Bella in Italy

Posted on October 2, 2010. Filed under: Family | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Our hearts are breaking with the news that our wonderful little Bella has passed away suddenly this week, and we share our grief, and our joy, that we found in this beautiful creation of God.

We have hundreds of wonderful memories of Bella, a feisty terrier mix that was also calm and gentle, a rare mix in a terrier. From Diane’s first memory of how they chose each other at the shelter to the way Bella would greet us when we came home with a toy. And if we went outside to the garage and came back in, that was another chance to greet us happily. Her constant companionship in the evenings while watching a movie. And her compulsive vice to shred Kleenex if given the opportunity. And the way we would hide our suitcases from her when going on a trip, for Bella understood that we were going on a trip without her.

This trip was going to be different, though. We discovered that bringing a small dog to Italy was easier than we expected, so we changed our flights and made all the arrangements. Her trip to Italy had so many firsts – her first airplane, her first escalator, her first elevator, her first taxi. She handled all them bravely, quietly, though anxiously we could tell when she trembled.

This last week she went to her first Italian restaurants and sat quietly and patiently. After a week in our apartment, she had learned to navigate the stairs to the front door as we took her for her daily walks to the parks where she chased pigeons from her new territory. And she went to church for the first time in Florence this past Sunday. If you would ask Bella if she knew Jesus, she’d happily agree with you.

On Thursday, the staff informed us that during the cleaning of the apartment, Bella left the apartment through the open door, navigated the stairs, and was seen exiting the front doors. For hours we searched the city streets with the help of some good friends, then posted missing posters, then searched some more. And we cried. And we prayed, for ultimately the source of all things is the Lord our God.

Friday evening I received a call from the apartment staff that she had been found, but she had not survived being alone in the city. Later this morning, I am to accompany then to identify our precious little girl and complete some sort of paperwork. Bella gave us 11 years of affection and love, and we grieve deeply that she is no longer with us. For those of you whose lives she also touched, we know you also share our grief. We began last night by picking up her food and water dish, little dresses, and leash, because they are stark reminders that she will not ever be needing them again.

From all of our friends and family, we ask for your prayers for comfort for us as we begin grieving for our loss, and we give thanks to our Lord for giving us many wonderful years from His beautiful creation. He is truly amazing that He created such joy and beauty in such a tiny package.

Goodbye, Bella. We miss you, and we are so thankful you gave us warmth, affection, and love to our lives.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

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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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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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Act on Revealed Truth

Posted on March 15, 2009. Filed under: General | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...
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Introduction

Last week, Michelle taught from Isaiah 6. This week, the lesson covers Isaiah 7-23. When I first started studying, I though, whoa, we’re supposed to cover 16 chapters?

I spoke to Fred about this last Saturday; he said there was no problem covering all 16 chapters, he would enjoy a thorough lesson. So I thought we’d cover chapters 7-10 first, then break for lunch. Come back and read chapters 11-20 and then break for dinner. That would leave us plenty of time to cover 21-23 this evening.

Actually, I’ve noticed that the bible is an amazing book in that the closer or further away you get, there are different lessons. Isaiah 7-23 has many, many lessons for us. Isaiah 7-12 is a warning to political leaders; chapter 7 talks about hope, chapter 8 is a warning of judgment, 9 is a promise of mercy, and so on. Chapters 13-23 are prophecy and fulfilled prophecy, showing that the Lord is in control. Yet we can also focus on a single sentence and get a life-changing lesson from it, the Word of God is that powerful.

We’re just going to focus on Chapter 7 this morning. In Chapter 7, Isaiah reminds us that we are to trust in God in times of stress. We are God’s people, and we are to do things God way. God’s will be done; we can participate, or God will do His will without us. Yet, stubborn as we are, we often choose to be controlled by our circumstances rather than listen to the Lord. And that’s the lesson from the Lord today – to have faith in Him and not things of the world.

It’s time to make a decision. You can go one way, or you can go another. You can ask for help, you can go it alone. You can help a friend, but it means breaking a confidence. You can accept a new job, but it means moving away from church. What are some difficult decisions we face today, as a nation, as a church, as a class, or as a family?

Here’s a story from Los Angeles City College. In a class teaching public speaking, students were given an open assignment in public speaking. Here’s an excerpt from the news article –

On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez’s presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation, “Ask God what your grade is.”

One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.

What are Mr. Lopez’s options? How would you respond?

Obviously anti-Christian, the teacher inadvertently asked a very appropriate question. “Ask God what your grade is.”

In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is faced with a similar dilemma. He’s faced with a threat and has to make a decision. David’s kingdom had long since split in two after the death of Solomon. Israel to the north had routinely strayed from the lord. Judah to the south, sometimes followed the Lord and sometimes they didn’t, depending on the king at the time. Northeast of Israel was the nation of Aram (also called Syria), and north of that was the rising Assyrian Empire.

Under King Uzziah, Judah flourished. Aram and Israel had wanted to form an alliance with Judah, but Uzziah had resisted. Isaiah preached that the Lord would save, and Judah should remain neutral. Uzziah was dealing with raids from the Philistines from the west and the Edomites to the south, and if Uzziah moved troops to face the Assyrians, the southern attacks would succeed. Uzziah stayed neutral, and under King Uzziah, Judah flourished.

Uzziah died, and his son Jotham took over. Jotham was also a strong leader and kept Judah neutral, but died young. And Ahaz, 20 years old, took over. It’s now about 735 B.C.

Isaiah also spoke to Ahaz about relying on the Lord to save, but Ahaz didn’t listen. Ahaz was not a righteous king; in 2 Kings 16:2-3 we’re told Ahaz offered sacrifices to Baal and pagan idols. As a weak king, Israel and Aram gave up on the alliance idea and decided to attack Judah. Their goal was turn Judah into a puppet kingdom and become large enough to defend themselves against the Assyrians. Isaiah brings Ahaz a message to depend on the Lord and remain neutral. Isaiah tells Ahaz that Israel and Aram are too weak to be a threat, and that the Lord will protect Judah. Instead, 2 Kings 16:8 says Ahaz gave away treasure from the temple of the Lord to the Assyrians as a bribe to protect him from Aram and Israel.

Instead of listening to Isaiah’s word from the Lord, Ahaz tried to appease evil. How well did this work out? Assyria used the treasure to finance the war to conquer Aram and Israel, and then in 2 Chronicles 28 we’re told the Assyrians continued their march and conquered Judah, too, with the help of the Edomites from the south.

Isaiah told Ahaz to trust in the Lord. As Christians, we’re also taught to trust in the Lord. Like Ahaz, though, we attempt to resolve problems using our own human strength. Ahaz made several mistakes we can learn from.

I. Misplaced Focus

Let’s look at Isaiah 7:1-2.

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern kingdom, and is used here to represent all of Israel being united. Ahaz gets word that Israel and Aram have become allies, and Ahaz is scared, shaken by the wind. Ahaz has been given the word of the Lord, but he fears men. He has misplaced focus.

Oswald Chamber wrote, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” We face many fears in a world of sin and uncertainty. Finances, disease, natural disasters. We may face danger. We may face fear that someone we love will be hurt. Something may challenge our emotional or spiritual strength. We are tempted to give in to fear, to find a worldly solution.

Our focus should be on the Lord. What would the Lord have me do in this situation? How do I obey His commands in this time of trouble? When we turn to the Lord, fear of the world is replaced by faith in a faithful God. Our God is a powerful God. Why should we fear anything else? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us to remember that the Lord knows our needs, that He will take care of us. Do not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we should wear. Put the Lord first, and He will provide what we need.

What was Ahaz’s fear? Was his fear justified? Have you ever been in a circumstance where you were afraid? Have you ever asked for someone’s advice and wish you hadn’t? At what point did you turn from your fears and turn toward the Lord for strength?

II. Misplaced Confidence

Isaiah 7:3-9 –

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood — because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,

for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.'”

The Lord says to Ahaz that the attack from the north will be unsuccessful. The leaders of those countries are only men, and He is the Lord God. The Lord knows the plans of evil men, and the Lord tells Ahaz that He is in control. The Lord says that these two countries are like sticks that have burned up, and there’s nothing left of them. Their flame may have once been bright, but now they’re dying. Both kings would be dead within two years.

Isaiah’s specific prophecy was that within 65 years, Israel would be too shattered to be a people. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and deported the people. 2 Kings 17:24 says foreigners came into the land to replace them, and Ezra 4:10 says later even more foreigners arrived.

Ahaz had misplaced confidence. His confidence is in himself. Ahaz puts his trust in a political alliance with Assyria. God is with Judah, but only if Judah is with God. Ahaz is trusting in the strength of an enemy to save him from other enemies. Where is Ahaz’s faith in God?

If we do not place our faith in the Lord when times are tough, then we have no faith at all. That’s what the Lord says – if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. But God is infinitely stronger than any problem we face. He is aware of our needs, and He is aware of those that plot against us. And God will help, but we must place our faith in Him first. Our primary confidence must be in Him, not ourselves, not other people, not worldly wisdom. God allows us to be tested in order to increase our faith in Him, and we demonstrate that faith when we give Him control and do not worry.

I notice also that Isaiah the prophet is faithful to share God’s word. But I also note fulfillment of prophecy that Michelle taught last week in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s message falls on deaf ears, and Isaiah’s vision is unintelligible to blind eyes.

III. Missing Integrity

Isaiah 7:10-12,

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself off. Satan says this will prove Jesus is the Son of God because scripture says angels will protect Jesus from any harm. And Jesus answers, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Why is Ahaz’s response wrong, but Jesus’ response was right? Ahaz was exhibiting false religiousity. Ahaz wasn’t testing the Lord; the Lord was testing Ahaz.

Both Ahaz and Jesus quote Deuteronomy 6:13. There’s a difference though – God wants to protect Judah, and all Ahaz has to do is place his faith in the Lord. Here is the kind of man Ahaz was, from 2 Chronicle 28:1-4 –

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

The Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refused. Ironically, Ahaz probably had been asking for signs from Baal and other deities; the Lord God says, “ask for a sign from me.” When Ahaz said he wasn’t going to test the Lord, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to trust the Lord. Ahaz used scripture to keep from obeying the Lord; he had missing integrity. While calling for Isaiah’s counsel, Ahaz had no faith in the Lord. To ask for such a sign from God required a faith from Ahaz that he didn’t have. He gave the appearance of being a religious person, but he was willing to sacrifice to idols, sacrifice his sons, make political alliances with enemies, anything at all. He had no integrity.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else. You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach. Integrity is being one person. You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God. We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

IV. Misplaced Faith

Isaiah 7:13-14,

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Through Isaiah, God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. Pious, fake religiosity; Ahaz refused to test God. In truth, Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God, because then Ahaz would have to be obedient to God or expose his own hypocrisy. Ahaz had already decided to place his faith in men; Ahaz had already requested help from Assyria.

God’s answer is to the entire house of David. Notice also that Isaiah refers to “my God,” perhaps recognizing that Isaiah’s God is not Ahaz’s god. God provided a sign anyway, even though Ahaz would not ask. God’s ultimate sign of His authority will be His Son, Jesus. The Hebrew word for virgin is complex; for Isaiah’s time, it probably means, “young woman of marriageable age.” In the next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8, Isaiah is talking about his own child, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which meant “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Partial fulfillment of this prophecy meant that Assyria would plunder the Aram and Israel before the child was old enough to know right from wrong.

We know there’s more to the prophecy, though. There is partial immediate fulfillment, but there is eventually ultimate fulfillment. Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess, was probably a real nice lady, but she wasn’t a virgin. She and Isaiah already had one child together. Also, Isaiah’s prophecy is not given to Ahaz, but the House of David, and he uses the plural “you”. The literal and ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. The apostle Matthew 1:22 says that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.”” The Greek word used here is not ambiguous; it means virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations.

Our faith should be in the Lord, not in people, places or things. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the house of David was assured that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever, yet Ahaz placed no faith in that promise. God teaches us through trials to trust in Him and Him alone.

God will work out His plan, whether we participate in His plan or not. Ahaz certainly didn’t; Ahaz had faith in himself and in the world, and placed no faith in the Lord. As a result, Judah eventually fell and was plundered by the Assyrians. But look at Matthew 1:9 at the genealogy of our savior. The lineage of Jesus begins with Abraham through the line of David, then through Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. God provided a savior; God fulfilled prophecy. God is faithful, even when we are not.

When a crisis comes, don’t misplace your faith; learn to place your faith in God. Don’t misplace your confidence; our God is bigger than any crisis that comes. Be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and other; when we respond in faith, it pleases the Lord and encourages others when they see how the Lord responds in our lives. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all.

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God Loves His Creation

Posted on December 4, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes it can be difficult to remember that God is in control, that God has a plan for us. Let’s open God’s User Manual, Chapter 1, and start at the beginning. Genesis, verse 1:1 begins -

In the beginning, God created…

Let’s stop right there and discuss just those 5 words. Lately on the New York Times Best Seller List, books by atheists have been topping the list. “God: The Failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist,” “The God Delusion,” “Letter to a Christian Nation,” “God is Not Great.” In response, prominent Christian apologetic authors have come out with books like “The Case for Christ” and seminars like the one we recently had from Reasons to Believe.

Usually, an atheist begins his argument with, “prove to me that God exists” as if somehow you’re going to be able to argue him into heaven. How does God answer this question? “In the beginning, God created.” The bible wastes no time trying to explain the existence of God. God is. Remember when Moses asked God what His name was? Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” God is. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Genesis 1 begins with the understanding that God exists and has always existed and doesn’t spend any time giving evidence to fools who demand to see evidence that already surrounds us.

In verse 2, the second part of the Trinity is introduced, the Holy Spirit which hovers over the formless void. To me, this shows an anticipation of greater things to come; the Hebrew word rachaph is also used in Dueteronomy 32:11, describing how a mother eagle flutters her wings over her young to protect them. The Lord God did not create the world impersonally; creation is very personal to God and he protects us under His wing. If the Spirit of God is hovering, what is He about to do? He is taking a formless void and giving it purpose.

Diane challenged me to read each word carefully, and she’s right, there is so much more to Genesis than a simple story of creation. It’s a story of God’s relationship with His creation and His purpose for His creation.

In verse 3, it says, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God spoke the light into existence. I think of this as an introduction to the third person of the Trinity, the Son of God. John 1:9 introduces Jesus as “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Our Savior is the source of all light; our human perspective tells us that light comes from the sun, but if you’ll look down to verse 16, we’ll see that God created the light on the first day, but didn’t create the sun until the fourth day.

Jesus as the source of all light is also revealed in the book of Revelation at the end of time. Revelation 22:5 says, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

As science progresses and helps explain the origins of the universe, it’s interesting to see how, thousands of years before science, God’s Word tells us how the world was created. First the universe, then the earth, then the plants and then the animals. Throughout this creation, God declares His creation to be good. Verse 4, Day 1, the light was good. Verse 10, Day 2, God declares the earth and sky and water and land to be good. Verse 12, Day 3, the vegetation with plants and trees and fruit, God declares to be good. Verse 18, Day 4, God creates the sun and the moon and the stars and declares them good. Verse 21, Day 5, God creates the great creatures of the sea and every winged bird and declares them good. Verse 25, Day 6, God creates livestock and land animals and declares them good.

On the 6th day, God creates man, and verse 31, God declares it to be very good. Not just good, very good. Nothing further needed to be made; His creation was exactly what God had planned. God’s creation reflects God’s glory, and God’s creation continues to reflect God’s glory, even if man’s ability to reflect God’s glory is imperfect. Man is different from the rest of creation. On the first 5 days, look at how God spoke creation into existence. God said, “Let there be light.” God said, “Let there be sky, let there be land, let there be seas.” But when God created man in verse 26 it says, “Let us make man in our image.” This phrase is far more personal than the previous 6 days where God effortlessly spoke creation into existence with “Let there be.” The phrase, “let us make” is quite unlike the others. First of all, it’s plural. Let “us” make man. Who is this “us” God speaks of, and why is there no “us” in the rest of God’s creative activity?

The presence of the Holy Spirit and verse 2 and the hint of the Christ to come in verse 3 form the plurality of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is omniscient and knows this creation of man will be disobedient to Him and He knows how much this disobedience will cost Him. The bible tells us in 1 Peter 1:20 that Christ was chosen before the creation of the world to be our redeemer; God knows that the Son will one day be sacrificed to pay for our sins. He planned it during creation.

Why is there no “us” listed in the first 6 days? Perhaps because the first 6 days show God’s creative ability and his omnipotence, but nothing in the first 5 days shows God’s love like the day He created man. God is going to demonstrate and prove His love by creating the one creature to whom God will make Himself vulnerable. For God so loved the world that He gave us His son and planned this love from the very beginning of creation. God created man already knowing the cost to Himself, a love that humans can barely comprehend.

God created both men and women in His likeness, in His image. His image has nothing to do with gender or our skin color or our height or weight or any other differentiation between humans. By creating us in His image, we are to reveal something about God, but we are not gods ourselves.

I think the importance of the phrase “in His image” should not be taken lightly; it underscores the importance of human life to our Lord. In our society, we see many, many debates that degrade the importance of human life. When it comes to the life of the unborn, God values the life long before birth. Pslam 139:13-16 says,

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

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

In debates about euthanasia, we hear about the quality of life as though we have set ourselves up to be the gods who determined what sufficient quality of life is. Who are we to determine God’s plan for another’s life? Who are we to determine whether somebody else’s life no longer has meaning? For that matter, who are we to determine whether our own lives have meaning? God’s voice is clear – human life is sacred, human life is holy, human life is made in His image.

Genesis 1:29-30 emphasizes the sanctity of life of creation. It says,

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

We see the so-called “natural order” today and can’t imagine the world any other way, but God gave man every seed-bearing plant and ever tree with fruit for us to eat. The next line implies that all the other animals, too, were herbivores. The importance of life is subtly confirmed here. The bible also predicts a future day when respect for all life will yet again be the order of things; Isaiah 11:6-7 says

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

We know that coming up in a future lesson in Genesis will be about the Fall, when man chooses to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. After sin is introduced into the world, animals are first slaughtered for human benefit in Genesis 3:21, and were probably used for food for the first time after the flood in Genesis 9:3. The sanctity of animal life will not be fully restored until the future reign of Christ on earth when sin is conquered forever.

The first book of Genesis describes humans as the completion of God’s creation where God demonstrates His love for us. The second book of Genesis describes God’s plan for men and women. In Genesis 2:2, after creating man and woman, God rested on the seventh day, and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Was God tired?

God did not rest because God needed rest. God rested, I think, to show us the importance of rest. One day a week devoted to simply enjoying what God has created. We tend to put work first in our lives as though our work was our god, and we work all seven days of the week. The seventh day is holy, set apart, for our benefit, not God’s. God has no need of rest, but he knows that this rest is so important he made one of the Ten Commandments.

That’s not to say, though, that work isn’t important. It’s says in Genesis 2:15 that God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden and told him that his job was to work the garden and take care of it. The Hebrew word for “work” used here means to labor, to work for another, and the serve God. God’s plan is for us to work, not an idle life of recreation and laziness.

Let’s back up to Genesis 2:4 and see the relationship God wants to have with His special, very good creation. Throughout Genesis 1, God is called in Hebrew by the ancient name for deity, Elohim. In Genesis 2:4, God’s is called by His intimate name, Yahweh, or “I am”. It’s appropriate that God’s intimate name is introduced here because God begins to act in very personal ways with His creation. In verse 7, God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The beasts of the earth received life by means of the spoken Word of God, but man gets a personal CPR, a mouth-to-mouth infusion of life that clearly lifts man above the animals. Clearly, God has affection for His creation. Will His creation also have affection for God? It is a test that continues to this day. Will we choose to love God as He loves us?

Just like creation without man is incomplete, the creation *of* man is also incomplete. In verse 18, The Lord God, Yahweh, says that it is not good for man to be alone, and He will make a helper suitable for him. If you’ve ever taken a good look at a giraffe, you know that God must have a sense of humor, and I think God shows his humor here. Verse 18-20,

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

It’s like God is saying, Adam, dude. Pick an animal, any animal, to be your helper. You know, when I go shopping, I’m like most men. We decide we need it, we go out and buy it and bring it home. I’m just glad Adam didn’t go shopping for a helper like I go shopping. All the animals are paraded before him, and Adam says, “Are these my only choices? Well, I guess I’ll take the platypus.”

No, it says no suitable helper was found. Whew. Verse 21-22,

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

As God created woman, man was deep asleep and observed nothing, preserving the mystery of God’s work. To this day, men don’t seem to understand where women are coming from.

Back in Genesis 1, we read that male and female were created on the same day, but this passage makes it clear that man was formed first out of the dust, then the woman is formed from the man. Man’s need for a helper does not come from man; God says in verse 18 that it is not good for the man to be alone, and that He will make a helper for him.

While the woman would be like him, she would also be different. Man didn’t need another person exactly like himself. God created man with certain strengths and God-given abilities. Then God created woman with different strengths and abilities that complimented man. The verbs used for God’s creation are different; God “formed” man out of dust, just like a potter forms a vessel out of clay. But God “made” woman, built for a specific role. Though man and woman are different, man and woman are made from the same substance and share a tie that can never be broken.

Adam was obviously overjoyed he didn’t settle for a platypus. When he awoke, he said, “Wo, man!” Verse 24,

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Two separate people become a single unit with shared dreams, hopes, and tasks. Though different, as married couples we are united. Though separate, we function as one. We learn to love the other and treat them as more precious than ourselves, and so get a glimpse of the love our Creator has for us. Like most people, we want others to see us as better than we really are. When we are physically naked, nothing’s hidden. Yet, the man and woman felt no need to hide who they were, even though they were naked. They celebrated their similarities and worked together to accomplish their God-given responsibilities. A man and a woman’s commitment to God and to each other form the basis of a Godly marriage. In marriage, we accept our spouse just like God accepts us, for who he or she is.

It’s far too easy in our society today to abandon God’s plan for our marriage, to bail when things get tough or uncomfortable. God’s plan is obvious; marriage should be a lifelong commitment to help one another as one flesh in a covenant relationship.

Why would God ordain such a relationship? In all of God’s creation, God first expressed a relationship with man. It was on the 6th day that God used the plural to make man in our image, and it was with man that God first intimately breathed life into his nostrils. God loves us, and wants us to love him. True love is a choice, and we can choose not to love him.

Marriage is an interim step toward knowing the love of the Lord. With a partner, we are naked, we hide nothing. Our spouse knows us and should know us better than any person on this earth, better than anybody but God. We are to be one flesh. With our spouse, we are able to give forgiveness, just like Christ forgave us. With our spouse, we are able to receive forgiveness and recognize in ourselves just how much we fall short of perfection. With our spouse, we can practice loving unconditionally. The tears and the joy of sharing one another’s life, helping each other as one flesh, is God’s plan for our lives.

Ephesians 5:25 tells each husband to love his wife sacrificially, just as Christ gave Himself up for us. Men, do we do that? Or do we place things above our wives? Ephesians 5:25-31,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

And the two will become one flesh. Where have I heard that before? Husbands, let me tell you – whatever sacrifice you think you’ve made on behalf of your wives, it’s not yet enough. Unless you think you’ve sacrificed more for your wife than Christ sacrificed for you.

Wives, you were made for a purpose, to be a helper for your husband, to provide for him things he cannot do for himself. What would you do for Christ if He was in your presence today? If Jesus wanted something from you, would you tell him “no?” Ephesians 5:22-24,

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Your husband is your ministry; you demonstrate your love for Christ by the way you demonstrate your love for your husband. While your husband is called to live sacrificially for you, wives are called to remember that they were made to be their husband’s helper in everything.

They way we serve our husbands needs and the way we sacrifice ourselves for our wives gives glory to our Father in heaven who has a purpose for creation. He has a purpose for us in creation, and we are his most precious creation. Will we remember when we leave this room today that every word, every action, should be pleasing to God, and that our marriage is God’s plan to demonstrate His love for us? Listen to the words of Psalm 8:1-4 as we close today:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

God loves us and desires most of all for us to love him in return, and to demonstrate that love to one another beginning with our marriage. All of creation declares His love for us.

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Love Wholeheartedly

Posted on August 13, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Our next minor prophet is Malachi. In Hebrew, Malachi means “messenger of Yahweh” or “my messenger.” Was Malachi the name of the man who wrote this book? Some scholars believe “Malachi” was simply the title of the book, as in “my message” to the people. We don’t know anything about the man himself, but it’s helpful to think of Malachi as the name of the prophet who wrote it. Verse 1 tells us that the book of Malachi is “An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.” The word “oracle” implies a burden, a heavy message from the Lord.

Malachi came after Haggai and Zechariah and probably wrote this about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah. Here’s a probable time line –

538 BC — Zerubbabel leads the first return of Jews from Babylon (prophets Haggai and Zechariah)
521–486 BC — Rebuilding the temple
458 BC — Ezra leads the second return of Jews from Babylon
445 BC — Nehemiah leads the third return of Jews from Babylon
433 BC — Malachi rebukes Israel

After admonitions from the earlier prophets, the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt, but over time the people became lazy, earlier spiritual reforms were abandoned, and conditions declined. Jerusalem fell into poor shape, both economically and spiritually. Nehemiah mentions in Nehemiah 5:5 that conditions were so poor, some parents sold their children into slavery to pay debts. That’s not legal today, though goodness knows I once tried. (No, no, no, I’m just kidding.)

The people had turned away from their faith, marrying non-Hebrews and practicing in the occult, and blaming their own poor conditions on God. Malachi challenges this mindset — the people can’t neglect their faith and then blame the resulting poor conditions on God. God’s love is unchanging, forever faithful. It’s the people; it’s us, that are not consistently loving.

Do You Trust God’s Love?

Let’s start with Malachi 1:2-3 –

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

God says He loves us, and the people respond “How? How do you love us? We have no prosperity, we’re selling our children into slavery, and times are tough. What do you mean you love us?” They people of Jerusalem had a lot to complain about. They had been in captivity by the Babylonians for over 80 years, then 70 years since they had returned to Jerusalem, but they were still not independent. For 150 years their destiny was manipulated by the Babylonians and Chaldeans, and now, even though they had rebuilt the temple and rebuilt the walls under Nehemiah, they didn’t have the manpower to defend against their enemies. From their point of view, God had allowed them to be dragged off into exile, and only through their own hard work did they return, rebuild the temple, rebuild the wall, and rebuild whatever prosperity they could muster. Where was God? How could God possibly say He loved them when so many bad things had happened?

Bad things happen to us today. We complain about them. In Afghanistan, there were 23 South Korean Christians captured by the Taliban; two of them, including the pastor, have already been killed. Where is God? I once lost my job and was unemployed for 2 months. Does anybody here have some health issue that doesn’t seem to have any Godly purpose? What sort of bad things are happening to us or in our society right now?

Do these bad things mean God doesn’t love us? Do they mean that God isn’t paying attention to us?

The people of Jerusalem must have a lot of nerve to say that God doesn’t love them. When he says, “Yet I have loved Jacob,” God is reminding them that God chose His people and has given them preferential treatment. If you remember the book of Obadiah a few weeks back, the people of Esau, the Edomites, share the same father as Jacob. Esau’s people, though, were not chosen by God, and the people of Edom openly rebelled against God. When Moses led the Israelis to the Promised Land, the people of Edom would not allow them to pass. When Nebuchadnezzar attacks, the Edomites tell the Babylonians where the Israelites are hiding, then join in the sacking and plunder. The Lord reminds the people of Jerusalem of His preferential treatment of Israel. The Lord God parted the Red Sea, had an angel of fire to protect them, provided manna in the dessert, but to the Edomites, God promises destruction. God reminds the people of Jerusalem that He loves them, but it appears the people do not remember or do not appreciate what God has done for them. It is true that God allowed their captivity, but only to cure them of their persistent idolatry. God had preserved them, though, and kept them from being destroyed. The people of Jacob only have to look to the people of Esau to see how much God loves them. Without God’s protection, they would have been destroyed.

What has God done for us? It can be difficult to see what God is doing in our lives with our narrow view of “me, me, me.” We’re too limited in our vision, only looking at the moment. God’s love works over a long period of time, and only over time do we get a perspective of how much God loves us. We get mad at God for something that just happened just now and forget about all His other mercies in the past. Perhaps when I lost my job, God saw that I was dependent on something other than Him, and I needed a reminder that if I was faithful, He would provide all my needs. Perhaps health issues give us empathy for others that have similar health issues; nobody can speak God’s love to a cancer patient like a Christian cancer survivor. Perhaps he uses health issues to remind us that our lives are temporal, short, and that we should devote whatever time we have left to loving our Lord and loving others.

But God does care for us, even in the middle of trials. Jesus tells us (Matthew 10:30) that our Father has numbered the very hairs on our head. One… two… there are a lot of hairs, some of us more than others.

It is God’s discipline in our lives that we have so much trouble understanding. The Babylonian captivity was discipline imposed by God to cure them of idolatry. A parent will punish their child for playing in the street, not because the parent hates the child, but because the parent loves the child. The parent could stand in the street also to direct traffic and protect the child, or the parent can teach the child the dangers of traffic. God often chooses to teach us, not just protect us.

There’s a story about a summer Christian camp for kids, and one of the counselors was teaching that God had a purpose for everything He created. The kids came up with good reasons for clouds, trees, animals, rocks, dirt, rivers, and so forth, when one of the children asked, “Why did God create poison ivy?” There was an uncomfortable pause while the counselor thought, but then one of the other children said, “God made poison ivy to teach us there are some things we should just keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off of.”

The people of Jerusalem clearly misunderstood about God’s love. When we trust in God’s love, it does not mean we no longer have responsibilities. The people of Jerusalem though they were exempt from responsibility and effort. They believed they can slack off, be part-time lackadaisical believers, and God will take care of them. We too, pray for God to just fix things. While God sometimes just “fixes” things for us, most of the time God teaches us not to play in traffic. There was a prayer I heard long ago about how God works, it goes like this –

I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.
He said it was not for Him to take away, but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.
He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.
He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.
He said He gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”.
He said suffering draws me apart from worldly cares and brings me closer to Him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”.
He said I must grow on my own. But He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. And God said “No”.
He said He will give me life, that I may enjoy all things.

I ask God to help me love others, as much as he loves me.
And God said “Ah, finally you have the idea!”

How does God love us? Like the people of Jerusalem, in the midst of our lives, we focus too much on the here and now. If we would ask God if He loved us, God would say “Yes.” He gave me his only Son who died for us, and we will be in heaven someday because we believe. That’s how much God loves us.

Question for the class — What helps you trust that God loves you when it seems to you God’s doesn’t hear your prayers?

Consider -
1. I can trust God’s love because…

Do You Honor God’s Greatness?

The real question isn’t whether God loves us. The real question is: do we love God? Malachi 1:6-9 –

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“You place defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

“Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”-says the LORD Almighty.

God asks a good question — with their mouths, the people say they honor God. But God shows them their hypocrisy — they say one thing, but their actions show their lack of respect for God. Starting with the priests; the Lord says the priests are showing God contempt, not honor. The priests are offering blind animals for sacrifice. The animals are crippled and diseased. Where did the priests get the blind and crippled animals? The people offered them. The Lord asks them to try offering them to the governor. Would the governor be pleased? If you were going to a friend’s house for a potluck supper, what would your friend think if you brought an expired can of sauerkraut and a half-open carton of milk?

If we truly believe God is our almighty God, we should honor him with our best. How do we do that? For instance, at work, how should we honor God? With our best service, the best job we can do. As a neighbor, how should we honor God? By loving our neighbor as ourselves. At home as a spouse or a parent, how should we honor God? By loving our spouse, at a minimum, like we love our neighbor. At worship, how should we honor God? With all our hearts; with repentance, reflection, forgiveness. Matthew 5:23-24 tells us, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Let me ask you something — who here thinks they are truly loveable? I mean if we could see everything in your life, what you do, what you say, even what you think, who here believes they are truly warm and fuzzy and loveable all of the time? And yet, God loves us anyway. What do we do to earn this love? Nothing. God loves us even when we’re unlovable. That is a truly extraordinary demonstration of what love is. It’s not a feeling, it’s an action. We love our neighbor, not because he’s necessarily loveable, but because we are called to love him. And it’s a great example of how we are to love our spouses — our spouses may indeed be truly loveable, but that’s not why we love them. When our spouses are loveable, that just makes it easier to like them. We love our spouses because by loving our spouses, we are honoring God.

As Christians, we worship God through our service to Him and through our obedience. Not just on Sunday mornings, but Monday mornings and Tuesday mornings, too. Notice that God doesn’t want our gift if we are at odds with our Christian brother or sister. We’re a married class; who is our closest brother or sister? What God says here is that if we’re at odds with our spouse, our gift is meaningless. Our worship to Him is expressed through love to one another. Before we worship on Sunday morning, it should be our reminder to forgive one another, to love one another, to be reconciled to one another.

How strongly does God feel about this? Malachi 1:10 has very strong words about this.

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

Any outward ritual is worthless. God doesn’t care about outward rituals. God cares about the heart and mind and spirit. If your heart is not right, if your heart is not repentant, forgiving, and full of love, God says He’d rather we nail the church doors shut and go home. He doesn’t want half-hearted worship. He doesn’t want worship from us if we’re angry or gossipy or unforgiving. In Mark 12:28-34, one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. What was Jesus’ response?

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The verse after that isn’t quite so well known; the teacher of the law agreed with Jesus –

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This verse doesn’t say that the burnt offerings and sacrifices were unimportant; it says that the offerings and sacrifices are worth less than the love of God and the love of each other. Whatever effort we go through to love God and each other, our offerings are worth less. If you love God half-heartedly, the offering is almost worthless.

I believe the Lord would almost rather we be like Esau, who He hated. I think He would have us hate God and turn our face away from Him. If we’re in church going through the motions of worship, but being a poor example of a Christian to our neighbor, our co-worker, our bible class friends, or heaven forbid our spouses, we are harming God’s church. When we are a poor example of Christ’s love, we hinder the witness of those fully devoted followers of Christ.

Let me give you an example of how being a poor example of an obedient Christian can harm the church and turn away potential believers. There was an article last week from Rome; an Italian politician whose party represents Christian values was caught in a hotel room with two prostitutes and a large amount of cocaine. When he was caught, this was his response:

“So politicians in the UDC [Christian Party] do not make love? Of course, I recognize Christian values. But what has that got to do with going with a prostitute? It is a personal matter. This affair has nothing to do with family values. I cannot be branded a bad father and a bad husband simply because after five or six days away from home, an occasion presented itself.”

In Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says this about being a half-hearted Christian –

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

I’m not sure what the theological implications of Jesus spitting us out of His mouth are, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing. Non-committed Christians can be more harmful than non-Christians. Part-time Christians can be distasteful to God. It is not our actions that please God; it’s our heart. If our tongue both praises God and curses men, we are lukewarm, we are dishonoring God. God would have us nail the church doors shut.

Consider -
2. I will honor the Lord’s greatness by offering Him the best of my…
3. I will repent of my unacceptable attitudes and actions that include…

Do You Love God Wholeheartedly?

God wants the best from us. Malachi 1:11-14 –

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty.

“When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the LORD. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

God wants our best; God wants us to lean on Him, not on ourselves. When we hold back from God, like the man who keep the best for himself and offers the blemished leftovers to God, God doesn’t bless that. God says instead of blessings, such a person is cursed instead.

The purpose of our lives is to show God’s glory, God’s excellence, God’s love, in everything we do. Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Another question for the class; I assume nobody brought an unblemished goat to sacrifice this morning. What are examples of an unacceptable offering today?

What is the best way to show that we love the Lord with all of our heart?

Consider -
4. I will express wholehearted devotion to God by…

Conclusion

If I truly trust in the Lord and believe He is greatest among all names, if I truly believe Jesus is my Lord and savior and not just a religious figure, then I want to offer my Lord my best. I can trust in the Lord; he has provided great things to me; my wife, my life, my health, my hair number 2,063,425. Most of all, He provided His son to me to that I shall not perish but have eternal life. If we trust that the Lord loves us, even when we’re suffering or when we don’t feel as though God hears our prayers, we still give the Lord our best. A half-hearted effort of going through the motions means nothing to the Lord, He would rather nail the church doors shut than to listen to us mouth off about each other or to give lip-service to His will. Even when we don’t feel loved, we should give our best to the Lord, just like when we don’t feel loved, we should still give our best to each other. For great is His name above all other names, and our actions and worship should recognize that He is Lord.

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Dependence

Posted on July 22, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Zechariah’s lampstandI’m going to be honest about my struggles this week to study for Zechariah books 4-6. Zechariah is full of symbolism and things difficult to explain and interpret. When I started studying it, I was lost. It was like trying to understand the book of Revelation using only a Julia Childs cookbook for interpretation. Things just didn’t make sense.

But I’m starting learn how God teaches me; the lesson I study is the same lesson God is teaching me. I pray and hope that His Word today finds you receptive to the message He would have us learn.

Fortunately an angel of interpretation visited Zechariah to help us understand what was going on. I’m glad the angel was there, otherwise the symbology of colored horses and baskets of women and flying scrolls would be completely lost on me.

In Zechariah 1-3 last week, Zechariah began seeing a series of eight night visions. These visions of prophecy revealed God’s plans and purposes to His people.

The first vision, Zechariah saw horsemen patrolling the earth. The earth was at peace, which sounds like good news, but it’s not. It meant Persia’s rule of Judah, over God’s people, was strong and secure. The second vision of four horns represented the heathen powers who had scattered God’s people, and then four craftsmen of God that defeated the heathen powers.

The third vision was a surveyor who drew new boundary lines around Jerusalem, with God Himself becoming a wall of fire of protection around it. Then a fourth vision that Joshua would take off unclean clothes and dress is splendid robes so that Joshua would be usable and acceptable in God’s sight. A messianic prophecy that God would send His son as the Branch who would take away the sins of the world so that we may all live in peace under the authority of Jesus Christ.

So far, so good. Four visions have so far come to Zechariah in chapter 1-3, and now Zechariah is plum tuckered out. We’re going to study the next 4 visions, starting with vision number 5, visions that include lampstands, olive trees, a flying scroll, a basket with a woman in it, and chariots pulled by colored horses between bronze mountains, and then we’re going to figure out how to apply these colored horses and flying scrolls to our own lives. Turn to Zechariah 4.

Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”

I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”

I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”

He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

You would think that after 4 visions from God and being offered interpretations by angels, Zechariah would be fully awake, paying attention, and writing things down, but he’s not. It says in Zechariah 4:1 that “the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep.” Zechariah’s mind was wandering, not paying attention, possible taking a little nap. How could Zechariah possibly be sleeping at a time like this?

Let me rephrase in New Testament terms – Jesus Christ died for our sins and the Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to do what is right and what is good, for the day of the Lord is approaching. How could we possibly be satisfying our own selfish desires when Jesus calls us to do so much more?

There, got your attention.

The angel of interpretation wakens Zechariah and says, “What do you see?” And Zechariah answers (Zechariah 4:2-3), “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” If we jump down to the second half of verse 10, the angel explains that the seven lights on top are the eyes of the Lord which range throughout the earth. Scholars have interpreted in several ways; one scholar compared it to the lampstands in Revelation 1 where the lampstand represents a church. That would imply that the lampstand here represents Jerusalem or the rebuilding of the temple. The vision goes on to explain in verse 11 and 12 that the two olive branches on each side of the lampstand continually pour out golden oil that keeps the light burning.

There’s a lot of symbolism here, but with the angel of interpretation here, we’re able to understand the meaning. The olive tree branches symbolize Joshua and Zerubbabel. Joshua was the high priest of Israel, Zerubbabel was the governor. Together, they are the priest and king of Israel. In verse 14, they are described as the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” The golden oil represents the Holy Spirit being poured out to light the lampstand. So let’s put this altogether to see what the vision means.

Joshua and Zerubbabel are to rebuild the temple. It’s a daunting task, it’s huge, it’s far to much to expect two men to do it. But through the Holy Spirit working in them, the temple, the lampstand, will be rebuilt. The temple will be visible to all the earth; through the rebuilt temple, God will shed his light on Israel and bring them out of their darkness, and God’s plans will be fulfilled.

Is everybody with me so far? The priest and king, through the Holy Spirit, rebuild the temple to shed light on God’s people. Good. Now, as we have been studying, God’s relationship with Israel is instructive to us; God is unchanging. How do we apply this to Christians today? Well, let’s see. There are 4 parts to this vision:

  1. The olive branches. In Zechariah’s vision, the angel explains that these are Joshua and Zerubbabel, the priest and king of Israel, anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth. Who would that be today? That’s right, the priest and king is the Messiah, Jesus, anointed to serve the Lord. But while we wait for the return of the Lord, who is the body of Jesus? Who are His hands and feet? That’s right, we are.
  2. The lampstand. In Zechariah’s vision, the lampstand represented the temple. Who is the temple of the Lord today? The church.
  3. The lights, the eyes of the Lord that bring light. As a church, we are the lampstand that shows the love of Christ to the world. God’s light is visible to the world when the world looks at us, His temple.
  4. The golden oil. In Zechariah’s vision, the Holy Spirit enabled Joshua and Zerubbabel to accomplish the Lord’s will. The Holy Spirit now works within all Christians to accomplish the Lord’s will.

What the vision is trying to tell Zechariah is instructions on how to do the Lord’s will. The exiles in Zechariah’s day had started to rebuild the temple, but then they gave up. It was too hard. For 15 years they had done no work on the temple. The people put their personal concerns first and allowed discouragement to take over. It’s too hard, it’s not important, and we have other things to do.

Today, we do the same thing. God speaks to us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. But we don’t always want to obey. We don’t always want to listen. When we open our bibles and read, “Ye shall do this to glorify me,” and then we find excuses not to. Remember the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Jesus tells us that all of God’s commands can be summarized by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And 1 Corinthians 13 are instructions to us, to tell us what love is and what love is not. But yet, we are easily angered, we are rude, we do seek our own pleasure at the expense of others. Why do we do this? It’s because we allow discouragement to take over and we place ourselves first, exactly like the exiles that had given up on rebuilding the temple.

How else are we disobedient to the Lord? Is He the Lord of your life? Is He the Lord of my life? If He is the Lord, we give our lives to Him and obey His commands. Or is He only Lord of part of our lives, and we offer excuses not to obey? The instructions on loving one another are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to love those who hurt us are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how we treat our spouses are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to honor our parents are clear, yet we don’t always do it. Why don’t we do it? It’s because it’s too hard for us.

Let’s admit it. It’s too hard for us. And that’s precisely the point, it is too hard for us. But it’s not too hard for God. In Zechariah 4:6-7, it says,

So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!'”

The vision given to Zechariah doesn’t show that Joshua and Zerubbabel should rebuild the temple by relying on their own strength. The lights of the lampstand are filled with the Holy Spirit. When we find something too difficult for us, the instructions are clear. We rely on the Holy Spirit and do what the Lord tells us to do. No excuses, no discouragement, no personal reasons why these instructions shouldn’t apply to us. We pray, we rely on the Spirit, we obey. Through our obedience and the Lord’s strength, His purposes will be accomplished. The Lord put the mountain in front of us, and He can make the ground level again. Not us.

When I was studying for this lesson, this is about the time that I realized what God was teaching me this week. All the symbolism in the book of Zechariah was too hard for me. I’m a black and white sort of guy. I’m a spreadsheet guy. I’m an engineer. I don’t understand it, and therefore I can’t teach it.

Which is precisely the point. It’s too hard for me and I was relying on my own knowledge and strength to understand it. I’m like Zechariah here. The angel asks, “What do you see, and what does it mean?” Zechariah’s answer is the same each time, “Uh… I dunno.” And the angel interprets the vision for him. If Zechariah leaned on his own understanding, he’d have no idea what the Lord was saying. And isn’t that what the Lord wants us to do, to lean on Him? Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” The Lord wills us to obey and to trust in Him, even when we don’t want to, even when we don’t understand why. If we just lean on Him and do what He asks of us, He will lead us.

We are fortunate the Lord is so patient. While we’re quick to point out the faults in others and say the Lord’s judgment will come upon them, we’re not so quick to point out our own sins and ask for the Lord’s judgment. “Lord God, I’m a sinner, please punish me. And hurry!” No, the Lord’s judgment is delayed because of His mercy. We have 3 more visions to go that illustrate God’s judgment on those who do not obey.

In Zechariah 5, Zechariah sees a flying scroll.

“This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.'”

The flying scroll is thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide, which, interestingly, are the same dimensions as the holy place in the tabernacle, perhaps indicating God’s presence. The angel explains that this is a call by the Lord to righteousness. Every thief will be banished – those who take from others instead of giving of themselves. And everyone who swears falsely will be banished – those that claim to follow the Lord but are disobedient and rebellious, tarnishing the name of God. Possibly the text on the flying scroll contained the Ten Commandments, the law by which the Lord will judge His people. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that it is through the law that we become aware of our own sin. While the law is perfect, it is a curse to man for it shows us that we can never be righteous on our own.

The next vision is a woman in a basket. I’m so glad this angel of interpretation explains all these things so I don’t have to guess. Zecharaiah 5:5-11 –

Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is appearing.”

I asked, “What is it?”

He replied, “It is a measuring basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”

Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth.

Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.

“Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.

He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”

One interpretation could be that women are evil and should be shipped off in a basket, but that’s precisely why we are not to lean on our own understanding. A woman is used in this imagery because the Hebrew word for evil is a feminine noun and the woman is used to show evil personified. It does not mean women are evil. For some reason, every biblical commentary I read on this passage wanted t make that point clear.

God is all powerful. God is demonstrating that He has power over evil. He measures the sins of the Israel, and takes the evils of materialism, greed, and dishonesty back to their starting place in Babylon. When God is ready, He will set the basket on its base and destroy it in the final judgment prophesied in Revelation 17-18.

Notice that it’s a measuring basket. The King James version says it’s an ephah with a talent of lead to cover it. This may indicate that the evil has its root in money and currency. That’s not too far of a stretch, the love of money being the root of all evil. As a prosperous society, we tend to trust in the dollar more than we trust in God. We trust in our 401k, our health insurance, our education, our job. If we have Social Security, do we need God? Prosperity can blind us to our need for God. We trust in our own labor and our own savings plan. When we trust in our prosperity, prosperity becomes our God because that’s where our heart is. When we trust in our own prosperity, we stop working on the temple like the people of Jerusalem did, and God’s work is delayed because we’re working on our stuff instead of His. No wonder God wants to put it all in a basket and ship it to Babylon.

Let’s look at the last vision we’re going to study today, the vision of the four chariots. Zechariah 6:1-8 –

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”

When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.

Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

This a prophetic judgment on the rest of the world. The Lord God of Israel is also the Lord God of gentiles like us. The colors of these chariots match the colors of the four horsemen in Revelation 6, suggesting a similar purpose. The two mountains of bronze are often interpreted as Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives and symbolize God’s strength. The red horse is war, the black horse is death. The white horse is victory, and the dappled horse is disease and famine. God’s judgment in the last days rides swiftly and powerfully across the earth, and God’s Holy Spirit is only at rest when His perfect judgment is complete. That’s not good news for those of us in rebellion to His word; between the flying scroll, the basket of evil, and the four chariots of judgment, God’s perfect justice will eliminate evil. Including the evil that is in each one of us.

Our Good News – literally – is that God sent a perfect sacrifice for us. In Exodus 12 during the first Passover, God’s judgment came to Egypt, but if any household would place the blood of a perfect lamb over the door, the Lord God would pass over that household. Jesus came to be our perfect lamb and shed His blood for us. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect; it means that when God looks at us and we are clothed in the sacrifice of Jesus, God sees the blood and passes over us, too.

Zechariah 6 concludes with this Messianic prophecy, a foretelling of the coming of Jesus. Zechariah 6:9-13,

The word of the LORD came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

To the people of Jerusalem, this imagery was profound. Joshua was the high priest, and the high priest didn’t wear crowns. The crown belonged to the king, and so Zerubbabel should get the crown. Levitical priests were never crowned as kings, and kings were never priests. In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah tried to function as a priest and was stricken with leprosy. God’s law called for the priesthood to be separate from the government.

The vision of Joshua being crowned king foretells the coming of Jesus, whose name is the branch. Jesus would become both our high priest in the order of Melchizadek, as well as king of the Jews. Jesus will build our temple of the Lord, Jesus will bear the glory, and Jesus shall sit and rule on His throne, a priest on His throne, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then and only then will there be true peace and harmony.

So let’s recap what we’ve learned today –

  • We are to obey the Word of Our Lord, to do what He tells us to do. The rebuilding of the temple was delayed because the people found excuses and personal reasons and discouragement. When the people didn’t obey, the temple of the Lord wasn’t built. We, too, find excuses not to obey. The Lord uses us to accomplish His will, so it is important for us to obey, even when we don’t want to or when we don’t understand.
  • It’s too hard for us to obey. We are weak individuals. But relying on our own strength misses the point of what God expects from us. We are to rely on Him who gives us strength. God can move mountains, and with the Holy Spirit pouring through us like a golden oil, we can do His work to glorify Him and light up the world.
  • The flying scroll symbolizes God’s law that shows us our sins, and the sinful will be banished from God’s temple.
  • God is in control and more powerful than evil, able to contain it in a basket and put a lid on it. Eventually, God will destroy evil.
  • This applies to the entire world, and God’s judgment will ride out like chariots over the world. Through war, famine, death, and victory, all will bow their knee to Him.
  • God knows this is too hard for us, but he expects us to try. He has provided a sacrifice on our behalf, and crowned a Messiah, a priest to intercede for us and rule over men. If we accept the sacrifice, God will see that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and His perfect judgment will pass over us.

May the good Lord use us for His purposes this week. God bless each one of us.

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Waiting on God's Timing

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Let me ask you a question about your prayers. I’m sure everybody here prays to God, and there are many forms of prayer. Let’s list some kinds of prayers -

  • Thanksgiving. We pray to give thanks to God. Everything comes from God; material possessions, intellect, outward appearance, everything, and we give thanks for every blessing.
  • Praise. We pray to praise our Father in heaven, to tell God how great He is.
  • Worship. We pray to worship our Father and to submit to his authority, we recognize His power and His love for us.
  • Confession. We pray to confess our failures and those specific things God calls us to do that we know we aren’t doing.
  • Spiritual Warfare. We pray in the battle against evil, to destroy what the devil has been doing. The battle belongs to the Lord, but He uses our prayers as weapons.
  • Listening. We pray for God to speak to us. Often we are quiet or in meditation on God’s word. We listen patiently for God to make His will known to us. If we are always talking, we’re not listening.
  • Intercession. We pray for others, we ask for God’s will to be done in the lives of those ill, those in need, those that are lost.
  • Petition. We pray to God for specific things we want. God knows we want them before we ask, but God wants us to ask for them. If everything comes from God, then it is only right we ask our Maker for what we want and what we need.

God answers prayers. I know and I have confidence and faith in God because God has answered specific and personal prayers in my life. God answered them in the way only God can, with a miracle. Some of them are obvious – the restoration of my marriage to Diane is a miracle from God. Some of them are personal and confidential and perhaps harder to explain, but I know God is and has been at work and it brings me peace and joy to know He is in control.

Does God always answer prayers? Who here has prayed for something specific but God has not delivered? Why hasn’t God answered these prayers?

Some unanswered prayers are easy to understand. If I pray for that rude guy that just cut me off in traffic to have a horrible accident, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer prayers that are contrary to His will. He doesn’t answer prayers if we have unrepentant sin in our life, sin that we either deny or justify that it’s ok somehow. If I pray for a yacht to float from Caribbean port to port so I can party, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer selfish prayers with improper motives. God also does not answer prayers if we do not have faith that He will answer them. And God doesn’t answer prayers if we are inconsistent and we give up and stop praying, we are to persevere in our prayers.

But what if you feel you’re fulfilling God’s will, you have confessed your sin, you’re praying unselfishly for God’s will to be done, and you know that what you’re praying for is God’s will, but God still hasn’t answered? Who here has an unbelieving family member or friend that hasn’t accepted Christ? A prayer for a child that is suffering from illness or cancer. A prayer for a righteous person to survive an accident to continue to do God’s work? Isn’t it God’s will that somebody should find Christ? Isn’t it God’s will that a godly person survive to spread His word? Who here has prayed for something that should be pleasing to God, but God hasn’t answered?

That’s what we’re going to study today. Let’s turn to the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk, as we all know, is a Wookie, the co-pilot of Han Solo. The half-brother of Chewbacca, I think. We all love Wookies, don’t we?

The book of Habakkuk is like a Psalm, and it was originally set to music. There are notations throughout to the director of music on how to play and how to pause. In several places you’ll see the word “selah.” Apparently this word doesn’t translate very well. It means pause here and pay attention. It’s used very much like the word “amen,” but it can also mean “forever.” It’s basically a pause in the music that says, that was important, stop and pray about it, amen.

Habakkuk prophesied around 608-605 BC, just after King Josiah of Judah, mentioned in 2 Kings 22. Josiah was a Godly king whose ambition was to destroy false idols and the worship of other gods in Judah. Josiah was killed by the Egyptians and was succeeded first by his son Jehoahaz who was toppled after 3 months by the Egyptians and replaced by Josiah’s second son Jehoiakim who was the exact opposite of his father. Jehoiakim reinstituted the worship of false idols, possibly as an effort to gain favor among the people instead of favor with the Lord. Jeremiah prophesied the people should turn from these wicked ways, and wrote the prophesy on a scroll, gave it to Baruch to deliver to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reacted as you’d expect a non-believer to react; he burned the scroll. God told Jeremiah to make another scroll, and Jehoiakim threw Jeremiah into a muddy cistern, expecting to kill him. Obviously, Jehoiakim was not a lover of God’s word. Why oh why did I write the word “Jehoiakim” so many times, it’s impossible to pronounce. Under Jehoiakim, the worship of false idols continued, the Law of Moses was disregarded, and the covenant with God was ignored.

The prophet Habakkuk, a contemporary of Jeremiah, watched these events unfold and openly questioned God. “God, what the heck are you doing?” I’m paraphrasing, let’s look at Habakkuk 1:2-3

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

Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

There’s a lot of impatience in Habakkuk’s prayer. This is Habakkuk’s first of two complaints against God. God, how long must I endure this? Habakkuk looks at the country of Judah and sees what the worship of false idols has brought. The people were defying God. Habakkuk says, “Where are you, Lord?” There is violence against innocent people. Harassment, abuse, physical cruelty. Did not our covenant God promise to protect His people? Well? Why does God not save?

Habakkuk’s complaint continues with, “why do you make *me* look at” all this? Habakkuk says, I am a man of God, I am serving you, yet I have to tolerate God’s inaction. God, why do you make me go through all this.

Violence and cruelty and destruction and strife and conflict and all sorts of godless living still abound today. Jessie Davis, the woman who is 9 months pregnant and suddenly disappeared this week, home in shambles and furniture overturned, leaving her 2 year old son at home. The two year old told investigators, “Mommy was crying. Mommy broke the table. Mommy’s in the rug.” It’s Gay Pride week, a celebration and a flaunting of disrespecting and disobeying God’s commands against sexual immorality. The murder trial in the news this week of Ashley Benton who killed an MS-13 gang member last June. Daily the news is full of celebration of sinful activities and the violence people do to each other. Where is God? It’s the same question Habakkuk asked. Where are you Lord, and why do I, a righteous person, have to look at this?

God answers Habakkuk. Of course God is in control, and God’s will be done. Let’s see how God answers Habakkuk’s complaint, Habakkuk 1:5-6 -

Look at the nations and watch””
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.

God says “watch” and “be amazed.” God is in control, and in ways you would not believe. God is raising up the Babylonians (or Chaldeans, the names are used interchangeably), a ruthless, godless people to come and crush Judah. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzer would conquer Judah and carry prisoners away to Babylonia. The Chaldeans are described in verses 6-9 as ruthless, impetuous, feared, dreaded, a law unto themselves, promoting their own honor, swift as leopards, flying like vultures, and they gather prisoners like sand.

Hey, hey, good news. The people of Judah may have turned to ways of wickedness, the Lord says, but don’t worry, God has it all under control. He is raising up a wicked, godless army to crush Judah.

I can understand why the Lord would tell Habakkuk to be utterly amazed. Habakkuk’s prayer will be answered in his lifetime, but not the way Habakkuk anticipates. I can appreciate that Habakkuk feels God’s fix is making the situation worse, not better, by sending an invading army.

This leads Habakkuk to his second complaint. He acknowledges God has a plan. He says in verse 12 that, yes, God has a plan, a remnant will live, justice will indeed be given to the idol worshipers of Judah. But Habakkuk accuses God of being contrary to His own nature. Let’s look at verse 13.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

Habakkuk says God cannot tolerate sin, cannot look upon evil. So why is he looking on the Chaldeans with favor? Why is God tolerating the treacherous Chaldeans? If Judah is bad, how could it possibly be God’s plan to allow even more evil to destroy it? Doesn’t evil win? I think Habakkuk thinks he’s trapped God in hypocrisy because he says he’s going to pull up a chair and wait to see what God says about this. Habakkuk 2:1 -

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Yup, gonna sit right here, Lord, until I get an answer I can give to the people. I think it’s interesting where he chose to sit. On the ramparts, or the lookout tower, where one would wait for invading armies. Like the Babylonians.

The Lord answered this complain, too. In Habakkuk 2:2, the Lord says, “Write this down.” In Habbakuk 2:3, the Lord says,

For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.

The Lord tells Habakkuk that he has to wait. The revelation awaits an appointed time, and it’s not time yet. It will not prove false; God’s perfect justice will come. Though it linger, wait for it. The Lord says his justice will come at the time of His choosing; while Habakkuk is impatient, the Lord’s timing is perfect.

I sympathize with Habakkuk; I don’t know how many times I have been impatient with God. God, do this now. I was doing some research to see how Christian-friendly the new “Evan Almighty” movie is. I enjoyed the Bruce Almighty movie, and Evan Almighty looks to be just as fun but even more family-friendly. I can’t give away the spoilers because I haven’t seen the movie, but there’s apparently one scene where Evan is telling God about Evan’s plans to become a US Senator. God laughs and says, “*your* plans?” I’m like that sometimes. A lot of times, actually. Even if I feel that what I’m doing is within God’s will, that’s not the same thing as actually doing God’s will. And God may have different plans, but I get impatient with my “God, do this now” attitude.

There was an intriguing passage in a book I recently read, “The Organic God.” Sometimes people struggle to find what God’s will is. They attempt one thing, and then give up. God didn’t bless that. For example, somebody might start a ministry for, I dunno, left-handed Ethiopians. And the ministry flounders, and they say, “what’s a matter with you, God? Don’t you love left-handed Ethiopians, too? Isn’t ministering to left-handed Ethiopians something that you should bless? God, do this now!” The book points out that God’s will is not our will, and it may make more sense to simply participate in a successful ministry that God has already blessed.

So Habakkuk is impatient, sitting on his ramparts, and the Lord God says, “Patience. I do My Will at My perfect Timing.”

And what about Habakkuk’s complaint that he’s trapped God in a hypocrisy? That since God can’t look upon evil, it doesn’t make sense for God to correct the sin of Judah by raising up even more evil to crush it? God addresses that in Habbakkuk 2:4 -

See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright””
but the righteous will live by his faith

This is the heart of God’s message to Habakkuk. God contrasts the Chaldeans with God’s chosen people. The Chaldeans are “puffed up” with inflated egos. The Hebrew word is “aphal” which means “to swell” and implies as though the swelling comes from a tumor. The ego of a person without God appoints himself as God, choosing what he wants to do, deciding himself what is right and wrong. The tumor of his ego grows, inflates, pushes out any room for God. He becomes swollen with pride and arrogance. And “his desires are not upright” – his desires are without integrity. God is referring to the inner character of a person who lives selfishly and how it affects their outward behavior. A person who has no respect for God lives selfishly at the expense of everyone and everything. The Chaldeans were like this – unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. But also people within Judah were like this – also unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. From God’s viewpoint, it doesn’t appear to be much difference. Would it make sense, then, for God to use evil to crush evil?

How does God expect somebody like Habakkuk to live? God says, “the righteous will live by his faith.” This is a contrast to how God describes the unrighteous who are full of themselves, swelled up and selfish. The righteous people live by faith and trust in God. It’s not enough to say you trust in God, the righteous will put this trust into their daily lives. The phrase here implies a steadfastness, an unwavering trust that the Lord will fulfill all promises, even if we cannot see the big picture. That the way we live, day by day, and moment by moment, trusts that the Lord’s justice and mercy are perfect.

The apostle Paul expounds on this in Romans 1:16-17 and how righteous people that seek God ought to live.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

In trusting in the Lord, Paul says that he trusts in God’s power to save everyone who believes in Jesus. God has the will and the power to offer eternal salvation. With this trust in the power of God, Paul has no shame of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus. And in living with this trust in God to fulfill His promises, we live by a faith in something we cannot truly comprehend and cannot truly see. When we place our trust in the Lord to do the right thing, we must place all of our trust.

So let’s go back to those unanswered prayers we talked about. How many here have an unanswered prayer? Is there an unanswered prayer anybody would like to share?

When we think of these unanswered prayers, have we studied and prayed and meditated on what God’s will is? Then we should know that God’s will is perfect and God will fulfill His promises, even if the timing is not what we expect, or even if we cannot see what God is up to. What is our responsibility as Christians? To place our trust in Him, to live our lives faithful to His teachings. It is not our responsibility to do God’s work for Him, just to do the work He calls us to do. We trust in God to do the right thing, and we live our lives as He would have us live.

The selfishness in me rebels against this. The selfish ego and pride tells me, “well, if God isn’t going to do what I want Him to do, then I don’t have to do what He wants me to do.” That is not living by faith. Living by faith says, “well, even if I can’t see what God is doing, I trust Him and I will live the way He wants me to.” No ifs, no buts. Just trust and faith and living by His word.

The rest of Habakkuk 2 is the Lord’s recognition that the Chaldeans are indeed wicked and that the Lord is not blessing them just because he’s raising them up. Unrighteous living is eventually judged by God. For some, God’s justice comes in this lifetime. For others, God’s justice comes in eternity. But God’s justice is perfect and is always done. To those who would challenge God, He says in Habakkuk 2:20,

But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.”

In other words, God is in control and always has been, so sit down and shut up.

Habakkuk must have been awed by the Lord’s response. I think he may have recognized a little of the Chaldean in himself. By having the audacity to challenge the Lord and questioning whether the Lord is really in control or whether the Lord was a hypocrite, Habakkuk must have realized that he was not truly living in faith. Habakkuk was the hypocrite if he claims to be righteous but questions the Lord.

Habakkuk 3 is his prayer to the Lord. Habakkuk praises and worships the Lord in verse 2,

LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk goes on to acknowledge the Lord’s power, the Lord’s will, and that the Lord will crush evil when the time is right. The right time was coming; within 70 years of Habakkuk’s prophecy the Babylonians were conquered by Cyrus and the Persians. And by verse 16, Habakkuk responds to God.

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

Verse 18-19 -

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

How do we live in faith? Do we challenge God to do what He promises? Or does our heart pound, and our lips quiver, and our legs tremble in recognition of God’s sovereignty? Do we wait patiently and expectantly for God to do His will in His time? Do we rejoice in the Lord and remain joyful that our sins are forgiven? Do we take strength in the Lord? The unanswered prayers we have are not unanswered. God hears our prayers. Trust in the Lord, He will always do what is right when it is the perfect time. In the meantime, you have control over your actions. Live in faith, do what God calls you to do without making excuses.

The righteous live by faith.

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Pride and the Lord God

Posted on June 11, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets today with Obadiah. Obadiah. When I found out this week’s lesson was on Obadiah, my first obvious question was, “Who in the heck is Obadiah?” Isn’t he one of the Beverly Hillbillies? “Let me tell you ‘bout a story ‘bout a man named Obadiah.” Or is he the subject of that famous Beatle’s song, “O-bla-di, O-bla-dah, O-ba-di-a! Lala how the life goes on.”

Well, it turns out Obadiah isn’t either one of those two choices. Obadiah is the smallest book in the bible, a single chapter of 21 verses, probably a single page in your bible. But don’t let the small size fool you; God has a powerful message in this little book.

First, let’s look at the history. Who is Obadiah? The answer is, we really don’t really know. There are at least 12 people named Obadiah in the Old Testament, but none of them seem to be this particular Obadiah. “Obadiah” mean “servant of Jehovah,” and in Obadiah 1:1 it begins, “The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom.” Perhaps Obadiah’s anonymity in itself is meaningful; if we are a true humble servant of the Lord, then it doesn’t matter if we become famous and our identity is passed along through generations. Obadiah simply appears and announces the vision of God that he has received. Edom will be destroyed.

So who is this Edom? Let’s back up to Genesis 17 where God promises Abraham to make him the father of many nations. Abraham has to wait 4 chapters, all the way to Genesis 21 before Sarah bears him a son named Isaac. Three chapters later in Genesis 24, Isaac is all grown up and falls in love with Rebekah, and in Genesis 25, Rebekah has twin boys, Esau and Jacob. We are told these boys fought in their mother’s womb and they continued to fight their whole lives, from Genesis 25 to Genesis 33. You may remember that Esau sold his spiritual birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup. While this doesn’t say much in favor of Jacob, it says a lot about Esau who would rather satisfy his hunger than obtain his birthright. Jacob eventually begins the nation of Israel; in Genesis 36, Esau begins the nation of Edom by defying the Lord and taking two wives. Esau was the father of the Edomites.

Edom and Israel never got along, even though they shared a common ancestry in Isaac. Edom makes another appearance in the book of Numbers. Moses is finally ready to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but they have to pass from the desert of Sinai through Edom to get there. Was Edom helpful? No, they were not. When Moses asks permission to pass through, Edom replies in Numbers 20:18, “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.” Israel was forced to go around Edom.

Now, Israel spent some time defying the Lord for the rest of the Old Testament. God made incredible promises if only Israel will follow God’s laws and be faithful to the Lord. Israel was about as successful at that as, well, we are today. When Israel falls short, God punishes Israel. In 586 BC, Jerusalem is defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and the Jews are brought to Babylon in exile. Now, Edom is a large country to the south of Jerusalem, and they share a common ancestor with Israel. Do the Edomites help their sister country when Nebuchadnezzar attacks? No, they do not. They sit in their fortified cities on a hill, brag about how big and strong Edom is and how weak Israel is, and when the opportunity arises, the Edomites sweep in and loot whatever is left of Jerusalem. Not exactly the kind of neighbors you hope for in tough times.

In the book of Obadiah, the prophet tells Edom that the Lord is not amused. While Israel is being punished because they do not follow all of God’s laws, Edom isn’t following any of God’s laws. Edom feels they are invincible, powerful, and mighty. In Obadiah 1:3-4, the Lord says to Edom,

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rocks
and make your home on the heights,
you who say to yourself,
‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’

Though you soar like the eagle
and make your nest among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,”
declares the LORD.

What was Edom’s great sin? Pride. Let’s read Obadiah 1:11-14 and see what Edom did instead of helping their neighbor:

You should not look down on your brother
in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their destruction,
nor boast so much
in the day of their trouble.

You should not march through the gates of my people
in the day of their disaster,
nor look down on them in their calamity
in the day of their disaster,
nor seize their wealth
in the day of their disaster.

You should not wait at the crossroads
to cut down their fugitives,
nor hand over their survivors
in the day of their trouble.

Apparently Edom laughed when Jerusalem was in trouble. Not only that, but they helped themselves to the plunder, and when they found Jews fleeing the city, the Edomites killed them or handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Sort of like coming across an old lady trying to cross the street who is obviously bewildered and confused. Edom pushes the old lady into traffic and steals her handbag. And all of this behavior and attitude rooted is in the pride of Edom.

Before I continue, I want to ask a couple of questions about the most offensive sins. What is the most offensive sin to you personally? Either when you commit a sin, or when somebody else commits a sin in your presence. Murder? Adultery? What’s another really offensive sin?

Here’s 3 examples. Imagine you see a Sunday school teacher at a wet t-shirt contest. Imagine you read about a church deacon that was arrested for breaking into a convenience store. Imagine a prayer warrior proud of the number of people he’s led to Christ.

That last one doesn’t seem so terrible, does it? Our human perception doesn’t rate “pride” very high on the scale of serious sins, but God’s perspective is not the same as ours. In God’s sight, pride is worse that stealing. It’s worse than drunkenness. Imagine saying, “He’s a good man but proud.” Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Now imagine saying, “He’s a good man but a thief.” Pride is the sin of sins, and all the more devious because the nature of pride is so hard to recognize in ourselves. We’ve probably heard Proverbs 16:18 before that says, “Pride goes … before a fall.” We’re less familiar with Proverbs 16:5, “The Lord detests the proud of heart,” and Proverbs 6:16-17 that basically says God hates pride.

What is pride? Simply put, it’s a belief in one’s own importance and superiority. It’s a reliance on self instead of God. It is the attitude of a life that declares an ability to live without God. Pride says we don’t need God. Pride, therefore, is the root of unbelief, and that’s why pride is the sin of sins. In Obadiah, we can see how the pride of Edom led to other sins. In verse 10, pride led to violence against Israel. Verse 11, Edom “stood aloof” while Israel was being destroyed. This is the sin of omission; it’s the sin of saying, “Don’t get involved.” In verse 12, Edom looks down on Israel and rejoices over Israel’s troubles. To feel superior to Israel, Edom boasted and rejoiced over Israel’s troubles. Feeling good because somebody else is suffering misfortune is a symptom of pride, and if we put them down, it is a symptom of pride.

Verse 13, Edom looted Israel during their disaster. After a disaster; a tornado, a hurricane, a flood, what’s the appropriate Christian response: help or loot the victims? Verse 14, pride leads to betrayal. As the Jewish survivors fled, Edom helped the enemy kill the Jews. Pride can lead us to stab another in the back just to improve our own situation.

That’s why pride is the sin of sins. By itself, pride doesn’t seem so bad to us. God knows, though, that pride is a reliance and a dependence on one’s self instead of relying on God and will lead to a multitude of other sins. Human pride denies God the honor due Him. Human pride rejects the need for our Savior.

In Matthew 11:25-26, Jesus tells us that pride makes us “know-it-alls” and that it pleases God to hide things from know-it-alls. He says, “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

When we are self-reliant and proud, we are often not even aware of it. We tell ourselves we are being obedient to the Lord while living a disobedient life. We become a “practical atheist” – one who attends church and bible study and openly confesses Jesus as lord – but then lives everyday as though God does not exist. And we all do that, each and every one of us, every time we sin and fall short of God’s mark.

Benjamin Franklin had a list of 12 virtues he practiced that he said led to moral perfection:

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11.TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

One day a Quaker friend told him that Benjamin Franklin sure took a lot of pride in his moral perfection, so Ben added a 13th virtue: humility. Here is what Benjamin Franklin wrote about pride:

My list of virtues contain’d at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show’d itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc’d me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list).

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

Pride is something we all suffer from. If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride. Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it? It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, *I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does. Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility.

C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.

So how do we recognize pride in ourselves? How do we know when our own pride is blinding us to our own pride? Jacob, the Archbishop of Nizhegorod of the Russian Orthodox Church, wrote this about how to recognize pride within oneself:

“In order to understand and recognize [pride], notice how you feel when those around you do something against your will. If within you there arises not the thought of meekly rectifying the mistake of others, but discontent and anger, then know that you are extremely proud. If even the smallest lack of success in your affairs oppresses you, so that the thought of the participation of God’s Providence in our affairs does not cheer you up, then know that you are extremely proud. If you are wrapped up in your own needs and cold towards the needs of others, then know that you are extremely proud. If the sight of others’ misfortune, particularly that of your enemies, makes you merry, while the unexpected good fortune of those around you makes you sad, then know that you are extremely proud. If you are offended even by the slightest remarks concerning your shortcomings, while praises of your imaginary worth seem wonderful and admirable to you, then know that you are extremely proud.”

Pride is being “full of yourself.” Pride is saying, “it’s all about me.” Pride is saying, “I am better than you” or saying “you’re worse than I am.” The opposite of pride is being full of the Holy Spirit. The opposite of pride is saying, “it’s all about God.” The opposite of self-centered pride is humility.

The opposite of pride is not, as some people seem to think, low self-esteem. Pride is thinking too highly of yourself. Low self-esteem is thinking too lowly of yourself. Humility is not thinking of yourself at all; humility is thinking of others.

How do we replace pride with humility? God provides the answer with the fruit of the Holy Spirit which includes humility. Ask the Lord to show you your own pride. When you speak to others, do you speak down to them? Are you focused on your own feelings, or are you focused on the feelings of others? Do you belittle people and tell them what’s wrong with them? That’s pride talking. Instead, lift up people with your words and actions. Tell people about their strength and what you admire about them instead of what you don’t like about them. Don’t try to put them down or put yourself up; leave that to the Lord. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

So where is Edom today? No, really, where is Edom today? You don’t know, either? They soared like eagles, they built their nest among the stars, but in Obadiah 1:5, the Lord says he will obliterate Edom and there will be nothing left. If thieves break into your house, they steal what they want but they still leave something behind. But the Lord says of Edom nothing, nothing at all will be left. Where is Edom? By the time we get to the book of Malachi, Edom is gone. In the book Malachi, God tells Israel that He loves them even though Israel deserves punishment. Malachi 1:2-5 says

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD -even beyond the borders of Israel!’

In 164 BC, Judas Maccabeeus overthew the nation of Edom and by the time of Christ, Edom no longer existed. The last recorded Edomite in the bible tried to kill Christ as an infant. Herod, descendent of Edom, still suffering from pride.

God’s will is not subject to man’s will. Pride tells us we can tell God what to do, but God will do as He pleases, and God invites us to participate. God always fulfills His promises. He promised to demolish Edom, and Edom is no more. God is sovereign, God is all powerful. Obadiah in the first verse recognizes this by calling God “the Sovereign LORD” or “Lord GOD” depending on your translation. The Hebrew is “Adonai Yahweh.” Adonai means “Lord or Master” and acknowledges that God is the Lord over all creation. Yahweh or Jehovah is the personal, covenant name for God, and means “the one who is”. God is absolute and God is unchangeable. By putting “Adonai” and “Yahweh” together, Obadiah recognizes God both as ruler of the universe as well as the personal ruler of the people of Judah.

Adonai Yahweh. Adonai Jehovah. Everlasting, unchanging God of Creation, and everlasting God of me. God hasn’t changed. When God says he hates pride, God still hates pride. And God will defeat pride. Those that ignore God and consider themselves superior to God, they will have their Day of Judgment. For believers in Christ, Christ will deliver us from our pride if we trust in Him. Obadiah 1:17-18 says,

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy,
and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance.

The house of Jacob will be a fire
and the house of Joseph a flame;
the house of Esau will be stubble,
and they will set it on fire and consume it.
There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.”
The LORD has spoken.

Our deliverance has come if we put our trust in Jesus. Jesus is our deliverance. What is keeping us from acknowledging Jesus as Lord? Some believe that becoming a Christian will restrict their freedom; they will no longer be able to party like they want to. The irony is that it is the Christians who are free, and those that want to party are slaves to that desire. They do not want to give up their freedom because of selfish reasons. They – we – believe we know better than God. We are full of pride.

As we have learned from our study today, God hates the pride that is in each and every one of us, the sin of sins that tells us we can go our own way. Practice today serving humbly and lifting up each other, for it is in humble obedience to the Lord that brings us wisdom. And above all, rest in the sovereign promise of the Lord God that He will deliver us.

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Hand of God

Posted on December 17, 2006. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I have some good news for me this week; I’m done traveling for a while, I hope. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. I had some difficulty on this trip; there were last minute changes to the agenda by the client who scheduled me for 8:00am meetings that he couldn’t make, and at the last moment he tried to send me two days early. I came into the office early to take care of some last minute items and a queue formed at my door for brand new issues. When I finally escaped to have lunch with my wife on the way out of town, all packed and dressed to go, I spilled some oriental sauce down the front of my shirt. I went home to change, and good thing I did because I had forgotten to put on a belt earlier and didn’t even know it. When I got to the airport lounge, they didn’t have an internet connection so I couldn’t take my email to go. And then my watch stopped.

Travel can be difficult. I don’t know how many times as a kid I’d hear, “We can turn this car around right now!” Today we’re going to study someone who traveled but with more planning and a whole lot more protection. Let’s turn to Ezra chapter 7, where Ezra finally makes his appearance in the book named after him.

We’re going to cover 4 chapters of Ezra today so we won’t be able to study them verse by verse and get out of class before lunch or even Christmas, so we’re going to study just some key verses. Fred did a terrific job last week summarizing the history and putting the book of Ezra in perspective; this is the second journey from Babylon to Jerusalem which Ezra will lead. It wasn’t as large as the first group but it was a fine selection of leaders and priests. Let’s meet Ezra; the first 5 verses introduce the lineage of Ezra, and if you’ll remember from our study of Hebrews before Jesus became our priest in the order of Melchizadek, priests were required by Mosaic law to be descended from Aaron the Levite, so if you’ll look at the last name of verse 5, whose name is listed there? Aaron. Ezra was a Levitical priest, and if we continue to verse 10 we also see that Ezra also devoted himself to the study, the practice, and the teaching of the Mosaic laws. Dr. Ezra Young, maybe.

Ezra uses the phrase “the hand of God” several times as he describes his journey, and it summarized the faith that Ezra placed in the Lord. Ezra used the phrase frequently to show that Ezra was following God and any credit for success would also go to God. What sort of person was Ezra that the hand of God should be upon him? The answers are in a very short verse:

Ezra 7:10
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Let’s pick this verse apart like the last pieces of white meat off that Thanksgiving turkey.

“For Ezra had devoted himself.” Ezra had a cause for the Lord that drove his life. Ezra was committed to serving the Lord and had made a decision that drove all other decisions; any decision or action in the future had to be in line with Ezra’s devotion and dedication.

“to the study.” Ezra wanted to know what God says and devoted himself to the study of the scriptures. Acts 17:11 says,

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Studying the law with great eagerness and examining the scriptures to find the truth. If you want to know what the Lord wants for you, you have to study.

“and observance of the Law of the LORD” Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” It is not enough to study the Word, but you must obey. Otherwise, is Jesus really the Lord in your life?

“and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Notice that Ezra devoted himself, studied for himself, and applied the law to himself first. The next step is to share it with others. Ezra taught the law, he was putting into practice the spiritual gift the Lord had provided. What is your gift? Mercy? Hospitality? Giving? Praying? Evangelism? Your gift is not for you alone, but for you to share with others.

When you are knowledgeable about God’s will, devoted to study, practice, and sharing God’s word as Ezra was, then the Hand of God will be upon you.

Verse 11 through 26 of Ezra 7 is a letter from King Artaxerxes not only giving Ezra permission to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem, but offering Ezra assistance and authority. The king gives Ezra silver and gold for Ezra to use for sacrifices and for whatever other purpose Ezra so desires, and if Ezra needs anything else, he may help himself from the royal treasury. And if that’s not enough, when Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, the local treasurers are supposed to provide him even more stuff – silver, wheat, wine, olive oil, and salt without limit. Ezra was not only a very learned man, but very trusted by the king. Why did the king do this? Let’s look at the second half of

Ezra 7:6
“The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”

From this one sentence, “The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him,” what does the Hand of God provide? (Giving, blessings, everything you need).

This phrase shows up again 4 verses later in Ezra 7:9 when Ezra’s journey is completed successfully.

Ezra 7:9
He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.

Besides the blessings from the hand of God, when you are in the hand of God, God is … gracious. God granted Ezra a successful journey, and God receives the glory.

Let’s go to the end of the king’s letter, to Ezra 7:25. The king charges Ezra to keep the law of God and king.

Ezra 7:25-26
And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.

Ezra was charged to uphold the laws of God and to teach those who did not know the law. Punishment could be severe for those who would not obey.

At this point in the book of Ezra, he switches to first person.

Ezra 7:27-28
Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

Ezra recognized that the Lord was in charge and Dr. Ezra Young was fully learned in what God will was. Ezra was doing the Lord’s will, and so he knew the Lord’s hand was upon him. What did the hand of the Lord provide Ezra? Ok, that was a gimme. Courage. What makes a king out of a slave? Courage. What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage. What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.

Let’s have the courage, then, to move forward. In Chapter 8, Ezra tells us details about his journey, who the family members were, and then in verse 15, Ezra discovers there are no Levites among the travelers. Levites were necessary because the Mosaic law said that only Levites could carry temple items used in worship, and they had all these temple items. They needed some Levites to accompany them, so they sent word that they needed help.

Ezra 8:18
Since the gracious hand of our God was on us, they sent us a man named Sherebiah, along with eighteen of his sons and brothers. He was a very astute man and a descendant of Mahli, who was a descendant of Levi son of Israel.

We can’t use “gracious” since we already did that, so let’s focus on what God provided. He provided an astute man, a man of insight; some versions use “capable.” What did the gracious hand of God provide? (Wisdom, guidance, … ) and then in verse 21,

Ezra 8:21-23
There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

The gracious hand of God provided … protection. Ezra was quite concerned about the success of this journey, it was roughly 800 miles and they would be carrying a significant amount of gold and silver and relics. And they had already boasted to the king how great God is. Ezra was ashamed to ask for protection. I’m not so sure this was the wisest move – God certainly expects us to depend on each other, and Ezra had already accepted help from the king in a financial way, but no doubt Ezra as a Levitical priest who studied and taught every day and has a book in the bible named after him might have a better understanding of God than I do. So the hand of Lord on Ezra brought him safely to Jerusalem with all the temple articles intact.

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they counted and weighed all the silver and gold and found it was all present and accounted for, so they sacrificed burnt offerings to the Lord, and everybody lived happily ever after. Well, at least until Book 9.

In Book 9 of Ezra, Ezra discovers the people of Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord. Before I cover this part of Ezra, remember what Dr. Young – Ed Young, not Ezra Young – taught this past autumn about claiming God’s promises? When you study the Word of God, you must be careful to see if the Word applies to you, to a particular person, to a particular time. Sometimes the bible teaches us about God through scripture that applies to a specific place and time. When God told Moses to use his staff to part the waters of the Red Sea and then lead Israel does not mean that you should get a staff and part the waters of Lake Conroe and then the greater Houston area will follow you. The scripture applied to a particular place and time. We can learn from such scripture – in the case of Moses, we can learn about obedience, faith, fear, and so on, but not necessarily about flood control.

In Book 9, Ezra is approached by the leaders of Jerusalem with bad news.

Ezra 9:1-2
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

Israel is special to the Lord. Israel is the Lord’s holy people. And the accusation here is very specific – the men and priests and Levites had not separated themselves and kept their nation holy as God had commanded. The problem here is not one of marriage – while Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4 prohibited foreign marriages, Joseph and Moses married foreign wives and God did not condemn them. Rahab and Ruth were not only foreign wives that God praised, they’re also listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Clearly it is not the fact that the women were foreign.

No, the problem here is who they married. There are eight neighboring people listed here that had what? Detestable practices. The Hebrew word for doing these “detestable practices” is “tow’ebah” (to-ay-baw’) which means a disgusting, wicked ritual abomination. The Lord God was thoroughly repulsed that His chosen people were marrying pagan women, and the husbands were casually accepting and tolerating the worship of false Gods in their homes. When God says “Thou shalt have no other God before me,” it’s not a polite request, it’s a commandment.

What’s worse, it wasn’t just the men of Israel marrying women who were religiously unclean, but it was the priests and Levites marrying them, too. These were the men responsible for maintaining the holiness of Israel, and instead they were leading the abominations. Instead of remaining holy, Israel was becoming indistinguishable from its pagan neighbors.

The word holy means “set apart”. The church sanctuary is holy; it is set apart for the use of God. My car, even though I drive it to church, is not holy since I drive it to work and the movies and so forth. Marriage is holy matrimony; the relationship we have with our spouses are unique. I have a relationship with Diane that is blessed by God; it is unique and set apart.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”

Wives, think about just the last week. How did you treat your husband? What words have you said to him? Did you treat your husband the way the Lord should be treated? Your marriage is holy. Do you seek the Lord’s will daily through study and prayer and treat your husband the way the Lord requires? Let’s pause just a moment to think about that.

Husbands, your turn. Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Husbands, do you give yourself up for your wife? Christ loved the church so much He died on the cross for us. What do you give up for your wife? Do you have selfish needs or habits that annoy your wife? Or do you cleanse her with the word of God? Do you forgive her daily the way Christ forgives you? When you look at her, is she without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish? Do you see her as holy and blameless? Let’s pause for a moment to think about that, but not as long because we husbands don’t have that sort of attention span.

Holy things are set apart for the glory of God. Israel as God’s chosen people were to remain holy, yet they participated in acts abhorrent to God. If you thought of something about your holy marriage that abhorred you, you can understand Ezra’s response. The first thing Ezra did in verse 9:3 was to tear his clothes and pull out the hair from his head and beard and sit down appalled. Convicted of sin. Devastated. The Hebrew word is “shamem” (shaw-mame’) which is the same word used after a locust plague devours a field. Ezra had spent his life in devotion, study, and application of God’s word, only to find that God’s holy people had defiled themselves.

Ezra was a true man of God, though, and even in his desolation, he continued to do God’s will. Ezra was convicted of his sin. The fact that it was his people sinning and not him specifically didn’t matter; Ezra included himself in the conviction of sin. Verse 4 says “everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness.” It was a sudden realization of their sin, a realization that they had been living a lie. Telling themselves that their little sin was ok, but it grew into a big societal sin that permeated even the religious leaders. As a society, we have tolerated a little sin in each other that has grown into a much larger sin that permeates even the religious leaders of some churches, have we not? I sometimes wonder if we’ve truly learned God’s lessons 2500 years after Ezra.

Not everybody gathered around Ezra; only those that trembled at God’s word. Ungodly people do not tremble at God’s word; ungodly people do not become convicted of their sin and gather around religious leaders. They may have trembled also because if you remember, the king told Ezra that Ezra was to teach and uphold the law and execute his people that didn’t.

That evening, still with torn clothes and hair, Ezra fell on his knees and prayed. The word used implies falling not just once but repeatedly. This was the second thing Ezra did after his conviction. I wish we had time to read Ezra’s prayer slowly and dissect it. It begins with confession, “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” Consider this your homework this week to read Ezra’s prayer in chapter 9 to see how a godly man with the hand of God upon him prays to his maker. First the confession, then praise and thanks, calling the Lord “gracious” for the relief from bondage and for giving them another chance to build a temple to worship Him. Ezra acknowledge specifically their sin; the command from the Lord in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Ezekial were to enter the promised land, not to even seek a friendship with their detestable neighbors, and instead they married their daughters. Then Ezra acknowledges God’s sovereignty and wisdom, that God has every right to destroy them all and not even leave a remnant this time, but also acknowledging that God’s grace has punished them less than they deserved. The third thing Ezra did was to repent of the sin.

The fourth thing that Ezra did after his conviction was to correct the error. After conviction of sin and then praying, action must follow or it is not true repentance. If the people of Israel are to be holy and set apart, then all impurities must be eliminated. This is true in your marriage, too. If your marriage is to be holy and set apart, then any impurities must be removed. In Ezra 10, the holy people of Israel realized that to be pure in God’s sight, they must send the foreign women away. They interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that a husband was to write a “divorce certificate” and place it in her hand if the there was “something improper about her.”

Now the word “divorce” is very rare in the Old Testament and it’s not used here in Ezra; the word is that the foreign wives were “sent away” with custody of their children. Now here is where we say this does not apply specifically to us. Even if your wife is pagan and worshipping idols, you don’t send her away. You are not the people of Israel and part of God’s chosen people and to be kept apart and holy. You are a Christian spouse. There was plenty of confusion about Deuteronomy’s rules; “something improper” could mean she snores too loud. In the 10th book of Mark, Jesus says it was because of Israel’s hard hearts that Moses wrote that law, but under the new covenant the rules were clarified. Paul clarified it some more in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; the unbelieving wife or husband is sanctified through his or her spouse. So if your husband leaves the socks on the floor yet again, sending him back to Egypt is not an option, ok? Just want to be clear on that.

Ezra 10:12 says the whole assembly responded in a loud voice, “You are right, but not now, it’s raining!” They realized that unraveling the sin was going to take both time and accountability, so they spent several days appointing leaders for accountability and to investigate all the marriages in Jerusalem and to make proper arrangements to send the foreign women back to their pagan societies. And all of those guilty had their names written down here in Ezra 10:18 for us to see 2500 years later. Each of the men listed repented of their sin and offered sacrifices for their guilt. OK, now they all lived happily ever after, at least until we turn to the book of Nehemiah next month.

So let’s summarize what we’ve learned today. This is the type of person that God will put his hand on:

• One who is devoted to the Lord;
• One who studies the Word;
• One who obeys the Word;
• One who applies the Word in service to others.

This is what the hand of the Lord provides;
• Blessings
• Grace
• Success
• Courage
• Wisdom, guidance
• Protection

When sin is in our lives, we
• Are convicted
• Repent
• Pray
• Act

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