Commentary by Jack Kelley
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor. 2:9)
In the time just before the Babylonian captivity, the people of Judah were certain that God would not permit the Babylonians to conquer them. “After all,” they said, “we’re God’s people. His Temple is in our midst. Surely He will spare us.” Their leaders encouraged them to think this way and false prophets assured them that everything would soon be normal again. Even when the Babylonian armies were at the very gates of Jerusalem they were expecting God to miraculously deliver them.
In fact, God had actually told them that if they turned back to Him, he would spare them.
If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers forever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. (Jer. 7:5-8)
But they took no notice of how their behavior had offended Him, thinking only that because they claimed to be His people He would save them. Their leaders had told them that God would spare them and because that’s what they wanted to hear, that’s what they believed.
Finally, on three separate occasions, God told Jeremiah to stop praying for them because He wasn’t going to listen anymore. (Jer. 7:16, 11:14, 14:11) They had gone too far. Only a few years after a national revival they had quickly slid back into their idolatry and for God, it was the last straw.
God’s third discussion with Jeremiah on this matter is worth reviewing.
Then the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”
But I said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, the prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ “
Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries (worthless divination), and the delusions of their own minds. (Jer. 14:11-14)
It was too late. They had missed their last chance. Even if the people did agree to mend their ways and come back to Him now, He knew their hearts had not changed. They would just be doing whatever they could to avoid the judgment. His decision had been made.
God is merciful but He is also just. He can’t go on overlooking sin forever. There comes a time when He has to act, even though He would rather not. It brings Him no joy, and He’s always looking for a way out that won’t compromise His values.
For example, while He was on the way to judge Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham engaged Him on this very point. “Will you spare the cities if there are 50 righteous people there,” Abraham asked. “Yes,” God replied, “For 50 I will spare the cities.” Then Abraham progressively worked the number down until they finally agreed that even if only 10 righteous people were found there God would spare everyone. (Genesis 18:22-33) Well, there weren’t 10 righteous people there so the judgment was confirmed. But there was one and even though He wasn’t bound to, God insisted that the one righteous person had to be removed from the time and place of the judgment before it could begin. The one was Lot. (Genesis 19:21-22)
Whether in Sodom or in Jerusalem, no one knew in advance that God was about to run out of patience because He doesn’t want people to obey His rules just out of fear. He wants them to obey because it’s the right thing to do. With Him, the motive has to be right in order to make the action right.
Israel had been God’s kingdom on Earth for over 600 years. They were so well established they didn’t think it mattered what they did. As long as they called themselves God’s people and went through the motions of worshiping Him they thought they were safe. And after all their Scriptures said that Israel was a Kingdom established by God, who intends for it to exist forever on Earth. Even so, when God’s righteousness demanded judgment, nothing could prevent it.
We need to remember that while in many ways America is like Israel, the Church is not. First, The Church is not a national kingdom with a homeland and geographical borders. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:20) He’s not coming here to be with us where we are. He’s coming to take us to His Father’s house to be with Him where He is. (John 14:1-3) So when He does it won’t matter whether we’re from the United States, the United Kingdom or the United Arab Emirates because the Church is everywhere. God has only established one eternal nation on Earth and that’s Israel. The Church’s eternal home is in Heaven where an inheritance from God Himself awaits us. (Gal. 4:4-7)
Second, the Church never needs to fear a judgment such as the ones I described above. The Lord Jesus agreed to be judged in place of the Church in order to present us to Himself without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5:27)
The Religious Right and other well-intended American Christians frequently send out emails urging everyone to pray for America. But where in the Bible did God say to pray for any place on Earth other than Jerusalem? God’s will would be much better served if the Church would pray for itself, that it would finally adopt the Biblical world view it was intended to have, and become what it was intended to be, the body of Christ. It’s an indication of what a secular world view the American Church has when more of us are praying that God will restore the good old days in our country than are praying for the Lord’s speedy return to take us away from here.
Prayers for America are fine as far as they go, but they’re motivated more by a love for what our country has been than by a desire to see God’s will done on Earth. And when you get right down to it, praying that God will restore America could be seen as an admission that we’re really not ready to see God’s will done on Earth yet.
Many of us grew up in America believing that God is on our side. But when I began studying the Bible I realized that God doesn’t take sides, He is a side. Whatever blessing we’ve enjoyed as a nation has come during times when we’ve been on His side, not because He’s on ours. As far as God is concerned, America is one of the nations destined to be completely destroyed during the Great Tribulation (Jer. 30:11). In His mind, the only nation on Earth that matters always has been and always will be Israel.
Even so, there came a day when God told Jeremiah to stop praying for Israel because it was too late to change His mind. Even a revival wouldn’t have helped them. If it’s not already here, that day will soon come for America and whatever favor our nation might have enjoyed with God will be gone for good.
It’s time for American Christians to realize that America is just a place where we’re temporarily living. And while we mourn the fact that America seems to be turning its back on Israel, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that America is also turning its back on the Church.
According to no less an authority than our President, America is not a Christian nation. He’s right. The only connection between God and America today is that a bunch of us who believe in Him happen to live here. Americans don’t live by God’s laws, we don’t teach our children about Him in our schools, we don’t offer public prayers in His name, and the holy days we observe are no longer tributes to Him. We don’t thank Him for the blessings we receive and we don’t turn to Him when we’re in need.
America is a secular gentile nation that will soon be no more comfortable a home for the Church than pre-war Germany was for the Jews. It’s high time we excised our patriotism from our religion. Think of it as a reverse separation of Church and State. In the last election, Americans said they don’t want the Church’s values to guide the nation’s direction. Well, neither should Christians want America’s values guiding the Church. We should be so passionately yearning to leave here that our feet barely touch the ground when we walk.
One day the Lord was asking some men to follow Him. The first one said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” (By that he meant, “Let me wait till my father dies.”) And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)
His position here is consistent with His warning against accumulating treasure on Earth.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matt. 6:24) In the original language, the word translated money also includes possessions. If you’re up to your elbows in nice things, you’re naturally going to want to spend your time with them instead of preparing to leave them and move to your new home.
He also had this to say about the seed sown among thorns.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matt. 13:22)
These verses all speak against becoming so immersed in the ways of the world that we lose sight of where our real home is. In each case the one who falls into this trap becomes unfruitful. That means we ignore Kingdom opportunities here and forfeit Kingdom rewards there.
Why do so many in the American Church cling to America when America has made it clear it wants nothing to do with the Church? It’s because it’s our nature to always place a higher value on what we know than on what we don’t know. We know how good our life here has been, but most of us don’t know the first thing about how life in our eternal home will be. A surprising number believe we’ll be sitting on clouds all day playing harps. Others think of Heaven as an endless worship service, and compare it to their Sunday morning experiences. It’s no wonder they’d rather stay here.
It would be easy to blame organized religion for not teaching us the truth about this. But that would be a cop-out. After all organized religion itself is an earth-centered institution. The real problem is that it takes a lot of faith to choose the unknown over the known. And just like most American Christians don’t have the faith to live their beliefs, choosing to live secular lives instead, most of us don’t have the faith to believe God’s promises for eternity, so we focus on the here and now.
The solution to all this is deceptively simple. Paul wrote that faith comes through hearing the Word of the Lord (Rom. 10:17). By reading what the Bible says about what’s in store for us we can be made new in the attitude of our minds (Ephes. 4:23). We can be transformed, no longer conforming to the pattern of this world. (Romans 12:3). We can understand what it means to be in the world but not of it. We can discover that the greatest adventure ever designed for mankind lies right around the corner, and since we’ve accepted the Lord’s death as payment in full for our sins it’s all for us. And finally, we’ll understand that while America’s successes have been without parallel, in all the Age of Man the biggest winner by far is the Church. 06-06-09