I believe it was Tuesday or Wednesday I was trying to get over to the college because I’ve been doing a lot of radio programs across the nation, just responding to people on Christian Broadcast networks who want to know about what’s happening. I got up on the 14 Freeway, thinking I took a route that would be clear, and I ran into this unbelievable traffic thing. And I thought, “Oh, I’m never going to make it to this interview on the radio, and I’ve got to get there.” And I was sitting in this traffic, and I thought, “Well, I think I’ll just have to go back and get off this thing and find another way.” So I pulled into the shoulder, and I put it in reverse, and I started backing up the shoulder. And I came around this bend, and there was a highway patrol. Was it a highway patrol? Yeah. Highway patrol car. And I thought, “Oh no.”
And I pulled up beside the highway patrol car, and I looked over, and standing by the car was Dave Bloomfield, who is a member of our church. And he was the highway patrol officer, and I said, “Hey Dave. What are you doing out here?” And he said, “Well, we had an accident. I’m just trying to help. What are you doing out here?” I said, “Well, I have to get over to the college for a radio interview.” He says, “No problem. Follow me.” So he turned on all the lights on that car and he said, “Just stay right on my bumper.” You talk about fun? I’m telling you, we had a great experience. We got there in nothing flat, I want you to know. So Dave, thanks my friend, wherever you are. Wow. That was great.
The Lord has the right people in the right place at the right time. In fact, I was speaking in chapel the other day, on Friday, and four tremors went through the place while I was speaking. And the Lord was saying Amen to my points in my sermon, and one student leaned to the other one, he told me later, and said, “If there’s one more quake, I’m getting on McArthur’s back because I know the Lord’s not through with him yet.” Anyway, God has been very gracious to us through all of this.
The other day I was listening on the radio - I think it was yesterday - and one of the city councilmen was being interviewed, and he was saying we’ve got to learn some lessons from this. And this was his big hue and cry. We’ve got to learn some lessons from this. We’ve got to learn how to better design buildings, how to better design roads and emergency supplies and response agencies, and how to process people in the event of disaster. There’s so many things we need to learn. We’ve got to take this as an opportunity to go through the building codes and all the codes and all of the operations that we have in emergencies and learn from these things. And I would agree with that to some degree. I think there are definitely some things we need to learn on the temporal side, on the earthly side about buildings and roads and emergencies and processes and all of that. But those kinds of things aren’t really what I think this earthquake is intended to teach us. I think there are some lessons that are far more profound than anything that is temporal. And that’s what I want to speak to you about this morning as I have contemplating the reality of what’s gone on from a Biblical perspective, from the perspective of the Lord, and how it is to be viewed in line with His purposes and His will.
I’ve come up with two categories that I want to speak to this morning, and that is lessons who are Christians and then lessons for those who are non-Christians. Or lessons for those who are prepared to die and lessons for those who are not prepared to die. And I think those two categories can lead us through a process of understanding that can bring some tremendous reality to what we’re experiencing. Now there are some lessons to be learned. An earthquake is a great teacher. It doesn’t make any suggestions; it’s making commands. It doesn’t ask for our attention; it demands it. It doesn’t just hope we’ll contemplate and activity; it brings about almost instant obedience. This is a profound teacher, an earthquake like this. And the lessons it teaches are equally profound.
First of all, let’s talk about the lessons for those who are Christians, for those who are prepared to die, for those for whom death is a settled issue, meaning only entrance into the presence of God. Those of us who know the Lord, those of us who belong to him, those of us who can see this from a biblical perspective, who can have the divine angle on it, there are seven lessons that I want to mention. There might be more, but here are some that will hopefully embrace at what is important.
First of all, God is sovereign. And not necessarily are we learning these for the first time, but they are being reiterated to us in rather memorable fashion. First of all, God is sovereign. We are reminded in a time like this that nothing is out of control. That something isn’t happening beyond God’s ability, beyond His design, beyond His purpose, or beyond His will. God is sovereign, and His sovereign purposes are coming together as He directs all the events of the universe to accomplish His own plan. So this all fits into the eternal plan of God. God has not lost control; Satan can’t make the earthquake. No usurper has taken His place. God hasn’t gone away on a deist vacation and letting everything kind of do whatever it will do on its own. God is still sovereign; God is still on the throne; He is still in complete and absolute control of everything and everyone.
In Exodus 8:22, it says, “I am the LORD in the midst of the land.” That is to say, He is not a far off, somewhere in space, but He’s right here and He is the LORD. Deuteronomy 4:39: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Deuteronomy 10:14 says, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.” Joshua 2:11 says, “The LORD your God, he is God in heaven above and in the earth beneath.” Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s and all that it contains, the world and all who dwell in it.” Psalm 47:2, “For the LORD Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth.” “The heavens are Thine,” says Psalm 89:11, “The earth also is Thine, the world and all it contains Thou hast founded them.” The prophet Jeremiah said in chapter 10 verse 10, “The LORD is the true God. He is the living God; He is the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes.” James 4:12 reminds us, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.” Paul said in 1 Timothy 6: “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, to Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
His dominion is forever; it is over the universe; it is over the heavens and the highest heaven; it is over the earth and all that is in it. God is sovereign, and He has permitted this. This fits within His sovereign purpose and plan and will, and He has brought it to pass to fit His own eternal purpose. Taking that a step further, his sovereign purposes, intended for his own children, are always for their good – are always for their good, for their ultimate benefit. In Ezra chapter 8 and verse 22, the Scripture says, “The hand of our God is upon all who seek Him for good.” What a tremendous promise. But on the other hand, his power, the power of his anger, is against all those who forsake him. Psalm 73:1 says, “Surely God is good ... to those who are pure in heart.” Lamentations 3:25, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.” Matthew 7:11, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who’s in heaven, give what is good to those who ask Him.” Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.” James 1:17 says God is the one who is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
God is sovereign and God is sovereignly working for the good of his own redeemed people. The reminder of Psalm 91 is that “A thousand may fall at thy side and 10,000 at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee. He will give His angels charge over thee to bear thee up lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” The Lord seeks to work his sovereign purpose through His beloved children by doing everything, ultimately, for their good – for their good. God is sovereign. Nothing has changed. He’s still on the throne. Even as Isaiah, after watching the terrible spiritual chaos of Israel as indicated in Isaiah 5 and chapter 6, went to the temple looking to see where God was, and there He was seated on the throne, high and lifted up. God is still on the throne. No matter what may shake below, heaven is an unshakable kingdom, and God is still sovereign. And that sovereignty reveals itself in the good intention of God toward His children, and even when He shakes the earth, He may be shaking it in anger toward the ungodly, but He is shaking it in order to bring His own to greater righteousness and greater peace.
Second lesson. A second lesson for those of us who know God, for those of us who are Christians, for those of us who are prepared to die, that is this: What is eternal can never be destroyed – hat is eternal can never be destroyed. Buildings have been destroyed. I heard this morning 1,500 buildings in Santa Clarita area alone. I don’t know how accurate that is. All kinds of possessions have been destroyed. You’ve experienced it. I’ve experienced it. Some things with real value, some things in which we put lots of money, perhaps, but more often things which carried sentimental value. Some very necessary things like all your dishes. As one person told me. “It doesn’t matter to us. Everything we own is plastic. It just bounced.” But not all of us are so disposed to eating all of our meals out of old butter tubs, and so we lost some of that stuff in which we invested. Lots of things have been destroyed and shattered and things that are irreparable cannot be put together again. But what is eternal can never be touched. It can never be destroyed.
Mark 8:36 and 37, Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lose his own soul?” What will a man give in exchange for his soul? Nothing material is going to last. It’s all going to burn; it’s all going to perish. And as I reminded several people, the perishable just perished a little early. A little earlier than we might have hoped. People work all their life to gain what they will lose. Christians live all their life to gain what they can never lose, to lay up treasure in heaven. I love what Peter writes in 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We have a hope that will never die. And in that hope is, “An inheritance” – verse 4 – “which is imperishable, undefiled, will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” There is a glorious, eternal inheritance that is in the unshakable kingdom and it will never be destroyed, and in fact we are protected by the power of God through faith until the time when we can inherit that marvelous inheritance.
Nothing eternal perished. Nothing. No matter how hard you were shaken; no matter what you lost, your salvation was not lost. The process of sanctification was not lost. The possession of the Holy Spirit was not lost. The truth of God that you know, that has shaped and changed your life was not lost. Those in whom you have invested for the purpose of the kingdom and who have been brought to Christ were not lost. The treasure placed in heaven is unshakable, and you too will be protected until the day when you enter into heavenly glory to receive the inheritance that is waiting for you there.
Listen to Luke 16 – wise, profound instruction by our Lord. He tells a story about a rich man who hired a steward, that’s somebody to manage all of his property. The steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. In other words, he was an unfaithful steward; he was wasteful. Probably he was stealing as well – pilfering. “So the man called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship for you can no longer be steward here.’” You’re about to be fired. You can’t be here anymore; I can’t have you responsible for this because of how you conduct yourself. “And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I’m not strong enough to dig and I’m ashamed to beg.’” He was a proud wimp, actually. And he wasn’t about to go to work and work hard, and he was afraid to beg because it would be embarrassing. And he says I’m going to lose my job for what I’ve done, so what am I going to do?
Well, one thing he wasn’t was dumb. He was shrewd. “I know what I’ll do,” verse 4. I know what I’ll do. I want to do something so when I’m removed from the stewardship here, I’m going to have a home to live in. I’m going to do something to provide a place to live for myself when I get thrown out of here. So he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, people who owed this man money, and he began with the first. “How much do you owe my master? And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said, ‘Well, take your bill, sit down quickly, and write fifty.’” I’ll forgive you half the debt. So he forgives this man half of the debt. “He said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ and he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said, ‘Well, take your bill and write eighty.’”
What’s he doing? Smart guy. He’s putting people in his debt. He’s obligating people to him. And when he gets thrown out of the house, he’s going to go to them and say, “Hey, remember me? I forgave you half your debt. You owe me a favor. I did you a favor. I forgave you 20 percent of your debt. You owe me a favor. I need a place to stay.” He’s purchasing friends for his future. That’s what he’s doing. He’s getting people in his debt. He’s getting people obligated to him who are going to have to help him. And his master praised him. He said, one thing about you, you’re shrewd. You are really shrewd. And he said – in fact, Jesus said, “For the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.”
Worldly people have enough sense to buy friends for their future. He said that’s smarter than most sons of light. What does He mean? That if you were as smart as the world, you’d be buying friends for your future too. Where’s your future? Heaven. Are you using your money to purchase friends for eternity? That’s the point. What a tremendous thought. So he says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of money” – or mammon of unrighteousness – “that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” If the world is smart enough to cover their future by buying friends, why aren’t you smart enough to fill up your eternal future with friends? Use your money for that which will last forever.
It’s been interesting to listen to people talk. Everybody’s out on the street all over everywhere now. People are talking who never talked. Right? My son-in-law, Mark Wynn, said, “I’ll tell you one thing. We were all - the whole neighborhood was out of the house within 15 minutes of that earthquake.” And he said, “I now know what everybody in my neighborhood wears to bed.” And all of a sudden everybody’s on the street, and people are talking to people they never talked to, and it’s all kind of out into the open. What a tremendous opportunity. People are right out there, vulnerable. We need to be taking the advantage and using this as an opportunity as they begin to talk about what perished. I’ve heard people say – people who aren’t even Christians say, “Well, that stuff didn’t matter anyway. What really mattered is the people we love,” and so forth and so on. That’s good thinking. That’s right. You stop to realize that all that stuff got trashed, you hauled it all out of your house, and nothing spiritual changed, except maybe for the better, because maybe you were drawn a little closer to the Lord and maybe you started valuing your life in another way. What is eternal can never be destroyed.
Third lesson: Disaster produces dependence on God – disaster produces dependence on God. I mean, when you have nowhere to turn, and you have no one to go to, and the thing is beyond your control, the only place to go is the Lord, and that’s a good place to go. Isn’t it? Too bad it takes this to get us there. I told you that originally when my son Mark, they discovered he had a brain tumor at the base of his brain that was very dangerous and could be fatal, how that drove me to the Lord. And it wasn’t long after that that you remember Patricia’s car accident in which her neck was broken, and again I had an experience in my life which drove me to the Lord, because it was absolutely beyond my control. And here we are again, in the same kind of situation, where it’s really out of our control. We like to think we can control our world. Don’t we? We like to think we can insulate ourselves from most everything. But we can’t. And here we are literally thrown on dependence on the Lord.
We don’t know what’s coming. That’s the interesting thing about earthquakes. Hurricanes, they always warn you. You know? You go in the basement. Tornadoes, I’ve been in some of those. They tell you go here and do this. But this, nobody knows when and it always seems to me to be a beautiful, clear, wonderful sunny day. It’s all beyond us. Isn’t it? There’s really nothing we can do about any of this. And we find out whether our theology works. Don’t we? We find out whether the God we affirm when everything is still, we’re still affirming when everything is shaking. Disaster produces dependence.
Paul said this, “I have a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me ... I ask the Lord three times ... and the Lord said to me” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” What does He say? I want you in pain. I want you in difficulty. I want you in distress. I want you feeling calamity, because it’s at that point that you run out of your human resource, and when you’ve got no human resource left, where are you going to turn? You’re going to turn to Me, and in that my power is going to be perfected. So Paul got the lesson. He says, “Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties ... for when I am weak, then I’m strong.”
People, this is a time for spiritual strength. This is a time when your strength and your power isn’t going to be enough. I love what Paul said – it’s so sad really – in 2 Timothy 4. He says that “My first offence, no one stood with me,” verse 16. Isn’t that sad? Here he was; his life was on the line. They were going to try him and execute him, and at his first offense, nobody’s there. “They’ve all abandoned me,” he says. And then he adds that compassionate note, “May it not be counted against them.” Like Stephen, you know, or like the Lord who said, “Father, forgive them.” But then he says in the next verse, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me ... and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” And the Lord will continue to deliver me until the day he brings me to his eternal kingdom.
Now this is a time when we have to stand on that confidence. Isn’t it? That the Lord is my refuge, and the Lord is my strength, and the Lord will deliver me. I can honestly say to you, I’ve gotten to the point where every time the earth sakes, I just feel that that is the hand of God. And when it shakes, instead of feeling fear, I feel confidence because I know a sovereign God is doing what He’s doing, and He’s casting me dependently upon him. You know, and the more pain that we feel, the more likely we are to feel pleasure when it’s over. Like the guy who used to be at his head against the wall. They said, “Why do you do that?” And he said, “Because it feels so good when I stop.” William Faulkner said, “If I were to choose between pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” Pain makes the simple joys into immense pleasures. Paul Brand, that great doctor, medical doctor, who has worked for so many years with leprosy wrote, “Affluence and over indulgence have made the modern industrialized West a difficult place to experience pleasure. This is a very deep irony,” he says, “because no society in history has succeeded so well in eliminating physical pain.” We’re so comfortable, we’re so pain-free, that we don’t know what pleasure is.
A pain-free life also doesn’t produce greatness. Graham Green wrote a book called The Third Man. And in the book he says, “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias – a very powerful family – the people had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed. But it produced Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, and the Renaissance.” And then he says, “The bordering country of Switzerland, they had 500 years peace, and what did they produce? Cuckoo clocks.” Strength, nobility, virtue, character, power is the product of pain and weakness. Isn’t it? Strength is born of the dependence of weakness. You can be thankful for times like this because it throws you on the power of God, and in the power of God, you become all that God really wants you to be.
Number four: Adversity enriches fellowship – adversity enriches fellowship. Why? Because it levels everybody. It levels everybody. I thought of this when those kinds came into the dining room at the college. They all poured in there about 15 minutes after the earthquake, totally disheveled, all their identity was gone. No designer clothes, no brand names, no fashion statements. You know how kids sort of pick a little niche in the culture and identify with it in the way we dress? And we all have our own little piece we like to identify with. None of that. They were in there with mix and match shoes and tinfoil blankets. All of their rigid identity was broken down, and they were with all the wrong groups. They didn’t know who they were around. They weren’t hanging around all the people they were always hanging around with. So they found themselves putting their arms around people they didn’t know. Praying with people they never prayed with before. All of a sudden, they were just munched into some big mass, and they lost all their identity, and it was just a matter of let’s all survive together, and let’s love each other and pray for each other and care for each other. And there was something wonderful about that, and friendships were born that morning that will last a lifetime that never would have ever begun.
All of a sudden, they needed each other and it didn’t really matter who you were, if you were there. And maybe they had a banana, but there was three of them and one banana, and they split it up. They became one in the struggle. You know, like a team trying to win a championship at the great moment of triumph, or like an army trying to win a war at the crisis point, or like a group of survivors making their way through an avalanche in a valley somewhere in the high mountains trying to survive. All of a sudden, you strip yourself down to the bare necessities and you fight just to survive.
You know, I had a whole bunch of appointments on Monday. Oh, I had so many appointments on Monday. And I didn’t go to any of them, and there was something wonderful about that. There was something so freeing about that. I was just utterly irresponsible, and it didn’t matter, because nobody would have showed up anyway. And all of a sudden, I was thrust into this pile of kids. And I had kids hanging on me and talking to me, and we were trying to meet each other’s needs, and we were working together to do this and do that and solve this problem and that problem. And it was just really wonderful. It’s what happens in a time of crisis. It was just a time for unity, and it just leveled us all, and we just found a new care, a new concern. Thank you, many of you called and were concerned about our family, and we appreciate that.
You know, Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples that you have” – what? – “love one for another.” In the time of crisis, that love starts to show. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, chapter 4 versus 9 and 10, he says, “I don’t need to write to you about love; you were taught by God to love one another.” And you get in that crisis, and that love shows. That’s when you stop looking on your own things and start looking on the things of others. You consider others better than yourself. You have the mind of Christ. That’s when you bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. That’s when you don’t close up your compassion to those in need. Personal schedules, personal desires, personal strategies and stratas and issues all fall in the non-discriminating love that takes over and we begin to care for each other. This is a wonderful time for that.
You know, we do live isolated lives, don’t we, in this culture? I remember a lady who was with us a few weeks ago, Esther Fan. When I first met her in Hong Kong – she lives in Hong Kong – she had told me when we were over in Hong Kong that she had just gotten married, and she said it was a very traumatic situation for her to get married, and I said why? She said, “Well, on my honeymoon I was alone with only one person for the first time in my entire life.” She said it was very strange. “You see, all my life,” she said, “I lived in a flat with three rooms and four families.” We don’t understand that. We live in little isolated boxes. And all of a sudden, we’re all thrown into each other – aren’t we? – at a time like this. A wonderful time for a Lord to build friendships and make fellowship a reality and for us to share the one another’s of life.
Number five: Suffering calamity in this life makes us long for the perfect world – suffering calamity in this life makes us long for the perfect world. A little of this, and you want to say, “I’d like to go somewhere where it doesn’t shake.” Right? I’d like to go somewhere where there’s no fear, no danger, no death, no problems. You’re talking about heaven. And if we are to set affections on things above and not on things of the earth, this will help us do it. I want to get to that unshakable kingdom. After all, this is not my home. Right? Peter says “We are strangers and aliens.” Paul says, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” Philippians 1. Philippians 3, “For our citizenship is not on earth.”
“The sufferings of this world,” Paul says in Romans 8, “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that’ll be ours in the future.” Paul says, I can’t wait to leave this place. I’m finished here. Let me outta here. “Henceforth there’s laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” I want to go to the other world. I want to go to the perfect world. I want to go where it doesn’t shake. I want to go where there’s no sorrow, sickness, pain or death. This makes heaven all the more wonderful. All the more joyous. No fears, no doubts. No anxieties, no questions. I was told this morning that 70 percent of the prescriptions being written in the drugstores are for tranquilizers and all the liquor that didn’t break is being consumed at an unbelievable rate. People trying to pacify their pain and relieve their anxiety. For us, we just long for the perfect world that’s coming.
Number six lesson: Calamity strengthens us so we can help others – calamity strengthens us so we can help others. Life is full of trouble, folks. Isn’t it? It’s just full of trouble. People die, people get sick, they get cancer, they have heart attacks, they have terrible accidents, they break their bones, they wind up in hospitals, deathbeds, viruses kill them, cancer cells kill them. Life is just loaded with trouble. People shooting each other all over the place. People losing their jobs, losing their money. People’s children disappoint them, break their hearts. Relationships are shattered and devastated, leaving us hollow and feeling empty and rejected.
Who’s going to help all these troubled folks? I’ll tell you who. The people who have been through trouble and came out triumphant. All of this is about training us to be the helpers. Isn’t it? Jesus went to Peter in Luke 22 and said Satan’s going to sift you. He’s going to shake you big time, and after you’re shaking, you’re going to be able to strengthen the brethren. See, when you go through that, you go through tumors and you go through accidents and broken necks and earthquakes and fires and whatever it is and cancer and heart disease and death and all of that and disease and all that stuff, and you see the hand of God and the power of God and your trust vindicated and you come through triumphant, then you’ve become one who can strengthen the others.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 1, a verse we studied some weeks ago, 2 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 4: “The God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” We’re afflicted and comforted so we can comfort those who are afflicted. God’s going to strengthen you through this. He’s going to use you through this. He’s going to multiply your usefulness. In Hebrews 12, the writer of Hebrews talks about discipline and he says discipline from God is going to come. “Every son he loves, he disciplines and scourges and chases.” But in the end, it’s to bring forth a peaceable fruit of righteousness, and when it does that, he says, strengthen the feeble. In other words, when you have gone through the trying and the disciplining and the refining, you’re going to give strength to others. This produces a noble Christian.
Dr. Richard Selzer has written a book called Mortal Lessons. He has an interesting statement in there. Listen to what he says, “A surgeon does not slip from his mother’s womb with compassion smeared upon him like the drippings of his birth. It is much later that it comes. No easy shaft of grace, this, but the cumulative murmuring of the numberless wounds he has dressed, the incisions he has made, all the sores and ulcers and cavities he has touched in order to heal. In the beginning, it is barely audible, a whisper, as from many mouths. Slowly, it gathers, rising from the streaming flesh until at last, it is a pure calling.” Boy, that’s a rich statement. That is the more pain you see, the more wounds you touch, the more healing you experience, the more you become called to be the healer. God is going to use this to strengthen you to strengthen others.
One last lesson: The worst calamity can bring God the greatest glory – the worst calamity can bring God the greatest glory. What is the greatest calamity that ever happened on the face of the earth? What is it? Tell you what it is. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ unquestionably is the most devastating, outrageous calamity the world has ever experienced. To kill the pure and spotless, holy, sinless son of God. And yet, it is from that greatest calamity that God has gained the greatest glory. For through it has come redemption. That suffices to illustrate the point, doesn’t it? That what may seem to us to be the greatest calamity will very often be the path to the glory of God.
Beloved, I believe that’s going to happen. I believe people are going to come to Christ through this, just like they did in 1971 when that quake hit Sylmar. I believe Christians are going to take a hard look at their life and take a new step in the direction of where they ought to be investing their lives. I think God is going to be glorified in this. I think people are going to repent and be saved. I think Christians are going to get serious about what life is really all about and the temporary nature of life and start to invest themselves in what is eternal. And God is going to be glorified through it all.
First Peter chapter 4 verse 16, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed. But in that name let him glorify God. Therefore let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful creator in doing what is right.” You trust yourself to God and do what is right, believe me, He’ll be glorified through your life. This is the time when we can go around this community, and we can demonstrate the strength of our Christian faith, right, and give glory to God. He’ll be glorified. Peter was told by Jesus that he would be glorified in dying in John 21. Isaiah said glorify God in the fires; martyrs have done it through the centuries. God will get glory from this. People will be converted. Christians will be sanctified.
Now in light of all of this, what is the proper response? Psalm 16 – listen. Here’s what we’ve learned: God is sovereign, what is eternal can’t be destroyed, disaster produces dependence on God, adversity enriches fellowship, suffering makes us long for the perfect kingdom, calamity strengthens us to serve others, and finally, what is the creates calamity can bring God the most glory. In light of this, what is our proper response? Listen to this. Psalm 16:8 and 9, “I have set the Lord continually before me.” In other words, I’m going to look at this from God’s perspective. I’m going to look at this through the eyes of God. I’m going to set the Lord in front of me, and I’m going to see it as he sees it because, “He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad.” What should be our attitude toward all of this? Rejoicing. Why? The Lord is before us. No matter what shakes around us, we won’t be shaken. Even if we were to die in this, we’ll only enter into our eternal glory Right? That which is eternal cannot be shaken, and so we set the Lord before us, we get His perspective on this, we see this thing with Him in view, we know He is at our right hand, and we are not shaken.
Rather, our hearts are glad. Listen to Psalm 46. This is so wonderful. Psalm 46 versus 1 to 3, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” He’s here. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” We will not be shaken. Ah, we rejoice in this. God is at work for our good and His glory.
Now, we’ll take another 10 minutes, and I’m going to give you the other side of this. And it’s very important because you’re going to have an opportunity to share with people and this is what you need to know. There are seven lessons for those who aren’t Christians. I’m going to give them to you rapidly.
For those unprepared to die, lesson number one, life is fragile. Life is fragile. Psalm 39:5, “Surely every man at his best is a mere breath.” Job says, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to an end without hope,” Job 7:6. In verse 7, “Remember that my life is but a breath.” Job 9:25, “My days are swifter than a runner.” Job 8:9, “Our days on earth are like a shadow.” And James 4 says, “Your life is a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away.” Life is fragile. It hangs by a thread. It hangs by a breath.
Secondly, there are limits to self-protection. We know life is fragile. There are places on your body where the slightest incision could cut something that would kill you on the spot. Spinal cord, jugular vein. There are little viruses that you can’t even see that could get in and take your life. Cancer cells. Life is so fragile. And there are limits to self-protection. You make your best effort at it. Boy, we try to do everything we can. We got airbags in our cars. We got helmets when we ride motorcycles and bicycles. We got fences around our house so nobody comes in and shoots us. We got dogs. We got alarms. We’ve got it all, but none of it stops an earthquake. None of it stops a cancer cell, a deadly virus, a congenital defect. It won’t stop that. You see, we have limits to our self-protection. You can’t stop it. Life is fragile. There is imminent danger and you can only go so far. In fact in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul says, “Just when everybody is saying peace and safety, peace and safety, sudden destruction comes upon them.”
Thirdly, death is inevitable. If the earthquake didn’t get you, something else will. Is that not true? It’s inevitable. All the insurance policies, all the protection plans, all the HMOs, all the health plans, all the medical insurance, all the bolts, all the locks, all the stuff you can possibly conceive of notwithstanding, you’ll die. It’s coming. If it’s not an apartment in North Ridge, it might be a car or a plane or a robber or a disease. Psalm 89:48 says, “What man can live and not see death?” Nobody. Ecclesiastes 3:20, “All come from the dust and all return to the dust.” Ecclesiastes 8:8, “No man has authority over the day of death.” Chapter 9 verse 5, “For the living know they will die.” Hebrews 9:27 says it’s appointed unto men once to – what? – to die. You’re going to die. That’s just how it is. By sin, through Adam, death entered the world. Romans 5:12. We’re all going to die. Life is fragile, efforts at self-protection are limited, death is inevitable. You’re going to die. If you didn’t die in this quake, maybe you’ll die in another one. It’ll get you. Something will get you.
Fourth, we live in a cursed world. There are so many things running around loose in this world to kill us. Aren’t there? So many things. Why? Because the world is cursed. Why was it cursed? Because of sin. This is a cursed world. We live in a deadly place. I was curious about how earthquakes related to the curse, so I checked with our science department at the Master’s College, with Dr. George Howe, the chairman of the science department, very esteemed and well recognized creation scientist. And I wanted information, because I had a sneaking suspicion that faults that cause earthquakes are connected to the divine judgment of God. And so, I wanted to know where earthquakes came from. This is what Dr. Howe sent me. It is his conviction that the continents were formed during the time of the flood, that at the time of the flood, when God broke up the fountains of the deep, the earth fractured. And then you remember, the heavens also deluged the earth, and the water was coming up from below and down from on top. And the continental rifting took place, and that’s what formed the continents as we know it today and left the caverns in which the seas exist. God had already created land and water, but it was the flood that reshaped it. And it was at that point, that what is called tectonic plates first appear. That’s the stratification. Continents were formed by pulling and separating. And that’s where the rifts came from, as perhaps the water came through from wherever it was in the deeps.
So, the flood was a judgment. Right? The flood was a judgment on the earth. It came. It went. The waters receded and life went on. But you know what? That judgment left the earth with rifts and faults, which continue to echo that original judgment in the flood. God’s still sending the same signals to us. Only the next time, it’s not going to be a judgment by water, it’s going to be a judgment by what? Fire. And that’s easy to understand, because we’re made up of elements – atomic elements. The heart of the earth is a molten lava core and in the space around us are fiery balls. Dr. Howe also said, just for interest, there are two kinds of faults that create two kinds of earthquakes. There’s the strike flip fault, where you have strata like this that separates. That’s exactly what happened in 1971 in Sylmar. And secondly he says that there is the thrust fault, where the plates are like this and they thrust on top of each other like that. And that is the North Ridge earthquake of this week. And the second is much more devastating because it’s closer to the surface, and much more dangerous and damaging.
Listen. Those faults exist in our world because God judged in the past, and they’re just echoes of his judgment on a cursed world. God has cursed this world. There’s so many things running loose in this world to kill us. Aren’t there? They weren’t there in the Garden of Eden before the fall. So what does this tell you? This tells you you’re living in a cursed world; life is very fragile; you can’t really protect yourself; ultimately, you’re going to die. And one of the ways in which you may die is natural disaster. And earthquakes have been a common way through history. Job 9 talks about that. It says it is God, verse 5, who removes the mountains when he overturns them in his anger, who shakes the earth out of its place. You say you mean it’s a direct act of God? God says shake? Well, it may be direct; It may be indirect. Sometimes it’s direct, like the time he promised to shake the earth and destroy Babylon, like the times he promised to shake the earth in the future and destroy it. This is the time to be reminded you live in a cursed world, and what’s cursed this world is sin. When sin curses the world, the earth, it curses you. It damns you forever.
Number five lesson: Temporal disasters are only previews of coming attractions – temporal disasters are only previews of what’s coming. You think this was a big earthquake? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But it’s a preview. You see what it did to life, then imagine, just imagine, the earthquakes to come. Jesus predicted them, as well as the old testament prophets Ezekiel and Joel. Jesus also predicted earthquakes in the great Olivet discourse in which Jesus spoke about His second coming. Matthew records in verse 7, Jesus said there will be famines and earthquakes coming in the end of the age. But listen to what it says in Revelation chapter 6. You want to see the magnitude of the earthquakes that are coming? Revelations 6:12, “I looked ... and there was a great earthquake. The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood. The stars of the sky fell to the earth ... The sky was split apart like a scroll when it’s rolled up, and every mountain and every island removed out of their places.” Now that’s an earthquake.
That’s not the worst one. Chapter 16, we’re about to study in our Sunday night series on Revelation, listen to this. Revelation 16 verse 18, “There was a great earthquake, such has there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, So great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.” It was the fierce wrath of God. Verse 20, “Every island fled away and the mountains were not found.” Whatever this does to the atmosphere, sends hailstones of a hundred pounds crashing down out of heaven. That’s an earthquake. This is just a preview.
That leads me to my sixth point. And I want you to turn to Luke 13 – Luke 13. My sixth point is this: God uses calamity to call people to repentance. I believe this is intended by God to warn people of what is coming when He destroys the earth. I believe it is to call people to repentance. Look at Luke 13. This is incredible little part of Scripture. Verse 1, Luke 13, “Now on the same occasion, there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Let me tell you what happened. We don’t really know anything historical about this, but the text tells us enough to reenact the scene a little. Pilate was the governor in Palestine, Israel. Galilee was the area in the north, the agricultural agrarian area. Some Jews from Galilee came down to Jerusalem. They went into the temple to offer sacrifices. Many Jews did that. They went and offered their sacrifices, and while they were there offering sacrifices, Pilate had some men come in, slice them up, and their own blood was mingled with the blood of the sacrifice.
We could put this under the category of a mass murder. This is an atrocity. This is mass murder. You say, well, maybe they were rebels. No, they weren’t rebels or the text would have told us that. The point is, they were just people doing what normal people do. In fact, they were beyond just normal people, they were actually in there doing religious worship. And they got all cut up and killed by Pilate’s men. They were innocent of any crime. If there was some crime for which they were guilty, the point wouldn’t be made here. He said to them, “Do you suppose these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?” Do you think the people who get killed in an atrocity like that are worse sinners than everybody else? Do you think the boys that Jeffery Dahmer’s cut up and put in his freezer were worse than other little boys? Do you think the people that any mass murderer kills are any worse than any other people? Do you think atrocities only happen to people who are evil? Do you think the people who are getting killed daily in Bosnia and Croatia are worse people than other people who don’t get killed?
Well, the Jews would say yeah. Because it was their belief, all the way back, that the worst sinner will experience the worst calamity. Jesus said you’re wrong. Verse 3, “No.” The answer isn’t yes; the answer’s no. “Unless you repent, you’ll all likewise perish.” Here was their question. Hey, what about those Galilean Jews that went in there to worship and Pilate sliced them all up? Were they worse sinners than anybody else? Jesus said no. And you better clean up your own life, or you’re going to perish too. Whoa, what an answer. What an answer. You say, well, what’s he saying? He’s saying this. Atrocities don’t happen to the worst people. They happen to warn everybody of what’s going to happen if you don’t repent. The question isn’t why those people died, the question is why anybody lived.
People say, oh, I read the Old Testament. Boy, God’s some kind of God. All these people dying. That’s not the issue. They deserved to die. The wages of sin is death. The issue is why did anybody live? And the answer – you say, why? Why do they live? They live because God is merciful, but He punctuates human history and He punctuates His grace and His mercy and His patience with very clear illustrations of what everybody deserves. Who knows how many, maybe a hundred people die out here? Maybe another hundred, two hundred die in the cold in the east. Are they worse than anybody else? No. But they are graphic illustrations of the fact that if you don’t repent, you’re going to perish eternally. You better deal with your own life before God.
And then He goes on to a second illustration, kind of reading their thoughts. “Do you suppose those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?” Down in the southeast corner of the wall of Jerusalem, down in the southeast corner they built a tower right near the pool of Siloam where the people get their water. They have a lot of earthquakes over there. It’s like California in that sense. The topography’s very much the same. They have earthquakes. Maybe an earthquake came, the tower fell down, crushed eighteen people. Were they worse sinners? Here’s Jesus’ answer. No. Unless you repent, the same thing is going to happen to you. You’re going to die in your sins and be lost. That’s an accident, an atrocity and an accident, both happen. Were they singled out because they were the worst sinners? No. They become illustrations to those of us who are left of what is going to happen eventually to everybody. You’d better be prepared.
And then one last point. Time is limited to heed the warning. Time is limited to heed the warning. Jesus tells a story in verse 6. “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, came looking for fruit on it and didn’t find it. Said to the vineyard keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I came looking for fruit.” By the way, three years was the limit. That’s how long they let a fig tree go before they cut it down because it would show its fruit by the third year. I waited three years. I come looking for fruit on the tree. Don’t find any. “‘Cut it down. Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir. For this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer. If it bears fruit next year, fine. If not, cut it down.’” What does that say? God is patient, but His patience has a limit. Right? Give it another year. No fruit, cut it down. The Lord is compassionate, gracious slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness, but He will not always strive with man. Sinners live on borrowed time. Sinners have a temporary reprieve. What a profound teacher is an earthquake. Life is fragile; there are limits to self-protection; death is inevitable. The world is cursed; temporal disasters are only previews of what is coming; God uses these frightening calamities to call people to repentance, and you better repent because time is limited.
One last text. Turn to Hebrews 12. What should be the response? We saw the response to the first list in Psalm 16:8. What should be the response of the unbeliever? Verse 25, Hebrews 12 – this is absolutely powerful. Back in the Old Testament at Mt. Sinai, God brought his law. Right? Do you remember when God came down to Mount Sinai, the whole place shook? There was a tremendous earthquake. Fire, smoke, all those kind of things that we’ve seen. Smoke and fire billowing from that quaking, shaking mountain no one was to go near and touch, and God was bringing His law. Verse 25, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” What’s he talking about? Those people who were there when the law of God was given saw the mountains shake and the fire and the smoke and disobeyed. Right? And they were destroyed. And he’s saying if those people refused to listen to God when He spoke on earth, how are we going to escape when we won’t listen to Him who speaks from heaven? How has He spoken from heaven? In His word and in His son.
“His voice,” verse 36, “shook the earth then. But now, he’s promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’” That’s Haggai 2:6. “And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” In other words, friends, the day is coming when God is going to shake everything that can be shaken and shake it right out of existence and set up His unshakable kingdom. The people that didn’t listen when God spoke from the earth and were judged in the wilderness are an apt illustration of what’s going to happen to the people who don’t listen when God speaks from heaven.
Verse 28, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken” – I love that. Since we, Christians, believers, receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken – “then let us show gratitude by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.” What is he saying? Simply this, beloved. Let me say this to you as clear as I can. Turn in your kingdom which will be shaken for one that can’t be. Come to God in reverence and awe, and worship Him. And you come to Him through Jesus Christ.
Father, we thank You this morning for the lessons from the earthquake. We thank You that we as Christians can have confidence and even joy because all of the good things that happen through this are designed for us and for Your glory. Oh Lord, we thank You for the lessons that You teach us. Lessons about Your sovereignty and about investing in what is eternal and will never be shaken, lessons about unity and fellowship and dependence and trust and strength, lessons about glorifying You. Oh Lord, we thank You that we can set You before us, and we will not be shaken because You are at our right hand, and therefore we are glad and our hearts rejoice.
But Lord, we pray also for those who are not prepared to die. Life is fragile, and they can’t protect themselves. Death is inevitable and it’s a cursed world. Oh Lord, judgment is coming. And You are patient, but patience is limited. Father, prepare every heart to learn the lessons that You want us to learn. May on the one hand we be filled with joy because we’re safe, hidden in You. On the other hand, may our hearts be broken for those who don’t know You. And may we reach out as You give us opportunity to give them the good news of where the safe refuge is in Christ.
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