive. From God's perspective, there is nothing "cheap" about what He has done for us, since it cost Him the blood/life of His Son. One cannot even begin to put a price tag on such a divine act of love, mercy and grace. I know what these people are suggesting by this term: they believe that if "nothing" is required of man but faith (i.e., if man is not obligated to DO something: perform some list of deeds), then our redemption is "cheap" (no cost to man). That misses the point on several levels. Salvation is indeed a "free gift" of God's grace (the Scriptures clearly state this). Yet receiving such a marvelous gift of love in no way makes that gift "cheap," for it cost the Giver much! Also, how can we call the acceptance (by faith) of this free gift "cheap" when our response of faith leads us to surrender our lives to His will?! Just as it cost HIM much, so also does it cost US much (in the sense that the remainder of our lives are "spent" in service to Him and others above ourselves). There is nothing "cheap" about any of it. -- Al Maxey
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