THE MERCY & JUDGMENT OF GOD An End of Year Message
Romans chapter 2 vs 4-11 The two main headings then for this message are
1. RESPONDING TO GOD’S MERCY – Romans 2 vs 4-5 & 2. PREPARING FOR GOD’S JUDGMENT – Romans 2 vs 6-11
A few introductory remarks are in order. This message was first preached in Magherafelt Gospel Hall, Northern Ireland on December 30th 2018 and I began preparing it in written form and for recording on December 31st 2018, New Year’s Eve.
As we reach the end of another year we surely are caused to
1. Look back – and reflect upon the past months of 2018. Of the many things we could think about there is one matter in particular we ought to reflect upon and that is God’s mercy and we ought to do so with this question in mind – How have I responded to God’s mercy toward me? Perhaps you have not given such an idea much thought if any at all? I want to help you to do so. But, not only do we look back, we also 2. Look forward – and anticipate the future months of 2019. Of course, the future for anyone of us always carries an uncertainty. The epistle of James in the NT tells us that in all our plans we ‘ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”’ Why? Because as James informs us ‘you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away’ – James 4 vs 14-15. King George VI at the end of his 1939 Christmas broadcast during those early days of World War II quoted the first verse from Minnie Louise Haskin’s (1875-1957) poignant poem – ‘God Knows’:
'And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year;
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”'
The king concluded his broadcast by saying: "And May that almighty hand guide and uphold us all."
That is the greatest thing any of us could do and experience. Not in some romantic way, but in reality. Knowing God personally and living by faith in Him is not a crutch for weak minded people, but a comfort in the midst of life’s uncertainty.
But, beyond the future to life on this earth, we need to prepare for our ULTIMATE future, that is, our eternal future. Therefore I would ask you this question – 'IS YOUR FUTURE SECURE?’ In other words, what preparation have you made for leaving this world and where will you be on the other side of death? A little while back a friend sent me a poem the first two verses of which I quote here; they ought to make us think:
Dear ones will give me their last embrace, Faces will bend o’er my still cold face, Shadows of mourning will fill the place, Five minutes after I die.
But the sorrowing faces I shall not see The murmuring voices will not reach me, And where, oh, where will my spirit be, Five minutes after I die.
But beyond even death and the immediate going to heaven or hell, the truth of these verses in Romans chapter 2 lead to this question – what does the prospect of finally meeting Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment hold for you? The most frightening and solemn thing regarding God’s judgment is that every individual will be held to account for the life they have lived and every soul must come face to face with Jesus Christ.
Let’s consider then this important point:
1. RESPONDING TO GOD’S MERCY - Romans 2 vs 4-5. Think first of
A. The Fact of His Mercy and how it is
1. Evident in Human Experience
In the verses that we have read and whose truth we are sharing we have not actually read the word ‘mercy’, but we have read about it in other words – namely ‘the riches of His [God’s] goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering.’ These three things represent the reality of God’s mercy. But, to help us further let’s consider what God’s mercy does and how it works in the human experience:
We owe everything to God’s mercy – In His mercy He does not dispense His deserved wrath upon us, because He loves us & because He can, and wants to meet our need through Christ. In His mercy He spares us temporarily from His wrath while giving us the opportunity to repent and according His mercy He saves us eternally from it when we turn to Him in repentance and faith.
Paul wrote these words elsewhere:
'But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life' – Titus 3 vs 4-7.
Regarding how God spares men in His mercy we could turn to many examples in scripture, but the words of Jeremiah the prophet are powerful in the context of God’s mercy known even as His righteous judgment upon Jerusalem was dispensed. The ‘weeping prophet’ said in his Lamentations over Jerusalem:
“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh him.” – Lamentations 3 vs 21-25 KJV.
Also, the prophet Habakkuk prayed in a context of coming judgment, the same judgment that was realized in Jeremiah’s day. Habakkuk prayed:
“O LORD, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” – Habakkuk 3 v 2 KJV.
God has over history in particular ways and at particular times made known His displeasure at the unrighteousness and injustice of men. It was the case with Habakkuk’s and Jeremiah’s people. The Lord used the unrighteous Babylonians to judge them. Habakkuk, having come to terms with God’s coming judgment after being completely shocked at the news and instruments of it, prayed that the Lord would revive His work in that He would visit again with salvation as well as in the exercise of His wrath, show mercy. God did. His mercy unto salvation was ultimately known to and through Israel by the coming of the promised Messiah. The father of John the Baptizer, Zacharias the priest, said this of his son whose ministry prepared the way for the ‘Dayspring’ who came down to earth as Saviour to eventually ‘rise’ bringing the glory of salvation to Israel and the world – Jesus the Messiah:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace” – Luke 1 vs 76-79.
Based upon the teaching of Romans chapter 1 vs 18-32 it is evident that God, as an expression of His wrath, gives up to the consequences of their sin those who wilfully embrace falsehood. When He removes divine restraint and allows people to sink into the darkness and folly of their sin and to live out the reality of their reprobate mind, it is an expression of His judgment and, in our so called modern society that is right where we are. Laugh, scorn, mock, despise, denounce, deny and ridicule, but the facts stack up and what we see today lauded from the housetops and celebrated in the streets confirms the truth of the word of God. True Christians in the midst of a sin sick world like Habakkuk pray that God will yet again revive His work and "in wrath remember mercy."
Not only then is God’s mercy evident in human experience, it is
2. Expressed by Divine Goodness
As I’ve pointed out the words that convey to us the character of God’s mercy are goodness, forbearance and longsuffering – v 4 of Romans chapter 2. He is rich in these qualities. By the repetition of the word goodness, which is translated ‘kindness’ in Titus 3 v 4 previously quoted, an emphasis is placed upon this concept. As the Lord Jesus once said to an inquirer ‘No one is good but One, that is, God’ - Matthew 19 v 17. God is merciful because He is always good and His goodness is demonstrated by His patient restraint in the face of man’s rebellion. So His goodness is shown by not doing what He should, but it is more than that, He does what He should not! God should judge us for our sin. He should not spare us, but neither should He bestow the many tokens of His mercy upon us through His abundant grace, but He does and thankfully He does. The testimony of the LORD Himself concerning Himself to His servant Moses on Mount Sinai was this:
“And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” – Exodus 34 vs 6-7 KJV.
Regarding Israel, God was merciful as their Covenant Lord over their chequered history. Yet, in a remarkable way the truth of the Lord’s self-description was played out in the experience of the wicked city of Nineveh. The Lord warned them of coming judgment through His reluctant prophet Jonah – “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” was the message Jonah preached - Jonah 3 v 4. The Ninevites believed God and repented. God spared them. Jonah knew He would. In his prayer of complaint about the whole matter he quoted the very words of the Lord back to Him – Jonah 4 vs 1-3.
God is merciful as the faithful Creator. The Lord Jesus said of His Father in heaven: “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” – Matthew 5 v 45 and the apostle Paul exclaimed to superstitious idolatrous people who were about to sacrifice to him and Barnabas:
"Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" – Acts 14 vs 15-17.
As we have already observed through the example of the Ninevites, the Bible reveals and the gospel fully demonstrates that God is merciful as the Saving God of love. Preacher and author Steven Lawson writes about the great eighteenth century preacher John Wesley (1703-1791) who once 'served as a missionary in Georgia and a preacher in England while still an unconverted man. He lamented “I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! Who shall convert me?” After a visit to the American colonies, Wesley encountered the teaching of the Moravian Brethren on his return trip to England. He came to understand justification by faith alone apart from any works, but he remained unconverted. He confessed, “I have not felt it.” What could possibly reach his heart? On Sunday afternoon, May 24,1738, this future leader of the Methodist movement attended St. Paul’s cathedral in London, where he heard the choir sing Psalm 130: 3-4, “If You, Lord should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” With this truth blazing in his mind, he attended a small gathering of believers on Aldersgate Lane that same night. The leader of the meeting read from the Introduction of Luther’s Commentary on Romans. Wesley suddenly felt in his heart what he knew in his mind and was converted to Christ. He wrote in his Journal:
'About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death'' (Expositor’s Magazine. A Publication of Onepassion Ministries. ‘The History of Preaching Romans’ Steven J. Lawson Fall 2018 No. 24).
The good news of God is, as Wesley came to realize, that God is not quick to ‘mark iniquities’ and immediately hold us to account for each and every sin. He will forgive because He’s merciful.
Consider next the
B. The Purpose of His Mercy v 4. Paul says
1. His Goodness should Lead to Repentance. The Bible reminds us elsewhere of the purpose of divine mercy:
'The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance' – 2 Peter 3 v 9.
2. Repentance will Lead to the Foot of THE CROSS
The Cross of the Lord Jesus teaches and tells us in the greatest way possible that God is uncompromisingly holy and just; that sin must be answered for and judged righteously. That is why He sent and gave His Son – to die for sinners. Therefore the message of the Cross also and equally tells of the love, mercy and grace of God toward the undeserving. The ‘heart’ of the gospel is this: ‘Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God’ – 1 Peter 3 v 18. Has God’s goodness, His mercy to you ever led you in repentance to the feet of the risen Christ and by faith to the foot of His Cross? All who have come to understand the power of the Cross, can say with Christian in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:
“Thus far did I come laden with my sin, Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, Till I came hither. What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall from off my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me crack? Blest cross! Blest sepulchre! Blest rather be The Man that there was put to shame for me!”
But what must not be missed here is that Paul speaks of God’s goodness and need for repentance in the context of challenging and charging those he addresses with
C. The Despising of His Mercy vs 4-5 and this being done through
1. Wilful Ignorance 2. Hardheartedness
The danger for us is doing the same as these self-righteousness hypocrites, who Paul challenges, were doing. Thinking themselves better than others, they treated God’s mercy and gracious summons to repentance with contempt! To tell God I don’t need to repent because my religion or self-righteousness is sufficient is to despise God’s mercy or, to live in this life whatever way I wish accepting the gifts of the Creator and forgetting the giver while never humbling myself before Him in repentance is too a despising of God’s mercy. Paul warns us concerning the outcome of impenitence: 'But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who "will render to each one according to his deeds"' vs 5-6. God’s judgment is inescapable. All that we have done in this life we will meet with again.
All will be held to account; all will be judged. Therefore
2. PREPARING FOR GOD’S JUDGMENT - Romans 2 vs 6-11 is absolutely essential. This is the second main point in this message. There is coming A Day of Recompense for Deeds Done vs 6-11 which will also be A Day of Judgment for Secrets Concealed according to Romans 2 v 16.
A. The Basis of God’s Judgment v 6 is works. It does matter how you live and what you do. For
B. The Recompense of God’s Judgment vs 7-10 will be based on works that take character from either a life of repentance and faith or a life of unrepentance and disobedience. Paul is talking about the fact of judgment and who will be the judge. He does not detail the various occasions of judgment spoken of in other scriptures, but the principle upon which God judges. There is absolutely no suggestion in vs 7 and 10 that God rewards 'eternal life' or that He will bestow 'glory, honour and peace' on the basis of self-earned merit. A soul who though devotedly religious throughout life attending worship and doing good works as defined by their religion or men, yet who has never turned to God in repentance and faith will not earn eternal life. A works based salvation and a half truth religion is the invention of men in rebellion against God. Salvation as the gift of God to the soul who has repented from sin and believed in Christ whose subsequent good works and spiritual aspirations demonstrate the reality of saving faith is what the Bible teaches. Saving faith describes the experience of the soul who turns to God and believes in Christ as Lord and Saviour. This is no abstract faith. I sometimes hear ministers at funerals say concerning the deceased that he or she had great faith, but one is left wondering as to the character and focus of their faith. Was it faith in God and Christ born out of repentance or was it faith that believed the best of self and others? Such ignorant faith that sees no need for salvation for self or others is a deception. Only true believers will enter into the fullness and joy of 'eternal life' and the blessing of 'glory, honour and peace' on their day of judgment while the disobedient will experience the fullness of divine 'indignation and wrath' resulting in eternal 'tribulation and anguish' on their day of judgment – vs 7-10. Let there be no confusion. The believer’s day of judgment will be for review unto reward while the day of judgment for the unbeliever will be for conviction unto condemnation. We have a choice to make. Will I follow God’s way or my own way?
Finally, Paul states this key fact:
C. The Impartially of God’s Judgment v 11
God has no favourites. He treats all fairly and justly. No one can hide behind privilege or merit, neither can anyone plead ignorance or make excuse. God has revealed Himself in Creation - Romans 1 v 20 and put a conscience in man that witnesses to an intuitive sense of right and wrong - Romans 2 vs 14-15 while the law and scriptures directly impart God’s truth. God’s judgment upon all sinners from over the centuries will be according to works and according to the light they possessed. Greater the privilege, severer will be the judgment. This is what Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 11 vs 20-24.
Think about the words of this old fashioned hymn which call us to trust the Lord Jesus while there is time:
Come as thou art, with all thy sins; Come with thy hardened heart; Come with thy cares, thy doubts, thy fears, All grace he will impart.
Come, now, while yet His mercy lasts, Perhaps thou wilt not see Tomorrow’s sun; thy soul tonight May be required of thee!
Only trust Him! Only trust Him! Only trust Him now! He will save you! He will save you! He will save you now!