The Promised Messiah

Posted on March 29, 2015. Filed under: Bible Study, Christian | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Zechariah title  I.      Introduction

We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets, and these minor prophets have stark messages.  These messages display God’s glory and how God communicates both His love and His wrath, and how they are both consistent with His character, that our God is a consuming fire that loves us gently, and He has given us what we need for service in this world and eternity with our Lord forever.

Through the minor prophets, we learn 3 things about God –

  • God is sovereign.   He alone is God.  He alone is King.  He alone is the Creator.  He alone has the right to judge what is right and wrong.  He alone is the great I AM.
  • God is holy. He is perfect, He is all that is good.  His holiness is untainted by evil, there is no sin in His presence.  His wrath will destroy all that is evil, judged with perfect justice, revenge belongs to Him alone.
  • God is love. His wrath is withheld so that no one may perish, but have everlasting life.  He has given us His one and only son as a perfect sacrifice, not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us.

Zechariah is one of the more difficult of the minor prophets, not just for the Jews living under the Law at the time, but for us Christians today.  Many of the verses are full of symbols and imagery; there are lampstands and menorahs, olive trees, flying scrolls, and a woman in a basket.  Fortunately, there’s an angel speaking to Zechariah that explains much of the imagery, but it’s still a challenging book to understand.

Zechariah imagery

Zechariah was a young man when he began his ministry; some scholars suggest he may have been as young as 16 years old.  He was a contemporary and friend of the prophet Haggai, and while Haggai encouraged the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, Zechariah encouraged the people with the hope of a coming messiah and reign of glory.

The Book of Zechariah is divided primarily in 2 “advents.”  The word “advent” means the arrival of something important, especially something that has been awaited.  The first 9 chapters, which we’ll study today, prophecy the advent of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Let’s take a peek at our key verse today Zechariah 9: –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is the 1st advent, a prophecy of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem 500 years after Zechariah, of Jesus riding into town on a donkey, what we now call Palm Sunday.  Coincidentally, or perhaps not, today is Palm Sunday, so I think it is so very appropriate that we’re studying this today.

The second half of the book of Zechariah concerns itself with the 2nd advent, or the 2nd coming of Jesus.

Zechariah 14:3-4,9

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.  On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Revelation tells us that one day every knee will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but there are certain benefits to bending our knee voluntarily.

Today, as we look forward to Easter on this Palm Sunday, we are going to focus on the 1st advent, Zechariah’s prophecy of a messiah for Israel.

II.      Examine the Prophecy

Most people who study Old Testament prophecy can point to the book of Isaiah for prophecy about Jesus the Messiah.  Verses like …

  • Will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Will have a Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1,2)
  • Will be an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 11:1, 10)
  • Will have His way prepared (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • Will be spat on and struck (Isaiah 50:6)
  • Will be disfigured by suffering (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2)
  • Will make a blood atonement (Isaiah 53:5)
  • Will bear our sins and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, 5)
  • Will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment for sin (Isaiah 53:7,8)
  • Will be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)

These are not the only prophecies about Jesus, of course.  The Books of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezekiel – indeed, the entire Old Testament points to a Messiah who will suffer and die for us, taking away all of our sins.

The Jews understood – intellectually, at least – these prophecies of a messiah.  This messiah would be a mighty king of both victory and peace.  In Zechariah 9:9, the messiah is king –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The messiah king would usher in a new day for Jerusalem.  The days of captivity would finally be behind them, they would be free to worship and serve the king of the Jews.  The Jews had not had a king since Babylon destroyed the temple, and this verse told the people that a king of impeccable character, righteous and victorious, was coming for them.  A day to rejoice, a day to shout with triumph, a day to celebrate the arrival of their king.

In Zechariah 9:10, they knew the Messiah would be a man of peace –

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The Jews understood the coming Messiah to bring peace among men, among distant lands, from Jerusalem to the promised land of Abraham and his descendants to the very ends of the earth. His kingdom would be peaceful, because the Messiah was a victorious conqueror.  There would be no need for weapons for the Messiah to establish His rule.

In the next two verses, Zechariah 9:11-12, the Messiah would be a man of victory –

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

The Messiah would be a mighty conqueror.  Nothing would be able to withstand the might and power from heaven to rescue His daughter Zion from those that would persecute her.  Those that had been captured by evil and confined to darkness would be rescued and set free, given hope and a stronghold in the Lord.

Zechariah often refers to the Lord as the “LORD of hosts”, as in chapter 1 verse 3.   It could also be translated, “LORD of armies.”  This is a powerful name of God, Jehovah, Leader of an army of angels and our strong and mighty tower.  There is no need to fear with such a mighty leader of armies on the side of Zion.

When would this messiah come and rescue them?  We have to look to other Old Testament prophets to get the whole picture, but a key prophecy is found in Daniel 9:25.

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.

These “sevens” would have been very familiar to the Jews; each “seven” is a period of seven years, and the end of each seven years the Jews had a Sabbath year.  And for the phrase “from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” we have go back to Nehemiah 2.  Remember just a couple of months ago when we studied this?  Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king Artaxerxes, and the in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad.  Nehemiah had been praying for that moment, and he asked the king to let him rebuild the city.

Well, now it’s simple math to determine when the messiah comes.  Artaxerxes came to power in 474BC.  The twentieth year of his rule was 455 BC.  “Seven ‘sevens’” is 49 years, and “sixty-two ‘sevens’” is another 434 years, so the Messiah arrives in 29AD.  And since the Messiah is foretold to be in the temple, when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, Jews know the Messiah was to have come between 29AD and 70AD.

Zechariah prophecy

The timing of the Messiah has since come and gone, and Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  But if not Jesus, then who?  I read several rabbinical letters on this subject.  Through the years, the Jews have put their hope in a Messiah on several people through the years such as Bar Kokhba in 132 AD.  Bar Kokhba fought a war against the Roman Empire, defeated the Tenth Legion and retook took Jerusalem. He resumed sacrifices at the site of the Temple and made plans to rebuild the Temple.  He established a provisional government and began to issue coins in its name. Ultimately, however, the Roman Empire crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kokhba. After his death, the Jews said, “well, I guess he’s not the messiah, either.”  Today, the Jews still wait for a messiah.  They believe he didn’t come at the prophesied time because the Jewish people weren’t ready.  The Jewish people will either have to be so good that they deserve a messiah to rule over them, or so bad that they deserve to have a messiah to rule over them.

How did the Jews miss the arrival of their messiah?  They were looking for a mighty warrior.  They were looking for a man of peace.  They were looking for a king in the year 29AD while Jerusalem was occupied by Roman forces.  And then, Jesus came riding to the temple on a donkey.

On one hand, I’m sort of glad the Jews missed the coming of the messiah.  It’s because God knew the Jews would reject His one and only son that the offer was then extended to the gentiles, and gentiles like me have an opportunity to accept this offer of salvation.  God’s not done with the Jews yet, they are still His chosen people.  Following the tribulation, things will be different, and the Jewish leaders will receive Jesus’ love in their heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 –

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

III.      Prophecy is true

How many prophecies did Jesus fulfill?  The easy answer is “all of them.”  It’s hard to determine an accurate count of the prophecies, but one study I read counted them at 365 prophecies foretelling the coming Jewish Messiah, of which 109 that *only* Jesus could have fulfilled.

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

Today, we know that Christ died for us on a tree, our sins upon Him and bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, that we may have everlasting life with Him.  It is so obvious, nobody can miss it.

Or can they?  I know people that have accepted Christ, but I know far more that haven’t.  Some might even say they are Christian, but based on their fruit, they would be hard to recognize as believers.  And others are agnostic, unsure of any belief.  And some are atheistic, certain there is no God.  And some follow other gods of their own making.

IV.      Jesus came for us

Why did the Jewish people miss the 1st Advent of Christ?  Or better yet, why do some of us still miss the signs of Jesus in our lives?

John 5:36-40,

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus must be in our hearts, not just in our heads.  Studying God’s Word is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Evangelizing is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Compassion, good works, attending church, prayer is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.

The Jewish religious leaders studied the Old Testament diligently.  To them, salvation came with knowledge.  If you understood the word, you were given a place in the kingdom of heaven.  If you didn’t study, you were doomed.

John 7:49 –

The Pharisees said, “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”

2 Corinthians 3:15 –

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.

But it’s not what you know in your head that counts, but rather faith that trusts Jesus as the Messiah – something these Jewish leaders were unwilling or unable to do.  But we are to believe with our heart, not just our head –

Romans 10:9

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.

  V.      Conclusion

Today, in Zechariah 9, we’ve learned that the Messiah was a king, victorious, peaceful, righteous, and humble.

Matthew 21:1-9 –

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus speaks to us even now.  We must be in His word to hear him, or we miss the message He has for us. We must walk in His ways to see Him at work.  We must be with believers to see His love in action.

Isaiah 53:3-6 –

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Our Messiah has arrived during this celebration of Palm Sunday.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest heaven.  Thank you for coming for us, king of victory, king of peace, king of righteousness.  King of kings.

Zechariah Palm Sunday

To God be the glory.

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The Wrath of God

Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Bible Study, Christian | Tags: , , , , , , , |

A study of Zephaniah 1

   I.      Introduction

Wrath of God

The wrath of God by John Piper:

I thank the Lord again for my opportunity to serve Him today, and I pray my words are full of His truth today.  Often my lessons have some humor, some lightheartedness because I truly believe that being a child of God should be a joyous occasion and bible study should be a happy place.  Today’s lesson is from the minor prophet Zephaniah, and I do not know how to present this in a lighthearted way.  In many ways, lessons on encouragement and love and kindness are easier to teach than fire and brimstone.

One of the things I like about Second’s bible studies is that, if you stick around long enough, we will study every book in the bible every 7 years, including little three-chapter books like Zephaniah, tucked in between Habakkuk and Haggai.  It may be a little book, but the first chapter alone has a powerful message.  It’s not comfortable, it’s not warm, it’s not fuzzy and feel-good … but it’s the Bible and it’s a Revelation from God and of God.

Tim mentioned a few weeks ago if I believed God was still a God of wrath, and I answered in the affirmative.  Little did I know that that very lesson would be given to me to study and to teach.

I was so concerned about the tone of today’s lesson that I ran it by one of the Second Baptist pastors this week.  He made a few tweaks, suggested some small changes, and he is now hiding under his bed waiting for the thunder and lightning to begin.  One of his insights, though, was that if I felt that a study of God’s wrath was difficult, imagine what it was like for Zephaniah, bringing these words to the Jewish people?

Not much is known about Zephaniah.  He lived about 640 BC, he prophesied in the days of King Josiah, and was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  The purpose of his prophecy was to speak out against religious and moral corruption and idolatry in Jerusalem.  His prophecy was fulfilled a few decades later when Jerusalem collapsed under a wave of immigrants.

Let’s turn to Zephaniah 1:1-6 and see the prophecy of the Day of Judgment of the entire earth.

The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
“I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
the very names of the idolatrous priests—
those who bow down on the roofs
to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
and who also swear by Molek,
those who turn back from following the Lord
and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

Have we been led to believe that our God is only capable of love?  That Yahweh is not capable of anger?  That Jehovah God incapable of wrath and justice?  Do we simply discard scripture that deals with His anger and wrath?  Is our God limited and powerless against evil?

If we do not know that God hates pride, arrogance, and evil, then we do not know Yahweh.  Proverbs 8:13,

To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.

If we do not believe that God Almighty will right every wrong, then we do not know Yahweh.  2 Thessalonians 1:5-9,

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.  God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

God’s wrath in the Old Testament gives us examples of His tolerance for disobedience and sin.  In the Old Testament, we can see God’s balance between love and justice and mercy.  When Egypt held the Jews in captivity and in the fullness of time God when reached out to save his people, the Egyptians received God’s wrath.  Psalm 78:43-48,

the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the region of Zoan.
He turned their river into blood;
they could not drink from their streams.
He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
and frogs that devastated them.
He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
their produce to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
He gave over their cattle to the hail,
their livestock to bolts of lightning.

Against Pharaoh who had hardened his heart against God, God turned their river into blood, sent swarms of biting flies and frogs, sent locusts to devour their crops, destroyed their vineyards with hail and sleet, destroyed their livestock with lightning.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of eradication of sin that sometimes involved destruction.  The plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood of Noah, the destruction of Jerusalem.

It says in Psalm 78:49,


He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility—
a band of destroying angels.
He prepared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death
but gave them over to the plague.

Satan is most certainly behind all evil in this world, but Satan uses mankind to carry out his evil ways.  God’s fury, God’s burning anger, calamity, and result of his anger is against mankind who serves Satan.  God has been unjustly accused by Satan and mocked by unfaithful mankind.  We have been offensive and insulting.  This pride and arrogance on the part of man leads to calamity, a mighty correction of the perversion of justice we have done.

I want you to note carefully here that these plagues are not brought about by Satan, but by God.  God is a warrior and will destroy evil.  These end times plagues and judgments, the very wrath of God serve a purpose to cleanse His creation of all evil.

As Christians, we need to be able to reconcile the God of Love with the God of Wrath.  Churches that teach only prosperity or love are teaching a watered down version of Truth that neglects to tell people the source of evil, the effects of evil, and the ultimate judgment of evil.

Our God is Love.  Our God is Wrath.  How do you explain this dichotomy? Or sometimes, the question is phrased this way:  How can a loving God send people to hell?

We’ll come back to that question, but first, let’s take a look at ourselves.  We are made in God’s image, and we know we are capable of love.  But if someone lies to us, applies a false label to us, accuses us unjustly, do we not get angry?  If we are capable of both love and anger, then it should not be hard to believe that our God who created us can be both loving and full of righteous anger.

We have a God of love, a God of beauty.  But we also have a God of justice.  A God who will judge the wicked, righting all wrongs.  God hates sin.  Intellectually, we know this, and we approve of this.  God should punish the wicked.  But we’re only ok with this philosophy as long as God is punishing others.  “God, while I was changing lanes, that man cut me off.  Smite him, Lord, either in this life or the next.”  But our own sin?  “God, I only stole because I needed it.  Forgive me, Lord.”

 

II.      Revelation

What does the future hold for sinners?  When we ask ourselves about all the evil in the world, what will God do?  We have to go to the back of the bible, the book of Revelation, to see.  (Just as an aside, after our study of the minor prophets, we will be studying Revelation this summer, ironically while it is hot as blazes out there.)  Revelation describes end times philosophy, it begins with a greeting to the seven churches who served the Lamb of God, then gives praises to the king, and every creature in heaven and earth saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”   In Revelation 6, The Lamb of God begins to open the seals of judgment against the earth, and the 4th seal, well let’s read Revelation 6:7-11,

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”  I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Then, the martyrs who have died for God beg God for justice (Revelation 6:9-11,

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Who can stand from the wrath of God?  Revelation 6:15-17,

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

Here the wrath of God has not yet begun, but just opening the seals of judgment was terrifying enough that people hid in caves and begged for the mountains to fall on them.

In Revelation 8-9, the Seven Trumpets then announce the approach of God’s final judgment, and Revelation 9:20, mankind still refuses to give up idol worship.  By Revelation 14, the Seven Angels bring Seven Plagues, and Revelation 17 the Seven Bowls full of the wrath of God are poured out upon the earth, punishment to wicked men for their evil ways.  And even while the bowls of wrath are poured out over man, man curses God and refuses to repent.

God will destroy this evil in His creation, just as He said He would do.  Evil will be destroyed, and Satan will be bound and cast into the Lake of Fire to burn forever.  And those men that choose not to worship God, who choose to do evil in His sight, whose carnal desires are living away from the one true God, will receive the justice they deserve.  God will not be mocked.  Back to our minor prophet Zephaniah 1: 14-18,

The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
That day will be a day of wrath—
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness—
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
“I will bring such distress on all people
that they will grope about like those who are blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
Their blood will be poured out like dust
and their entrails like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.

III.      Where are we?

We are mankind.  We are all sinners, born of original sin.  Born to make a choice in this world, who we will serve and honor.  We are all born from the father of lies.  We are born into sin.  We want to sin.  We are slaves to sin.

And when I say “we,” I mean everyone is born into sin.  Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  And the consequences are dire.  Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”  The world is under God’s judgment, and we have been warned.  God’s wrath is upon all men.   We are all dead.  Ephesians 2:1-3,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

 

In Jeremiah 5:7-9, God’s people have asked for mercy, but God tells them adamantly that their sins will be their destruction.


“Why should I forgive you?
Your children have forsaken me
and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs,
yet they committed adultery
and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for another man’s wife.
Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

As a people, as a nation, we are so far from God’s purpose, but we have become hardened and used to evils.  We like our evils.   What we once tolerated, we now celebrate.  We are in the midst of the end times, where evil is called good and good is evil.  Mankind has proven itself to be of Satan, and mankind celebrates it.  We should fear God, holy and righteous, who not only has the power to judge what is good and what is evil, but he has the right.  All sin will be destroyed in judgment and in the lake of fire.  The sinner inside each of us will be judged and found wanting.  Hebrews 10:30-31 says,

For we know [God] who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Our God is a consuming fire, and we are without excuse.

IV.      Who then can be saved?

Is there no hope?  If we are born in sin, and celebrate our sin, and die by our sin, is there no hope?

Not by our own strength.  Even the apostle Paul famously said he continues to do what he does not want to do.  The apostle Paul was a sinner, deserving of judgment and God’s wrath.  You and I are sinners and deserving of God’s wrath.  We can say that since we are churchy people, we are good and holy, but that is untrue.  1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus’ disciples worried, too.  In Matthew 19, the rich man asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life, and Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  Wealth, both then and now, are often seen as blessings, rewards for a life well-lived.  It was thought by others the man was wealthy because God had found favor with him, but Jesus said, no, he too is condemned.  And the disciples cried out, “who then can be saved?”

Who indeed?  Who is righteous among us if we are all sinners?  How do you reconcile the God of beauty, of creation, of truth and righteousness with the God of revenge and wrath and destruction?

We have all sinned.  Little white lies, or even the truth can be sinful if we’re being hurtful.  Gossip, adultery, pride, lies, murder, stealing.  What are some of the things God hates?  Romans 1:18-32,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

We are bound for destruction, the penalty for sin is death.  We have no place next to the pure holy Jehovah God with even the tiniest sin.  And His wrath will be complete, and we are right to fear God’s wrath.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

We need help.  If the punishment for sin is death, then we need somebody else to *be* sin and die for us.  We need a savior.  Somebody fully man who understands life’s trials and temptations, yet remained fully innocent.  He would have to be innocent; the guilty cannot take the punishment for another person when he himself is guilty.  And not just a man who can take the place of one person, but someone who can take away the sins of the world.  We need Jesus.  Oh Lord, how we need Jesus.

There is cause for celebration in the midst of our message today.  Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  He took the punishment we deserve.  We are saved from the destruction and the wrath of God we deserve.  Hallelujah.

Our holy God of Wrath and justice is also a God of mercy and hope and ultimate love.  Our God has always given His people hope. John 3:16-18,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

That’s ultimate love and sacrifice.  I stand deserving of the wrath of God for the sins I’ve committed.  I deserve punishment.  But God so loved me that he sacrificed His only son to take the wrath I deserve.  And God so loved you, that he gave up His son to take the wrath for you.  Not because we’re such fabulous people, but he did this for us while we were still sinners and deserving of wrath.  Why?  Because we have a beautiful living awesome God of love and mercy and forgiveness.  I don’t know why God loves me, but I am so grateful that He does.  He’s forgiven my sins, clothed me in the blood of Jesus, lets me walk boldly to His throne with my prayers, and has made me His adopted son.  I am a child of the one true king.  Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did.  I am no longer condemned.  Jesus saves, Amen.

So let’s go back to our earlier question, “how can a loving God condemn people to hell?”  It’s not the right question.  The question completely misses the character of God.  God’s wrath will come to those who deserve it, and God’s mercy and grace will come to His people who do not deserve it.  A better question might be, “Why are any of us saved?”  God has provided a savior for us, freely available to all who choose it.  He has reached out His mighty hand and asks us to take it so we may live.  It is available to everyone.  It was the purpose of Jesus, to save us.  We often refer to Jesus as our Savior, but do we truly grasp what He saved us from, the Wrath of God?  1 John 3:8 says,

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

We may be saved from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, but God still hates sin, even this sin in us.  But as children of God, it is not God we war with.  We battle Satan and His plans, we put on our full armor of God and brandish the sword of truth.  God still hates the sin we think, the sin we speak, and the sin we do.  But on that Day of Judgment, we escape the punishment because our savior has already paid for our sins.  God’s full wrath was on Jesus that day and God poured out His wrath painfully on Jesus who became sin for us so that we might live.

God’s judgment on the world is still yet to come.  Why has God not yet pronounced judgment?  That day is coming quickly.  2 Peter 3:8-10 says,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

So that no one may perish, He stays his wrath.  God has so far exhibited two thousand years of patience with us, but one day God’s justice will demand satisfaction.  Time is running out.  God loved you will you were yet a sinner; who do you love?  God forgave you while you were still a sinner; who will you forgive?  Spread the Good News that Jesus loves them, too.  They just have to accept the free gift, to allow God’s son to bear the burden for their sin.  Evangelize.  Save those who you love.  And who do you love?  Family, friends, and the good book says we are to love our enemies.  God gave his son for the world, so that no one may perish.

But one day his patience will end.  Time is running out.  The coming of Man will be sudden, God will call the righteous home and promises that all the indignities that we have suffered, the abuse we endured for His sake, He will avenge, He will make right.  His wrath will be poured out.  It is not for us to fight that battle; revenge and wrath belongs to the Lord.

It is time for all of God’s selected to accept the gift of life that God has freely offered.  Tell others that time is running out.  John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

It is a fearful thing to know that God’s wrath awaits.  Philippians 3:18-20,

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even in the wrath described in Zephaniah 1:7 we find hope –

Be silent before the Sovereign Lord,
for the day of the Lord is near.
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited.

  V.      Conclusion

When will this Day of Judgment come?  Scripture tells us that no one knows the day or the hour.  That’s why the time to accept our Savior is urgent.

Are you ready?

Time is running out, the wrath of God approaches.  Choose life.  Choose Jesus.

To God be the glory.

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What is Faith?

Posted on November 9, 2014. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , |

             I.      Introduction

We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose.  Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions.  The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.

Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood.  He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world.  He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God.  And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.

The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied.  Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what?  What are we supposed to do with all this information?  So Jesus is great, I get that.  But what does it mean for me?

The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love.  We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love.  But what is faith?

          II.      What Faith is Not

We all place our faith in something.  In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it.  When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing.  When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.

We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities.  There are lots of self-help books out there.  I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books.  I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation.  There were 351,562 books in total.

Self-Help
Abuse (5,646)
Anger Management (841)
Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)
Communication & Social Skills (140)
Creativity (5,301)
Death & Grief (16,156)
Dreams (4,928)
Eating Disorders (2,739)
Emotions (857)
Handwriting Analysis (710)
Happiness (13,149)
Hypnosis (2,066)
Inner Child (554)
Journal Writing (216)
Memory Improvement (1,894)
Mid-Life (729)
Motivational (51,511)
New Age (955)
Personal Transformation (75,093)
Relationships (72,510)
Self-Esteem (13,639)
Sex (19,569)
Spiritual (19,191)
Stress Management (11,539)
Success (27,513)
Time Management (2,233)
Total (351,562)

I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like.  We may find we come up short and we need some more help.

We can also have faith in others.  But can people let us down?  We can be disappointed in others.  They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us.  People can let us down sometimes.

We may even have faith in faith itself.  Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen.  Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God.  That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking.  (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do).  Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful.  The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).  It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.

And what we need most is Jesus.  The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

       III.      Does Faith Replace Reason?

Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.  Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs.  Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason.  If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason.  If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith.  Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark.  They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”

If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Faith without reason is stupid.  If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense?  Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything.  In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event:  Christ is raised from the dead.  If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe.  Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.

But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.  Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty.  Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses.  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus.  And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it.  And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.

We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive.  The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus.  Why would they die for a lie?  But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise.  They knew who He was.

No, our biblical faith is based on reason.  Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.

          IV.      Dead Faith

Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice.  If we do not, our faith is dead.  Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have.  Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine.  We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain.  We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription.  I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work.  I believe everything about this medicine.  But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on.  That’s dead faith, useless faith.

No, we must do something with the faith.  James 2:14-19 says,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith.  The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved.  Knowing that, can we let those we love perish?  What kind of useless faith is that?

             V.      Little Faith

Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action.  Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us.  After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson.  Surely that is enough?  We’re not church elders or pastors or staff.  It’s those people that have an abundance of faith.  It’s enough that I’m here, right?

I haven’t been a Christian long.  I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true.  Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections.  I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction.  I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.

I guess it’s been longer than I thought.  That’s coming up on 20 years ago.  I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.

I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study.  You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on.  Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us.  But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God.  The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were.  I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself.  But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching.  If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?

Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge.  I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough.  I didn’t have enough faith.  I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.

And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow.  The Lord has equipped me for today.  So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew.  I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since.  And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today.   I only had a little faith, but that was enough.

Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same?  I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples.  They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them.  Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?”  I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough.  They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.

But these men of little faith went a long, long way.  They were given the task of evangelizing the world.  It doesn’t take much faith.  In fact, it takes very, very little faith.  With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain.  You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.

          VI.      What Can Faith Do?

What can our little faith do?  God will do amazing things with our faith.  Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today.  This is what faith can do –

  • By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
  • By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
  • By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
  • By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
  • By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
  • The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.

A little faith is enough.  A little faith is more than enough.  The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.

       VII.      Conclusion

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him.

FAITH.

Faith is taking God at His word.  His entire word.  Full confidence that every word is true.  That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.

I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too.  God can use my little faith to move mountains.  My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient.  And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.

Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,

“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

To God be the glory.

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Faith in Action

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

I. Introduction

Living by faith is difficult. It’s very easy to have either an over-dependence or under-dependence on God. Does living by faith mean living by a certain moral or ethical code, or adhering to a certain set of religious beliefs? Well… on one hand, living by faith means putting your trust in Jesus, following His footsteps, demonstrating your love for Him the way He did for you. And if you live by faith, then yes, you live in a way that pleases Him. And that means living by certain rules and behaviors.

On the other hand, living by faith and trusting in Jesus means we are not bound by rules that cannot save us, for we know that Jesus saved some of his harshest words for the Pharisees who applied rules for other people to live by. We learned that living by these rules cannot save us; it is solely by God’s grace that we are saved. So in that sense, we are bound by no rules at all. Following the rules cannot save us.

Living by faith can mean that we put our sole trust in God. We can do nothing without Him, but through Christ, we can do everything. God does indeed perform miracles every day… but should living by faith mean we do nothing at all? Do we sit idle while our family is sick, waiting for God’s miracle? Some people feel that when we take matters into our own hands, we do not allow God to work His miracles.

The alternative is that we confess with our mouth that we have faith in the Lord, but we never wait on Him. Do we take our sick friends to a doctor, and let God work His miracles through people? Some people feel God works His miracles through people. Or does this mean we’re taking matters into our own hands? It’s as if we are saying, “This is what God would do, so I’ll do it for him.” We want to be in control so bad and we are so confident in our abilities, we allow no room for God to work His miracles.

Living by faith is difficult, and if we fear living by faith, it paralyzes us into doing nothing. Perhaps we feel inadequate somehow – we either need to prove our faith by declaring that we will wait on God’s miracles, or we feel unworthy to rely on a miracle we are not sure will ever come.

I don’t think God intended for living by faith to be so difficult. Do what you can, say why you did it, give the glory to God. In Romans 10:9, Paul says that “one believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.” Living by faith, then, is both expressing your faith in words and in actions.

It’s fear that keeps us from expressing this faith. Fear that others will make fun of us. Fear that our faith isn’t strong enough to withstand scrutiny by others. Fear that God will let us down. Fear that our God just isn’t big enough. Our problems are too great for Him to handle.

We’re studying the book of Joshua today, chapters 2 through 6, and there are so many good and familiar stories. The priests crossing with River Jordan with the Arc of the Covenant, the walls coming tumbling down at Jericho, but we’ll focus on the story of Rahab and the spies and see what faith looks like in action, faith expressed without any fear of consequences, a total trust in the Living God we worship.

Let’s talk a little background here before we get to Rahab. The year is approximately 1400 B.C., maybe 1370 B.C. Moses has led the Israelites for 40 years in the desert, and has just passed away at the ripe old age of 120 years old and buried at the top of Mount Nebo in Moab, having seen but never entered the Promised Land. Joshua, with the blessing of Moses, has assumed the leadership of the Israelites and will fulfill the Lord’s promise to bring them into the Promised Land. The Promised Land is occupied, though, and in Chapter 1 of the Book of Joshua, Joshua readies the army to take the land that has been given to them. As part of his preparations for war, Joshua sends two spies to the city of Jericho.

II. Faith Expressed in Words, Joshua 2:1, 8-13

So let’s see what our spies are told to do and what they have to report, and look at Joshua 2:1 –

Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

Well, there’s not a lot of details here. It looks to me that they got lost. Two men are sent to Jericho and immediately go to the house of Rahab. It’s straightforward with no explanation, reminiscent of the way Jesus never explained his association with tax collectors. Outcasts, like prostitutes, tax collectors, drug users, people in jail – they often respond better to the mercy of God than people who already think they’re righteous enough. The book of Joshua doesn’t provide any explanation why they went to the house of a prostitute.

The Hebrew word used here to describe Rahab has several meanings. The most benign can be translated as “innkeeper.” So entering the house of Rahab sounds straightforward. A second translation can be as the modern definition of prostitute, a woman who sells herself for money. The third translation is a temple prostitute, a woman who provided sex to cult worshipers at a pagan temple. The text here is unclear, but the Greek word used to describe Rahab in the New Testament is very clear it is not the innkeeper description.

Let’s drop down to verse 8 –

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

“Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them —and that you will save us from death.”

Rahab expresses a remarkable expression of faith in Israel’s God. She knows it’s the Lord who parted the Red Sea, destroyed the Pharaoh’s chariots, and defeated Sihon and Og, two kingdoms on the east side of the River Jordan. And she knows she is living in a land that has been promised to the Israelites. And the people of Jericho were terrified.

It’s interesting how people react to hearing of God’s miracles. Sometimes they respond in disbelief, sometimes they respond in hostility. The people of Jericho knew of these miracles – the two defeated kingdoms of Sihon and Og were just over the river – yet instead of responding to God in awe and respect, they felt fear. They bolted the doors and decided to fight.

Is this something you’ve experienced? Somebody hears about a miracle of God, and they’re hostile to the message? What are some examples of hostility that you’ve seen or read about?

And if they react with hostility, how do we react? If we react in fear of their hostility, where is our faith in a mighty God that He may be able to part the Red Sea but not protect us from somebody angry at hearing the Word?

Rahab didn’t respond in fear. She realized that if the God of the Israelites could do these mighty works, then their God must be the one true God. If God is for us, who can be against us? If their God was the one true God, Rahab was going to put her trust in Him, not in the army guarding the city of Jericho, not in the walls protecting the city. Rahab heard the good news of the one true God, turned from hostility and disbelief, the sought mercy and deliverance for herself and her family. It’s a message of salvation, of hope and of promise.

III. Faith Expressed in Action, Joshua 2:6,14-15

As a believer in the God of Israel, Rahab immediately put her faith into action. The king of Jericho found out there were spies in his city and also believed the spies were in Rahab’s house. Rahab hid the spies up on the roof of her house, and told the king’s men that the spies had left the city. The king’s men went out of the city in pursuit. Let’s look at verse 2-7 –

The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

And drop down to verse 14-15 –

“Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”

So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.

Rahab saved the two spies, and in so doing, became an enemy of those opposed to God. She is now one of God’s people, under persecution from those who opposed Him. If the king’s men had found the spies at her house, there’s no doubt they would have put Rahab and the spies to death.

She not only trusted God, but she trusted God’s men, putting her life in their hands. But Rahab put her trust fully in the Lord and all He had provided.

Could she have said, “Your God is mighty, but I am afraid and cannot help you?” Would that have been true faith? I don’t think so. Rahab’s faith demanded action, or else it isn’t true faith. In the book of James, chapter 2, James says faith requires action. Turn to James 2:14-17 –

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

And then verse 25-26 –

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James is telling us we must do work on behalf of the Lord if our faith is to be alive. How much work should we do? How much work is enough to save us?

It’s a difficult question that I cannot answer for you, and you cannot answer for me. There is no way to earn your way into heaven, and you cannot do enough good works. The answer then, is that no works at all is a correct answer. Works cannot save us. We do not enter heaven based on our good deeds. The only reason we enter heaven is because we put our faith in Christ Jesus and trust in the sacrifice He made for us.

But, at the same time, if we truly have faith, then having no deeds at all cannot be the right answer. No deeds means a dead faith, a worthless faith. So the right amount of works is between you and God, between me and God. I should be constantly compelled to do more for His kingdom, and also recognizing that what I am compelled to do for Him does not save me. I learn, then, that I do it freely out of love for my Lord, not in obligation or to earn my way into heaven. So then, a true faith is expressed in both word and actions, but words and actions alone are not enough.

IV. Faith Rewarded, Joshua 6:22-23

Let’s go back to the book of Joshua. Rahab sent the spies into the hills to hide for three days. The king’s men then gave up and returned to the city, and the spies were able to return to Joshua and give a report about the city, that the land was indeed given to them by the Lord and the people in Jericho were afraid of their God.

Time passed, and many historical events took place. There are so many excellent lessons here-

• The Israelites crossed the River Jordan and camped at Gilgal where they erected a stone memorial to commemorate God’s deliverance of the Promised Land. Joshua had instructed the Levite priests to pick up the ark of the covenant and step into the River Jordan. When they did, like the parting of the Red Sea, the water stopped and allowed the people to cross. An important observation is that the water didn’t first stop, and then the people crossed. Oh no, they had to step into the water first, then the water stopped. God is capable of every miracle imaginable, but he wants us to trust Him. Step into the water, and trust God that He will act.
• Another lesson, all the Israelite males were circumcised to comply with the covenant, and then Passover was celebrated for the first time in years. In order to cross into the promised land, the people had to be prepared in accordance with God’s instruction. Today, Christ prepares us for the eternal life with God. Romans 2:27-29 tells us that with Jesus, the circumcision is of the heart, and accepting Jesus prepares us for eternal life with Him. Our life in faith and service and words and trust prepares us for eternal life with Christ.
• The army of Joshua then marched to Jericho, and under the Lord’s instruction, marched around the city for 6 days, and on the 7th day blew the trumpets and the walls of the city collapsed. Joshua and the Israelites then stormed the city. Joshua had the bigger army and Joshua had determination, but none of that was necessary to bring down the walls of Jericho. Patience, obedience to God’s commands, and living a life with the presence of God allowed God to demonstrate that He and He alone is necessary to bring down the walls that are in front of you.

I chose not to study these in detail for today. I studied instead about the life of a prostitute. Something must be seriously wrong with my priorities. What happened to Rahab? Let’s turn to chapter 6, verse 22-23 –

Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

So, just how bad of a person are you? Are you too bad to be accepted in heaven? Have you done bad things that will keep you from heaven? You show up at the pearly gates, and they say, sorry, you didn’t quite qualify for our daily special. Do you think you’re a horrible person that can’t be forgiven? That’s fear talking. Fear of not measuring up. Fear that it’s too late. Fear that your misdeeds are so incredibly big. Fear that you have a small god that cannot forgive you.

Rahab was a horrible person. I mean, who really likes innkeepers? But Rahab was rewarded for exercising her faith. Her preservation during Jericho’s destruction surely was a blessing from God. Her whole family was saved. Later, she married Salmon (Salma), the son of the wilderness chieftain Nahshon of the tribe of Judah. They had a godly child named Boaz, who had a son Obed, and then Jesse, who had a son David. Yes, that David. Rahab is an important link in the line of descent that led to King David of Israel and ultimately to the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

More significantly, the former prostitute Rahab is one of only four women named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:5,6). Of the four, Rahab was a prostitute, Ruth seduced her cousin, Tamar posed as a prostitute to seduce the father of her late husband, and Bathsheba was an adulteress.

There is nothing you can do that is bigger than God. Your sins are not too big for God to forgive. God can take a prostitute from the Old Testament and use her and her family to bring forth our redeemer, our savior, our descendant from David. God can use you, too. You just have to get over your fear and put your faith in action.

V. Conclusion

Faith in action is faith that is not stalled by fear. Faith leads to joy in the Lord. Fear steals our joy and diminishes or faith. They cannot exist together. Can one be happy and afraid at the same time?

We tend to think that being a follower of Christ should be filled with days of rainbows and ponies. Life should be easy if God is on our side. But God is preparing us for an eternal life with him, circumcising our heart in preparation of tearing down those walls of fear that keep us from knowing Him. Rahab didn’t have rainbows and ponies. I don’t know of any Old Testament person who had rainbows and ponies. And rainbows and ponies do not teach us about fear and how fear can debilitate us, prevent us from practicing our faith. Perhaps instead of rainbows, we should expect storms. Storms would let us practice putting our faith in action.

In Matthew 8, Jesus and His disciples get into a boat to sail across the lake. Jesus promptly lays down and goes to sleep. While he’s sleeping, a furious storm blew in. Waves started washing over the side of the boat. The boat looks like it’s going to sink. The disciples cry out, “Lord, save us!”

Jesus wakes up, rubs the sleepies out of His eyes, and in asks, “Why are you afraid?”

Why are you afraid? As a Christ follower, expect storms, not rainbows. Expect walls in front of you. You have a big God, bigger than walls or storms. Bigger than any sin you could have committed. Bigger than any hostility you may face when telling people how miraculous your God is. Put aside your fear. Put your faith in action.

And to God be the glory. Amen

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Be a Good Neighbor

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

I. Introduction

Sometimes it’s difficult to teach a familiar parable; we have pre-conceived notions, or perhaps previous bible studies left in our heads. The Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep, the Faithful Servant, the Ten Virgins, and so on. Even non-Christians have heard the phrase “good Samaritan.” Let’s see if we can look at this parable with fresh eyes today, and see if perhaps we’ve become complacent, and really look to see if there is an application for us today.

Through a powerful parable, Jesus lets us know that the good Samaritan exemplifies an important facet of the Christian character: How to be a good neighbor. So what makes a good neighbor? Someone who sells State Farm insurance? You know, “And like a good neighbor….”

Who has a neighbor that they consider to be a good neighbor? What makes that neighbor special to you?

I have a neighbor, sometimes I think we’re competing with, and losing to. On the day we moved into our new house in Sugar Land, it took longer than we thought it would. The truck wasn’t quite big enough, so it was like after 9pm when we started the second run back to the old townhome. Our next door neighbor Fai stopped by to meet us, found out we hadn’t had any dinner, and immediately brought over dinner for the both of us. And she hasn’t stopped, she brings vegetables from her garden, she weeds our garden, she sweeps our sidewalks, and so on. And if we should every try to do something kind for her, she redoubles her effort to bring us groceries. Everybody should have a neighbor like Fai.

Who is a neighbor? Or for that matter, who is a Samaritan?

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be a corrupted religion that in many ways mirrored Judaism. Well, “corrupted” might a kind way of putting it. One text I read said the Jews considered the Samaritans as ignorant, superstitious mongrels. Way back in 2 Kings 17, the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, killing most of the people living there. Anybody who survived we taken away to foreign lands, and eventually became known as “the lost tribes of Israel.” Only a few stragglers, mostly poor, sick or unskilled people, were left behind with Israeli identity or culture. To finish them off, the Assyrians sent five eastern pagan tribes to settle in Northern Israel and intermingle. They became a sort of hybrid people, part Israeli, part pagan. They developed their own customs; they still worshipped Yahweh, but their holy books were in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and didn’t contain many books the Jews had, especially the poetic and prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures. They eventually became known as the Samaritans. They built their temple to the Lord on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem, which irritated the Jews, so the Jews destroyed Mount Gerizim in 128 b.c. In both the books of Ezra 4:1-3 and Nehamiah 4:1-2, Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other.

So you see, “good Samaritan” was an unlikely phrase. Jews expected animosity from Samaritans. To the Jews, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. But funny thing about people, they’re all made in God’s image, and Jesus didn’t feel the same way about the Samaritans. Or the Gentiles, fortunately. Later, in Acts 1:8, Jesus will tell his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God still had a great deal of affection for the Samaritans.

So we begin our study, starting at Luke 9:51 –

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

I love that part – Jesus is on a mission, determined to go to Jerusalem, and teach all along the way.

And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

There’s a lot of new perspective here – the disciples wanted to rain down fire and destroy the Samaritans, the Samaritans not especially happy with Jesus going to Jerusalem to the temple there. And Jesus seems concerned about the Samaritans, even when His disciples don’t.

II. Follow the Scripture, Luke 10:25-28

So Jesus resolutely continues to Jerusalem, teaching along the way, until one day a lawyer stands up to question Jesus. It’s a trick question from a lawyer, but I repeat myself. It’s designed to trip Jesus. Turn to Luke 10:25-28 –

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The lawyer didn’t just ask a question, this isn’t idle curiousity. The lawyer “stood up to test him.” The lawyer has a serious question, knows the law, but he wants to see if Jesus is authentic. He’s challenging Jesus. What does Jesus know?

And it’s one of the great questions of all religions. What must I do to live an eternal life? What happens when I die? What must I do, what must I say, how should I act, what do I believe? It’s an expert question, coming from an expert lawyer. What must I do?

Jesus responded like a rabbi, and answered the question with a question of his own. Now Jesus is testing the tester. Jesus challenged the lawyer back, but to answer his own question from scripture.

The first part of the lawyer’s answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, what the Jews would understand as the Shema Yisrael, or just Shema. Shema Yisrael means, “Hear oh Israel,” and observant Jews would say this prayer as part of their morning and evening prayers. The Shema encouraged Jews to love God, and it was a twice daily affirmation of God’s place in their lives.

Notice that it doesn’t just say to Love the Lord God. It says to love the Lord *your* God. It’s personal, the relationship between you and your Creator. Love Him with everything you have, with your whole person. Heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love God with your emotions (heart), your consciousness (soul), your motivation (strength), and your mental capacity (mind).

Some have misinterpreted the scripture here. What must I *do* to inherit eternal life? Do this and live. Is this a philosophy of works? Is there a way we can earn our way into heaven by a life of good works and good deeds? No, there is not – our works, our deeds, even our very selves are like worthless rags compared to the almighty glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. But because we love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we *do* these things to show this love to others. Our feisty lawyer answered correctly, but he did not affirm a theology of works.

Jesus said, “Do this and live.” This is abundant life. Practice what you know out of love for Lord, expressed as love for others. The real test is a right heart with God, not knowledge or works, but putting into practice, love in action, a grateful response to God’s love.

III. Listen to Jesus, Luke 10:29-35

Was our feisty expert embarrassed by Jesus’ response? And if so, did he feel the need to repair his reputation? Or was he trying to find out whether there were any limits? In other word, how much is enough to get into Heaven? The lawyer asked a follow-up question, “who is my neighbor?”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

The question from the lawyer implied some people could be excluded. Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors. In this case, especially those backward, disgusting Samaritans. I mean, certainly we can exclude those people, right?

Who do we exclude today, that we do not consider a neighbor? Are we putting a limit on God’s love?

Jesus didn’t answer directly, told a parable that illustrated what it meant to demonstrate the love of God. Who was the traveler? We don’t know, he’s never identified. Might be a Jew, maybe a Gentile, might even be a Samaritan? The only thing we know for sure is that the traveler is human and therefore made in God’s image.

This man was beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem. This would have been a well-know road for the Jews, from Jerusalem 2500’ ASL to Jericho which is actually below sea level, winding through mountains and rocky terrain with many hiding places for robbers. The man was not just robbed, but stripped of his clothing and beaten and left for dead. The attitude expressed by the robbers is, “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.”

What were the motivations of the priest and Levite? Jesus doesn’t say. Priest may have refused because the man was dead, didn’t want to defile himself. Touching a corpse would have entailed a lengthy cleanliness process to become pure again. We don’t really know their motivation. Bottom line, though, is it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the motivation was, it was a convenient excuse to absolve them from being a good neighbor. Both the priest and the Levite considered themselves religious people, knew the love your neighbor statement. And both refused to help.

In fact, they went out of their way to avoid helping. They passed by on other side. The priest and the Levite expressed an attitude of, “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.” This attitude is hardly better than, and in many ways worse, than the robbers who beat the man up.

But the Samaritan helped. This startled the listeners. This *Samaritan*, they would have spit out, isn’t Jewish, isn’t to be trusted, doesn’t know the law… but he was helpful. The Jews expected animosity, but received compassion instead. In fact, this Samaritan gave up his own ride for the injured man, and in so doing expressed an attitude more pleasing to God, “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll give it.”

The second half of our lawyer’s question is much like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself. This comes from Leviticus 19:18. Not a selfish love, or a love of oneself, but how much you love others based on how much God loves you. A “neighbor” means someone of our own kind, not an outsider. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that this outside we pass by on the other side of the road is not an outsider to God. God loves everyone, not just believers. God gave His life to us while we were still unbelievers, still sinners.

We can’t help everyone, of course. Our resources are limited, we have to pick and choose. But on what basis do we pick and choose? Do we withhold our help from outsiders just because they’re outsiders? They are not outsiders to God. Who we are neighborly to should not depend on this. Jesus admonishes us to do this and live, practice what we know, put love in action. Our salvation involves faith expressing love to God and neighbor. James 2:17 says that faith that does not show itself to our neighbor is dead.

IV. Show Compassion, Luke 10:36-37

Jesus turned the question around perfectly, of course. The lawyer had asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by describing who *is* a neighbor. In other words, the lawyer asked about others, who qualifies to be his neighbor. Jesus answered by examining the heart of person asking the question.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So Jesus challenged the lawyer. Now who is your neighbor? While the lawyer tried to enact boundaries, Jesus used this parable to remove boundaries. A merciful God we should imitate by showing mercy. Go and do likewise. Any person in need gives you a chance to show you are a good neighbor and being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Emergencies aren’t always convenient. They don’t happen at planned times. I suppose if we could plan them, they wouldn’t be emergencies. I think about another example from Jesus about showing compassion even at inconvenient times. In Mathew 14 is the story of Herod and John the Baptist. John apparently had been hanging around outside Herod’s place, telling Herod that there was something wrong with Herod for taking his brother’s wife. I can’t help but think of how awkward that would be at family get-togethers, Herod and Philip and Philip’s wife Herodias. So one night after dinner and dancing by Herod’s daughter, Herod decides to behead John the Baptist. John’s disciples buried the body and then came to tell Jesus.

Look what it says in Matthew 14:13-14 –

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

John is the second cousin of Jesus, and John was the one that paved the way for him, a voice crying out in the wilderness. You know Jesus is grieving the loss of John. And yet, He found the time and energy for compassion at that moment, to heal the sick people that had come to see Him.

Our role model for compassion is God. We were sinners, opposed to God, but He showed compassion for us, even while we opposed him.

Compassion isn’t obligation; compassioning isn’t doing something out of duty. Compassioning isn’t even caring for somebody or taking care of them when they’re hurt.

I went looking for the root word of “compassion,” and found enough to rethink my idea of what compassion is. The root words in Latin are “cum”, which means “with” or “along side”. “Passion” originally didn’t mean anything like the ardent love we associate it with today, it comes from the Latin “pati” which means “to suffer.” It’s the same root word that gives us a hospital “patient,” somebody suffering. So how did we associate this with passionate love? Perhaps from the “Passion of the Christ,” the suffering Christ went through on our behalf. Christ’s love and suffering, His passion.

So “compassion” means to suffer together. It’s not just caring for somebody. It’s suffering with them, making their pain also your pain. How difficult is that to love a neighbor that much that we would suffer as though their pain is ours.

One of the clearest examples of compassion was Mother Teresa. Nobel prize winner, she eventually opened 517 missions in more than 100 countries. One of her early ministries confounded people in Calcutta, to help people nobody else would help. Poor people dying of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. These people, even if they lived, would still be a burden on society. Mother Teresa converted an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospice, the first Home for the Dying. People brought here received medical care and given an opportunity to die with dignity. Hindus received water from the Ganges, Catholics received Last Rites, Muslims were read to from the Quran. “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels — loved and wanted.”

In a book about her life, “Mother Teresa, In My Own Words,” are hundreds of inspiring stories and quotes from this amazing woman. She said, “Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. I responded: ‘Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God.'” She was truly a person of compassion, demonstrating God’s love daily and seeing God in those suffering.

V. Conclusion

So who is your neighbor? How can you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? Do they have a need, and can you go beyond the “bring them a casserole” and truly show compassion, to suffer along with them, to bear their pain? The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that we are challenged to be the good neighbor, regardless of their culture or how we feel about them. To show compassion for those around us, in glorious imitation of the compassion Jesus showed for us. As He loved us, let us love others.

Amen

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Praying About Difficult Decisions

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

I. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 –

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

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

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

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

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

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

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

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

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

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

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

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

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

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

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

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

IV. Conclusion

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

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

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Security in God

Posted on October 25, 2009. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I. Introduction

I visited a coworker in the hospital this weekend. He told me he was at home watching tv when the doorbell rang. When he opened the door, there was a 6 foot cockroach standing there. Before he could say anything, the cockroach punched in the stomach and ran off.

The next night, he was sitting at home again. The doorbell rang. There was the 6 foot cockroach again. This time it punched him in the stomach and the karate-kicked him before running off.

The third night when the doorbell rang, my friend was a little more cautious. He cracked the door to peek out, and there was the six foot cockroach again. The cockroach kicked the door into his face so hard he saw stars. Then the cockroach came in and jumped on him and kicked several times so hard he nearly lost consciousness. He dragged himself over to the phone and called 9-1-1.

The 9-1-1 operator asked him what the emergency was. In a weak voice, my friend answered, “there’s a nasty bug going around…”

There are a lot of nasty bugs going around, from the H1N1 swine flu to job losses to the price of gas. It shouldn’t surprise you that “nasty bugs” have been part of our existence for thousands of years. Today, we’re going to look at Psalm 62 and see how David deals with one of life’s turn of events.

II. Psalm 62:1-2, Security in God Alone

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Let me give you some background on what is going on in David’s life at this point in time. David is much older now; his affair with Bathsheba is long in the past, and David has long since confessed his sins and placed his trust in the Lord. But if you recall during our studies the last few weeks, confessing your sins to Lord frees you from sin and gives you reason to rejoice. It does not, however, free you from the repercussions of your sins. When Nathan said, “You are that man,” in 2 Samuel 12, David finally ceased his self-deception and acknowledged his sin against the Lord. The Lord offers mercy and grace, but also tells David “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.”

David has several more children over the years, but the sword never leaves his house. As his children grow, David has to deal with children that are disrespectful to him. His son, Absalom, claims the throne for himself. David, not willing to fight his own son for the throne, flees to the desert. A very stressful time in David’s life, losing your job to your son who’s trying to killing you. My day doesn’t seem so bad.

And it is this time in David’s life that he pens Psalm 62 and gives us instruction for how to deal with life’s nasty bugs. David’s strength comes not from his position as king or from wealth or from power, but in the Lord.

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

We should have a single source of security, in God and God alone. David gives us three pictures of security in God –

• God is my rock. What images does this bring to mind? What qualities of a rock provide security?
o Steadfastness
o Stable
o Unmoving
• God is my salvation. If God is our salvation, why does that give us security?
• God is my fortress. What images of security does a fortress bring?
o Protection.

III. Psalm 62:3-4, Security that Withstands Attacks

How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?

They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.
Selah

Our security is attacked many ways. Job loss, personal conflicts with others, sometimes with many others. Satan does not want you to have security and will deceive you that your security is misplaced. He wants to topple you. And he will keep this up for an unfairly long time – “How long” will he assault a man.

• What sort of things threaten our security and make us feel unsafe?

If our security is based on our circumstances, in people, in ourselves, in wealth or relationship, our security is fragile. But David repeats himself – we do not find security in anything but God and God alone. Verse 5-8 –

IV. Psalm 62:5-8, Security in God Alone, Still

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God [a] ;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Selah

The Lord God is still our rock, our salvation, and fortress. The Lord is also described as a refuge. Like a fortress, we can run to the Lord for safety when we feel threatened.

David reminds the people of Israel that the Lord is not just a fortress of safety for him, but for all people. We can trust in Him. More than that, verse 8 says that I can also pour out my heart to God. God knows our thoughts and feelings, he knows our pain, our hopes and desires. When we are in need, in trouble, in fear, trust in Him at all times and pour out your fears to Him.

I change my wallpaper on my laptop monthly with various Christian wallpaper, usually with a calendar on it, always with a Christian saying or a piece of scripture. One of them by Charles Spurgeon a few months back was very thought-provoking. “If we cannot believe God when circumstances seem to be against us, we do not believe Him at all.”

We have security in God because He tells us so. And if God is for us, who can be against us?

V. Psalm 62:8-10, Security Nowhere Else

Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.

Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

Where else can we possibly put our faith, we else can we find security but in the Lord? David lists several places where we look for false security –

• In relationships. What sort of relationships do we try to find security in?
o Parents
o Children
o Friends
o Spouses
o Politicians
o Government
o Church
o Ourselves
• In what ways can these relationships fail us?
• David also cautions us against placing our faith in things, especially ill-gotten gains. What sort of things do we use to seek security?
o Money
o Property
o Jobs
o Insurance
• In what ways can things fail us?
• Why are we tempted to add other forms of security like wealth or relationships, rather than rely on Christ alone?

In Psalm 44:6, “For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.” Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” And in the exact middle of the bible is Psalm 118:8, “It is better to trust in the Lord
than to put confidence in man.”

Jesus, of course, knew all this. There is no security anywhere but God. Matthew 6:19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal.” Instead, we can trust in God because of who He is. He is unique, one of a kind. Let’s look at the final two verses of Psalm 62.

VI. Psalm 62:11-12, Security in God Because He is Unique

One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,

and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done.

• What are some of the attributes of God that give us security in Him?
o His Power
o His Love
o His Goodness
o His Mercy
o His Justice
o Fulfilled prophecy

VII. Conclusion

God knows we have fears and concerns about our security. He is training us for something better, something that requires us to learn to trust in Him. If God is so powerful, why is it that we are scared? Is God really in control? That’s what we ask ourselves, and what God wants us to know, even when we don’t see Him at work. It’s precisely at those times God is at work in us.

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

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Christian Carnival CCLXXVIII

Posted on May 30, 2009. Filed under: Christian Carnival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Welcome to the CLXXVIII edition of the Christian Carnival. Whoa, CLXXVIII. That’s a lot of Roman letters just to say it’s the 278th edition.

My apologies for the late edition. Real life, as always, got in the way. No excuses, I’m just late.

This week’s best Christian writing is presented for your intellectual perusement and enjoyment.

Yolanda Lehman presents I RECOMMEND JESUS posted at Ain’ta That Good News?!, saying, “Yolanda Lehman shares an evangelical tool that will help you share Jesus with those you love. In simple, plain language she explains the GOOD NEWS found in scripture! Only God can fill the hole in your heart friends–I recommend Jesus!”

Rosalind P. Denson presents Let It Go posted at A Fruitful Life, saying, “Dr. Denson encourages readers to remember that Jesus taught us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” She encourages people struggling with an unforgiving heart to simply “let it go” following the example of Christ.”

NtJS presents Book Review: 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free posted at not the jet set, saying, “I recently received the book 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free by Phil Lenahan from the Catholic Company. I was not sure what I would think about this book since I have read so many personal finance books. Could I really learn something new?”

Cecille Carmela presents How Does God Talk To You? posted at Rightful Living, saying, “How does God talk to you? Find out by searching through His deepest desires, through meditation, Bible scriptures and forgiveness.”

Jim DeSantis presents Christian Dating: Four Ways To Find Your Spiritual Match. posted at On Line Tribune | Spiritual Matters, saying, “The Christian faith, most faiths for that matter, teach that we are not to be unequally yoked. In lay terms this simply means we are to be wise when seeking a relationship to avoid future spiritual conflicts that can result in heart break. Here are four ways to find the mate matched to your beliefs.”

FMF presents Is It Ok for a Pastor to Earn $600k a Year? posted at Free Money Finance, saying, “Should there be a limit on how much a pastor makes?”

ChristianPF presents Extravagant Giving posted at Money in the Bible | Christian Personal Finance Blog, saying, “This is a story of some extravagant giving that I have recently been the recipient of…”

Rick Schiano presents Discipline Your Child a Biblical Perspective posted at Ricks Victory Blog.

Rani presents Prayer of the Week for Children- Allowance posted at Christ’s Bridge, saying, “This prayer is a part of my new series of children’s prayers.”

Keith Tusing presents How to Partner with Parents and Protect Kids in Our Culture posted at CM Buzz, saying, “CM Buzz is a site dedicated to encouraging, and providing resources for Children’s and Family Ministers.”

Dana presents Something to be proud of posted at Principled Discovery.

Dana presents A game of catch, a game of life posted at Simple Pleasures.

michelle presents Isaiah 55:8-11 posted at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus….

Tracy Dear presents Not Condemned posted at New Mercy, saying, “I try to give God glory while I stumble through a difficult marriage. I want to polish the monuments of the things He’s teaching me.”

Shannon Christman presents Why Don’t More Faith Communities Emphasize Simple Living? posted at The Minority Thinker.

Barry Wallace presents ?Angels and Demons? ? Fact, Fiction, Reviews, Questions posted at who am i?, saying, “I ask some questions about the new movie “Angels and Demons” and receive some thoughtful replies.”

Chris DeMarco presents Tears Over Lost Sheep posted at The “C” Branch.

Weekend Fisher presents The gospel: how central is Jesus’ death and resurrection? posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, saying, “Weekend Fisher continues a series on what the gospel is and isn’t.”

Rey of The Bible Archive asks serious questions about the method of Christ’s atonement in Theological
Necessity for a Physical Resurrection.

Fiona Veitch Smith presents Christian Speculative Fiction – a ‘lost’ genre? posted at The Crafty Writer.

Chris DeMarco presents Tears Over Lost Sheep posted at The “C” Branch.

Barry Wallace presents ?Angels and Demons? ? Fact, Fiction, Reviews, Questions posted at who am i?.

Weekend Fisher presents The gospel: how central is Jesus’ death and resurrection? posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.

Sue has several articles; technically, that’s against the rules, but I’m listing all three anyway –

Sue Roth presents “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives…” posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “A reflection on abandoning self to God.”

Sue Roth presents If he hadn’t risen from the dead, he’d be turning over in his grave. posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “On the need for Christian unity”

Sue Roth presents Gianna Jessen: she survived “choice” and lived to tell about it. posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “Read the amazing story of Gianna Jessen, a young woman who survived her abortion. She is an eloquent spokesman for life. And be sure to click the link for her home page. You’ll be able to hear her sing… with the voice of an angel.”

NC Sue presents The unforgivable sin? Or the unanswerable question? posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING.

That concludes the CLXXVIII edition of the Christian Carnival. Want to participate? Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our
carnival submission form.
Past posts and future hosts can be found on our

blog carnival index page
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He is Risen!

Posted on April 12, 2009. Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , |

he-is-risen

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The Suffering Servant

Posted on April 5, 2009. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible
Image via Wikipedia

We’ve been studying Isaiah and fulfilled prophecy; today we reach the exclamation point of the entire Old Testament.

I once recently read that the entire bible points to Jesus. I had a hard time grasping that concept. I knew the New Testament told the story of Jesus, and I knew the Old Testament told the story of God’s relationship with Israel. But until the last few weeks, I never understood how much the Old Testament also points to Jesus. The passages we’re studying this week, Isaiah 49 through 53, are the heart of this prophecy. They are beautiful stanzas, beautiful poetry; they are descriptions of the Christ to come.

Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for us. We have an egocentric, a “man-centric” view of this plan. God sent His son to die for *me* so that *I* may have a relationship with God. And that’s true, God did that for you and for me. For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But God has a “God-centric” view. Everything in God’s creation gives glory to God. That includes His son. That includes us. God sent His son to die for us so that we may bring glory to Him. God glorifies Himself by flooding our lives with mercy found in Christ.

Jewish scholars understood that Isaiah 40-53 were the messianic prophecies, a Messiah to come that would deliver Jews and Gentiles to the Lord. As Christians, we understand that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Jews did not accept Jesus as the Christ, but continued to believe that a messiah was to come. Jewish scholars continued to hold this view well at least until the twelfth century. They altered their interpretation then; Jewish scholars now interpret these passages as a description of the suffering of Israel. That view has problems, for Isaiah 53:8 says that the Servant will die for the sins of Israel. How can Israel die as a sacrifice for Israel? And verse 9 says the Servant was innocent of sin and suffered unjustly, but who will claim that Israel is innocent of sin?

The original interpretation by Jewish scholars was correct; these passages point to an innocent individual who would take away the sins of the world. Today, Jews that study both Isaiah and Jesus come away convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Servant.

Jay Sekulow grew up Jewish kid in New York. When he went to college, a friend named Glenn. This is from Jay Sekulow’s testimony

Glenn suggested I read Isaiah 53. My mind was boggled by the description of the “suffering servant” who sounded so much like Jesus. I had to be misreading the text. I realized with relief that I was reading from a “King James” Bible, and after all, that’s a “Christian” translation. So the first thing I said to Glenn after I read it was “Okay, now give me a real Bible.” I grabbed the Jewish text, but the description seemed just as clear. Even though this caught my attention, I wasn’t too worried. It still sounded like Jesus in the “Jewish Bible,” but there had to be a logical explanation.

I began to research the passage and I started to look for rabbinic interpretations. That’s when I began to worry. If I read the passage once, I’m sure I read it 500 times. I looked for as many traditional Jewish interpretations as I could find. A number of them, especially the earlier ones, described the text as a messianic prophecy. Other interpretations claimed the suffering servant was Isaiah himself, or even the nation of Israel, but those explanations were an embarrassment to me. The details in the text obviously don’t add up to the prophet Isaiah or the nation of Israel.

Jay could not explain these scriptures as anything other than the sacrifice Christ as made and today is a member of “Jews for Jesus.” He is also a prominent lawyer and Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.

God’s plan has been evident from the beginning. Century by century, generation by generation, God gave men a promise of a blessing through the bloodlines of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David. Through Abraham’s seed, all nations of the world would be blessed, and the ruler’s scepter would never leave the tribe of Judah. Through David, his throne would be established forever. These were the earliest messianic prophecies.

Through Isaiah 7, we learn that the Messiah would be born of a virgin mother. Isaiah 9 tells us that the Messiah would be God incarnate, in the flesh.

The Servant is introduced in Isaiah 49; the Servant is the prophetic name for the future Messiah, Jesus Christ. The scripture here says the Servant of the Lord will summon Judah to return to the Lord and be a light for all peoples on the earth. All of Israel will be restored. You and I will be restored.

How can this be? How can imperfect people have a restored relationship with the powerful, perfect, and Holy God? We should fear even to look upon Him because of our character and who we are. I confess my pride yet again; sometimes I look at the blessings in my life and thank God. I have a beautiful and servant-focused wife that loves me with a depth that I am in awe of. Because of my service and faith in the Lord, I am truly blessed with deep friendships. And I look at the lives of other people and think that I am not like them. In the news I see horrors I cannot fathom, and know that it’s because I’ve devoted my heart to the Lord that I do not experience the same things in my life.

It’s as though my life was laid out on a beautiful green rolling hills. I am a lamb, enjoying the pastures God has given me. Picture such a hillside, with the bright morning sun shining on the grass and the blue lakes. And as I imagine myself as a lamb, what color is the lamb?

But now imagine a crisp, clear day after a snowfall. The same lamb on the same hillside covered in snow? Now what color is the lamb?

Am I a righteous person? Is there no blame in me? Are you a righteous person? We understand intuitively that we are not righteous, that somehow we should be a better person. Yet, when there is disagreement among ourselves, we never find the fault in ourselves. We find fault in others. When we cling to our own righteousness, we don’t realize that we are in fact clinging to our own guilt. We just need a scapegoat, someone else to take the blame for why we aren’t righteous. We have no righteousness apart from God. When we cling to our own righteousness, we cling to the sin of pride. All of our guilt and pride and sin must be given to Christ, and we must realize that if we have any righteousness at all, it doesn’t come from us. It comes only from Christ.

My life is but filthy rags, and the best I can hope for is a dingy gray next to the perfect life and sacrifice of our Lord. Isaiah 50 makes this distinction very clear. There is a strong contrast between the Servant’s perfect obedience and Israel’s sin. The disobedient, the spiritually adulterous, are temporarily divorced from the Lord. Isaiah 50 makes it clear this is precisely our problem; it’s because of our sins that we cannot be in the presence of the Lord. The Lord asks rhetorically in verse 2, “was my arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to deliver you?” The Lord God will send His Servant to Israel and we will mistreat Him, but the Servant will be vindicated by the Lord.

Isaiah 51 provides encouragement to the faithful, and the Lord promises joy and salvation that would be known throughout the ends of the earth. And then Isaiah 52-53 foretells the Servant of the Lord who would suffer, be rejected by His own people and die for their sins. He would be buried with the rich and then raised to life, then be exalted according to the will of God. The Servant Jesus would provide forgiveness of sins for all who put their faith in Him.

And then in Isaiah 53 we see God’s gracious plan to offer His son, the Servant, as a willing sacrifice as a means for us to restore the relationship with Him that we had lost through our sins. Isaiah 53:1 begins with, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”

The question is clear. The message spoken through the prophets is clear. Yet the message reaches blind eyes and deaf ears. Most do not respond to God’s call, yet for those who do respond, unimaginable blessings await.

The Suffering Leads to Glory and Exaltation

Isaiah 53 is the pinnacle of the Old Testament; many scholars believe the beginning of the Chapter should start at Isaiah 52:13, so we’re going to start there. The New Testament quotes Isaiah 53 more than any other Old Testament chapter; there are at least 41 references. This is the fourth Servant Song, five stanzas of three verses each. I encourage you to go read the entire Servant Songs beginning in Isaiah 49, but we’ll focus today just on this last one beginning in Isaiah 52:13-15. First stanza –

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—

so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Verse 52:13 says the Servant will be exalted, and verses 14 and 15 say the exaltation will contrast the humiliation.

When Jesus was arrested and brought before Annas, he was spat upon, slapped and beaten on the head with fists. Brought before Pilate, Jesus was scourged with a instrument of torture with metal hooks that literally ripped the skin off the body. Prisoners often died just from the scourging. The graphic details are not found in the New Testament, though Psalm 22 tells of the horror the Son of God endured.

Many have asked why Jesus had to die for our sins. Jesus did not deserve this kind of death. But you and I do. When we study the details of the life of Jesus, we can find ourselves in the lives of the people around Him. In the judgmental Caiaphas, whose self-righteousness says he is above those he judges. Or the Roman soldiers who mocked Him and tortured Him. I once found myself in Peter, a self-proclaimed follower of Jesus who denied Him in order to fit in better with those around me. Only when I was in church did I claim publically to be a Christian. I was a coward for Christ.

Jesus knew this about me, and He knew it before I was knit together in my mother’s womb. Yet He loved me anyway, and willingly had the flesh stripped from His body as the punishment for my sins that I deserved.

We may read about the death of a person that arouses fear or sympathy or abhorrence. I once saw a video that was seared into my head forever during the early days of the Iraq war, where terrorists tortured an American until he confessed to something, anything, and during his confession, the terrorists slit his throat. But Christ’s death is more than just his scourging, his flesh ripped off, the nails pounded through his hands and then strung up on a tree. The gospel message is not that Christ died. The gospel message is that Christ died for our sins. You and I are just as guilty as Annas, Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, and Pilate.

Jesus laid down His life for me. Jesus laid down His life for you. He paid the price for our sin. He deserved life, yet we gave Him death. The wages of sin are death which we so very much deserve, yet He gave us life.

Verse 15 says kings will shut their mouths because of Him. Now we see why people are astonished when they understand the message of the gospel. The man we condemned to die has declared us condemned unless we turn from sin and trust Him. We condemn Him who is innocent, but it is we who are already condemned. And the one we tortured to death is our willing savior. We cannot rejoice in the good news until we first understand that we are condemned. Jesus did not suffer and die because He was guilty, but because we are guilty. It shuts our mouths.

The Suffering is Humiliating and Offensive

The second stanza, Isaiah 53:1-3 –

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Verse 53:1 says the people did not believe the message. Verses 2 and 3 day the Servant was humble and rejected.

This is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, a humble life, a rejected servant. Two primary themes in Isaiah are that the “arm of the Lord” is mighty to judge and also mighty to save. He is a God of perfect judgment and we stand condemned, yet He is also a God of perfect mercy. People regard the Servant as a nobody, a loser, despised and unwanted. He had no grand beginnings; he was born in a manger. In his adult ministry, they said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” They put a cheap price of thirty pieces of silver on Him. Yet people still reject Christ because Christ does not represent things that people value, things like wealth, social prestige, reputation, power, personal comfort. We reject what God values. Yet God regards the Servant as a tender plant that He will care for.

The Suffering is Punishment and Redemption

Stanza three, Isaiah 53:4-6 –

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Verse 4 says the Servant’s suffering is punishment, and verses 5 and 6 say the punishment was redemptive.

This is the heart of the entire gospel. The innocent Servant dies as a sacrifice for sin. Expiation is the removal of guilt through the payment of the penalty. The heart of Israel’s religious system is the innocent animal that dies in place of the guilty sinner. While the wages of sin are death, God permits the blood of the innocent to be shed as a sacrifice for the guilty.

God’s amazing wisdom provides a method of redemption for all eternity. While the blood of one innocent creature can pay for the sins of one guilty person, who can wash away the sins of the entire world? A mere man cannot provide such redemption. The sacrifice must be omnipotent; only God is omnipotent. The sacrifice must be God.

But how can a perfect and holy God identify with our sins? Jesus not only bore our sins, but also identified with the consequences of Adam’s sins. The emphasis on these verses is on plural pronouns. Our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our sins. We have gone astray; we have turned to our own way. Jesus died, not for what He had done, but for what we had done. Jesus identified with us because He was also man.

And so he was pierced for our transgressions. The Jewish form of execution was stoning, but Jesus was pierced. His hands and feet were pierced with nails, His side pierced by a spear. And he was crushed for our iniquities; the word “crushed” means to be broken, bruised, shattered by a burden. Psalm 38:4 says that sin is burden that grows heavier the longer we resist. The burden of sin crushed our Lord and Savior.

Sin is serious. Isaiah calls it “transgression,” which means rebellion against God. We dare to cross the line that God draws. Isaiah also calls it “iniquity,” which refers to our crooked nature. In other words, we are sinners by nature, but also sinners by choice. By nature, we are born children of wrath, and by choice, we are children of disobedience. And Christ, though He kept the Law perfectly, took our punishment so that we may have peace with God. We are no longer condemned. How great is the grace of God to give us forgiveness instead of the condemnation we deserve!

The Suffering is Accepted

Stanza Four, Isaiah 53:7-9 –

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Verse 7 says the suffering Servant is silent. Verse 8 and 9 say the suffering Servant was innocent.

A servant is not permitted to talk back. A servant submits to the will of the master. When Christ was accused by Caiaphas, He was silent. He was silent before the chief priests and elders, before Pilate, before Herod Antipas. And when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him, He did not speak. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading this passage when the apostle Philip walked up to his chariot. The silence of the suffering Servant impressed the eunuch to want to know more about this Servant, and he was led to Christ by Philip.

Christ was silent in His suffering; Christ was silent in His trial and condemnation. But Christ was innocent of the charges. Everything about His trial was illegal. Yet Christ was silent, for to speak would proclaim His innocence. Christ did not come to be freed, but to free us.

And so Christ was killed for us. As a criminal, His body would have been left unburied, but God had other plans. His body was placed in the grave of the wealthy man Joseph so that all may witness the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Suffering Satisfies and is Effective

Stanza Five, Isaiah 53:10-12

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Verse 10 says the suffering was God’s will. Verse 10b and 11 says the suffering was for our justification. Verse 11 and 12 say the suffering will lead to His exaltation.

In this stanza, the prophet Isaiah explains the Cross from God’s point of view. Even though wicked men crucified Jesus, the death of Jesus for foreseen and determined by God. The death of Jesus was not an accident, nor did the death of Jesus make Him a martyr. Jesus was a willing sacrifice for the sins of the world.

And in triumph over evil, He did not remain dead. There is nothing that the wicked can accomplish that God cannot overcome. Jesus triumphed in His resurrection, He triumphed over every enemy, and He claims the spoils of victory. He was obedient unto death, and God highly exalted Him.

This obedience of the Servant satisfied the heart of the Father. God did not enjoyment in death, let alone the death of His son. But the obedience of the Son provided the redemption that God wanted for His people, redemption that God had planned from the beginning. The death of the Servant also satisfied the Law. God hates sin. It offends Him. It violates His Holy Law. In His holiness, God will judge sin, and the punishment is death. He cannot ignore sin, He cannot diminish it, He cannot compromise with it. His holiness is perfect. Yet His love, too, is perfect, and he desires to forgive us for our sins.

So how did God solve the problem of perfect judgment and perfect love? God is the judge and God is the prosecutor. In His amazing love, God also takes the place of the criminal. The Law is satisfied, and God can graciously forgive all who receive His Servant.

What did I do to deserve this love? What did you do? The answer is nothing. There is nothing we can do; we deserve the wages of our sin. Grace poured out for the sinners who will accept it. God will no longer keep a record of our sins. We are justified; we are sinners declared righteous before God. Romans 4:5 says that God has justified the ungodly.

He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our sins. The punishment that brought us peace was now upon Him. By His wounds we are healed. In five days, Good Friday is upon us. Reflect this week that if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of our savior, it should be us on the cross, paying the price for our sins. Christ died for you and for me, though we do not deserve this mercy.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

May we all truly appreciate what God has done for us this Easter.

Amen

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