I want to begin today by quoting an important verse, because as this sermon goes along, you may begin to wonder whether I believe this or not. John 3:16-17 says,
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Let me assure you that I believe every word of that. God is for life and for people. God is love.
This message is rated PG-13, and I'm not kidding. It is rated PG-13 because so many people die in this narrative, thousands and thousands of them. It is rated PG-13 because it tells the story of so much human pain and sorrow and divine judgment.
So why am I preaching from this text? Why not find a place in the Bible that is comforting and positive? Because we need this story. We need it because it challenges one of the great delusions of American culture regarding God. We need it because it helps us base our lives on reality, before it is too late.
We need to read and understand stories like today's Scripture text because many would say it doesn't belong in the Bible. They would say it is sub-Christian, that the God of this story is not the God of the New Testament, and that Jesus is not like this God. If they are not Christians, they may say it is because of stories like this that they do not believe in the Bible. If they are Christians, they may feel that the God of this story is one for whom we need to apologize.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We never have to apologize for God's actions; he always does what is good, right, and perfect. God himself never apologizes for his own actions; rather, he publishes them ...
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Craig Brian Larson is the pastor of Lake Shore Church in Chicago and author and editor of numerous books, including The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching (Zondervan). He blogs on Knowing God and His Ways at craigbrianlarson.com.