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The Faith of the Centurion

  I.      Introduction

The Roman Empire conquered by force much of the known world in days leading up to the birth of Jesus.  By 37 BC, the Romans placed Herod the Great to rule Judea as a Roman province, with Roman troops stationed in Jerusalem to enforce the peace.

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After the death of Herod in 4 BC, Judea came under direct Roman administration and suppression.  The Jewish people longed for their Messiah, their deliverer, to free them from bondage, to give the land of Israel back to the Jews.

This was the land where Jesus preached the gospel of salvation to the Jewish people, under bondage to the Roman military machine.

II.      Matthew 8:5, Roman Occupation

A Roman legion was approximately 6000 Roman soldiers.  To manage such a large number of soldiers, they were organized in groups of approximately 100 called “centuries.”

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Soldiers that demonstrated superior leadership skills were promoted to command a century and were known as “centurions.”  Since these centurions represented the face of the Roman empire, they were hated and despised by the Jewish leaders and people, though in the New Testament, centurions were always mentioned with respect.

During the life and ministry of Jesus, Jesus preached almost entirely to the Jewish people.  While ultimately His message was for all of God’s adopted children to place their faith and trust in Him, Jesus reached out first to God’s chosen people.  The Jewish people looked for their Messiah to confront the Roman occupation and emerge militarily victorious, but Jesus during His ministry confronted primarily the Jewish Pharisee leaders for their hypocrisy.

However, in the midst of this occupation and hatred of Roman soldiers, Jesus did have a few interactions with the gentiles, and we are going to look at a significant one today.  Let’s turn to Matthew 8, verse 5-6 –

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”.

Already we can see some interesting things here.  Jesus has given His amazing Sermon on the Mount, and now left His hometown of Nazareth and arrived in Capernaum, the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John the fishermen, as well as Matthew the tax collector.  And a Roman centurion, commander of a century of soldiers, has come to Jesus for help.  This same story is told in Luke 7 and it says elders of the Jews came to plead with Jesus on behalf of the centurion, saying that the centurion is a good man, loves the Jews, and built a synagogue for the Jews.  Not your typical Roman centurion.

The centurions had a reputation as ruthless warriors, and they often took slaves or servants from the local population.  Neither Matthew or Luke mention this, but it’s very possible the servant is Jewish.  And when a servant or slave becomes paralyzed while in service to a centurion, they were no longer of any use.  Under Roman law, slaves that could no longer perform their duties could be killed.

But this centurion seems unique.  As a commanding soldier in the occupying Roman army, he could expect to order a Jewish rabbi like Jesus to appear before him.   But instead, rather than summoning Jesus, the centurion comes to Jesus.  Rather than trying to command Jesus, he asks Jesus for help.  And instead of asking for a personal favor, the centurion comes to Jesus humbly to ask for help on behalf of another.  Perhaps if the servant was Jewish, the centurion was more confidant that Jesus would come heal a Jew.  Jesus’s response is immediate.

 

III.      Matthew 8:7-9, The Humble Centurion

It says in verse 7,

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Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Some translations translate this as a statement, “I shall come and heal him.”  But the Greek word for “I” used by Jesus, “egō” is only used emphatically.  “Shall *I* come and heal him?”  Sort of like Miss Piggy saying, “Moi?”  Or Robert De Niro saying, “You talkin’ to me?  You talking to *me*?”

Jesus is pointing out to us and to those around him how unique this request is.  “Are you, a Roman centurion, asking for a favor?  From a Jew?”  Is this a really a polite request?  Or is this an order from a commanding soldier to a subservient occupied Jew?

The commanding Roman centurion soldier responds humbly, and acknowledges that Jesus’ authority is supreme.  Verse 8-9 –

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The centurion shows his faith not only by acknowledging his own unworthiness, but also recognizing that the power of Jesus is so great that this request is so small.  The Jewish people at the time did not believe that long distance miracles were possible, but the centurion reasons otherwise, based on his own experiences.  The centurion can issue commands and receive obedience at a distance because he is under authority of the Roman Empire, which rules the land.  Therefore, Jesus, as a ruler under the authority of the God of Israel, merely has to issue a command from His own mouth to banish powers that are subject to Him, such as sickness.  He knew the word of Christ and His authority were enough. He believed Christ’s words before He saw the works.

 

IV.      Matthew 10, The Amazing Faith of the Centurion

Jesus then makes two incredible statements.  First, in verse 10, Jesus says,

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Jesus is amazed at the gentile’s faith.  The gentile doesn’t need to see the signs. The gentile understands, believes, and acts on it. This is an indictment against the Jewish nation which insists on seeing signs as proof and then still doesn’t believe even after they see the signs.

The Greek word “thaumazo” is translated “marveled” or “amazed” and there are only 2 times in the gospels that record Jesus has being amazed.  This is the second instance; Jesus is amazed at the great demonstration of belief displayed in the gentile Roman centurion.  The first time is in the book of Mark, chapter 6:4-6 –

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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Here Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith.  I think Jesus would still be amazed today at the lack of faith.  That left to their own, people must answer for every word ever spoken, every deed ever done, and if we are honest with ourselves, our words and deeds fall far short of perfection.  And yet, Jesus came to bear the punishment we so richly deserve and bore the whips and scourge on his back for us.  By His stripes we are healed, if we but believe in Him.  But due to a lack of faith, so many will miss out on this forgiveness.  It is truly amazing.

Then Jesus says in Matthew 8:11-12,

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and [m]recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The centurion gets far more than he asks for, and this is a result of his faith, not his authority as a commanding officer in an occupation army.  We should remember that this man asked nothing for himself, only for his servant, and yet he receives two of the finest blessings for which a man could ever hope.

First, the centurion receives the highest praise any man, Jew or Gentile, receives in the Gospels.  This Gentile’s faith surpasses that of any Jew in Israel, and it receives the commendation of our Lord.  Second, this man receives the Lord’s promise of inclusion and fellowship that he would never have imagined. The centurion did not consider himself worthy or qualified to have Jesus pass through his door.  Jews during this day would never pass through the door of a gentile, for they would be defiled.

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But Old Testament ceremonial food laws also separated Jews and Gentiles. That is what we see in the case of Peter, both in Acts 10 and in Galatians 2. This man could not conceive of Jesus entering his door, much less sitting at his table.  But Jesus tells him that in the kingdom he will be reclining at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He also says that while many Gentiles will be found at this table, a number of Jews will not be there.

This would have been a radical idea to the Jews listening.  As God’s chosen people, they didn’t not believe gentiles or pagans would belong with God after death.  This was a spot reserved for them, the chosen people.  But Jesus says that gentiles will have a place at this great Messianic banquet.

Gentiles, pagans, and God’s chosen.  Note that Jesus heals at a distance, something the Jews didn’t believe.  But I think there is something symbolic here.  In the first part of Matthew 8 verses 2-3, Jesus heals a Jewish leper by touching him.  For the gentile, Jesus heals from afar.  While Israel is God’s chosen people, but now God’s power is demonstrated and magnified through gentiles.

Also, these few words of Jesus tell us a little something of heaven is like:

  • It is a place of rest; we sit down or recline in heaven.
  • It is a place to sit with good company; we enjoy the friendship of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in heaven.
  • It is a place with many people; Jesus said that many will come into heaven.
  • It is a place with people from all over the earth; from east and west they will come to heaven.
  • It is a certain place; Jesus said many will come, but others will be cast out.

This gives me some comfort that we will indeed know one another in heaven.  When we pray, maybe we can keep our eyes open.  I want you to be able to see me so that when we all get to heaven, you can recognize me.  “Look!  There’s Michael!”  Charles Spurgeon puts it this way:

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“But ye shall hear those loved voices again; ye shall hear those sweet voices once more, ye shall yet know that those whom ye loved have been loved by God. Would not that be a dreary heaven for us to inhabit, where we should be alike unknowing and unknown? I would not care to go to such a heaven as that. I believe that heaven is a fellowship of the saints, and that we shall know one another there.”

As well, Jesus reminded his Jewish listeners that the Jews racial identity was not a guaranteed entrance to the kingdom of heaven, just as the Gentile’s racial identity was not an automatic barrier. Though Jews were God’s chosen people, they might end up in hell.

 

  V.      Matthew 8:13

In Matthew 8:13,

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go!  Let it be done just as you believed it would.”  And his servant was healed at that moment.

Remember, Jesus had just given his amazing Sermon on the Mount that had a lot of radical ideas in it.  The Jews would have loved to hear, “Blessed are the descendants of Abraham,” or “Blessed are those who keep the Law of Moses.”  But instead, Jesus redefines who the blessed are.  The meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn or are humble.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and now He is demonstrating this love in action.  When Jesus heals the servant, he is providing for the well-being of the enemy, an occupying soldier in the Lord’s holy land.  But rather than use this as an excuse, Jesus demonstrates from the Sermon on the Mount, love thy enemies, pray for them, do good to them.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Do we have the faith of the centurion to recognize the greatness of God’s power?  If we love the Lord and are obedient to His will, we may have confidence the Lord has the ability and love to fulfill His promises.  Jesus provides the authority for us to do the work He has called us to do.  The work is His and not our own.

Just like the faith of Abraham his son Isaac we studied a few months ago, Abraham rested on his faith in the Lord.  In Genesis 22, The Lord tested Abraham and ask him to sacrifice his only son.  But earlier, The Lord had told Abraham he would have more descendants than the stars in the skies.  How would the Lord fulfill both promises?  In verse Genesis 22:3-5 we read –

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

On the third day, a shadow of things to come in Christ Jesus, Abram’s son would live.  Abram would sacrifice his son, and somehow his son would live.  Abraham showed his faith when he told his servants “we” will return.  God fulfills His promises despite appearance.  And Abrahams faith was credited to him as righteousness, and he’s listed in the Hebrews hall of faith.

Will we be like Abraham, and trust in the Lord’s promises despite appearances?  Will we be like the centurion and trust the Lord has the power to overcome death?  The centurion didn’t use his position or status as an excuse not to follow Jesus.  He didn’t say, “I’m too busy, I’m a soldier.” Or, “I’m too busy at my job, I can’t right now.”  Or, “My company prohibits any sharing of faith.”  The centurion was a busy soldier in a pagan, gentile occupation, yet still boldly followed Jesus.

Will Jesus be amazed at our demonstration of faith, like the centurion?  Or will he be amazed at the lack of faith, like the people of Nazarene?

Jesus came for His chosen people first, but then stretched out His hand to save the gentiles, too.  Not our ancestry, not our works, but only our faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah will save us. This is what makes us a true offspring of Abraham.  In Romans 4:13-17, Paul writes –

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.  For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

Demonstrate faith.  Do not just bring your problems to Jesus.  Look at your problems *through* Jesus.

This centurion, who sought the Lord’s mercy toward his servant, came to Him on the basis of faith, and it is this faith which not only healed the servant, but saved the centurion.  We here in this room are Gentiles, and our lesson today has told us that Jesus came for us as well as the chosen people, and that by trusting in Him, by relying by faith in the awesome power of Christ Jesus, that we may be saved through His sacrifice.

If we but trust in Him, that amazing faith will save us.

To God be the glory.

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Gifts ofthe Magi

   I.      Introduction

I have missed a few weeks due to travel again.  I was fortunate enough that the weekend wasn’t too windy or cold or rainy, so I got out to see a Victorian Festival in Otley UK.  The very first thing I saw was a brass band – I love brass bands, I used to play a brass instrument – so I whipped out my camera.  Just as they began to take a break.  And I said, “But I came all the way from Texas!”  And the leader says, ok, 1 more, just for you, do you have a request?

I thought about this upcoming lesson on the gifts of the magi, and said, “How about, ‘We Three Kings?’”  They mumbled to themselves and said, “I think it’s #90.”  And I said, “Yes, #90.”  As if I knew what page number it was on.

So they gave me this special gift of song that I’d like to share with you:

There.  Wait, there’s more to today’s lesson.

Christmas is approaching, and with it, another chance to reflect on the incredible gift God has given us.  During our studies in this class, we’ve considered the desires of God for man, how man has fallen, how God must punish all sin including the sin that is in our very nature, and how in God’s infinite love, He has given us a free gift to accept His sacrifice for our sins.

Open your bibles to Matthew 2 this morning; last week we read about the birth of Jesus, and today we’ll study the wise men who came to worship Him.   Let’s step through our verses one at a time today and get the full richness of God’s gift.

II.      Matthew 2:1

Matthew 2:1 –

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

 

Did you know there are actually two towns named Bethlehem?  There is a Bethlehem in the tribe of Zabulon that is mentioned in Joshua 19:15, and it’s not the same as the town of Bethlehem in Judea which is located about 6 miles from Jerusalem.

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When I visited Israel 5 years ago, I didn’t go into Bethlehem, but I did get a chance to photograph it from a distance.  It’s primarily a Palestine town now, and I understand that over the centuries the original site was destroyed and rebuilt several times.  Today, the church doesn’t resemble the humble beginnings of our Lord.    What I find most interesting about the land of Bethlehem is that this land was used for raising sheep.  During Passover, Jews would select the best lambs to offer as a sacrifice at the Temple of Jerusalem.

This was during the time of King Herod – this is Herod the Great or Herod the Ascalonite, the son of Antipater.  It’s interesting to me that he wasn’t completely Jewish, his ancestors were Edomites whose ancestors had converted to Judaism, and Herod was raised as a Jew.  Last week Chris talked about the importance of lineage of Jesus, and how observant Jews study certain rabbis whip can trace their lineage to the tribe of Levi so they can say they came from “good stock.”. Herod did not have such good lineage.

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He was born around 74 B.C. and through a series of political manipulations with the Romans was appointed King of the Jews around 40 B.C.  His dedication to the Jewish faith was always questioned, so he married a Jewish woman named Mariamne, but Herod already had a wife named Doris and a young son Antipater who were banished after his second marriage.  Herod’s lifestyle was condemned by the observant Jews, but Herod had a habit of executing those who opposed him, including several members of his own family, including his second wife Mariamne.  He ruled Jerusalem with the support of Rome for 37 years, and Jesus was born in the 35th year of Herod’s reign.

After Jesus was born, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem.  There is no evidence there were only three wise men, that’s just part of the song.  The term “magi” was used for several occupations, not all of them considered wise.  They were wizards, enchanters, magicians, sorcerers.  The most likely origination of these wise men were probably from Persia, first appointed by Cyrus, to sing hymns to the gods and to sacrifice to them.  They likely arrived, not a Jesus’ birth, but to account for the long journey from Persia, most scholars agree that they arrived in Jerusalem about 2 years after Jesus’ birth.

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III.      Matthew 2:2

Matthew 2:1 –

[The Magi] asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

 

Some translations, like the King James, say “for we have seen his star in the east.”  That’s not phrased very well, because it wasn’t the star that was in the east, it was the magi who were from the east.

What was this star?  Some sources say it might have been an angel, but that’s not likely or the scripture would have said it was an angel.  Some are of the opinion it was the light or glory of God which shone about the shepherds, or perhaps a comet which tradition had appeared at the birth or death of some illustrious person.  But I think a star still makes the most sense, a new and unusual miracle from God the Father to mark the birth of His Son.  It fulfils prophecy, such as in Numbers 24:17 which says

there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.

 

The magi would have been very familiar with this prophecy, and journeyed 2 years to arrive at the birth of the new King of the Jews.

Can you imagine the wicked Herod’s reaction when wise men from Persia, following this star, shows up at his palace and asks to see the new king?  Herod must have been furious.  In the next verse, Matthew 2:3, it says –

IV.      Matthew 2:3

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

 

Herod knew he had no legitimate right to be the king of the Jews, and fiercely defended his power, and a threat to Herod’s power also brought fear to Jerusalem for the power struggle that would ensue.  The birth of Christ partially fulfilled the prophecy in Genesis 49:10,

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

 

Herod was not of the tribe of Judah, so the scepter of the king did not belong to him.

  V.      Matthew 2:4-6

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

 

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 

This prophecy is from Micah 5:2, and they’re explaining to Herod that this prophecy has already come true, and that magi are here to pay homage to Him.  Herod likely gathered the priests and rabbis of the Sanhedrin, and in the NIV Herod sounds very nice, he asked them politely where Christ the Messiah would be born.  I think it’s more of a demand; Herod is the chief of the Sanhedrin and Herod wants to know if there’s any validity to this threat.

 

VI.      Matthew 2:7-8

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

 

I don’t think Herod’s being honest here, just sayin’.  Herod meets with the magi privately and interrogates them for intel.  No doubt he did this away from the Sanhedrin, for the Sanhedrin would understand exactly why Herod wants to know the time and place of the birth of Christ.  He would understand that Jesus may be as old as two years old now, given the length of the journey from Persia.

Did I mention earlier that Bethlehem is only about 6 miles away?  Don’t you think it’s odd that Herod know the fulfillment of prophecy is just a short distance, yet he sends nobody with the magi.  Herod certainly didn’t want the Jews to know what the magi already did, that the king of the Jews was born.  The Jews in Herod’s palace were likely to set up the newborn king as the new king of the Jews with the intention of overthrowing Herod.

VII.      Matthew 2:9-10

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

 

To me, it’s interesting that the Jews, though they knew prophecy, did not accompany the magi.  Did the Jews even know the magi had been born?  This passage seems to indicate that the star had reappeared – that “lo” in verse 9 is an expression of surprise and joy.  The magi were gentiles from east of Israel, and no doubt overjoyed to have this star lead them to the child.  The birth of the child is the first noel; the star itself is the first GPS navigation system.

Herod was not overjoyed; we read later in this chapter that the magi didn’t return to Herod has he had commanded, and Herod, furious that the magi didn’t identify the specific child he was looking for, ordered every child in Bethlehem under the age of two to be slaughtered.  The evil of men and the horrors they commit to maintain their so-called grasp of power for a few more years is appalling, but rather than focus on Herod anymore, I want to study the magi as the met and worshipped the king of the Jews for the first time.

VIII.      Matthew 2:11-12, Gifts of the Magi

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

That last line is meaningful to me.  We all meet Jesus, and once we meet Him, we go another way.

The magi provided their gifts to the young baby, wealth of abundance.  When we see Christmas scenes of The Three Wise Men, they’re often shown holding a small decorative container with a gift.  It’s likely, though, that the magi brought substantially more – they certainly wouldn’t travel over a thousand miles just to provide samples.  No, they brought gifts for the King of Kings.  Scholars note that later, when Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, this wealth surely sustained them during their exile.

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Let’s look at these gifts –

  • Gold certainly makes sense as a gift.  Gold is a gift fit for a king, and the magi recognized Christ the newborn as the rightful King of Israel.  Jesus traced His lineage to David and Abraham, just as scripture prophesied.  And Christ certainly was the rightful king of the Jews, but the book of Matthew illustrates these magi as giving the gold to the baby, something the other gospels don’t mention.  It’s as if Matthew wants to make sure we understand, as the magi did, that Jesus was born a king.Slide18
  • Frankincense is an aromatic balm used to make incense, used by priests during sacrifice.   In other words, a gift for a god.  Jesus is not just our king, the Lord of Lords, but he fulfills a unique role in our salvation that only He can fill – He is our High Priest.   Hebrews 2:17 says that Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.  The magi worshipped Jesus as divine while at the same time Herod was trying to destroy Him.  This contrast characterizes much about the life of Jesus.  Some, like the magi, worship Jesus as Lord.  Others, like Herod, seek His destruction.  Which brings us to the third gift.Slide19
  • Myrrh is an odd gift for a baby.  Like frankincense, myrrh is an aromatic resin that is used to prepare bodies for burial.  From the very beginning, for Christ to give up His life was His purpose.  Mathew 20:28 says that His purpose was “to give His life as a ransom for many.”  And in John 12:27, just before Jesus went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.”  Jesus lived His life with an awareness of His purpose – He was born to die. The story of the magi is a central part of the story of Christ’s birth, but the magi presented Jesus with a gift that honored his death.  We celebrate Christ’s birth because of His death.  Were it not for His sacrifice, His birth would have little meaning.Slide20

The Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts probably is influenced by the story of the magi, but the real story of Christmas is not about the gifts of the magi or the gifts we give to one another, but the gift of God’s only son.  When God gave us Jesus, He gave us everything Heaven had to give.  Ephesians 1:3 says that God has blessed us with *every* spiritual blessing in Christ, like a special Christmas package that contains every blessing of God.

There’s a story of a very wealthy man who came from generations of money.  His great-grandfather had made a fortune in trading spices.  His grandfather made money in real estate.  His father made money in smart investing.  And this man continued on the family tradition, and invested in art.  He had art from Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Monet, and more.  He had an amazing art collection and kept it all in a gallery on his mansion’s estate.

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He met a beautiful woman; they fell in love and were married.  Not long after, the woman got pregnant with their first child, but tragically, she died giving birth to a son.

The father and his son were inseparable.  They spent their days together, playing ball and traveling the world and enjoying every moment.

The son grew up, and before taking over the family business, he thought he’d get some life experience.  He joined the military and was soon shipped off to war.  But he wrote to his father often.  And as each letter arrived, the butler would hand carry it to the father, knowing how eagerly he was waiting to hear from his son.

One day the butler came into the father’s study, holding one of the familiar envelopes.  The father took the letter but instantly noticed something was different.  It was not his son’s familiar handwriting.  The father began to tremble as he read the words, “Dear Sir, we regret to inform you that your son has been killed in the line of duty…” The father fell on his knees sobbing.

For weeks he was overcome with grief.  To celebrate his son, the father commissioned a local artist to paint a portrait of the son.  He hung that portrait right in the middle of the Picassos and the Monets.  It was entitled, “The Son.”  Out of all the priceless works of art, “The Son” was his favorite, and every time he looked at it, he would smile and remember his son.

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The years went by. The father grew old and passed on.  There were no living heirs, so the estate was to be auctioned.  The day of the auction arrived. Wealthy investors and art collectors from around the world arrived to bid on the art.

The auctioneer opened by announcing that they would begin with the piece entitled, “The Son.”  The name of the artist was unknown, and the restless buyers stirred impatiently as the auctioneer started. “We will start the bidding at $1,000. Can I get $1,000?”  There were no bids.  “Can I get $1000?”  At the back of the crowd, one hand went into the air.  It was the butler.  He was not a wealthy man and could never afford the Picassos or the Rembrandts, but it was this portrait of his master’s son that he wanted.  He had seen the son grow from a little boy into a man and had come to love him as his own.  “I’ll give $1000,” he said.

The auctioneer continued, “Can I get $1,500?”  No hands went up.  “Can I get $1,200? $1,100?”  By now the wealthy buyers were grumbling.  They were waiting for the prized art and wasting time with this worthless portrait. “Going once, going twice…sold!”  The gavel came down. The butler went forward to claim his purchase.

Then the auctioneer announced, “And with that purchase this auction comes to a conclusion. Thank you all for coming out today.”  The art collectors began to shout, “Wait a minute! What about the paintings, the cars, the house, the property? What about the rest of the estate?” The auctioneer explained, “I’m sorry, but there was a very specific instruction in the father’s will regarding the sale of his possessions.  He said that in the auction, we should start by offering “The Son,” and whoever takes The Son – gets everything.”

 

IX.      Conclusion

Romans 8:32 says,

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

Christ is the ultimate gift.   In Him, God has given everything else as well.  That baby two thousand years ago, was the treasure of Heaven and God’s gift to mankind.  “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…”

That is the true gift of Christmas.

To God be the glory.

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Answered Prayers

  I.      Introduction

We’ve been studying the life of Abraham lately, and the last time I taught, I encouraged us to rely on the promises of God, for God always fulfills His promises.  Our lesson at that time was Abram believing God’s promise that Abram would have more descendants than stars in the sky.  Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Also, our belief in God’s promises are likewise credited to us as righteousness.  The only thing God asks of us is to believe, and God does everything else.  But if you remember, Abram had a question to the Lord – he was 85 years old and had no children.  How was the Lord going to fulfill  this promise?   Abram believed anyway.

So in today’s lesson, Abram (or Abraham as he is known now), is closer to 100 years old, and the Lord in His plan gives Abraham a son.  And I thought we’d talk about the long years while Abraham waited, seemingly on unanswered prayers.  This looks like it’s going to be a long lesson today, and I apologize in advance, but the bible says that he who endures to the end will be saved.

II.      Who is He that Hears Our Prayers?

Who is the Lord that He has the power to answer prayer?  The more I study the Lord, the less I seem to know about Him.  Early knowledge included His power – Genesis 1 describes powerfully how God spoke the universe into existence.  I can’t speak anything into existence.  I can’t even speak to my dogs and have them listen.  Yet an entire universe was created with a Word.
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Then I learned how much He loved me.  How he knitted me in my mother’s womb, how I was to consider myself fearfully and wonderfully made by His loving hands.  He loved me so much, that because I was unable to save myself, God sent His only son to die for me while I was still a sinner.

And I learned about His holiness.  God is pure, and no sin is tolerated in His presence.  It is obliterated.  Heaven isn’t full of good enough, Heaven is perfect.  How can I, as a sinner, approach a holy omnipotent God?  The thought terrifies me, that I am unworthy to approach such power and holiness.

But through the sacrifice of Jesus, I am covered by His blood, and God accepts me as I am.  When Jesus died and the curtain leading to the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, our separation was over.  We can now go boldly to the throne with our petitions.

It is incredible that God allows us such access.  I know that, on my own, I am not worthy, but I can speak to an incredibly powerful Lord who hates the sin within me solely because I have placed my trust in Jesus.

The Lord speaks to us through His Word, but we speak to Him through the awesome privilege of prayer.

III.      Why Does He Not Answer All Prayers?

But even though we have direct access to the power of God, God is not ours to command.  It is said that God answers every prayer, even if sometimes the answer is “no.”  Habakkuk must have felt the same way when He looked at the horrible behavior of His nation and wondered why God wasn’t doing anything about it.

Habakkuk 1:2 –

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Psalm 13, verse 1, says:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

Have you ever felt that way?  That God isn’t listening, or not taking action?  You’re praying fervently, and God seems to be silent.   Frustrating, isn’t it?  Some might feel that if God isn’t answering, then why should I bother to pray?

Sometimes, though, it only seems that God hasn’t answered.  Perhaps God has answered in an unexpected way.  For instance, perhaps the plan of God is so natural that we don’t recognize the answer.  Sometimes the plan of God is just living by faith daily – and God meeting our needs so naturally that we don’t realize that in the process of living, God is answering our prayers.  We’re still waking up above ground.  We’re still breathing air.  We’re still drinking water.

The Israelites were warned about the danger of complacency and overlooking God’s blessings.  Let’s look at Deuteronomy 8 beginning with verse 10:

Deuteronomy 8

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.  He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.  You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Even though we don’t deal with manna or scorpions and fiery serpents – at least, I don’t think any of us here do – we do have those various things that God does for us, even problems that God solves for us, every single day.  We become so used to God’s working in our lives that we don’t even realize that God is working in our lives.

Sometimes we pray panic prayers – we’re about to lose our balance, or our car is about to hit something.  We cry out to God, “God, help me.”  And God helps us.  We say “whew” and take a deep breath and never stop to think that God has answered that prayer.
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Or perhaps we are recovering from the flu, or we need some money to get us over a financial problem.  We do not stop to realize that God is answering our prayers, even those prayers that we may have only prayed mentally.  God continues to progress His plan, answering prayers continually that we barely notice.
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God’s plan involves the immediate present, but God’s plan also began at the beginning of time and doesn’t end until time runs out.  His plan is so long, that sometimes we cannot see what God is doing.  Have you ever prayed that God would do something in your life, and by the end of the day, He still hasn’t done it?  Or we wait until the end of the week and He still hasn’t done it?  Let me remind you of Romans 8:28.  I don’t want to throw out this verse flippantly and say this is why God isn’t answering your prayer, but we have to keep this verse in mind throughout our prayers if we are to understand how God is working in our lives.  Romans 8:28 –

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

The key phrase here is “all things.”  Sometimes God’s plans seem to move slowly because “all things” is complex.  It takes time for all things to work together. Sometimes it takes a very long time for all things to work together.

We also have a tendency to try and tell God what He means.  When we read Romans 8:28, we read it as though it says, “And we know that all things work together to make us happy,” or “We know that all things work together for what we want.”  That’s incomplete – God indeed wants to give us good things, for what Father doesn’t want good things for His children?  But when God says it’s for the good, God Himself defines what that means in verse 29 and 30 –

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

When God says all things are working together for good, He is saying that He is working throughout time, throughout history, that those He calls may be conformed to the image of Christ.  Perhaps when we are in prayer to our Lord, telling Him of our needs and asking for things, that God answers by encouraging us to be more like Jesus Christ, that we may handle the problems in a Christ-like manner.  That takes time.  That takes a lifetime.  And then perhaps we can understand why God doesn’t give us exactly what we ask for, but instead makes us into the type of person that is better equipped to handle both the problem and the solution.  All of these things He brings about to demonstrate His great love and power and glory in His character in us.

Another reason God doesn’t answer prayer immediately is to demonstrate that no human effort can answer the prayer.  When the prayer is finally answered, there is no doubt that it was God and God alone that answered it.

In our study today of Genesis 21, we see evidence of God answering prayers to demonstrate that God alone is sovereign.  The last few weeks we’ve been studying God’s promise to Abraham that God would provide a son.  We learned that when God reminded Abraham and Sarah at the age of 99 that he had not forgotten His promise, they laughed.  God had promised Abraham that through this son, Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky and that they would be blessed and lead many nations, and the descendent that would redeem all mankind as the messiah would come through Abraham’s lineage.  And Abraham laughed.

In Genesis 21, Abraham is 100 years old now, and Abraham and Sarah have no children together.  Abraham has been waiting his entire life, wondering if God was going to fulfil this promise.  At what point do you think Abraham started to wonder if God had forgotten?  After a week had passed?  A year?  Ten years?

Genesis 21, verse 1 –

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

And in the fullness of time, God has fulfilled His promise.  I find it interesting how it is worded – “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said.”  “The Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”  “Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.”

Now, God didn’t promise this to Sarah earlier that day, or earlier that week.  God had made this promise decades ago.  Abraham and Sarah laughed when reminded, because so many years had gone by that surely they believed God wasn’t going to answer this prayer.  When we wait for decades for God to answer a prayer, there is only one solution.  We must help God and take matters into our own hands.

Isn’t that what we try to do?  God’s promise is so long in coming, God doesn’t seem to be doing His part, so we decided that God needs our help.

Abraham and Sarah did the same.  Abraham and Sarah came up with their own plan, that Abraham would have a son with their maid.  That wasn’t exactly God’s promise, and perhaps God is reminding Abraham of that in verse 3 when He says “Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.”  God made the promise to Abraham and Sarah, not to Abraham and the maid.  In God’s plan, Sarah was to be the mother.

It says in verse 5 that Abraham was 100 years old.  Why did God wait so long?  To clearly demonstrate that this child was from God.  It was a miracle that they had a child at this age.

Sometimes when God doesn’t answer a prayer right away is because he has a different plan, a better plan, and He will answer the prayer in a way that it is an unmistakable gift from God.  What are you praying for?  Are you, like me, praying for something that is taking weeks or months or years for God to answer?  The only advice I can offer is – keep praying.  Perhaps God’s answer won’t be as dramatic as giving Abraham a son at the age of 100, but when God does finally answer it, you can be sure of two things – It was God alone who answered the prayer, and it was worth the wait.

Another reason God might wait is so we stop meddling in God’s plan.  Abraham and Sarah too matters in their own hands to have a son, and God waited until Abraham and Sarah were done messing around with God’s plan and dealing with the repercussions.  Sometime, like Abraham and Sarah, we just get in the way.  Let’s look at Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 18:

And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.

Sometimes the Lord waits to answer prayer because there is something in our hearts that isn’t right with Him.  There is some thing, some plan, some scheme that we are working on to solve the problem.  We say we’re willing to wait on the Lord, but since He’s so slow, why, we’ll just take care of it ourselves.  God wants us to put our trust completely in Him.  Blessed are they that wait for Him.

And sometimes the plan of God is so amazing that He has a much better answer than the one we were expecting.  Many times God doesn’t give us what we ask; sometimes God actually says “no” so that He can give us something better.

Perhaps God doesn’t answer a specific prayer because He is teaching us something about His character.  For instance, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is shown visions and revelations of heaven from the Lord.  What an incredible honor to see that!  But then, because of what he had seen, well let’s pick up in 2 Corinthians 12:7 –

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Whatever this thorn was, Paul pleaded with God to remove it.  And after at least 3 petitions to the Lord, God’s response is, “I’m not going to remove your thorn.  I’m going to give you something better.  I am going to give you my grace, My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  In other words, God will demonstrate that it is not man that accomplishes much, but God that accomplishes everything.

Perhaps you’re thinking of a prayer you have that God hasn’t answered.  Health, job, relationship… while you’re praying and wrestling with the problem, have you discovered that God is perfecting you, strengthening you, teaching you His ways?

In that very position of weakness, God makes His strength perfect.  Whatever our prayer is, we spend more time praying, pondering God’s power or God’s will, wondering what God might do because of that weakness than if we didn’t have that problem.  Sometimes God allows problems to come into our lives or to stay in our lives, because He knows that while we are weak in the face of our problems, He can strengthen us, teach us to depend on Him alone.

If we are young in our faith, we may not understand why God does this.  Am I being punished?  Am I on the junior varsity team of God’s people?  But let’s continue on with 2 Corinthians 12 and see how Paul reacts to this thorn in the flesh –

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul says, “When I am powerless, then that is when I see God’s power in my life.  How awesome it is to see God in action and to feel the strength of God in my life.”

Sometimes God says “no,” so He can give us something better.

Some prayers God doesn’t answer because it’s not in His plan.  Let’s look at 1 John 5:14-15 –

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.

Maybe we focus on the phrase “whatever we ask” and think, “of course God is going to answer my prayer!  It says so right here in 1 John 5!  But a key phrase in that verse is “according to His will.”

The answer to understanding why God doesn’t answer some prayers is in this little phrase.  But how can we understand what God’s will is?  The short answer is all we need to do is understand God and read His word.  But even then, if can be difficult to comprehend what God is doing.  Let’s look at a couple of specifics.  2 Peter 3:9 says,

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.

Why hasn’t God unleashed the bowls of wrath of Revelation?  The time is not yet right.  Some of His children have not yet accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, and God wants to give us every single possibility so that no one is with excuse.  But this verse tells me that I can confidently pray for people to be saved.  I can pray for family, for friends.  For enemies.  I can pray that God will save that person, for it is God’s will that He doesn’t want anyone to perish for their sins.  He’s already paid that price.

And once we have been saved from destruction, then God sets His Holy Spirit to work on our sanctification, to be set aside for God’s purpose and to bring Him glory.  Let’s look at both an Old Testament and a New Testament verse that tells us this.  Psalm 37:3-6 –

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

And also John 15:7 –

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

God says He answers the prayers of those who delight in the Lord and are obedient to the wishes of the Father by remaining in Jesus and His Word.  The more we do that, the more our desires begin to line up with God’s will, and we ask things according to His will, not ours.  In fact, our selfish prayers are not heard.  Look at James 4:3 –

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

That word, “spend” is also translated as “waste” or “squander.”  If we bring a prayer to the Lord whose sole purpose is “just because I want it!”, the bible says that our selfish prayers are not heard.

Now, that doesn’t mean you cannot pray for things you want.  If I pray for somebody in the hospital, is that something I want?  Yes, but it’s not a selfish prayer I’m squandering on my own pleasures.  Certainly, we can pray that God will meet our needs.  Certainly, we can pray that God will heal our sick loved ones.  We can pray about all kinds of things that have to do with us personally, but the kinds of prayers that God doesn’t bother with are the ones that are simply a matter of fun and games. There are much more important things to pray about.

It’s important to pray with the right motives.

Also, when we come to the Lord, we need to confess our sins to Him.  Psalm 66:18 –

If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;

Notice that this verse does not say, “If I sin the Lord will not hear me.”   It says that if I know there is sin in my life and I’m not doing anything about it, the Lord will not hear our prayer.”  And 1 John 1:9 says,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

So we can begin each prayer by asking the Lord to seek our hearts and let us know if there is any sin in us, like David says in Psalm 139.  God will answer than earnest prayer.  Then we confess that sin to the Lord and ask him to remove it from us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness.  And if we are righteous, then James 5:16 says the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

IV.      Conclusion

So we confess our sins and accept the Lord’s forgiveness, we spend time in His Word to understand His will in our lives, we offer prayers and petitions in as unselfish way as we can to our Almighty Lord.  And then what do we do?  We wait, and we trust.

We looked at Psalm 13:1 at the beginning of this lesson, but let’s look at the whole psalm –

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

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To God be the glory.

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Waiting on the Promises of God

  I.      Introduction

Open your bible to Genesis 15, and the first two words are, “After this.”  After what?  Ok, open your bible to Genesis 14.

II.      A Promise Given, Genesis 15:1-3

Let me summarize what’s happened with Abram recently.  In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew Lot had settled down with his family near Sodom and Gomorrah, hardly the best decision Lot had ever made.  An intense geopolitical power struggle was going on, and I count no less than 9 kings and kingdoms that were at war.  Four of the kings conquered and pillaged Sodom, and Lot was captured and hauled off as a slave.

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Abram had a mighty army of… 318 people.  More than enough, with the Lord’s power.  Abram routed the four kings, recaptured all the possessions and people, including Lot.  And he gave all the remaining captives and possessions back to the King of Sodom, saying (in Genesis 14:22-23),

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’

Abram made it clear that if and when Abram received all the things that God had promised to Him, that God alone would get the glory.

Ok, let’s go back to Genesis 15:1 –

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.

Now God says to Abram, you have chosen wisely.  You have chosen a way that pleases me.  The Lord your God will be your very great reward.  And do not be afraid that the kings will return to attack, for I will also be your shield.

Trusting in the Lord can be hard.  We have our sense of self, our entitlements, our wants and needs, and we’ve placed them on the throne of our hearts as idols to be worshipped.  We follow our idols instead of trusting in the Lord.  We leave our church and bible study on Sunday morning, and by Sunday night we’ve forgotten what it was that resounded in our heart earlier in the day.

The Lord makes His promises to us, but we find it easier to trust in ourselves.  Sometimes it’s terrifying, to place our trust in something besides ourselves.  Sometimes it seems stupid.  “You’re building a *what*, Noah?  Dude, it’s not even raining.”

The bible tells us that trusting in the Lord will seem foolish, but we are to do it anyway.  Proverbs 3:5 should be a memory verse for all Christians,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Paul reinforced this in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1:15,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world to shame the strong.

Now, after Abram’s battles with the four kings and then rescuing Lot, God comes to Abram and says, “Do not be afraid.”  Did you know that in the bible, every time God says, “Do not be afraid,” He then tells us why we should not be afraid?

This is the very first time in the bible, “Do not be afraid” is said.  I read somewhere that the bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times, one for every day of the year, a daily reminder from God to be fearless in our Christian faith every day.

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God tells Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, because I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”  God gives Abram two reasons not to fear. The first is that God Himself will be Abram’s shield.  God will protect Abram.  God protects you and me, too.  We may face calamities, loss of loved ones, but these are temporal things.  Jesus says in Matthew 10:28,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

There’s that “do not be afraid because” statement again.  God is our shield against the devil; in John 10:28, Jesus says he gives us eternal life and no one will snatch us out of His mighty hands.  God is our shield.  Psalm 3:3 we sing,

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,

my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

But the second reason not to fear, God tells Abram, is truly amazing.  Not only will God be Abram’s shield, God will also be Abram’s reward.  Not just any reward, but an exceedingly great reward.  There is no greater reward than God.  Gold and diamonds are insignificant compared to the God who created gold and diamonds.  Compared to God, all the plunder Abram just gave back to the King of Sodom is like dust.

But what does it mean to have God as a reward? How can God be a reward? We belong to Him; He does not belong to us.  How can God, the Creator of the universe, give Himself as a reward to humans, let alone a single person?

Abram may have been confused by this as well.  Maybe in his own mind, Abram is thinking, “God can’t mean that He will give Himself to me.  He must mean He will protect me and provide for me. That must be what God means.” But that is not what God means.  God means that God Himself is what Abram is seeking.  God Himself is what Abram wants.  God Himself is what Abram needs.  God Himself is the missing piece of Abram’s life.  God Himself is Abram’s exceedingly great reward.

What do we pray for?  We often pray for what we do not have but we think we need.  We pray for physical needs like food or money.  We pray for wisdom to make good decisions.  Sometimes, when we do not understand what God is doing, we pray for understanding.  We pray for encouragement when we feel the trials of life are overwhelming.  We pray for protection from those who are against us.  We pray for healing and life and health.  We pray for truth and a better understanding of God’s plan.  We pray for God to be able to use us.

  • Bread
  • Light
  • Knowledge
  • Care
  • Life
  • Truth
  • Fruitfulness

These are all good things to pray for.

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In Genesis 15:2, Abram had concerns, prayers, requests from God.  And God says, “I know.  I am going to give myself to you.  And in Me, all your needs will be met.”

Are our prayers met the same way?  I believe they are.  In the Gospel of John, we find seven “I am” statements.

  • “I am the Bread” (John 6:35)
  • “I am the Light” (John 8:12)
  • “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
  • “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1)

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Everything we ask, everything we imagine, everything we need or want is found in Jesus.  We all want something from the Lord, but God wants us to want Him.  We want some answer to prayer, but God wants to give us Himself.  It is in Him, that all these other things are found.  When Jesus Christ is our everything, we can go hungry, we can wander without direction, we can wonder how that bill will get paid, we can have health problems and family crises and still have a peace that passes all understanding because Christ is ours to hold.  Jesus says we will live the abundant life if we find all we need in Him.  Our minds are so earthly focused, it is hard to understand how just by loving Christ and enjoying His presence that we can have the contentment, joy, peace, and happiness that would never be ours otherwise – even were God to grant us all the things we prayed for.

It is so hard to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ alone. We want to focus on the things that come through Him and from Him, rather than focus on Him.  Jesus says, “I give everything I am to you,” and we reply, “yes, but what about my Christmas list?”  So I am in full understanding when, after God tells Abram that God Himself will be Abrams very great reward, Abram says in verse 2 –

But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me?”

Isn’t that we often pray?  “Oh Lord, thanks for everything, your promises, your comfort, your Holy Spirit.  But what will you give me?”  Abram wants a son.

III.      A Promise Believed, Genesis 15:4-6

Then in Genesis 15:4, God promises Abram that Abram will have a son of his own.  And not just a son, but more descendants than Abram can count.  God and Abram go outside and look at the stars and says that if Abram can count them all, that’s how many his decedents will be.  And Abram believed.

Let’s not overlook the importance of this statement.  Genesis 15:6 –

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Believe in the Lord, that He is who He says He is.  He is the great I am.  He has sent His son for the transgressions of our sins, and we are now washed clean in His sight.

How can we know God keeps His promise?  How do we know that when we die, that we have eternal salvation, freely available to all who believe?  Abram is a great testimony.  He believed God.  God credited it to him as righteousness.  Not because Abram was a great guy and has some nice sheep and goats, but because He believed.  And Abram, on this expression of His faith, was declared righteous.

Is this same credit is available to you and me, just by believing?  How can we believe?  By choosing to believe.  We believe by choosing to believe that God is who He says He is, that all creation belongs to him.  Romans 4 – the entire chapter – is devoted to this one sentence, that Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:18-25 –

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

In one of the great mysteries of this universe, at least to me, is that God keeps His promises to us.  And if we only believe that Christ died for our sins, then God will forgive our sins and credit our belief to us as righteousness.

It’s not about how fervently we pray, how many times we attend bible study, how often we do good things for those who can’t.  We do those things out of love, but it’s not our prayer or our service or our worship that gives us salvation.  It is our belief.  God wants us to believe in Him.

What did Abram believe?  Was it merely the promise of more grandchildren than he could count?  There’s more to it than that – in John 8:56, when Jesus was talking to Jews who were trying to kill Him, He says,

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.

If Romans 4 tells us that Abram was the father of all Gentiles, then Jesus says that it was Abram’s faith in the future Messiah that brought Abram joy.  Abram, as well as countess others throughout the Old Testament, are saved through their faith in the future Messiah yet to come.  Abram believed in the coming Messiah for eternal life, and that the Messiah that would come through Abram and his descendants. It is at this point, when Abram believed the Lord that the Lord credited him with righteousness.

When we believe God’s Word, that God gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Jesus for it, like Abram, we are declared righteousness by God. There is no other way to receive eternal life. Abram believed the promise, and so was justified. Of all the ways that God gives Himself to us, this is the greatest. God told Abram in verse 1, “I will be your great reward” and now Abram has received God’s righteousness as part of that reward. No matter what happens in life, if we have Jesus, if we have God as our reward, we have more than everything we need.

The promise has been given, the promise has been believed, and now we will see the promise guaranteed.

IV.      A Promise Guaranteed, Genesis 15:7-21

In Genesis 15:7 –

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

God has made this promise to Abram already in chapters 12 and 13, but perhaps Abram is wondering when God’s going to keep his promise.  Genesis 15:8 –

And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

Abram says, “Well, ok, God, I trust you that you’re going to give me a son.  But how can I know you’re also going to give me the land?”  Abram is already 85 years old at this point, and he and his 318 men in his army aren’t getting any younger.

God then makes a covenant with Abram, a complex scene that involves sacrificing animals and dividing them in half.  Some commentaries tell me that this symbolized a way back then to seal a deal.  The two people would sacrifice and split their animals in half, then walk in between the pieces.  The thought was that, if I break my side of the covenant, may I become like this sacrificed animal and be split in two.

Now in these more modern days, we are much more civilized.  We don’t divide animals in half.  Now it’s the lawyers who are animals trying to divide the people in half.  But I digress.

But this covenant with Abram isn’t fulfilled with both partners walking between the animal pieces.  No, a blazing torch appears and passes between the pieces alone, symbolizing that God alone will fulfill His promise to Abram.  Abram doesn’t need to do anything except believe in the Lord.  The Lord makes this promise to Abram in Genesis 15:13-16 –

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.  You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.  In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

This is a prophecy about the future.  God has delayed his promise in order to show Abram, and show the Israelites that it is not by their effort that His covenant will be fulfilled. It is by God’s faithfulness alone His promises are fulfilled.  God tells Abram that his descendants will go to a land that is not theirs and be slaves for 400 years.  When that time is up, the nation they serve will be judged.  Abram’s descendants will then come out of the land with great possessions.  Before all of this happens, Abram will die in peace.

Why is God telling Abram this?  Because the promise of the land will not be fulfilled in Abram’s time.  Abram may be getting impatient to get some of the land that God has offered to him, but God says that the promise of the land will only be fulfilled with Abram’s descendants, long after Abram is dead.  The reason for this is because the iniquity of the people dwelling there is not yet complete.

And when God walks through this covenant alone, God is saying that He alone will fulfill this covenant.  No matter how Abram sins or fails to live up to God’s standards, God reassures Abram that God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Just like our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is a one sided covenant.  God asked Abram to bring the animals, which Abram did.  But God walked through them alone.  God asks us to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life.  But God paid the penalty, bought our salvation, and guarantees it all by Himself.  God requires nothing from us except to believe in Him and have it credited to us as righteousness.  He does not demand anything of us.  Eternal salvation is a one-sided covenant which cannot be broken.

God does it all.  God does not meet us half way.  God doesn’t even meet us most of the way.  God does it all.  We do nothing.  In legalistic churches and groups, we talk about being committed to Christ, about the works we must do to secure our salvation, about have a Christian must say, believe, and do certain things.

But God’s covenant with us reveals something else entirely.  We aren’t the promise keepers.  God is.  He makes the promises to us, and He keeps them all by Himself.  We don’t give ourselves to God.  He has already given Himself fully and completely to us.  We don’t make covenants with Him.  He makes covenants with us, and there is only one name to sign on the bottom – His.

Jesus says in Matthew 11, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There is no labor, no hard work, no effort involved.  Paul writes similarly in Philippians 1 that He who began the good work will carry it on to completion. Philippians 2 says that it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. God does it all in us and through us.

Are you still trying to win your salvation?  Are you still trying to prove that you’re worthy enough to enter His kingdom?  It’s time to lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross.  Just trust in the Lord.  Trust in His unconditional promises to you. Don’t try to meet God half way.  Let Him do it all in you and through you for His good pleasure.

  V.      Conclusion

We talk about “accepting” Christ, but this a term not found in the bible.  What we “accept” is an understanding that God has called us and is calling us.  We realize that we are wretched and naked without God.  There is nothing we can do to clothe ourselves on our own, but we trust in the Lord, trust in the promise of Jesus that when we put on Christ, we are then clothed and beautiful.  Perhaps we do not feel our prayers being answered today, but God will fulfill each and every promise He makes.

And when we feel that when we have found Christ, our journey is not complete.  We find Christ so that we can seek Him more.  We accept Christ so we can accept Him more.  We acknowledge Him as our Lord so that He may command and lead us to pastures green, the land He promised unto Abram, and the salvation promised unto us.

Psalm 23:1-3,

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

To God be the glory.

Slide1

A Covenant with Noah

I. Introduction
We’re continuing our study of Genesis, and Chris taught us about the Great Flood last week. Because of the wickedness of man, God sent His wrath in the form of floodwaters to wipe out man’s iniquity. Today, we’re going to talk about a fresh start after the flood, beginning in Genesis 8.

II. A Fresh Start, Genesis 8:15-22
Genesis 8 begins with the floodwaters receding and Noah seeing if it was safe to exit the ark. Then in verse 15, God gives the all-clear signal –

Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

When God created the heavens and the earth, God’s command to both the animals and then later to man and woman was to multiply and be fruitful. We can see here that God still desires the best for us, despite our sinful nature. He still wants us the be fruitful and multiply. Why did God pick Noah? Out of the vast sea of humanity that lived during that time, why Noah? I think one of Noah’s first actions after leaving the ark demonstrated why God loved him. Noah built an altar to the Lord in verse 20 –

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

Slide6

Don’t get confused where this sacrifice came from – we remember the story from our childhood that the animals were brought aboard the ark two by two. But if you back up to the beginning of chapter 7, you’ll see that for some animals, more than a single pair were brought on board. For “clean” animals, those that have a split hoof or chew the cud such as cattle, deer, goats and sheep, there were actually 7 pairs of animals brought on board.

So Noah’s gratitude and admirations of God’s greatness led him to offer a sacrifice. A sacrifice, by definition, should cost us something. Noah too what little he had, and with only 7 of each clean animal that was worthy of sacrifice, Noah risked extinction by sacrificing some of the animals.

But costly sacrifice is pleasing to God. It’s not the amount; large quantities don’t please God. Remember Jesus at the temple, watching wealthy people bringing their tithes, when a widow brings two pennies, all she had, to give? God wants our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength. The bible also says (Romans 12:1) that we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that giving of our resources is a sacrifice (Philippians 4:18), and that we should give the sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

Slide7

God doesn’t need our sacrifices. God isn’t greedy, God doesn’t want to just take stuff from us. But God sacrificed Himself to us at great cost (Ephesians 5:2, Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 10:12), and He wants us to be conformed in the image of Jesus Christ who made the ultimate sacrifice. He wants us to learn to give sacrificially. He wants us to learn to give away that which we cannot keep. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:2, we should be like Jesus in this regard:

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Slide14

We have an example in David, a man after God’s own heart, who said in 2 Samuel 24:24 that he would never make offerings to God that which costs him nothing. The burnt offerings of Noah risked what little he had after the flood, and the sacrifice pleased the Lord.

III. The Covering of Blood, Genesis 9:4-6
Then in the beginning of Genesis 9, God makes some changes to man’s relationship with nature. In Genesis 9:1-3,

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Up to this point in time, I presume, we were all vegetarians and lived in peace with all animals. And animals will now live in fear of us. It reminds me of the days in the future when animals will all live in peace again. In Isaiah 11, one of the Messianic Prophecies, we read that when Jesus again rules, the wolf will live with the lamb in peace.

Slide16

But God has a restriction; the animals may be eaten, but not the blood of the animals. In the blood is life, and lifeblood is important to man and God. The same restrictions are given in more detail later in Leviticus 17 and Deuteronomy 12.
The importance of blood to the Lord is shown by how often the word is used in the bible. In the New King James version, it is used 424 times in 357 separate verses (in the New King James Version). That blood represents life can be shown in the following passages –

  • Blood was the sign of mercy for Israel at the first Passover (Exodus 12:13)
  • Blood sealed God’s covenant with Israel (Exodus 24:8)
  • Blood sanctified the altar (Exodus 29:12)
  • Blood set aside the priests (Exodus 29:20)
  • Blood made atonement for God’s people (Exodus 30:10)
  • Blood sealed the new covenant (Matthew 26:28)
  • Blood justifies us (Romans 5:9)
  • Blood brings redemption (Ephesians 1:7)
  • Blood brings peace with God (Colossians 1:20)
  • Blood cleanses us (Hebrews 9:14 and 1 John 1:7)
  • Blood gives entrance to God’s holy place (Hebrews 10:19)
  • Blood sanctifies us (Hebrews 13:12)
  • Blood enables us to overcome Satan (Revelation 12:11)

The covering of innocent blood has been given to those who accept the ultimate sacrifice and blood atonement of Christ Jesus.

IV. The Covenant, Genesis 9:8-17
After Noah’s altar and sacrifice, God creates a covenant with Noah. Genesis 9:8-11,
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:

“I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God established a covenant with mankind (Noah and all of his descendants), and even with the animals. God promised He would never again destroy all life with a flood or cover the earth with a flood to eradicate evil. However, we are approaching what Matthew called “the Days of Noah,” Matthew 24:36-39,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

When we reach the “days of Noah,” and God’s patience reaches its perfection, then God will again destroy earth – but by fire, not by flood (2 Peter 3:3-7) –

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Then in Genesis 9:12-17, God provides a sign of His covenant:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Slide31

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” Every time we see a rainbow, we should remember the faithfulness of God and every one of His promises. He even says His covenant of peace with us is just as sure as His covenant with Noah and all generations. Isaiah 54:9-10,

For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

The other mentions of a rainbow in the Bible are set in the context of God’s enthroned glory. Rainbows are mentioned in Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 4:3, and Revelation 10:1. It is amazing to see God, in His glory, setting so close to Himself a reminder of His promise to man.

What exactly, is a covenant, and why is a covenant important? For people, we think of a covenant as a contract. It is an agreement between two people and involves promises for both people involved in the contract.

The concept of a covenant between God and His people is one of the central themes of the Bible. In the biblical sense, a covenant implies much more than a contract or a simple agreement between two parties. The word for “covenant” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to cut” or “to bind”.

It is remarkable that God is holy, omniscient, and omnipotent, but He consents to enter into covenant with man, who is feeble, sinful, and flawed. How many covenants there are is subject to interpretation; I’m going to describe what I consider to be the Seven Great Covenants of the Bible.

1. The Edenic Covenant: A covenant of innocence and grace, a promise of redemption through the seed of the woman and the eventual destruction and eradication of sin.

We just studied this in Genesis 3:15 just two weeks ago:

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

2. The Noahic Covenant: God will never again destroy the earth with a flood.

Noah lived at a time when the whole earth was filled with evil, yet Noah did not allow the evil standards of his day to rob him of fellowship with God. He stood out as the only one who “walked with God” and the Lord singled out Noah from among all his contemporaries and chose him as the man to accomplish a great work.
Hebrews 11:7 lists Noah among the heroes of faith.

“By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”

3. Abrahamic Covenant: The promised Seed [developed from the Edenic Covenant] through Abraham and his descendants and indeed the whole world would be blessed.

In this covenant, God promised many things to Abraham. He personally promised that He would make Abraham’s name great (Genesis 12:2), that Abraham would have numerous physical descendants (Genesis 13:16), and that he would be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4-5). God also made promises regarding a nation called Israel. In fact, the geographical boundaries of the Abrahamic Covenant are laid out on more than one occasion in the book of Genesis (12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21). Another provision in the Abrahamic Covenant is that the families of the world will be blessed through the physical line of Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 22:18). This is a reference to the Messiah, who would come from the line of Abraham.

4. Palestinian (Land) Covenant: This covenant guarantees Israel’s permanent right to the land.

According to the terms of this covenant, if the people disobeyed, God would cause them to be scattered around the world, but He would eventually restore the nation. When the nation is restored, then they will obey Him perfectly, and God will cause them to prosper. This covenant is spelled out in Deuteronomy 30:3-9.

5. Mosaic Covenant: The Ten Commandments

The Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant that either brought God’s direct blessing for obedience or God’s direct cursing for disobedience upon the nation of Israel. Part of the Mosaic Covenant was the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and the rest of the Law, which contained over 600 commands – roughly 300 positive and 300 negative. The history books of the Old Testament (Joshua – Esther) detail how Israel succeeded at obeying the Law or how Israel failed miserably at obeying the Law. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 details the blessings and cursings that came with this covenant.

6. Davidic Covenant: David’s lineage would last forever and that his kingdom would never pass away permanently.

The seed of the woman and the seed of Abraham is more narrowly defined to come from the house of David of the tribe of Judah. Here the seed, or now the Messiah, would be a king to sit on David’s throne forever. The promise to David is one of the key covenant promises in the Bible. It, along with the Abrahamic covenant are the pillars upon which the Gospel rests. It is not for nothing that the opening words of the New Testament refer directly to these covenants: Matthew 1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

7. The New Covenant: The new covenant in Christ.

The new covenant in Christ has absorbed all of these other covenants and now stands alone as the only covenant with God which He will accept. We enter into that covenant by faith and baptism and subsequently live our lives according to its teaching. Jesus the suffering servant, the Lamb of God fulfills the Edenic covenant, being wounded by sin but yet destroying the power of sin; he fulfills the Noahic in that he will one day lead the earth to a future when it is filled with the glory of God and no longer need be in fear of divine judgement, realizing the promise of the rainbow; the Mosaic covenant is fulfilled in him in his sacrifice and holy life; the Davidic in his Royal responsibilities in the coming Kingdom of God.

The death of Christ ushered in the new covenant under which we are justified by God’s grace and mercy — it is now possible to have the true forgiveness of sins. Jesus Himself is the Mediator of this better covenant between God and man (Heb. 9:15). Jesus’ sacrificial death served as the blood oath, or pledge, which God made to us to seal this new covenant. Under this new covenant, God would write His Law on human hearts.

V. Conclusion

The covenant with Noah was sealed with a rainbow, a reminder that God would never again flood the earth and destroy every living thing. And the New Covenant was sealed with blood, a reminder that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that you and I could live. Noah had a fresh start – the evil that surrounded him, that taunted him while he built the ark was gone. Noah’s heart for the Lord led him to worship and praise.

But you and I have that same fresh start. Like the evil men that surrounded Noah, we too, were once surrounded, unable to escape. Like the flood that destroyed the evil, we are baptized into Christ and our sins are washed away. And every day is a fresh start, a new sunrise, a new beginning with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

A rainbow is a sign of God’s forgiveness, but then again, so are we. We are a sign of God’s forgiveness and grace. Forgive one another as God forgives us. Extend grace to one another as God has given us grace. Love one another as God loves us. Arise and greet the new day every day and approach it with confidence, knowing that we are symbols of God’s grace and mercy to this fallen world.

So what have we learned from our study of Noah? Here are the lessons we’ve learned so far –

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Noah’s Ark (author unknown):

  • Don’t miss the boat.
  • Don’t forget that we’re all in the same boat together.
  • Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
  • Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something REALLY big.
  • Don’t listen to your critics — just get on with what has to be done.
  • Build your future on high ground.
  • For safety, travel in pairs.
  • Two heads are better than one.
  • Speed isn’t always an advantage; the snails got on board with the cheetahs.
  • When you’re stressed out, float for a while.
  • Remember that the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals.
  • Woodpeckers on the inside are a bigger threat than the storm on the outside.
  • No matter how fierce the storm, if you’re with God there’ll always be a rainbow at the end.

To God be the glory.

Slide1

The Fall of Man

  I.      Introduction

As you may have noticed, my bible is entirely electronic.  I have a traditional paper study bible, and over the years, I’ve highlighted all the significant passages.  Every word of the book is highlighted.

There are have been, for my entire life, horrible stories in the news.  Mass murderers, earthquakes, shootings.  Recently there have been stories of 500,000 refugees fleeing from Middle East countries to Europe, with predictions of up to 35 million people.  And I’m not convinced it’s entirely a refugee situation, as ISIS flags have been seen among the groups and imams saying that the refugees should breed with the Europeans in order to conquer those countries for Islam.

If God is all powerful and all good, why does he let terrible things like this?  Why doesn’t He stop it?  Nonbelievers struggle with this more than believers do, I think.  God could have created robots to be good all the time.  But is that really free will?  God created us to love him voluntarily.  And along with the freedom to love Him comes the freedom not to love Him.

As we’ve studied recently in Revelation, we know that the entire bible points to Jesus as the redeemer of mankind.  Regardless of the problem, Jesus is the solution.  Today we’re going to talk about the source of all the problems.   William Griffith Thomas, a theologian in the early 1900’s, said about Genesis 3, “This chapter is the pivot on which the whole bible turns.”  Open your bible to the cause of all of our problems in Genesis Chapter 3.Slide2

II.      The Sham, Genesis 3:1-5

While this is a familiar story, let’s study it carefully today for additional insights.  Let’s begin with Genesis 3:1-5,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The serpent is not identified here by name, so let’s identify him.  Who is the serpent?  Coincidentally, the last lesson I taught was from Revelation 12, which in Revelation 12:9 says,

The great dragon was hurled down (out of heaven) – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Slide4

The serpent is introduced as a created being and as one who spoke against the word of God.  We know that when God creates something, it is good and it is perfect.  So where did the serpent come from?  There are two accounts that talk about the origin of Satan, in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14.  Both of these verses talk about how beautiful and pure Satan was at the beginning of Creation.  Satan was so beautiful that he believed that he himself was God.  Pride, self-generated pride, was Satan’s downfall, worshiping God’s creation instead of worshiping the Creator.

So here is the serpent, saying crafty things to Eve.  And I’m going to call her “Eve,” even though that’s not her name yet.  In the previous chapter, Adam says, “She shall be called ‘woman’ because she was taken out of man.”  It just sounds funny to me to just keep calling her “woman.”

There is a new Disney Movie coming out next year, and I happened to see the trailer for it.  It’s a live action remake of “Jungle Book” and here’s an edited clip that I think is illustrative:

Satan’s first strategy is to get Eve to question the very word of God by misrepresenting what God said.  Satan asks Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  But that’s not what God said to Adam.  God said to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Notice how the Evil One focused on the negative.  “God is being mean to you, telling you what’s not allowed.  There are so many rules for you.  You deserve to have whatever you want.”  God’s message was generous, gracious, permissive, “You may eat from *any* tree except the ones that may harm you.”

Notice also how Satan talked to the woman instead of the man.  Some studies make a big deal out of how God provided the instructions to the man, how it was his job to protect the woman, and while that may be true, I want to focus instead on how Adam had received the knowledge first hand, and Eve relied on what somebody told her God said.  Adam talked to God, but Eve had talked to Adam.  It’s important in our spiritual life that we are communicating directly to God through His Word and through prayer.  Going to church and listening to Dr. Young has tremendous benefits and is good, but it cannot replace personal study.  We want to be able to respond to any challenge with, “The bible says…”, not “my pastor says…”.  In this case, Eve may have found it easier to ignore God’s commands because she didn’t hear it firsthand.

Eve’s response to the serpent reveals a lot of subtle shifts.  While God said, “You are free to eat from any tree,” Eve phrases it defensively, “We may eat fruit from the trees.”  God doesn’t sound so generous the way Eve phrased it.

Eve also overstated how restrictive God had been with her.  Eve says that Gold told Adam, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it.”  God didn’t say anything about not touching it.  Probably not a good idea to touch it, but God didn’t prohibit them from touching it, just from eating from it.

God’s Word is precisely and absolutely true.  Satan twists God’s word to get Even to question what God says.  In verse 4, the serpent says, “You won’t die.”  This is a direct contradiction to what God said.  This is the very first heresy in the bible, that sin is not punishable by death.  Romans 6:23 states it clearly, “For the wages of sin is death…” We can still hear this heresy today.  How can a loving God send people to Hell?  God wants us to enjoy life, so you should do whatever you want.  It doesn’t matter how destructive it is to your lives and the lives of those around you as long as you are enjoying yourself.

Satan goes on to say in verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Listen to how mean God is.  Do you want to spend the rest of your life with eyes closed, or do you want to be like God?  Satan tells us that God is restrictive, God won’t punish sin, God is looking out for himself.  Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that God has provided everything necessary for the good of man, and that’s God’s true motives are looking out for man’s best interests, but Satan’s half-lies and half-truths says that God is just looking out for his own interests by withholding the best parts of the garden unfairly.

The scam is complete.

III.      The Shame, Genesis 3:6-7

Eve, tempted by the serpent, now justifies her sins.  Verses 6,

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

God has given Eve desires that are in line with His creation.  It is good to be satisfied with food that God has provided.  It is good to appreciate God’s beautiful creation, things that are pleasing to the eye.  It is good to gain in knowledge and wisdom.  But the things of this world will cause us to stumble if we do not satisfy them in a way that pleases the Lord.  It’s like Eve is saying to herself, “God wants me to be happy, and these things will make me happy.  So even though God says ‘no,’ I’m going to do them anyway because I know what is best for me.”

But this justification isn’t in line with God’s word.  It say the tree was good for food.  But was there other fruit in the garden that was good for food?  Of course there was, and God said they could eat from any of it.  Was there anything else in the garden that was pleasing to the eye?  Are you kidding?  They were in the Garden of Eden, *everything* was pleasing to the eye.  God had provided for everything man and woman needed.  But Eve was deceived, and believed by sight – not by faith – that she should have this forbidden fruit.  She deserves this forbidden fruit, and it’s not fair that God should withhold it from her.  How does she know God is telling the truth unless she experiences the fruit for herself?

Failure to appreciate God’s goodness leads to distrust of His goodness.  Distrust leads to dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction leads to disobedience.  Admiring the beautiful fruit was not a sin.  Even touching it was not a sin.  But disobeying God by eating of the fruit led to spiritual death.

Eve has been deceived by the serpent that this is God’s desire for her.

Then the verse goes on to say,

She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

If Eve was deceived, Adam’s response was rebellion.  Adam knew firsthand that God had withheld the fruit of this tree from him.  Adam was not deceived; Adam sinned with understanding.  Man wants to be independent, to be in control of our own destiny, to make decisions for ourselves.

I spoke to someone at work this week about some of our past work experiences; he told me about working at a nuclear facility.  The US government decided that everyone that had been working there less than 5 years had to take a psychological profile, and since he had only been there 4, he had to take the test.  There were a lot of yes/no responses, and if you didn’t get them all right, you had to see the psychologist and explain your response.  The question that got him in trouble was, “Someone is in control of my life, true or false.”

He answered “true.”  And in my head, I’m also thinking “true.”  God is in control of my life, and He is most definitely someone.  My colleague’s response was “true” for a different reason.  He was in control of his own life, and he was someone.

Of course, it dawned on me that both his response and my response would probably land us on the psychiatrist’s couch.

I think this independence, to say to God, “You’re not the boss of me,” is pride, pure and simple.  If I am my own boss, then nobody else can tell me what to do, including God.  To take a step further, pride will lead me down a path that I can tell God who He is and what He can do.  God can’t tell me what the truth is about sexual immorality, about gluttony, and judgmentalism.  I know what is best for me.  I am worshipping God’s creation, me, instead of worshipping the awesome powerful God who created me.  It’s the same pride that had Satan cast out of heaven.

When Adam’s rebellion led him to sin against God, the entire human race from that moment on fell.  The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 5:12,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.

Because of this sin, in verse 7 it says,

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Knowledge of good and evil necessarily requires us to have knowledge of evil.  I was not a particularly rebellious kid, I made good grades in school, I didn’t get into much trouble with the law.  My police record is clean, though Mr. McIntyre in 5th grade said he would be making notes in my permanent record.  But in my 30’s I got a wild streak that led to indiscretions, and let’s just say I’m glad that iPhone cameras were not available back then.

My point is that during this wild period, I saw man’s depravity up close, in those around me and in myself.  My phrase for that period in my life can be summed up by the phrase, “what was once seen cannot be unseen.”  As I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I long for days of innocence where there were some things I was happy I didn’t know.  Have you ever felt the same way, perhaps after watching a movie or reading a news article about some horrific crime?  I can tell you that in my case, I am not edified or built up for God’s purpose.

Adam and Eve surely felt the same.  Before, they freely walked in God’s garden; after the fall, they covered themselves in leaves and shame.

IV.      The Blame, Genesis 3:8-13

Let’s continue with verses 8-13,

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

In verse 7, they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, but I’m guessing that fig leaves aren’t a very efficient form of covering because they’re still naked.  Not only is there shame, but now there is also guilt.  And with guilt, we hide from the Lord.  Have you ever tried to sin while reading the bible?  We all have temptations we are dealing with, and we all fall short of God’s glory, but for just a second, think of your own personal struggle, and when you knowing did something shameful.  Were you hiding from God at that time, like Adam?  Do you think that when God asks, “Where are you?” that He doesn’t already know the answer?

God gave Adam and Eve a chance to confess their sins, but instead they get tripped up by admitting they knew they were naked.  Busted, now they know that God knows they’ve eaten the forbidden fruit.  But rather than confess, the rationalizations and the finger pointing begins.

Adam’s first response it to blame both Eve *and* God.  “The woman, who *you* put here, gave the fruit to me.  I’d have never sinned if you hadn’t have given me a woman.”  And the woman blamed it on the serpent.  And the serpent, well, he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Adam accused both the woman and God for his transgressions.  This is the first accusation in the bible, and it came immediately after the serpent appeared in the Garden.  Revelation 12:10 says that Satan is the accuser of all Christians, accusing us before our God day and night.  Accusation, lies, name calling, shifting blame, even if it is true, comes from Satan.

  V.      The Fall, Genesis 3:14-21

God is holy, and His holiness demands that all sin and evil must be eliminated.  There are repercussions for sin.  Psalm 46:6-7 says,

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;

    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

You love righteousness and hate wickedness

In the account of Creation, God provided 3 blessings.  In Genesis 1;22, God blessed the great creatures of the sea and the air and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And in Genesis 1:28 after creating man and woman, he blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And in 2:3, God rested on the 7th day, blessed it and made it holy.

As the result of the fall, though, there are now 3 curses.  The first curse is given to the serpent in verses 14-15,

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

The serpent will suffer physical changes and lifestyle changes, crawling in the dust for the remainder of its days.  I know some people keep snakes as pets, and I personally don’t have a problem holding one of touching one, but I can’t say I’d ever want to cuddle up with one.  They’re not exactly lovable creatures, and I’m sure a large part of that is the result of the serpent’s deception.  But let’s look at the second half of this.  Some commentaries see nothing more than ongoing hatred between man and snakes.  But the phrasing indicates more than this is going on – it extends to the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.

The offspring of the serpent could refer to the one who possessed the serpent, Satan, the Evil One.  And the offspring of the woman, literally “her seed” may refer to the virgin birth of Jesus since the verse does not say “their seed.”  This verse contains the masculine, third-person singular “he” in the phrase “he will crush your head.”  A seed of the woman will crush the head (i.e. provide a fatal blow), not to the descendants of the serpent (we don’t expect all snakes to be killed by mankind), but by the one who started all of this, Satan himself.

This is the first prophetic promise that God already knows the problem created by man’s sin, but has already begin a plan to redeem mankind from his sin.   In Romans 16:20, Paul writes that the God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  There is a continual struggle of each generation for the good to overcome the evil while the evil tries to overcome the good.  Until our Redeemer, the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, finally defeats Satan and in Revelation 20:10 throws Satan in the lake of burning sulfur.

We’ll get to more of this in a moment, but let’s discuss the other two curses first.

The second curse belongs to the woman –

To the woman he said,

 “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;

    with painful labor you will give birth to children.

Your desire will be for your husband,

    and he will rule over you.”

The relationship between the wife and her husband were changed forever.  Judgement fell on Eve and her offspring in what was uniquely hers as a woman.  While death has entered the world, life will continue, but the pain of childbirth will be a continuing reminder of Eve’s role in bring the fall to all mankind.

Also, her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.  There are several possible meanings here, but the one that seems true to me and is in line with the New Testament is that wife will seek to dominate the relationship and will no longer intuitively submit to her husband as his “helper.”

The third curse belongs to Adam, all mankind, and to the earth –

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

 “Cursed is the ground because of you;

    through painful toil you will eat food from it

    all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

    you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

    since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

    and to dust you will return.”

While Eve was deceived, Adam rebelled, and it is this sin of pride and rebellion that draws the most severe discipline.  No longer will Adam and his wife be able to stroll through the garden and eat of the many fruits, but now Adam will have to work his entire life.  The world is no longer beautiful and pristine, but now tainted by sin.  The world itself has fallen.  Romans 8:20-22 puts it this way,

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

The world is in bondage to decay and death, just as all man, through the sin of one man, is in bondage to decay and death.  I want to point out a subtle change in the words of scripture – Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”  But after the fall, Adam and Eve have sons Cain, Abel, and Seth.  Look at how Genesis 5 begins –

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.  

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.  He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

While we are all made in God’s image, we also carry the genetics of sin with us.  Seth was not just made in God’s image; now the scripture say Seth was made in Adam’s image.  God’s perfect image has been corrupted and that corrupted images and likeness were passed along to the descendants of Adam.  Nobody teaches us to sin.  Because of our corrupted nature, we know all too well how to sin on our own.  We do not teach our children to lie, somehow they already now.  We have to teach them to tell the truth.  The sinful worldly self comes naturally.  The self that longs to be good must be trained and taught.

We long for the day we can again has a relationship with our Father in Heaven without the stain of sin separating us.  But on our own, we have no solution, we have to strategy of success, we have no hope.  How do we live when we are banished from Paradise with our Father?   Let’s look at the rest of Genesis 3 and see if there is a hint of the hope yet to come.

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

“The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”  God in His omniscience, has all knowledge of good and evil, and he didn’t have to commit evil.  Man committed a sin to learn this knowledge.  It’s like a doctor and a patient diagnosing an illness.  Our understanding of that illness is different.  Our understanding of good and evil is both like God’s understanding and unlike it.  Now man will seek to make decisions based on a poor understanding of good and evil, a problem that plagues all of us today.  God has perfect divine understanding of good and evil and He asks us to trust him.  Sometimes we do.  Most of the time we want to do it our own way.

And this sinful self must not be allowed to live forever.  An eternal, sinful life of separation from God would be, literally, a living hell.  But God’s grace provides a solution.  He allows us to die so that we may then live.

Notice how Adam and Eve’s fig leaves have been replaced with animal skins.  Because of their transgressions, an innocent life was shed for man.  This, too is a prelude for what is to come.  No matter what the sin, how rebellious and prideful our decisions are, God is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary so that we may have hope.

VI.      Conclusion

We all inherit a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, and we might think this is unfair to be blamed for something one man did thousands of years ago.  But we are not punished for Adam’s sins, we inherit his nature.  We each have our own sins.  We didn’t chose to have a sinful nature, but let’s be honest, we would have.  Adam was the perfect man, created by God, and placed him in the perfect environment, the Garden of Eden.  And every day, God walked with Adam in the cool of the day to instruct Adam and draw closer to him.  And even with this perfect man, perfect environment, perfect relationship, Adam still sinned.  Through Adam, death entered the world.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we could do better.  We choose our own sin.

But just as we choose our own sin, we also choose our salvation.  God has begun a sacrificial system where an innocent life may be sacrificed as an atonement for sin.  If we try to work off our debt by trying to be good, we will fail. Because of our sinful nature, we are no longer suitable sacrifices for our own sin.  We need a savior.  We need a suitable sacrifice for our sins. Earlier I read from Romans 6:23, but I only read the first half of it.  Here is the entire verse:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For God so loved the world.  For God so loved you.  For God so loved me, that He gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  And that is the one and only solution to the fall of man and our sin.  Jesus Christ.

To God be the glory.

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Revelation 12, Jesus Defeats Satan

  I.      Introduction

History and prophecy.  God uses both throughout time to display to all creation that He alone is in control.  There is prophecy that tells what God will do, then, when God fulfills His promise, the prophecy becomes history.  And then there is new prophecy.  Some prophecies have already come true; others are yet to come.

Open your bibles to Revelation 12 and this morning we’re going to study both prophecy and history and examine the battle between good and evil, God and Satan, throughout time, beginning thousands of years ago and is ongoing today and is still yet to come.

Ever heard that statement, “Jesus never says He is God?”  While technically accurate, if you’re a student of the bible you know it isn’t true.  Jesus used word specifically to indicate to the Pharisees that Jesus was Lord, and the Pharisees turned him over to Pilate to be crucified for it.  Also, the entire book of Revelation points to the deity of Jesus and His Kingdom and millennial reign.  Revelation doesn’t even try to justify the deity of Jesus with words like, “Jesus is God because…”  No Revelation just states it as fact.

II.      Christmas and Easter, Revelation 12:1-5

Today’s study is intense with symbolism, verse 1 begins with “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  But just because it’s symbolic doesn’t mean it’s hidden from us, or cloaked in mystery.  The passages of Revelation open up to us if we examine the scriptures carefully and try to understand each verse separately, then put them all together to understand the story that is being told.

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And Revelation is meant to be understood, it is “revealed” so we can understand our place in this world and the parallels in the heavenly realm.  The Greek word for Revelation is Apokalupsis which means to reveal that which was before unknown.  To reveal the things that have been, that are, and are to come.

There is a system to understanding the symbology Revelation.  First, search the immediate verses.  Throughout Revelation, 26 times the interpretation is given in the immediate verses.  If that doesn’t provide the interpretation, then search the Old Testament for the same symbol.  There are 404 verses in Revelation, and 278 of them are explained in the Old Testament.  Most of the symbology refers to Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.  In particular, the visions of Daniel are represented.

The first 5 verses of Revelation 12 are a history lesson from the perspective of heaven.  It’s a story that needs earthly translation, as God says, “His ways are above our ways.”  Let’s read verses 1-5 –

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.  Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.  Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Ok, there’s some symbolism here, but it’s relatively easy to figure out.  There are three characters in this symbolic story so far, let’s see if we can figure out who they are –

  • Verse 1: A woman.
  • Verse 3: A dragon.
  • Verse 5: A son.

Let’s take them in reverse order.  The son is a male child who will rule the nations with an iron scepter.  Let’s take a peek at the Old Testament where this phrase is used in Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 laments that the nations conspire against the Lord and the kings and rulers of the band together against the Lord.  The Lord responds by saying in Psalm 2:5-9,

He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter,
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Our male child is the Messiah, savior of His people, ruler of nations.  And when Revelation 12:5 says the male child was “caught up unto God,” it’s reminiscent of Acts 1:9, when Jesus ascended into heaven in sight of His apostles.

The second character in our story is a dragon.  And the dragon is the devil because I can skip down to verse 9 where it says the great dragon was called the devil.  I could figure that one out on my own, didn’t need any bible study guides at all.

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The third character in the story is the woman, and she’s a little harder to figure out.  For years some scholars posited that she was the early Christian church, but that can’t be right.  The woman gives birth to the male child, and the Christian church didn’t give birth to Jesus.  Quite the opposite – Jesus through His sacrifice opened God’s grace to the gentiles and the Christian church was born.

Since the surrounding verses don’t positively identify the woman, let’s see if we can find our clues in the Old Testament.  The woman is described as having the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  Let’s go all the way back to Genesis 37, where Joseph had a dream.  Joseph was the son of Jacob who God renamed Israel, Joseph was Israel’s favorite, and Jacob’s brothers would eventually drop him in a deep well and leave him.  But just before that, Joseph had a dream he told to his family.  Joseph said, “Listen, I had a dream, and in this dream the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”  His father Israel rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream you had?  Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”  In this dream, we understand that the sun is Joseph’s father Israel, the moon is Israel’s wife Leah (Rachel had already died by this time), and the 11 stars are Joseph’s brothers who became eleven tribes of Israel, which Joseph becoming the twelfth tribe.

Slide10

The woman in Revelation 12, then must be Israel.  The twelve stars are the tribes of Israel, and the woman brought forth Jesus, who brought forth His church.  And then we realize Revelation 12:1-5 is the Christmas story as told from the heavenly perspective.

Let’s look at the exact same story from the earthly perspective, told in Matthew 2 and is already very familiar to you.  Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  The Magi from the East, commonly referred to the Three Wise Kings, stop at King Herod’s and discuss the birth of the new King of the Jews.  Herod is so disturbed by this, that his rule may be overthrown, that he orders every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed.  The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt.

Slide12

Jesus was born, this is the Christmas message.  Matthew 2 tells the story from the perspective of the earthly realm, Revelation 12:1-5 tells the same story from the spiritual realm perspective, as Satan tries to prevent the birth of our Savior.  Revelation 12:1-5 tells us a history lesson about Satan’s failed strategy to prevent the birth of the Messiah..

Verse 4, the angelic realm’s perspective of the devil trying to destroy the Messiah before He was born, we have to realize that this isn’t the only time Satan tried to destroy the Messiah.  Throughout the Old Testament, the devil tried many times to prevent the arrival of the Messiah.  Satan is trying a preemptive attack, trying to prevent the arrival of the Messiah and prevent God’s prophecies, because the devil knows he loses the spiritual warfare and Jesus will conquer death.  Satan is a fallen angel that believes he can take the place of God, and he used Herod’s insecurities to kill every baby in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt and escaped.  Before that, the devil tried for millennia to prevent the birth of Jesus.

Before Herod (Matthew 2), Cain killed Abel.  Satan believed since God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice, then the Messianic line would certainly come through Abel (Genesis 4, 1 John 3:2).  God’s plan, though, was through the lineage of Abel’s  younger brother Seth.  Then, in Exodus 1, Pharaoh tried to drown all the Jewish babies.  In 2 Chronicles 22, Athaliah tries to destroy all the royal offspring of the house of Judah, but the priest hid Joash in the temple and the Messianic line is preserved.  In the book of Esther, Haman tried to exterminate all the Jews.

Satan is called the prince of this world, and he doesn’t want to give it up.  It’s all he has.  He even tried to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:5-7 by offering Him the kingdoms of this world.  Jesus didn’t disagree that Satan was the prince of this world.

But the history is past, God is in control, and the Messiah, our Savior is brought into this world.  The devil loses.  How wicked, how dangerous the devil then becomes.  Now the devil needs a new strategy; to destroy Israel.

III.      War in Heaven, Revelation 12:6-12

God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that in him, all the nations of the world will be blessed.  Israel is the only nation that God started directly and has a covenant with God.  God will bless Israel, and Israel will bless the world, that’s God’s plan.  Israel has already blessed us.  Israel has provided scripture – all the authors of the bible with the possible exception of Luke were Jewish.  It says in Romans 3:2 that the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.  The Jews gave us a Savior.  Did you know Jesus wasn’t Baptist?  No, He was a Jew.  And it says in Isaiah 2:2-3 that the Kingdom in the future would be headquartered in Jerusalem.

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So just like Revelation 12:1-5 is Satan’s past failed strategy, Revelation 12:6-17 is Satan’s present and future strategy, also failed.  Satan is trying to do a preemptive strike to destroy the nation of Israel to prevent the coming of the kingdom.

Satan knows that the kingdom is coming to the earth through Israel.  He is trying to destroy Israel like he once tried to destroy the messiah.  Verse 6 is set in the future to the 2nd half of the Tribulation.  It says,

The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

To understand the symbology, the woman is Israel, as we’ve studied.  The wilderness most scholars believe to be the city of Petra, in the wilderness, to be taken care of my God.  And 1,260 days means… 1, 260 days.

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The study of eschatology is the theology of the end times for mankind and the word.  We’re not going to get into the various comparisons, other than to note that not all scholars agree on how the future unfolds.  In the eschatology of a pre-Tribulation worldview, first comes the Rapture where believers meet Jesus in the air according to the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. Then begins seven years of Tribulation as God pours out His wrath, and Jesus comes to establish 1000 years of the millennial kingdom on earth.

Slide16

At the midpoint of the seven years of Tribulation, there is a blasphemous desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus tells the Jews in Matthew 24:15 that they are to flee to the mountains.  And this is where we find ourselves in Revelation 12:6 as the woman flees to the desert for 1260 days, which is 3 and 1/2 years.  We are looking at these verses that describe the spiritual war from the angelic realm.

Revelation 12:7-12,

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”

Satan is furious.  Christ is coming, the Lion of Judah, and bringing the Kingdom of God.  Up to this point, Satan believes he can still thwart God.  Satan has access to God’s throne room – remember in Job 1 where God and Satan have a discussion about Job’s future?  Satan is in God’s throne room, not to worship as other heavenly beings do, but to accuse.  In fact, this verse says Satan accuses us before our God day and night.  We should be careful we ourselves do not become accusers.  The side doing the accusations has an ally that we should want nothing to do with.

But now, halfway through the Tribulation, Satan is thrown down from heaven, permanently.

IV.      War on Earth, Revelation 12:13-17

Then we look at verse 13, and Satan is losing the war.  He has already failed in the past when he was unable to prevent the coming of the Messiah, then he loses access to the heavenly throne room as he is thrown down, and here in the future, furious, Satan pursues Israel in earnest because he knows he only has 3 1/2 years to prevent God’s kingdom on earth.  And just like God rescued the Messianic line from Satan’s plans, now God rescues the woman Israel.

Verse 13-17,

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.  The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.  Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.  But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

The most difficult part of Revelation 12 for me to figure out was “time, times, and half a time.”  Sounds like a math problem, and I’m an engineer, I should be able to figure this out.  It’s just a weird way of saying 3 1/2 years or 1260 days.  “Time” is “1 year,” “times” is “2 years” and then add “half a time” for a total of 3 1/2 years.

Satan’s final efforts to destroy Israel will also fail.  Notice Israel is given “the two wings of a great eagle.”  This symbology comes from Exodus 19:4, when God protected Israel from Pharaoh.  God tells Moses to say to the people of Israel, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  The image of being carried on eagles’ wings shows God’s protection during persecution, carried safely out of harm’s way.  This is God’s divine protection.

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Also, a favorite verse is Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Some scholars have tried to interpret the eagles’ wings as being protected by the USA who has the bald eagle as our emblem.  I’d like to say we will continue to protect Israel, but sadly, that’s not to be the case.  The USA, too, will one day persecute Israel.  Indeed, just in the last month the USA struck a deal with Iran so that Iran will have nuclear technology.  Iran then chants, “Death to America” and pledges to wipe Israel off of the map with nuclear weapon technology provided by the USA.

Wiping Israel off the map, though, would actually be an improvement, though, because the official world map from Iran doesn’t even show Israel.  I guess that means they will put Israel on the map first, then wipe Israel off.  Psalm 83:4 sounds exactly like something the leader or Iran might say.

“Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.”

Here is a map of the Middle East showing the Muslim countries, with Israel at the center.  They say there will be peace in the Middle East if Israel just gives up a little more territory.  Here’s what Benjamin Netanyahu says about the Middle East peace process:

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more ‎violence. If the Jews put ‎down their weapons ‎today, there would be no ‎more Israel.”

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Satan been trying throughout the ages to destroy Israel.  Perhaps he thought for a while he succeeded – the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD and the Jewish diaspora were scattered throughout the earth.  Even without a country, the Jewish people and culture survived, so Hitler and his Nazis destroyed 6 million of them in World War II.  And still Satan was unsuccessful, and when the United Nations reestablished Israel as a nation in 1948 after nearly 1900 years without a country, Satan realized his plan was failing again.

One cannot underestimate how furious Satan is.  Look at some of the words used to describe Satan’s emotions:  Verse 12, “filled with fury,” verse 13, “persecuted.”  Verse 15, “sweep away,” Verse 17 “war” and “enraged.”    God’s divine protection is in place, though.  In fact, the word for “persecuted” in verse 13 is the exact same Greek word that is used on Jesus’ sermon on the mount when He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted.”

Satan knows scripture, and he knows how badly things end for him.  But he believes he can replace God, and there is no end of his deceptions and lies in order to thwart God’s will.  1 Peter 8 says that your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  And if you think the deceptions and lies and accusations he uses against Christians are tormenting, it pales when measured against Satan’s fury against Israel.

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See, God’s plan is to bless Israel, and Israel will bless the nations.  Satan’s plan is not.  I believe antisemitism, and hatred of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is driven by Satan himself.  The desire to wipe out Israel is our earthly demonstration of the war in heaven and is rooted in the angelic conflict of good versus evil.

Jerusalem will be at the center of the Kingdom of God and of His Christ according to Zechariah 14:17 and several other verses.  Satan hates this.  Once the kingdom comes, his kingdom of this world is permanently ended, he is permanently bound and thrown into the lake of fire.

  V.      Conclusion

Be ever careful and vigilant to stay on the side of good.  Nobody is immune from Satan’s lies and deceits.  We have a God of love and forgiveness and grace, and all hatred is against His will, but antisemitism is especially evil and comes from the devil.  Satan has an evil plan for this hatred of Israel.

This battle in heaven with the battle on earth that mirrors it is widely perceived as a struggle between good and evil.  There are wars and famine and death in this world that may seem evil is winning, but it’s not.  Sata is dangerous, but Satan also is defeated.  The battle isn’t even close.  Jesus wins overwhelmingly.

To God be the glory.