God Knows Us Intimately

I. Introduction Psalm 139

Once a year, our church asks us to focus on a “sanctity of life” message, so we’re going to have a little 1-week vacation from our lessons in Acts this week. Instead, let us start with Old Testament scripture of wisdom and worship. I know you have your bibles with you because this is a bible study, not a PowerPoint study. So, open your bibles and turn to Psalm 139.

Warren Wiersbe had this to say about Psalm 139,

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What we think about God and our relationship to Him determines what we think about everything else that makes up our busy world–other people, the universe, God’s Word, God’s will, sin, faith, and obedience. Wrong ideas about God will ultimately lead to wrong ideas about who we are and what we should do, and this leads to a wrong life on the wrong path toward the wrong destiny. In other words, theology–the right knowledge of God–is essential to a fulfilled life in this world. David contemplated God and wrote for us a psalm whose message can only encourage us to be in a right relationship with Him.

King David wrote these Psalms, glorifying God in the highest and asking for a closer relationship with Him. As I read over commentaries of Psalm 139, great bible study teachers proclaimed that Psalm 139 was about God’s omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence. All that is true, but none of those words appear in the Psalm. The beauty of Psalm 139 is its simplicity.

II. God Knows Us Intimately – We Cannot Deceive Him

The first six verses of Psalm 139 from David ask God to look into David’s very soul.

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O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.

You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.

You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

When David asks God to search him, the Hebrew word for “search” is “chaqar” and is usually used for digging deep into a mine. Our friends and family see the outside, but God see what is inside, and He digs deep inside us. Who remembers the Old Testament man named Eliab? Hint, he was a son of Jesse? He was King David’s oldest brother? When the prophet Samuel was looking for a new king to take over for King Saul, Samuel wanted to choose Eliab first. But the Lord said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7,

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“Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Our exterior appearance is what the world sees, but putting up a facade does not deter God from examining our hearts. God sees the truth. To mangle an old saying,

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool God.

III. God Is With Us Constantly – We Cannot Escape Him

Not only does God know us intimately to our very soul, He never departs from us. Even when we may feel He is far away, He is still with us. We cannot escape Him. Psalm 139:7-12 tells us that God is with us constantly.

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Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;

Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

Sometimes we may try to hide from God, but we cannot. Adam and Eve tried it in Genesis 3:8-9.

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And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

Raise your hand if you think hiding in the bushes is an effective strategy for hiding from God. God is in heaven, God is here on earth, and David says that even if he should make his bed in Hell, God is still there.
So if your strategy for doing things in secret from God (I’m putting my hand over my own eyes), then it’s not working.

Hebrews 4:13 puts it this way,

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And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Whatever and wherever you think you are hiding from God, you’re not.

IV. God Made Us Wonderfully – We Cannot Ignore Him

And God is not only there where we go, but He is with us always. He has been here before we were born and He will be here when we die. It’s not like God looks around one day and says, “Oh! Where did you come from?” Psalm 139:13-18 tells us God is present at our conception and our birth, and we are reminded that each one of is made in the very image of God with a purpose only we can fulfil. Psalm 139:13-18,

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For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!

If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

The bible tells us that we are not an accident. We were created with purpose.

The bible tells us that we are not meaningless. We were created to be useful.

The bible tells us we are not worthless. The bible tells us that God fashioned us with His own hands in love.

 

a. Evolution vs Creation

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Our secular society has diminished and understated this part of creation. Our public schools teach our children that evolution is a god, that man’s evolution from the apes shows that we are nothing but a random collection of cells that decided symbiotically to live together, our brain cells with our blood cells with our skin cells. And there is nothing special about any one of us.

I believe this state-mandated religion of evolution is responsible for the callous attitude toward human life. We don’t appreciate that we are created in God’s image. I don’t always appreciate that you are created in God’s image, just as you probably don’t appreciate that I’m made in God’s image. And that idiot that just cut us off when we were just trying to exit the freeway, even though we turned our blinker on and tried to merge? They are certainly not made in God’s image. They’re just a random collection of cells. Stupid cells, at that.

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Those other stupid cells – by which I mean, other people crafted in God’s image – have been with us since the Garden of Eden. God asked Adam if Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam immediately through Eve under the bus. “Eve gave it to me, that’s why I ate some of it.”
Adam blamed Eve. Eve of course, blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Of course, their kids had to see this attitude in their parents. And then one day Cain’s attitude overcame him, and Cain killed Abel. To Cain, Abel was just a bunch of stupid cells.

But to God, it was precious human blood that God Himself had knitted and embroidered in the womb. When Cain killed Able, God said in Genesis 4:10,

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The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Mankind through the years continued to inflict pain and death on one another. Family conflict gave way to tribal conflict. Tribal conflict turned into national conflict, then war. Then genocide. Over the centuries, mankind has become very efficient at killing mankind. The New York Times estimates that 1 billion people have died in wars since history began.

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Between wars, terrorism, genocide, we humans have become efficient and ruthless at trying to eliminate the human race. And each and every one of those deaths is a soul that God fashioned with love and kindness.

b. Abortion

And not just through wars and genocide. Oh no, we are far too callous of human life. We destroy human life from before birth all the way through old age.

Abortion kills 3300 per day in the US alone. Worldwide, 115,000 per day. 42 million souls per year. Nearly 2.5 million just since the New Year. Some sobering statistics about abortion becomes obvious when you see a real-time Abortion Clock .

One of the most common reasons given for supporting a woman’s right to abortion is to protect the life or health of the mother, and also as a remedy against rape or incest. Rape is a traumatic experience for sure, and I certainly do want to diminish that horrific act. But statistics show that even if you support this exception to abortion, it’s almost never a reason given for abortion. The Guttmacher Institute in 2004 anonymously surveyed women after their abortion for their reasons, and the results are as follows:

  • <0.5% Victim of rape
  • 3% Fetal health problems
  • 4% Physical health problems
  • 4% Would interfere with education or career
  • 7% Not mature enough to raise a child
  • 8% Don’t want to be a single mother
  • 19% Done having children
  • 23% Can’t afford a baby
  • 25% Not ready for a child
  • 6% Other

Over 92% of abortions are not related to health of the woman, health of the baby, or because of rape. 92% just didn’t want a child. That means of the 1.44 billion babies aborted since 1980 worldwide, 1.3 billion babies, hand-knitted and embroidered by the God of the Universe Himself, would be alive today. That’s about the same as the entire population of China or India.

When we think of them instead of just a bunch of stupid cells, then it’s easier to justify their elimination.

c. Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

And the human race isn’t content with ending life at the front end, we’re also trying to end it early at the back end. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides are on the rise since countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and The Netherlands and now the state of Oregon have made it legal. Statistics are harder to come by since it’s not legal everywhere – yet – but the legal early terminations of life are already in the thousands per year. In the UK where euthanasia is not legal, they had the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient, originally designed to help doctors provide quality end-of-life care for terminal patients. In reality, patients were sedated and denied food and water so it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Patients became terminal after entering this care. The practice has been discredited and discontinued, but not before 130,000 a year were euthanized under this program. All because some stupid cells were inconvenient to the living.

Murder, war, abortion, euthanasia. This is not what God created us for. God has given us purpose and meaning. He created us in love. God created us to know Him and resemble Him as our heavenly Father, created with moral and spiritual capacities and creativity.

Jeremiah 1:5,

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

Genesis 9:6,

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

Psalm 127:3,

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

How much does God value us?

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John 3:16,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God knit us together, embroidered us, planned and numbered our days and given us tasks we were each created uniquely to perform.

V. God Judges Righteously – We Cannot Dispute Him

So Psalm 139 tells us about God’s omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence. The first 6 verses tell us that we cannot deceive God because He knows our deepest desires. Then the next 5 verses remind us that there is no place we can hide because God is everywhere. And the next 5 after that tell us that God had made us for a purpose, and that we are hand crafted and embroidered by God Himself.

Is it not sensible, then, to try to get to know our God better since He had made such a great effort to know us? Psalm 139, 19-24 –

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Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.

For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.

Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?

I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;

And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Some prefer to oppose God. Some want to argue with God and tell God He is not running the world correctly. King David had words to say about these sinners. He called them wicked, violent, liars, blasphemers, and rebels, but David also grieved over them of them.

And God also grieves over them. Sometimes it is hard to hate the sin but love the sinner. Well, as long as it is other sinners and not us. But scripture tells us in the last days evil will be considered good, and good will be considered evil. I know each year it’s become more and more difficult to find a movie or television show that celebrates good people. When I read the news, they make it seem that abortion and euthanasia are virtues, and people that oppose such horrors should be locked up for the good of society. And every year it seems the devil has a tighter grasp over the world.

David closes Psalm 139 with a prayer for God to search his heart, know his anxieties and concerns, forgive him, and lead him. We can easily deceive ourselves and convince ourselves that good is evil and evil is good. But we ask God to search our hearts while we search the scriptures. We must put on the whole Armor of God.

VI. Conclusion

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In the movie “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the Resistance fighter named Finn is about to destroy a massive weapon by the enemy by ramming his ship into it, certain to result in his death. Rose Tico, a young fighter in the Resistance, has just saved Finn from death, but the weapon is still intact. Finn asks, Why did you do that?” Rose answers,

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“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

We’re not here to fight people who perform abortions, or who have had abortions. We’re not even here to fight murderers. But we are here to spread the light that is the message and the good news from God, that everyone may have eternal light. For Ephesians 6:12 says,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

We fight this battle with love for our family, our friends, and our enemies. Why? We do this because of 1 John 4:19,21

We love because He first loved us. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

God loves us while we were still yet His enemy. God loves us with an intimacy we cannot even fathom in its depth. We learned from Psalm 139 that

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  • God Knows Us Intimately – We Cannot Deceive Him (Psalm 139:1-6)
  • God is With Us Constantly – We Cannot Escape Him (Psalm 139:7-12)
  • God Made Us Wonderfully – We Cannot Ignore Him (Psalm 139:13-18)
  • God Judges Righteously – We Cannot Dispute Him (Psalm 139:19-24)

To God be the glory. Amen.

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Jews & Gentiles, Legalism & Antinomianism

I.      Introduction

Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of teaching from my assignment in Leviticus 26.  In that lesson, we discussed about the Lord’s promises to provide blessings to Israel if they put they followed God’s will, and the Lord’s promises of curses that follow if Israel turned away from the path God had set before them.

And then we discussed how Jesus Christ bore those curses on Himself and fulfilled the Old Testament Law so that we would be free of legalism and free to live a life that honors our savior. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but this week’s assignment is Acts 15 and I’m pretty sure it’s the exact same message from a different point of view.  Leviticus looked at God’s plan for us from the Old Testament point of view, and Acts 15 will make an argument against legalism but this time from a New Testament point of view.

II.      Acts 15 The Jerusalem Council

Let’s put ourselves in history and see who is talking to who and when they’re doing the talking.  It’s the year 50 A.D, and Paul has been preaching the gospel for 13 years.  Acts 15:1 begins with,

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Slide2.JPGThis event is commonly known as The Jerusalem Council, and it’s an important part of the early church.  See, the early church wasn’t full of Baptists or Catholics.  The early church was full of Jews who had spent their entire faithful lives as pious Jews, observing the law.  The Holy Spirit was getting ready to work in the church leadership to establish the identity of the church.  Was the new church just a new sect of Judaism?  Or was this new church something completely new?  Were the converted Jews to abandon their centuries of following hundreds of daily rules in favor of this newfound freedom in Christ, or were new believers to become Jews and adhere to the Old Testament Laws?

       III.      Jews and Gentiles

So in this struggle between Jews and Gentiles, it’s helpful to understand who Gentiles are and what it means.  Let’s start in Genesis – of course – this time in Genesis 12.  Abram is living in a world filled with pagan worshippers and idolatry, and God separates Abram in order to establish a covenant, to raise a great nation of those who would follow the Lord.  Genesis 12:1-3 says that when Abram was 75 years old, the Lord said to him,

Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
 
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
 
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Slide3Abram was to live apart for the Lord’s purposes.  Remember that God never changes; these promises are forever.  And Abraham’s descendants proclaimed the one true God to the world.  Those that did not descend from Abraham were allowed to stay if they worshipped the Lord or keep traveling through.  Strong’s definitions says the word “gentile” comes from this word: 

gôwy, go’-ee; rarely (shortened) גֹּי gôy; apparently from the same root as H1465 (in the sense of massing); a foreign nation; hence, a Gentile; also (figuratively) a troop of animals, or a flight of locusts:—Gentile, heathen, nation, people.

Slide4.JPGNow, the word refers to any non-Jew that cannot trace his lineage to Abraham.  Or a locust.

God’s plan was to separate Abraham into a great nation to demonstrate the Lord’s power and glory.  But the gentiles aren’t forgotten; it’s just that God directed His plan through Abraham as His chosen people, and gentiles would see the glory of God through the nation of Israel and be blessed.  The verse we just read, Genesis 12:3 ended with this:

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Not just the Jews would be blessed by Abraham’s obedience, but all the earth.  Sometimes God doesn’t want to leave scripture open to interpretation, so He repeats it with a definition just to make sure we get it.  So this line is repeated in Galatians 3:8,

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”

Slide6.JPGGod’s eternal plan has always had a special role for the Jews, a plan in the past and still a plan for the future.  That’s the purpose of Romans chapter 11, to clarify to the Gentiles what God is doing with Israel.  The first 6 verses of Romans 11 says that God is still disciplining Israel; if God had rejected Israel, there is no reason for discipline.  God is still fulfilling His covenant with Abraham.  Then Paul tells us in Romans 11 verses 11-24 that us gentiles shouldn’t become conceited just because the Jews are being discipline; our faith grafts us to the olive tree of Israel.   We gentiles owe the Jews a great deal.  From the Jews, we received the bible, our savior, and the path to our salvation.  In return, Paul tells us that we should show the Jews mercy so that they will receive God’s mercy.

What’s God’s plan for the nation of Israel?  Romans 11:25-26,

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;  and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, 

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Slide8.JPGToday, Israel has still rejected their Messiah, and the purpose of the gentiles is to demonstrate that God’s mercy has come to all on the basis of faith.

          IV.      Old Testament for the Jews

So 13 years after Paul’s conversion to Christianity, Paul is preaching that we are saved by faith alone, not by the Law.  Orthodox Jews who believe in Christ are saying that, even with faith, obedience to the Law is still necessary, so if you want salvation, you have to follow the Law.  These orthodox Jews run into Paul and Barnabas and a big argument breaks out.  Acts 15:1-2 says these Orthodox Jews required Paul and Barnabas to go to Jerusalem so that the church could straighten them out.

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.  Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren.

You might think that the church is summoning Paul to give him a stern talking to, but in reality, it’s the Holy Spirit living in Paul that sends him to Jerusalem to straighten the church out.

Paul and Barnabas set out on their way to Jerusalem.  I like this verse 3 above; Paul and Barnabas are not worried about this meeting with the church; on the contrary, they’re happily spreading the good news to the gentiles along the way that they are free from the Law. 

The church had some stern words for Paul when he arrived in verses 4-5,

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.  But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

The orthodox Jews, the Pharisees, required the gentiles to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.  And this became a stumbling block to the gentiles.  In other words, the same Law that the Jews were unable to fulfill for centuries before Christ the savior came was now being imposed on the gentiles.

             V.      New Testament for Everyone

Two of the Apostles stood up to speak.  The first is Peter, who appealed to the Jews on behalf of logic and a vision Peter received.  The vision we briefly touched on last week in Acts 11.  In that vision of a great sheet being lowered from heaven, he is told to get up, kill, and eat, even though Leviticus has strict dietary rules.  When Peter objects because the animals are unclean, God says in Acts 11:9,

But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’

Slide11And at first, Peter understands the Law has been fulfilled through Christ, so the Leviticus dietary restrictions are no longer necessary, but then he realized that Christ sacrifice did a lot more than allowing Peter to eat shrimp and grits.  It cleansed the believer, and what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.  Later in Acts 11:16-18,

And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”  When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

So Peter understand that if Christ truly fulfilled the Law, then the Law doesn’t save us.  The Law only tells us where we fall short, and our shortcomings are already paid for by Christ Jesus.  So what possible reason could the church have for insisting on circumcision for the gentiles?  They are already cleansed by God.  So now Peter tells the church in Acts 15:7-11,

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us;  and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.  Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Why put a heavy yoke of burden on the gentiles, when Christ Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and his burden is light?  Jesus Himself made this statement in Matthew 11:28-30,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Slide14The yoke of the Pharisees was heavy and burdensome.  The yoke of the Pharisees was legalism and self-righteousness. The yoke of the Pharisees was not intended for the Pharisees, but for the Pharisees to impose upon the people.  And Jesus rejected all of that, saying that a saving faith in Christ Jesus was easy.

The burden of legalism was carried by Christ.  Christ perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament Law in active obedience.  He carries our burden for us and then became the sacrifice for us because He knows our sins are too heavy for us to bear.  As believers in Christ, our burden is light.  Romans 12:1-2 tells us what our burden is,

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

In other words, love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.  And we do not do this alone, for the Holy Spirit indwells all believers and constantly encourages us to be Christ.  This yoke of faith is light, it’s easy to bear, and where we stumble, we are constantly encouraged and forgiven. 

But the heavy yoke of self-righteousness and legalism says Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient.  A heavy yoke says we must continually strive to make ourselves acceptable to God through works.  Don’t get me wrong; God loves our works.  But our works do not save us or make us acceptable.  It is the sacrifice of Jesus, alone, that makes us acceptable to God.

The other apostle to stand up and speak is James in Acts 15:13-18,

After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me.  Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.  With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
 
‘After these things I will return,
And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen,
And I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will restore it,
So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’
Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.’ 

James is pointing out to the Jews that Christ came for all.  God’s plan was to work through His people of Israel, but when God sent His son, the sacrifice of God Himself was too big to be limited to a chosen few.  The sacrifice of Jesus saved all who would come to Him.  Moreover, James is saying that the sacrifice of Jesus for all people is not something Christ changed; it is prophecy that Christ fulfilled.  God knew from the fall of Adam that mankind would need a savior, and that savior would be Christ Himself for all mankind.

I find it interesting that Peter and James both reach the same conclusion from opposite points of view.  Peter says, why go back to the Law and impose the Law on the gentiles?  Close your bible, Christ has fulfilled the Law.  James on the other hand says, “Open your bible.  See how Christ has fulfilled the Law.”

Slide17.JPGYou and I should do the same.  Open our bibles to the Old Testament and understand everything that Christ fulfilled.  The Law convicts us of our sin, but Christ frees us from the burden of the law.  And then close our bibles when the urge to impose a heavy yoke of legalism says we must still work our way to heaven.  Christ already fulfilled the Law, and the yoke of Christ is far lighter than any yoke of obedience.

          VI.      Balance Obedience and Freedom

So, if Christ frees us from the Law, are we free to do anything we want?  Well, yes.  And no.

One argument that could be made is that Christ died for our sins, then I should go on sinning.  The more I sin, the more it’s apparent how big Christ’s sacrifice was, right?

Slide18.JPGThere’s actually a term for this.  Two Greek words, “anti”, meaning “against”, and “nomos”, meaning “law.”  Antinomianism takes the biblical teaching of the freedom of Christ to an unbiblical conclusion that there is no low, not even moral law, that Christians should obey.  Paul talks about this heresy in Romans 6:1-2,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

 There is still a purpose to Old Testament Law.  Romans 7 tells us it convicts us of our sin.  The Law illuminates God’s moral code and how we ought to live our life.  It shows us how far we have fallen.  But obedience to the Law cannot save us. 

But if obedience cannot save us, then disobedience certainly cannot save us.  If we know we are saved from our sins and take the attitude that we now have permission to go on sinning, it’s like crucifying Christ all over again.  Living in sin enslaves us, defiles us, shames us, and it spreads death and corruption in our lives.  It keeps us from the abundant life that Christ promises.  To avoid sin, we follow the Law.

Here’s the balance each of us must learn.  If we love Christ and are saved from our sins, then we obey the Law.  But if we obey the Law, then we must obey the whole Law.  If we obey the whole Law, then what was the purpose of Christ sacrifice to fulfill the Law?

Balance legalism and antinomianism.  Antinomianism leads to living in sin and never knowing the abundant life.  Following the Law, on the other hand, leads to legalism and judgmentalism that so corrupted the Pharisees.  So do we obey the Law, or don’t obey the Law?

And that’s how Acts 15 wraps up in verses 19 and 20.  After listening to Peter and James, James and the church agreed like this:

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.

There are things we do as Christians that can demonstrate the love of Christ within us, especially when we are obedient to Christ’s teachings.  But there are also things that, even though permitted, can lead people away from Christ.  James asks the gentiles to abstain from things that make us a bad witness. 

This applies to a great many things that we should or shouldn’t do.  We must open our bibles and follow the Law.  We must close our bibles and follow our hearts.  We must do both if we are to strike a balance between legalism and antinomianism.  We are free indeed in Christ, but we are not to so indulge in that freedom that we become a stumbling block to others that are seeking to grow closer to the Lord.

So in your daily walk with Christ, remember your freedom.  Christ came to us, born of a virgin, to become a perfect sacrifice, because the sacrifice of God himself covers both Jew and Gentile, all who seek the Lord.  Balance our lives between being a between legalistic Jew that must follow all of the Old Testament Law and free-loving gentile who is free from the Law because of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  Balance our lives between being a judgmental Pharisee and a wild, uncivilized antimomialist.  Follow the law, and remember that you are also free of the law.

And if you don’t get that balance exactly right?  It doesn’t matter because God knows your heart.  That’s the best Christmas present ever. 

Slide21.JPG

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Encouragement

Slide2

Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is.

– Blaise Pascal

Every spoken word, every action we take, effects another person.  We either affect somebody positively or we affect negatively.  Even many neutral actions, since they don’t affect another in a positive way, can be considered negative.  We label ourselves as either an optimist who sees the glass half full, or a pessimist who sees the glass half empty.  Or as an engineer, who sees the glass as excessively sized for the application.

Some Christians look at the people around them and find fault with them.  *They* gossip too much, they only hang around with their friends; they don’t serve like they should.  Other believers seem to have a good word for everyone they meet.  Which type of person do you like to be around?  Which type of person are you?

If we’re critical of others, we make excuses for our behavior.  I don’t feel good.  I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  It’s just the way I am.   God made me this way.  Or, they’re just out to get me.  They deserve it.  Or we hide our criticism behind the phrase, “bless their heart.”  You can say the absolute meanest, despicable things about somebody as long as you add the phrase, “bless their heart” to it.  “He’s just a blathering idiot, bless his heart.”  “She’s a wicked gossip who smells bad and dresses like a vagrant, bless her heart.”

Why do we do this?  Like many sins, this one, too, is based on pride.  *We* are better than them.  If they don’t know that, then we can drag them down and push ourselves up by criticizing them.  We think so highly of ourselves that we don’t consider the other person’s feelings before we open our mouths.

That’s not God’s plan for us.  God wants all His children to encourage and lift one another.  Proverbs 10:10-11,

He who winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

And Hebrews 3:13,

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

What day is it?  That’s right, it’s Today.  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.  And 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

And Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Slide3Ok, so does God want us to encourage one another?  Who can guess the answer to that question?

Today we’re going to study Acts 11 starting in verse 19 about a great encourager.  This is a difficult time for the early church; the early Jews preaching the gospel were persecuted by Herod.  Stephen had been stoned to death, and the early Christians were scattered.  There was some confusion around this time about the good news of the gospel and who could receive it.

Then Peter has a vision.  In Acts 11:1-3,

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Criticism is everywhere; here, early believers are criticizing Peter, one of the original 12 Apostles.  I can imagine them saying, “Well!  He may have traveled and listened to Jesus for 3 years, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Why, just the other day, he was eating with so-and-so, you know, that ‘gentile’.  He calls himself a follower of Christ but you sure can’t tell by the way he’s behaving.”

As a devout Jew, entering the house of an unclean gentile under Jewish Law would cause Peter to become unclean, a fact other Jews pointed out to him.  But Peter has a vision, and in verse 4, Peter tells them about this vision.  He repeats it “precisely” to them;  he saw a sheet coming down from heaven, and inside were four-footed animals, and a voice from the Lord saying, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”

Slide5

Peter’s initial response indicated Jewish thinking; he cannot eat those animals because Jewish law forbids it.  “Surely no, Lord!  Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth!”  And the Lord responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

When we study God’s word, we often stop right there and think that God’s message is that it’s ok to eat pork.  Or shellfish.  Or… scorpions.  Or whatever.  And indeed, the scripture tells us this.  When you couple this vision with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” we can also conclude that we are not bound by the Old Testament laws because Jesus completed them.  We are free in Christ.

But for Peter, the vision he received also addresses the salvation of gentiles.  Gentiles are also made by God.  Gentiles are non-Jews, not part of God’s chosen people.  Gentiles can also be made clean by God.  The Holy Spirit came upon some gentiles in Acts 11:15-18,

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

Slide6.JPGIn verse 19, after the stoning of Stephen, the early Christians scattered but continued to preach.  Those that went to Phoenicia, Cypress and Antioch taught only to Jews.  Other early Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene also went to Antioch, but began to teach the gentiles, the Greeks.  The early church began to grow rapidly.  Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the early church there began to hear of the conversion of gentiles in Antioch.  Verse 22-24, 

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Slide7Barnabas is a great example of the Christian God wants us to be.  In Acts 4:34-37, scripture introduces us to this man.

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Slide8His given name was Joseph, but the early church gave him the nickname “Barnabas”.  A complete reading of the word “barnabas,” gives a more complete picture of his name.  Barnabas means –

  • Son of encouragement
  • Son of prophecy
  • Son of refreshment
  • Son of comfort
  • Son of consolation
  • Son of preacher

In Hebrew names, the prefix “bar-” meant “son of.”  For instance, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah.”  It meant “Simon, son of Jonah.”  If Jesus had said, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Smith & Wesson,” that could also mean “blessed are you Simon, you son of a gun.”

The selection of Barnabas by the early church was a wise decision.  Barnabas is described in glowing terms in verse 24.  He is the only man in Acts called “good.”  He is “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith.”  And then Barnabas gives 3 examples of who we are to encourage.  First, by going to Antioch to share the gospel with gentiles in verses 19-22, Barnabas encourages new Christians.  These new Christians came not from Jewish backgrounds, but from pagan backgrounds.   It is because of this encouragement that (verse 21) “the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

Why do new Christians need encouragement?

  • May have zeal and happiness, but not knowledge of scripture
  • May fall into old secular habits easily
  • If not welcomed, may seek inclusion elsewhere

We can definitely encourage new Christians by assuring them that God is at work in their lives, that God loves them and gave His son for them.  We can encourage new Christians, not by looking at what they are doing wrong, but by affirming the positive qualities they have and the positive actions they do.  We must approach them in love, not criticism or condescension.

I look at these early Christians, the aggressive evangelism they do to spread the Word, and the persecution they endured, and compare it to the safety and comfort of our modern church.  We’re coddled by Christianity, but it’s the suffering of the early Christians that produced the hope and character of zealous Christians.  I once heard it said that they did so much with so little, while in our modern comfortable lives, we do so little with so much.

Another person Barnabas encouraged was Saul.  Verse 25-27,

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Slide11Saul wasn’t exactly a new Christian; Saul was an educated Pharisee, a very devout Jew who had persecuted the Christians until Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.  When Saul converted to Christianity, there was a lot of suspicion about him.  After all, Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen; how could this man be so changed after his encounter with Jesus?

Barnabus went specifically to search for Saul and bring him to Antioch and together they helped grow the early church there.  This was not the first time Barnabus had encouraged Saul; in Acts 9, immediately after Saul’s conversion, the Jews conspired to kill him and Saul tried to join the early church.  But the Christians there were afraid of him and distrusted him.  Then Acts 9:27, “But Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles.”

Saul became Paul and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, including the letter to the Hebrews, verse 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.”  While we think of Paul has an incredible teacher, how much of Paul’s writing can be attributed to the encouragement and joy of Barnabas?

Why do established Christians need encouragement?

  • Initial zeal of forgiveness fades, tempted by world
  • The stronger the Christian, the more Satan steps up his attacks
  • Like Paul, Christians we encourage may contribute to God’s work in ways we could never imagine

It says here in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.  Here’s the rabbit trail for this week; up until this time, followers of Christ had sort of an identity crisis.  For a while in Acts 1 through 4 they were called “believers”.  In Acts 5, they referred to themselves as the church, and then in Acts 6 they called themselves disciples and then brothers.  In Acts 9, they called themselves “The Way,” I assume because Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  They also called themselves the Lord’s people in Acts 9, the Followers in Acts 17, and the Flock in Acts 20.  But it was here in Acts 11 that followers of Christ were first called Christians.

Slide13So back to Barnabus; he’s encouraged new Christians, he’s encouraged experienced Christians, and now Acts 11:23 it says Barnabus encouraged all of them, the entire church of Antioch.  So Barnabus has shown by his example we are to encourage new Christians, established Christians, both individually and in groups.  Did we miss anybody?

Acts 11 ends on a note that a severe famine began to spread throughout the Roman worlds, and in verse 29-30,

“The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”

Slide14Barnabus’ encouragement was not limited to words; he also encouraged them by his acts of service.  There are many ways of providing encouragement; here’s a list called “8 Simple Ways to Encourage Others”

(http://www.ismckenzie.com/03/18/8-simple-ways-to-encourage-others/):

  • Take an interest. I believe this is one of the most effective ways of encouraging others. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Get them talking. People like to talk about themselves and once you get them talking, you fire up their enthusiasm.
  • Acknowledge what’s important. When you acknowledge what’s important to another, you provide validation about who they are and what they’re doing. Whether we admit it or not, each of us craves acknowledgement. Affirmation fuels confidence and self-esteem.
  • Acknowledge a job well done. Worthwhile accomplishments take time and effort. You can encourage by acknowledging someone’s effort. A simple “well done” or “thank you” can have a strong effect, which can make the difference between going on or giving up.
  • Show your appreciation. It’s common courtesy. Thank someone when they do something for you. Thank your partner after they cook a nice meal. Thank a friend for lending you a book. A simple thank you lets others know what they have done is meaningful to you.
  • Return the favour. If someone does something nice for you, show your appreciation by returning the favour. This should not be seen as an obligation, nor as a contest. You’re not trying to top the other’s contribution, but to express what their actions mean to you.
  • Do something unexpected. This is a step beyond returning the favour. Respond with something unexpected: out of the blue. Such a response has a strong impact and can reach others at an emotional level.
  • Ask for advice or confide in them. Haven’t you felt important when someone asked for your advice or confided in you about something important? Didn’t you find you were energised and eager to help. Taking someone into your confidence can motivate them to show your faith in them is well founded.
  • Lend a hand. Waiting for someone to ask you for advice is passive. You can take the initiative by offering to lend a hand. If a person sees you are willing to commit your time and energy to their interests, they will be more committed to seeing it through and less likely to give up.

Slide15What about you?  Are you an encourager?  Do uplifting words come from you, or do words of condescension and criticism come from you?  Are you a Barnabas?  Or are you a barnacle?

Let’s keep in mind that all Christians need encouragement.  For new Christians, simply going to them and offering help is encouraging.  For maturing Christians, we can encourage them by affirming their good work and character and helping them apply their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord.  For all Christians, just being concerned about them and helping them is encouraging.

Nicole Johnson, a Christian author and encourager herself, wrote

“Encouragement is to a friendship what confetti is to a party.  It’s light, refreshing, and fun, and you always end up finding little pieces of it stuck to you later.”

Slide16.JPGLet’s go be encouraging confetti to someone today.

To God be the glory.

Blessings & Curses

I.      Introduction

Our scripture is Leviticus 26, and my initial reading understood God saying to the Israelites, “here is a list of blessings if you do right, here is a list of curses if you do wrong.”  There are a lot of blessings and curses.  In fact, that’s really everything in Leviticus 26, blessings and curses.

And I want to make clear right up front that I’m not going to teach on the importance of legalism.  You must do the following things or the Lord God is going to provide a smackdown on you and your family.  Nope, I’m going to leave that to the Pharisees.  There might be some Pharisees here in class, please don’t raise your hand.

But as I read these blessings and curses, I wondered if there was a bigger picture.  Perhaps I could start in Genesis and end in Revelation again?  I think the answer is yes.  The lesson always seems to start in Genesis and end in Revelation for some reason.  So as I read these blessings and curses, I think that sometimes just a missing bit of information can change our whole perspective on a situation, give us a new understanding.

For instance, here’s a story that could use a new perspective.  I know of a man that is confined to a room.  He is surrounded by men in masks.  One of the men in a mask has a knife.  The man in a mask with the knife begins cutting into the man confined in the room, while all the other men in masks do nothing to stop the man with knives.

The new perspective?  The man with the knife is a surgeon.Slide2

II.      Progressive Revelation

I grew up Catholic with all the baggage that comes with it, works are necessary for salvation, you have to be in the Catholic Church to go to heaven, yada yada.  In college, I went to my first Protestant church which began my journey as a Christ-follower.  Before I fully committed my life to Christ, one of the first things I learned was that the Old Testament wasn’t applicable, or so the explanation sounded to me.  I was told only the New Testament was applicable to Christians and the Old Testament was for historical purposes and to demonstrate God’s character.  I think today I would word that differently, but the gist is sort of correct.  When you read in Leviticus 11 that one is not supposed to eat shellfish, all of a sudden a bowl of shrimp and grits takes on very confusing theological significance.Slide3

I hadn’t realized at the time that I was just dipping a toe into understanding progressive revelation about Old Testament Law.  While God is unchanging, because of man’s sinful nature man keeps changing, so God’s relationship with us changes.  His relationship with us in the Garden of Eden – see, I told you I’d start in Genesis – God’s relationship with us was changed forever when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  God made covenants with man through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and of course, Christ, and each covenant built upon the previous one.  Each covenant revealed additional information about God’s love for us.  It was progressive revelation for us over time.

So here in Leviticus, there’s more to this chapter than just a list of blessings and curses.  It’s the center of understanding the history of Israel and the messages of the prophets, it illustrates how the Lord uses both blessings and curses today to accomplish His will, and ends in a message of hope for all believers.

III.      Blessings, Leviticus 26:1-13

Let’s look at the beginning of Leviticus 26, verses 1 & 2,

‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.  You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord.

This is the preface to the chapter and declares the Lord to be not only worthy to be worshipped, but the only one worthy to be worshipped.  And while this is an Old Testament statement from the Lord, the Lord is unchanging, and I believe these words are relevant for today for Christians.

Whatever we do in this world, we should remember who created the world.  The Lord God is who he is, and worthy to be praised.  Things that are important to the Lord should be important to us.  We are too often distracted by something else we feel we have to do instead of going to church or reading our bible.  I mean, after all, we’re busy people, right?  But those things become idols, things we end up worshipping more than the Lord.

The next 11 verses of Leviticus are the promised blessings to Israel, but they are conditional promises.  They begin with the word “if” –

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments

If.  When we get into trouble over our heads, it’s not uncommon to plead to the Lord, “Lord, please rescue me.”  And then we have the nerve to judge God on whether He responds.  But how did we get into trouble over our head in the first place?  Were we walking in His statutes and keeping His commandments?  If the Israelites walked in the ways of the Lord, the Lord promised the following blessings –

  • Rain for the crops
  • Trees with fruit
  • Abundant grapes
  • Eat until they’re full
  • Security
  • Peace in the Land
  • No fear
  • Enemies will perish
  • Many prosperous children

And finally, in Leviticus 26:11-13,

Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you.  I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

God alone is worthy to be praised.  God reminds the Israelites that God alone is responsible for their freedom and that God wants to rain blessings on them and walk among His people.  All they have to do is fulfill the first “if” – honor the Lord alone and walk in His ways.

IV.      Curses, Leviticus 26:14-39

But there is another “if” in today’s scripture, but this half are the repercussions if Israel doesn’t honor the Lord.  It begins in Leviticus 26:14-15,

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

Man, I don’t like to think God uses both a carrot and a stick to complete His will for us.  Some of the curses described here are directly from God, and others are more like warnings that bad behavior has bad consequences.  These curses include –

  • Crops consumed by raiding enemies
  • Rains will cease
  • Crops will fail
  • Infertility
  • Men killed by hostile animals
  • Pestilence and disease
  • People turning on one another
  • Cannibalism

Each one of these curses is an opposite to the blessing.  Here’s the list side-by-side:

Blessings and Curses in Leviticus 26
BLESSINGS (v1-13) CURSES (v14-39)
God Confirms Covenant (9) God’s Vengeance For Covenant (25)
God’s Presence God’s Absence
God turns toward His people (9) God sets His face against them (17)
God will dwell among them (11) God sends them into captivity (38-39)
God walks among them (12) God becomes their adversary (33)
Peace Peril
Security (5) Soul pines away/sudden terror (16)
Peace of mind (6) Terror, fear, panic (36-37)
Beasts won’t harm them (6) Beasts destroy and decimate (22)
Prevail over their enemies (7-8) Attacked by enemies – raids (16)
Struck down by enemies (17)
Ruled by enemies (17)
Flee, but none pursue (17)
Delivered into enemy hands (25)
Scattered among nations (33)
Destroy themselves – cannibalism (29)
Prosperity Poverty
God gives rains in season (4) God withholds the rains (19)
Crops will grow abundantly (4-5) Crops don’t grow (20)
Old grain cleared out for new (10) Enemies raid and steal crops (16)
Famine—lack of bread (26)
Land is desolate (32)
Israelites fruitful and increase (9) Consumption, fever, waste away (16)
Wild animals decimate (22)
Pestilence in cities kills (25)
Israelites kill and eat their own (29)

Obedience brings blessings of peace and security.  Disobedience brings insecurity, peril, and fear.  Israel will be defeated by her enemies, scattered, and ruled by others.  Instead of God dwelling among His people, Israel will experience separation.  In verse 17, God sets His face against His people.  Then, because Israel remains hostile toward Him, God becomes their enemy and God will drive them from their sanctuary into the hands of their enemies.  In their absence from the promised land, the land will enjoy the rest God promised.

I think people that do not study their bibles sometimes see God as being unpredictable or arbitrary.  They do not understand why good things happen to bad people, or why bad things happen to good people.  I don’t always understand, but sometimes I do.  God’s standards for Israel, the consequences for obedience or disobedience are clear, and they are given far in advance of any punishment or blessing.  The motivations are both positive and negative.  The purpose of Leviticus 26 is to motivate Israel to keep God’s covenant.

And it’s important to realize that, even though there are good things and bad things promised, the purpose is good and always positive.  God wants to dwell among His holy people.  Throughout Leviticus 26, as gruesome as the warnings are, the benevolence of God is apparent.  God’s first response to Israel’s sins is to discipline His people and bring them to repentance.  And every time Israel refuses discipline, God increases the penalty.  If you think you can win a fight against God, then you don’t know God.

Some might look at God’s responses as harsh, but remember, God’s first promises were blessings.  All Israel had to do was walk in the ways of the Lord.  And the harsh response from God is due entirely to Israel’s rejection of God’s laws and all that God stands for.  Let’s look at verses 14-15 again –

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

His ways.  God wants what is best for His people.  Blessings if you walk in His ways, Curses if you reject Him.

V.      Past History of Israel

So what happened?  Despite these warning, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways.  The book of Joshua for the most part demonstrates that God delivered on the promised blessings.  Israel followed the Lord’s commandment and God was faithful in delivering abundant blessings.  But then the book of Judge showed the people os Israel rejecting the Lord’s ordinances, and God discipline was then forcefully delivered.

Leviticus 26, is the center of the history of Israel’s cycle of obedience, blessing, victory, apathy, disobedience, defeat, repentance, obedience.  Leviticus 26 is absolutely accurate.

God repeated his promises of blessings and curses through the prophets over the years to remind Israel that they were His chosen people.  Every prophet of Israel in the centuries to follow told Israel of the blessings to come if they followed in the Lord’s ways, and the destruction that follows disobedience.  And again and again, the cycle repeated.

VI.      Future History of Israel

So if God makes a covenant with Israel, but Israel repeats their cycle of obedience and disobedience despite the Lord’s promises of blessings and curses, who can fulfill the covenant?  Only the Lord can deliver Israel, and the Lord says at the end of Leviticus 26:44-45,

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.  But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.

The Lord is saying in these last 2 verses that, despite obedience or disobedience, the Lord God will never turn His back upon His people.  He says specifically that He will never break His covenant.

So how does the Lord deliver His people when His people turn their backs in disobedience and bring down the curses promised in Leviticus 26?  If God is to deliver on His promise but the people will not hold up their end of the covenant, then God will fulfill their end of the covenant.  God will send a deliverer or a Messiah.  This Messiah will be God Himself as prophesied in Isaiah 49:1-3 –

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
 
He has made My mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me;
And He has also made Me a select arrow,
He has hidden Me in His quiver.
 
He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory.”

In this verse, the Messiah has been selected to show the glory and power of God from and through Israel, but since God himself is the deliverer, Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah will also call gentiles to serve the Lord in Isaiah 49:6 –

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

After all those cycles of obedience and disobedience, God Himself steps into time to take the curses upon Himself and deliver His people, but it now includes gentiles like you and me, anybody that believes in the Lord.

VII.      The Messiah Fulfills the Law

So when I read Leviticus 26, I needed a new perspective.  How could these verses of blessings and curses be applicable today?  The new perspective is that God has provided the blessings and born the curses Himself to deliver His people.  Jesus is our Deliverer from the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

Now, the Old Testament Law hasn’t been abolished by Jesus.  Jesus specifically says that he came to fulfill the Law.  First in Luke 4:16-20, Jesus goes to the synagogue, reads from the book of Isaiah, then sits down.  Sitting down indicated that had had finished speaking and his message was complete, but then Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And then Jesus says later in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus led a perfect life without sin in complete obedience to the Father, even up to and including laying down His life for His followers.  Not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles.  In so doing, He completed the Old Testament and broke the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

We still have the Law with all the blessings and curses, but the Law has no power over us.  Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the Old Testament Law cannot save us.  We have demonstrated to God for centuries that we are disobedient; we cannot follow the law perfectly.  Instead, the Law demonstrated to us that we needs God to save us from the Law, so God sent His Son.

Are we free then from the law?  Well, yes and no.  We are free from following the 613 mitzvots that only demonstrated that we are sinners and needed a savior.  But many of the Old Testament laws are repeated as New Testament Christian principles.  Jesus gave us the example of one of the Ten Commandments that prohibited adultery.  The Pharisees focused on the behavior.  Jesus says we are responsible for even what we think, and if we think about adultery, then we are guilty.  But rather than focusing on 613 mitzvots, Jesus gave us a much easier understanding of how God wants us to live our lives.  Matthew 22:35-40 –

One of [the Parisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.  Leviticus 26 opened with God telling the Israelites to remember that God is God, don’t worship anything else, and live your lives in a way that pleases God.  Those instructions haven’t changed in 6000 years.

We don’t suffer the blessings and curses that God promised the Israelites, but our Christian walk is still important, and the things we do or don’t do still have consequences.  Paul tells us in Galatians 6:7-8,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

When we follow God’s plan, we receive blessings according to His will.  And when we do not, we still have to deal with the repercussions of our actions.  But we are no longer under the Law with all the blessings and curses that come with us.  Jesus fulfilled the Law for us in a way we did not earn.  Jesus provided grace so that we inherit eternal life, not through our own efforts, but through His.  In the Age of the Church, we are under Grace, praise Jesus.  Jesus bore our curses so that only God’s blessings remain for us.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

His Presence

             I.      Introduction

Our scripture for the week was supposed to be Exodus 39 & 40.  It’s starts with these verses,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.

 So I’m thinking one lesson we can learn is what sort of clothes we should wear to church.  This description of clothing goes on for like the entire two chapters of Exodus 39-40.    We should always wear our ephods of gold, blue, purple and scarlet.  And I ask a deep theological question of the Lord: Lord, please reveal to me, what is an ephod? 

Here is a traditional ephod:

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So then I asked, Lord, is there a deeper theological message, other than a church dress code?  If I understood God’s answer correctly, today we will discuss God’s relationship with His people through history, the functionality of God’s temples and the duties of His royal priesthood.  And ephods.

But let’s start with this:  Where does God live?

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When I want to speak to God through prayer, I look up.  As though God was in a particular direction, and if I looked in that direction, I’d see Him.  Is He close?  Is He far away?  Where does God live?  And what does He look like if I see Him?

Does He look like George Burns?  Morgan Freeman?  And how does any of this tie into Exodus 39?

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Our bible study today centers on Exodus 38 through 40 which begins with a description of the first temple and the clothing to be worn by the first priests.  There are a great many instructions on what to build and what to wear.  We could spend a long time reading the description of the temple and the clothing, but I want to get into the purpose, so we’re just going to hit a few verses.  Turn your bibles to Exodus 38.    Here’s how God instructed the altar to be built starting in Exodus 38:1 –

Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high.  He made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze.  He made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hooks and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze.  He made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up.  He cast four rings on the four ends of the bronze grating as holders for the poles.  He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze.  He inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks.

This goes on for 31 verses, and my second question (does anybody remember what the first question was?  Right, “What is an ephod?”).  My second question was, “what the heck is a cubit?”  That part was pretty easy to figure out, I guess they didn’t have a Wal-mart nearby to go pick up a ruler, so a cubit was simply the length from the back of the elbow to the tip of the finger, about 18 inches.  The final altar looked like this:

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And then, as if the altar instructions weren’t complex enough, there was some weird fashion show one had to wear before one was allowed to come near. 

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Church dress codes have certainly relaxed since biblical times.  Now we wear Astros gear.  I wonder why they don’t make Astros ephods?  That would be perfect.

Exodus 39 beginning in verse 1,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.  Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman.  They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends.  The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel.

And then this description goes on for another 43 verses.

What’s the purpose for all these instructions?    The Lord told Moses how the Aaron and the other priests were to dress when ministering in the Holy Place.  The Lord had specific instructions to Moses about a great many things before the Lord would, as Dr. Young says, “tabernacle among them.”

But when I was studying this chapter, it felt like I was reading a book out of order, and not even reading the entire book.  Like picking up a novel, reading a couple of chapters from the very middle of the book, then closing the book.  And afterward, I’d be asking myself, “How did the story begin?  How did it end?”  I dunno.  I’m only reading the middle part of the book.

I don’t know how many lessons I begin with Genesis 1, and many times I end in Revelation.  Today is another one of those times, so we’re going to have to study the entire bible today.  Shouldn’t take too long, right?  So let’s turn to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. 

          II.      Genesis 1:2, The Spirit of God

Genesis 1:1-2,

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

 To fully understand where God lives, well, that’s beyond our study.  But we can study what God has revealed to us in His Word about His Presence, and see how and when God reveals Himself to us.

When God created the heavens and the earth, it was perfect.  How could it be otherwise?  There is no presence of sin, no rebellion, nothing opposed to God.  God’s will is everywhere, God’s will is perfect.  And the Holy Spirit moved over the surface of the waters.  And this is important, God is in direct contact with His creation.  And at the end of the sixth day, God creates man and woman and places them in the Garden of Eden.  And there was still no sin.  In Genesis 2:15, scripture says,

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Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

In other words, God dwelt with man and interacted with Him in a perfect sinless environment.  But then mankind messed it all up, and disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  And sin entered the world. 

This is important an important change in our relationship with God.  Sin entered the world.  You and I tell little lies and gossip and steal office supplies and get mad at each other, but we live with each other and learn to get along.  But God is not like you and me.  God is holy and pure and good.  He’s omnipotent and full of justice, and when He sees any injustice or sin, God will destroy it.  How can a holy God be otherwise, so see evil and just say, “well, that’s not so bad, I guess I can accept that.”  No, God promises to make all things right.

After man at the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what happened to the relationship between God and man?  God drove the man and woman out of the garden, no more in direct contact, lest God be compelled to destroy the evil within.

       III.      Exodus 38-40 God Dwells in His Temple

But God is also perfect love, and God still loves His flawed, sinful people.  How will God dwell among those He loves without destroying them in the process?   In the Old Testament, God prescribed a method, sort of like a Martian airlock. 

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I’m not sure the altar of the Lord has ever been described like a Martian airlock, but let’s go with it.  The purpose of an airlock is to keep the Martian atmosphere on one side, and the earthly atmosphere on the other, with an intermediate area to transition from Earth to Mars and back again.

So sinful man cannot simply walk up to the presence of the Lord without being destroyed by His holiness.  So the altar was devised by God for God to indwell, and the priestly garments, like a Martian spacesuit, was worn after the priest was purified and temporarily pure for approaching the presence of the Lord.  All of the clothing was symbolic for being set apart for God’s work of atoning for sin.  The dress code was mandatory.  Noncompliance was sin, and the wages of sin is death, so getting dressed up for church was a good idea.   God says that this is the Martian airlock method of separating His Holiness from our sinfulness so we won’t die, in Exodus 28:43,

They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die.

 So even noncompliance with the dress code was a problem.  Forgetting to wear a tie to the altar was imperfect, a sin, and like all sin, no matter how big or how small, was punishable by death.  In Exodus 28:31-35, the Lord tells Moses to add little golden bells on the hem of the priestly robe –

“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue.  There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn.  You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe.  It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

That’s a pretty sophisticated Martian airlock with all the bells and whistles.  And there’s meaning in the robe;

  • The blue represents heaven and water, the pristine state of the earth when God created it.
  • The gold represents, well, gold.  It’s pure and it’s rare.
  • The scarlet represents the blood; Leviticus 17:11 tells us that life is in the blood.  And this is important to the sacrificial system.  Since the wages of sin is death, sin requires atoning by blood, but God’s sacrificial system allows innocent blood of a lamb to be substituted for our sins.
  • The purple is the mixing of blue and scarlet together, mixing of the heavenly, of God and man, and indicated royalty.
  • The bells are because the Israelite must make noise to come before the Lord.  One of the words for praising God is the Hebrew word, ruah which means to make an ear splitting sound. The sound of the bells prevent the death of the priest when he comes before the Lord. While it is true that man needed to hear the bells to know that the priest was still alive, the bells actually seem to be protecting the priest from death.

Also, you may have heard that the priest also had a robe tied around his waist or around his ankle so that when the tinkling stopped, the people outside would know he had died and could pull the rope and retrieve the body.  I hate to say this, but that’s probably not true.  I checked on Snopes.com.  Actually, I checked a source by Dr. W.E. Nunnally, Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary ( https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/author/w-e-nunnally/  ) who researched this, and it’s an urban legend, though one that’s been around for a very long time, probably starting around 600 or 700 years after Christ.   Dr. Nunnally says,

“The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”

I mean, this professor is so smart, he knows what the Pseudepigrapha is and he’s read it.  So the story of the robe around the ankle is just not listed in scripture anywhere. 

I continued following the rabbit trail about the bells on the hem of the robe, and look at this last line we just read a moment ago –

It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

 But then if we jump over to Leviticus 16:2-4, it says,

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.  “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering.  He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments.  Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.

 These are two different places, even though the words are similar.  The second location is inside the veil, often called the Holy of Holies.  The first one, the Holy Place, is outside the veil, where Aaron ministered to the Israelites.  Notice that the robe with the bells is worn outside the veil, but not inside after he’s been washed and purified.

That’s the end of the rabbit trail regarding the bells and the robe and the ankle, so let’s go back to the Martian airlock and recap the purpose of the altar and the priestly robes –

  • God desires a relationship with His people
  • God is holy
  • Man is sinful. 
  • The wages of sin is death, but God implemented a sacrificial system to allow innocent blood to be shed for the guilty.
  • The temple and the robes provides a purified exposure of sinful man to a holy Lord that separates man from the wrath of God.

The priest ministered to the people, collected their sins, made a sacrifice on their behalf, purified himself, then if everything was pure and holy, the priest would walk into the Holy of Holies to communicate with the Lord.

          IV.      The Temple of the Lord: What Changed?

Where is our temple today?  Why don’t we purify ourselves and sacrifice and asks a priest to intercede for us today?

The answer is Jesus.  Jesus changed everything.

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When Adam sinned in the garden, God put into a plan to save man from his sins.  It begins with Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that Eve’s offspring will eventually crush the head of Satan, continues through the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel for the salvation of God’s people.  The purpose of the temple before Jesus was described in Exodus 25:8-9,

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

But the book of Hebrews tells us that the temple was just a copy of better things to come in Hebrews 9:23-24,

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these (blood sacrifices), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

 What this verse is saying is that the Jewish temples constructed for the Lord’s presence were copies of Heaven, examples.  These old temples required earthly blood regularly sacrificed because man sinned repeatedly, and so the sacrifices had to be repeated.  But this verse in Hebrews says Jesus didn’t come to cleanse a copy of the temple that represented heaven, but Jesus entered heaven itself, once and for all and for many.  This verse in Hebrews 9:25-26 goes on to say,

nor was it that He (Jesus) would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

 In other words, the sacrifice of Christ is a permanent solution for all sin, past present and future.  His sacrifice was God Himself pouring Himself out for all of us on the cross.  And when Jesus breathed His last, His sacrifice to take away the sins of the world was perfect, and with His final breath in John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  And this was not defeat; this was victory, for Matthew 27:50 says Jesus cried this out in a loud voice.  It is finished; sin has been defeated.

If you recall the purification of the priest, it enabled the priest to be temporarily purified so that he could offer sacrifices for our sins to God within the veil.  But the role of priest has also been fulfilled by Jesus, Hebrews 4:14-16,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 Because Jesus is a permanent sacrifice and also sinless, additional sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus is the last priest we’ll ever need, and with His sacrifice, 1 Peter 2:5 says that all believers are now part of the royal priesthood, chosen to proclaim the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness and into the light.

So what about the temple?  The same temple built by Herod with the Holy of Holies where God would dwell and accept sacrifices from the purified priests wearing fancy schmancy garments? 

Jesus, again, changed everything.

For one thing, the veil that separated us from God fulfilled a purpose; it kept sin out.  But Jesus defeated sin with His final sacrifice, and this veil od separation was no longer necessary.  After Jesus’ cry of victory, well, let’s look at Matthew 27:50-51 says,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

The veil was torn by God from the top.  Remember that veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies?  Aaron wore the robe with the bells on the outside of the veil, but before he would go inside the veil, he’d had to purify himself before entering the presence of God.

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In Jesus’ day, Moses’ tabernacle was long gone, replace by Herod’s temple in the exact location, but the concept was the same.  A thick veil separated all from God except for the High Priest who would sacrifice for the sins of the people and purify himself before entering the Holy of Holies.

But because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the protective veil that separated God from Man was no longer necessary.  Man now had a permanent sacrifice, a savior.  Jesus is our permanent sacrifice.  So what do we need a temple made of stone for if sacrifices are no longer needed?  We don’t.

In fact, Jesus knew this, and prophesied the temple of Herod would be torn down and no stone would be left unturned.  And in 70 AD, Romans soldiers overturned the temple and it’s never been rebuilt.  For Christians, the temple isn’t needed, because we are the temple.  1 Corinthians 6:19 –

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

 Jesus changed everything.  We are his priesthood and He is our greatest priest, the sacrifices are finished, the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies is forever torn, and when we accept Jesus as our savior, we become the temple of the Holy Spirit.  The separation between us and the Lord is forever eliminated for those who accept Jesus’ atoning death.

             V.      The Temple Yet to Come

But this isn’t the way the story ends.  What about any future temple?  Let’s head to the end of the bible and check Revelation for any, um, revelations.

There are two main temples discussed in Revelation, and I want to dismiss the first one pretty quickly.  The dimensions of this first temple are prophesied in Ezekiel 40-47, and Daniel 9:27 says this temple will be built on the Temple Mount by Jews eager for their Messiah to return which, of course, already happened 2000 years ago.  Sacrifices in this temple begin again, but then in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 the antichrist desecrates the temple in the middle of the Tribulation and declares himself to be God.   Ultra-orthodox Jews are already prepared to build what they call the Third Temple.  While important to understand this third temple when studying end times eschatology, I don’t believe it to be a temple directed by God.  Why would we need sacrifices to begin again?  This temple is a misguided effort by Jews and orchestrated by man.  And when Jesus returns, this temple is destroyed by earthquake in Revelation 6:12-17.

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But for believers, we can read a little further to Revelation 21:22-23, a beautiful description of our glorious future.  John is describing what he sees as a new heaven and a new earth with a new Jerusalem:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 

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God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and us will all dwell together in His glory where there is no sin, no pain, no tears.  That’s something to look forward to.

          VI.      Conclusion

I started off preparing for this lesson reading about what Levitical priests wore when going to prepare sacrifices, but there was a lot more to learn than just biblical fashion statements.  We learned that the role of temple was to be like a Martian airlock that separates our sinful self from the holiness of God who has vowed to destroy all evil.  We learned that priest purified themselves before offering sacrifices, but this had to be repeated every time a sacrifice was made.

And we learned that Jesus changed everything, who became our Great High Priest and we all became members of a royal priesthood with our bodies being the very temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells today.  There is no longer a separation between us and God because Jesus forever intercedes for us.  And we learned that at the end of time, there will be no need for a temple at all because we will dwell with the Lord forever, just as the Lord originally intended when He created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve.

In the meantime, there is no need to look up when we look to see where God live.  God dwells inside each one of us.

Jesus changed everything.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Sufficient

s.      Introduction

What is “enough”?  When do we have “enough?”

Have you ever had enough chocolate?

How about money?  Have you ever had enough money?

How about family?  Never mind, of course you can have enough of family.  I withdraw the analogy.

When we do not have enough, what response pleases the Lord?  Do we take matters into our own hands?  Or do we seek to be obedient and trust in the Lord? 

II.      Exodus 16:1-3 Wilderness of Sin

Today we are in Exodus 16 and we will study the when the Lord provided manna from heaven.  Trivia quiz – you’ve probably heard of the manna from heaven.  They ate manna in the morning.  The Lord provided something else in the evening.  Does anybody know what it is? 

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Exodus 16:13 says the ground was covered by quail.

Exodus 16 is too long to read and study verse by verse in the time we have allotted today, so we are going to pick out a few important verses.  Let’s start with the Cliff Notes version – does anybody know what Cliff Notes are?  Is there such a thing anymore?

Anyway, Chris taught us last week from Exodus 14 that Yul Brynner chased Charles Heston and the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea.  Remember how grateful the Israelites were?  They said with great fondness and adoration to Moses in Exodus 14:11,

Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?

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 In response, the Lord divided the sea, the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, and the Lord closed the sea over Pharaoh’s army.  One of the most amazing miracles in the entire bible.  In the next chapter, Exodus 15, is a song full of praise and adoration to the Lord for the great things He hath done, beginning with

I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;
The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
This is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will extol Him.

 Obviously, having seen such power and glory from the Lord, the Israelites never again doubted the Lord or grumbled against Moses, at least until dinnertime.  Then in Exodus 16:3 the Israelites said to Moses,

“Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

 This, of course, is a recurring thing with the Israelites.  God does an amazing miracle, and the next day, the Israelites are like, “Well, so what have you done for me lately?” 

Or like, God sending His son to pay for my sins and the sins of every person that places their trust in Jesus, and then us saying, “Well, so what have you done for me lately?”

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The scripture in Exodus 16 says the day is the 15th day of the 2nd month after their departure from Egypt, so we know it had been less than a week since the parting of the sea.  The people are wandering in the wilderness of Sin.  Do I need to draw an analogy here?  The Israelites are wandering in the wilderness of sin, and we are… ?  That’s right, we too are wandering in a wilderness of sin.  If we are not a believer, we are very involved in this rebellion, refusing the gifts from the Lord and demanding to do things our own way.  And if we are a believer, we are still surrounded by a wilderness of sin and are still dealing with our own sin nature.

III.      Exodus 16:4-17 Manna from Heaven

But the people are hungry and grumbling, “Well, so what have you done for me lately?”  The Lord’s answer is one of instruction – remember, this is before even the Ten Commandments had been given.  The Lord says to Moses in Exodus 16:4-5,

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.  On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

 The Lord never tempts us, but He often tests us.  His tests are not for amusement or vindictiveness; the Lord test us for His purpose.  He tests us to strengthen our faith, to encourage us to walk in obedience.  And I believe He does this to us over and over again because we are a lot like the Israelites, forgetting the miracles God has already done for us and constantly asking, “Well, so what have you done for me lately?”  And God answers with a test, “This is what I am doing for you lately.”  And the Lord’s test always involves our obedience to His call.

The test to the Israelites was pretty simple.  Follow these instructions and you will have all the meat and bread you can eat.  Simple instructions.  In the evening, quail covered the camp, I suppose some sort of evening BBQ.  I don’t see any specific instruction in Exodus regarding how many quail they could have, but the next instructions were quite specific.  Every morning God provided manna for the day. 

What was the manna?  The Lord describes it in Exodus 16:4 as bread raining down from heaven. Exodus 16:13-17 describes it like this:

So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground.  When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.

 Later in Exodus 16, the manna is described like “coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”  Numbers 11:7 says it looked like resin or tree sap.  Psalm 78:24 says it was “grain from heaven” and the next verse calls it “bread of angels.”    It seems to be a sweet bread that would miraculously appear.   I think it was kind of like that homemade banana bread my wife made yesterday, only without bananas.  And with coriander and honey.

Does anybody know what “manna” means?  The Israelites called it, well, let’s look at two verses side by side, Exodus 16 verse 15 and 31,

When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

 And

The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.

 The Hebrew word for “manna” means, “What is it?”  Literally.  They named this miraculous bread from heaven “What is it?”  Kind of like we would use the word “whatchamacallit.”  Hey, y’all want a quail sandwich?  We have quail and we have, um, some whatchamacallit.

The Lord’s test to the Israelites was pretty simple.  They were to gather only as much manna as they could eat that day.  Don’t gather any more, don’t gather any less.  Eat what you gather.

I remember when I was young, my grandfather had a phrase, “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant as a kid.  I imagined my stomach the size of a softball and my eyes the size of marble, and I could see the size of my eyes hadn’t changed.  But later I understood what he meant.  Sometimes for dinner we’d go to a cafeteria and we’d walk down that long row of the ladies serving all manner of fine cuisine.  Seems the first stop was always jello for some reason, often with mysterious things floating in the jello.  Then there would be a fish station, then the roast beef and ham and chicken, then the vegetables. 

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I was a weird child who liked most vegetables like spinach and brussel sprouts.  I loved corn on the cob and spinach, but I would never get spinach at the cafeteria because I could never tell it apart from collard greens. Then the desserts like strawberry shortcake and chocolate pudding, and by the time I finished going through the line, I had selected almost everything they had, all piled up on my tray.  My grandfather knew I was a growing boy, he often said I had a hollow leg to be able to eat so much.  But sometimes I was so enthusiastic about all the food available that I’d select more than I could eat in one sitting.  And that’s when Granddaddy would say that my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Perhaps the Israelites had eyes bigger than their stomachs.  The Lord told them only to gather as much manna as they could eat that day, and the Lord would provide for tomorrow’s needs tomorrow.  The exception was the Sabbath; the day before, the Israelites were to gather twice as much because there would be no manna delivery service on Sunday.

What did they do?  Of course they gathered too much.  Some tried to save their manna overnight, but Exodus 16:19 says that manna left overnight bred worms and became foul.  Sort of like that mystery package in your refrigerator.  You’d throw it out, but you’re afraid to touch it.  It has bred worms and turned foul. 

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Here’s an observation about leftovers in your fridge that everybody shares.  If we put something in the fridge overnight, we’ll eat it the next day.  Or maybe even the 2nd day.  But by the 3rd day, we’re not really so sure if it has bred worms and turned foul.  We pick it up and smell it, but we don’t detect anything wrong.  And then we put it back in the refrigerator.  I’m not going to eat it because I don’t know if it’s gone bad, but it hasn’t yet gone bad enough for me to throw it out.  So it sits in the refrigerator for at least 2 more days until it starts to grow some sort of fungus, and *then* it’s ok to throw it out.

Jesus has no scripture regarding leftovers.  Well, actually that’s not quite true.  Remember the miracle of the loaves and fishes when Jesus fed the 5000?  Afterward in John 6:12, Jesus said, “Gather up the leftovers so that nothing will be lost.”  But that’s a completely different lesson.

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Why did the Israelites gather more than a day’s worth of manna?  Well, there’s disobedience, there’s just being a stiff-necked people, probably greed is involved… but I think the issue here is trusting in the Lord’s promises.

The Lord told them in Exodus 16:11-12,

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

 And Israel answers, “But what have you done for me lately?”  The test from the Lord was designed to increase their faith.  The Lord is essentially saying, “I will provide for your needs every day, trust in me.”

But some, after gathering their daily manna, hid some under their pillow or under their bed overnight.  What if the Lord forgets?  What if the Lord changes His mind?  It’s a matter of trusting in the Lord that He is faithful and will keep His promises.

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Trust and faith are very closely related, but they are not the same thing.  Faith is a noun.  It is something we have.  Faith says, “I know the Lord, and I believe in the Lord.”

Trust is a verb.  Trust is something we do.  Trust says, “because I believe, I will think and act according to what I believe.”  It’s the Christian spiritual walk away from hypocrisy of being two people and toward integrity, of being a single person with a single mind.

The Israelites certainly had faith, the Lord had manifested amazing miracles, not in the distant past, but just in the last week.  They knew the Lord and His power.  They had faith he was Yahweh.

But some Israelites were lacking in trust.  Yes, God promised manna today and He delivered.  But what about tomorrow?  What if God doesn’t come through, what if He forgets?  And even though God promises, I’ll set aside a little something for me… just in case.

It is faith that saves, but it is trust that grows.  Trust says that not only do we have faith in almighty God, but I will live my life expectantly in a way that demonstrates my faith.  Trust says that I may not know all the plans of the Lord, but I know enough to seek His will and do what He asks of me.  If we have a little faith, we have a little trust.  Jesus says that’s a good start – with just a little faith, the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. 

There are plenty of examples of scripture that help grow our faith and our trust in the Lord.  Isaiah 33:6,

And He will be the stability of your times,
A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge;
The fear of the Lord is his treasure.

 And Psalm 33:11, God is forever faithful,

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.

 And of course, the one that gives us such comfort from Romans 8:28,

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

 The opposite of trust is doubt.  Or worry.  Either way, it expresses that we do not trust the Lord to save, to serve, to protect, to heal, to revenge, to comfort.  We doubt the Lord’s promises.  But God never forgets about us.  We are worth a great deal to our Father in heaven.  Matthew 10:29, Slide19.JPG

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

 So when we face trials and tribulations and cannot see God’s hand at work, our actions tell us a great deal about us and our trust in Him.  We say we believe Him, but what do we do?  Do we wait patiently?  Psalm 46,

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God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;

 Or do we gather some extra manna for ourselves, in our own strength, to protect us in case God forgets?

IV.      Jesus is our bread from Heaven

The manna freely given by God is a foreshadowing of Jesus.  Let’s go back to those leftovers after Jesus fed the 5000.  Jesus and the disciples left for Capernaum, and the crowd followed Him.  John 6:26,

Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

 Like the Israelites in the desert of Sin, they were focused on their own needs.  The Israelites had seen the Red Sea parting, yet they grumbled because there wasn’t enough to eat.  Likewise, the crowds around Jesus had seen His miracles, but followed Him to get more food.  Jesus tried to get their minds off physical bread and onto spiritual “bread of life” in John 6:32,

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

 But the crowds that followed Jesus were more concerned about the condition of their stomachs than the condition of their souls.

V.      Conclusion

Jesus is the bread of life, and we are to rejoice in the day he hath made today, and not worry about tomorrow.  Let God who has control over tomorrow worry about tomorrow for us.  Consider that worry is the same as the wilderness of sin, and worry is the opposite of trust.  Jesus makes this perfectly clear in Matthew 6:25-34,

 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 God provided manna to the Israelites to save them from starvation.  God provided Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls.  The literal manna temporarily saved the Israelites from physical death.  The spiritual manna saves us from eternal death.  John 6:49-50,

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“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”

 Let us trust in the Lord to take care of our tomorrows.  Whatever we need, God knows we need it, and He will provide it when it is within His perfect timing. 

Do you know what God has done for me lately?  Everything.

In response to His gifts, remember, trust is a verb.  It is something we do.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

 To God be the glory.  Amen.

Confrontation

I.      Introduction

Good morning, everyone.  Our lesson for this week is from Exodus 7, but I sort of felt the lesson this week should be on Exodus 14 where Moses parts the Red Sea.  Or maybe Genesis 7 about Noah and the Great Flood.  Or maybe we’re all worn out from talking about floodwaters.

Slide2The last time I taught seems so long ago now, even though it’s only been 3 weeks.  It was an appropriate lesson for what was about to come; the lesson was from Psalm 141 about how God is our protector, both from our seven deadly sins within, but also from dangers without, both seen and unseen.  Psalm 141:8 said,

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge – do not give me over to death.

I firmly believe that the Lord is our great protector.  He is our Rock.  He is where our help comes from.  And every one of us in this room is testimony to God’s protection.  God spoke to each of us individually through our trials.  To some, He provided comfort in the darkest, windiest rain and flood.  To others, He encouraged us to live beyond our comfort, to love one another as Christ loved us.  In our most extraordinary times, God speaks to us.

Would anybody like to share what they learned from God this week?

II.      Adopted Children of God

Today we are in Exodus 7 and we are going to look at the subject of confrontation, first between Pharaoh and Moses, but then between God and us.  Let’s start by opening our bibles to Exodus 7:1-7.  Ok, I was supposed to hear pages turning.  Here’s today’s scripture –

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.  You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land.  But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.  When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments.  The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”  So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did.  Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh.

Let’s look at a couple of themes in Exodus 7.  The first thing is who we are in Christ.  When we move from nonbelief to belief, we also change our family tree.  As nonbelievers, we are children of Satan and do not even know it.  In John 8:44, Jesus says to the Jews,Slide6

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.

Unless our words and deeds are bringing glory to God through Jesus Christ, then our words and deeds reflect the ill wishes of the devil.  Even when we are trying to do good, we are taking away from the glory that should be given to God.  We are opposed to God.

But when we accept that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we become adopted children.  Galatians 4:7 says,Slide7

Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

We are either sons of the devil or sons of God.  We are either slaves to sin or bondservants of Christ.  And when we look at Exodus 7 again, this is what the Lord told Moses:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh.

Maybe I misunderstood the word “God”?  The Hebrew word is Elohiym.  The same word can be used to speak of our Creator, the supreme God.  Nope, I didn’t misunderstand.  God either told Moses that Moses was God or that Moses was like a god.

Don’t’ be shy.  We are ambassadors for Christ, and God, through the Holy Spirit dwells within us.  When we speak to nonbelievers, there is no reason to be afraid, for we are adopted children of God.  And when He is for us, who can be against us?

I love that song by Matthew West called, “Hello My Name is”.  It starts off, “Hello my name is regret, I’m pretty sure we have met.”  And, “Hello my name is defeat, I know you recognize me.”

Oh, these are the voices. Oh, these are the lies
And I have believed them for the very last time

Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free
“Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King

The world may try to bring us down, but we are children of God.  Hello, my name is child of the one true King.  There is no reason to ever back down from our faith because God is our protector and God is our father.

The song goes on,

Whoa oh ah oh ah oh oh
Whoa oh ah oh ah oh oh
Whoa oh ah oh ah oh oh

But try as I might I have no idea of the theological significance of this part of the song.  Or why somebody might thing the phrase, “child of the one true king” could possibly be improved by adding, “Whoa oh ah oh ah oh oh.”

III.      Hardened Hearts

But if one is not a “child of the one true king,” then one is a nonbeliever and a child of the devil.  Literally every one of us is at one point in our lives because of our fallen nature.  And every nonbeliever will have to make a choice to accept or reject Christ.

Nonbelievers do not think this is a choice they have to make, of course.  They may say their truth lies elsewhere or they are following a different path.  But that’s the same thing as rejecting Jesus.  If you do not follow Him, you are rejecting Him.

Let’s go back and look at today’s scripture, Exodus 7,

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.  When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments.  The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”

I notice several things to unpack from this.  Let’s start with “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”  When I first read this, I thought, “dang that’s cruel, Pharaoh never had a chance if God is hardening his heart.”

But that’s not the whole picture.  God revealed Himself to many rulers over the centuries, and like everybody else, Pharaoh had the choice whether to follow God or not.  Several kings saw God’s hand at work, like in Daniel 6.  King Darius was sort of tricked by his advisors into issuing a decree that required Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den.  Darius was very fond of Daniel, but the king could not break his own decree.  Daniel 6:16-20,

So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed.  Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.  When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Darius certainly recognized God’s providence.  I think Pharaoh did, too, but unlike Darius, Pharaoh believed he was a god.  And the Egyptians had their own gods, and I believed Pharaoh thought he could win any battle with Jehovah God.

God still hardens hearts today.  On one hand, God doesn’t wish for anyone to perish but to have everlasting life.  But it is a choice we make.  And if the choice is truly ours to make, then some will choose not to accept the free gift, either through willful disobedience, through ignorance, or through selfish desires.

God makes it clear to everyone, believers and nonbelievers, that He is God.  Romans 1:18-20,Slide15

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

And if one continually rejects this truth, Romans 1:28-32 goes on to say,

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

In other words, God hardens their hearts.  When we are sharing the gospel, that’s our sole job, to share the gospel.  We are not responsible for what someone chooses to believe.  And we have to aware that there are some people that have practiced the art of rejection so long and so well that they will never receive free gifts offered to them.

IV.      Judgments and Wrath

We just looked at Romans 1, but let’s put it side by side with Exodus 7 for a second:

Exodus 7:4-5 Romans 1:18-19
When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

In Exodus, “I will stretch out my hand” and bring “great judgements.”  In Romans, “the wrath of God is revealed.”  The wrath of God is a demonstration of His power.  Where have we seen the wrath of God lately?  How about Hurricane Harvey?

And the people of Florida, of course, are living a repeat of this with Hurricane Irma.  Atheists, nonbelievers, Christians, all look at the same thing and see something completely different.  Atheist and nonbelievers say, “if God exists, why does He allow this to happen?  Is God small and powerless to stop it?  Is God vindictive and mean?  Or doesn’t this prove God doesn’t exist?”  Their hearts are hardened.

Christians look at the storm and know that our God who can create a storm that big is bigger than the storm He created.  I can either fear the created storm, or I can trust in the God who can direct the wind and waves.

Romans 1:18 says the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness.  I am not about to point fingers at any particular demonstration of God’s wrath and say it is for a particular ungodliness.  No, I see God’s hand at work in so very different ways, either as demonstration of His power, or giving us an opportunity to trust Him, and I have to say that most of what I read about Houston and Texas and the nation throughout this crisis has been so very, very positive.  We really do have it within us to love one another, and when we love one another, we have incredible joy in the love of our fellow man, and it’s just a shame that it takes such destruction before we’re all willing to get out of our comfort zone and help one another.

But it also tells me, like it says in Romans 1:18, that the wrath of God has been revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness.  God has made it evident.

God’s wrath against Pharaoh was very specific.  I watched that Charles Heston movie about the Ten Commandments and remember the 10 plagues very vividly.  They were frogs and locusts and, um, bad traffic, and um… oh, the river turned to blood.  And there was something about cows maybe…

But I’ve found through this week’s study that the 10 plagues were very specific, and Pharaoh knew exactly what was happening.  God was demonstrating His power against the puny gods of the Egyptians.  Here are the 10 Plagues –

  1. Plague #1: Water Turned to Blood.  There were 3 different gods associated with the Nile:
    1. Khnum, Guardian of the river’s source
    2. Hapi, Spirit of the Nile
    3. Osiris, who’s bloodstream was the Nile
  2. Plague #2, Frogs:
    1. Hapi and
    2. Heqt, Frog Goddesses to Egypt, both related to fertility
  3. Plague #3, Lice:
    1. Seb, the earth god of Egypt
  4. Plague #4, Flies:
    1. Uatchit, the fly god of Egypt
  5. Plague #5, Disease on cattle:
    1. Ptah
    2. Mnevis
    3. Hathor, and
    4. Amon, Egyptian gods associated with bulls and cows.
  6. Plague #6, Boils: Sekhmet, Egyptian god of epidemics, and Ser
  7. Plague #7, Hail:
    1. Nut, Egyptian sky goddess.
    2. Isis & Seth, Egyptian agriculture deities.
    3. Shu, Egyptian god of the atmosphere.
  8. Plague #8, Locusts
    1. Serapia, Egyptian deity protector from locusts
  9. Plague #9, Darkness
    1. Re, Amon-Re, Aten, Atum, Horus – Egyptian sun gods
    2. Thoth – Egyptian moon god
  10. Plague #10, Death of each Firstborn
    1. This plague was a judgment on all of Egypt’s gods, including Pharaoh himself. In Exodus 1, Pharaoh had killed the sons Of Israel. Now the Lord kills the firstborn sons Of the Egyptians.

The plagues were not random that afflicted the Egyptians.  God was demonstrating to Pharaoh that God is God, and Pharaoh was not.  As Romans 1 and Exodus 7 says,

Exodus 7:4-5 Romans 1:18-19
When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

The wrath of God is revealed.  Pharaoh thought he could win a battle with Jehovah God.  But Pharaoh never realized because his heart was hard that he was never in a battle.  There is God’s will or God’s wrath.  Choose.

V.      Conclusion

God demonstrates His power in so many ways, from small coincidences to displaying His awesome power.  But for those who love Him, there is no fear.  Our God is bigger than any storm.

I am so proud of our city, and how we pulled together, from supplies to boats to rescues, it rekindled my faith in man’s potential to be good.  But mostly it showed me that whatever little god I’ve put in front of me to worship, like cars or houses or money or time, God is bigger, and God alone deserves to be worshiped.  Romans 8:20,

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

I hope and pray that each one of us realized something about God’s power this week.  The power we saw this last week pales next to the wrath yet to come during the end times, the Seven Bowls of Wrath listed in Revelation 16.   We cannot win a confrontation with God.  He is God, and we are not.

And I hope also that we all realize that each one of us can have this same power living within us.  If you haven’t yet accepted Jesus Christ as Lord, it’s time to realize that you are either growing in faith, or our hearts are being hardened.  One cannot win a confrontation with God, but with faith, we can move mountains and we can survive hurricanes.

To God be the glory.  Amen.