Finding Christ in Las Vegas
2 Timothy 3
As the news first broke and the horrors unfolded, the whole nation was transfixed by the mass shooting by gunman Stephen Paddock and his attack on the Rt. 91 Harvest Festival last Sunday night in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nearly 60 dead and 500 wounded as Paddock set up his shooting blind on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, and took indiscriminate aim on the crowd gathered to hear a series of country music bands.
And as late as last night, one of the headlines I read led with these words: “Still no clear motive for the Las Vegas attacks.”
Motive. It’s one thing when a natural disaster takes place – we don’t always immediately look for a specific cause. But even then speculation can run wild – because we need to make sense of things. Striving to know WHY anything happens in our lives or that impacts us greatly – helps make it less scary.
If, as in this case we think we can attach a specific motive to Paddock’s actions, then we regain some sort of power over what seems so random and utterly unpreventable. We want to know why, so that we can take steps to prevent possible recurrences.
The impulse isn’t wrong. It’s right to look for causes when and where we can. Part of our created constitution is the capacity to learn and do better when things have gone awry due to something we might have or have not done in the first place.
But what are we to do, how are we to think, when all the scrutiny and investigation leads us to a blank page? When no clear cause, or in this case, no clear motive emerges to help assuage our fears. When we cannot explain it, and therefore are utterly powerless to prevent its like from happening again – what do we do then?
For some, there is simply a mad rush to do “something” – ANYTHING – whether it could have any possible real impact on the future or not. Doing SOMETHING is better than doing NOTHING, even if the something in fact does nothing relevant to the situation. At least we feel better.
Others will simply bury their heads in the sand and think no more about it. It’s done. Nothing else is to be said, and they think no more deeply than that. This is its own kind of tragedy.
Some will be overcome with fear. They find the randomness so overwhelming that they cannot feel safe from any possible disaster and they will seek either to medicate their fear or retreat to their homes, or simply live in unrelenting fearful torment.
But the Christian is privileged to take a different course altogether. For while we might flirt with all of the above, we are never without counsel and divine insight that both informs our hearts and minds where no other answers appear – and gives us solid direction in keeping our hearts and minds, even in the face of such seemingly random and inexplicable evil.
And so we run back to our God – the God David prays to in Psalm 61:1–3 by pleading: “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; 2 from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, 3 for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Which figure Solomon picks up on and reminds us in: Proverbs 18:10 “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”
So this morning I would like to take us to one passage that for me has served to meet these kinds of circumstances over the years, in both some of my personal personal trials, and those on a larger scale. It is the 3rd chapter of Paul’s short letter to young Timothy as he is struggling to keep a lid on the Church in the city of Ephesus in the 1st century. Counsel breathed out by the Holy Spirit for just such times as these.
In the passage I want to note just 4 things:
I. A Divine EXPLANATION.
II. A Governed EXTENT to evil.
III. A Living EXAMPLE & EYEWITNESS to facing evil.
IV. An EXHORTATION for keeping the heart.
I. (1-4) A Divine EXPLANATION: But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
The Apostle Paul is warning his young charge that human nature is not to be underestimated in terms of how deeply sin has affected it.
It’s obvious that he doesn’t intend either Timothy nor other eventual readers to think that each person would be wholly characterized by the entire list here – rather that these characteristics will emerge more and more as controlling characteristics, and some manifesting certain ones more than others.
We all have our individual bents, our own particular sinful inclinations which plague us more than others. But they all have the same root – the fallen human nature.
What I find interesting here is how many of these tend toward violence and victimizing others. Abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, brutal, treacherous, reckless, and the like.
Others seem to be the fountain from which these kinds of behaviors flow: Lovers of self, Lovers of money, proud, arrogant, ungrateful, unholy, without self-control, not loving good, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
And these fountains as we might call them, can be found in those who claim some sort or religion or spirituality, as much as in those who in apparent godlessness take on aggressive, abusive and violent actions against others.
I find it also very telling that Paul says these will increase in the last days, in other words, these days which directly precede Christ’s return and His final judgment on this world – bear this telling mark of violence even as it characterized the human race just prior to the Flood in Noah’s day.
Note God’s reference to this in Genesis 6:11–13 as the leading cause before the Flood: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
So Jesus Himself will tell us: Matthew 24:37 “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Contrary to those who pride themselves in the innate goodness of man and how we have evolved – the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history. Even as we make incredible advancements in science, technology and industry – we have also advanced in our tendency toward, and thirst for – violence!
Quora website: “Matthew White’s estimate – Worldwide Statistics of Casualties, Massacres, Disasters and Atrocities., a total of about 123 million people died in the wars of the 20th Century: 37 million military deaths, 27 million collateral civilian deaths, 41 million victims of genocide and other mass murder and 18 million victims of famine.”
All the above being the case, we need to also point out some very important aspects of the Holy Spirit’s revelation here through Paul.
1 – This is not a surprise to our God, and should not be to us. I didn’t say these things aren’t shocking. They ought always to be shocking and appalling to people saved by God’s good grace especially. But they ought not to be surprising. We are to expect this to be the case, because God has revealed that it will be the case in passages like this one.
Since we are forewarned, we ought not be to shaken as though something here is foreign to the way God said it would be.
2 – This is a stunning but realistic example of what the fallen heart of mankind does when unrestrained. When we think of sin in light terms, we discount just how evil sin really is, and imagine sinful man is just a little “off.”
3 – How gracious God is to keep this from being the norm.
4 – We must be prepared for more to come.
5 – This same condition will even spill over into the Church.
II. A Governed EXTENT to evil: 9 But they will not get very far,
God still reigns. He will only let these go so far. The miracle is that He restrains SO MUCH!
This is what theologians call the doctrine of COMMON GRACE. It is not the grace that saves the lost, but it is still God’s goodness toward fallen mankind that He prevents the worst from breaking out at all times.
Just imagine what this world would be like if the characteristics listed above, were permitted to be exercised by all the lost all the time to their fullest extent.
We would have long since destroyed the entire race, even as some have tried to exterminate individual races:
Think of the attempted genocide of the Jews under Hitler – murdering 6 million (and some think many more). And don’t forget that the 6 million or so Jews make up but 45% of all those Hitler tried to eradicate. He also sought to expunge the world of the Slavic races, the Gypsies and more.
In the 1930’s the Soviets starved somewhere between 2-7 million Ukranians.
The Khmer Rouge exterminated 21%-33% of total population of Cambodia, 100% of Cambodian Viets; 50% of Cambodian Chinese; 40% of Cambodian Lao and Thai and more. Millions!
And then you look at individuals who have become mass murderers like Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas and you realize – if God was not restraining such evil from being the norm – all would be lost.
He allows enough to remind us constantly that contrary to humanistic reasoning – the Bible is true: Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” He allows enough evil to be exposed, that it ought tom make us run to Him to find the answer in the redeeming grace of Jesus. For who can change the human heart? None but God alone.
III. A Living EXAMPLE & an EYEWITNESS to Facing evil: 10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Paul can say to Timothy here, look, you have seen me endure senseless suffering at almost every turn – so think about how I faced them and what impact they had on me.
2 Corinthians 11:24–28 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
And in all of this Timothy – how did I respond? Did I panic, or become overtaken by fear or cynicism? NO!
You know I never strayed from what I believed and taught (doctrine) – that I stayed my own soul on what God’s word taught about the nature of fallen mankind and living in this fallen world; how God remains actively sovereign over all even in the midst of massive trials; how His unchanging plan remains on course and how He makes provision for our every need in the midst of it all.
You saw how my doctrine formed the basis for how I lived (conduct)
And how it informed my goal(s) (aim) and kept them the same irrespective of the assaults and trials
How these things fueled my (faith) rather than dampening it
And how this solid understanding of God’s word gave me (patience) to endure until He fulfills all
Gave me (love), even for these so far gone in their wickedness
Giving me (steadfastness) so that I did not shift course in the face of it all even in the face of every persecution, tragedy and suffering.
You saw this Timothy – now let that inform how YOU face these all.
IV. An EXHORTATION for keeping the heart.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
So you too – don’t waver. Continue steadfast in the purpose and plan of God as revealed in His Word – remembering that you didn’t receive it from theoretical eggheads, but from those who have lived it and proven it true at every turn.
And so – GO BACK TO THE WORD for insight, strength, courage and understanding in the midst of all you face.
“how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is 1breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” And, we might add – in every circumstance.
The Word alone can so brace the heart and mind so that you do not despair, panic, hide, become discouraged, become paralyzed by fear or lost in an endless quest to answer every “WHY?”.
We may never find out the precise motive or motives of Stephen Paddock. Nor do we need to.
It is enough to know that this is what the human heart does when it acts on the sinful impulses listed at the beginning of this chapter.
And the answer rests in one place alone: Hearts and minds transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the indwelling Spirit of Christ so as to give them love for God and for their fellow man, making such actions unthinkable.
Man left to himself is incurably wicked.
God in His grace restrains man from acting as fully on his wickedness as he otherwise would.
No expression of human wickedness ought to surprise or deter the Christian who understands God’s Word.
Christ WILL return, all justice WILL be meted out, and all Christians can live in the security of their loving and faithful Savior.
So where does the put you today listener?
Are you in Christ so as to live in these realities?
Or are you bound in fear and unknowing and bound and lost in your OWN sins?
Then this Gospel today is for you.
Christ has died.
He died at the hands of wicked men – fulfilling the perfect will of the Father to make a penal, substitutionary atonement for sin – so that all who put their faith in Him might be born again, forgiven of all their sin, have eternal life, and live consciously in His love and care and purposes until He comes to take us home to be with Him forever.
And He calls you today through the preaching of this Gospel to come to Him. To repent of your sin and self-rule, and to be set free to live for Him in the power of His Spirit.
And Believer – Our God has told us this is the way it will be.
He is not surprised by it, and neither ought we to be.
He has made provision for us in His Word.
As we keep our eyes fixed upon Him.
As we run to Him who is our strong tower in the times of trouble.
As we continue the course of serving Him and His Kingdom, anticipating His return.
As we keep coming back to His Word and anchor our souls in Biblical truth –
We can live, joyful, hopeful, trusting lives, held fast in the nail-scarred hands of our Savior – until He comes to make an end of all sin, and to take us home to be with Him in eternity.
Today may be deeply overshadowed and dark – but the darkness itself is the only a herald of His soon coming dawn. Rest in Him.