Misinterpreting Common Grace (Part 2)

Romans 2:4-5

Tom Pennington  •  March 22, 2015
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On April 10th, 2010, a Polish jet carrying 97 of Poland's highest leaders crashed, killing every person on board. You may remember that the plane was on its way to the site of a Soviet massacre of 20,000 Polish officers in World War II when it crashed in western Russia. The dead, amazingly, included everybody who was somebody in Poland. The president, his wife, the deputy foreign minister, a dozen members of parliament, the chiefs of the Army and the Navy, and the president of the national bank. At first, as you might expect, suspicion was raised that perhaps Russia was involved as, of course, they have been in later incidents. But when the data from the flight recorders was examined, the investigators identified an even more tragic cause to that crash.

The pilot, we're told, had been attempting to land the plane in heavy fog. Twice, as they started their descent, Russian air traffic controllers told him not to attempt a landing, that the weather conditions would not permit it. They were already descending below the glide path and so they were told by the air traffic control to reroute to another airport. However, it's clear from the chatter in the cockpit that someone in the back of the plane put pressure on the pilots to disregard that counsel. The blame has been laid by some at the feet of the President of Poland. But regardless, they continued their descent.

Transcripts from the cockpit recordings detailed the tragic last moments of that flight. The onboard systems acted as they were supposed to and warned the crew to regain altitude. In fact, in the final minute of the flight the computer warning system was heard on the flight recorder saying this, "Pull up, pull up, terrain ahead." In fact, that expression was said by the automated system 13 times before the plane crashed in a fiery ball. The last sound on the recording was a prolonged curse by an unidentified person in the cockpit.

You know, it's absolutely tragic to perish when you have disregarded so many warnings that would have saved your life. But according to the Apostle Paul in Romans 2, that is exactly what happens to many moral religious people who claim to worship the true God. They die over the warnings. And the warning system that they ignore, again and again and again, is God's common grace.

In the early chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans he wants to show us, and all of the readers, that every person needs the gospel that he preaches. And so in chapter 1 verses 18 to 32, Paul indicts a huge segment of humanity. He indicts all pagan unbelievers who are lost in their idolatry. Beginning in chapter 2 verse 1, through chapter 3 verse 8, he takes the other section of humanity and that is the Jews and Gentile proselytes who claimed a connection to the true God, but who were lost not in idolatry but in self-righteousness.

The point of these early chapters, as we're seeing, and particularly here in chapter 2, that even those who claim to worship the true God desperately need the gospel of justification by faith alone. In fact, chapter 2 points out three reasons that moral religious people need the gospel, moral religious people including the Jews of Paul's time and we could add, in today's world, professing Christians who have not come to truly embrace the gospel. They need the gospel for three reasons.

We are examining just the first of those reasons at this point. It's found in chapter 2 verses 1 to 16. This is the reason that we need the gospel, knowing what is sinful and condemning it in others will not allow us to escape God's wrath.

This is exactly how the Jews of the first century thought. The Jews, Paul says in verse 1 of chapter 2, were committing the very same sins as the pagans back in chapter 1, but they had concluded, somehow, that they would be treated special and that they would escape God's judgment. They came to that mistaken conclusion because of terribly flawed views about God.

So Paul set out then, to correct their flawed views of God so that they would know that they would not escape God's judgment just because they knew what was sinful and condemned it in pagans. He began, in verses 1 to 3, with their flawed view of God's justice. They thought that God graded on a curve. But Paul says in verse 2, no, God's verdict is always "according to truth." You have misunderstood God's justice, you have a flawed view of God's justice, verse 3, you're not going to escape.

Now, last week we began to examine Paul's correction of another flawed view they had and that was a flawed view of God's common grace. We see this in verses 4 and 5. Let me read it for you again. Romans 2:4-5.

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

Now, last time we looked just at the positive side of these two verses. That is, Paul here in these verses teaches us positively about God's common grace, about the amazing reality of common grace, especially in verse 4. Notice, it's richness. Verse 4 talks of "the riches" of His common grace, that is, the super abundance. They're plentiful. There's more than enough. God is not a miser. "The riches" of His common grace.

And notice the components of common grace. Paul explains common grace in three words here, "the riches of His," first of all, "kindness." This is God's goodness expressed in kind actions. This is a huge concept that includes God's doing good in all kinds of ways to all people on this planet. This is God's common grace. This is God's filling every life with good things, as Paul mentions in Acts 14. It's God causing the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, from Matthew 5, causing the sun to rise on both those who love Him and those who hate Him. This is God's common grace. It's His goodness expressed.

The second way, or component, of His common grace, the second way it expresses itself, is tolerance. This word means holding back. God holds back what we deserve. The first moment we sin God doesn't break out in justice as He could and should, instead He holds Himself back. And patience, the third word, tells us that He does that again and again. He holds back for a long time. The word patience is long suffering. God is long tempered. It takes Him a long time to get angry. And so He just keeps holding back and keeps holding back. This is God's common grace.

Now why does God do this? Well, we looked at the purpose of common grace. In verse 4, "the kindness of God is intended to lead you to repentance." God's common grace is intended to bring us to the place where we're willing to turn from our sin and embrace God in Christ.

And then last of all, our last time together, we looked at the vindication of common grace. It's not found in this text, but over a couple of chapters in chapter 3 verses 25 and 26, where Paul tells us something remarkable. He tells us that God had to vindicate His character for showing us common grace. How did He vindicate it? In those verses, we noted last time that Christ's death on the cross made it possible for God to show unbelieving sinners His common grace, without staining His reputation as just and righteous, by letting sinners live longer than they deserved. That's the amazing reality of common grace.

But that's not really the focus of verses 4 and 5. While he teaches us about common grace, we need to, today, discover the tragic response to common grace. This is really his point here. It's how moral religious people like the Jews, or like professing Christians in churches across America and the world today who aren't really in Christ, how they respond to God's common grace. And it is a tragic response.

The first way religious people respond to common grace is by carelessly underestimating its value. Verse 4 says, "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience." "Think lightly" is, literally, "to think down upon." It's to look down on something with contempt because you've come to the conclusion that it is of little value. Do you hold God's common grace in contempt? Do you treat it lightly? Do you carelessly underestimate its value?

Now, how is this done? Well, in context, it's clear. By focusing on God's goodness and His love to the point that they ignored or denied the other side of God's character, His Justice and His wrath. They so emphasize God's love and goodness that they underemphasized His wrath. And in so doing they treated His goodness with contempt, because they missed the point.

This over emphasis on the kindness and the love of God, to the exclusion of His justice and wrath, is alive and well today. It takes various forms. There is the theological form of this, which absolutely denies God's wrath. These are the Protestant liberals who come along, who reject the Bible, who reject it's truth, they come along and say, you know what, there's no such thing as wrath. That is an outdated idea. That idea is part of the Old Testament under-developed idea of God, when people didn't know any better. We now are enlightened and we understand that that's simply not how to think of God. And then there's the new liberalism that follows in the same path. People like Rob Bell, who comes along and writes a book called Love Wins, in which he argues for universalism. Every person will eventually be saved. Why? Because God loves and love wins! God is just too kind, too good, to punish anyone, they say. This is the theological form. It denies God's wrath.

Then there is the shallow religious form, which doesn't overtly deny God's wrath, it simply ignores it. It just doesn't talk about it at all. It just acts like it's not there. This is the Joel Osteen approach to Christianity. God wants you to have your best life now. Or he'll say things like this, you know, people have enough negative in their lives, I don't need to add to that. So let's just talk about the positive; I'd just like to focus on the positive side of God.

Then there's the more evangelical form of this overemphasis. It comes out like this. You know, I'm a part of a religious community. I'm in the covenant. I've been catechized, baptized, confirmed. I go to church. And, after all, look at all I have and enjoy. Look at all of God's blessings in my life. I have a good life and that shows God loves me and He's willing to overlook my ongoing, unrepentant patterns of sin. This is just like the Jews thought.

The Jews in the first century fully expected God to exempt them from His judgment based on His goodness to them. You see this in a number of places in the gospels, but let me give you one example. In Luke 3 John the Baptist is preaching repentance and a group of Jewish leaders show up because they want to be seen to be in favor of the kingdom that he's talking about. And so, they also show up, I'm sure, to check on him, and they're there supposedly to be baptized we're told. And John the Baptist said this to them. He said, this is Luke 3:8, "bear fruits in keeping with repentance." He said, look, you need to repent and then you need to demonstrate that that repentance is serious by making some changes in your life. And he warns them, "and do not begin to say this to yourselves." In other words, you may say, look, I don't know that I want to do that repentance thing. And so instead of that, you begin to say this to yourselves, "'We have Abraham for our father.'" What's going on there? They're saying, oh look, you know what, I don't need repentance after all, because look at the blessings God has placed on me. I am an ethnic descendant of Abraham. Look at all of the blessings we enjoy. I'm okay! God and I are okay! And they even concluded, chapter 2 of Romans, verse 3, that they were going to escape God's judgment. They assumed that they would escape God's judgment because of His many blessings upon them. That was, in reality, contempt of God's common grace. It was despising it, looking down on it, because they missed the whole point.

You see, the essence of what Paul means in verse 4 is that we fail to properly value God's common grace when we assume that we deserve it or have earned it. We underestimate its value when we take it as a sign of God's being pleased with us rather than as a testimony to His undeserved, completely unmerited, generosity. We can easily be tempted to carelessly underestimate God's common grace.

But there's a second tragic way that moral religious people respond to common grace and that is, they intentionally miss its implications. Look at verse 4, "not knowing." Now, notice the grammatical link to the verb. "Do you think lightly," "not knowing." What's the relationship there? What Paul is saying is, you think lightly because you don't know. We underestimate the value of common grace when we miss the implications of common grace.

Now, don't misunderstand, the expression "not knowing" is not some kind of uninformed ignorance. They just never heard, don't know, shouldn't be expected to know. That's not the idea here. This is not an uninformed ignorance. This is a culpable ignorance. It's like the ignorance of the pagans back in chapter 1 who knew God, but suppressed that knowledge and so they could say, I don't know. That's the idea here. John Murray puts it this way, "Not knowing has, in this case, the force of not considering, and it implies that the purpose of God's goodness was so patently clear that the failure to understand it was totally inexcusable." So not knowing is not bothering to think about, not considering, not weighing. And it is culpable ignorance.

But what, specifically, are the truths that moral religious people don't know? Or put a different way, what implications of God's common grace does he miss? Let's look at it together because Paul lays out several. First of all, he misses the fact that God intends it to lead him to repentance, verse 4, "not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance." He doesn't know that God intends His common grace to lead him to repentance. He should know it. He should consider it. He should weigh it. But he doesn't. And repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. You understand that? Without your repentance there is no possibility of forgiveness. This is the clear message of the Scripture.

We could go to the Old Testament, but let's just start with the New. Let's start with John the Baptist in Mark 1:4, "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." It was a baptism that pictured repentance and repentance was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. This was Jesus's ministry. This was His message. Mark's first recorded message of Jesus, in Mark 1:15, says this, here's Jesus, "'The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent,'" Jesus says, "'and believe the gospel.'" This was the first recorded message in Mark that Jesus gives us. Go to the end of Jesus's ministry and He's still saying the same thing. In the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension He told His disciples in Luke 24:46-47, "'Thus it is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'" Jesus said, here's your message, go and preach about Me and what I've accomplished, and tell them that to enjoy the benefits of what I have accomplished, they must repent and then they will experience the forgiveness of sins.

This is what the apostles did. You come to the first sermon, on the day of the birth of the Christian church, and how does Peter conclude it in Acts 2:38? He says, "'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." Repent, which will issue forth in the forgiveness of your sins. This was the message that the Apostle Paul preached in Acts 20, he's sort of recounting his ministry among the Ephesians for three years and here's how he describes it in Acts 20:21, "solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Do you understand that no one ever is forgiven of his sin apart from repentance? Repentance is necessary for salvation. That's the clear message of all of those passages. So, what is repentance? Several years ago I did an entire message on this issue and if you want to get a fuller explanation, I encourage you to go online and listen. Let me give you a couple of good definitions of repentance. The first one is a long one, you won't be able to capture it, but listen. This is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 87. "What is repentance unto life?" What is the repentance that issues forth in forgiveness and eternal life? "Repentance unto life is a saving grace whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ," so he has a sense of his own sinfulness and he understands that in Christ God will be gracious, be merciful, "does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience." That's a great definition. Let me give you a good definition that is shorter. Wayne Grudem writes, "Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ." I think that last part is really the essence of repentance. It is a hatred of your sin to the point that you express a sincere willingness, desire, and resolve, to turn from it.

Now, how does common grace lead us to repentance? Here's how it works. God, through the work of His Spirit, enables us to see our utter unworthiness of anything good from God. We reach a point in life where we understand, by the Law of God in His Word, by the working of our conscience, I don't deserve anything good from God. Secondly, we look at what we actually enjoy and we realize, God lavishes goodness on us. In spite of what I deserve, God just keeps being good and showing that kindness again and again in my life. And that drives us then, to turn to Him and to seek His grace. This is all through a work of the Spirit.

I think one of the most powerful illustrations of this is Jesus's story in Luke 15 of the prodigal son. Actually, it's the tale of two sons, as John has pointed out, John MacArthur, in his book. But understand that the prodigal son represents the worst of sinners. But notice how he's pictured. He takes the good gifts of the father. He hates the father. He doesn't want to be with the father. He despises him. All he wants is the stuff the father will give him. And he cashes out in utter disregard for the father and he takes the stuff he's got and he goes away, as far as he can get, from the father. And he abuses all of those good gifts. And all the time he's thinking that his father is a miser, should have given it to him sooner.

But what happens when he's spent everything and his heart begins to turn in repentance? Listen to Luke 15:17, "when he came to his senses," he's still now in the far country, "when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!'" You see what happens? Repentance begins to express itself and what changes? His attitude toward the father. He now says, I don't hate the father. It's not that he's a miser, that he won't give me what I deserve, that he won't give me my part of the estate. Instead, he begins to see the father as unbelievably generous. Even with his servants.

This is repentance. It's a change of our thinking about God, and about our sin, and about everything, that leads to action. We all experience God's common grace, without exception, every single person on the planet. And there are only two responses to that common grace. Two responses. First of all, we can treat it lightly by assuming it means that God is okay with me and then continuing in hard-hearted refusal to repent and to believe the gospel. Or, the only other alternative is to allow God's goodness to bring me to repentance. That's it. And God intends, obviously, that His amazing goodness in your life would lead you to this, it would lead you to compare what you really deserve from God with His amazing generosity to you, and that would bring you to humble yourself before Him. Sadly, Paul says the moral religious man doesn't know this. Not because he has no way to know it, it's that he doesn't think about it, he doesn't consider it.

Secondly, he does not know that his own heart is the reason he refuses to repent. Look at verse 5, "because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart." You know, people have all kinds of reasons for not repenting of their sin and turning to God. I've heard a lot of them in my own sharing of the gospel and counseling. Here are a few of them. Some will say something like this, well, I don't need to repent because, you know, I am basically a good person and it's going to be okay for me at the day of judgment because my good works outweigh my bad. And then there are others who aren't quite as confident, and they say something like this, well, yes, I'm a sinner, but I'm really not that bad. I'm not as bad as most and so I hope it'll be okay for me at the day of judgment.

And then there are those who say, you know, you're absolutely right. I need to repent, but I'm going to wait until later, because there are things I want to do. There are things I want to enjoy in this life and I don't like the cost at this point, so I'll just wait until I'm older. I will wait until old age. That's what I'll do.

Others say, I'm just not going to repent, frankly, because I enjoy my sin too much. I don't want to give it up. Others, I can't because it'll cost me with my family and friends; I will be alienated from the people that I love and those relationships, and I'm not willing to pay that cost. I've interacted with someone in exactly that situation who walked away with the gospel because of the relationships in her life. Still others say, you know, I'm not going to repent, frankly, because I'm just not yet intellectually convinced about Jesus and the Bible and all that stuff. I'm just not sure it's true.

And then, perhaps saddest of all, and there are many like this, who say, you know, I'm not going to repent because I think I'm already a Christian. I was born into a Christian family or, you know, years ago when I was young, you know, I had this emotional experience and I prayed a prayer and I walked an aisle and someone told me I was a Christian. Oh, it may be true that I haven't lived like a disciple of Jesus Christ a year of my life, but I'm hoping that it's all going to work out okay.

Listen, if you aren't a Christian, maybe one of those is the excuse that you give yourself when you hear the gospel, as you'll hear it in my message today. But understand, those are just excuses. Paul says, let me tell you the real reason, verse 5, it is "because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart." Here's God's diagnosis of the real problem. It isn't the evidence or lack thereof, it isn't anything else. The problem is your heart. And notice how he describes it, "your stubbornness." This Greek word is used only here in the New Testament. It's the word from which we get the English word sclerosis, the word used to describe the hardening of the arteries. In this case, it's not the hardening of your physical arteries, which can lead to an early death, it's the hardening of your soul, which can lead to the lake of fire. Paul adds, in verse 5, "your unrepentant heart." This is the only time this word unrepentant occurs in the New Testament, but its meaning is obvious and clear. It's the opposite of the repentance common grace is supposed to accomplish, supposed to lead you to. Together these two words describe, obviously, a hardness, an absolute refusal to forsake sin and turn to God and to His way.

There are many examples of this kind of stubbornness and hardness in Scripture, let me just show you. Look at 2 Chronicles 36, 2 Chronicles 36. This is written about the very end of the Kingdom of Judah before its fall. Its last King was a man named Zedekiah. Verse 11 of 2 Chronicles 36 says,

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God; he did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for the Lord.

There is the first indication of a stubborn hard heart, a refusal to humble oneself before God's words. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. Here is a powerful word picture of what Paul's talking about in Romans 2:5, "But he stiffened his neck." You get the picture? Here's someone who makes his neck as tight as he can and he says, I will not bow, I will not bend, I will not submit myself.

And he hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel. Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; [they just kept on sinning.] they defiled the house of the Lord which He had sanctified in Jerusalem. [The holy things didn't matter to them, God's name, the things attached to God, didn't matter.] The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; [here again is a picture of that stubbornness and hard heartedness,] but they continually mocked the messengers of God, [they laughed,] they despised His words, they scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy.

This is hard heartedness. This is stubbornness and an unrepentant heart.

Turn to Zachariah. Zachariah 7, there's another picture, from the same period of time, or describing the rebellion in the same period of time, Zechariah 7:11, "But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing." Verse 12, "They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets."

You know, it's sad to me, but as a preacher, as a minister of the gospel, I have actually seen this happen with people as I'm preaching God's word. I've seen them stiffen and harden and then try to capture their mind somewhere else, anywhere but here. It's like they stopped their fingers. It's like they made their heart like flint. It's like they refused to hear. And in some cases, there's even a clear sneer and laughing, a mocking and despising of God's word.

Notice how God responds to this, verse 12, "therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts." It's like Proverbs 29:1, "A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy." Unbelievers who have God's word, who know the gospel, have lots of excuses for not repenting. But Paul says the real reason isn't any of those excuses. It's their heart, it's stubborn, it's hard, it's unrepentant.

Now go back to Romans 2 and we see a third way that the religious unbeliever intentionally misses the implication of God's common grace and that is, he misses the fact that if he doesn't repent he is storing up wrath. Verse 5 says, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself." Storing up is a very picturesque word. It's a word which means to lay something up as treasure. The Greek word is the word from which we get the English word thesaurus, a treasure of words. Usually this word is used in a positive way, to accumulate good, desirable things. Here, it's wrath.

Now, you know, we understand, don't we, what it means to store up? We are a nation of hoarders. There are even reality shows that describe and picture the extreme form of this. I remember several years ago I was going between, I guess, SportsCenter or something to another channel, and I came across one of these programs, a reality show on hoarding, and, you know, it was like a train wreck. I didn't want to watch but I couldn't help myself. And those of us who aren't hoarders, at least in an extreme way like that, we sort of congratulate ourselves when we watch a program like that.

Tragically, in Romans 2 Paul tells us that all sinners outside of Christ, even those with perfectly clean and sparse homes, are hoarders. They're hoarding God's wrath, even though they don't know it. A moral religious person thinks he and God are okay. He thinks that all the good things he enjoys in this life are signs of God's favor and acceptance of him, but in reality Paul says, and this is the Apostle Paul, this is Paul speaking as an apostle of Jesus Christ, every moment he enjoys God's common grace and still refuses to repent and believe the gospel, he is accumulating fresh stores of God's wrath. John Calvin writes, "A heavier punishment will be inflicted on those whom God has, in this life, favored, because in addition to their other wickedness they have rejected the fatherly invitation of God."

Notice in verse 5, Paul adds, "storing up wrath for yourself." You see God isn't unfairly assigning this wrath. Instead, they are accumulating it for themselves. God's judgment, remember, His verdict, verse 2, is "according to truth." He's just giving them what they've earned. James Montgomery Boyce writes, "If life has been good to you, you only increase your guilt and build a treasure of future punishment by ignoring God's kindness."

The fourth implication of God's common grace that the moral man misses is that the day of judgment is coming. Verse 5, "you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Today the sinner is storing up wrath while he continues to enjoy God's common grace. But there is a day God has appointed in which he will receive everything he stored up. Paul describes the coming day of judgment notice, the end of verse 5, in two different ways. First of all it's the "day of wrath." You know, this this is hard for me to say, and it's hard to even imagine, because of all that we know about God, but Paul is here saying that on that day, on the day of judgment, there will not be one shred of mercy, not one shred of grace. Instead it will be a day of wrath. It will be the day when God pays out to each man the wrath that he has been gradually accumulating throughout his life, day after day.

Secondly, he describes it, notice at the end of verse 5, as the day of the "revelation of the righteous judgment of God." The day when God reveals, when He discloses, when He issues His verdict on every life, and then carries out the sentence. This is what Paul said to the Athenians on Mars Hill at the end of his message there in Acts 17. This is how he finished in verses 30 and 31.

God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, [There's that call again. Why?] because He [God] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness [and He'll do it] through a Man whom He has appointed, and He furnished proof who that was by raising Him from the dead.

It's Jesus. He's the one who will carry out God's judgment and wrath on that day. This day is described for us over in Revelation 20. Turn there with me. Revelation 20. Earlier in chapter 20 we're told of the resurrection of the righteous, but verse 5 says, "The rest of the dead," this would be the unbelieving dead, "did not come to life until the thousand years were completed." Skip down to verse 11 and we pick up their story. "Then I saw a great white throne." This is after the thousand-year millennium. All unbelievers are resurrected and they stand before what is described here as a great white throne. It's great. That means it's majestic, it's awe-inspiring, it's sovereign. And it's white. That speaks of purity and holiness. It speaks of God's justice being absolutely pure and clean. And it's a throne. That means this is the final court of appeal. There's nobody else to go to. There's no way to get around this verdict.

"And Him who sat upon it," we've already learned that's Jesus Christ, "from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them." Just before this judgment, in an act of uncreation, the universe as we know it ceases to exist. And it's pictured here as running away from the terrible presence of Jesus Christ.

"And I saw the dead," the unbelieving dead, "the great and the small." In other words, nobody was exempted. The great world leaders were there and the nothings and the nobodies were there, and they each "stood individually before the throne and the books were opened." What are these books? The end of the verse says, "the dead were judged from the things which are written in the books, according to their deeds." These books are records in heaven of every sin ever committed. These records may be merely in the mind of God, who never, ever misses anything and who never forgets except by an act of His will. Or there may be actual written records. Regardless, the "books were opened; and another book," a mysterious book called, "the book of life," which has a list of all of those who have come to God through His Son. Verse 15 says, "if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Having been judged according to verse 13, "by his deeds." The punishment will fit the crime.

Christians, let me speak to you for a moment, Paul says that too often, religious moral people don't know they have intentionally missed these things. They shouldn't have missed them, but they do. There are people all around us like this who have some attachment to Christianity, but who aren't really redeemed and they don't know these things. It's our responsibility to kindly, graciously tell them, to plead with them, to flee from the wrath to come. They mistake God's patience, His goodness, His kindness, as apathy or sentimentality. They think, God is too kind to judge me. They think God's like an overindulgent grandparent who never gets angry with them no matter what they do. Paul says, nothing could be farther from the truth. He says, don't misinterpret God's common grace. Don't underestimate its value by missing its implications. Today is the day of salvation.

Let me talk to you if you're not in Christ. Listen, stop delaying, stop giving excuses. None of those stand. Don't wait. These verses are here to remind basically good people who have the Bible, who are attached to the people of God, who profess to know God, that they need the gospel. Don't misinterpret God's goodness to you in this life. It doesn't mean you're okay, it doesn't mean it'll go well with you at the judgment. It means, God wants you to repent of your sins, to turn from your self-rule, to embrace His Son, to repent of your sins and believe in His Son and what His Son accomplished. That's what He wants and that is our only hope. It's the only way we can escape the wrath we have stored up.

This morning I read 1 Thessalonians 1 in our Scripture reading. You remember how it ends? "Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come," the wrath we stored up. How does He do that? He does it by enduring on the cross the wrath our sin deserved.

I love the way James Montgomery Boyce puts it. He says, "For centuries the wrath that men and women had been storing up had been accumulating, like water behind a great dam. Oh, here and there a little of the flood of God's judgment had sloshed out over the top as God reached the end of His patience in some small area, and a Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, or a Jerusalem was overthrown. But for the most part, the wrath of God merely accumulated, growing higher and broader and deeper and increasingly more turbulent. Then Jesus died. When He died the dam was opened and the great weight of the accumulated wrath of God was poured out on Him. He took God's wrath for us. He bore its impounded fury in our place. No wonder His righteous soul shrank back from the atonement. He had never committed a single sin. He was spotless and without blame. Yet because He was blameless and because He was God, He was able to stand in the breach for us and secure our salvation."

You see, what happened on the cross is God took the wrath that every person who would ever believe in Him had stored up. Therefore, "He rescues us from the wrath to come." That's your only hope. Your only hope and my only hope is to be found in Jesus Christ, protected from the wrath our sins deserve because He absorbed that wrath and satisfied it. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this revelation of Your character. Lord, we're grateful that You are a God filled with kindness and love and patience and tolerance. But Father, we bless You as well that You are a God of absolute holiness and justice and that You will not leave the guilty unpunished. That there is in You an abhorrence, a hatred, an appropriate violent response to evil and to those who commit it.

Father, thank You, for us who are in Christ, that we have been protected from Your future wrath, the very wrath we stored by our sin, because You satisfied it in Christ on the cross and there's none left for us. He drank the cup of Your wrath and drained it to the dregs. Father, we pray that You would open our mouths with that message to others, people around us who are good moral religious people in the world's eyes, but who desperately need the gospel. Help us Father, to be faithful.

Lord, I pray for those here today who are not in Christ. O God, open their eyes to the reality. Help them to see the truth of their condition and of their future. Help them to see what it will be like to stand before You having ignored all the warnings and may this to be the day they run to Christ. In whose name we pray, amen.