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Give Everything You Are to the Lord

   I.      Introduction

A study of Malachi 3

This Spring, we studied the following minor prophets, beginning with Nahum, then Zephaniah, Obadiah, Zechariah, Habakkuk, Haggai, and now Malachi.  Many times, these Minor Prophets brought us a repetitive reminder:

  • God is perfect.
  • God is holy.
  • God is awesome.
  • We are flawed.
  • We are rebellious.
  • We deserve wrath.
  • God gives us mercy.

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God’s perfect justice demands wrath, but God’s perfect love prevails, and He gives us mercy through our savior Jesus Christ if we just accept it.

Repent, and seek the Lord.  There.  That’s pretty blunt.  Any questions?

One of the things that crossed my mind during these minor prophet studies is how rebellious the Israelites were and how often God was patient with them over the centuries.  Despite the stiff-necked ways of the Israelites, God remained faithful.  God blessed, fortified, rebuked, disciplined, and demonstrated miracles to guide the Israelites in the ways that are holy and pure.

The book of Malachi was probably written about 420 BC, about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, but neither of those prophets mentioned Malachi, so it’s difficult to be sure.  The Jews at the time attributed the book to Ezra, but within the next century, scholars had dropped Ezra’s name from the book.  Some attribute it to Zerubabbel or Nehemiah, or to a relatively unknown Levite named Malachi.  The form of the word, though, suggests the book was intended to be written anonymously.  The word “Malachi” may not be a name but an adjective, meaning “one charged with a mission”.  Malachi may have been simply an anonymous missionary to bring us a prophetic message.

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II.      God Sends Us a Savior, Malachi 3:1-5

We’re going to pick up where Libby left off last week in Malachi 3, so let’s turn there and read Malachi 3:1-5 –

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

Who are we talking about?  This is the promise of the coming Messiah, a prophecy fulfilled by the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, Emmanuel, who came to defeat death itself.  This message, as we know it today, is cause for celebration, but for the Jews, it was cause for worry.  Were they faithful enough?  Were they pious enough?  Were they Pharisee enough?  God’s discipline on the Jewish people had been full of trials, and now God Himself was coming.

 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

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Purifying.  Refining.  The Lord will be like a refiner’s fire.  The story goes that a silversmith first heats his furnace to the melting point of silver, about 1800 degrees F.  I think that’s the setting I used on my oven the last time I tried to cook something.  The silversmith holds the silver over the heat of the furnace so that all the impurities are burned away, but he has to hold it carefully because if it’s too hot, the silver oxides and is destroyed.  So he watches carefully.  And when he can see his reflection in the silver, then he knows it is pure.

God is our refiner, and He is watching us carefully.  Our lives, if they are truly dedicated to Him, will be refined by the Lord to teach us to be holy and pure like silver.  He holds us in many trials in our life to teach us to trust in Him.  We learn what has everlasting value, and what is temporal, what is junk.  And when God can see His reflection is us, then he knows his purification is complete.

Me, personally, I do not like this purification process.  In my life, I’ve been through it more than once.  I know once I’ve been refined, I am indeed closer to God, but there’s often pain along the way.  CS Lewis described pain this way,

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

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So while I do not care for the refining process, I joyfully endure it again and again as it brings me closer to my Lord.  And I say that with the utmost of trepidation and trembling, because this refining is for those of us in Christ.  Back to Malachi 3, those that reject Christ are not refined, but judged –

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

It’s interesting to me how many times the bible says “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”.  And how many times we *are* to be afraid.  Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  But for those of us in Christ Jesus, we are to fear the Lord’s incredible might and majesty, but we are not to fear His judgment.  God’s discipline is coming and will He will right all wrongs, correct every mistake, and that includes our own mistakes.  Christians fear God now so they do not fear God at Judgement Day.  For those opposed to God, they do not fear Him now, but one day they will.

III.      Do Everything in Love, Malachi 3:6-12

God wants us to be authentic in all we think, say, and do.  God is our refiner, and I thought about the qualities of the silver that the refiner is watching.  Did you know that silver is a far better conductor than copper?  It has lower resistance.  If we used silver wire, we would have lower energy bills, we would have more efficient motors.  We don’t use silver, though, because it is so must more expensive than copper.

I think we are to remember that God’s purified children are worth a great deal to God.  If we want God to be able to work in us and through us, though, we have to stop being copper and learn to be silver.  We need to lower our resistance so God can conduct more of the Holy Spirit through us.  We do this by being more authentic.  Let’s look now at Malachi 3:6-12 –

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.  Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe, says the Lord Almighty.  “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

This is not “prosperity gospel;” tithing will not make you rich by the world’s standards.  Tithing is one of our early lessons as God’s children; we are to give 10% of what we make to the Lord.  But as we mature in Christ, we come to an understanding that far exceeds the value of our tithe.  If we make $1000 and give God $100, does God need $100?  Our majestic and all powerful omnipotent God who breathed the universe, time and space into existence, needs $100.  God Himself does not need money, don’t be ridiculous.

So there is something else going on.  As we tithe and the years go by, we start to see the meaning and the purpose.  From a practical standpoint, money is fuel for God’s church.  It supports our pastors and our missionaries and pays for the air conditioning.  When we tithe, it shows our support for God’s work.  But as time goes on, we realize that’s not what the tithe is, either.

During the next step of Christian maturity, we grow to understand that what we own actually doesn’t belong to us.  Everything belongs to God, He is asking us to give only a part of what He has already given us.  So the attitude changes – we no longer think of it as, “I made $1000, and God wants me to tithe 10%.”  Instead, we think of it as, “God gave me $1000 to steward for Him.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  It is my duty, my honor, my pleasure to give back a portion of what God has given me.”  And we come to realize that not only was it God that gave us the $1000, but God gave us… us.  Our very hands to work, our very legs to walk, our very brains to think, the very air we breathe… all of it came from the Lord.

So if we say we are Christians but do not tithe, God says, “Why are you robbing me?  All of earth, all of creation, belongs to me, yet the portion I have entrusted to you, you withhold from me.   You know it belongs to me, but you will not give it to me.”

How much should we give?  The Old Testament guidelines say 10% for the tithe plus other offerings.  The New Testament is both more simple and more complex.

Matthew 6:19-21 –

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Mark 10:19-22, the Rich Young Ruler –

You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 –

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

The Gospel, the Good News in the New Testament, is that we are free of the law.  Christ died to set us free.  So we are no longer compelled to “tithe plus” our 10% under the law.  But God is sitting as a refiner to see if He can see His reflection in us.  He wants us to have a heart that we can give everything we have cheerfully because we recognize it all belongs to Him.

So give nothing at all.  You are free of the law.

Or give away everything you have.  Give it cheerfully, knowing that treasures in heaven are worth far more than treasures on earth.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Give, and give cheerfully.  God doesn’t need $100.  But He died for you, and wants all that you are.

IV.      Say Everything in Love, Malachi 3:13-15

Malachi 3:13-15

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

 “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?  But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'”

Remember that childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”  Our parents give us this rhyme when we are children and we pass it along to our children.  We mean well.  Children can say hurtful things, and we teach them that just because Bubba Duell down the street calls us stupid or ugly, we’ll survive.  Words cannot hurt us.

But then again, maybe it’s only words that can hurt.  James 1 says that if we cannot reign in our tongue, our religion is worthless.  Listen to what James says in James 3:3-10 –

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

I found 17 verses on the power of the tongue and the purpose for it.

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God wants us to use our speech for good.  With our words we can build people up or we can tear them down.  We can encourage or we can criticize.  We can praise or we can condemn.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:1, 17-18 –

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

So maybe it’s words that can hurt, not sticks and stones.  Our earthly bodies have expiration dates, but Jesus says in Matthew 12:36 “that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  What comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, and it’s the heart God wants.  Our faithful hearts are God’s treasured possessions.

  V.      God is Looking for His Faithful Remnant, Malachi 3:16-18

Malachi 3:16-18

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

We are saved through our Lord Jesus Christ.  God says that those who accept this sacrifice and call him Lord will be spared from the Day of Wrath that is coming.  God is looking for His faithful remnant that will serve Him.  So what does it mean to serve the Lord?

I think the answer for that is uniquely tailored for each of us.  Certainly the calling that Dr. Young heard is different than you and I.  But I don’t think the actual service is what it important.  Remember, God doesn’t need $100.  He desired our hearts, they are His treasured possessions.

You know that phrase, “fake it till you make it?”  There’s a lot to that, at least initially.  God uses us best when we are in motion and trying to do something for Him.  If you don’t know what God wants from you, are you just sitting and waiting?  Or are you in motion?  Volunteer for something.  Anything.  Don’t feel the Holy Spirit moving in you?  Say something encouraging to somebody.  Can’t stand the sight of somebody and the hate an unforgiveness inside you is eating you up?  Do something unexpectedly nice for them.

But “fake it till you make it” is still fake.  It’s surface, it’s shallow.  God wants the depths.  While you are working from the outside it, God will be working from the inside out.  Eventually they will meet.  You will “make it.”  You will be authentic, a whole person.

So right now, you and I may not always feel like a solid Christian.  Ever grumbled that you had to go to church?  Even inside?  You sit in the pew, and somebody that you don’t care for is sitting where you can see them.  And you’re thinking, “that no good so-and-so, they are so fake.  Coming to church for Christmas and Easter, but not in a bible study.  They’re just taking up space.”  All while you’re singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”

We’re not whole.  If we “fake it till we make it,” we’re putting up a nice exterior for people to see.  And if we’re in prayer and repentance, the Holy Spirit is working on the inside.  We still have our old sinful self with pride and arrogance getting in the way daily.

For our math teachers, what is an integer?  It’s a whole number that can be positive or negative.  It’s not a fraction like three quarters ¾ or a decimal like 0.5829.  It’s a whole number.

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The word comes from the Latin “integer.”  “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”.  Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”

God wants us to be an integer.  Whole, upright, untouched, untainted.  The same all the way through.  The same on the inside as we are on the outside.  He wants us to be people of integrity.  To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.

We can’t do this on our own.  It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ.  Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions.  A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions.  It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.

So if I can control my tongue to only offer encouragement and praise, that’s a start.  If I am not whole, if this attitude does not penetrate my heart, if I am not an integer, then God’s most treasured possession, my heart, does not belong to Him, then my words are meaningless.  If I tithe 10%, or 15%, or 25% or 100%, but my actions are not driven from the heart and my love for God, then my tithing is meaningless.  It’s my heart for Him that the Lord wants.  1 Corinthians 13:1-8 –

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 Love never fails.

Faking it is not the goal, but it gets the body moving.  Our goal is making it, having a heart that belongs to Him and Him alone.  We do that by loving our God who first loved us and sent His son to die for us, to pay the price for our sins that deserve the wrath of God.  But because of His mercy, we are Children of God and our hearts and words and actions, our tongues and our tithes, our whole selves, belong to Him.

VI.      Conclusion

Ask God daily to give you a heart of love for Him.  Be wholly devoted to our Lord and Savior.  Give everything you are to Him who sits on the throne.  Abide in Christ, and be one in Christ Jesus.

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To God be the glory.

Awestruck

A study of Habakkuk 3.

Habakkuk 3 Theme

  I.      Introduction

Last week, in Habakkuk 1 & 2, we heard a difficult message of how God can use evil people to accomplish His will.  When Habakkuk asked God to correct and admonish the Jewish people, God responded that it was all under control.  God would rise up the evil Chaldeans to crush the Jewish people.

I imagine Habakkuk suddenly sitting down, stunned at the message.  “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

We’ve been studying the Minor Prophets for a while, and the message each week has been the same.  Is the lesson Zephaniah?  Answer: Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Nahum?  Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Obadiah?  Wrath of God.

If last week’s study of Habakkuk 1&2 was classroom instruction, then Habakkuk 3 today is a study of how to apply hard lessons.  When we know the wrath of God is coming, like Habakkuk knew the Chaldeans were coming to conquer the Jews, how do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

Or closer to home, I couldn’t help but imagine a parallel in today’s times.  Like we are praying to God that America seems to be losing its way, and please bring America back into God’s will.  And God responds that he’s raising a mighty evil Islamic army called ISIS.  How do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

In one sense, I guess we should expect that God uses evil people for His purposes.  Romans 8:28 says “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  If evil exists, and God is in control, then it is only logical that the only evil that exists is that which God allows to exist for His purpose.  Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess at the name of Jesus, and that includes evil knees and tongues.

Among all of God’s beautiful attributes, like love, compassion, peace, and joy, our fear of the Lord should recognize God’s ways are above our ways, and in our temporary lives on earth we may not fully appreciate all of God’s ways.  God is in control of everything, not just the good, and he will use *everything* in order to purify His people.  God’s plan for you and me is not our happiness, but our righteousness.  And he tells us that if we are righteous, then we will also be happy.  Win-win.

So if you or I feel that God’s plans seem to be working against us, we feel hurt or pain or disappointment, how do we come to terms with God?  We want to always think of Him as our kindly heavenly father who gives us great gifts, but we don’t like the discipline and God’s justice.  How do we maintain our joy when we know God is raising up evil Chaldeans against us?

II.      Reassured by What We Hear, Habakkuk 3:1-2

Let’s look first at Habakkuk 3:1-2 –

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

There’s an unfamiliar word there in verse 1, “On shigionoth.”  I thought it was some sort of Klingon word, good thing I studied.  Most scholars believe it’s a literary or maybe musical term, but one source I read believes it is a highly emotional poetic form.  On shigionoth, Habakkuk is pouring out His heart in prayer to the Lord.

In verse 2, who has a translation that says “I fear” or “I was afraid?”  This is not fear of the outcome, for our lesson today is how to have comfort that the Lord is in control.  He says “I fear” which is standing in awe, not fear of the outcome.  Habakkuk says he has heard of God’s most incredible power and might, and acknowledges that God’s power will destroy all that displeases the Lord.  And Habakkuk says, Lord, in your wrath, remember mercy.
parting of the red sea
Habakkuk is likely referring to earlier books that tell of God’s great power.  The book of Genesis, the book of Exodus.  Habakkuk knows about the parting of the sea.  The parting of the Red Sea wasn’t low tide or other some nonsense presented on one of those secular history shows.  Let’s hear of God’s power in Exodus 14:21 following, and I’m going to shorten the story some in the interest of time –

Then the Lord said to Moses, “[…]Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.  As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.  As for Me, behold, […] I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.  Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord […].”

 

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.  The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.  Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit […]. the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and […] overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.  The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained.”

 

It’s interesting to me that the Egyptians were the evil ones in the book of Exodus, and God used them to display his awesome power.  Habakkuk says, “I have heard of your fame.”  What Habakkuk is saying to us modern day Christians is… read the bible.  God’s awesome might and power and wrath and love is in the Good Book for each of us to discover.  We will be comforted.  Yes, we stand in awe of God’s mighty power.  Yes, we fear the wrath of God that is coming.  But God will remember His mercy for those who have placed their faith in Him.

III.      Reassured by What We See, Habakkuk 3:3-19

If reading our bible about God’s mighty power isn’t enough, we can see his power with our own eyes.  Habakkuk 3:3-4 –

God comes from Teman,
And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah.
His splendor covers the heavens,
And the earth is full of His praise.
His radiance is like the sunlight;
He has rays flashing from His hand,
And there is the hiding of His power.

 

We view the majesty of the Almighty moving across the earth.  Teman was a city east of Israel, and Mount Paran was a mountain opposite of Teman, so Habakkuk is saying God’s majesty awakens from the east each day and covers the heaven.

God displays the beauty of His creation to us so that we may know he is a God of love and beauty.  Romans 1:20 says

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

sunrise
So that we do not wake up each morning and says, “wow, what a spectacular sunrise.  I guess that just happened accidentally again this morning.”  No, it’s so that we clearly see that God’s glory is like the sunrise, with rays of brilliant light flashing from his hands.

As I was preparing this lesson, and Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable” came on the radio and I was struck by how perfect the lyrics fit this lesson.  Can I ask the choir members in this class to sing this for us?

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming
 
Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky
And You know them by name
You are amazing, God
 
All powerful, untameable
Awestruck we fall to our knees
As we humbly proclaim
You are amazing, God

And if God’s splendor and majesty is evident each morning, then so is his strength.  Habakkuk 3:5-12 –

Before Him goes pestilence,
And plague comes after Him.
He stood and surveyed the earth;
He looked and startled the nations.
Yes, the perpetual mountains were shattered,
The ancient hills collapsed.
His ways are everlasting.
I saw the tents of Cushan under distress,
The tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling.
Did the Lord rage against the rivers,
Or was Your anger against the rivers,
Or was Your wrath against the sea,
That You rode on Your horses,
On Your chariots of salvation?
Your bow was made bare,
The rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah.
You cleaved the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw You and quaked;
The downpour of waters swept by.
The deep uttered forth its voice,
It lifted high its hands.
Sun and moon stood in their places;
They went away at the light of Your arrows,
At the radiance of Your gleaming spear.
In indignation You marched through the earth;
In anger You trampled the nations.

God makes mountains.  God destroys mountains.  He judges with pestilence and plague.   He shakes the nations and crushes His enemies.  There is nothing that can withstand the power of God.

Let’s go big.  Let’s see if we can imagine the power of God.  How big is the earth that God created?    Let’s stipulate that the earth is big, really big.  It is so big that for thousands of years, man believed the earth was flat.  Man couldn’t see the horizon curve, there was no reason to believe they were living on a giant round rock.  Here’s a picture from a low orbit where you can see at the edges that the earth is indeed round.  Even though it’s low orbit, it’s still pretty high.  I can’t seem to find a camera shot that is close enough to see people and yet also see the curvature of the earth.  The earth is so big, over 7 billion people live on it now.
Habakkuk 3 1 Clouds-nature-planets-earth-low-resolution
But as big as the earth is, it’s not the biggest planet in our solar system.  We’re a small blue marble.
Habakkuk 3 2 planets
But even the largest planet, Jupiter, is small next to the size of the sun.  The sun is huge.  Imagine the sun the size of a basketball, then the earth is about the size of one of the dimples.
Habakkuk 3 3 SunSize
Our sun is considered to be a medium size star.  There are stars in our galaxy that make our sun look tiny.
Habakkuk 3 4 sun-stars
But even the largest stars get lost next to the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Habakkuk 3 5 milkyWaySide1_300
The Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy.  Scientists estimate between 100 billion and 200 billion galaxies, but that’s only because we can’t see any further than that.
Habakkuk 3 6 large_detailed_map_of_the_Universe
Genesis 1:1.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  God spoke the universe into existence by saying, “Let there be light.”  From the morning rays of sunshine to the countless stars by night, God has demonstrated His glory to all so that we may be without excuse.

But maybe facing outward doesn’t give us a good perspective of God.  Is God too big and distant?  If this is God’s view, can He see me?

Let’s go small.  Who am I, and what did God create?  I’m one of those 7 billion people are the earth, so I thought I’d show you the complexity of the human body.
Habakkuk 3 7 Body-systems-and-organs
I admit I underestimated trying to describe human anatomy in the time available for our class.   Our bodies are complex.  We have a circulatory system that moves oxygen and antibodies, powered by a heart that will beat over 3 billion times in our lifetime.  We have a nervous system that communicates heat and cold and pain and causes muscles to move and is powered by a brain that holds memories and process thought and makes sense of the world around us.  A respiratory system that brings in oxygen, expels carbon dioxide that the blood cells from the circulatory system brought in.  A digestive system that extracts nutrients from outside our bodies and turns them into fuel.  A skeletal system to support our weight, and a muscular system to provide movement.

It was too complex.  I thought, I’ll simplify this, I’ll just focus on one piece.  How about the heart.  Just one organ, part of the circulatory system.
Habakkuk 3 8 1024px-Blausen_0457_Heart_SectionalAnatomy
I’m an engineer, and I don’t know how all this contraption works.  There are valves and muscles and aortas and stuff.  And it beats 3 billion times in a lifetime?  This is a miracle gadget.  Let’s simplify it even further,   How about just the teensiest part.  How about… a single human cell.  If I can’t understand the machinery, maybe I can understand a nut and washer, right?
Habakkup 3 9 cell
Goodness.  There are 5 million human cells in a cubic millimeter, about a drop of water.  They’re specialized, too.  Liver cells, brain cells, blood cells, each one knows exactly what to do.

God is in the small stuff.  God is in the big stuff.  God is everywhere and in everything.  There is no place we can go that God isn’t there.  And we haven’t even talked about plants and photosynthesis or insects or rocks or how he created oxygen.  Psalm 139:13 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

We are created by God for a purpose.  We have meaning.  God knows us, has a plan for us, and he knows the name of every single hair on our head.  From our DNA to the hairs on our head to the creation of the universe itself, God loves us.  Like Habakkuk, I can see with my own eyes God’s hand in every single part of my being, my life, my walk, and my purpose.

And I can see God’s love for me.

IV.      Reassured by His Deliverance, Habakkuk 3:13

Habakkuk 3:13 –

You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
For the salvation of Your anointed.
You struck the head of the house of the evil
To lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah.

 

This God of beauty, this God of power, this God of creation, is also this God of love.  He knew, given free choice, that not everyone would choose good.   It’s not choice if we’re forced to choose good.  So, through the choice of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world.  Rebellion.  Disobedience.  His holiness will not tolerate our evil, our sins.  God will destroy sin.  God will raise Chaldeans and plagues and locusts to destroy the evil we do and the evil we think and the evil we are.  His justice demands His wrath.  The minor prophets we’ve been studying, like Habakkuk, have warned us of God’s hatred of sin.

But God loves the sinner who seeks Him.  But more than God hates sin, God loves us.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3:16).

 

Out of His abundance of love, has given us His son.  I don’t know how much it hurt God to sacrifice His own son for us.  To watch Christ scourged and crucified under Pontius Pilot while the crowds of people called for the death of His son.  And I don’t know any bigger gift that God could give than to offer forgiveness to us through the sacrifice of His son, so that we may be reconciled to God and be called Children of God.  And through the death of Jesus, He then sent a comforter, the Holy Spirit, to live in us.  To pray and groan on our behalf, to move us to obedience.  Even as his perfect justice and discipline may cause pain and suffering as He teaches us spiritual truths, and even as He raises us Chaldeans against us to purify us as a people, we know that He has prepared a place for us, a place without tears.

We may not understand the Chaldeans in our own lives, but God has a purpose for everything.  C.S. Lewis, in the book “Mere Christianity,” put it this way:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

 

When God allows Chaldeans to run roughshod over us with destruction and pain, the Chaldeans are fulfilling God’s purpose.  Even if, and perhaps especially if, the Chaldeans are evil, for the evil cannot exist without God allowing it.  Three verses can give us peace during these times –

  • 2 Corinthians 4:17

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, and
  • Romans 8:28 all things work together for good.

Praise and worship our mighty God.  It is right to praise Him.  Does God need our praise?  No, it pleases Him to think that those who created acknowledge the Creator.  How awesome it is to please Him.

  V.      Reassured by His Security, Habakkuk 3:16-19

Abundant life.  Purpose.  A God who loves us.  An eternity without tears.

Because of all we have heard, because of all we have seen, because of all we have experienced, we can trust God in time of fear.

Habakkuk 3:16

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Habakkuk knows God’s wrath is coming.  The Jewish people have turned their backs on the Lord, and Habakkuk has prayed for the Lord’s will be done.  The Lord responded that He will purify his people by allowing evil Chaldeans to conquer and rule over Israel.  And Habakkuk, though so fearful that decay is in his bones and his legs are trembling, will wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill His word.

Did Habakkuk’s circumstances change?   Calamity is on the horizon.  Soon there will be destruction.  Sometimes we believe that if we change our attitude, trust in the Lord, pray fervent prayers, then our circumstances will change.  Not so – it is not the circumstances that change.  Nor is it God who changes.  No, it is us who change.  We trust that God is in control.  The same God that created an amazingly huge universe and the tiniest DNA stands in our cells and dwells within us, has provided the redemptive power through His son, is in control.  We can wait patiently.  It is us who changes.

So don’t worry.  God’s got this.

VI.      Conclusion

What have you heard about God that reassures you?  What have you seen from God that assures you of his awesome power?  Our God is wrath, true.  Wrath that destroys the wicked.  But our God is love.  He has created a splendor for us to see Him in our broken world.  A little taste of heaven, here and now.

You may not know the name of Carl Gustav Boberg, a Swedish poet who was born in 1859.  One day when Boberg was walking home from church and listening to church bells.  Suddenly, a tremendous storm, with violent winds and pounding rains.  The church rang madly.  Lightning pealed across the sky in massive thunderclaps.  Broberg and his friends had to take shelter.

Then, almost as suddenly as it arrived, the storm passed.  Winds blew over the nearby meadows, the pounding rains gave way to cool fresh showers, and then clear skies with a rainbow.

Broberg was in awe of the storm, the lightning, that demonstrated God’s power, and the peace and beauty after the wrath had passed.  That night, Carl Broberg wrote a poem called, ‘O Store Gud,’ or as we know it today, ‘How Great Thou Art.’

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

 

Invading Chaldeans are coming.  Habakkuk has to wait – terror at what is to come, but trust in the outcome.  Habakkuk 3 is a prayer to Yahweh to let the world again see the redemptive work of the Lord.  Regardless of our circumstances, we stand in awe of our God!

 

To God be the glory.

Zechariah title

The Promised Messiah

Zechariah title  I.      Introduction

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 imagery

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: –

Zechariah 9:9

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.

Zechariah 14:3-4,9

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 –

Zechariah 9:9

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.

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.

Zechariah prophecy

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.

http://bibleprobe.com/365messianicprophecies.htm

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?

John 5:36-40,

“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 –

Romans 10:9

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.

  V.      Conclusion

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.

Zechariah Palm Sunday

To God be the glory.

Wrath of God

The Wrath of God

A study of Zephaniah 1

   I.      Introduction

Wrath of God

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.”

 

II.      Revelation

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.

  V.      Conclusion

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.

Sword of the Spirit

              I.      Introduction

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).

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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.

Acts 17:10-12,

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.

            VI.      Conclusion

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.

Nehemiah 1 Rebuilding the Walls

Rebuilding the Walls

              I.      Introduction

Nehemiah 1 Rebuilding the Walls

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.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah

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.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah 2

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.

Nehemiah Hebrew Calendar

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.

Revelation 21:9-14

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.

Nehemiah Twelve Gates

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.

              V.      Conclusion

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.

Nehemiah New Jerusalem

To God be the glory.

Esther 1-3, Deliverance is Needed

              I.      Introduction

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.”

2014-12-07 Esther 1-3 Deliverance is Needed

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

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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.

The good:

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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.

Verse 8-9,

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.
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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.

            VI.      Conclusion

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.