Bible Study

It’s Not My Fault!

Posted on June 15, 2014. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

I. Introduction

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.

map

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.

V. Conclusion

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.

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How Can God Still Love Me?

Posted on December 30, 2012. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , |

             I.      Introduction

 

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.

 

            I.       

            II.       

            III.       

            IV.       

            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.

 

         VI.      Conclusion

 

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.

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Deciding on Discipline

Posted on December 16, 2012. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

             I.      Introduction

 

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?

 

 

             I.       

             II.       

             III.       

             IV.       

             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. 

 

          VI.      Conclusion

 

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.

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The Second Coming of Christ

Posted on November 25, 2012. Filed under: Bible Study |

             I.      Introduction

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.

            V.      Conclusion

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.

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Faith in Action

Posted on June 9, 2012. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I. Introduction

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.

V. Conclusion

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.

And to God be the glory. Amen

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Be a Good Neighbor

Posted on April 22, 2012. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I. Introduction

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.

V. Conclusion

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.

Amen

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What We Offer to the Lord

Posted on May 28, 2010. Filed under: Bible Study |

I. Introduction

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.

Leviticus 2:14-16,

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.

VII. Conclusion

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. Amen

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Amazing Deliverance

Posted on March 21, 2010. Filed under: Bible Study |

I. Introduction

Who in this class has a collection? Dolls, thimbles, something else?

I used to collect pennies when I was a young teen. I’d go through my grandfather’s big jar of coins looking for specific pennies I didn’t have. The oldest penny I had was from 1916, if I recall correctly. Once, based on something I read, I took a magnet to my grandfather’s old coins and discovered two 1943 pennies made of steel. These coins bring back memories, as I’m sure the thimbles and dolls collected by some of you also bring back memories.

We try to protect precious memories. One of the most important memories I have is the day I married Diane for the second time. God had delivered me from my own bad mistakes and healed a broken marriage in a way no person could have done, and He did it on a specific and perfect timetable that I can look back on and remark upon His miracle. We celebrate this anniversary annually; it marks a new beginning of our family. It’s important to do something to commemorate our anniversary because it renews our memories of this important day. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten.

Today we’re going to study how God asked His people to remember when God moved His hand to deliver His people from bondage. Have you ever found yourself trapped by something? A struggle that you cannot free yourself from? Traps can be physical, like those 50 ships, including 2 passenger ferries, stuck in the Baltic Sea when it froze over a couple weeks ago. One of the cruise ships had 1000 people on it; ice breakers sent to rescue them also got stuck as the ice froze over as fast as it was broken. Traps can be emotional, they can be financial, the can be spiritual.

So, with so many traps keeping us in bondage, it’s no wonder we need deliverance just like the Israelites. Who needs deliverance? Why do we need deliverance? How can you experience the Lord’s amazing deliverance?

God delivers us from life’s traps. It’s a theme repeated throughout history, God delivers His people, and He still delivers you and me.

Last week Theresa taught us about 9 plagues the Lord sent against Pharaoh to free His people, and how each time Pharaoh promised to free the Israelites but then hardened his heart. Those plagues were frogs, gnats, darkness, really bad acne, um, halitosis, I forget the whole list. Still, the Israelites were trapped, in slavery, unable to free themselves from their bondage, and in need of a savior.

Now, God sends the 10th and final plague. Let’s see how He prepares His people.

II. Exodus 12:1-5, New Beginning

Exodus 12:1-5 -

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.

God is creating a new beginning for His people to commemorate His deliverance. This new beginning is the first month of the first year of a brand new calendar. To remember this occasion, the head of each household will select an unblemished and perfect lamb to sacrifice.

Besides teaching us to commemorate the hand of the Lord, and how the Lord will deliver us, we also the beginning of the concept of atonement, or substitutionary death. Why was it important for the lamb to be unblemished, free of any defect?

How did Jesus meet this criteria? 1 Peter 1:18-19 says that we were not saved by perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29 the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with these words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The sacrifice of the innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty. The lamb was innocent of any wrong doing. Just as Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us, you and me. And Romans 6:23 says that the punishment for our sins is death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This concept of atonement begins here in Exodus 12, continues through Isaiah 53:5 that says that our redeemer was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. And all the way through the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds we have been healed.”

Any other method of trying to provide for our own deliverance will fail. We do not have the ability to save ourselves any more than the Israelites could save themselves from Pharaoh. If we try, we will find we are sinners and must pay for our sins with eternal death. Jesus, the son of God, paid that price on our behalf that we may live in Him.

And when we accept this sacrifice, we become new creations. God delivers us from our eternal punishment, and we become adopted children of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creations; the old has gone, the new has come!” God delivers us.

I remember vividly when I gave my life to Christ. I was old for a Christian, having spent my life claiming to be a Christian but living for myself, and gave myself to the Lord in the fall of 1998 at the age of 37. Got baptized in a swimming pool in Singapore. Do you have a new life in Christ? When did it begin? How has god provided a full life since then?

III. Exodus 12:6-11, Urgent Attitude

Once we have accepted Jesus, our lives take on a certain urgency. Exodus 12:6-11 -

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Remember the traps we talked about? Being stuck in the ice, financial traps, emotional traps? God tells the Israelites to eat in haste. Why is there urgency is being delivered from those traps? God is forever, but our earthly lives are not. Eventually, the sand runs out of our hourglass. We are now on a mission, the Great Commission, and we have a deadline. And we don’t even know when the deadline is, but it surely is coming. Matthew 24:42 says, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

What does God expect from us? God expects us to be obedient to Him, to trust in Him because He know all. God expects us to become more and more Christ-like, to become sanctified through the Word. God expects us to be a light to all, to be submissive to each other and strengthen each other. God expects us to spread the word, make new disciples that will continue to spread the gospel long after we’re gone.

God wants us to remember all these things. If we are going to experience the deliverance from God and expect others to also experience God’s deliverance, it’s urgent we practice obedience now. God expects us to take our mission seriously and urgently. And whatever traps us now, there is an urgency to surrender that to God and just let Him deliver us. We cannot move forward as long as we let something hold us back.

We cannot underestimate the significance of sin in our lives and how offensive sin is to a most Holy God. When Julie taught us that the smallest amount of sin in our lives would cause us to fry in the presence of Jehovah, it was a vivid picture of how far we are from trying to earn our way into heaven. God tells his people to make bread without yeast, unleavened bread, and later in Exodus 12:19 God says that whoever eats anything with yeast in it during this Passover will be cut off from Israel. These are not baking instructions. Jesus says in Matthew 16:11-12, “How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” So it’s definitely not a baking recipe, it’s a warning that a little sin will spread throughout the whole body.

Let’s not overlook the significance of the blood covering. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Blood is life. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our advanced society still requires blood donations and haven’t developed artificial blood. They’ve developed some stuff that can help refill the circulatory system in case of blood loss, but they haven’t developed red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells for fighting diseases, plasma with proteins, platelets to stop blood loss, and so on. Blood is life.

And 1 John 1 :7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” It is the blood of Jesus that saves us and gives us eternal life.

For the Israelites, it was only the covering of blood over the door that would save them and deliver them from their bondage. For us, it is only the covering of the blood of Jesus that saves us from our sins and delivers us from our eternal punishment.

So is it any wonder that God told the Israelites to make their preparations with haste?

IV. Exodus 12:12-13, Divine Mercy

If God’s people did as they were instructed and made their sacrifice in haste, the they were saved from the wrath of God. Verse 12-13 -

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

And so begins the 10th plague, the death of every firstborn. Who was judged this night? Egyptians were pantheists, believing that everything in the world was part of a god or goddess. And they were polytheists, worshiping many gods that were all around them. Each god or goddess was involved in a different part of their lives.

God is very deliberate in His wrath, demonstrating his power over all of nature. God says, “I am the Lord.” He stands apart, holy. All other gods are demons. Each of the first 9 plagues demonstrated God’s sovereignty over a popular Egyptian god to demonstrate that He alone is God. And now the 10th plague over all male firstborns including animals demonstrate that no one is god but God alone.

Death is a powerful and painful lesson. It gets our attention like nothing else in this world. And it’s unavoidable. It is God’s final recourse in showing His power to liberate His people and God’s supremacy over Pharaoh’s little gods. When Pharaoh refused, thousands perished. When Israel believed, thousands lived. And today, every person’s fate hinges on either believing or not believing the one true and living God in heaven. And God used the ultimate death, His son Jesus, to save us.

Who needed mercy that night? Everyone, was it not? Who received mercy that night? What was the sole distinguishing mark that granted the Israelites divine mercy?

Romans 2:5 is addressed to those who have not accepted the blood covering of Jesus. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Who needs mercy now? And who receives mercy? This is God’s plan to the end of time; in Revelation 7:9, there is a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. In Revelation 7:14, we are told who these people are and the distinguishing mark of the believer. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

God has had a plan from the beginning to deliver us from our sins that deserve His wrath. His judgment is perfect; that’s why we should fear Him. But His mercy is perfect; that’s why we should love Him. He first loved us and provided a way to deliver us from our sins that trap us in bondage. We are free in Christ.

God is our deliverer. Psalm 68:20, “God is unto us a God of deliverances; And unto Jehovah the Lord belongeth escape from death.” Psalm 40:17, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.” Psalm 144:2, “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer.” God’s divine mercy has freed us from our traps through Jesus Christ. There is no reason to remain in bondage, halleluiah.

V. Exodus 12:14, Precious Memory

These lessons must be continually learned from one generation to the next. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten, so we must carefully prepare our lives and celebrations in a way that the next generation will also come to know the saving blood of Jesus. Exodus 12:14 -

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.

Why did the people of Israel need a permanent statue? What would this memory do for them when they faced hard times later?

Do rituals save us? What rituals do churches observe today?

1 Corinthians 11:23-28 describes why we eat of the Lord’s Supper:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Rituals can enslave us if we make the ritual the point instead of a remembrance. The whole purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember the divine sacrifice Jesus made for us and to remember to examine ourselves to see if we are living lives pleasing to the Lord. That is the reason we commemorate God’s amazing deliverance and pass those memories down to future generations. So that they, too, may be delivered from their bondage.

VI. Conclusion

Trying to commemorate a deliverance that hasn’t occurred is meaningless. How can we be certain we have experienced God’s love in salvation?

Our goal today was twofold: We want to be certain each of us has experienced God’s amazing deliverance, and we want to be sure to commemorate our deliverance so that we never forget and that others know of God’s plan for salvation. And if you are in a trap or bondage that you have not surrendered to the Lord, it’s about time we give it to the Lord and surrender to Him. We are free in Christ.

We can experience a new beginning when we trust in the Lord for our deliverance and obey His instructions. The Lord gives us a sense of urgency, for we do not know the day when the Lord returns. God’s deliverance is an amazing display of his divine mercy for which we should be eternally thankful. We can show our thanks for our deliverance by continually remembering and celebrating the Lord and all He has done for us. Give thanks today and remember.

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Compassionate Action

Posted on March 7, 2010. Filed under: Bible Study |

I. Introduction

It’s difficult to see God at work sometimes, isn’t it? Unanswered prayers, world hunger, wars. Our own lives, sickness, injuries. Let’s start off today with a list of problems. Things that we believe God should solve, should do differently. Some big “why” questions. I’ll start off with a couple.

What’s up with that earthquake in Haiti? Why is Charlotte’s leg taking so long to heal? Why hasn’t my son turned toward Christ? If we are adopted children, why doesn’t God answer His children right away when we are troubled or in pain?

Just because we do not see God at work, we can know that God is indeed always at work, and He does it consistently and faithfully. And oddly enough, through very flawed people.

We begin a study of Exodus today that is an extension of the book of Genesis. We know that Moses was the author (Exodus 24:4, “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” There are multiple Old Testament and New Testament passages that identify Moses as the God-inspired human writer of this book; Joshua 8:32, 1 Kings 2:3, Daniel 9:11, Mark 7:10, Mark 12:26 and Luke 2:22-23. Most history scholars, like Chris, piece together passages such as 1 Kings 6:1 and believe the book was written after 1446 B.C., about the time I was born.

The word “exodus” means exit or departure, and this book’s purpose is to document God’s deliverance of His people. God made a covenant promise to Abraham, and God always fulfills His promise. God freed the Jews from slavery, led the through the wilderness, and established a holy nation.

How long could we spend in Exodus? I found the long term curriculum for our bible studies; our classes will study every single book in the bible in seven years, then I suppose we’ll repeat. That’s both good and bad; good that we’ll study the whole bible, but bad that we have to fly through the bible. We’ll even get to Leviticus beginning in May, and I’ve been joking lately that I’ll give an entire lesson on the evils of shellfish. We’ll see if that really happens. The book of Exodus covers many familiar stories; Moses’ birth and floating down the river in a basket of reeds, the 7 plagues upon Egypt and the confrontation with Pharaoh, the parting of the red sea, wandering in the desert, bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain.

What else? (golden calf, burning bush, … ). Anybody remember that movie with Charles Heston? 1956, Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner as the bald Pharaoh?

Today, we’re studying Exodus 1-4. Zoom. But our study today is going to focus on God’s compassion and his actions and God works through very flawed people like you and me. Ok, flawed people like me. Ok, nobody’s like me. You know what I mean.

I may be a mess, but so was Moses. If you recall at the end of Genesis, Jacob, after having been thrown down a well, rescued by a caravan, spent time in Pharaoh’s house, then prison, then rose to power under Pharaoh after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, then during the famine brought Jacob’s brothers to live with him in Egypt – remember all that? Am I going to fast? Anyway, that’s how Jacob and his family of 70 came to live in Egypt.

For many years, the Hebrews were treated well and lived in peace among the Egyptians, and their numbers grew. So much so that when a new king came to power in Egypt, he forgot about the historical relationship between Egypt and Jacob and instead feared the numbers of Jews. Out of fear, he enslaved the Hebrews. They still grew in numbers, and that’s when the king gave the order for all newborn Jewish males to be killed to decrease their number. Moses’ mother, to save him, put Moses in a basket and floated him down the river, and one of the Egyptian king’s daughters found Moses and took him in.

So Moses, instead of being killed by Pharaoh ended up being raised by Pharaoh. I like God’s sense of humor. Anyway, Moses grows up into an adult and goes out to watch the Hebrews work at hard labor. The movie showed Moses as a capable leader of the Egyptians construction and compassionate for the Hebrews, but Exodus 2:11 doesn’t really say that. It appears to me Moses is just watching for entertainment. But when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses kills the Egyptians and buried him under some sand.

But word got around the Hebrews that Moses had killed someone, and Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses. Here is a messed up individual; he’s a murderer, no family of his own, and not welcome by either the Hebrews or the Egyptians. And so Moses flees to Midian, probably the other side of the desert near the Arabian peninsula. Banished, outcast, he spends 40 years in exile. Later we find out he also has a speech impediment. How can God use such a flawed man like Moses? And what happened to that covenant promise with Abraham, anyway? Where is God?

I can identify with these questions. There are times in my life I wonder where God is. He is a God of miracles, of compassion, of mercy, is He not? What about those unanswered prayers and sickness and wars and hunger we talked about earlier. Where is God?

II. Exodus 2:23-25, God Takes Notice

Exodus 2:23-25,

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

As long as the Pharaohs remembered how Joseph had saved Egypt from the famine, the Hebrews were treated well. But those days had long passed. The Israelites groaned in their slavery.

God has a plan and His timetable often isn’t clear to us, especially when we are waiting on Him. I note a multitude of lessons and timing underway here, and God is patiently waiting for His plan. I’ve learned that God often waits until we hit rock bottom before answering. Sometimes we may feel we hit rock bottom and then start digging. We are learning what the Israelites are learning; where does your help come from? For a time, their help came from the Egyptians who gave them land. Should the Israelites depend on the Egyptians for help? The Israelites are enslaved; can they provide their own help?

Psalm 121:1-2,

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Ultimately, this is the only place our help can come from. We might pray and say we depend on the Lord, but do we really? When things get tough, when we feel we are hitting bottom, what are we depending on? Our job, our savings, our own strength, our health, our friends, our family, our charisma?

Whatever we’re depending on is what God wants us to stop depending on. Lean on Him. When we are dependent on someone or something else, we are not practicing faith. We’re idol worshipping. My job is my god. My health is my god. My house is my god. In order for us to learn that our help comes from the Lord, sometimes we must first learn where our help does not come from. Everything else can let us down.

While Israel moaned in slavery, Moses was learning humility. Forty years in exile because he took matter into his own hands, killing the Egyptian. When did God tell Moses to kill an Egyptian? Pompous adopted son of a Pharaoh, taking justice into his own hands, but learning humility in exile. Moses wasn’t in charge. God is. Moses was learning that when one is full of pride, God cannot use you. When you have pride, you are saying that you know best, you don’t need to ask God, you can be your own God.

But Proverbs 3:34,

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

But now, forty years later, the Pharaoh that wanted to kill Moses is dead. And Moses is no longer prideful, but humble. And Israel is crying out for help. It’s God’s timing to bring these two together, and God remembers His promise to Abraham.

III. Exodus 3:1-6, God Reveals Himself

And so God reveals Himself to those seeking Him. Exodus 3:1-6,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God first got the attention of Moses, using the miracle of the burning bush. To talk to us, our focus must be on God. He wants us to look toward Him. I think sometimes when we look at the troubles we have in the world, people put the blame on God, but it’s really us who should have had our attention on God all along. This problem began with Adam and Eve looking toward the serpent for advice and continues through this day. We want God to perform His miracles, but we won’t give Him 5 minutes a day to study His Word. And when we don’t know His Word, we don’t know what God’s purpose is. Everything appears as confusing as a burning bush to us.

God’s first step in taking compassionate action for us is to reveal Himself. He does this in so many ways; in Moses case, the burning bush. In my case just this week, He made himself known to me through this lesson. I know this doesn’t appear to be a lesson on marriage, but for me it is. God revealed to me that He is at work through bible study and through the words and actions of people close to me.

How does God reveal Himself to you?

What are we supposed to do when He does reveal Himself?

Today, God primarily reveals Himself through His word. I want to try an experiment. Left side of the class, turn to Exodus 34:6-7. Right side of the class, turn to Micah 7:18-20. While the whole bible reveals God’s character to use, these 4 verses, 2 in Exodus and 2 in Micah, are the Clift Notes shortcut to revealing God’s characters.

What characteristics of God are revealed to us?

Compassionate Merciful Loving Impartial
Patient Good Just Wise
Holy Perfect Faithful Sovereign
Glorious Jealous Immutable Truthful

God uses many ways to get our attention so that He may reveal Himself. Some of them are the very issues that we cry out that we do not see God’s hand at work. Our health, our jobs, wars and hunger and earthquakes and accidents. We end up with a host of questions about God that are not new but go all the way back to Job questioning God.

An atheist looks at these disasters and concludes life is random and meaningless, nature is just bad. Atheist Richard Dawkins says that “Human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce.”

A philosopher looks at calamity and concludes that if God must not be powerful enough to stop evil. In other words, God is not God. Or if God is all powerful, perhaps God isn’t good. The Swiss philosopher Armin Mohler said that “God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.”

Even Christianity struggles with how to explain disasters. The legalist says that all evil is a result of sin. Remember Pat Robertson saying that the people of Haiti deserved the earthquake because of their pact with the devil? And liberal Christians are all over the map, blaming God for evil, blaming other gods for evil, believing that God isn’t in control after all and really needs to come up with a plan B.

But true Christianity understands that God is full of mercy. True Christianity is trusting in the wisdom and sovereignty of God without making God the author of sin.

Psalm 66, selected verses (1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19) -

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for humankind!

He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.

You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.

but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.

God’s listening. God’s in control. And God has a purpose. But first you must recognize who God is and focus your attention on Him.

IV. Exodus 3:7-10, God Takes Action

Once God’s perfect timing is ready and our attention is focused on Him, then God takes action. I believe God works this way so that once we see His compassion and action, we give proper credit to Him. Exodus 3:7-10,

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

I think it’s instructive to note that God’s plan is a complete plan. God says that He will rescue His people. And then what? Turn them loose in the desert? No, God’s plan is more than just ending evil. God plan is providing good. It’s reminiscent of His plan for our own salvation. When God calls us to repent, it doesn’t mean just to turn from evil. It means turn around and head toward God, to do good and to serve and to learn and be sanctified. When God reaches His hand to us and offers us salvation, He’s not just rescuing us from Hell and turning us loose. He’s taking us from Hell to Heaven, our land flowing with milk and honey.

When we are fulfilling His plan for us, when we become His hands and feet of compassion, it’s important to remember that our work for Him must be just as complete. We don’t condemn people, tell them to stop doing evil. We show them a better way, one of love and compassion and in the life of Jesus. Jesus is not just our rescuer. He’s also our deliverer.

God tells Moses, “So now, go.” Why did God wait so long to act?

I don’t think God was waiting. I think Moses and the Hebrews just didn’t notice God was in action the whole time. Moses was impetuous and prideful, and God had spent 40 years preparing Him for this. Moses knew the Hebrews, Moses knew the Egyptians, Moses received an education from Pharaoh’s royal court. Even Moses father-in-law was a priest of Midian, teaching Moses about God. And now Moses was fully prepared to be a servant of God, recognizing God when He calls, focusing on God’s plan, humble enough to be God’s servant in rescuing His people from slavery and delivering them to the promised land.

Moses wasn’t perfect by any stretch. It may have been 40 years, but Moses was still a stutterer and was once a murderer. But Moses was different now. Gone is the Moses that killed the Egyptian. In his place in the Moses of verse 11, “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I?

And that’s the right question to be humble before the Lord. Because it’s not about us. Who are we? We are creations, we are not the creator. God responds, “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.”

What is God teaching us about serving Him? If we are inclined to serve at, say, Star of Hope or Angels of Light or the Church in the Park next month, that’s great service. But if we then puff up our chests with pride about what a good job we’ve done, we’ve missed the point. It’s not about us. It’s about the great ‘I AM.’

V. Exodus 3:19-20, God Works Wonders

It’s God at work in His creation; it’s not about His creation trying to steal the show. To God goes all the glory. And when His time is perfect and His plan is in place and our focus is on Him, God will fulfill His promises. Exodus 3:19-20 -

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

Moses was concerned that he wasn’t fit for this role because of his past and because of his handicap. Would the Israelites believe Moses? Would they trust Moses to lead them? Did Moses have the capability to persuade Pharaoh?

God reassures Moses at each step that God is exactly who He says He is. He is God. And God recognized that this is a difficult task, that a mighty hand will be necessary to free His people. But God has a mighty hand to do just that.

And when we have a task ahead of us that seems too great for us, then we are exactly where God wants us to be. He wants us to recognize that the task is too great for us, but not for Him. God still performs miracles today. He still rescues people from under the earthquake rubble, He still heals diseases, He still provides hope and peace. He doesn’t always perform the miracle we expect on our own timetable, but there is a promise He will keep because we have a covenant promise from Him. We have the promise of everlasting life with Him through His son, Jesus. And because we know God will fulfill that promise, even when we don’t see Him at work on our timetable, we can be sure He’s at work on His timetable. That will give us strength in our weakness, hope in our despair, and abundant life even in the valley of the shadow of death.

God is at work, though we may not see Him. He can use us with whatever flaws we have, because He has prepared us for this day. And he will use others to perform unexpected miracles in our life regardless of their flaws. He is the great ‘I AM.’ To God be the glory.

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Praying About Difficult Decisions

Posted on February 21, 2010. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I. Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives. I’ve lost my job; what should I do now? I have a medical issue; how should I treat it? Is this person right for me? Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often. Yearly, monthly, daily. Some of the decisions we face are very mundane. Should I wear this tie today? Some are more serious. Should I go to church and bible study today? And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices. Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses. I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations. And then the day finally came for me to have the operation. It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup. Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin. So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate. I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table. I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work. And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close. And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered. And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody. I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety. What was I thinking? What if something went wrong? Would this hurt? What if I was blinded? Can I change my mind? Can I get a refund? You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all. I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision. Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death. How did Jesus get through this decision? That’s what we’re going to study today in Mark 14.

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history. Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy. But the end of the chapter of Mark is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself. Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Mark 14 has a series of disappointments for Jesus. His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down. Let’s look at a couple of quick verses -

Verse 1. “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time. They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him. There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy. Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose? I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there? Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like? So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verse 17, the disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal. And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer. A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus. Verse 43, Judas leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in verse 53, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin. And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that in verse 68. And Mark 14 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen. How do you think Jesus felt? Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man. He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision. What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 -

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision?

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place. Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John – with Him for support.

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.” His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side. It had all come down to this. Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him. Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me. The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully. Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience.

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer. Our prayers are shallow. Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.” And I suspect most of the time we don’t. We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray. What are some of the reasons we don’t pray? (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 -

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God. Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing. He fell to the ground. He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request. And His first word is…. Abba. This is not the musical group Abba of the 70′s. Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word. Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to. He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship. “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament. The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul -

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6, And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to? A concept? A belief? The Force, like in Star Wars? Some vague deity somewhere in the sky? God wants more from you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you already. He wants an intimate, personal relationship. That sounds great. How do I do that?

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father. He only becomes our Father when we become his children. How do we become a child of God? John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do? Philippians 2:15, “You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10, “So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God. Everything is possible for you. What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers? We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible. The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers. I prayed and God didn’t answer.

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect. In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect. God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why. Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer. Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands. Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something.

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable. But God doesn’t force His will on anybody. But it’s not because God is not able. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself. I struggle with this, I don’t know why. I feel guilty, praying for myself. I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself. But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy? And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for?

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer. How much of that prayer is for us? Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation. It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us. Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves. But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right. The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” How do you know the will of God? To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible. It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example. Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God. I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God. I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something. Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on. I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will. Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur. But He added a “yet.” Yet not my will, but your will. Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us.

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

IV. Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer. Pray. Focus on God’s will. Choose God’s will. Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision. Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Creator of the Stars.

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