We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose. Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions. The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.
Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood. He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world. He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God. And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.
The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied. Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what? What are we supposed to do with all this information? So Jesus is great, I get that. But what does it mean for me?
The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love. We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love. But what is faith?
II. What Faith is Not
We all place our faith in something. In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it. When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing. When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.
We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities. There are lots of self-help books out there. I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books. I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation. There were 351,562 books in total.
|Anger Management (841)|
|Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)|
|Communication & Social Skills (140)|
|Death & Grief (16,156)|
|Eating Disorders (2,739)|
|Handwriting Analysis (710)|
|Inner Child (554)|
|Journal Writing (216)|
|Memory Improvement (1,894)|
|New Age (955)|
|Personal Transformation (75,093)|
|Stress Management (11,539)|
|Time Management (2,233)|
I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like. We may find we come up short and we need some more help.
We can also have faith in others. But can people let us down? We can be disappointed in others. They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us. People can let us down sometimes.
We may even have faith in faith itself. Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen. Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God. That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking. (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do). Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful. The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8). It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.
And what we need most is Jesus. The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.
III. Does Faith Replace Reason?
Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs. Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason. If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason. If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith. Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark. They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”
If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Faith without reason is stupid. If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense? Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything. In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event: Christ is raised from the dead. If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe. Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.
But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead. Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty. Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus. And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it. And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.
We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive. The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus. Why would they die for a lie? But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise. They knew who He was.
No, our biblical faith is based on reason. Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.
IV. Dead Faith
Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice. If we do not, our faith is dead. Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have. Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine. We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain. We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription. I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work. I believe everything about this medicine. But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on. That’s dead faith, useless faith.
No, we must do something with the faith. James 2:14-19 says,
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith. The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved. Knowing that, can we let those we love perish? What kind of useless faith is that?
V. Little Faith
Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action. Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us. After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson. Surely that is enough? We’re not church elders or pastors or staff. It’s those people that have an abundance of faith. It’s enough that I’m here, right?
I haven’t been a Christian long. I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true. Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections. I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction. I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.
I guess it’s been longer than I thought. That’s coming up on 20 years ago. I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.
I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study. You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on. Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us. But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God. The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were. I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself. But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching. If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?
Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge. I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough. I didn’t have enough faith. I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.
And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have. Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow. The Lord has equipped me for today. So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew. I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since. And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today. I only had a little faith, but that was enough.
Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same? I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples. They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them. Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?” I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough. They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.
But these men of little faith went a long, long way. They were given the task of evangelizing the world. It doesn’t take much faith. In fact, it takes very, very little faith. With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain. You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.
VI. What Can Faith Do?
What can our little faith do? God will do amazing things with our faith. Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today. This is what faith can do –
- By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
- By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
- By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
- By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
- By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
- The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.
A little faith is enough. A little faith is more than enough. The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.
Faith is taking God at His word. His entire word. Full confidence that every word is true. That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.
I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too. God can use my little faith to move mountains. My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient. And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.
Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,
“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”
To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The book of Hebrews might have been written by Paul – that seem to be the consensus of the experts – but there are certain verses and phrases that only appear in Hebrews, so it’s hard to be sure. In any event, the author is writing to Jewish converts to Christianity who are undergoing hardships like crucifixion, being fed to lions, things like that. Sort of puts our complaints in perspective, I think. “I spilled coffee on my slacks! Why do bad things always happen to me? Doesn’t God love me?”
So the author tells these Jews basic truths to encourage them. Last week in Hebrews 1, as Chris taught, they were reminded that Jesus was the messiah they had waited for and who Jesus was. Now, in the beginning of Hebrews 2, these converted Jews – let’s call the “Christians” – are reminded to pay attention to what they have learned and why.
We only have 4 verses today to study, how long could this possibly take? Let’s look at them.
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
II. Listen & Pay Attention (Hebrews 2:1)
What happens when we do not pay attention? In our car? At work? With children? Unexpected things – mostly bad things – happen. Few people unexpectedly win the lotto when they’re distracted. They’re more likely to get into a fender bender with the car in front of them.
It’s hard to consistently pay attention. Distractions easily take away our focus. I struggle with this in my nightly prayers, “Lord please bless Joe and his wife through their struggles, even if he is a University of Texas grad. Texas A&M is such a better school. The football team is great, lean years are behind them, unlike SMU who had that NCAA “death penalty” assessed back in… 1984? 1986? I can’t remember. I think I had already graduated, but when I heard about SMU was I in College Station? Or Oklahoma? I moved there in 2005… sorry, I mean 1985. Man, time flies. I’m definitely getting older. I think it’s starting to show. I wonder whether stretching exercise for flexibility is more important than strength training when you get older… I’m sorry, Lord. Where was I?”
Paying attention takes practice, like Patrick’s syncopation skills. Instead, like a bright shiny trinket dangled in front of us, the world distracts us from importance.
So where were we? Which book are we in again? Oh yes, Hebrew 2, verse 1.
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” That word in the middle is “therefore,” and you’ve probably heard the phrase that “whenever we see a therefore, we should ask what it is there for.” Therefore refers to all of chapter one which told us how God speaks to us and who Jesus is. God spoke to us first through the prophets, and in these last days – the church age – God has spoken to us through His Son, His Son who is the Incarnate God, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, the Son of God, Heir of all things, the Creator of all things, our hope and bread of life, our cornerstone, the Faithful and True, the Great Shepherd, the Horn of Salvation, the King of Ages, the Prince of Peace, and far superior to the angels – “therefore.”
No wonder the author of Hebrews tell us to pay attention. God himself dwelt among us to bring us this message, and He suffered and died for it. Is there anything else in your life that you can say is honestly more important than that?
The world around us distracts us. We get busy with “stuff” that’s “important.” Our kids, our jobs, our smartphones. Ooh, squirrel! But is there anything more important that God’s Word? A handbook for life, a reason for living, a prescription for salvation? If we could only learn to pay attention to what God is saying to us. Matthews 6:33 says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” All the things that are important in life – not necessarily what we think is important – will be given to us if we just seek God and pay attention.
How hard is it to pay attention with distractions? Let me show you a very short video. I may have to show it twice, and you’ll understand once you see it. Watch this and pay close attention.
God wants us to continually focus on Him, to pay attention, or we’ll drift away. What does the verse mean by “drift away?” The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means we don’t have to do anything for this to happen, it just happens. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We’re floating down the river in a boat. Up ahead is a dock where want to stop our boat and anchor ourselves so we don’t drift down the river. We’re focused on it. And if we don’t focus on what we’re doing, we’re going to drift right past.
We drift away because we weren’t paying attention. The dock is our anchor, as Jesus is our anchor that holds us fast to him so we do not drift away to destruction.
Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook; it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.
III. The Peril of Neglect (Hebrews 2:2-3a)
Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Living under the Law, we discovered we cannot live righteous lives. Did you know that there, technically are 2 ways to get into heaven? One is to accept Jesus as our own personal savior. The other is to be perfect, to do perfect, to think perfect, without sin. But Romans 3:23:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
And Psalm 14:3,
All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
And we have seen sin punished throughout the Old Testament history to one degree or another. God hates sin, and a holy God will eventually destroy all sin. Sin cannot coexist with the light.
Who can live up to the perfection of our Holy and Mighty God? Our efforts at obtaining our own salvation – and we all want to do it, because we’re full of the sin of pride – will always come up short. Way short. Being “good enough” isn’t good enough. Do we strive for a heaven that is “good enough?” We long for that perfect peace and joy and beauty, not a cheap imitation that is “good enough.”
When I taught the 3rd graders long ago – there’s a ministry worthy of people far more skilled than I – I used the example of a chocolate milkshake.
A perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, we cannot help but toss in a bug. Some yucky insect. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Isn’t it “good enough?” Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven.
But there is one. Jesus, as a man, lived a sinless, perfect life. Jesus, as a sacrifice, tasted death. Jesus, as the son of God, could atone for all of our sins. Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.
We can never forget that this is the only viable way to salvation. Jesus has paid the debt for our sin. We can either accept that gift, or we can pay for the sin ourselves. But the wages for that sin is death. It’s the only choice. Romans 6:22-23:
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We may have the idea that believer “under grace” can escape the chastening and discipline of God that was so evident “under law” in the Old Testament. But Luke 12:48 says
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
I think this applies to believers, even more so. As believers, we have been given much. Rather than rely on grace, shouldn’t we try to live lives pleasing to God? God doesn’t punish believers, but He does discipline His children. And so far this morning we’ve been studying how we should pay attention and has given us warning signs so that we do not drift away.
Here’s a couple of typical warning signs. What perils will we face if we do not pay attention to these signs?
There are perils ahead if we don’t pay attention to the signs. We certainly do not want to drift away. If we’re not paying attention, we drift down the river and end up where we do not want to be. What are these perils? In the OT, people were punished for violating scripture. God is unchanging, his love never fails. He still loves us, and He still hates sin.
Our salvation is still secure if we truly believe in Him. Tim said last week that true believers cannot lose their salvation, and he’s absolutely right, but we believers can drift away from the plan God has for us and the blessings that go with it.
Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teenager who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at the age 17 he took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching. They had planned to laugh at the poor deluded Methodists. God had a different calling for Robert, though, and two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.
It’s a beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a decidedly non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.
Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, ‘Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.’ Robert Robinson drifted away, alone and unhappy, versus the joy of seeking God’s blessing’s daily.
How do we protect ourselves from this neglect?
- Fellowship with believers, come to church and worship. This is the easiest way to pay attention – somebody else reads the scripture to us.
- Pray to the Lord that He will help us understand. 1 Corinthians 2 says that one must have the Holy Spirit to understand God’s Word. Only believers that honestly try to grow nearer to the Lord can understand; the word is unintelligible to those who are not saved. James says pray for wisdom so that you may understand.
- Remember what was said. Take notes. Write in your bible. Memorize a verse.
- Look over our notes later. In particular, read the scripture to see if what we heard it’s true. When Paul preached to the Bereans, he said the Bereans were noble for checking the scripture to see if what Paul said was true. As a believer with the Holy Spirit in us, we are responsible for understanding what we’ve heard. Don’t believe a lie, seek the truth.
- Ask God to help us put it into practice. Do something with what we’ve heard. This takes work. The works do not save us, we cannot earn salvation. But works helps us become holy and sanctified, it helps us cast off worldly sorrows and seek heavenly joy.
Does it seem like there’s not enough time in the day to do all of this? If we do not make time, we may drift away. We may be guilty of looking for God only on Sunday and then sparing hardly a thought for Him all week. But if we put him first, we learn to ask for things that please God, and He is pleased to give it to us. So studying the bible or having “quiet time” or re-reading your Sunday notes isn’t a duty or an obligation; don’t let anybody tell you that you *have* to do these things. But it *is* a path toward more joy and blessings. When we focus on the world and the pleasure it offers, we allow ourselves to be satisfied with so little. When we focus on God and His desires, then we are satisfied by much. God is a fount of overflowing blessings, far more than the world can offer.
IV. Truth Verified (Hebrews 2:3b-4)
For each of us individually, this is an important message. Verse 3b-4,
This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
This message is so important that he sent prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and Joel and Obadiah and Jonah and so on and so on. This message is so important that God sent plagues to Egypt and divided the Red Sea and sent manna from heaven and protected his people from lions and fiery furnaces and sent a star of Bethlehem to lead the wise men. There are 123 miracles in the bible. And then, like an exclamation point, the point of the entire bible pointing from man’s fall to his redemption, God sent his only son to die for us so that we may live. That’s how much God loves us, and how important He feels about this message.
Focus on God, keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember when Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus? But when he looked away, he lost focus, he started to sink. He drifted away. Jesus, who is the Word, came to speak to us directly, and even though Hebrews 1 says Jesus is higher than the angels and sits at the right hand of the father, He was not ashamed to become man and live among us. Glorious sweet Jesus, highly exalted and holy, is not ashamed to call us brothers and sister. We should not be ashamed to call him Lord and listen to what He says.
Hebrews pleads for us to hear and read and study Scripture to stay as close to God as possible and to continue in as straight a line as possible. Peter puts it this way:
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)
So this is what happens: We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin. We can simply neglect our spiritual growth.
Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant. Destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance.
You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Like losing touch with a friend because you never think of calling or writing. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.
As a final thought this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. The author of Hebrew was writing to believers who were struggling with their faith. What the author is saying is that is not enough to believe but we have to find a way to put our faith into practice if we want to grow.
Verse 1-3, read again emphasize “we”. We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. This applies to all Christians. This is not meant for non-believers who reject Christ, but for those who neglect Christ. This is for those who have accepted Christ, but don’t anchor themselves to Christ and then drift away.
The admonition from Hebrews hasn’t lost its power over the centuries. We are responsible for the truths we know. The Gospel is salvation to all those who hear and confess that Christ is Lord. We cannot take that lightly, for without this gift of salvation, we have God’s righteous wrath to destroy all that is evil, including our own sin. And none of us are exempt. All have sinned, and the punishment for sin is death. Instead, we have been given a free gift, one undeserved. And when we are in conversations are work or with neighbors or strangers, we cannot shy away from sharing this good news. It is not love to let another die. Share what we know about God’s plan for redemption.
As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the modern prophets Simon and Garfunkle.
God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away
Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.
Let us pay attention this week to what God is saying so that we do not drift away. To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
For several Sundays in a row, we’ve been coming to class and studying the prophet Ezekiel. Then one day Chris shows up and says, “Let’s turn to the book of Daniel.” What was Chris thinking? Were we done with Ezekiel? I don’t think so. When we start studying these prophets, there is always so much more to learn. I find the lesson I learn from God’s word can vary – if I read Ezekiel all at once, I hear one message, and if I read only Ezekiel 18, I get another message, and if I read just Ezekiel 18:5, I get still another revelation.
Then Chris shows up and starts teaching Daniel. Ok, fine, we’ll study Daniel. Daniel is actually a contemporary of Ezekiel, they lived approximately at the same time. Ezekiel mentions Daniel twice during his mission. But while Ezekiel is living in Babylonian captivity, Daniel’s captivity is in the palace in service to the king. He’s probably in his early teens, learning the Babylonian ways so he can serve the king, and eating his vegetables.
II. God is in Control (Daniel 2)
Then in Daniel Chapter two, we come to the first of 2 famous stories we’re going to read about today. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians, must be feeling pretty good about himself, having sacked the land of Judah and carried away his captives. But Nebuchadnezzar is not in control, and he could not have been successful unless God had willed it. One of Ezekiel’s prophecies was that, because of the Jewish people’s disobedience, God would cause the land of Judah to be sacked by the Babylonians as punishment. It wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar in control, it was God. 600 years later in Romans 13:1, Paul writes,
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Nebuchadnezzar probably didn’t credit God for this, he was a Babylonian pagan king. He probably believed in his own might and power. But then he starts having these troubling dreams, and we will see that God placed these dreams there. Daniel 2:1-6,
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”
Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”
So the astrologers weren’t merely being asked to interpret a dream, they were being asked to describe the dream. Some say the king couldn’t remember his dream, but I don’t think that’s likely. He remembered enough about the dream that it bothered him the next day and kept him from a good night’s sleep. I think he remembered his dream, but distrusted his fortunetellers. Nebuchadnezzar knew that his fortunetellers would just tell him what he wanted to hear.
How could these magicians succeed? It’s not possible to read people’s minds, except for me. I have this ability to read people’s minds. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “Nah, he can’t read minds.”
To make a long story short, the magicians fail terribly at the king’s assignment. They neither know what the dream is, nor what the dream means. The king orders them all put to death.
When Daniel hears this, he believes that Daniel and his 3 friends will be killed also along with the phony magicians. Daniel goes to the king and asks the king for some more time, and he and his friend plead to God for mercy, and that night the mystery was revealed to Daniel. The next morning, Daniel returns to the king and explains the dream as symbolic about the future of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s place in history, how they will reign and then fall. The story rings true to the king, and let’s look at the king’s reaction in verse 46,
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
Wow, Daniel went from death to life in only 3 days. What strikes me about this is that Nebuchadnezzar knows the interpretation is true and that it can only come from an almighty God. He knows God is God, the God of gods and the Lord of kings and the revealer of mysteries. Daniel’s answer saves the lives of the magicians and the astrologers, and Daniel and his friends get some nice promotions. Probably bigger helpings of vegetables, too.
III. Some Build Idols Anyway (Daniel 3:1)
But then the very next verse, turn to Chapter 3, the king is building a giant gold idol. Reminds me of Aaron after Moses led then through the parting of the Red Sea. Moses goes up on the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, and Aaron goes, “Oh no, what do we do? We need a Golden Calf to pray to.”
Anyway, back to Nebuchadnezzar, everybody in the kingdom is ordered to fall down and worship this big gold idol. And the astrologers – the very same astrologers whose lives were saved by Daniel for interpreting the king’s dreams – turn out to be a bunch of tattletales. Vengeful tattletales (not the same as Veggie Tales), Vengeful tattletales for they know the punishment for refusing to worship the golden idol is death. In verse 8, the astrologers and magicians go to the king and point out that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are in positions of power but refuse to worship the king’s idol. Isn’t that mocking the king and his god? The three friends of Daniel neither serve the king’s gods nor bow down to worship the idol of gold.
And the king is furious. This is the same king that knows the omniscience of Daniel’s God who could do things the pagan gods couldn’t, and is still mad that these Jewish boys won’t worship his little gold god. He tells Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down and worship or he’s going to cook them in the royal furnace. In verse 15, the king taunts them, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
There may come a time in our lives where we must make a choice what god we will serve. Will we serve the god of pride, like Nebuchadnezzar? Will we serve a god of idols we have built? Or will we serve Jehovah God, creator of the heavens and of earth? Will we boldly serve our king, or will we turn away in fear?
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego have no fear, and in Daniel 3:16,
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel’s friends know that God is able to save them, but don’t know if God will. And it doesn’t matter to them, they will risk everything, their very lives, go to their deaths praising our God of Wonders. It is 2600 years later in Babylonia, and the same choice is still given to Christians living there today. Worship the Muslim god, or die. And tens of thousands of Christians have been martyred, choosing our God of eternal life.
Nebuchadnezzar is furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The bible says that the furnace is heated seven times hotter than normal, and the king’s strongest soldiers throw Daniel’s three friends into it. The furnace is so hot that it killed the soldiers that had bound the three friends.
IV. Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us (Daniel 3:24)
And the God of the Heavens intervened in verse 24:
Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
There are 3 men thrown into the furnace but 4 men walking around. “A son of the gods,” Nebuchadnezzar says. Amazing insight for a pagan king. Biblical scholars agree that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ who stepped into a situation at the very moment He was needed most. Let’s count the number of men again. Three men are thrown in, four men are walking around, and three men are removed.
Sometimes we don’t feel Jesus in our lives. We wonder where He is, why prayers don’t seem to be answered, why His comfort isn’t obvious to us. Where is Jesus? The thing is, He is always with us, and when the threat of being thrown into the fire actually turns into being *in* the fire, Jesus is right there with us. He promises that He will always be there for us.
V. Risk Everything for God
Many times it’s hard to trust in God. We want to rescue ourselves, to trust in our own ability. But God’s ways are above our ways. Sometimes God’s ways are painful as he prunes us. I myself hit a crossroads in the last month, thinking that it was time to make a difficult decision. But God spoke this lesson to me last weekend, and then gave me the lesson again to learn and teach. He works in mysterious way, and I no longer believe in coincidences, so when I see so-called “coincidences” piling up, I look for God’s hand.
First was Gary Thomas’s lesson last week. The part that spoke to me was when he said some people say, “Why does my behavior matter?” I’m already saved, so nothing I say or do will be held against me. Gary quoted Ephesians 4:22-24,
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Then he quoted Matthew 28:19-20,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Then Chris taught from Daniel 1, drawing a line and deciding which side of the line to stand on. And I’m hearing echoes of lessons I’ve both heard and taught, asking me if I’m going to follow Christ only when times are good, or will I follow Christ no matter what?
When times are easy and good, we can drift away from Christ. We may recognize His blessings, but the easy life lets us drift away. It’s when times are challenging that we learn to rely on Christ. I think every Christian will come to a point in their life, maybe more than once, where they have to decide to do the right thing no matter how hard it is.
Then as I sat down to start this lesson, already hearing Gary and Chris, I get a photo from KSBJ with Hebrews 10:36,
All of these messages stress to me the importance of following the will of God and putting aside fears and desires that pull and push us in any direction except to God.
I will choose to be obedient, and risk everything for God. And my sinful self doesn’t like it one bit. I like comfort and joy, not pruning. But when I choose right, I choose peace. And when I choose right and peace, I choose joy. Instead of choosing joy first which can lead to bad decisions and bad consequences, I choose righteousness first, which then leads back to the joy I was seeking. Amazing. My sinful self says these toys are all mine and I don’t have to share. My sinful self says do this or that because it’ll make you happy. My sinful self offers excuses to me because I know that Jesus will forgive me. But the Holy Spirit working within me is always encouraging me to do the right thing. To love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor as myself. I get a choice whether to obey.
Will I be thrown in a fire? Goodness, I hope not. And if I was thrown in a fire, would I be able to walk around unscathed, unburned? Probably not. But I know Jesus will be there for me, all he asks is that I do the right thing.
We get these choices constantly. We can choose to sleep late on Sunday mornings instead of going to church. We can choose to go to brunch on Sunday mornings or a walk in the park. But we can choose to share the word of God with pagans, to serve at something – anything – like bringing snacks to class or taking the roster or arranging for the class to serve at a star of hope kitchen or to teach. In each case we give up something to do something. We make a choice to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, or what is right in our own eyes.
And whatever it is we treasure, because God loves us, God will find a way to remove it from us if it doesn’t bring him glory or if it gets in the way of our spiritual growth. He may ask us to give up a job, give up our home, our security. Giving up a home you grew up in, giving up a parent that you depended on, giving up a friend who is a bad influence on us, giving up a job. Giving up our very life. Matthew 10:9, Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Daniel’s friends were willing to give up their lives, to risk everything to do the right thing. I’m scared to do that that. I like to think I’m brave, but God finds something I was leaning on and asks me, are you willing to give this up for me? Has God ever asked you to sacrifice something for His sake?
If you’re reading your bible, listening to KSBJ, spending time in prayer, or in any way talking to God, he’s talking back. And He wants to be #1 in your life. Ahead of your job and money, ahead of rooting for the Texans, ahead of cooking or biking or a nice car. Ahead of your friends. Ahead of your spouse. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they were turning their backs on a comfy life in the palace with friends. They were turning their backs on serving a king who already knew God was almighty, but was still building idols.
And in that regard, we’re not too unlike Nebuchadnezzar. We know who God is. Many of us have seen miracles that could only have come from an almighty God. We know God is almighty, yet we’re still building pagan alters of our own, are we not? We worship the things created instead of the Creator. Ahead of everybody and everything else we love, God wants us to recognize Him and worship him first. He’s burning up the chaff to prepare us for an eternity with him, and sometimes we have to go through fire for Him. And sometimes we find we were holding on to something so tight and didn’t even realize it. We have to give those up, be willing to risk everything for God. After all, what could possibly be more important than a loving relationship with the God who created us?
There’s good news after all this pruning, this burning up of our idols. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In order to gain everything, we must be willing to lose everything. Abednego survived the fire, and we will too. Jesus will be there with us, now and forever. A life eternal with our creator in love and joy and life where there are no more tears.
In the meantime, risk everything for God. To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Ezekiel 18 opens with a discussion of a proverb, “”The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” I thought, for illustrative purposes, I’d go to HEB and buy a bunch of sour grapes, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I guess they were all sold out. Super popular, those sour grapes. Anyway, I bought some Extreme Sour Warheads. I’ll need a volunteer, Chris. I want to try an experiment to see if this proverb is true. Those of you in the class, can you tell how sour this candy is? Does it make your face pucker just thinking about how sour the candy that somebody else ate is? Well, I don’t want anybody to be left out of this face-puckering illustration, so pass the box around and everybody help yourself.
Well, I’m going to make an observation that the proverb we’re going to study today is not true.
II. Sour Grapes and Other Bad Proverbs, Ezekiel 18:1-3
In the meantime, let’s open to the book of Ezekiel, chapter 18, verses 1-3. The prophet Ezekiel says:
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
As we’ve seen, just because Chris ate an Extreme Sour Warhead, my teeth were not set on edge, my face didn’t pucker. And like the Lord says, “you will no longer quote this proverb,” it doesn’t appear in the book of Proverbs.
Let’s put our lesson today in the context of time – what’s going on, and when. The Assyrian empire was an early world superpower, and at its height ruled much of the middle east, including modern-day Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Palestine and Cyprus, together with large swaths of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Libya, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But with the death of the Assyrian king in 627 BC, civil war erupted.
During this time, Egypt regained independence, and then seized Judah and made it a vassal state, and Jehoiakim was installed as king of Judah. But then Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (wouldn’t that be a great name for a rock band?) defeated Egypt during a crucial battle and seized Judah. Jehoiakim must have thought this was a good time to revolt and regain their freedom, but Nebuchadnezzar crushed the revolt, killed Jehoiakim, and took 10,000 Jews, including our prophet Ezekiel, to Babylon.
Egypt was still fighting the Babylonians, and they promised Judah military support in another rebellion against the Babylonians. Different factions in Judah developed – some wanted to side with the Egyptians and revolt. Others, including the prophet Jeremiah, warned against another revolt, remain in Babylonian captivity.
The occupation of Judah, first by Egypt and then by Babylonians, were the result of the rebellion of the people of Judah and God’s discipline. But the people living in Jerusalem at the time took no responsibility on their own. The blamed their problems on previous generations. They sinned, rebelled, offered gifts to false idols, worshipped pagan gods, they were rebellious and disobedient, engaged in sexual immorality, there were dogs and cats living together, and the people threw up their hands, saying, “Hey, it’s not my fault. It’s my parent’s fault, and my grandparent’s fault. *They* are the ones who sinned. They made me who I am. And it’s not fair for God to punish *me* for what they did. My parents ate sour grapes, and my teeth are set on edge. I can still taste what they ate. God isn’t fair.”
In essence, the people of Judah claimed that they were not responsible for their own sins. The sins were the result of something their parents did, so they weren’t responsible. The blamed their ancestors and perhaps God Himself, and the people of Judah are simply being punished for the sins of their fathers.
Where did they get this idea? One likely source is the beginning of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 which begins:
And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The Lord’s Words, of course, are true. In many respects, we are the product of our upbringing and our environment. Whatever life our parents chose to live and the other choices they made have an impact on us, and likewise our grandparent’s choices had an impact on our parents. But while past sins influence our lives for generations, they are not an excuse for our behavior. In other words, we are not always responsible for our circumstances, but we are always responsible for our response to those circumstances. How we react is entirely up to us.
Ezekiel tells us the Lord holds us individually responsible with several examples:
First, the case of a righteous man. Let’s call him the Righteous Grandfather. Turn to Ezekiel 18:5,
“Suppose there is a righteous [Grandfather] who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife […], he does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live,” declares the Sovereign Lord.
In other words, the Lord is pleased with the Righteous Grandfather because he does what is right. But let’s say Righteous Grandfather has a son. We’ll call him the Faulty Father. Righteous Grandfather was so pleasing to the Lord that the Lord will give the Faulty Father some of that good credit, won’t he?
Ezekiel says no, Faulty Father is faulty and will take the blame for his own actions. Look at Ezekiel 18:10-13 (and I’m going to use the Michael’s Abridged Translation because the Faulty Father’s rotten behavior is the exact opposite of Righteous Grandfather:
Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them): Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
No credit for his Righteous Grandfather there; no fix for Faulty Father’s fantastic first-class failures. But then Faulty Father has a Super Son who does what is right. Surely he takes some of the blame for what his Faulty Father did, right? Ezekiel 18:14-19, again Michael’s Abridged Translation,
But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.”
So, Super Son’s sacrificial service saves his soul from supernatural servitude in Sheol. Faulty Father may have led a terrible sinful life that surely had an influence on his son, but the son alone is responsible for his actions. If he does what is right, the Lord is pleased with him.
The Prophet sums it all up in Exodus 18:20:
“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”
One would think this settles it; if you’re wicked, you’re wicked, and if you’re good, you’re good. But the stubborn people of Judah would still like to lay the blame somewhere. “It’s not our fault!” they exclaim. Well, if it isn’t their own fault, and it isn’t their parent’s fault… then it must be God’s fault. It was God who punished our parents, and I’m having to live with the punishment! God is not fair!”
God answers this charge directly; the people of Judah cannot charge God with being unfair because God, by His very nature, is fair and just. By what standard can we use to judge, if not the standard of God? The Lord again speaks through Ezekiel, verses 25-29:
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
Well, I’m having a little trouble here finding somebody to blame. The Lord says I can’t blame my parents, and I can’t blame my circumstances, and I can’t blame the Lord. Who’s left to blame? Who should they blame?
III. Take Responsibility, Ezekiel 18:29-32
The Lord God tells them to man-up. Take responsibility, there is no one else to blame. Ezekiel 18:29-32, the challenge from the proverb:
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
Get a new heart and a new spirit. Rid yourselves of all offenses. Repent and live.
God doesn’t pleasure in the death of anyone, including the wicked. God would have all come to repentance, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. God’s message, through Ezekiel, is clear. The people of Judah may object, yes, but they cannot claim they do not understand the message. Repent and live.
Our world is like that today. John 3:16-21 says,
For 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.
It’s been the same message from the beginning. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, hiding in shame due to their original sin. God said, the garden is yours, just don’t eat the fruit of this one tree. And of course they ate it, and then the finger-pointing begins. Adam blaming Eve *and* God simultaneously, “This woman, who you made, gave me the fruit.” And Eve says, “Me? Wasn’t my fault. The serpent tricked me.” And if there was anything about this story that disturbs me is that the serpent doesn’t blame anyone.
And the people of Israel in the time of Moses: God had just finished amazing them by leading them out of Egypt. There were ten plagues and there were pillars of fire and then, while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the people make a golden calf to worship. Their excuse? “We don’t know what happened to Moses! We need to make a god to worship!” So Aaron, Moses’ second in command, collects all the gold, melts it in the fire, and makes a golden calf. And the worst excuse I’ve ever heard throughout history is in Exodus 32, Moses asks Aaron, “Why did you do that?” And Aaron answers, “The people gave me the gold and I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!”
And today? Here’s a story from Ewing, NJ. Florence Schreiber Powers, age 44, was on trial for shoplifting two watches, and called her psychiatrist to testify that Florence Powers was under stress at the time of the incident and was unaware of her actions from “one minute to the next” for the following 19 reasons: a recent auto accident, a traffic ticket, a new-car purchase, overwork, husband’s kidney stones, husband’s asthma (and breathing machine that occupies their bedroom), menopausal hot flashes, an “ungodly” itch, a bad rash, fear of breast cancer, fear of dental surgery, son’s need for an asthma breathing machine, mother’s and aunt’s illnesses, need to organize her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, need to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 20 relatives, purchase of 200 gifts for Christmas and Chanukah, attempt to sell her house without a realtor, lawsuit against wallpaper cleaners, purchase of furniture that had to be returned, and a toilet in her house that was constantly running. She was convicted anyway.
It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death, rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. But in order to do that, we have to recognize the source of our disobedience. Our disobedience doesn’t come from our parents or our location or our circumstance or our friends or our children or our spouse or a cheeseburger or Nordstrom’s or an Apple iPhone or the government or our boss. Regardless of our circumstances, our disobedience comes from within us.
IV. Deliver Us from Evil
Many times we want to do the right thing, but sometimes the right thing is too hard. Or the wrong thing is too easy. I think Paul said it best in Romans 7:14-24:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Thanks be to God who delivers us through Christ Jesus. We are afraid to take ownership of our sin and say, “The blame rests on me. I did it.” Because we want to value ourselves more highly than we should or we fear the punishment of being bad. Especially if we have to face the almighty power and glory of God and say, “Look what a mess I did.”
But that’s exactly what God would have us do. Say to God, “Look what a mess I did. Look what a mess I am.” And it’s still the same message today as it was in Ezekiel’s time, God takes no pleasure in death, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. We accept the grace and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit, we get a new heart of forgiveness and humility, we repent of our sins, and we live forever in Him.
We do not have to be afraid of the punishment God would have as a sacrifice for our sin. I want to make sure you fully understand this point; there is no punishment, but often times there is God’s discipline. There is a huge difference. Punishment looks backward in anger and wrath and demands a price for the offense. Discipline looks forward in mercy and kindness in order to make our paths straight. If we eat too much, our weight is our punishment, going to the gym is discipline. If we shop too much, credit card debt is our punishment, a budget for future spending is discipline. God does not punish his children, but he may discipline them.
Our sins still demand God’s justice and His wrath and His punishment, but the Good News, the gospel, is that Christ has already born the stripes for our transgressions, He has paid the price, He has willingly accepted our punishment. We’re still in Romans 7, right where we left off, but let’s continue into Romans 8:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Why can we be brave and confess? Because there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We are not going to surprise God with how bad we are. God already knows. But God so loved the world, including you and me, *especially* you and me, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Our sin has already been paid for. God wants us to confess it to Him and instead of punishment, we receive cleansing. We receive peace. We receive grace, God’s favor on the undeserving. While we are wretched sinners, God doesn’t see us as wretched sinners. If we read further down in Romans 8, verse 14,
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
We cry, “Abba, Father.” We can confess freely our sins to God because we have already been forgiven. One of the great mysteries of God’s creation is that if only just admit our sins to God and confess our unworthiness and say, “I did it, it’s my fault, and I’m sorry,” God separates us from those sins as far as the east is from the west, and instead of wretched sinners, we become children of the Living God. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
Ezekiel’s message to the people of Judah from the Lord hasn’t changed in 2600 years. Stop blaming others, accept responsibility for our thoughts, our behaviors, and our sins. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid ourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.
God promises to forgive us all trespasses and make us heirs in the kingdom of God. Amazing grace. To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
It’s almost the New Year, no thanks to the ancient Mayans. The New Year is a time for beginning fresh, to put our past behind us and look forward to a new beginning. For auld lang syne my friends, for auld lang syne.
A new beginning means a new you. But what if the old you is still here? How do we begin again? And for sins we’ve committed last year, how do we put those behind? And what about those who have done wrong to us? Why should they be allowed to start again?
We’ve been studying the book of Hosea, the Prophet of Doom. The Israelites, or more specifically the Northern Kingdom, sometimes called Ephraim by Hosea, has led duplicitous lives. Yes, they prayed to the Lord and sacrificed to Him, but when times were good, they also sacrificed to Baal and other pagan deities of the Canaanites. The Lord gave Hosea a personal life that mirrored Israel so he could understand. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute, unfaithful to Hosea, and eventually sold into slavery. Israel, too, was unfaithful to the Lord. God used the might Assyrian army to invade the Northern Kingdom, judgment against Israel for her unfaithfulness. Our God is a jealous God, and He is God alone.
Thankfully this week it’s not all about death and destruction and judgment. Today we’re going to study the Lord’s compassion in the midst of Israel’s discipline and punishment. Why does the Lord have compassion for sinners? And how can the Lord look past what I’ve done and accept me for who I am? And the most difficult question, why does the Lord show compassion to me even when I continue to sin? Doesn’t my unwillingness to be pure indicate that I do not truly love the Lord with all of my mind and body, heart and soul? Why would the Lord should compassion to me when I know I don’t show my Love to Him?
II. Compassion Though Unrecognized, Hosea 11:1-4
Let’s start at the beginning of Hosea 11 and read the Lord’s word to Israel -
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
God’s love is more than a feeling; it is compassion in action. Here, God reminds Israel He has been there from the beginning and cared for Israel when Israel could not take care of itself.
God calls Israel His child, who He loved, and called him out of Egypt. Hosea is speaking, of course, of the days of Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Exodus 3:7 says, “The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them.” God led them in a pillar of cloud or fire to the promised land. But Israel’s trust waivered and their hearts hardened towards God, and instead turned to worship idols and the gods of the Egyptians and other tribes. God also sent prophets to them to point out their ways, to correct their behaviors, but the more they were reprimanded, the more Israel turned from God.
But this is also a prophetic verse; in Matthew 2, Matthew builds upon this when he describes the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus made to Egypt until the death of Herod. Matthew quotes Hosea, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” The Lord acted compassionately throughout history to save His people Israel, just as He acted compassionately when He sent His son Jesus for our sake.
But unlike Jesus, Israel slipped into sin again and again. And for those who have had children, you know how painful it is if your child slips into sin repeatedly. God called to His people, lovingly, compassionately, but the more God called, the more Israel turned away from Him.
This is our problem today with the Lord, just as it was with Israel. When times are good, we are wayward children, turning away from Him, time and time again. We’re funny that way – we have so many blessings, but we don’t give proper thanks to the Lord. And in the midst of our blessings, we find excuses to turn away, rationalizing it with thoughts like, I do so many good things for the Lord, surely the Lord won’t mind if I do this one thing that I need to be happy. Sometimes, we even lie to ourselves that since God wants me to be happy, God would approve of my sin.
I once knew a single woman who desperately wanted a husband. She seemed smart and attractive, you know, many blessings in her life. But her focus was on one thing God had not blessed her with. One day she said that she had found somebody, and he made her happy. There was a small problem, she said; he was married . But she knew God would want her to be happy. She said God had told her so.
I don’t know where she is today, but I do know this: God never blesses sin. For a Christian to continue in sin is like crucifying Christ over and over again. Sin separates us from God because God is free of all sin. God may love us, but He hates the sin. If we choose to continue in our sin, God will either give us over to our hardened heart, or God will discipline us in order to bring us back to Him. As we learned last week in Hosea 8, it’s far, far better for us to learn to discipline ourselves than to wait for God to discipline us.
In verse 3, the Israelites failed to realize that the Lord was always there, feeding them, helping them to walk, healing them when they fell. We have been given so much compassion, so many blessings, and we take them for granted. Our health, our country, our church, our next meal, our next breath. God is in all of it. We forget to thank the Lord for what we have already been given in abundance through His love.
III. Compassion Amid Judgment, Hosea 11:5-7
The Lord’s compassion always extends to us, even when in discipline and judgment. In Hosea 11:5-7,
Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.
So God is looking at me… sorry, I mean, God is looking at Israel and realizing His child will not repent. His child is reaping the rewards of God’s blessings and using those blessings in a way that offends the Lord. And as much as the Lord is expressing His love, Israel is determined to follow false prophets and turn from Him.
I find it interesting that God used the Assyrians to punish Israel. It’s backward from what we would normally think God should do. We compare Israel and Assyria and say, well, Israel’s mostly ok. They have this little thing about worshipping other gods, sure, but that’s just on weekends. Those Assyrians, though, who they’re rotten people, sacrificing children and hating the Lord. Surely the Lord will protect Israel from those nasty Assyrians.
But God doesn’t see it the same way. He loves His people and He wants them to be pure. So God allows the Assyrians to win this conflict. Does He do the same with us?
Sometimes I think He does. We can see it in our country – one nation, under God – but it seems that many of the battles Christians have fought have gone the wrong way. Abortion, euthanasia, prayer in schools, have all gone against Christians. Why is the enemy winning?
I don’t know, but if we are like the Israelites, we have grown complacent in the Lord and He will discipline us for our own good. Church attendance is decreasing across the USA. Is it because our attitude is that life is too good to waste it on worship? No wonder the Lord uses evil to get our attention.
And it’s not a matter of knowing the Word, it’s a matter of putting it in action, consistently, with the right heart. The Israelites certainly knew they were God’s chosen people, but they believed that somehow gave them the right to take God for granted and to do things their way. It’s like they believed their disobedience was a God-given right.
I once had a wayward dog, a stubborn, stiff-necked Dalmatian. I named him Israel. No wait, I named him Samson. I named him that because man, he was a big Dalmatian. Most Dalmations are 45 lbs or so, Samson was 80 lbs. He was big and he was stubborn. I took him to obedience training for several weeks, and at the end of the class we had a test to see how well our dogs had learned. I had worked Samson all week, and once I switched to a pinch collar instead of a choke collar, Samson deal very well at following directions. On command, he’d sit, stay, down, come, and heel. The final test was the heel command; Samson’s head was supposed to be even or behind me, and without a leash, Samson would heel as we walked the training course.
After all the lessons were complete, we continued working the commands. Sit. Stay. Come. Down. Heel. And we’d walk around the block. Sometimes I’d unclip his leash and walk him for a bit, then reclip it later. He was well trained.
Until one day as we were walking and I said, “heel!” and I unclipped his leash. We’d walk a while, and he’d start to gain a little on me. “Heel!” Samson would drop back in place, and slowly surge forward again. “Heel!” He’d drop back again, surge forward a little sooner. I could see him sort of looking over his shoulder to see if I was watching and he kept surging a little further until he was a full body length in front of me. “Heel!” I’d say, and pow, like a rocket, he was off. There was no way to catch him, he was so fast. Eventually, I went home, got the car, drove ahead of him, and caught him again. We didn’t do that walk again without the leash ever again.
It wasn’t as though Samson didn’t know where I was or what the rules were, or even that the rules were for his own benefit so that he wouldn’t get lost, get hit by a car, would be home for supper and a warm comfy bed. It was just that he had realized he had all the freedom he wanted. It had gone beyond disobedience and was now outright rebellion. Because of my love for the dog, the dog then lost the freedom he had through the new discipline and restrictions.
We’re like that, in a way, when we’re in rebellion with God. We know what pleases Him and what we should and shouldn’t do, and we even understand that the behavior God encourages for us is also for our benefit. It’s just that, man, sometime we just want to run and do our own thing, and we disregard the consequences. We know what is right, and we know we’re not doing it.
Mark Twain once put it this way: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
We’re all guilty of this, making excuses for our sin. In 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And we’re all repeat offenders, too. In the sentence of our life, God may put a period, but we change it to a question mark. He didn’t really mean it that way, did He? We still want God’s love in our lives as long as we can have it on our terms.
IV. Compassion Over Anger, Hosea 11:8-9
Our disobedience in the face of God’s good plans draws His anger, but even in His anger, God shows compassion.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
This is amazing to hear that God’s heart can be changed, even in the midst of His anger over our sin. As we turn to sin again and again and again, our sins must stir God to take corrective action on our behalf. Previously, God had corrected rampant sin in His people with complete destruction of the sinful. Hosea makes reference to that here – the two towns listed here, Admah and Zeboyim, were neighboring villages of Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel’s sin demanded punishment, but God’s heart was moved toward compassion.
And am I ever thankful that God gives me much better than I deserve. God’s perfect justice is balanced by His perfect mercy, but we want that justice imposed on others, and the mercy on ourselves. And it’s God’s mercy that delays the end times, the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation.
He is the Holy One in our midst. He is not absent, He is not asleep, He is not dead. The moment we repent, when our hearts are burdened by our own behaviors and we turn to God, He is there waiting for us. We don’t have to wait for Him to show up, and He doesn’t hold it against us. His compassion trumps His righteous anger.
V. Compassion with Purpose, Hosea 11:10-11
Why would the Lord act with such compassion? He has a purpose for this compassion.
They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come from Egypt,
trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,”
declares the Lord.
So, with Israel in rebellion and God’s mercy delaying God’s justice, God shows compassion by staying the destruction of Israel. Israel would not only be spared, but many would ultimately repent and follow the Lord. And the Lord would be quick to respond.
When I consider God’s compassionate response instead of His righteous anger, I can’t help but consider where I have still not fully submitted to the Lord. Either out of ignorance or willful disobedience, God will eventually get my attention. My sin is detestable to Him. He is the Holy One, and if I am to spend eternity with Him, there is no place for my sin. I can be so thankful that God in His Sovereignty chooses to act in loving mercy to me. He gives me better, far better, than I deserve.
In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The Lord’s justice has been stayed by His mercy for a long time now.
Yes, God’s compassion, as well as His discipline, has a purpose. God uses both discipline and love to draw us to Him, gently or forcefully, but for our own good. And He is patient with us, seemingly infinitely patient. At what point would a father not want his children to return?
Deuteronomy 7:7-9 –
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Hosea’s wife, through her willful disobedience, had repercussions, and she was eventually sold into slavery. In her slavery, she finally realized the love Hosea had for her. Hosea was a jealous man for his wife and eventually rescued her from bondage, out of the slavery that she caused.
Israel, too, through willful disobedience, was also sold into slavery, and in this discipline realized the love the Lord had for His children. Through His love and compassion, the Lord drew Israel home to Him and rescued Israel from bondage.
And today? Today, God still calls us out of our willful disobedience. We find excuses not to do what is right, and we deceive ourselves that the Lord may actually bless our disobedience. But our Lord is a jealous God for all things Holy and True and His Justice will prevail, and every knee will bow, either by our own free will or by His force. We can be thankful that God delays the punishment we deserve out of His abundance of compassion, so that no one may die and that all may live.
To God be the glory. Amen.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
Today’s lesson is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. Who enjoys discipline, raise your hands. Hold on; give me a second to count all the hands of the people that love discipline. Looks like… None. Just what I expected.
There are two types of discipline. There’s the positive type of discipline. Discipline that improves a skill or behavior. Practicing the piano, staying within a budget, exercising, these are positive types of disciplines. And primarily, these are disciplines that we impose upon ourselves.
Then there’s the negative kind of discipline. Correction. Rebuking. Admonishment. Punishment.
We’re studying the minor prophet Hosea, the Prophet of Doom, today. Hosea’s had a tough life so far; God told him to marry a prostitute, and Hosea was faithful to the Lord, even if Hosea’s wife Gomer wasn’t faithful to him. Homer’s wife was very intimate with other men, but it eventually led to her downfall. As she hit bottom in her life, she was eventually sold as a slave. Despite Hosea’s love for her, Hosea’s wife had strayed, she sowed the seeds of her own destruction, and then she reaped the consequences of those choices.
Hosea never gave up on his love for her. It was necessary for Hosea’s wife to hit bottom, to be sold as a slave, before she could realize the depth and discipline of Hosea’s love.
Hosea draws upon this understanding when he preaches to the Northern Kingdom of Israel that Israel would soon hit rock bottom before they could fully realize God’s love for them. And sometimes it takes us to hit rock bottom before we fully realize God’s love for us. He’s there when there is nothing else.
I have no doubt that the Israelites knew they were God’s chosen people. God promised it to them. In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God’s made a covenant with David. Through the prophet Nathan, God told David –
The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”
I guess they liked that part that said, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” and just overlooked the part that said, “When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men.” But that’s exactly the situation in Hosea’s time.
II. Check Your Relationship, Hosea 8:1-4
So let’s open to Hosea 8 and read 1-4…
Put the trumpet to your lips!
An eagle is over the house of the Lord
because the people have broken my covenant
and rebelled against my law.
Israel cries out to me,
‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’
But Israel has rejected what is good;
an enemy will pursue him.
They set up kings without my consent;
they choose princes without my approval.
With their silver and gold
they make idols for themselves
to their own destruction.
This announcement by Hosea begins, “Put a horn against your lips.” This signals the beginning of war against an enemy. It has a twofold meaning here. One, there would soon be an attack against the Northern Kingdom and the main worship center at Bethel. This would come from the blistering invasion from the Assyrian army. The Assyrians were located in what is now modern day Iraq, and in 8 BC were the world’s most powerful army. Death and destruction were imminent. But that wasn’t the worse part. The Israelites, through their duplicitous lives, were at war against the Lord. . Sound the horn, Israel, you’re not only facing the Assyrians, you are also facing the Lord in battle. The Israelites, by their disobedience, had declared war.
What had the Israelites done that was so bad? The Israelites were a messy bunch. On one hand, they were bound to the Lord by covenant promises since the days of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Solomon. On the other hand, the Israelites were also very much involved at the time in the pagan deities of the Caananites. So they’d offer gifts to the Lord, then they’d offer gifts to Baal. They installed new kings without God’s direction, worshipped calf-idols all while standing at Bethel, a place to worship God.
One can’t do both. Our God is a jealous God, who does not settle for part time adoration. Trying to do both is the same as worshipping only pagans deities and turning their backs on God.
Once, talking to a missionary, he told me of a story of a man he met in India. This man was familiar with worshipping the many gods of India, it is said that there are 330 million gods in the Hindu religion. This man, after several visits, eventually gave his life to Christ and acknowledged Jesus as Lord. Several months go by, and the missionary checks on his Indian brother and visits him at his house. One wall is completely lined with little statues of Indian gods. The missionary said, “But didn’t you acknowledge Jesus as Lord?” And the Indian man said excitedly, “I did! Look, here He is at the end of the second shelf!”
Our God is a jealous God. God and God alone. God promised Israel in Deuteronomy 6:18 that they would prosper and enjoy the holy land if they did what is good and righteous. But between the selection of kings and the unholy alliances and the worshipping of pagan gods, Israel didn’t do that. They sought their own desires, and accordingly the promise made to them in Leviticus 26:17 would be fulfilled, an enemy would pursue them.
A couple of things struck me about the rest of these verses. When times got tough, who did Israel cry out to? They cried out to the Lord. Not to Baal or pagan deities. That suggests that the Israelites knew who was Lord, but when times were good they felt it was ok to do things their own way and to dabble in other religions. Sort of like the days after 9/11. People knew the Lord was God and they came to churches by the hundreds and the thousands. And in the good times they’re off doing their own thing and dabbling in other religions.
And another thing – the Israelites knew scripture. They knew the Word of the Lord because they knew they were God’s chosen. So here’s a question: if we, as believers, have memorized lots of scripture but we do not do what it teaches, do we really know the Lord? Is knowing God a matter of mastering information we have read, or doing God’s will? O both?
III. You Reap What You Sow, Hosea 8:7-10
Our actions have consequences, and Israel is taught this by the Lord in the next few verses -
They sow the wind
and reap the whirlwind.
The stalk has no head;
it will produce no flour.
Were it to yield grain,
foreigners would swallow it up.
Israel is swallowed up;
now she is among the nations
like something no one wants.
For they have gone up to Assyria
like a wild donkey wandering alone.
Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.
Although they have sold themselves among the nations,
I will now gather them together.
They will begin to waste away
under the oppression of the mighty king.
In Charles Stanley’s, “Life Principles to Live By”, one of the principles is: You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow.
Actions have consequences. Physical actions have physical consequences. If you jump off a bridge, there is a physical consequence. Mental actions have mental consequences. And emotions have emotional consequences. People forget that spiritual actions have consequences. We reap what we sow – if we sow watermelon seeds, we reap watermelons. If we sow anger, we reap anger. Sometimes I think we sow our wild oats all week long – and then when Sunday comes around, we pray for crop failure.
The Israelites had crop failure. The work they did was not aligned with God’s will, and so there was no field of standing grain to show for all their hard labor. Nonexistent crop yields point to a reality that if they do not follow God’s will, then they do not reap His blessings. When we throw foolishness into the wind, we reap a whirlwind of folly and destruction. Empty words and idol worship will yield an unstoppable whirlwind of destruction. They finally reached the end of God’s loving patience and were about to receive His discipline.
Ephraim – the Northern Kingdom – paid their enemy to love them. They gave money to the Assyrians to persuade them not to attack. They were hiring lovers among nations. At the same time the Northern Kingdom was paying the Assyrians not to attack them, the Israelites
were also paying surrounding kingdoms to be their allies against the Assyrians. They were paying friends and enemies. The crushing financial burden of this must have been great.
Did you know that most large corporations pay both Democrats and Republicans large sums of money during an election? They want to be on the side of whoever wins. No parallels. Just an observation.
But I digress, let’s go back to Israel. Soon every able bodied man was conscripted into military service, every household was heavily taxed to pay tribute to the enemy, gifts for the friendly nation, and payment for the military buildup.
The punishment was upon them.
The interesting thing about punishment is that, while we hate it, we would rather receive it from someone we know and love than a stranger. Children probably never appreciate discipline when they’re young, but I can guarantee that they would much rather receive punishment from their father than from a next door neighbor. What’s the difference? The difference is clear – accepting punishment from someone we love is easier because, while we may hate the punishment, we know that the person dealing the punishment has our best interests at heart.
So the best way for the Israelites to accept and understand discipline– and it’s true for Christians as well – is to get to know God. The more we know Him and understand Him, the more we can understand His purposes.
I think the Israelites had grown lazy in their faith. Did they really know God? They knew who God is… but that is not the same thing as knowing God. We often quote the verse that even the demons know who God is and they shudder. Think of this – if the Israelites really knew God with all of His perfect love and protection and patience and kindness, then why were they seeking prosperity and security in something else? Why were they paying friends and enemies instead of relying on the Lord for protection?
Bad Israelites. But you know we Christians still do the same thing today. We treat church as a social club instead of a place to worship and grow and serve. We cut back on tithing because we need a new car. We secretly check our iPhones during the worship services to see what’s happening on Facebook instead of giving ourselves to our Creator for an hour. We pursue these worldly things, and then these worldly things seem to pursue us. We cannot seem to get away. It’s what we so, so it’s no surprise it’s also what we reap.
But that’s ok. Someday, God will discipline us to make sure we are paying attention to Him. We can either discipline ourselves, or God will do it for us. One way or another, every knee will bow.
God disciplines us on an individual level, but He also disciplines us as a nation. God used violent international conflicts and heavy taxes to discipline Israel. Right now, our culture is sowing persistent cultural sinfulness. We once were a moral nation, but we’ve moved away from that. First we were morally tolerant, then morally permissive. And now it’s demanded of us that we accept immoral behavior as the basis of American life. Do you believe God is please with us for our decision? Do you think it’s possible God will decide He needs to discipline us for our own good before we destroy ourselves? I shudder to think how and when God will one day do this.
IV. Heed a Warning When You Hear It, Hosea 9:7-9
God’s judgment didn’t just suddenly arrive with no warning. Hosea preached for years about God’s patience with Israel was wearing thin.
The days of punishment are coming,
the days of reckoning are at hand.
Let Israel know this.
Because your sins are so many
and your hostility so great,
the prophet is considered a fool,
the inspired person a maniac.
The prophet, along with my God,
is the watchman over Ephraim,
yet snares await him on all his paths,
and hostility in the house of his God.
They have sunk deep into corruption,
as in the days of Gibeah.
God will remember their wickedness
and punish them for their sins.
Did you hear how I pronounced Gibeah? How are you supposed to pronounce it? I learned a secret that if I don’t know how to pronounce one of the Old Testament names or places, I just say it with confidence. I say it with so much confidence, if Dr. Young was hear and heard me, even he’d start wondering if he’s the one pronouncing it wrong.
But we’re talking about Hosea and his message to Israel. How do people sometimes respond when they don’t want to hear an unwelcome message about God’s judgment? Sometimes they close their ears, change the subject, even get mad. When I study for lessons like this, God’s word speaks to me. The message sticks in my head messages like “do what is right, leave the consequences to God,” “your body is a temple, not a megachurch, maybe it’s time to lose weight”. And you know, I can’t tell you that I ever receive these messages with joy. They bother me because they’re true, and if I know they’re true, then I must act on the truth. I don’t want to live with my own hypocrisy.
When has God used the preaching of His Word to warn you about your behavior?
Hosea then delivered this message to Israel, that the end was near, the tone was urgent, the threats were severe. The prophet kept preaching that the days of God’s judgment on the house of Israel had arrived. The people of the Northern Kingdom knew this by now, there was no mistake. By this time, the Assyrians had probably conquered all of the Northern Kingdom with the exception of the capital city of Sumaria.
Why was God so harsh? Do you believe the people would have listened to a quiet, gentle message? I don’t think so – we have a loving God that we often ignore, and sometimes His discipline is harsh to get our attention that something must change. Who do you think this harsh discipline hurt more, God or the people?
I ask myself this, and you should ask yourself, too. Has God been speaking to me? And am I listening? Am I postponing action on God’s call in my life? If I continue to delay, what will God will do to get my attention?
V. Realize What Time It Is, Hosea 10:10-12
The last time I was here, I taught from Second Peter. I was like, whoa, there are two Peters! There’s one Peter, and then there’s a Re-Peter. In that lesson, we talked about the confidence we can have about the Second Coming of Jesus and what we should do while waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas. For the Northern Kingdom, the Day of the Lord has arrived. And God will use Israel’s time of punishment to renew His people and give them a new heart that yearns only for the Lord.
When I please, I will punish them;
nations will be gathered against them
to put them in bonds for their double sin.
Ephraim is a trained heifer
that loves to thresh;
so I will put a yoke
on her fair neck.
I will drive Ephraim,
Judah must plow,
and Jacob must break up the ground.
Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers his righteousness on you.
Is God’s discipline and expression of His justice? Or is it an expression of His love? Or is it both?
How can you begin seeking the Lord more seriously? Hint: it’s verse 12.
God said, “When I please, I will punish them.” In some translations, “discipline them.” His judgement would come, at the time of God’s choosing. The two crimes of Israel were mostly likely worshiping other gods and placing their trust in human kings and alliances instead of the only faithful source, the Lord.
Hosea says the people of Israel wanted the cushy job in the threshing floor, but God’s discipline would put a yoke around her neck like a young cow and send her to the field with a yoke around her neck. The easy days of happiness would be behind them and days of labor in front. But even now, though, the people had a chance to repent. Hosea lists three things they must do:
1 – Sow righteousness for themselves. We cannot make ourselves righteous, but we can live a life of faithful love and righteousness.
2 – When one sows grain, one reaps wheat. When one sows righteousness and love, one reaps a character of godly righteousness. The righteousness they reap would have everlasting effects on the nation of Israel.
3 – They were to break up the untilled ground. In other words, in every part of their life where they had excluded God, they were to break it up and till it with God’s word. In all areas of personal life, in all areas of their life as a nation.
And to do these three things with persistence and God would rain down righteousness like rain.
I hear people say all the time, “God wants me to be happy.” That’s not God’s number one desire for us. God doesn’t want us to be unhappy, of course. What father would want His children to be unhappy! But happiness is not the goal. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If you want to be happy, be righteous first. That’s what pleases the Lord. If we seek happiness and we’re willing to give up righteousness to get it, God will correct us. And in the process of seeking happiness, we will lose it.
Today, some believers seek an easier church with an easier message. One that teaches freedom and tolerance and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with such a message, but it’s incomplete and it’s in the wrong order. A church that teaches righteousness and then freedom and happiness has their priorities in order.
I don’t know about you about you, but I’d rather decide my own discipline. In seeking His righteousness, I want to exercise discipline in my life that brings me closer to Him. The positive kind of discipline. That kind of discipline is rewarding, but if I wait and let God discipline me, it’s harder. God will give me a heavy load and hard work until I understand that God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, but when I go my own way, I’m sowing the wind and will reap a whirlwind.
Discipline, as a rule, is not something we enjoy. But sometimes discipline is exactly what we need.
As a child, you probably didn’t appreciate the discipline from your parents. As we grow older and more mature, then we see that the discipline when we were younger leads to life that reaps good things. And just like when we were young, sometimes now it’s difficult to accept God’s discipline. It’s hard. But as we grow and mature spiritually, then we will see that God is preparing us for an eternity of trusting in Him. There are tremendous benefits to come if we only start sowing now so that we may reap later.
Hosea was one of the earliest writing prophets, and he used his own experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel: God the husband, Israel the wife. Hosea’s wife left him to go with other men; Israel left the Lord to go with other gods. Hosea searched for his wife, found her and brought her back; God would not abandon Israel and brought them back even though they had forsaken him. God does the same for us. His love is perfect and He will never leave us.
The book of Hosea was a severe warning to the northern kingdom against the growing idolatry being practiced there; the book was a dramatic call to repentance. Christians can extend the analogy of Hosea to Christ and the church: Christ the husband, his church the bride. Hosea teaches us that God calls the church not to forsake the Lord Jesus Christ. Eventually, Homer bought is wife Gomer back, just as Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brings us back to Him.
To God be the glory. Amen.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
My first thought, when I was asked to teach from 2 Peter, was, “Whoa…. There are *two* Peters?”
Today we’ll study 2 Peter 3; this letter from the Apostle Peter was addressed to persecuted Christians. During the first few years after the death of Jesus, Christians were considered a sect of the Jewish religion and led by James, the brother of Jesus. But when the Jews stoned James to death in 62 AD, that cemented hostilities between the Christians and the Jews. The Romans withdrew official protection from the Christians two years later, and then Nero blamed the great fire of Rome on the Christians and outright persecution began. Peter writes his letter to the church in 95AD to reassure Christians about our eternal life and how we should live while we wait.
The persecution that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 3 is probably better translated as “sufferings,” the letter was probably written to churches outside of Rome who weren’t fed to lions as they were doing in Rome. Instead, Peter is writing to the surrounding churches as far away as Corinth. While some persecutions of Christians existed, probably due to governors sympathetic to Nero, it was more likely these Christians were subjected to antinomianism, the belief that grace is so sufficient, that morality is of no use. As Paul says in Romans 5, , “Where sin increased, graced increased all the more.” We are saved, dudes, and there’s nothing we can do to lose it, so let’s party. But this is Christian anarchy.
Even today, this very liberal view of Christianity is very widespread. “If God loves me and I cannot lose my salvation, then why not party? God will forgive me.” But this is like an engaged woman saying, “He loves me and he’s going to marry me, no matter what I do. Why not play the field a while longer?” It shows a one-sided love. It shows God’s love for us, but it also shows we don’t truly love God back.
Of course antinomianism is not true Christianity – Paul addresses this in Romans 6, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Antinomianism is a false teaching, and it is likely the Roman immorality and paganism was embraced by these false Christian, perhaps to better fit in with the Roman culture, who then either taunted or lured Christians away from their life of purity. And it is in this setting that Peter writes to the church about our hope in Jesus forever.
II. Resist and Rest, 2 Peter 3:1-7
So let’s open to 2 Peter 3 and look at the first 7 verses –
Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
Ok, in verse 3 we are warned that in the last days, scoffers will come. And what will the scoffers be doing? They will be scoffing. I am certain I have never called anybody a scoffer, it just sounds funny. Robitussen Scoff Medicine. I’d use ridiculing, making fun of… I guess my vocabulary is more limited. You can scoff at me if you wish.
These scoffers are essentially saying that Jesus isn’t coming. There’s no evidence. The world today is the same as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow. God doesn’t change the world, it’s been this way ever since He created it. The second coming of Jesus can’t be possible because that would be a big change in the way God treats the world.
Peter responds that the scoffers are deliberately misleading. God has intervened in the history of the world and made major changes. The first major change was creation itself. What was the world before God created it? It was nothing, a void. Then God spoke, and the universe was created.
Since then, God made another change at the time of Noah. He flooded the earth to remove the unrighteousness. Destroyed every living creature except those rescued in the ark. Afterward, you may recall, God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the world by water. But He will destroy it by fire. In Psalm 50:3, David said,
Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
So not only are the scoffers wrong, but they know they’re wrong. God has indeed judged the world before, and He will judge the world again. And to the true Christians listening to Peter, don’t believe the scoffers. Resist the call of the scoffers to party like it’s 1999, and rest instead on truth.
And what is the truth? The truth is that Jesus will come again. Peter’s writings are an introduction to eschatology, which is the study of the end of time, a study of the end of the world. Christian eschatology is the study of the destiny of humankind as revealed by the bible, including death and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Rapture, the Tribulation, Millennialism, the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth of the World to Come.
The word eschatology comes from two unpronounceable Greek words eschatos (ἔσχατος) which means “last,” and logy (λογία), which means “the study of.” They’re even harder to write down. It’s like Greek to me.
Before the resurrection of Jesus, there were two main Jewish viewpoints on what happens to people after death. The Sadducees recognized only the Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament. According to the historian Josephus, the Sadducees believed that the soul is not immortal; there is no afterlife, and there are no rewards or penalties after death. One just ceased to be.
This was a major point of contention with the Pharisees, who accepted not only the Torah, but also the Oral Law which eventually became the Mishna and the Talmud. The Pharisees accepted, for instance, the Book of Daniel, and in Daniel 12:2 it says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Even today, not all Christians have the same beliefs in the afterlife. Seventh Day Adventists teach that upon death, the soul sleeps and is reawakened at the Resurrection. Catholics teach that one enters into heaven either immediately or through a purification known as Purgatory, or immediately into Hell. Most Protestants believe that Christ removed all obstacles and there is nothing we can add or take away, Christ paid for all of our sins and we enter directly into the presence of God after death. Regardless, Peter emphasizes that there will indeed come a day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. Even though scoffers may ridicule them and party like there’s no tomorrow, Christians can be confident in Jesus’ return. And today, Christians are still surrounded by the ungodly, by partiers, by pagans and New Age type beliefs. When is this day of judgment going to come? What is God waiting for?
III. Be Aware and Behave, 2 Peter 3:8-13
I’m glad you asked that, because Peter addresses that in the next few verses. In 2 Peter 3:8-13,
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
We like the idea that God judges the guilty, as long as it’s other people he’s judging. We’re less enthused about God judging us, and we know we’re not innocent people. Thankfully, we have a Savior. Since we’re saved, we should have no fear of the Day of the Lord. So what is God waiting on? We’re surrounded ungodly everywhere we turn.
The answer is found in God’s unfailing love. God’s love begins with the very first definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Love is patient, love is kind. God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son. God made man in His image. And God withholds the Judgment of the Day of the Lord so that no one will perish.
Remember Abraham trying to bargain with God not to destroy Sodom? The Lord said that their sin was so severe that He was going to destroy Sodom. Abraham said, “Will you kill the righteous with the wicked?” God said to Abraham, “If I can find 50 righteous people in the entire city of Sodom, I will spare them.”
Abraham started dealing. “How about forty-five? Thirty’s a good number. Twenty is even better. How do you feel about only ten righteous people?” But when Abraham arrived in Sodom, all he found was wickedness. He couldn’t find even 10 righteous people. It was only then that God destroyed Sodom.
And how about the story of Noah and the Flood? God saved Noah and his righteous family, then sent a flood to wash the world of its wickedness. Afterward, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and passes out naked. And he was the righteous one. Can you even imagine the wickedness that was washed away?
Eventually, God’s perfect love and patience will eventually be overcome by His perfect justice. He cannot let evil prevail. And on that day, we won’t have any warning. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief.
Peter uses the phrase “Day of the Lord” which was an Old Testament phrase for the final judgment. Isaiah used it, Isaiah 13:9 –
See, the day of the Lord is coming
—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it.
And in Joel 2,
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
And then again in Zephaniah 1:14 and Malachi 4:5. But Amos 5:18-24 seems especially apropos, directed at the so-called religious who were not living righteously –
Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
So for the non-righteous Jews, for the antinomians who abused their freedom in Christ, the Day of the Lord is the day God’s righteous anger punishes evil.
When will this happen? Only God knows when this will be. God created the universe, and one day He will bring it to an appropriate end. Jesus told us this day would come (Matthew 24:14), that we should watch for the signs (Matthew 24:29-30), and the timing will be according to God (Matthew 24:36). It’s been 2000 years since Jesus, and that seems like a long time, but God doesn’t exist in time the way we do. God is outside of time, and “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day .”
We’re aware this day is coming. The Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Book of Revelation describes it in great detail. So what do we do in the meantime? We live with the expectancy that this day could come at any time. Peter tells us to live holy and godly lives. Why is that important?
I think first of all, living a holy life enables the Holy Spirit to work within us. We’re here, each and every one of us, for a purpose that only we can fulfill. When we live in the Spirit, we’re attuned to God’s direction; it’s easier to obey because it’s easier to listen. We find it easier to understand that it’s not happiness that God wants from us, but righteousness. But when we seek first His righteousness, then all these things, including happiness, will be given unto us. Living a holy life demonstrates the Spirit lives within us.
And when the Spirit lives within us, then we demonstrate to others the spirit lives within us. We demonstrate that righteous living brings godly blessings; we exhibit the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And we do this to draw others to Christ, because God does not want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.
IV. Work and Watch Out, 2 Peter 3:14-18
While waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas. In the last part of 2 Peter 3, he says,
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
These scoffers and false teachers will be with us to the end of the age. Our best defense is a good offense. And the best offense against false teaching and antinomianism is to continually seek God’s will. When we read the bible, we read first-hand how God treats his people, how God expresses His love for us, and what thoughts, words, and actions please Him.
Is it possible to live a spotless, blameless life? Of course not, but that’s not what Peter says. He says, “make every effort.” Of course we’re going to make mistakes, we’ll take the blame for something. We won’t be spotless, we’ll get spots. But that’s ok. It’s because we are fallible that we also know we need a Savior. We’re not perfect; that’s too high of a bar for us. But if we make every effort, we can be at peace because we know the Lord is pleased at our righteousness.
Sometimes we stumble here – somehow thinking this obedience is required to earn our salvation. That is absolutely false – we cannot earn our salvation. If we think we must somehow earn our salvation, we start to travel down the road of legalism.
No, we obey the Lord because it pleases Him. It’s our love returned to God. In 1 John 2, the author says,
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the satisfaction for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
The reason we read the bible? To grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because we cannot keep His word if we do not know His word. Because we cannot resist false teaching unless we know what the truth is. We must be on our guard, because our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Christ will come again, and when He does, we want to be safe and secure in His arms.
What have we learned today? We’ve learned that there are big words like antinomianism we’ve never heard of before. And we’ve learned that Greek is a really hard language.
But we’ve also learned that we can have faith that Jesus will come again. He’s prepared a place for us, and someday He will take us there. We learned that the secular world around us will make fun of us, scoff at us for these beliefs, but they do not know the Lord. Our Lord is full of perfect love and patience, but there will come a day where the Lord’s perfect justice will rule, and the unrighteous will be destroyed by fire. We don’t know when that will be, a day or a thousand years, but we know that day is coming. And while we wait, we are to strengthen ourselves with knowledge of His Word and obeying the Lord’s will, not out of fear or obligation, but because we love the one who first loved us.
And then we will spend an eternity in the presence of the One who loves us. That’s something good to hope for.
To God be the glory. Amen.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 8 so far )
Living by faith is difficult. It’s very easy to have either an over-dependence or under-dependence on God. Does living by faith mean living by a certain moral or ethical code, or adhering to a certain set of religious beliefs? Well… on one hand, living by faith means putting your trust in Jesus, following His footsteps, demonstrating your love for Him the way He did for you. And if you live by faith, then yes, you live in a way that pleases Him. And that means living by certain rules and behaviors.
On the other hand, living by faith and trusting in Jesus means we are not bound by rules that cannot save us, for we know that Jesus saved some of his harshest words for the Pharisees who applied rules for other people to live by. We learned that living by these rules cannot save us; it is solely by God’s grace that we are saved. So in that sense, we are bound by no rules at all. Following the rules cannot save us.
Living by faith can mean that we put our sole trust in God. We can do nothing without Him, but through Christ, we can do everything. God does indeed perform miracles every day… but should living by faith mean we do nothing at all? Do we sit idle while our family is sick, waiting for God’s miracle? Some people feel that when we take matters into our own hands, we do not allow God to work His miracles.
The alternative is that we confess with our mouth that we have faith in the Lord, but we never wait on Him. Do we take our sick friends to a doctor, and let God work His miracles through people? Some people feel God works His miracles through people. Or does this mean we’re taking matters into our own hands? It’s as if we are saying, “This is what God would do, so I’ll do it for him.” We want to be in control so bad and we are so confident in our abilities, we allow no room for God to work His miracles.
Living by faith is difficult, and if we fear living by faith, it paralyzes us into doing nothing. Perhaps we feel inadequate somehow – we either need to prove our faith by declaring that we will wait on God’s miracles, or we feel unworthy to rely on a miracle we are not sure will ever come.
I don’t think God intended for living by faith to be so difficult. Do what you can, say why you did it, give the glory to God. In Romans 10:9, Paul says that “one believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.” Living by faith, then, is both expressing your faith in words and in actions.
It’s fear that keeps us from expressing this faith. Fear that others will make fun of us. Fear that our faith isn’t strong enough to withstand scrutiny by others. Fear that God will let us down. Fear that our God just isn’t big enough. Our problems are too great for Him to handle.
We’re studying the book of Joshua today, chapters 2 through 6, and there are so many good and familiar stories. The priests crossing with River Jordan with the Arc of the Covenant, the walls coming tumbling down at Jericho, but we’ll focus on the story of Rahab and the spies and see what faith looks like in action, faith expressed without any fear of consequences, a total trust in the Living God we worship.
Let’s talk a little background here before we get to Rahab. The year is approximately 1400 B.C., maybe 1370 B.C. Moses has led the Israelites for 40 years in the desert, and has just passed away at the ripe old age of 120 years old and buried at the top of Mount Nebo in Moab, having seen but never entered the Promised Land. Joshua, with the blessing of Moses, has assumed the leadership of the Israelites and will fulfill the Lord’s promise to bring them into the Promised Land. The Promised Land is occupied, though, and in Chapter 1 of the Book of Joshua, Joshua readies the army to take the land that has been given to them. As part of his preparations for war, Joshua sends two spies to the city of Jericho.
II. Faith Expressed in Words, Joshua 2:1, 8-13
So let’s see what our spies are told to do and what they have to report, and look at Joshua 2:1 -
Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
Well, there’s not a lot of details here. It looks to me that they got lost. Two men are sent to Jericho and immediately go to the house of Rahab. It’s straightforward with no explanation, reminiscent of the way Jesus never explained his association with tax collectors. Outcasts, like prostitutes, tax collectors, drug users, people in jail – they often respond better to the mercy of God than people who already think they’re righteous enough. The book of Joshua doesn’t provide any explanation why they went to the house of a prostitute.
The Hebrew word used here to describe Rahab has several meanings. The most benign can be translated as “innkeeper.” So entering the house of Rahab sounds straightforward. A second translation can be as the modern definition of prostitute, a woman who sells herself for money. The third translation is a temple prostitute, a woman who provided sex to cult worshipers at a pagan temple. The text here is unclear, but the Greek word used to describe Rahab in the New Testament is very clear it is not the innkeeper description.
Let’s drop down to verse 8 -
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
“Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them —and that you will save us from death.”
Rahab expresses a remarkable expression of faith in Israel’s God. She knows it’s the Lord who parted the Red Sea, destroyed the Pharaoh’s chariots, and defeated Sihon and Og, two kingdoms on the east side of the River Jordan. And she knows she is living in a land that has been promised to the Israelites. And the people of Jericho were terrified.
It’s interesting how people react to hearing of God’s miracles. Sometimes they respond in disbelief, sometimes they respond in hostility. The people of Jericho knew of these miracles – the two defeated kingdoms of Sihon and Og were just over the river – yet instead of responding to God in awe and respect, they felt fear. They bolted the doors and decided to fight.
Is this something you’ve experienced? Somebody hears about a miracle of God, and they’re hostile to the message? What are some examples of hostility that you’ve seen or read about?
And if they react with hostility, how do we react? If we react in fear of their hostility, where is our faith in a mighty God that He may be able to part the Red Sea but not protect us from somebody angry at hearing the Word?
Rahab didn’t respond in fear. She realized that if the God of the Israelites could do these mighty works, then their God must be the one true God. If God is for us, who can be against us? If their God was the one true God, Rahab was going to put her trust in Him, not in the army guarding the city of Jericho, not in the walls protecting the city. Rahab heard the good news of the one true God, turned from hostility and disbelief, the sought mercy and deliverance for herself and her family. It’s a message of salvation, of hope and of promise.
III. Faith Expressed in Action, Joshua 2:6,14-15
As a believer in the God of Israel, Rahab immediately put her faith into action. The king of Jericho found out there were spies in his city and also believed the spies were in Rahab’s house. Rahab hid the spies up on the roof of her house, and told the king’s men that the spies had left the city. The king’s men went out of the city in pursuit. Let’s look at verse 2-7 -
The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
And drop down to verse 14-15 -
“Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.
Rahab saved the two spies, and in so doing, became an enemy of those opposed to God. She is now one of God’s people, under persecution from those who opposed Him. If the king’s men had found the spies at her house, there’s no doubt they would have put Rahab and the spies to death.
She not only trusted God, but she trusted God’s men, putting her life in their hands. But Rahab put her trust fully in the Lord and all He had provided.
Could she have said, “Your God is mighty, but I am afraid and cannot help you?” Would that have been true faith? I don’t think so. Rahab’s faith demanded action, or else it isn’t true faith. In the book of James, chapter 2, James says faith requires action. Turn to James 2:14-17 –
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
And then verse 25-26 –
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James is telling us we must do work on behalf of the Lord if our faith is to be alive. How much work should we do? How much work is enough to save us?
It’s a difficult question that I cannot answer for you, and you cannot answer for me. There is no way to earn your way into heaven, and you cannot do enough good works. The answer then, is that no works at all is a correct answer. Works cannot save us. We do not enter heaven based on our good deeds. The only reason we enter heaven is because we put our faith in Christ Jesus and trust in the sacrifice He made for us.
But, at the same time, if we truly have faith, then having no deeds at all cannot be the right answer. No deeds means a dead faith, a worthless faith. So the right amount of works is between you and God, between me and God. I should be constantly compelled to do more for His kingdom, and also recognizing that what I am compelled to do for Him does not save me. I learn, then, that I do it freely out of love for my Lord, not in obligation or to earn my way into heaven. So then, a true faith is expressed in both word and actions, but words and actions alone are not enough.
IV. Faith Rewarded, Joshua 6:22-23
Let’s go back to the book of Joshua. Rahab sent the spies into the hills to hide for three days. The king’s men then gave up and returned to the city, and the spies were able to return to Joshua and give a report about the city, that the land was indeed given to them by the Lord and the people in Jericho were afraid of their God.
Time passed, and many historical events took place. There are so many excellent lessons here-
• The Israelites crossed the River Jordan and camped at Gilgal where they erected a stone memorial to commemorate God’s deliverance of the Promised Land. Joshua had instructed the Levite priests to pick up the ark of the covenant and step into the River Jordan. When they did, like the parting of the Red Sea, the water stopped and allowed the people to cross. An important observation is that the water didn’t first stop, and then the people crossed. Oh no, they had to step into the water first, then the water stopped. God is capable of every miracle imaginable, but he wants us to trust Him. Step into the water, and trust God that He will act.
• Another lesson, all the Israelite males were circumcised to comply with the covenant, and then Passover was celebrated for the first time in years. In order to cross into the promised land, the people had to be prepared in accordance with God’s instruction. Today, Christ prepares us for the eternal life with God. Romans 2:27-29 tells us that with Jesus, the circumcision is of the heart, and accepting Jesus prepares us for eternal life with Him. Our life in faith and service and words and trust prepares us for eternal life with Christ.
• The army of Joshua then marched to Jericho, and under the Lord’s instruction, marched around the city for 6 days, and on the 7th day blew the trumpets and the walls of the city collapsed. Joshua and the Israelites then stormed the city. Joshua had the bigger army and Joshua had determination, but none of that was necessary to bring down the walls of Jericho. Patience, obedience to God’s commands, and living a life with the presence of God allowed God to demonstrate that He and He alone is necessary to bring down the walls that are in front of you.
I chose not to study these in detail for today. I studied instead about the life of a prostitute. Something must be seriously wrong with my priorities. What happened to Rahab? Let’s turn to chapter 6, verse 22-23 -
Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.
So, just how bad of a person are you? Are you too bad to be accepted in heaven? Have you done bad things that will keep you from heaven? You show up at the pearly gates, and they say, sorry, you didn’t quite qualify for our daily special. Do you think you’re a horrible person that can’t be forgiven? That’s fear talking. Fear of not measuring up. Fear that it’s too late. Fear that your misdeeds are so incredibly big. Fear that you have a small god that cannot forgive you.
Rahab was a horrible person. I mean, who really likes innkeepers? But Rahab was rewarded for exercising her faith. Her preservation during Jericho’s destruction surely was a blessing from God. Her whole family was saved. Later, she married Salmon (Salma), the son of the wilderness chieftain Nahshon of the tribe of Judah. They had a godly child named Boaz, who had a son Obed, and then Jesse, who had a son David. Yes, that David. Rahab is an important link in the line of descent that led to King David of Israel and ultimately to the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
More significantly, the former prostitute Rahab is one of only four women named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:5,6). Of the four, Rahab was a prostitute, Ruth seduced her cousin, Tamar posed as a prostitute to seduce the father of her late husband, and Bathsheba was an adulteress.
There is nothing you can do that is bigger than God. Your sins are not too big for God to forgive. God can take a prostitute from the Old Testament and use her and her family to bring forth our redeemer, our savior, our descendant from David. God can use you, too. You just have to get over your fear and put your faith in action.
Faith in action is faith that is not stalled by fear. Faith leads to joy in the Lord. Fear steals our joy and diminishes or faith. They cannot exist together. Can one be happy and afraid at the same time?
We tend to think that being a follower of Christ should be filled with days of rainbows and ponies. Life should be easy if God is on our side. But God is preparing us for an eternal life with him, circumcising our heart in preparation of tearing down those walls of fear that keep us from knowing Him. Rahab didn’t have rainbows and ponies. I don’t know of any Old Testament person who had rainbows and ponies. And rainbows and ponies do not teach us about fear and how fear can debilitate us, prevent us from practicing our faith. Perhaps instead of rainbows, we should expect storms. Storms would let us practice putting our faith in action.
In Matthew 8, Jesus and His disciples get into a boat to sail across the lake. Jesus promptly lays down and goes to sleep. While he’s sleeping, a furious storm blew in. Waves started washing over the side of the boat. The boat looks like it’s going to sink. The disciples cry out, “Lord, save us!”
Jesus wakes up, rubs the sleepies out of His eyes, and in asks, “Why are you afraid?”
Why are you afraid? As a Christ follower, expect storms, not rainbows. Expect walls in front of you. You have a big God, bigger than walls or storms. Bigger than any sin you could have committed. Bigger than any hostility you may face when telling people how miraculous your God is. Put aside your fear. Put your faith in action.
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Sometimes it’s difficult to teach a familiar parable; we have pre-conceived notions, or perhaps previous bible studies left in our heads. The Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep, the Faithful Servant, the Ten Virgins, and so on. Even non-Christians have heard the phrase “good Samaritan.” Let’s see if we can look at this parable with fresh eyes today, and see if perhaps we’ve become complacent, and really look to see if there is an application for us today.
Through a powerful parable, Jesus lets us know that the good Samaritan exemplifies an important facet of the Christian character: How to be a good neighbor. So what makes a good neighbor? Someone who sells State Farm insurance? You know, “And like a good neighbor….”
Who has a neighbor that they consider to be a good neighbor? What makes that neighbor special to you?
I have a neighbor, sometimes I think we’re competing with, and losing to. On the day we moved into our new house in Sugar Land, it took longer than we thought it would. The truck wasn’t quite big enough, so it was like after 9pm when we started the second run back to the old townhome. Our next door neighbor Fai stopped by to meet us, found out we hadn’t had any dinner, and immediately brought over dinner for the both of us. And she hasn’t stopped, she brings vegetables from her garden, she weeds our garden, she sweeps our sidewalks, and so on. And if we should every try to do something kind for her, she redoubles her effort to bring us groceries. Everybody should have a neighbor like Fai.
Who is a neighbor? Or for that matter, who is a Samaritan?
The Jews considered the Samaritans to be a corrupted religion that in many ways mirrored Judaism. Well, “corrupted” might a kind way of putting it. One text I read said the Jews considered the Samaritans as ignorant, superstitious mongrels. Way back in 2 Kings 17, the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, killing most of the people living there. Anybody who survived we taken away to foreign lands, and eventually became known as “the lost tribes of Israel.” Only a few stragglers, mostly poor, sick or unskilled people, were left behind with Israeli identity or culture. To finish them off, the Assyrians sent five eastern pagan tribes to settle in Northern Israel and intermingle. They became a sort of hybrid people, part Israeli, part pagan. They developed their own customs; they still worshipped Yahweh, but their holy books were in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and didn’t contain many books the Jews had, especially the poetic and prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures. They eventually became known as the Samaritans. They built their temple to the Lord on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem, which irritated the Jews, so the Jews destroyed Mount Gerizim in 128 b.c. In both the books of Ezra 4:1-3 and Nehamiah 4:1-2, Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other.
So you see, “good Samaritan” was an unlikely phrase. Jews expected animosity from Samaritans. To the Jews, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. But funny thing about people, they’re all made in God’s image, and Jesus didn’t feel the same way about the Samaritans. Or the Gentiles, fortunately. Later, in Acts 1:8, Jesus will tell his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God still had a great deal of affection for the Samaritans.
So we begin our study, starting at Luke 9:51 –
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
I love that part – Jesus is on a mission, determined to go to Jerusalem, and teach all along the way.
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
There’s a lot of new perspective here – the disciples wanted to rain down fire and destroy the Samaritans, the Samaritans not especially happy with Jesus going to Jerusalem to the temple there. And Jesus seems concerned about the Samaritans, even when His disciples don’t.
II. Follow the Scripture, Luke 10:25-28
So Jesus resolutely continues to Jerusalem, teaching along the way, until one day a lawyer stands up to question Jesus. It’s a trick question from a lawyer, but I repeat myself. It’s designed to trip Jesus. Turn to Luke 10:25-28 -
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
The lawyer didn’t just ask a question, this isn’t idle curiousity. The lawyer “stood up to test him.” The lawyer has a serious question, knows the law, but he wants to see if Jesus is authentic. He’s challenging Jesus. What does Jesus know?
And it’s one of the great questions of all religions. What must I do to live an eternal life? What happens when I die? What must I do, what must I say, how should I act, what do I believe? It’s an expert question, coming from an expert lawyer. What must I do?
Jesus responded like a rabbi, and answered the question with a question of his own. Now Jesus is testing the tester. Jesus challenged the lawyer back, but to answer his own question from scripture.
The first part of the lawyer’s answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, what the Jews would understand as the Shema Yisrael, or just Shema. Shema Yisrael means, “Hear oh Israel,” and observant Jews would say this prayer as part of their morning and evening prayers. The Shema encouraged Jews to love God, and it was a twice daily affirmation of God’s place in their lives.
Notice that it doesn’t just say to Love the Lord God. It says to love the Lord *your* God. It’s personal, the relationship between you and your Creator. Love Him with everything you have, with your whole person. Heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love God with your emotions (heart), your consciousness (soul), your motivation (strength), and your mental capacity (mind).
Some have misinterpreted the scripture here. What must I *do* to inherit eternal life? Do this and live. Is this a philosophy of works? Is there a way we can earn our way into heaven by a life of good works and good deeds? No, there is not – our works, our deeds, even our very selves are like worthless rags compared to the almighty glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. But because we love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we *do* these things to show this love to others. Our feisty lawyer answered correctly, but he did not affirm a theology of works.
Jesus said, “Do this and live.” This is abundant life. Practice what you know out of love for Lord, expressed as love for others. The real test is a right heart with God, not knowledge or works, but putting into practice, love in action, a grateful response to God’s love.
III. Listen to Jesus, Luke 10:29-35
Was our feisty expert embarrassed by Jesus’ response? And if so, did he feel the need to repair his reputation? Or was he trying to find out whether there were any limits? In other word, how much is enough to get into Heaven? The lawyer asked a follow-up question, “who is my neighbor?”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
The question from the lawyer implied some people could be excluded. Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors. In this case, especially those backward, disgusting Samaritans. I mean, certainly we can exclude those people, right?
Who do we exclude today, that we do not consider a neighbor? Are we putting a limit on God’s love?
Jesus didn’t answer directly, told a parable that illustrated what it meant to demonstrate the love of God. Who was the traveler? We don’t know, he’s never identified. Might be a Jew, maybe a Gentile, might even be a Samaritan? The only thing we know for sure is that the traveler is human and therefore made in God’s image.
This man was beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem. This would have been a well-know road for the Jews, from Jerusalem 2500’ ASL to Jericho which is actually below sea level, winding through mountains and rocky terrain with many hiding places for robbers. The man was not just robbed, but stripped of his clothing and beaten and left for dead. The attitude expressed by the robbers is, “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.”
What were the motivations of the priest and Levite? Jesus doesn’t say. Priest may have refused because the man was dead, didn’t want to defile himself. Touching a corpse would have entailed a lengthy cleanliness process to become pure again. We don’t really know their motivation. Bottom line, though, is it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the motivation was, it was a convenient excuse to absolve them from being a good neighbor. Both the priest and the Levite considered themselves religious people, knew the love your neighbor statement. And both refused to help.
In fact, they went out of their way to avoid helping. They passed by on other side. The priest and the Levite expressed an attitude of, “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.” This attitude is hardly better than, and in many ways worse, than the robbers who beat the man up.
But the Samaritan helped. This startled the listeners. This *Samaritan*, they would have spit out, isn’t Jewish, isn’t to be trusted, doesn’t know the law… but he was helpful. The Jews expected animosity, but received compassion instead. In fact, this Samaritan gave up his own ride for the injured man, and in so doing expressed an attitude more pleasing to God, “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll give it.”
The second half of our lawyer’s question is much like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself. This comes from Leviticus 19:18. Not a selfish love, or a love of oneself, but how much you love others based on how much God loves you. A “neighbor” means someone of our own kind, not an outsider. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that this outside we pass by on the other side of the road is not an outsider to God. God loves everyone, not just believers. God gave His life to us while we were still unbelievers, still sinners.
We can’t help everyone, of course. Our resources are limited, we have to pick and choose. But on what basis do we pick and choose? Do we withhold our help from outsiders just because they’re outsiders? They are not outsiders to God. Who we are neighborly to should not depend on this. Jesus admonishes us to do this and live, practice what we know, put love in action. Our salvation involves faith expressing love to God and neighbor. James 2:17 says that faith that does not show itself to our neighbor is dead.
IV. Show Compassion, Luke 10:36-37
Jesus turned the question around perfectly, of course. The lawyer had asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by describing who *is* a neighbor. In other words, the lawyer asked about others, who qualifies to be his neighbor. Jesus answered by examining the heart of person asking the question.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
So Jesus challenged the lawyer. Now who is your neighbor? While the lawyer tried to enact boundaries, Jesus used this parable to remove boundaries. A merciful God we should imitate by showing mercy. Go and do likewise. Any person in need gives you a chance to show you are a good neighbor and being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Emergencies aren’t always convenient. They don’t happen at planned times. I suppose if we could plan them, they wouldn’t be emergencies. I think about another example from Jesus about showing compassion even at inconvenient times. In Mathew 14 is the story of Herod and John the Baptist. John apparently had been hanging around outside Herod’s place, telling Herod that there was something wrong with Herod for taking his brother’s wife. I can’t help but think of how awkward that would be at family get-togethers, Herod and Philip and Philip’s wife Herodias. So one night after dinner and dancing by Herod’s daughter, Herod decides to behead John the Baptist. John’s disciples buried the body and then came to tell Jesus.
Look what it says in Matthew 14:13-14 –
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
John is the second cousin of Jesus, and John was the one that paved the way for him, a voice crying out in the wilderness. You know Jesus is grieving the loss of John. And yet, He found the time and energy for compassion at that moment, to heal the sick people that had come to see Him.
Our role model for compassion is God. We were sinners, opposed to God, but He showed compassion for us, even while we opposed him.
Compassion isn’t obligation; compassioning isn’t doing something out of duty. Compassioning isn’t even caring for somebody or taking care of them when they’re hurt.
I went looking for the root word of “compassion,” and found enough to rethink my idea of what compassion is. The root words in Latin are “cum”, which means “with” or “along side”. “Passion” originally didn’t mean anything like the ardent love we associate it with today, it comes from the Latin “pati” which means “to suffer.” It’s the same root word that gives us a hospital “patient,” somebody suffering. So how did we associate this with passionate love? Perhaps from the “Passion of the Christ,” the suffering Christ went through on our behalf. Christ’s love and suffering, His passion.
So “compassion” means to suffer together. It’s not just caring for somebody. It’s suffering with them, making their pain also your pain. How difficult is that to love a neighbor that much that we would suffer as though their pain is ours.
One of the clearest examples of compassion was Mother Teresa. Nobel prize winner, she eventually opened 517 missions in more than 100 countries. One of her early ministries confounded people in Calcutta, to help people nobody else would help. Poor people dying of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. These people, even if they lived, would still be a burden on society. Mother Teresa converted an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospice, the first Home for the Dying. People brought here received medical care and given an opportunity to die with dignity. Hindus received water from the Ganges, Catholics received Last Rites, Muslims were read to from the Quran. “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels — loved and wanted.”
In a book about her life, “Mother Teresa, In My Own Words,” are hundreds of inspiring stories and quotes from this amazing woman. She said, “Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. I responded: ‘Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God.’” She was truly a person of compassion, demonstrating God’s love daily and seeing God in those suffering.
So who is your neighbor? How can you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? Do they have a need, and can you go beyond the “bring them a casserole” and truly show compassion, to suffer along with them, to bear their pain? The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that we are challenged to be the good neighbor, regardless of their culture or how we feel about them. To show compassion for those around us, in glorious imitation of the compassion Jesus showed for us. As He loved us, let us love others.
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I’ve always joked that if I was ever asked to teach a lesson from the book of Leviticus, I would focus on the evils of shellfish. I’m allergic to shellfish – did any of you ever see the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith? And after another one of his disastrous dates where he eats some shrimp and his face gets all puffy and swollen and they have to go to the drugstore and buy a bottle of Benadryl? That’s what happens to me, I was going to bring in some shrimp gumbo and teach a lesson that would be unforgettable and maybe end in a hospital visit.
Well, we’re studying Leviticus this week, but, for some reason, the Holy Spirit didn’t lead me to do any shellfish experiments. That’s a good thing for all of us, I think. Turns out there’s a more meaningful lesson in Leviticus today.
One of the best investors of the last fifty years was a nice Jewish fellow named Bernard. His clientele was hand-picked; you practically had to be invited to invest with him. He was always generous and never lost money. His background on Wall Street was impeccable, and investors bragged about how well their investments were performing. By September 2009, there was $36 billion invested in Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC.
I’m sure you know the name by now. Of that $36 billion, Bernie Madoff reported that he had grown their investments to $65 billion, but he hadn’t. In fact, he had spent or lost half of it. A lot of this money was stolen from Jewish charities like Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Yeshiva University, Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation. Thousands of people who thought they had a great retirement invested with Bernie Madoff found their entire savings gone.
If you had given your money to somebody to invest for you – you give them $100 because they promised to make it grow to $200 and give it back to you – but instead you found they invested it in a nice dinner at Perry’s Steakhouse and ate it, how would you feel?
If the court system said that out of the $100 you invested, you can have $50 back but you have to give $30 to your lawyer, would you feel justice was served?
What if the court made the scammer give back your $100 in full, would that make everything right? Would the scammer then be guilt-free?
As Christians, we are saved by the grace of God, and all of our sins are forgiven, paid by the penalty on the cross. And as Christians, we are no longer slaves to sin, but that doesn’t mean we have no sin. And even though we are forgiven, solid Christian living and the gracious forgiveness we receive from God does not mean we do not have obligations and repercussion because of our sin. Today we’re going to see what God asks us to do when we have sinned because it’s the right thing to do.
II. Atonement for Sin
Throughout first half of Leviticus, God gives Moses instructions for how to lead His people and how to maintain a relationship with the Lord. The concept of sacrifice was established, where the innocent could pay the price of the guilty or as a method of worship. There are several types of sacrifices for which God provided instructions.
Let’s look at the types of sins and the sacrifices that go with them.
Leviticus 1 describes the Burnt Offering. Leviticus 1:3-4,
If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
What is atonement? Sometimes it’s spelled At-One-Ment. We are sinful people, inherited separation from God because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Atonement is making peace with God, asking for forgiveness. It’s our reconciliation, that we may still have a relationship with the Almighty God even though there is sin in us that He cannot abide.
This burnt offering provides a one-ment with God. The burnt offering required a blood sacrifice of an innocent animal. This offering was not shared by the priests; the offering was completely consumed, completely dedicated to the Lord. Verse1:17 says this aroma was pleasing to the Lord; the Lord is pleased, not for the death but for the reconciliation.
Today, we no longer sacrifice burnt offerings. We now have eternal reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice is misunderstood by many of those outside the Christian faith – the sacrifice of the Son of God is not what pleases Him. It is the reconciliation with His children that pleases the Lord.
III. An Offering of Gratitude
God’s desire to have a relationship with us, especially considering throughout history how we have rejected the Lord, should fill us with gratitude that the Lord pursues us until we turn from sin and turn to Him. The offering described in Leviticus 2 is the grain offering and is offer to express our gratitude, our faithfulness to God, our commitment to a life that is pleasing to the One who created us.
If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire. Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering. The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as an offering made to the LORD by fire.
So our gratitude to the Lord is shown by our willingness to give to God the best of what we have, our firstfruits. And again, when this offering is burned by the priest, verse 9 says the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. Unlike the burnt offering that was totally consumed in dedication to the Lord for our sins, this offering belongs to the Lord and for the use by Aaron and his sons, the Levitical priesthood.
Today, we don’t bring grain offerings, but we still offer our firstfruits in gratitude to the Lord. Today, this is our tithe. Where God has blessed us, we acknowledge our thanks that all things are provided by the Lord, we give thanks for allowing us to be good stewards of His gifts by returning the best of what we have, the best of which already belongs to the Lord.
IV. An Offering of Fellowship
The next offering is one of peace and fellowship. Leviticus 3:5 says the offering should be an unblemished animal from the flock that is burned on the alter as food, and the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. The food is to be shared by all the people, including the priests, and a portion is to be set aside for the Lord.
Our fellowship, one with another, is why we’re here. We learn to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. We learn how to be gracious and giving, as the Lord has been gracious and giving toward us. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves in celebration of the Lord’s love for us.
Our relationship with each other is so very important to the Lord. Matthew 5:23-24 says,
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Our relationship with each other is so important that if we are at odds, God wants us to forgive each other far more than He wants our offering. Why is this?
I believe there are several reasons for this. A rift between brothers and sisters is like a wound or a sore in the body of Christ. It keeps the church from functioning well, and it keeps us from showing the light of Christ in our lives to others. If we are at odds with one another, it shows that we truly don’t understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He died for us, not because we’re basically good people and we deserve a good sacrifice once in a while. He died for us while we were yet sinners.
V. The Sin Offering
We’ve had three offerings so far – the burnt offering for atonement, the grain offering of thankfulness, and then the barbecue, the offering of fellowship. These are essentially offerings of worship for our communion with God and with one another. All three of these were offered on the altar in the compound of the Tabernacle.
The fourth offering is similar to the offering of atonement, but it’s not made so much in worship but in payment for our sins. And like Jesus, who paid for our sins on a cross outside of the city of Jerusalem, this offering is made outside of the camp. Leviticus 4 describes the offering in payment for our sins.
The common word throughout this chapter is the word “unintentional.” This offering assumes the follower has the right heart and is following the Lord’s commands, and the sins he commits are unintentional. While the Lord will not look upon sin, this indicates that not all sin is viewed the same way. The unintentional sin can be atoned by a sacrifice to the Lord as payment. The defiant, intentional sin is different. Look at the book of Numbers, chapter 15 for a moment. Numbers 15 also addresses offerings made to the Lord, and Numbers 15:22 also addresses offers for unintentional sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says,
But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.
We talk about sins of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission is something we do. Lying, cheating, stealing are sins of commission. And then there is the sin of omission – something we should have done, but didn’t. We should have tithed, we should have shared Christ, we should have offered help to our neighbor. Unintentional sins can be either be by omission or commission.
There is no offering prescribed for a defiant sin. One cannot praise the Lord with all his heart, yet at the same time thumb his nose at the Lord’s commands. His guilt remains on him; how awful, how terrible, to pay the price for one’s own sin, for Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. A defiant sin acts like a wedge between us and the Lord and drives us away from His love and compassion. Romans 1:21 talks about defiant sin; it says that while wicked men knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but instead claimed to be wise and instead made themselves foolish. God therefore gave them over to their own sinful desires.
God doesn’t force us to love us. In fact, God gives us exactly what we want. If we want an eternity in the presence of Jesus, we can have it simply by confessing Jesus as both Lord and Savior. And if we do not want God’s influence in our lives, He will make that part of our eternity instead. Defiant sin is a terrible thing. But the unintentional sin of the Christian is paid for by the blood of Christ.
VI. The Guilt Offering
The last offering described by Moses is the guilt offering. This is repayment of the harm caused by the sin. While many times sin can be against another person, sin is always against the will of God. Leviticus 5 says that if one sins, one must make full restitution.
Leviticus 5:1-5 mentions several ways one could sin; verse 1 talks about keeping silent when he should speak, perhaps of witnessing a crime but choosing not to do anything about it. Verse 2 and 3 talk about our actions, of doing things that offend the Lord. And verse 4 talks about the sins of the tongue, of cussing and swearing and breaking oaths. Look at the last part of verse 4 -
even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.
When does a sin become a sin? When you commit the sin, or when you learn about the sin?
A couple of months ago, headed to work out Highway 59, I exited Williams Trace. I approached the intersection; the light was red but there was nobody in the intersection. After looking carefully, I turned right on red, a perfectly legal thing to do in Texas.
The red light camera thought different. They took not only a nice picture of my license plate but also a nice video and posted it on the web for me to see. And I watched the video and had no idea why they were sending me a ticket.
I didn’t come to a complete stop; while that camera has been there for years and I’ve worked there for years, I apparently had never approached that intersection on red with nobody in front of me. Since I didn’t come to a complete stop first before turning, I got a ticket. I was guilty. Was I guilty when I first received the ticket, or when I turned the corner on red without coming to a complete stop?
We are guilty of sin when we commits the sin, whether we realize we did it or whether we even knew it was a sin. But when we realize we have committed a sin, we are to confess the sin.
When I was growing up, apparently I was a boy. Boys can be trouble sometimes, so I’ve heard. But not me. When something bad happened around the house, when the lamp was broken or, say, you were five years old and tipped over 2 50 lb bags of dog food in the garage and ran over it with your tricycle, making wonderful little crunching noises until all the dog food was a fine powder that covered the entire garage… hypothetically, of course. My mother would line the three of us kids up, my sister, my brother, and me, and say, “If one of you don’t confess, all three of you will get a spanking!” And my sister would crack under the pressure and confess. Every time. So… she was really the guilty one, right?
My sister and I are close and we joke about this now, but I realize studying for this lesson that it’s a long ago sin, but I’m guilty. I’ve never made restitution, and I should leave my offering on the altar and make sure things are right with her after all these years. I would have apologized earlier, but it was all her fault I didn’t. No, no, I mean I confess my transgression and go make things right. It doesn’t matter when I knew it was wrong, it’s never the wrong time to go apologize and make things right.
When the sin is committed against another person, restitution must be paid more than in full. Look at Leviticus 5:16 -
He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven.
Bernie Madoff stole billions that he can never repay, and for his crime he will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. Remember the $100 that our so-called friend promised to invest for us but spent it at Perry’s steakhouse? If we discover that we have sinned against another and we have to make restitution, do more than what is expected to make up for it. Pay back $120 instead of the $100 borrowed. And if they want you to walk a mile for them, walk two. And if they strike you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek, too.
We talked about five offerings in Leviticus 1-5. An offering for the atonement of sin so that we may have fellowship and worship of the Lord. An offering of gratitude, to give to the Lord the best we have to offer. An offering of fellowship, of loving our neighbor as ourselves and a celebration of belonging to the body of Christ. And then an offering for our sins and an offering for our guilt and to make restitution and go over and above to make sure things are right between ourselves, the Lord, and between each other, no matter when we discover we have sinned.
And we can give thanks that God himself loved us so much that He provided the ultimate offering as payment for our sins, His son and our Lord Jesus Christ. AmenRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
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