We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets, and these minor prophets have stark messages. These messages display God’s glory and how God communicates both His love and His wrath, and how they are both consistent with His character, that our God is a consuming fire that loves us gently, and He has given us what we need for service in this world and eternity with our Lord forever.
Through the minor prophets, we learn 3 things about God –
- God is sovereign. He alone is God. He alone is King. He alone is the Creator. He alone has the right to judge what is right and wrong. He alone is the great I AM.
- God is holy. He is perfect, He is all that is good. His holiness is untainted by evil, there is no sin in His presence. His wrath will destroy all that is evil, judged with perfect justice, revenge belongs to Him alone.
- God is love. His wrath is withheld so that no one may perish, but have everlasting life. He has given us His one and only son as a perfect sacrifice, not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us.
Zechariah is one of the more difficult of the minor prophets, not just for the Jews living under the Law at the time, but for us Christians today. Many of the verses are full of symbols and imagery; there are lampstands and menorahs, olive trees, flying scrolls, and a woman in a basket. Fortunately, there’s an angel speaking to Zechariah that explains much of the imagery, but it’s still a challenging book to understand.
Zechariah was a young man when he began his ministry; some scholars suggest he may have been as young as 16 years old. He was a contemporary and friend of the prophet Haggai, and while Haggai encouraged the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, Zechariah encouraged the people with the hope of a coming messiah and reign of glory.
The Book of Zechariah is divided primarily in 2 “advents.” The word “advent” means the arrival of something important, especially something that has been awaited. The first 9 chapters, which we’ll study today, prophecy the advent of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.
Let’s take a peek at our key verse today Zechariah 9: –
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This is the 1st advent, a prophecy of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem 500 years after Zechariah, of Jesus riding into town on a donkey, what we now call Palm Sunday. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, today is Palm Sunday, so I think it is so very appropriate that we’re studying this today.
The second half of the book of Zechariah concerns itself with the 2nd advent, or the 2nd coming of Jesus.
Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.
Revelation tells us that one day every knee will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but there are certain benefits to bending our knee voluntarily.
Today, as we look forward to Easter on this Palm Sunday, we are going to focus on the 1st advent, Zechariah’s prophecy of a messiah for Israel.
II. Examine the Prophecy
Most people who study Old Testament prophecy can point to the book of Isaiah for prophecy about Jesus the Messiah. Verses like …
- Will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
- Will have a Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1,2)
- Will be an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 11:1, 10)
- Will have His way prepared (Isaiah 40:3-5)
- Will be spat on and struck (Isaiah 50:6)
- Will be disfigured by suffering (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2)
- Will make a blood atonement (Isaiah 53:5)
- Will bear our sins and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, 5)
- Will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment for sin (Isaiah 53:7,8)
- Will be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7)
- Will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)
These are not the only prophecies about Jesus, of course. The Books of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezekiel – indeed, the entire Old Testament points to a Messiah who will suffer and die for us, taking away all of our sins.
The Jews understood – intellectually, at least – these prophecies of a messiah. This messiah would be a mighty king of both victory and peace. In Zechariah 9:9, the messiah is king –
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The messiah king would usher in a new day for Jerusalem. The days of captivity would finally be behind them, they would be free to worship and serve the king of the Jews. The Jews had not had a king since Babylon destroyed the temple, and this verse told the people that a king of impeccable character, righteous and victorious, was coming for them. A day to rejoice, a day to shout with triumph, a day to celebrate the arrival of their king.
In Zechariah 9:10, they knew the Messiah would be a man of peace –
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The Jews understood the coming Messiah to bring peace among men, among distant lands, from Jerusalem to the promised land of Abraham and his descendants to the very ends of the earth. His kingdom would be peaceful, because the Messiah was a victorious conqueror. There would be no need for weapons for the Messiah to establish His rule.
In the next two verses, Zechariah 9:11-12, the Messiah would be a man of victory –
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
The Messiah would be a mighty conqueror. Nothing would be able to withstand the might and power from heaven to rescue His daughter Zion from those that would persecute her. Those that had been captured by evil and confined to darkness would be rescued and set free, given hope and a stronghold in the Lord.
Zechariah often refers to the Lord as the “LORD of hosts”, as in chapter 1 verse 3. It could also be translated, “LORD of armies.” This is a powerful name of God, Jehovah, Leader of an army of angels and our strong and mighty tower. There is no need to fear with such a mighty leader of armies on the side of Zion.
When would this messiah come and rescue them? We have to look to other Old Testament prophets to get the whole picture, but a key prophecy is found in Daniel 9:25.
Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.
These “sevens” would have been very familiar to the Jews; each “seven” is a period of seven years, and the end of each seven years the Jews had a Sabbath year. And for the phrase “from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” we have go back to Nehemiah 2. Remember just a couple of months ago when we studied this? Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king Artaxerxes, and the in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad. Nehemiah had been praying for that moment, and he asked the king to let him rebuild the city.
Well, now it’s simple math to determine when the messiah comes. Artaxerxes came to power in 474BC. The twentieth year of his rule was 455 BC. “Seven ‘sevens’” is 49 years, and “sixty-two ‘sevens’” is another 434 years, so the Messiah arrives in 29AD. And since the Messiah is foretold to be in the temple, when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, Jews know the Messiah was to have come between 29AD and 70AD.
The timing of the Messiah has since come and gone, and Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. But if not Jesus, then who? I read several rabbinical letters on this subject. Through the years, the Jews have put their hope in a Messiah on several people through the years such as Bar Kokhba in 132 AD. Bar Kokhba fought a war against the Roman Empire, defeated the Tenth Legion and retook took Jerusalem. He resumed sacrifices at the site of the Temple and made plans to rebuild the Temple. He established a provisional government and began to issue coins in its name. Ultimately, however, the Roman Empire crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kokhba. After his death, the Jews said, “well, I guess he’s not the messiah, either.” Today, the Jews still wait for a messiah. They believe he didn’t come at the prophesied time because the Jewish people weren’t ready. The Jewish people will either have to be so good that they deserve a messiah to rule over them, or so bad that they deserve to have a messiah to rule over them.
How did the Jews miss the arrival of their messiah? They were looking for a mighty warrior. They were looking for a man of peace. They were looking for a king in the year 29AD while Jerusalem was occupied by Roman forces. And then, Jesus came riding to the temple on a donkey.
On one hand, I’m sort of glad the Jews missed the coming of the messiah. It’s because God knew the Jews would reject His one and only son that the offer was then extended to the gentiles, and gentiles like me have an opportunity to accept this offer of salvation. God’s not done with the Jews yet, they are still His chosen people. Following the tribulation, things will be different, and the Jewish leaders will receive Jesus’ love in their heart.
Ezekiel 36:26 –
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
III. Prophecy is true
How many prophecies did Jesus fulfill? The easy answer is “all of them.” It’s hard to determine an accurate count of the prophecies, but one study I read counted them at 365 prophecies foretelling the coming Jewish Messiah, of which 109 that *only* Jesus could have fulfilled.
Today, we know that Christ died for us on a tree, our sins upon Him and bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, that we may have everlasting life with Him. It is so obvious, nobody can miss it.
Or can they? I know people that have accepted Christ, but I know far more that haven’t. Some might even say they are Christian, but based on their fruit, they would be hard to recognize as believers. And others are agnostic, unsure of any belief. And some are atheistic, certain there is no God. And some follow other gods of their own making.
IV. Jesus came for us
Why did the Jewish people miss the 1st Advent of Christ? Or better yet, why do some of us still miss the signs of Jesus in our lives?
“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Jesus must be in our hearts, not just in our heads. Studying God’s Word is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation. Evangelizing is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation. Compassion, good works, attending church, prayer is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.
The Jewish religious leaders studied the Old Testament diligently. To them, salvation came with knowledge. If you understood the word, you were given a place in the kingdom of heaven. If you didn’t study, you were doomed.
John 7:49 –
The Pharisees said, “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”
2 Corinthians 3:15 –
But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.
But it’s not what you know in your head that counts, but rather faith that trusts Jesus as the Messiah – something these Jewish leaders were unwilling or unable to do. But we are to believe with our heart, not just our head –
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
Today, in Zechariah 9, we’ve learned that the Messiah was a king, victorious, peaceful, righteous, and humble.
Matthew 21:1-9 –
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus speaks to us even now. We must be in His word to hear him, or we miss the message He has for us. We must walk in His ways to see Him at work. We must be with believers to see His love in action.
Isaiah 53:3-6 –
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Our Messiah has arrived during this celebration of Palm Sunday. Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest heaven. Thank you for coming for us, king of victory, king of peace, king of righteousness. King of kings.
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A study of Zephaniah 1
The wrath of God by John Piper:
I thank the Lord again for my opportunity to serve Him today, and I pray my words are full of His truth today. Often my lessons have some humor, some lightheartedness because I truly believe that being a child of God should be a joyous occasion and bible study should be a happy place. Today’s lesson is from the minor prophet Zephaniah, and I do not know how to present this in a lighthearted way. In many ways, lessons on encouragement and love and kindness are easier to teach than fire and brimstone.
One of the things I like about Second’s bible studies is that, if you stick around long enough, we will study every book in the bible every 7 years, including little three-chapter books like Zephaniah, tucked in between Habakkuk and Haggai. It may be a little book, but the first chapter alone has a powerful message. It’s not comfortable, it’s not warm, it’s not fuzzy and feel-good … but it’s the Bible and it’s a Revelation from God and of God.
Tim mentioned a few weeks ago if I believed God was still a God of wrath, and I answered in the affirmative. Little did I know that that very lesson would be given to me to study and to teach.
I was so concerned about the tone of today’s lesson that I ran it by one of the Second Baptist pastors this week. He made a few tweaks, suggested some small changes, and he is now hiding under his bed waiting for the thunder and lightning to begin. One of his insights, though, was that if I felt that a study of God’s wrath was difficult, imagine what it was like for Zephaniah, bringing these words to the Jewish people?
Not much is known about Zephaniah. He lived about 640 BC, he prophesied in the days of King Josiah, and was a contemporary of Jeremiah. The purpose of his prophecy was to speak out against religious and moral corruption and idolatry in Jerusalem. His prophecy was fulfilled a few decades later when Jerusalem collapsed under a wave of immigrants.
Let’s turn to Zephaniah 1:1-6 and see the prophecy of the Day of Judgment of the entire earth.
The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
“I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
the very names of the idolatrous priests—
those who bow down on the roofs
to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
and who also swear by Molek,
those who turn back from following the Lord
and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”
Have we been led to believe that our God is only capable of love? That Yahweh is not capable of anger? That Jehovah God incapable of wrath and justice? Do we simply discard scripture that deals with His anger and wrath? Is our God limited and powerless against evil?
If we do not know that God hates pride, arrogance, and evil, then we do not know Yahweh. Proverbs 8:13,
To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.
If we do not believe that God Almighty will right every wrong, then we do not know Yahweh. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9,
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
God’s wrath in the Old Testament gives us examples of His tolerance for disobedience and sin. In the Old Testament, we can see God’s balance between love and justice and mercy. When Egypt held the Jews in captivity and in the fullness of time God when reached out to save his people, the Egyptians received God’s wrath. Psalm 78:43-48,
the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the region of Zoan.
He turned their river into blood;
they could not drink from their streams.
He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
and frogs that devastated them.
He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
their produce to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
He gave over their cattle to the hail,
their livestock to bolts of lightning.
Against Pharaoh who had hardened his heart against God, God turned their river into blood, sent swarms of biting flies and frogs, sent locusts to devour their crops, destroyed their vineyards with hail and sleet, destroyed their livestock with lightning.
The Old Testament is replete with examples of eradication of sin that sometimes involved destruction. The plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood of Noah, the destruction of Jerusalem.
It says in Psalm 78:49,
He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility—
a band of destroying angels.
He prepared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death
but gave them over to the plague.
Satan is most certainly behind all evil in this world, but Satan uses mankind to carry out his evil ways. God’s fury, God’s burning anger, calamity, and result of his anger is against mankind who serves Satan. God has been unjustly accused by Satan and mocked by unfaithful mankind. We have been offensive and insulting. This pride and arrogance on the part of man leads to calamity, a mighty correction of the perversion of justice we have done.
I want you to note carefully here that these plagues are not brought about by Satan, but by God. God is a warrior and will destroy evil. These end times plagues and judgments, the very wrath of God serve a purpose to cleanse His creation of all evil.
As Christians, we need to be able to reconcile the God of Love with the God of Wrath. Churches that teach only prosperity or love are teaching a watered down version of Truth that neglects to tell people the source of evil, the effects of evil, and the ultimate judgment of evil.
Our God is Love. Our God is Wrath. How do you explain this dichotomy? Or sometimes, the question is phrased this way: How can a loving God send people to hell?
We’ll come back to that question, but first, let’s take a look at ourselves. We are made in God’s image, and we know we are capable of love. But if someone lies to us, applies a false label to us, accuses us unjustly, do we not get angry? If we are capable of both love and anger, then it should not be hard to believe that our God who created us can be both loving and full of righteous anger.
We have a God of love, a God of beauty. But we also have a God of justice. A God who will judge the wicked, righting all wrongs. God hates sin. Intellectually, we know this, and we approve of this. God should punish the wicked. But we’re only ok with this philosophy as long as God is punishing others. “God, while I was changing lanes, that man cut me off. Smite him, Lord, either in this life or the next.” But our own sin? “God, I only stole because I needed it. Forgive me, Lord.”
What does the future hold for sinners? When we ask ourselves about all the evil in the world, what will God do? We have to go to the back of the bible, the book of Revelation, to see. (Just as an aside, after our study of the minor prophets, we will be studying Revelation this summer, ironically while it is hot as blazes out there.) Revelation describes end times philosophy, it begins with a greeting to the seven churches who served the Lamb of God, then gives praises to the king, and every creature in heaven and earth saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” In Revelation 6, The Lamb of God begins to open the seals of judgment against the earth, and the 4th seal, well let’s read Revelation 6:7-11,
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Then, the martyrs who have died for God beg God for justice (Revelation 6:9-11,
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
Who can stand from the wrath of God? Revelation 6:15-17,
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Here the wrath of God has not yet begun, but just opening the seals of judgment was terrifying enough that people hid in caves and begged for the mountains to fall on them.
In Revelation 8-9, the Seven Trumpets then announce the approach of God’s final judgment, and Revelation 9:20, mankind still refuses to give up idol worship. By Revelation 14, the Seven Angels bring Seven Plagues, and Revelation 17 the Seven Bowls full of the wrath of God are poured out upon the earth, punishment to wicked men for their evil ways. And even while the bowls of wrath are poured out over man, man curses God and refuses to repent.
God will destroy this evil in His creation, just as He said He would do. Evil will be destroyed, and Satan will be bound and cast into the Lake of Fire to burn forever. And those men that choose not to worship God, who choose to do evil in His sight, whose carnal desires are living away from the one true God, will receive the justice they deserve. God will not be mocked. Back to our minor prophet Zephaniah 1: 14-18,
The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
That day will be a day of wrath—
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness—
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
“I will bring such distress on all people
that they will grope about like those who are blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
Their blood will be poured out like dust
and their entrails like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.
III. Where are we?
We are mankind. We are all sinners, born of original sin. Born to make a choice in this world, who we will serve and honor. We are all born from the father of lies. We are born into sin. We want to sin. We are slaves to sin.
And when I say “we,” I mean everyone is born into sin. Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And the consequences are dire. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” The world is under God’s judgment, and we have been warned. God’s wrath is upon all men. We are all dead. Ephesians 2:1-3,
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
In Jeremiah 5:7-9, God’s people have asked for mercy, but God tells them adamantly that their sins will be their destruction.
“Why should I forgive you?
Your children have forsaken me
and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs,
yet they committed adultery
and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for another man’s wife.
Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”
As a people, as a nation, we are so far from God’s purpose, but we have become hardened and used to evils. We like our evils. What we once tolerated, we now celebrate. We are in the midst of the end times, where evil is called good and good is evil. Mankind has proven itself to be of Satan, and mankind celebrates it. We should fear God, holy and righteous, who not only has the power to judge what is good and what is evil, but he has the right. All sin will be destroyed in judgment and in the lake of fire. The sinner inside each of us will be judged and found wanting. Hebrews 10:30-31 says,
For we know [God] who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Our God is a consuming fire, and we are without excuse.
IV. Who then can be saved?
Is there no hope? If we are born in sin, and celebrate our sin, and die by our sin, is there no hope?
Not by our own strength. Even the apostle Paul famously said he continues to do what he does not want to do. The apostle Paul was a sinner, deserving of judgment and God’s wrath. You and I are sinners and deserving of God’s wrath. We can say that since we are churchy people, we are good and holy, but that is untrue. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Jesus’ disciples worried, too. In Matthew 19, the rich man asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life, and Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Wealth, both then and now, are often seen as blessings, rewards for a life well-lived. It was thought by others the man was wealthy because God had found favor with him, but Jesus said, no, he too is condemned. And the disciples cried out, “who then can be saved?”
Who indeed? Who is righteous among us if we are all sinners? How do you reconcile the God of beauty, of creation, of truth and righteousness with the God of revenge and wrath and destruction?
We have all sinned. Little white lies, or even the truth can be sinful if we’re being hurtful. Gossip, adultery, pride, lies, murder, stealing. What are some of the things God hates? Romans 1:18-32,
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
We are bound for destruction, the penalty for sin is death. We have no place next to the pure holy Jehovah God with even the tiniest sin. And His wrath will be complete, and we are right to fear God’s wrath. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
We need help. If the punishment for sin is death, then we need somebody else to *be* sin and die for us. We need a savior. Somebody fully man who understands life’s trials and temptations, yet remained fully innocent. He would have to be innocent; the guilty cannot take the punishment for another person when he himself is guilty. And not just a man who can take the place of one person, but someone who can take away the sins of the world. We need Jesus. Oh Lord, how we need Jesus.
There is cause for celebration in the midst of our message today. Jesus has paid the price for our sin. He took the punishment we deserve. We are saved from the destruction and the wrath of God we deserve. Hallelujah.
Our holy God of Wrath and justice is also a God of mercy and hope and ultimate love. Our God has always given His people hope. John 3:16-18,
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.
That’s ultimate love and sacrifice. I stand deserving of the wrath of God for the sins I’ve committed. I deserve punishment. But God so loved me that he sacrificed His only son to take the wrath I deserve. And God so loved you, that he gave up His son to take the wrath for you. Not because we’re such fabulous people, but he did this for us while we were still sinners and deserving of wrath. Why? Because we have a beautiful living awesome God of love and mercy and forgiveness. I don’t know why God loves me, but I am so grateful that He does. He’s forgiven my sins, clothed me in the blood of Jesus, lets me walk boldly to His throne with my prayers, and has made me His adopted son. I am a child of the one true king. Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did. I am no longer condemned. Jesus saves, Amen.
So let’s go back to our earlier question, “how can a loving God condemn people to hell?” It’s not the right question. The question completely misses the character of God. God’s wrath will come to those who deserve it, and God’s mercy and grace will come to His people who do not deserve it. A better question might be, “Why are any of us saved?” God has provided a savior for us, freely available to all who choose it. He has reached out His mighty hand and asks us to take it so we may live. It is available to everyone. It was the purpose of Jesus, to save us. We often refer to Jesus as our Savior, but do we truly grasp what He saved us from, the Wrath of God? 1 John 3:8 says,
The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
We may be saved from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, but God still hates sin, even this sin in us. But as children of God, it is not God we war with. We battle Satan and His plans, we put on our full armor of God and brandish the sword of truth. God still hates the sin we think, the sin we speak, and the sin we do. But on that Day of Judgment, we escape the punishment because our savior has already paid for our sins. God’s full wrath was on Jesus that day and God poured out His wrath painfully on Jesus who became sin for us so that we might live.
God’s judgment on the world is still yet to come. Why has God not yet pronounced judgment? That day is coming quickly. 2 Peter 3:8-10 says,
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.
So that no one may perish, He stays his wrath. God has so far exhibited two thousand years of patience with us, but one day God’s justice will demand satisfaction. Time is running out. God loved you will you were yet a sinner; who do you love? God forgave you while you were still a sinner; who will you forgive? Spread the Good News that Jesus loves them, too. They just have to accept the free gift, to allow God’s son to bear the burden for their sin. Evangelize. Save those who you love. And who do you love? Family, friends, and the good book says we are to love our enemies. God gave his son for the world, so that no one may perish.
But one day his patience will end. Time is running out. The coming of Man will be sudden, God will call the righteous home and promises that all the indignities that we have suffered, the abuse we endured for His sake, He will avenge, He will make right. His wrath will be poured out. It is not for us to fight that battle; revenge and wrath belongs to the Lord.
It is time for all of God’s selected to accept the gift of life that God has freely offered. Tell others that time is running out. John 3:36,
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
It is a fearful thing to know that God’s wrath awaits. Philippians 3:18-20,
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Even in the wrath described in Zephaniah 1:7 we find hope –
Be silent before the Sovereign Lord,
for the day of the Lord is near.
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited.
When will this Day of Judgment come? Scripture tells us that no one knows the day or the hour. That’s why the time to accept our Savior is urgent.
Are you ready?
Time is running out, the wrath of God approaches. Choose life. Choose Jesus.
To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
The wall is built around Jerusalem. Chris taught us last week that we are all on the winning Superbowl team, even though not all of us are recognized. We have a great quarterback, great coaches, and one awesome owner.
So… we’re done, right? The wall is built. What’s left to do?
How about an after-party celebration in honor of the Owner?
II. Nehemiah 8. The People Rejoice
Let’s open our bibles to Nehemiah chapter 8:1-10 –
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Ah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” That phrase was with me all weekend.
In verse 9, the people were weeping as they listened to the words. Why do you think they were weeping?
III. A Bad Word
The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information. For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. This is found in the book of Guinness, where beer was first mentioned.
After the book of Guinness comes the book of Exodus. The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw. Then Moses led the Israelites into the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven. Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.
After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat.
I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says. But the bible is a big book. Do you know what it really says? God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass. The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” God speaks to us through his Word.
If we don’t know the Word, then we can be misled. Let’s take a little quiz –
Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from a) patience, b) God, c) man’s labor. (Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)
Question 2: In 2 Corinthians 4:9, Christians are persecuted but not a) depressed, b) suffering, c) abandoned. (Answer: Persecuted but not abandoned).
Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible? A) Make hay while the sun shines, b) Eat, drink, and be merry, c) In the nick of time. (Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry.)
Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible? A) fly in the ointment, b) rule of thumb, c) dyed in the wool. (Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)
Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible? A) Money is the root of all evil, b) God helps those who help themselves, c) without rhyme or reason. (Answer: Actually none of those are in the bible.)
Let’s try something more recent, a quiz on Nehemiah. (Hint: It’s the book we’ve been reading for the last 6 weeks).
- Under which Persian king did Nehemiah return to rebuild Jerusalem? A) Artaxerxes, king of Persia, B) Cyrus, king of Persia, C) Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, D) Sennacherib, king of Assyria? (Answer: C, Nebuchadnezzar)
- Nehemiah was concerned by the news he received from the land of Judah for what reason? A) Jerusalem’s walls and gates were in disrepair, B) Drought had destroyed all the crops, C) Romans had invaded the land, D) The temple was in shambles. (Answer: a), the walls were in disrepair)
- Which of the following was not the name of a gate in ancient Jerusalem? A) Sheep, B) Fish, C) Pearl, D) Dung (Answer: C, Pearl)
- How long did it take to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership? A) 70 weeks, B) 52 days, C) 40 days and nights, D) 13 months (Answer: b, 52 days)
- Who stood and read the Law after the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt by Nehemiah? A) Nehemiah, B) King David, C) Ezra, D) Moses (Answer: c, Ezra)
If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God is saying to you? How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth? If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?
When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books. I found his books inspiring and comforting, easy to understand. I still Like Max Lucado’s books. But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said was God’s Word. Why would I think Max Lucado is a better source of truth than the Source of Truth itself? The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God through His Word for the answers.
Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time. The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation. To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7 –
“And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character. The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.” The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm. Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.” That sort of torah. The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor. Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments. They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached. Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.
In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important. Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. In our time, the bible is the bestselling book ever, every year. At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone. Worldwide sales of the top 8 bestselling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year. Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.
But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah. No neighborhood OfficeMax. Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy. So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?
Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great reading of God’s Word from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.
Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight? I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever. Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.
The value of reading or listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous. Scripture can be taken out of context to prove almost any point, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear. We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives. The Word of God is powerful.
The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God. The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it. Once it is revealed, we can repent. Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God. But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin. We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears. The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.
You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?” That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all. We can’t clean ourselves up good enough to get to heaven. We bring our messy, filthy sins to God, confess them, and God will give us the strength and wisdom to get clean. God does a much better job of cleaning my soul than I can do on my own.
IV. A Sharp Word
How does the bible do this? It’s because the bible is not just a book. Let’s see what the bible says about the bible –
Let’s turn to the book of John, book 1, verse 1-5, 14 –
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Right away we can see that the Word of God is more than just words in a book. The Word of God is holy, the very words of God, the very words of Jesus, who gave His very life to live among us and to freely give His life for us that we may live.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 –
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
God speaks these words, every one of them. Not taken out of context, but all of the words. It is useful, it corrects us, it trains us, it prepares us. The word of God in its entirety is meant to be applied to our everyday lives.
2 Peter 1:20-21
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The bible is not a man’s interpretation of God; the bible is directly from God through the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit inspired the men to write the books of the Bible. Each book may have an individual’s flair or spiritual gift influencing him – certainly the book of John is very different than the book of Luke – but the words themselves come directly from God.
Hebrews 4:12-14 –
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
The word is relevant to our lives, and we discover through the word what pleases and displeases the Lord, and we are compelled to repent from sin. But that sin is embedded into our very fabric, and giving it up isn’t easy. The Word of God cuts like a knife, surgically removing sin from our lives.
John 8:31-32 –
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Often we don’t even know we are a slave to sin. We can be very sincere about our beliefs, but sincerity is not enough. Religious people can be wrong. But following the teachings of Jesus, becoming a follower of Jesus, is the only way to eternal freedom.
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Don’t believe what you are told. If I teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if what I said is true. If Theresa or Libby or especially Chris teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true. If Dr. Young teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true. If the Apostle Paul himself appears before you in a great flash of light and teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true. God doesn’t mind if you question what you’re told. In fact, he will consider you noble if you read the bible for yourself.
And finally, our class anthem, Ephesians 6:17,
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The Word of God does more than protect us; it allows us to go on the offense against the powers of darkness. It is a double-edged sword of the Spirit. We are well equipped with the Word of God.
V. A Good Word
At the end of Nehemiah 8, in verse 9, the people have heard the word of God, they have been cut by the double-edged sword of God, their thoughts and attitudes of the heart have been judged. And the people are weeping.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
They realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen. But let’s look back at Nehemiah verse 2 for a second. What day is this? It’s the first day of the seventh month. Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:
The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “
First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin. Talk about opening the floodgates. This is a holy day, a Sabbath day. A day made for rest, a day made for feasting. It’s a day for celebration. Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.
Celebrate that we have read the Word, that we are on a path to understand God’s unique will for us. Nehemiah 8:10-12,
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians. We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery? Why should it be a bad thing to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards? We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?
Instead, it should be an opportunity. Celebrate! With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us. If we repent of our sin, that is great news! That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord. The angels rejoice at the news of our repentance. Luke 15:10, Jesus says,
there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities. That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated. They went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” 1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.” God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word. If you’re not experiencing joy when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right. Ask the Lord to help. Go to Him in prayer and ask Him. Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life. Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.” God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life. And let us sing the praises of Christ our Savior for His Word and His beautiful mercy and grace, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.
To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We covered Esther in two weeks and Ezra in two weeks, like we were in a hurry. But we’re going to slow down and spend the next several weeks in Nehemiah. Let’s dive right in with an introduction to Nehemiah, who he is and what he’s doing.
II. Background History
The Jewish people had sinned and God had judged them; it was approximately 605 years before Christ. God used Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, to invade Judah and lay siege to Jerusalem. In 597 BC, the prophet Ezekiel (who we studied just 2 months ago), documented the pillaging of Jerusalem and the deportation of Jews to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as the tributary king of Judah. However, despite Ezekiel’s warning, Zedekiah entered into an alliance with Pharoah Hophra of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar II responded by sacking Jerusalem a second time in 587 BC and destroying Solomon’s temple. The Jewish king Zedekiah was forced to watch his two sons executed, then the king’s eyes were put out and the king was imprisoned until his death. The remaining healthy Jews still in the city were taken to Babylon, leaving behind only the weak, the poor, the sick. The city of Jerusalem was raised to the ground.
Thus began the Diaspora of the Jews which continues to this day. The Diaspora refers to Jews that live outside of the Kingdom of Judah. Today, about 44% of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel, the rest are the Diaspora, Jews scattered mostly in the US and Western European countries.
The Jewish people lived as servants in Babylon, and many, like Daniel, Mordecai and Esther, and Nehemiah proved themselves trustworthy and faithful. They understood the exile as a consequence for their sins.
Fifty years go by, and the king of Babylon is now Cyrus the great. In 538 BC, Cyrus’s Declaration was issued which permitted Jews to return to the land of Israel. Then began the return to Zion, called Aliyah by the Jews, which continues to this day.
In Nehemiah’s time, there were 4 waves of Aliyah, returning to Zion, after Cyrus’s Declaration. The prophet Ezra tell us the first Aliyah was small, approximately 1000 young Jews led by Sheshbazzar to rebuild the holy temple on the temple mount in 538 BC. The second Aliyah was larger, later that same year, and led by Zerubbabel, and totaled nearly 50,000 people.
A third Aliyah was led by Ezra himself when Ezra was an old man, years later in 458 BC, and 5000 additional Jews returned to Zion. Ezra strengthened religious laws and the use of the Hebrew alphabet which was critical to the identity of the Jewish people as separate and holy.
The book of Nehemiah chronicles the life of Nehemiah and the fourth wave of Aliyah. In the book of Nehemiah, chapter 1, Nehemiah identifies a mission, a service to the Lord, and we can learn much about how he learns of his mission, how he prepares for his mission, and how he executes his mission. Let’s look at Chapter 1, and I love the way this book begins. It identifies Nehemiah’s mission and right away how he approaches God.
The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:
“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah learns that the place of his ancestors is in poor condition and in need of help, and it moves Nehemiah to tears. Nehemiah cried and fasted and prayed to God, and his prayer is a study on how to pray. There is praise and worship, there is confession, there is adoration and supplication and application of scripture. Nehemiah was a man of prayer which is also why I believe he was also a man of action. God was with Nehemiah because Nehemiah was constantly with God. Nehemiah did not act without praying first, and did not pray without acting.
Nehemiah is the king’s cupbearer, a position of no small importance. Wine presented to the king would first pass through Nehemiah, who would taste the wine for signs of poison. Nehemiah, as cupbearer, would be in nearly constant presence of the king, and so would also be an unofficial advisor with the king’s ear.
Months go by without an answer from God. Chapter 1 says Nehemiah starts praying in the month of Kislev. He prays throughout the month of Tevet, the month of Shvat, the month of Adar, the month of Nisan. And in the month of Nisan, Nehemiah is in the presence of King Artaxerxes, looking sad. The king must have been very familiar with Nehemiah’s presence, notices Nehemiah’s sad face and asks why. Nehemiah explains that he is sad because the city of Jerusalem is in ruins. Chapter 2, verse 4, the king said, “What is it you want?”
And again Nehemiah shows us why he is such a man of God. He’s been praying for 4 straight months, but when he is finally in the right place, right time, in front of the king, verse 4 says Nehemiah first prayed to the God of heaven, and then answered the king. We don’t know the content of this prayer, but by necessity it had to be a short prayer. Maybe it was “Lord have mercy” or “Thank you O Lord” or “Lord be with me” or “Your will be done, O Lord.” It shows that Nehemiah knows this meeting with the king is the answer to his prayer in Chapter 1, and Nehemiah is going to go to the Lord before he says or does anything.
III. Power of Prayer and Patience
Prayer is powerful, and I confess I do not fully understand why. I am a flawed man, full of sin and selfish pride. God’s judgment and wrath rightfully belongs on me for my sin, but instead, God has extended His grace to me, given me mercy by sacrificing His own son for me. It is only because of the blood of Jesus that I can approach God and His holiness at all, and when I do approach God, God listens to me. He cares for me. He loves me. And He loves it that I pray to Him. I have nothing to offer God except me, and I only exist because God willed it. And yet, God loves prayer. Proverbs 15:29 says,
“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.”
And James 5:13-16 says,
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
We are only righteous because of our faith and obedience to Christ Jesus, not of our own doing. But it pleases the Lord to answer the prayers of the righteous.
Nehemiah prayed for months. Sometimes he prayed aloud, other times he prayed silently. Nehemiah prayed patiently for 4 months.
How long is patience? Is being patient waiting for 4 months? While 4 months is a long time, you and I may have prayers that last longer than that. I know I do, and I have unanswered prayers that go on for years. How long is patience? I think it’s always 1 more month. Or 1 more year. Or 1 more whatever. Just keep praying.
God always answers prayer. Sometimes the answer is “no” or maybe the answer is “not yet,” and it’s not the answer we were looking for. But we go to God in prayer, in faith that the Creator God of the Universe can answer it.
That’s how Nehemiah prayed. And the Lord God moved the heart of King Artaxerxes to provide all the materials necessary for Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem. But not all were pleased to see the Lord answering prayers; Nehemiah 2:10 says,
“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.”
Even when the Lord is answering prayer, obstacles may still exist. Often those obstacles are people, naysayers, they tell you it cannot be done or that it’s not worth doing. Or that your God is a little god and isn’t really on your side.
But our God is an all-consuming fire. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. And when God is for us, who can be against it? Nehemiah led the fourth Aliyah to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, knowing God was answering prayers.
IV. Twelve Gates of Jerusalem
Let’s take some time out to examine the work before Nehemiah. He’s rebuilding the city walls for two reasons. One is to protect the small Jewish community that returned to Jerusalem from attack; the walls had collapsed or been torn down, leaving little or no defense. The other reason is to bring glory to God; this was city of the temple of the Lord.
You might think Nehemiah chapter 3 looks boring with its list of gates and builders. And if you read Nehemiah 3 by itself, I might agree with you. I’d rather watch old reruns of “home Improvement” with Tim Allen that read this old boring list of people building gates. But you may have heard that every word of the bible is important, so let’s dig a little further and see if twelve gates of Jerusalem are described anywhere else in the bible. If we read all the way to the end of the bible, we find the twelve gates of Jerusalem are described in Revelation 21.
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The twelve gates of the New Jerusalem have their origins in the twelve gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, and suddenly we realize that we’re not just studying Nehemiah restoring Jerusalem, but it is also a prophetic picture of God restoring His church, the spiritual City of God. Revelation goes on to describe each door as a single pearl, but we also know that Jesus is the pearl of great price.
Revelation is written with some amazing imagery and symbolism, and the one of the keys to understanding Revelation is to understand the Old Testament picture first. Each gate had specific meaning to Jews in their daily life, and each gate has a spiritual meaning for Christians.
The Sheep Gate, rebuilt by Eliashab the high priest. The Sheep gate led to the sheep markets where lambs were sold for sacrifice in the Temple. The gate also led to Golgotha, the path Jesus walked to His crucifixion. For Christians, the Sheep Gate is the first gate into our lives, where we accept Jesus as the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the door by which everyone must enter to be saved. And if we read all the way to the end of Nehemiah 3, the last gate mentioned is the Sheep Gate. We’ve come full circle around the walls of Jerusalem, and realize that everything starts and ends with Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus is our high priest that restores our relationship with the Lord.
It’s interesting to me that when Eliashab rebuilt the Sheep Gate, Nehemiah 3 says they “dedicated it and set its doors in place.” Every other door we’re going to study says they rebuilt their gate and set the doors and bolts and bars in place. The Sheep Gate has no locks on it. The sacrifice of Jesus is always open to every sinner, and access to the other gates is impossible without first accepting Jesus.
Also, look how much work Eliashab did rebuilding the Sheep Gate. They went as far as the Tower of the Me’ah or the Tower of the One Hundred and to the Tower of Hananel which means “God’s mercy.” Remember when Jesus said if a shepherd loses a sheep, he’ll leave the other 99 and go look for it? Between the Tower of God’s Mercy and Jesus looking for His lost sheep, God is calling to us. And we’re 3 verses into this list of gates and builders and we realize there is great meaning in this list of gates and builders. The Sheep Gate is the Gate of Salvation.
Next to the Sheep Gate is the Fish Gate where merchants brought fish to the fish market. Jesus told Peter, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” After receiving the Lamb of God through the Sheep Gate, God begins to use us to reach other unbelievers. The Fish Gate represents the Gate of Witnessing, of spreading the message. And if you look at verse 5, the fish gate was “repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work. “ Jesus didn’t come to spread the good news to the rich, but was born in a manger, among the common people. During the ministry of Jesus, He gave us many warnings how wealth can hinder our walk with Him. Whether rich or poor, the message is for everybody.
The third gate is the Jeshanah Gate which means the Old Gate. This is where elders of the city would meet to discuss important matters and issue judgments on disputes. God’s truth never changes, it’s as old as time itself. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And the wisdom of our elders should be respected. Let’s call this gate a Gate of Foundation. I started thinking of it as the Gate of the Old Testament.
The Valley Gate led out to two main valleys that divided Jerusalem. To the west was the Hinnom Valley. The Ammonites had built an altar here to Molek and sacrificed children by fire. Josiah rendered the valley ceremonially unclean by spreading human bones over it in 2 Kings 23. The name itself “Ge Hinnom” is also used for hell itself, the Lake of Fire. The other valley is Kidron that Jesus crossed to go to the Garden of Gethsemane. In 1st and 2nd Kings, this valley was used to burn pagan altars and images during the cleansings of Jerusalem. The Valley Gate is a Gate of Suffering for Spiritual Growth, as Jesus showed us the night before his crucifixion. But though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
The Dung Gate. Yuck. The garbage of the city was taken out of this gate. Notice it also leads to the unclean Hinnom valley. It represents the sin in our lives. But the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin if we just accept Him. Then we can place all of our sin and shame at the feet of Jesus, whose blood cleanses us of all sin.
The Fountain Gate, primary access to the Gihon Spring, the sole source of water to Jerusalem. All of the fountains like the Pool of Shiloah were fed from this spring. What do you think this represents to us? Jesus is the Fountain of Living Water. If anyone is thirsty, let them come to Him and drink.
The Water Gate is the 7th gate, and 7 is the Bible number for perfection. This gate needed no repair. The water symbolizes the washing by the Holy Spirit. Later, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra will stand in front of the Water Gate and read from the Book of the Law to the people.
The Horse Gate, where the King’s chariot passed through. In the bible, the horse represents both discipline (James 3:3) and warfare (Zechariah 10:3). Make no mistake, we are in a spiritual battle, for which we must put on the full Armor of God.
The East Gate is also called the Golden or Beautiful Gate and it symbolizes the return of our Messiah and waiting on the Lord. In Zechariah 14:4 it says, “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.” The week before His crucifixion, Jesus spent each night on the Mount of Olives . Each morning he would enter through the East Gate. He later ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives and will return the same way He left. At that time He will again pass through the East Gate into the city of Jerusalem.
The Miphkad Gate. Miphkad apparently is a difficult word to translate, it means meeting place, muster point, appointment, numbering in a census, or inspection. Appointed Place or Inspection seems the best translation, and this is the final gate before the entrance to the Temple. It is the place where God calls his people together at the final judgment.
The other two gates are mentioned later in Nehemiah. The Ephraim Gate is described in Nehemiah 12 and was associated with the Feast of Tabernacles which is God’s feast for the harvest of the last days. It means “Doubly Fruitful” and could refer to “Jew and Gentile” or “Earthly and Heavenly”.
Prison Gate, in Act 12 Peter is led by an angel through this gate. All wickedness will be judged, and only those who have accepted Christ Jesus as their advocate escape punishment.
The order of the twelve gates represents our spiritual growth. We begin at the Sheep Gate by the forgiveness of our sins by the sacrifice of our Savior. We become fishers of men at the Fish Gate and tell everybody about the Christ Jesus. The Old Gate is our foundation of our faith, the Valley Gate is our purification. The Dung gate is the rejection of our old life and sinful ways. The Fountain Gate as we drink from the Living Water of Christ Jesus, the washing of our sins by the Holy Spirit at the Water Gate. We put on the full Armor of God at the Horse gate to stand ready to fight the spiritual battles. We await the return of our Messiah at the East Gate. The final Miphkad Gate is a gathering of God’s people at the final judgment for eternal life, paid for by the blood of Jesus at the Sheep Gate.
The diaspora of God’s people. We have been separated from God by our sins. The Aliyah of God’s people. We return to the Lord, our sins paid for by the blood of the Christ. We are patient and prayerful until His final return, we gather for an eternity with Him inside the Twelve Gates of the New Jerusalem.
Revelation 21 again, verse 1:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
When will this day come, the day of our resurrection and dwelling in New Jerusalem forever? We must continue to pray and be patient, for however long “patient” lasts. The day will come when I will stand with you, my brothers and sisters, inside the walls of the New Jerusalem and sing the praises of Christ our Savior.
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Chris wrapped up the book of Hebrews last week admirably with his statement that the husband always makes the coffee. That’s why it is called, “He brews.”
No, seriously, he wrapped up with, “How shall we live.” Hebrews taught us that Jesus is sufficient for everything we need, and that He equips us today for today. We have everything we need in Him to love, to worship, to serve, to study, to do everything and anything God asks us to do.
Now we’re going to spend two weeks on the book of Esther and see God’s people under a time of difficulty, and see how God calls His people to do His will at the time He calls them.
II. Background History
Two weeks is really too short to do the book of Esther justice. The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing.
We have a soap opera to review here, there are a lot of people involved right up front. Let’s talk about the book itself. The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim. The book is interesting for what it does not mention. It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem. It’s a story. A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.
III. Esther 1
Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC. Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces. Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.
That’s a huge swath of civilization. So how did a simple Jewish girl in exile become Queen of Persia?
Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.
Mordecai the Jew. He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin. He lives in Susa in the center of Persia. The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus. We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old. Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.
In Esther 2:7,
“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”
So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, sometimes he’s Uncle Mordecai.
We also have Esther who is called Hadassah. She’s a Jewish orphan girl. Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name. Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther. She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.
The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name. Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word. Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes. Since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.
Queen Vashti. Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. She’s married to Xerxes.
As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration. And I mean massive. It is a celebration that last 6 months long. The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months. And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done. Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors. There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl. And it says in verse 8, “By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”
So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk. He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot. You guys want to see her? Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti. Tell her to wear her crown.”
Vashti is in the palace. She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time. The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men. PS. Wear your crown.” Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”
So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.” And the king is mad. He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown. He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king. If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband. Wearing a crown.”
I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions. It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends. After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.
Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.
Exit Vashti, stage left. End Act I.
IV. Esther 2
As we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering with his hangover. One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants. All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
Enter Mordecai and Esther. Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her. She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily. He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan. After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees. Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is. Get a crown.”
Esther is made Queen of Persia. A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head. An incredible turn of events for her.
You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts. Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive here? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty. Her beauty was a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Kardashian, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther also has both external and internal beauty which we will be seeing soon.
And Mordecai? He’s exactly where God wants him, too. During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king. He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king. Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s annals in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero. We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God. But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention. Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.
V. Esther 3
In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,
After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.
I’ve always wondered about this. Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored. Is it because Mordecai was a Jew? Was it because Haman took credit?
This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who have constantly been harassing the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
These are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “
And of course the Israelites were obedient, right? But nooooo… You may remember this story, God has commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!” And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?” And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep. Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.” The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.
Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.
King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.
Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.
Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the king’s gate bowed down to him. The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith. The others in the kingdom must have been distressed, verse 3 says the other spoke to him every day, asking Mordecai why he’s disobeying the king’s command.
Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.
Before we leave this passage, let’s look at Esther 3:7. As Pagans, it was common at the time to consult astrologers for serious decision, and Haman consults the “stars” to pick the right time to approach the king. Lots would be cast, most likely a colored or dark pebble would be drawn from others to determine the right month, day and time for the extermination of the Jewish people. This process is known as “Pur” or to “cast pur,” from the Persian language and practice. Hence, the Feas of Purim that the Jewish people celebrate, a feast of deliverance.
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”
Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.
As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites. Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told? The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’re still not bowing down. The Amalekites sit at the gate of information. They taint Christians with half-truths:
- control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
- Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
- Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.
The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:
- Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
- The NBC show “The Book of Daniel” that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.
The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:
- No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
- We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.
The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:
- People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
- “Under God” removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).
So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.
Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces. This took a lot of time since they didn’t have email or FoxNews. In verse 13,
Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.
The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate. Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa. In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered. The Jews had been loyal subjects. Why had the king ordered them destroyed?
Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –
When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.
Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Verse 2,
But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.
Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Verse 3,
In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace. Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.
This is a terrifying request to Esther. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.
How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do our will? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?
Fear not. God’s got this. God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.
In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians. It says,
Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.
In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted. How? It says, right in the middle of those verses, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.” Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.
Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’t bloom. I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens. The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian. Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people. If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone. Maybe she wasn’t stuck. Maybe she was just planted.
And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy. The only reason grass is green is because it’s watered and cared for. If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.
Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?
Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.
Mordecai says in verse 13-14,
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.
Examine yourself and where you are in this world. God placed you right here for a reason. Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for God’s purposes, every minute of the day. Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God. Bloom where you are planted.
What did Esther do? Come back next week, and Libby will tell you.
To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose. Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions. The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.
Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood. He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world. He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God. And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.
The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied. Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what? What are we supposed to do with all this information? So Jesus is great, I get that. But what does it mean for me?
The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love. We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love. But what is faith?
II. What Faith is Not
We all place our faith in something. In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it. When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing. When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.
We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities. There are lots of self-help books out there. I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books. I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation. There were 351,562 books in total.
|Anger Management (841)|
|Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)|
|Communication & Social Skills (140)|
|Death & Grief (16,156)|
|Eating Disorders (2,739)|
|Handwriting Analysis (710)|
|Inner Child (554)|
|Journal Writing (216)|
|Memory Improvement (1,894)|
|New Age (955)|
|Personal Transformation (75,093)|
|Stress Management (11,539)|
|Time Management (2,233)|
I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like. We may find we come up short and we need some more help.
We can also have faith in others. But can people let us down? We can be disappointed in others. They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us. People can let us down sometimes.
We may even have faith in faith itself. Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen. Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God. That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking. (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do). Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful. The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8). It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.
And what we need most is Jesus. The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.
III. Does Faith Replace Reason?
Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs. Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason. If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason. If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith. Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark. They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”
If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Faith without reason is stupid. If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense? Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything. In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event: Christ is raised from the dead. If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe. Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.
But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead. Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty. Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus. And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it. And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.
We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive. The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus. Why would they die for a lie? But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise. They knew who He was.
No, our biblical faith is based on reason. Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.
IV. Dead Faith
Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice. If we do not, our faith is dead. Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have. Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine. We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain. We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription. I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work. I believe everything about this medicine. But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on. That’s dead faith, useless faith.
No, we must do something with the faith. James 2:14-19 says,
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith. The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved. Knowing that, can we let those we love perish? What kind of useless faith is that?
V. Little Faith
Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action. Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us. After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson. Surely that is enough? We’re not church elders or pastors or staff. It’s those people that have an abundance of faith. It’s enough that I’m here, right?
I haven’t been a Christian long. I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true. Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections. I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction. I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.
I guess it’s been longer than I thought. That’s coming up on 20 years ago. I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.
I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study. You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on. Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us. But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God. The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were. I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself. But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching. If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?
Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge. I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough. I didn’t have enough faith. I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.
And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have. Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow. The Lord has equipped me for today. So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew. I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since. And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today. I only had a little faith, but that was enough.
Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same? I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples. They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them. Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?” I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough. They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.
But these men of little faith went a long, long way. They were given the task of evangelizing the world. It doesn’t take much faith. In fact, it takes very, very little faith. With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain. You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.
VI. What Can Faith Do?
What can our little faith do? God will do amazing things with our faith. Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today. This is what faith can do –
- By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
- By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
- By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
- By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
- By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
- The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.
A little faith is enough. A little faith is more than enough. The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.
Faith is taking God at His word. His entire word. Full confidence that every word is true. That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.
I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too. God can use my little faith to move mountains. My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient. And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.
Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,
“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”
To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The book of Hebrews might have been written by Paul – that seem to be the consensus of the experts – but there are certain verses and phrases that only appear in Hebrews, so it’s hard to be sure. In any event, the author is writing to Jewish converts to Christianity who are undergoing hardships like crucifixion, being fed to lions, things like that. Sort of puts our complaints in perspective, I think. “I spilled coffee on my slacks! Why do bad things always happen to me? Doesn’t God love me?”
So the author tells these Jews basic truths to encourage them. Last week in Hebrews 1, as Chris taught, they were reminded that Jesus was the messiah they had waited for and who Jesus was. Now, in the beginning of Hebrews 2, these converted Jews – let’s call the “Christians” – are reminded to pay attention to what they have learned and why.
We only have 4 verses today to study, how long could this possibly take? Let’s look at them.
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
II. Listen & Pay Attention (Hebrews 2:1)
What happens when we do not pay attention? In our car? At work? With children? Unexpected things – mostly bad things – happen. Few people unexpectedly win the lotto when they’re distracted. They’re more likely to get into a fender bender with the car in front of them.
It’s hard to consistently pay attention. Distractions easily take away our focus. I struggle with this in my nightly prayers, “Lord please bless Joe and his wife through their struggles, even if he is a University of Texas grad. Texas A&M is such a better school. The football team is great, lean years are behind them, unlike SMU who had that NCAA “death penalty” assessed back in… 1984? 1986? I can’t remember. I think I had already graduated, but when I heard about SMU was I in College Station? Or Oklahoma? I moved there in 2005… sorry, I mean 1985. Man, time flies. I’m definitely getting older. I think it’s starting to show. I wonder whether stretching exercise for flexibility is more important than strength training when you get older… I’m sorry, Lord. Where was I?”
Paying attention takes practice, like Patrick’s syncopation skills. Instead, like a bright shiny trinket dangled in front of us, the world distracts us from importance.
So where were we? Which book are we in again? Oh yes, Hebrew 2, verse 1.
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” That word in the middle is “therefore,” and you’ve probably heard the phrase that “whenever we see a therefore, we should ask what it is there for.” Therefore refers to all of chapter one which told us how God speaks to us and who Jesus is. God spoke to us first through the prophets, and in these last days – the church age – God has spoken to us through His Son, His Son who is the Incarnate God, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, the Son of God, Heir of all things, the Creator of all things, our hope and bread of life, our cornerstone, the Faithful and True, the Great Shepherd, the Horn of Salvation, the King of Ages, the Prince of Peace, and far superior to the angels – “therefore.”
No wonder the author of Hebrews tell us to pay attention. God himself dwelt among us to bring us this message, and He suffered and died for it. Is there anything else in your life that you can say is honestly more important than that?
The world around us distracts us. We get busy with “stuff” that’s “important.” Our kids, our jobs, our smartphones. Ooh, squirrel! But is there anything more important that God’s Word? A handbook for life, a reason for living, a prescription for salvation? If we could only learn to pay attention to what God is saying to us. Matthews 6:33 says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” All the things that are important in life – not necessarily what we think is important – will be given to us if we just seek God and pay attention.
How hard is it to pay attention with distractions? Let me show you a very short video. I may have to show it twice, and you’ll understand once you see it. Watch this and pay close attention.
God wants us to continually focus on Him, to pay attention, or we’ll drift away. What does the verse mean by “drift away?” The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means we don’t have to do anything for this to happen, it just happens. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We’re floating down the river in a boat. Up ahead is a dock where want to stop our boat and anchor ourselves so we don’t drift down the river. We’re focused on it. And if we don’t focus on what we’re doing, we’re going to drift right past.
We drift away because we weren’t paying attention. The dock is our anchor, as Jesus is our anchor that holds us fast to him so we do not drift away to destruction.
Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook; it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.
III. The Peril of Neglect (Hebrews 2:2-3a)
Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Living under the Law, we discovered we cannot live righteous lives. Did you know that there, technically are 2 ways to get into heaven? One is to accept Jesus as our own personal savior. The other is to be perfect, to do perfect, to think perfect, without sin. But Romans 3:23:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
And Psalm 14:3,
All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
And we have seen sin punished throughout the Old Testament history to one degree or another. God hates sin, and a holy God will eventually destroy all sin. Sin cannot coexist with the light.
Who can live up to the perfection of our Holy and Mighty God? Our efforts at obtaining our own salvation – and we all want to do it, because we’re full of the sin of pride – will always come up short. Way short. Being “good enough” isn’t good enough. Do we strive for a heaven that is “good enough?” We long for that perfect peace and joy and beauty, not a cheap imitation that is “good enough.”
When I taught the 3rd graders long ago – there’s a ministry worthy of people far more skilled than I – I used the example of a chocolate milkshake.
A perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, we cannot help but toss in a bug. Some yucky insect. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Isn’t it “good enough?” Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven.
But there is one. Jesus, as a man, lived a sinless, perfect life. Jesus, as a sacrifice, tasted death. Jesus, as the son of God, could atone for all of our sins. Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.
We can never forget that this is the only viable way to salvation. Jesus has paid the debt for our sin. We can either accept that gift, or we can pay for the sin ourselves. But the wages for that sin is death. It’s the only choice. Romans 6:22-23:
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We may have the idea that believer “under grace” can escape the chastening and discipline of God that was so evident “under law” in the Old Testament. But Luke 12:48 says
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
I think this applies to believers, even more so. As believers, we have been given much. Rather than rely on grace, shouldn’t we try to live lives pleasing to God? God doesn’t punish believers, but He does discipline His children. And so far this morning we’ve been studying how we should pay attention and has given us warning signs so that we do not drift away.
Here’s a couple of typical warning signs. What perils will we face if we do not pay attention to these signs?
There are perils ahead if we don’t pay attention to the signs. We certainly do not want to drift away. If we’re not paying attention, we drift down the river and end up where we do not want to be. What are these perils? In the OT, people were punished for violating scripture. God is unchanging, his love never fails. He still loves us, and He still hates sin.
Our salvation is still secure if we truly believe in Him. Tim said last week that true believers cannot lose their salvation, and he’s absolutely right, but we believers can drift away from the plan God has for us and the blessings that go with it.
Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teenager who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at the age 17 he took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching. They had planned to laugh at the poor deluded Methodists. God had a different calling for Robert, though, and two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.
It’s a beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a decidedly non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.
Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, ‘Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.’ Robert Robinson drifted away, alone and unhappy, versus the joy of seeking God’s blessing’s daily.
How do we protect ourselves from this neglect?
- Fellowship with believers, come to church and worship. This is the easiest way to pay attention – somebody else reads the scripture to us.
- Pray to the Lord that He will help us understand. 1 Corinthians 2 says that one must have the Holy Spirit to understand God’s Word. Only believers that honestly try to grow nearer to the Lord can understand; the word is unintelligible to those who are not saved. James says pray for wisdom so that you may understand.
- Remember what was said. Take notes. Write in your bible. Memorize a verse.
- Look over our notes later. In particular, read the scripture to see if what we heard it’s true. When Paul preached to the Bereans, he said the Bereans were noble for checking the scripture to see if what Paul said was true. As a believer with the Holy Spirit in us, we are responsible for understanding what we’ve heard. Don’t believe a lie, seek the truth.
- Ask God to help us put it into practice. Do something with what we’ve heard. This takes work. The works do not save us, we cannot earn salvation. But works helps us become holy and sanctified, it helps us cast off worldly sorrows and seek heavenly joy.
Does it seem like there’s not enough time in the day to do all of this? If we do not make time, we may drift away. We may be guilty of looking for God only on Sunday and then sparing hardly a thought for Him all week. But if we put him first, we learn to ask for things that please God, and He is pleased to give it to us. So studying the bible or having “quiet time” or re-reading your Sunday notes isn’t a duty or an obligation; don’t let anybody tell you that you *have* to do these things. But it *is* a path toward more joy and blessings. When we focus on the world and the pleasure it offers, we allow ourselves to be satisfied with so little. When we focus on God and His desires, then we are satisfied by much. God is a fount of overflowing blessings, far more than the world can offer.
IV. Truth Verified (Hebrews 2:3b-4)
For each of us individually, this is an important message. Verse 3b-4,
This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
This message is so important that he sent prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and Joel and Obadiah and Jonah and so on and so on. This message is so important that God sent plagues to Egypt and divided the Red Sea and sent manna from heaven and protected his people from lions and fiery furnaces and sent a star of Bethlehem to lead the wise men. There are 123 miracles in the bible. And then, like an exclamation point, the point of the entire bible pointing from man’s fall to his redemption, God sent his only son to die for us so that we may live. That’s how much God loves us, and how important He feels about this message.
Focus on God, keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember when Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus? But when he looked away, he lost focus, he started to sink. He drifted away. Jesus, who is the Word, came to speak to us directly, and even though Hebrews 1 says Jesus is higher than the angels and sits at the right hand of the father, He was not ashamed to become man and live among us. Glorious sweet Jesus, highly exalted and holy, is not ashamed to call us brothers and sister. We should not be ashamed to call him Lord and listen to what He says.
Hebrews pleads for us to hear and read and study Scripture to stay as close to God as possible and to continue in as straight a line as possible. Peter puts it this way:
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)
So this is what happens: We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin. We can simply neglect our spiritual growth.
Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant. Destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance.
You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Like losing touch with a friend because you never think of calling or writing. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.
As a final thought this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. The author of Hebrew was writing to believers who were struggling with their faith. What the author is saying is that is not enough to believe but we have to find a way to put our faith into practice if we want to grow.
Verse 1-3, read again emphasize “we”. We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. This applies to all Christians. This is not meant for non-believers who reject Christ, but for those who neglect Christ. This is for those who have accepted Christ, but don’t anchor themselves to Christ and then drift away.
The admonition from Hebrews hasn’t lost its power over the centuries. We are responsible for the truths we know. The Gospel is salvation to all those who hear and confess that Christ is Lord. We cannot take that lightly, for without this gift of salvation, we have God’s righteous wrath to destroy all that is evil, including our own sin. And none of us are exempt. All have sinned, and the punishment for sin is death. Instead, we have been given a free gift, one undeserved. And when we are in conversations are work or with neighbors or strangers, we cannot shy away from sharing this good news. It is not love to let another die. Share what we know about God’s plan for redemption.
As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the modern prophets Simon and Garfunkle.
God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away
Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.
Let us pay attention this week to what God is saying so that we do not drift away. To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
For several Sundays in a row, we’ve been coming to class and studying the prophet Ezekiel. Then one day Chris shows up and says, “Let’s turn to the book of Daniel.” What was Chris thinking? Were we done with Ezekiel? I don’t think so. When we start studying these prophets, there is always so much more to learn. I find the lesson I learn from God’s word can vary – if I read Ezekiel all at once, I hear one message, and if I read only Ezekiel 18, I get another message, and if I read just Ezekiel 18:5, I get still another revelation.
Then Chris shows up and starts teaching Daniel. Ok, fine, we’ll study Daniel. Daniel is actually a contemporary of Ezekiel, they lived approximately at the same time. Ezekiel mentions Daniel twice during his mission. But while Ezekiel is living in Babylonian captivity, Daniel’s captivity is in the palace in service to the king. He’s probably in his early teens, learning the Babylonian ways so he can serve the king, and eating his vegetables.
II. God is in Control (Daniel 2)
Then in Daniel Chapter two, we come to the first of 2 famous stories we’re going to read about today. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians, must be feeling pretty good about himself, having sacked the land of Judah and carried away his captives. But Nebuchadnezzar is not in control, and he could not have been successful unless God had willed it. One of Ezekiel’s prophecies was that, because of the Jewish people’s disobedience, God would cause the land of Judah to be sacked by the Babylonians as punishment. It wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar in control, it was God. 600 years later in Romans 13:1, Paul writes,
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Nebuchadnezzar probably didn’t credit God for this, he was a Babylonian pagan king. He probably believed in his own might and power. But then he starts having these troubling dreams, and we will see that God placed these dreams there. Daniel 2:1-6,
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”
Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”
So the astrologers weren’t merely being asked to interpret a dream, they were being asked to describe the dream. Some say the king couldn’t remember his dream, but I don’t think that’s likely. He remembered enough about the dream that it bothered him the next day and kept him from a good night’s sleep. I think he remembered his dream, but distrusted his fortunetellers. Nebuchadnezzar knew that his fortunetellers would just tell him what he wanted to hear.
How could these magicians succeed? It’s not possible to read people’s minds, except for me. I have this ability to read people’s minds. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “Nah, he can’t read minds.”
To make a long story short, the magicians fail terribly at the king’s assignment. They neither know what the dream is, nor what the dream means. The king orders them all put to death.
When Daniel hears this, he believes that Daniel and his 3 friends will be killed also along with the phony magicians. Daniel goes to the king and asks the king for some more time, and he and his friend plead to God for mercy, and that night the mystery was revealed to Daniel. The next morning, Daniel returns to the king and explains the dream as symbolic about the future of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s place in history, how they will reign and then fall. The story rings true to the king, and let’s look at the king’s reaction in verse 46,
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
Wow, Daniel went from death to life in only 3 days. What strikes me about this is that Nebuchadnezzar knows the interpretation is true and that it can only come from an almighty God. He knows God is God, the God of gods and the Lord of kings and the revealer of mysteries. Daniel’s answer saves the lives of the magicians and the astrologers, and Daniel and his friends get some nice promotions. Probably bigger helpings of vegetables, too.
III. Some Build Idols Anyway (Daniel 3:1)
But then the very next verse, turn to Chapter 3, the king is building a giant gold idol. Reminds me of Aaron after Moses led then through the parting of the Red Sea. Moses goes up on the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, and Aaron goes, “Oh no, what do we do? We need a Golden Calf to pray to.”
Anyway, back to Nebuchadnezzar, everybody in the kingdom is ordered to fall down and worship this big gold idol. And the astrologers – the very same astrologers whose lives were saved by Daniel for interpreting the king’s dreams – turn out to be a bunch of tattletales. Vengeful tattletales (not the same as Veggie Tales), Vengeful tattletales for they know the punishment for refusing to worship the golden idol is death. In verse 8, the astrologers and magicians go to the king and point out that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are in positions of power but refuse to worship the king’s idol. Isn’t that mocking the king and his god? The three friends of Daniel neither serve the king’s gods nor bow down to worship the idol of gold.
And the king is furious. This is the same king that knows the omniscience of Daniel’s God who could do things the pagan gods couldn’t, and is still mad that these Jewish boys won’t worship his little gold god. He tells Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down and worship or he’s going to cook them in the royal furnace. In verse 15, the king taunts them, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
There may come a time in our lives where we must make a choice what god we will serve. Will we serve the god of pride, like Nebuchadnezzar? Will we serve a god of idols we have built? Or will we serve Jehovah God, creator of the heavens and of earth? Will we boldly serve our king, or will we turn away in fear?
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego have no fear, and in Daniel 3:16,
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel’s friends know that God is able to save them, but don’t know if God will. And it doesn’t matter to them, they will risk everything, their very lives, go to their deaths praising our God of Wonders. It is 2600 years later in Babylonia, and the same choice is still given to Christians living there today. Worship the Muslim god, or die. And tens of thousands of Christians have been martyred, choosing our God of eternal life.
Nebuchadnezzar is furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The bible says that the furnace is heated seven times hotter than normal, and the king’s strongest soldiers throw Daniel’s three friends into it. The furnace is so hot that it killed the soldiers that had bound the three friends.
IV. Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us (Daniel 3:24)
And the God of the Heavens intervened in verse 24:
Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
There are 3 men thrown into the furnace but 4 men walking around. “A son of the gods,” Nebuchadnezzar says. Amazing insight for a pagan king. Biblical scholars agree that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ who stepped into a situation at the very moment He was needed most. Let’s count the number of men again. Three men are thrown in, four men are walking around, and three men are removed.
Sometimes we don’t feel Jesus in our lives. We wonder where He is, why prayers don’t seem to be answered, why His comfort isn’t obvious to us. Where is Jesus? The thing is, He is always with us, and when the threat of being thrown into the fire actually turns into being *in* the fire, Jesus is right there with us. He promises that He will always be there for us.
V. Risk Everything for God
Many times it’s hard to trust in God. We want to rescue ourselves, to trust in our own ability. But God’s ways are above our ways. Sometimes God’s ways are painful as he prunes us. I myself hit a crossroads in the last month, thinking that it was time to make a difficult decision. But God spoke this lesson to me last weekend, and then gave me the lesson again to learn and teach. He works in mysterious way, and I no longer believe in coincidences, so when I see so-called “coincidences” piling up, I look for God’s hand.
First was Gary Thomas’s lesson last week. The part that spoke to me was when he said some people say, “Why does my behavior matter?” I’m already saved, so nothing I say or do will be held against me. Gary quoted Ephesians 4:22-24,
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Then he quoted Matthew 28:19-20,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Then Chris taught from Daniel 1, drawing a line and deciding which side of the line to stand on. And I’m hearing echoes of lessons I’ve both heard and taught, asking me if I’m going to follow Christ only when times are good, or will I follow Christ no matter what?
When times are easy and good, we can drift away from Christ. We may recognize His blessings, but the easy life lets us drift away. It’s when times are challenging that we learn to rely on Christ. I think every Christian will come to a point in their life, maybe more than once, where they have to decide to do the right thing no matter how hard it is.
Then as I sat down to start this lesson, already hearing Gary and Chris, I get a photo from KSBJ with Hebrews 10:36,
All of these messages stress to me the importance of following the will of God and putting aside fears and desires that pull and push us in any direction except to God.
I will choose to be obedient, and risk everything for God. And my sinful self doesn’t like it one bit. I like comfort and joy, not pruning. But when I choose right, I choose peace. And when I choose right and peace, I choose joy. Instead of choosing joy first which can lead to bad decisions and bad consequences, I choose righteousness first, which then leads back to the joy I was seeking. Amazing. My sinful self says these toys are all mine and I don’t have to share. My sinful self says do this or that because it’ll make you happy. My sinful self offers excuses to me because I know that Jesus will forgive me. But the Holy Spirit working within me is always encouraging me to do the right thing. To love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor as myself. I get a choice whether to obey.
Will I be thrown in a fire? Goodness, I hope not. And if I was thrown in a fire, would I be able to walk around unscathed, unburned? Probably not. But I know Jesus will be there for me, all he asks is that I do the right thing.
We get these choices constantly. We can choose to sleep late on Sunday mornings instead of going to church. We can choose to go to brunch on Sunday mornings or a walk in the park. But we can choose to share the word of God with pagans, to serve at something – anything – like bringing snacks to class or taking the roster or arranging for the class to serve at a star of hope kitchen or to teach. In each case we give up something to do something. We make a choice to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, or what is right in our own eyes.
And whatever it is we treasure, because God loves us, God will find a way to remove it from us if it doesn’t bring him glory or if it gets in the way of our spiritual growth. He may ask us to give up a job, give up our home, our security. Giving up a home you grew up in, giving up a parent that you depended on, giving up a friend who is a bad influence on us, giving up a job. Giving up our very life. Matthew 10:9, Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Daniel’s friends were willing to give up their lives, to risk everything to do the right thing. I’m scared to do that that. I like to think I’m brave, but God finds something I was leaning on and asks me, are you willing to give this up for me? Has God ever asked you to sacrifice something for His sake?
If you’re reading your bible, listening to KSBJ, spending time in prayer, or in any way talking to God, he’s talking back. And He wants to be #1 in your life. Ahead of your job and money, ahead of rooting for the Texans, ahead of cooking or biking or a nice car. Ahead of your friends. Ahead of your spouse. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they were turning their backs on a comfy life in the palace with friends. They were turning their backs on serving a king who already knew God was almighty, but was still building idols.
And in that regard, we’re not too unlike Nebuchadnezzar. We know who God is. Many of us have seen miracles that could only have come from an almighty God. We know God is almighty, yet we’re still building pagan alters of our own, are we not? We worship the things created instead of the Creator. Ahead of everybody and everything else we love, God wants us to recognize Him and worship him first. He’s burning up the chaff to prepare us for an eternity with him, and sometimes we have to go through fire for Him. And sometimes we find we were holding on to something so tight and didn’t even realize it. We have to give those up, be willing to risk everything for God. After all, what could possibly be more important than a loving relationship with the God who created us?
There’s good news after all this pruning, this burning up of our idols. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In order to gain everything, we must be willing to lose everything. Abednego survived the fire, and we will too. Jesus will be there with us, now and forever. A life eternal with our creator in love and joy and life where there are no more tears.
In the meantime, risk everything for God. To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Ezekiel 18 opens with a discussion of a proverb, “”The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” I thought, for illustrative purposes, I’d go to HEB and buy a bunch of sour grapes, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I guess they were all sold out. Super popular, those sour grapes. Anyway, I bought some Extreme Sour Warheads. I’ll need a volunteer, Chris. I want to try an experiment to see if this proverb is true. Those of you in the class, can you tell how sour this candy is? Does it make your face pucker just thinking about how sour the candy that somebody else ate is? Well, I don’t want anybody to be left out of this face-puckering illustration, so pass the box around and everybody help yourself.
Well, I’m going to make an observation that the proverb we’re going to study today is not true.
II. Sour Grapes and Other Bad Proverbs, Ezekiel 18:1-3
In the meantime, let’s open to the book of Ezekiel, chapter 18, verses 1-3. The prophet Ezekiel says:
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
As we’ve seen, just because Chris ate an Extreme Sour Warhead, my teeth were not set on edge, my face didn’t pucker. And like the Lord says, “you will no longer quote this proverb,” it doesn’t appear in the book of Proverbs.
Let’s put our lesson today in the context of time – what’s going on, and when. The Assyrian empire was an early world superpower, and at its height ruled much of the middle east, including modern-day Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Palestine and Cyprus, together with large swaths of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Libya, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But with the death of the Assyrian king in 627 BC, civil war erupted.
During this time, Egypt regained independence, and then seized Judah and made it a vassal state, and Jehoiakim was installed as king of Judah. But then Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (wouldn’t that be a great name for a rock band?) defeated Egypt during a crucial battle and seized Judah. Jehoiakim must have thought this was a good time to revolt and regain their freedom, but Nebuchadnezzar crushed the revolt, killed Jehoiakim, and took 10,000 Jews, including our prophet Ezekiel, to Babylon.
Egypt was still fighting the Babylonians, and they promised Judah military support in another rebellion against the Babylonians. Different factions in Judah developed – some wanted to side with the Egyptians and revolt. Others, including the prophet Jeremiah, warned against another revolt, remain in Babylonian captivity.
The occupation of Judah, first by Egypt and then by Babylonians, were the result of the rebellion of the people of Judah and God’s discipline. But the people living in Jerusalem at the time took no responsibility on their own. The blamed their problems on previous generations. They sinned, rebelled, offered gifts to false idols, worshipped pagan gods, they were rebellious and disobedient, engaged in sexual immorality, there were dogs and cats living together, and the people threw up their hands, saying, “Hey, it’s not my fault. It’s my parent’s fault, and my grandparent’s fault. *They* are the ones who sinned. They made me who I am. And it’s not fair for God to punish *me* for what they did. My parents ate sour grapes, and my teeth are set on edge. I can still taste what they ate. God isn’t fair.”
In essence, the people of Judah claimed that they were not responsible for their own sins. The sins were the result of something their parents did, so they weren’t responsible. The blamed their ancestors and perhaps God Himself, and the people of Judah are simply being punished for the sins of their fathers.
Where did they get this idea? One likely source is the beginning of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 which begins:
And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The Lord’s Words, of course, are true. In many respects, we are the product of our upbringing and our environment. Whatever life our parents chose to live and the other choices they made have an impact on us, and likewise our grandparent’s choices had an impact on our parents. But while past sins influence our lives for generations, they are not an excuse for our behavior. In other words, we are not always responsible for our circumstances, but we are always responsible for our response to those circumstances. How we react is entirely up to us.
Ezekiel tells us the Lord holds us individually responsible with several examples:
First, the case of a righteous man. Let’s call him the Righteous Grandfather. Turn to Ezekiel 18:5,
“Suppose there is a righteous [Grandfather] who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife […], he does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live,” declares the Sovereign Lord.
In other words, the Lord is pleased with the Righteous Grandfather because he does what is right. But let’s say Righteous Grandfather has a son. We’ll call him the Faulty Father. Righteous Grandfather was so pleasing to the Lord that the Lord will give the Faulty Father some of that good credit, won’t he?
Ezekiel says no, Faulty Father is faulty and will take the blame for his own actions. Look at Ezekiel 18:10-13 (and I’m going to use the Michael’s Abridged Translation because the Faulty Father’s rotten behavior is the exact opposite of Righteous Grandfather:
Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them): Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
No credit for his Righteous Grandfather there; no fix for Faulty Father’s fantastic first-class failures. But then Faulty Father has a Super Son who does what is right. Surely he takes some of the blame for what his Faulty Father did, right? Ezekiel 18:14-19, again Michael’s Abridged Translation,
But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.”
So, Super Son’s sacrificial service saves his soul from supernatural servitude in Sheol. Faulty Father may have led a terrible sinful life that surely had an influence on his son, but the son alone is responsible for his actions. If he does what is right, the Lord is pleased with him.
The Prophet sums it all up in Exodus 18:20:
“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”
One would think this settles it; if you’re wicked, you’re wicked, and if you’re good, you’re good. But the stubborn people of Judah would still like to lay the blame somewhere. “It’s not our fault!” they exclaim. Well, if it isn’t their own fault, and it isn’t their parent’s fault… then it must be God’s fault. It was God who punished our parents, and I’m having to live with the punishment! God is not fair!”
God answers this charge directly; the people of Judah cannot charge God with being unfair because God, by His very nature, is fair and just. By what standard can we use to judge, if not the standard of God? The Lord again speaks through Ezekiel, verses 25-29:
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
Well, I’m having a little trouble here finding somebody to blame. The Lord says I can’t blame my parents, and I can’t blame my circumstances, and I can’t blame the Lord. Who’s left to blame? Who should they blame?
III. Take Responsibility, Ezekiel 18:29-32
The Lord God tells them to man-up. Take responsibility, there is no one else to blame. Ezekiel 18:29-32, the challenge from the proverb:
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
Get a new heart and a new spirit. Rid yourselves of all offenses. Repent and live.
God doesn’t pleasure in the death of anyone, including the wicked. God would have all come to repentance, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. God’s message, through Ezekiel, is clear. The people of Judah may object, yes, but they cannot claim they do not understand the message. Repent and live.
Our world is like that today. John 3:16-21 says,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.
It’s been the same message from the beginning. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, hiding in shame due to their original sin. God said, the garden is yours, just don’t eat the fruit of this one tree. And of course they ate it, and then the finger-pointing begins. Adam blaming Eve *and* God simultaneously, “This woman, who you made, gave me the fruit.” And Eve says, “Me? Wasn’t my fault. The serpent tricked me.” And if there was anything about this story that disturbs me is that the serpent doesn’t blame anyone.
And the people of Israel in the time of Moses: God had just finished amazing them by leading them out of Egypt. There were ten plagues and there were pillars of fire and then, while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the people make a golden calf to worship. Their excuse? “We don’t know what happened to Moses! We need to make a god to worship!” So Aaron, Moses’ second in command, collects all the gold, melts it in the fire, and makes a golden calf. And the worst excuse I’ve ever heard throughout history is in Exodus 32, Moses asks Aaron, “Why did you do that?” And Aaron answers, “The people gave me the gold and I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!”
And today? Here’s a story from Ewing, NJ. Florence Schreiber Powers, age 44, was on trial for shoplifting two watches, and called her psychiatrist to testify that Florence Powers was under stress at the time of the incident and was unaware of her actions from “one minute to the next” for the following 19 reasons: a recent auto accident, a traffic ticket, a new-car purchase, overwork, husband’s kidney stones, husband’s asthma (and breathing machine that occupies their bedroom), menopausal hot flashes, an “ungodly” itch, a bad rash, fear of breast cancer, fear of dental surgery, son’s need for an asthma breathing machine, mother’s and aunt’s illnesses, need to organize her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, need to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 20 relatives, purchase of 200 gifts for Christmas and Chanukah, attempt to sell her house without a realtor, lawsuit against wallpaper cleaners, purchase of furniture that had to be returned, and a toilet in her house that was constantly running. She was convicted anyway.
It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death, rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. But in order to do that, we have to recognize the source of our disobedience. Our disobedience doesn’t come from our parents or our location or our circumstance or our friends or our children or our spouse or a cheeseburger or Nordstrom’s or an Apple iPhone or the government or our boss. Regardless of our circumstances, our disobedience comes from within us.
IV. Deliver Us from Evil
Many times we want to do the right thing, but sometimes the right thing is too hard. Or the wrong thing is too easy. I think Paul said it best in Romans 7:14-24:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Thanks be to God who delivers us through Christ Jesus. We are afraid to take ownership of our sin and say, “The blame rests on me. I did it.” Because we want to value ourselves more highly than we should or we fear the punishment of being bad. Especially if we have to face the almighty power and glory of God and say, “Look what a mess I did.”
But that’s exactly what God would have us do. Say to God, “Look what a mess I did. Look what a mess I am.” And it’s still the same message today as it was in Ezekiel’s time, God takes no pleasure in death, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. We accept the grace and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit, we get a new heart of forgiveness and humility, we repent of our sins, and we live forever in Him.
We do not have to be afraid of the punishment God would have as a sacrifice for our sin. I want to make sure you fully understand this point; there is no punishment, but often times there is God’s discipline. There is a huge difference. Punishment looks backward in anger and wrath and demands a price for the offense. Discipline looks forward in mercy and kindness in order to make our paths straight. If we eat too much, our weight is our punishment, going to the gym is discipline. If we shop too much, credit card debt is our punishment, a budget for future spending is discipline. God does not punish his children, but he may discipline them.
Our sins still demand God’s justice and His wrath and His punishment, but the Good News, the gospel, is that Christ has already born the stripes for our transgressions, He has paid the price, He has willingly accepted our punishment. We’re still in Romans 7, right where we left off, but let’s continue into Romans 8:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Why can we be brave and confess? Because there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We are not going to surprise God with how bad we are. God already knows. But God so loved the world, including you and me, *especially* you and me, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Our sin has already been paid for. God wants us to confess it to Him and instead of punishment, we receive cleansing. We receive peace. We receive grace, God’s favor on the undeserving. While we are wretched sinners, God doesn’t see us as wretched sinners. If we read further down in Romans 8, verse 14,
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
We cry, “Abba, Father.” We can confess freely our sins to God because we have already been forgiven. One of the great mysteries of God’s creation is that if only just admit our sins to God and confess our unworthiness and say, “I did it, it’s my fault, and I’m sorry,” God separates us from those sins as far as the east is from the west, and instead of wretched sinners, we become children of the Living God. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
Ezekiel’s message to the people of Judah from the Lord hasn’t changed in 2600 years. Stop blaming others, accept responsibility for our thoughts, our behaviors, and our sins. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid ourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.
God promises to forgive us all trespasses and make us heirs in the kingdom of God. Amazing grace. To God be the glory.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
It’s almost the New Year, no thanks to the ancient Mayans. The New Year is a time for beginning fresh, to put our past behind us and look forward to a new beginning. For auld lang syne my friends, for auld lang syne.
A new beginning means a new you. But what if the old you is still here? How do we begin again? And for sins we’ve committed last year, how do we put those behind? And what about those who have done wrong to us? Why should they be allowed to start again?
We’ve been studying the book of Hosea, the Prophet of Doom. The Israelites, or more specifically the Northern Kingdom, sometimes called Ephraim by Hosea, has led duplicitous lives. Yes, they prayed to the Lord and sacrificed to Him, but when times were good, they also sacrificed to Baal and other pagan deities of the Canaanites. The Lord gave Hosea a personal life that mirrored Israel so he could understand. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute, unfaithful to Hosea, and eventually sold into slavery. Israel, too, was unfaithful to the Lord. God used the might Assyrian army to invade the Northern Kingdom, judgment against Israel for her unfaithfulness. Our God is a jealous God, and He is God alone.
Thankfully this week it’s not all about death and destruction and judgment. Today we’re going to study the Lord’s compassion in the midst of Israel’s discipline and punishment. Why does the Lord have compassion for sinners? And how can the Lord look past what I’ve done and accept me for who I am? And the most difficult question, why does the Lord show compassion to me even when I continue to sin? Doesn’t my unwillingness to be pure indicate that I do not truly love the Lord with all of my mind and body, heart and soul? Why would the Lord should compassion to me when I know I don’t show my Love to Him?
II. Compassion Though Unrecognized, Hosea 11:1-4
Let’s start at the beginning of Hosea 11 and read the Lord’s word to Israel –
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
God’s love is more than a feeling; it is compassion in action. Here, God reminds Israel He has been there from the beginning and cared for Israel when Israel could not take care of itself.
God calls Israel His child, who He loved, and called him out of Egypt. Hosea is speaking, of course, of the days of Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Exodus 3:7 says, “The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them.” God led them in a pillar of cloud or fire to the promised land. But Israel’s trust waivered and their hearts hardened towards God, and instead turned to worship idols and the gods of the Egyptians and other tribes. God also sent prophets to them to point out their ways, to correct their behaviors, but the more they were reprimanded, the more Israel turned from God.
But this is also a prophetic verse; in Matthew 2, Matthew builds upon this when he describes the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus made to Egypt until the death of Herod. Matthew quotes Hosea, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” The Lord acted compassionately throughout history to save His people Israel, just as He acted compassionately when He sent His son Jesus for our sake.
But unlike Jesus, Israel slipped into sin again and again. And for those who have had children, you know how painful it is if your child slips into sin repeatedly. God called to His people, lovingly, compassionately, but the more God called, the more Israel turned away from Him.
This is our problem today with the Lord, just as it was with Israel. When times are good, we are wayward children, turning away from Him, time and time again. We’re funny that way – we have so many blessings, but we don’t give proper thanks to the Lord. And in the midst of our blessings, we find excuses to turn away, rationalizing it with thoughts like, I do so many good things for the Lord, surely the Lord won’t mind if I do this one thing that I need to be happy. Sometimes, we even lie to ourselves that since God wants me to be happy, God would approve of my sin.
I once knew a single woman who desperately wanted a husband. She seemed smart and attractive, you know, many blessings in her life. But her focus was on one thing God had not blessed her with. One day she said that she had found somebody, and he made her happy. There was a small problem, she said; he was married . But she knew God would want her to be happy. She said God had told her so.
I don’t know where she is today, but I do know this: God never blesses sin. For a Christian to continue in sin is like crucifying Christ over and over again. Sin separates us from God because God is free of all sin. God may love us, but He hates the sin. If we choose to continue in our sin, God will either give us over to our hardened heart, or God will discipline us in order to bring us back to Him. As we learned last week in Hosea 8, it’s far, far better for us to learn to discipline ourselves than to wait for God to discipline us.
In verse 3, the Israelites failed to realize that the Lord was always there, feeding them, helping them to walk, healing them when they fell. We have been given so much compassion, so many blessings, and we take them for granted. Our health, our country, our church, our next meal, our next breath. God is in all of it. We forget to thank the Lord for what we have already been given in abundance through His love.
III. Compassion Amid Judgment, Hosea 11:5-7
The Lord’s compassion always extends to us, even when in discipline and judgment. In Hosea 11:5-7,
Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.
So God is looking at me… sorry, I mean, God is looking at Israel and realizing His child will not repent. His child is reaping the rewards of God’s blessings and using those blessings in a way that offends the Lord. And as much as the Lord is expressing His love, Israel is determined to follow false prophets and turn from Him.
I find it interesting that God used the Assyrians to punish Israel. It’s backward from what we would normally think God should do. We compare Israel and Assyria and say, well, Israel’s mostly ok. They have this little thing about worshipping other gods, sure, but that’s just on weekends. Those Assyrians, though, who they’re rotten people, sacrificing children and hating the Lord. Surely the Lord will protect Israel from those nasty Assyrians.
But God doesn’t see it the same way. He loves His people and He wants them to be pure. So God allows the Assyrians to win this conflict. Does He do the same with us?
Sometimes I think He does. We can see it in our country – one nation, under God – but it seems that many of the battles Christians have fought have gone the wrong way. Abortion, euthanasia, prayer in schools, have all gone against Christians. Why is the enemy winning?
I don’t know, but if we are like the Israelites, we have grown complacent in the Lord and He will discipline us for our own good. Church attendance is decreasing across the USA. Is it because our attitude is that life is too good to waste it on worship? No wonder the Lord uses evil to get our attention.
And it’s not a matter of knowing the Word, it’s a matter of putting it in action, consistently, with the right heart. The Israelites certainly knew they were God’s chosen people, but they believed that somehow gave them the right to take God for granted and to do things their way. It’s like they believed their disobedience was a God-given right.
I once had a wayward dog, a stubborn, stiff-necked Dalmatian. I named him Israel. No wait, I named him Samson. I named him that because man, he was a big Dalmatian. Most Dalmations are 45 lbs or so, Samson was 80 lbs. He was big and he was stubborn. I took him to obedience training for several weeks, and at the end of the class we had a test to see how well our dogs had learned. I had worked Samson all week, and once I switched to a pinch collar instead of a choke collar, Samson deal very well at following directions. On command, he’d sit, stay, down, come, and heel. The final test was the heel command; Samson’s head was supposed to be even or behind me, and without a leash, Samson would heel as we walked the training course.
After all the lessons were complete, we continued working the commands. Sit. Stay. Come. Down. Heel. And we’d walk around the block. Sometimes I’d unclip his leash and walk him for a bit, then reclip it later. He was well trained.
Until one day as we were walking and I said, “heel!” and I unclipped his leash. We’d walk a while, and he’d start to gain a little on me. “Heel!” Samson would drop back in place, and slowly surge forward again. “Heel!” He’d drop back again, surge forward a little sooner. I could see him sort of looking over his shoulder to see if I was watching and he kept surging a little further until he was a full body length in front of me. “Heel!” I’d say, and pow, like a rocket, he was off. There was no way to catch him, he was so fast. Eventually, I went home, got the car, drove ahead of him, and caught him again. We didn’t do that walk again without the leash ever again.
It wasn’t as though Samson didn’t know where I was or what the rules were, or even that the rules were for his own benefit so that he wouldn’t get lost, get hit by a car, would be home for supper and a warm comfy bed. It was just that he had realized he had all the freedom he wanted. It had gone beyond disobedience and was now outright rebellion. Because of my love for the dog, the dog then lost the freedom he had through the new discipline and restrictions.
We’re like that, in a way, when we’re in rebellion with God. We know what pleases Him and what we should and shouldn’t do, and we even understand that the behavior God encourages for us is also for our benefit. It’s just that, man, sometime we just want to run and do our own thing, and we disregard the consequences. We know what is right, and we know we’re not doing it.
Mark Twain once put it this way: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
We’re all guilty of this, making excuses for our sin. In 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And we’re all repeat offenders, too. In the sentence of our life, God may put a period, but we change it to a question mark. He didn’t really mean it that way, did He? We still want God’s love in our lives as long as we can have it on our terms.
IV. Compassion Over Anger, Hosea 11:8-9
Our disobedience in the face of God’s good plans draws His anger, but even in His anger, God shows compassion.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
This is amazing to hear that God’s heart can be changed, even in the midst of His anger over our sin. As we turn to sin again and again and again, our sins must stir God to take corrective action on our behalf. Previously, God had corrected rampant sin in His people with complete destruction of the sinful. Hosea makes reference to that here – the two towns listed here, Admah and Zeboyim, were neighboring villages of Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel’s sin demanded punishment, but God’s heart was moved toward compassion.
And am I ever thankful that God gives me much better than I deserve. God’s perfect justice is balanced by His perfect mercy, but we want that justice imposed on others, and the mercy on ourselves. And it’s God’s mercy that delays the end times, the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation.
He is the Holy One in our midst. He is not absent, He is not asleep, He is not dead. The moment we repent, when our hearts are burdened by our own behaviors and we turn to God, He is there waiting for us. We don’t have to wait for Him to show up, and He doesn’t hold it against us. His compassion trumps His righteous anger.
V. Compassion with Purpose, Hosea 11:10-11
Why would the Lord act with such compassion? He has a purpose for this compassion.
They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come from Egypt,
trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,”
declares the Lord.
So, with Israel in rebellion and God’s mercy delaying God’s justice, God shows compassion by staying the destruction of Israel. Israel would not only be spared, but many would ultimately repent and follow the Lord. And the Lord would be quick to respond.
When I consider God’s compassionate response instead of His righteous anger, I can’t help but consider where I have still not fully submitted to the Lord. Either out of ignorance or willful disobedience, God will eventually get my attention. My sin is detestable to Him. He is the Holy One, and if I am to spend eternity with Him, there is no place for my sin. I can be so thankful that God in His Sovereignty chooses to act in loving mercy to me. He gives me better, far better, than I deserve.
In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” The Lord’s justice has been stayed by His mercy for a long time now.
Yes, God’s compassion, as well as His discipline, has a purpose. God uses both discipline and love to draw us to Him, gently or forcefully, but for our own good. And He is patient with us, seemingly infinitely patient. At what point would a father not want his children to return?
Deuteronomy 7:7-9 –
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Hosea’s wife, through her willful disobedience, had repercussions, and she was eventually sold into slavery. In her slavery, she finally realized the love Hosea had for her. Hosea was a jealous man for his wife and eventually rescued her from bondage, out of the slavery that she caused.
Israel, too, through willful disobedience, was also sold into slavery, and in this discipline realized the love the Lord had for His children. Through His love and compassion, the Lord drew Israel home to Him and rescued Israel from bondage.
And today? Today, God still calls us out of our willful disobedience. We find excuses not to do what is right, and we deceive ourselves that the Lord may actually bless our disobedience. But our Lord is a jealous God for all things Holy and True and His Justice will prevail, and every knee will bow, either by our own free will or by His force. We can be thankful that God delays the punishment we deserve out of His abundance of compassion, so that no one may die and that all may live.
To God be the glory. Amen.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
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