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 WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO TAKE VENGEANCE?

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT THE
HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
AND
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

10 MARCH 1991

By: Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

2 Chronicles 36:9-23
Psalm 137:1-9
Matthew 5:44-45
John 3:16-21
1 John 4:7-12

Preparation Verse: (Matthew 5:44-45)

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Who has the right to take vengeance?

Surely, after what has taken place in Kuwait, one would think they have, wouldn't they?

Last week on the radio, I heard a Kuwaiti military officer, who was in charge of a group of men who had been trained by our Special Forces, saying that as they were looking for Iraqi troops and Palestinian sympathizers and supporters, "The hardest thing my men have to do is not to take vengeance."

And as I was preparing this sermon, there were many thousands of Kuwaitis still prisoners in Iraq, and I could imagine them saying similar words as those of the Israelites when they were held captive there 2,000 years ago: (Psalm 137)

1. By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.

2. Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.

3. For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion."

4. How can we sing the Lord's song
In a foreign land?

5. If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.

6. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.

In this case, the Israelites and the Arabs have something in common.

Maybe if we look hard enough, the whole world has a lot more in common than we have differences.

As we listen to the next three verses of this psalm, a portion that is left out of many sermons, understand the anguish of the people in what they are saying, and also hear the words of that Kuwaiti officer who spoke against what these verses seem to say.

7. Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, "Raze it, raze it,
To its very foundation."

8. O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.

9. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.

I also heard a Kuwaiti woman say something similar to this: "The captured Iraqi troops that did the horrors in Kuwait City should be hacked to pieces before the eyes of their wives and children, just like they did to us."

We can understand how they feel, but is this the way that God wants us to be?

Back in Psalm 137:8, we are reminded that even though Israel was looking for revenge, they also recognized that they were deserving of punishment because of their own deeds; but it was for the excesses that they sought revenge.

Let's turn in our Bibles to 2 Chronicles 36:9 and following, and see the state of the final days of Jerusalem before it fell, when all the survivors were taken into captivity in Babylon, and the things that followed.

9. Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem, and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.

10. And at the turn of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon with the valuable articles of the house of the Lord, and he made his kinsman Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem.

Sometimes we don't like to admit that a child can be evil and that our children have thirteen years to come to the age of responsibility; but here God shows us that this concept is simply not true. Children can knowingly be evil.

And it is God's own wrath that comes against this eight year old, through the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

The evilness of the society had rubbed off on even a young child.

Now Zedekiah is king. Let's see what happens to him.

11. Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.

12. And 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.

13. And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. But he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel.

14. Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of the Lord which He had sanctified in Jerusalem.

15. And 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;

16. but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy.

Sometimes I get accused of looking at the world too simplistically; but I really believe that is exactly how God has laid it out for us, and how he wants us to see things.

Do you think that perhaps things weren't quite right in Kuwait before the time of this Iraqi invasion?

Do you think that perhaps they also had the Lord's warnings, as did Israel?

And do you think that Iraq was used by the Lord to bring the message home to the entire world that it’s time to quit selling instruments of death, and to turn back to the Lord our God with all our heart?

I do!

Note what we are told next about the people of that land being used against Israel, as we continue at verse 17:

17. Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or infirm; He gave them all into his hand.

18. And all the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon.

19. Then they burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its fortified buildings with fire, and destroyed all its valuable articles.

20. And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia,

21. to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete.

With the exception of the seventy years, do you see a striking similarity between what took place in Jerusalem 2,500 years ago, and that which has recently taken place?

I believe that God is trying to tell the whole world something, and it’s time we take notice.

The only question that remains is whether we are going to harden our hearts and stiffen our necks, as did the Israelites, or whether we are going to repent of our ways.

The answer is with each of us.

Note another striking similarity, as we continue at verse 22:

22. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia – in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah – the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation through his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,

23. "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!' "

God used the Babylon of old to punish Israel and, because of their excesses, they were overthrown by the Persians. After seventy years, Jerusalem and the temple began their rebuilding.

Whatever wrath or whatever vengeance was handed out came from God and not from man. The excesses of man were punished, as will ours.

There have been wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East for over a thousand years. What we have done won't succeed any better than any of the previous solutions – unless God directs it.

Like Cyrus, the United Nations allied forces are sending the devastated people back to rebuild their lands. There is not much said of any rebuilding that Cyrus did in Babylon, but he paid for much of the cost of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.

And similar help will come for Kuwait.

But help is coming in another way, as well. The people are waking up to the fact that the royal family rule without a truly democratic society; and dictatorships are what cause nations like Iraq to go in the direction it went, and the majority of the people don't want it to happen again.

What they are saying is true, and it may even work for a while; but without the love of Jesus Christ in their hearts, they are destined for future trouble.

Until Israel truly repented, there was no rebuilding; and when they again turned away, it was torn down again.

I have been struggling for some time trying to understand why God allows such things as this war to occur, and why there is such hatred and killing in the world. The only answer I seem to get is that our unlove is a witness against us.

God is the one who will justify the just and take whatever vengeance is necessary against the unjust.

If we try to do this, it will only cause more unrest, or just lead us back to where we were before.

History always seems to repeat itself, doesn't it?

Probably the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, speaks to us of God's love for us and of His atoning power; but as we read the verses that follow, we begin to see that our own actions bring about the judgment and vengeance that befall us.

Listen to the words of John 3:16-21.

16. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

17. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.

18. "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Note carefully that there is separation between God's love and judgment.

Jesus Christ came to save us from God's judgment: that condemnation, that vengeance, that sends the unbelieving and the unloving to hell; for the unbelieving and unloving are the same in the eyes of God.

I pray for Bob Simon, and people like him who have been very deeply hurt by this war. I don't pray for him because he was hurt physically, but spiritually; for in his present state of mind, he is expressing a desire for the death of the Iraqis who mistreated him.

The hatred that Bob and others have in their hearts will only bring the vengeance they seek upon themselves.

I am also praying for the arrogant Americans who, because of our lop-sided victory, are going around saying that we “kick butt,” and are gloating over our victory, instead of repenting and asking God to forgive us and have mercy upon us for taking vengeance into our own hands.

Our arrogance could bring about our own destruction, for when we are arrogant we leave no room for Jesus Christ.

Listen, as we continue with our reading of God's word:

19. "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.

20. "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

21. "But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

And so we don't lose sight of what is being said to us, let's take a look at what John writes to the church in his first epistle (1 John 4:7-12).

7. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

8. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

9. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

10. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

11. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12. No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.

Here I will add that God will become visible only through our love.

If we hold fears and hatreds and the desire for vengeance in our hearts, there is no room for God's love; and without God's love, there is no room for God – for God is love.

Don't allow the evilness in this world to steal away the love of God from your heart.

Leave vengeance to the Lord!

Amen.

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