Offered to All

             I.      Introduction – The Parable

You probably cry at weddings.  Statistics show that 86% of all women cry at weddings, 36% of all men do, and over 77% of all statistics are made up.

The last wedding I attended was between two antennae.  The wedding was ok, I suppose, but the reception was amazing.Slide1

Last week when Chris taught from Matthew 21, he spoke on two parables, first the Two Sons and then the Wicked Tenants, and he explained how the two parables were related, the second being “salt on the wound” to the Pharisees and the “nail in the coffin.  In the very next verse in Matthew 22 is a third related parable directly related to the parables Chris taught about, so let’s keep in mind that the Pharisees are being condemned with the words of Isaiah, who claim obedience to God but reject His messengers, again and again and again.

Today’s scripture is all about a wedding reception, so open your bibles to Matthew 22 and let’s read verses 1-14.

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Slide5The parables of Jesus are interesting – sometimes they are easy to understand, sometimes difficult.  Sometimes seemingly impossible.  And sometimes the easy ones have a deeper meaning than we realize, like today’s parable.  God seemed to pour out His message to me this week, and we’re going to start with the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel and Amos, then discuss what the coming Kingdom of God and Heaven means, then discuss our wedding feast parable, and finally end up in Revelation 19.  Are you ready?

Why a parable?  The mysteries of God’s purposes are revealed to those who seek His wisdom.  Jesus answer the question about parables in Matthew 13:10-17,

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Slide9Whoever has ears, let them hear.  It’s interesting to me that these verses from Isaiah perfectly illustrate the parable of the Wedding Feast.  Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah when He speaks in parables, and illustrates that while the words in the bible are available to everyone, the understanding is available only to those who seek.  It’s ok that parts of the bible are hard to understand; listen and trust in the words you do understand, and God will open your eyes to more understanding in His perfect timing.

Speaking of fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, we’re going to visit Isaiah in a little bit, but let’s first go back to today’s scripture to see who Jesus is speaking to.  Context is important; the top three things to look for in understanding scripture is location, location, location.

Today’s scripture begins in Matthew 22:1,

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:

Slide10Who is Jesus speaking to?  Jesus is speaking to Pharisees, legalistic Jewish scholars that were more interested in obeying the Law and making sure others obeyed the Law than making sure their own hearts were aligned with the will of God.

          II.      Old Testament – The Coming Kingdom

We continue in verse 2,

The kingdom of heaven is like…

Slide11This little phrase can be several weeks of bible study, because the kingdom of heaven is a complex issue.  I’m going to list just a few observations to consider –

Jesus is king, He is our savior.  Jesus brings a personal message of salvation to each and every one of us.  But that’s not what the Jews were expecting, they were expecting a theocratic kingdom on earth.  I used to believe the Pharisees were mistaken on this point, but I’ve come to realize they were correct in expecting a theocratic kingdom.  There are a great many verses that prophesy this, way too many to review today, so I’m just going to pick two of them.  First is Exodus 19:3-6,

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

As part of the Mosaic Covenant was a condition, a big “if” statement.  If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then Jerusalem will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  This is the theocratic kingdom of God on earth that the Messiah would deliver.

The flipside to this “if” statement can be found beginning in Deuteronomy 28:15,

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.

Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

These curses go on for many, many more verses and describe oppression, madness, sexual immorality, confusion, more madness, plagues and ruin.  For another 50 verses these punishments are listed, but let’s skip almost to the end to Deuteronomy 28:62-64,

You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God.  Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other.

So the Old Testament prophets told of a Messiah that would come to make Jerusalem the center of God’s Kingdom on earth, Isaiah 11:10-11,

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.  In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.

There are a great many other verses we could consider and we can’t get into them all, but here is a list of verses describing God’s theocratic kingdom on earth as described by Old Testament prophets:

Established by God Daniel 2:44
Eternal Daniel 7:27
The Messiah will rule directly Zechariah 9:9-10 (verse 9 describes Christ’s 1st Coming, verse 10 describes His 2nd Coming)
Earthly Zechariah 14:9, Job 19:25, Revelation 5:10
Land promises to Abraham fulfilled Genesis 15:18-21, Ezekiel 47:13-23, Joel 3, Ezekiel 31, Jeremiah 30:3
Israel’s preeminence Isaiah 49:22-23, Zechariah 8:23, Isaiah 2:2-3, Zechariah 14:16-18, Isaiah 14:2
Millennial Temple Ezekiel 40-46
Of the line of David Jeremiah 30:9
Righteousness Isaiah 9:6-7
Curses curtailed Isaiah 65:20-22
Peace in the Kingdom Isaiah 2:4
Prosperity Amos 9:13-14, Isaiah 65:22
Topographical Changes Ezekiel 47:1-12
Immediate Answers to Prayer Isaiah 65:24

All the people of Israel had to do was be obedient and welcome the Messiah when He came.

       III.      New Testamant – The King Rejected

Then the King arrived.  John the Baptist was fulfillment of prophecy, announcing the arrival of the Messiah, Matthew 3:1-3,

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,  and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

Make His paths straight.’”

Notice that John is saying the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand” or “has come near.”  This is the announcement all of Israel had been waiting for, their Messiah had come.  But remember the big “if” given to Moses?  Israel had to be obedient, love the Lord, and welcome their Messiah.  And for understanding our parable today of the wedding feast, it’s important to realize that this offer was good only to Israel.

When Jesus arrived, He took His message to Israel alone as God’s chosen people, Matthew 10:5-8,

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Notice two important things here in the early days of Jesus’ ministry; he tells the original twelve apostles only to go to the Jews and not any Gentiles, and also that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Jesus is the Messiah that Israel has been expecting.  All they had to do is be obedient and accept their savior.

          IV.      The Postponed Kingdom

But Israel did not accept their savior, and they were not obedient.  They crucified their Messiah and rejected their king.  In accordance with prophecy, the theocratic kingdom of God was now postponed.  The kingdom would now be offered, not to Israel, but to the Church.  Jesus once told Israel the Kingdom of God is at hand, but now says in Matthew 24:36,

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus once says the kingdom was imminent, but now He doesn’t know when it is coming.  And where once Jesus brought His message only to Israel, now He brings it to all who accept, Matthew 28:18-20,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Paul summarizes all of this in Romans 11, that Israel’s rejection led to salvation of the Gentiles, but also that the Gentiles owe their salvation to Israel.  When Israel accepts the return of Christ, how much more glory will that bring!  Romans 11:11-12,

I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.  Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

So, that’s the background to our parable today.  Once a theocratic kingdom was promised to Israel if they would turn their hearts toward God and be obedient.  Instead, Israel rejected God’s will and crucified their Messiah.  The Church Age begins, as Chris mentioned the end of the dispensation of the Age of The Law and the beginning of the new Dispensation, the Age of Grace.  Gentiles are now called to worship the one true God, and the kingdom of heaven on earth would be postponed, and God is not slow about keeping His promise, not wanting anyone who would come to repentance to perish, and in His perfect timing, Christ will come again.

             V.      The Wedding Feast, the Church as the Bride

We started with a parable, so let’s return to that parable, and with this background I think we’ll have a great deal more understanding.  Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who are about to reject Christ and crucify Him.  Matthew 22,

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”

We will come back to the wedding banquet.  The eyes of the Pharisees were closed and they did not understand the parables of Jesus, but as Christians, we do understand.  Who is the king but the Lord God Almighty?  And who is the Son but Jesus Christ our savior?

“He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.”

Who doesn’t want to go to a Wedding Banquet?  Food and celebration for the wedding guests?  Or to put it another way, who declines a free offer of salvation?  The Lord God through the passage of time sent His prophets to tell His chosen people that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and it was time for the celebration to begin.  Israel was a stiff-necked people, though, and rejected the message.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”

Israel killed the prophets.  They killed John the Baptist.  Israel would soon kill the King of the Jews.

In Matthew 23:37 through Matthew 24:2, Jesus prays for Jerusalem and says the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Slide25Back to our parable,

The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

In 70 AD, Romans legions surrounded the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the city and overturned the stones of the temple.

I’m starting to think this is less and less of a parable, and more like a straightforward prophecy.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, God invited all who would believe in the Messiah and our Lord Jesus Christ.  The bad and the good, the sinners and the saints, are all invited.  And they may have a seat at the wedding banquet under one condition.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

          VI.      Conclusion, Clothed in Righteousness

You and I are invited.  The good and the bad are invited.  Everybody is invited, including God’s firstfruits, the nation of Israel.

And we are all welcome under one condition, that we are properly dressed for the wedding feast.  The wedding banquet is reminiscent of the marriage supper of the Lamb which occurs after the rapture and before Christ’s second coming, a celebration of the marriage between the Lamb of God and His bride, the church.  In Revelation 19:6-9,

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!  Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

Let us clothe ourselves in righteousness that comes only from the shed blood of Christ Jesus who cleanses us all from all unrighteousness and who rules the Kingdom of God as Israel always believed He would.  We finish with the rest of Revelation 19:11-16,

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.  He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND

LORD OF LORDS.

Slide32

To God be the glory.  Amen.

What Is Required?

             I.      Introduction

Today’s scripture is a familiar one; Jesus has been teaching and preaching in Judea when He was approached by a rich man, and they had a conversation about sewing and zoo animals.  Let’s read the entire conversation and see if I understood it correctly.  Matthew 19:16-26:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

When I was younger, my entire takeaway from this conversation is that rich people can’t go to heaven.  You can’t take it with you.  Only Mother Theresa can go to heaven because she was poor.  Also, this was a very big needle or a very tiny camel.

Slide5

But, as simple as this conversation is, there is so much more here than “you can’t take it with you.”  So today we’re going to do our best to understand all the nuances of what’s going on, one verse at a time.  And we’re going to begin with the question every soul wants to know: what do I have to do to go to heaven?  How much is good enough?  What good thing must I do?

Slide6

          II.      Obey the Law

I heard a pastor say recently, “Everything in the bible is for you, but not everything in the bible is about you.”  That’s partially true in this passage if we understand who Jesus is talking to and why.  Jesus is talking to a Jew who is under the Law.

Here in Matthew 19 the man is identified only as “a young man,” but this discussion with Jesus is so important to understanding the New Testament that it’s also reported in Mark Chapter 10 and in Luke Chapter 18.  Luke 18:18 refers to him as “a certain ruler,” so most likely he was a ruler of a local synagogue, a Jewish leader.  And he is asking Rabbi Yeshua about theology, and it sounds to me like he’s asking with brashness and confidence.  Wealth from man’s perspective is often associated with success, so if you’re a religious leader with money, then you must have God’s blessing.  The evidence is all around you.  The Prosperity gospel has a long, long history.

So the man, being a young, rich, religious leader, considers himself pious and full of religiousity and good deeds.  But something gnaws at him, he wants to know of all the good things he has done, what one thing must he do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus’ initial response, though, is not to the young Jewish leader’s question about eternal salvation, but Jesus answers,

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.”

The root word for “good” implies “from God,” although those words are from 12th century Middle English.  But similar words exist in Greek; “agathos” vs “theos” or “ἀγαθός” vs “θεός”.  Jesus’s response is a question that can be rephrased,

If you ask me what is good, do you acknowledge me as God?

Jesus continues then, to answer the question accurately as God would answer Israel:

Be obedient to the law I have given you.

If you want to earn your way to heaven, then earn it through obedience.  Start with the Ten Commandments, work through the 613 mitzvots,

Jesus replied. “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Before sin entered the world, God had one command for man.  “Do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Just one rule and be obedient.

 

But man was not obedient, he ate the fruit and gained knowledge of good and evil.  Without the knowledge of evil, then our actions before the Lord are innocent.  We are like innocent children that do not know things that are wrong.  We are untainted by the knowledge of evil, so all we have to do is be obedient and we have a close relationship with the Lord.

But once sin entered the world, and we gained a knowledge of good and evil, so did the laws increase.  One of the first sins in Genesis 4 were between the children of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 4:2-8,

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Cain offered “some of the fruits” but Abel offered the best of the best of his flock.  The Lord appreciated Abel’s offering, but knew that Cain wasn’t giving the Lord the best, and gave Cain instructions and a warning.  Do what is right and your offer will be accepted.  Otherwise, sin is crouching at your door.

So we need more rules.  One of the first commandments springs from Cain and Abel, “thou shalt not murder.”  And as man’s sin have multiplied themselves over and over through the centuries, so did the Law with God’s instruction continuing to be: just be obedient.

We have our Ten Commandments, we have our 613 mitzvots.  We have our human governments and our US Constitution and 25 volumes of United States Codes and US Statutes at Large that contain not just an overwhelming number of laws, but every year we pass new laws, some laws are passed to amend existing laws, and some new laws are passed that repeal old laws.  Then we have case law and regulations that have the force of laws.  I checked the US Federal Register ( https://www.federalregister.gov/ ) and there are currently 745,213 pages of laws, rules and regulations that we are required to obey, 109 new documents from 39 agencies are added every day.

My bible has 1,281 pages.  The Federal Register is 581 times bigger.  We’ve come a long way from, “Please don’t eat the fruit.”

       III.      Be Perfect

So Israel asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Obey the Law.”  And incredibly, the young ruler responds with,

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

I’m guessing he might be lacking humility.  Or maybe wisdom.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

To be in the presence of a Holy God, have no sin in you.  Be perfect.

If you want to go to Heaven, you cannot drink or smoke or dance.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must belong to a certain church.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must attend church services every week and tithe 10% and attend bible study and sing in the choir and donate shoes for orphans and participate in Serve Houston.  And since we are also supposed to be good citizens, there another 746,213 pages of federal regulations we have to obey.

I thought Theresa’s quote from Mohammed Ali’s eulogy captured our thinking pretty well,

“For his part, he saw the good soul in everyone.  And if you were one of the lucky ones to have met him, you know what I mean.  He awoke every morning thinking about his own salvation, and he would often say, “I just want to get to heaven and I’ve got to do a lot of good deeds to get there.”

Have to do a lot of good deeds, obey a lot of rules.  By the way, I looked up the Bylaws of USA Boxing, and there are 50 pages of Bylaws, 31 pages of Technical Rules of Boxing, 47 pages of Competition Rules, and 35 pages of Medical Rules.

I think sometimes we recognize that it’s not all these laws we have to obey if we want to be a good Christian.  But other people?  *They* have to obey certain laws if they’re going to be good Christians.   My children have to clean their room, my spouse has to do what I tell her to do.  Even if I cannot follow all the rules, it doesn’t stop me from demanding that *other* people have to follow the rules.

 

If you look at this last question and answer between the rich young ruler and Jesus, you may notice that Jesus didn’t answer the question.  The question is wrong.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

It illustrated the central error of the Pharisees, the central error of many legalistic churches.  It is not by *doing* something that man can inherit eternal life, but by *being* something.  The ruler asks, “What shall I do?” and Jesus answers, “This is who you have to be.”  If you want eternal life, you have to be perfect.  And apparently to be perfect, it appears Jesus is saying you can’t have money.

Or at least that’s the way some have interpreted this verse.  Jesus says give away all your money to follow Him, and if you don’t, you’re a camel trying to fit to the eye of a needle.

That doesn’t seem right, though.  What is Jesus saying?

          IV.      But What About the Money?

Is money evil?  Is giving away all our money something Jesus is really asking us to do? Let’s start with this familiar verse, 1 Timothy 6:10,

Money is the root of all evil.

Actually, that’s not what 1 Timothy 6:10 says.  The full verse is,

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money by itself is not evil.  Jewish teaching establishes that your own needs are your primary concern, but not your only concern.  Caring for your own needs is essential to survive, but not to thrive.  Therefore, helping to provide for the needs of others is an essential part of living a fulfilling life.  The Jews celebrate this idea at the end of each Sabbath on Saturday night with a Havdalah service.  They fill a cup of wine to the brim and then let it overflow into a saucer beneath the cup.  The idea is to continue to fill your own cup so that it overflows even after it’s full so the excess can provide for others in need.

How big is your cup?  Our modern society tells us our cup is huge.  Fill it with everything you can get your hands on, look out for yourself.  All of your wants are needs.  And the cup never overflows because you are constantly trying to satisfy all of your needs and all of your wants.

But some say Christians should give away everything and have a small cup, live poorly.  But that’s not biblical, either.  1 Timothy 5:8 says,

 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Ultimately, the size of the cup is between you and the Lord.  Your cup must be large enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but small enough to allow the blessings God has provided to overflow to those around you.

There have been plenty of people, both Old Testament and New Testament, that had money.  David, a man after God’s own heart, had a palace and a kingdom.  Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was also the wealthiest who ever lived.  But Solomon said this about money in Ecclesiastes 5:10.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”

And Joseph of Arimathea is described in the book of Luke as a “good and upright man” and a follower of Jesus, who donated the use of his wealthy family’s tomb after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Interesting to me was that the wealth of Joseph was part of prophecy, Isaiah 53:9 –

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

Slide24Besides, the absolute worst way to care for the poor is to give away all your money and become one of the poor that need help.

 

            V.      It’s About the Heart

So it’s not about the money.  It’s about the heart.  Do you treasure the things of God, or the things of this world?  Matthew 6:21,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Slide25That’s the central point of Jesus’s message to the rich young ruler.  If you want eternal life, where is your heart?  Is it with your possessions, or is it with heavenly things?  And the ruler went away sad because he was a wealthy man.

If one problem with money is that it becomes our idol, our focus in this world, then another problem is that money keeps us from remembering that all blessings come from God.  I have this passage from C.S. Lewis, and it’s a little on the long side, but I think very appropriate to the dangers of complacency when one has too much:

C.S. Lewis – “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now, quite plainly natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex or dipsomania or nervousness or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap, and between ourselves, you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing, and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until one day, the natural goodness lets them down, and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are rich in this sense to enter the kingdom.”

 

          VI.      Old Testament Vs New Testament

So money can’t buy you a ticket to heaven, but then neither can a lack of money.  So neither wealth nor poverty leads to eternal life.  Who then, can be saved?

And that’s exactly what the disciples of Jesus asked after the ruler went away sad.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I spent a lot of time on this last sentence, and one of the things that dawned on me is that this is the line that separates the Old Testament from the New Testament.

You see, God made a unique covenant with Israel.  Be obedient and the Lord will deliver you to the Promised Land.   But those 745,213 federal regulations turned out to be too hard to follow, and the only reason there are so many regulations is that sin had entered the world and the wages of sin is death.

What’s the right size of your cup to make sure it’s overflowing?  That’s between you and God.  But what if you get it wrong?  What if getting the size of the cup built to the right size as specified in the regulations was necessary for eternal life?  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to get my cup and your cup sized perfectly.  Man’s heart is full of deceit and we will get the size of the cup wrong, even if we give all we have to the poor and become a pauper for Jesus.

But the Lord can accomplish His will.  And with God, all things are possible.  Instead of trying through our own efforts at complying with all the regulations, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  The rules I don’t satisfy?  Christ paid the cost for me.  The rules I break?  Christ paid the punishment for me.

For Israel, it was indeed about “What can I *do* to inherit eternal life?”  But for those of us who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, it’s now, “Who can I *be*?”  We can be believers and trust that Jesus Christ, our Advocate, will satisfy all the requirements for us.  That’s what Jesus meant in 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.”

Christ satisfies every federal regulation we have to meet.  And now the laws we have to follow now are simple:

Romans 13:8-10,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:14,

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2,

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Jesus somehow takes those 745,213 federal regulations and reduces it to this:

Love one another and carry one another’s burdens.  Let me handle the details.

 

       VII.      Conclusion

So let’s remember today that in order to inherit eternal life, we have to be perfect.  In order to be perfect, we have to cover ourselves with the shed blood of Jesus Christ because He alone is perfect.  And that on our own merits, we cannot work our way to eternal life.  We cannot be perfect at fulfilling the Ten Commandments and 613 Mitzvots and 745,213 Federal Regulations, not to mention the boxing rules.  But we believe the Lord fulfilled the Law and took our punishment.

Pray that the size of your cup if large enough to enjoy this world and what God hath created, but small enough that it overflows.  Love one another and carry each other’s burdens.

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They say you can’t take it with you.  However, if you trust in Jesus, you can let Him take you with Him.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Redeemed & Secure

             I.      Introduction – A Love Story

Last week, Chris introduced us to the book of Ruth.  Now, he stopped at the end of Ruth chapter 2 as Ruth and Naomi were headed back to Bethlehem.    We’re going to pick up in Ruth chapter 3, and will read about the love story about how Ruth met Boaz and they married.  That’s right, the principle difference between Chris’ lesson and mine is that in Chris’ lesson, Boaz is ruthless.

But today we are going to discuss the love story and marriage of Ruth and Boaz.

I encourage everyone to read the books of Ruth 1-4 to get familiar with their story, it is a love story, and let me give you the overall snapshot so you understand what’s going on.  Chris taught an excellent lesson last week about the decisions Ruth made that affected our lives today; Ruth was the great grandmother of King David and by her example showed us how to have a winning walk toward the promised land and how important our decisions are.

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In Ruth chapter 1, Elimelech and Naomi were living in Bethlehem when there was a great famine.  Elimelech and Naomi decided to move with their two sons to find food.  They moved to the land of Moab, which apparently were populated by Moabites, who knew.  The Moabites did not worship the Lord and treated Israelites poorly.

While living in Moab, Naomi’s husband Elimelech died.  Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth.  After 10 years, both of Naomi’s sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws, all 3 widows.

The famine ended, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, and urged Orpah and Ruth to stay with the Moabites.  As we learned last week, Orpah was stiff-necked and stayed behind, but Ruth said to Naomi, “Your God will be my God,” and Ruth and Naomi traveled to Bethlehem, arriving just at harvest time.    Naomi returned to the promised land but changed her name from pleasant to bitter.  Ruth, who’s name meant “friend” or “companion,” was willing to give up everything, little as it was, to be a gentile with a heart for the Lord.

Now, Naomi and Ruth are both widows, and in the days of the Old Testament and Judges, widows were not treated well.  There might be plenty of food at harvest, but not for the 2 widows.

In Leviticus 19:9-10,

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

God’s people were not to harvest the outer edges of their fields because they should leave that for the poor.  So when the harvest was done, Ruth went to the leftover crops and picked grain for herself and for Naomi.  It so happened that the field Ruth went to belonged to Boaz.  Boaz was a distant relative of Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech, and Naomi discovers that Ruth has been harvesting in the field of a distant relative.

Naomi is pretty excited about this news – she tells Ruth that Boaz is a relative and is obligated under the law to be a “kinsman-redeemer.”  Here we pause in our love story and discuss some biblical terms because, after all, this is a bible study.

There are several passages in the Old Testament that talk about the kinsman-redeemer, and the Hebrew word is “גָּאַל gâʼal” which means a relative that delivers, avenges, ransoms or purchases something.  Think of it sort of like a pawn broker who hold something of value of yours.  If you want that valuable, you redeem that item and it belongs to you again.  A kinsman-redeemer is based on Leviticus 25:47-49.

If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.

Naomi and Ruth are in this position, poor widows, and Naomi is excited that Ruth has found favor in the eyes of Boaz.  Naomi gives Ruth a series of instructions –

  1. Wash, perfume yourself and put on your cloak
  2. Go to the threshing-floor
  3. Do not let Boaz recognize you during the feasting
  4. When he sleeps, lie down at his feet and uncover him
  5. Do whatever he tells you to do

          II.      The Seduction of Boaz

It appears that Naomi has a plan for her daughter-in-law to get rich.  The phrase “uncover him” is a euphemism for sexual relations, the same phrase is used throughout Leviticus 18 about unlawful sexual relations.  If Ruth seems enticing to Boaz, perhaps he will have sexual relations with her, get married, and they will both be saved.  Ruth is obligated to obey Naomi, but not at the cost of obeying God’s law.  How will she be both obedient to Naomi and to God?

Ruth does everything Naomi tells her to do.  That night, Ruth returns to the threshing floor – remember the threshing floor from a few weeks back, when Gideon was hiding from the Midianites?  Ok, he was hiding in a hole in the ground, but the threshing floor is a large flat surface used for separating the wheat from the chaff.  There must have been some sort of after-harvest party because Ruth 3:7 says Boaz had finished eating and drinking and went to lay down near the grain pile.  Ruth follows Naomi’s instructions and lays down at the feet of Boaz.

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Boaz wakes up and there’s a a young woman lying at his feet.  Boaz is shocked and asks Ruth what’s she’s doing.  Ruth is truthful and says she belongs to Boaz if only he will redeem her, and Ruth promises to do whatever Boaz asks.  She has placed her trust in Boaz as her redeemer, and fortunately, Boaz is a righteous man and Ruth’s chastity remains intact.  Boaz is touched.  He says to Ruth that there are plenty of younger men available, but he is flattered Ruth chose him.  And Boaz will indeed redeem her, but there’s a catch – Boaz is not the closest heir.  Boaz will redeem her, but because he’s a righteous man, he will make the offer to the closest heir first in front of the town elders, then leave the outcome up to God.

             III.      The Redemption of Ruth

At the beginning of Ruth chapter 4, Boaz finds the closest relative and asks him to sit at the gate while Boaz gathers ten of the town’s elders.

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In early Israelite towns, the town gate served as the center of public business.  Heavy wooden double doors were hung on large posts and were secured by bars and locks during the night.  In front of the gate entrance there was an open space lined with benches where the elders sat.  Matters of commerce were discussed and trade transactions were made, and the local judicial court of elders met to decide business and legal transactions.  It was also where elders delivered judgments in violation of the Law, and it was outside the town gate that the guilty were punished.

So in front of the elders, Boaz tells the other relative (who is not named in scripture), “Naomi is selling the land that belonged to Elimelech.”  Because of Jewish law, the closest relative had the right to redeem it, and the other heir says, “excellent, I will redeem it.”

Boaz then tells him that the property also comes with Ruth the Moabite, which the heir also must redeem if he is to accept the property.  At this the heir says that’s a problem and he cannot redeem it, it puts his own estate at risk.

Think back on our pawn shop example, you’re trying to redeem something of value that the pawn shop owner has.  In order to redeem it, there are 3 requirements –

  1. You have the right to redeem it. It rightfully belongs to you.  The heir in our story has the right as a blood relative to redeem the property and Ruth.
  2. You have the means to redeem it. You are willing to pay the cost.  The kinsman had the financial means to buy the property from Naomi.
  3. You are willing to redeem it. You actually want it back.  The kinsman has a concern about his own estate and decides he is not willing to redeem the property if Ruth is part of the bargain.

So the right of redemption falls to Boaz.  Boaz has the right as a relative, he has the mean to pay the price, and he is also willing to redeem Ruth.  Ruth 4:9-10,

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

Our love story today is possible because of the righteousness of Boaz and his redemption of Ruth.  And they all lived happily ever after.

 

             IV.      The Redemption of You and Me

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Now if this was just a love story between Ruth and Boaz, it’s a beautiful story, and nobody dies at the end like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Titanic.”  But I believe God’s word has more meaning than that, and is applicable to us, today.

So, through decisions at forks in the road that Chris mentioned last week, Ruth is born a Moabite in a foreign land, but follows the God of Israel back to Bethlehem, respects her parent Naomi, and she is a widow and considered part of the property her father-in-law had.  Due to somebody else’s choices, Ruth is in bondage, is lacking freedom, and cannot free herself.  All she has is her choice on whether to be obedient to her mother and whether to follow the God of Israel.

Can Ruth free herself?  Is there a future that is in her control?    No; she is in bondage due to her ancestor’s choices, she is unable to free herself.  She needs a redeemer.

Who are we?  Who are you and who am I?  Can we free ourselves from the bondage of sin?  Is there a future that is on our control?  We are in bondage to due to the choices of our ancestors, and we are unable to free ourselves from the bondage of sin.  We need a redeemer.  Who will redeem us from this bondage of sin?

Where does redemption fit in our theology of eternal salvation?  We talk about our assurance of eternal life because of the blood of Jesus, but there are actually several things that happen in quick succession when we profess our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.

We are born into sin; because of our sin nature – thanks a lot, Adam – but we ourselves make poor choices, and sometimes we make downright bad choices.  Our sin nature puts us in the family of the devil who rules this world.  And our Holy God has promised to right all wrongs and will eventually destroy all evil, including the evil that is within us.  A Holy God will not permit the unholy.

On our own, it is hopeless.  Romans 3:23 says we are all sinners,

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

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We are subject to the wrath of God, unless somebody purchases us, redeems us from our sin.  This scripture, Romans 3:23, may be familiar to us, but this verse in contexts says,

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

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In order to be saved, we must belong to Christ, but at sinners, we are in the possession of the devil.  When we repent and turn to Jesus Christ, Christ redeems us from the devil, his death on the cross atones for our sins, and we are then accepted as righteous and have eternal salvation.

Does Christ meet the three requirements as our redeemer?  Let’s see, Jesus must have the right, the means, and the willingness to redeem us.

We are created in God’s image, but we are in the possession of the devil.  As the Son of God, Jesus have the right to claim what he has created, to free us from the sinful choices we made.  Because Jesus is the Son of our Creator, he does indeed have the right to redeem us.  The Old Testament qualification for our redeemer (Dueteronomy 25:5-10, Leviticus 25:25, Ruth 2:1) says that our redeemer must be related to us by blood.  Jesus fulfills these as described in Galatians 4:4-5,

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Does Jesus have the means to redeem us?  To be able to redeem us, he has to pay for all of our sins, past, present and future. In this world, when we do wrong, we may be able to find a good friend to bail us out of one bad problem, but not a lifetime of problems.  Our hypothetical friend has his own sin issues to deal with.  But Jesus has no sin and can freely pay for the sin we commit.  And as deity, Jesus can take away the sins of the world.  Jesus alone has the means to redeem us, Jesus and no other.  1 Peter 1:18-19 puts it this way,

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

But these two requirements we met by the unnamed heir who refused to redeem Naomi.  The heir had the right and the means, but not the will.

In John 10:14-18, Jesus said,

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

The price was steep, but in perfect submission, Jesus surrendered His will to that of His Father.  As steep as the price was, costing Him his very life, Jesus paid it all for us.

          II.      Conclusion – A Love Story

In Ruth 4:13-17,

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.  The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.  The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

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So King David, a man after God’s own heart, was Ruth’s grandson, and David of course is in the lineage of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  When Boaz redeemed Ruth, He did more than accept her as His own.  Boaz married her and accepted her as his bride.

In Revelation 21:2 at the beginning of the eternal kingdom, Jesus accepts us, the church, as His bride.  In John’s vision:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

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Our sins are washed away, we are righteous and beautiful before the Lord.  And in our love story, somebody does indeed die at the end.  Jesus gave up His life so that you and I could live.  And now, I know, my redeemer lives.

And we all lived happily ever after.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

The Timid Warrior

             I.      Introduction

Let’s open our bibles to the book of Gideon.  Or if you don’t have a book of Gideon, let’s open our Gideon bibles.

We’re going to look today at a warrior named Gideon in the book of Judges chapter 6, so let’s turn there.  Your bible should have a book of Judges.  It’s just after the book of jury selection.

The year is probably between 1045 and 1000 BC, and the book of Judges does not name the author, though the prophet Samuel is the likely author.  The book begins with the Israelites defeating the Canaanites and ends with the Israelites defeating the Philistines and the death of Samson.  We can summarize the entire book of Judges with these three verses,

Judges 2:16-17,

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.

Judges 10:15,

But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.”

And Judges 21:25,

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

The Lord has never failed to rescue His people when the repent of their ways, but Israel has fallen into a destructive pattern.  Obedience led to disobedience.  Disobedience led to destruction.  Destruction led to repentance.  Repentance led to rescue.  Rescue led to obedience. slide4

But enough about Israel.  Let’s talk about us.  Well, actually, maybe I already am talking about us.  We want to be good Christians, but when the Lord cares for us, it’s easy to get complacent and take the Lord’s blessings for granted.  We fool ourselves into thinking that a little misbehaving is ok, but then our misbehaving leads to trouble that we get ourselves into.  Then we cry out to the Lord, please save me, I’m in trouble.  And this time I’ll promise I’ll be good.

          II.      Gideon’s Condition

There’s got to be a better way than falling in the steps of the Israelites.  We’re going to focus on Gideon in Judges chapter 6, and this is what the land of Israel was like in those days, Judges 6:1-6,

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.  Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.  Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country.  They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.  They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.  Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

The Midianites had oppressed the Israelites, and that doesn’t really describe how bad things are.  The people of Israel were vastly outnumbered, forced to live in caves, and anytime the enemy showed up, the enemy killed the Israelite’s sheep and cattle and donkeys.

When it appeared that life in Israel was completely hopeless, then Israel turned to the Lord.  Not as their first response, but only after they had tried everything else and lost.  Not that we would ever do such a thing, take things into our own hands until we’ve made a complete and utter mess of things, and then finally turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, where are you?”  No, of course we would never do that.

When we are discouraged or in pain, of course we cry out to the Lord for help.  And God in His great mercy and love for us often helps us, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes we create the problem ourselves, and the solution begins with obedience, finding the path the Lord has set before us and walking that path.  God does not appear like a magic genie and pluck us out of our difficulties; our spiritual growth and discipline comes first and then the relief comes later.

And it’s not enough for Israel to be sad and upset with their condition.  But if the only thing Israel is sorry for is that they are living in caves, then they do not yet understand what the problem is.  If we spend all our money on clothing or boats or travel or eating out and the credit card collectors begin harassing us, can we go to God and ask for financial blessings to rescue us?  Are we sorry we are broke, or are we sorry we were not good stewards of God’s blessings?

2 Corinthians 7:10 puts it this way,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

God’s response to Israel was to send a prophet and clarify to Israel what the problem was, Judges 6:7-10,

When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.  I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

       III.      Gideon’s Complaint

So the Lord sent a message to Gideon who was hiding in a basement somewhere so the Midianites couldn’t find him.  Verse 11-12,

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.  When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Usually wheat or corn is threshed on a threshing floor to remove the husks and straw, a flat surface is best.  Slide9.JPGBut Gideon was hiding from the Midianites in a winepress, a hole or a pit.Slide10.JPG  So when the angel of the Lord calls Gideon “mighty warrior,” Gideon probably looked around to see who the angel was talking to.  And it didn’t take very long to look around, because, well, Gideon is in a hole in the ground.

Gideon’s response to the Angel of the Lord is to complain, Judges 6:13,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

So we know the answer to Gideon’s question – Israel is in this mess because they turned their backs on the Lord and worshipped false idols and other gods.  Gideon though is questioning the Lord – if the Lord is really with us, why do all these bad things keep happening?  Seriously, Lord, I’m in a hole in the ground trying to thresh wheat, so where are you?

But you know, it’s ok to bring our complaints to the Lord.  If we are in prayer with the Lord, we should be as honest with the Lord as we possibly can.  We do not need to feel we have to pray a certain way or pray only how we think the Lord wants us to pray.  We don’t need to be phony and pray the way we think Christians should pray.  Scripture is consistent that the Lord wants us to approach Him in pray with honesty, open our hearts completely, even if it is a complaint.

Remember David, a man after God’s own heart?  Here is his Psalm 10,

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Be honest with the Lord.  If you have a complaint, bring it to the Lord.  Question the Lord and see if He will answer.  That’s what Job did – Job lost his health and his family and his friends and his livestock.  It must have been a mystery to him since he was a righteous man, and he took his complaint to God.  Job told God he wished he had never been born, that he has no peace and no rest and he has unending troubles.  And the Lord answered Job.

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

          IV.      Gideon’s Reluctance

In answer to Gideon, the Lord didn’t bother to recap Israel History 101.  The Lord tells Gideon in verse 14,

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

If we have a single scripture to remember today, it’s this verse from Judges 6:14, “Go in the strength you have.”  Gideon was a timid man, hiding in that hole in the ground so his enemies wouldn’t find him, and the angel of the Lord called him, “mighty warrior.”  Gideon’s response shows that Gideon didn’t feel he was the right man for this job.  Verse 15,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Gideon feels inadequate because he is the runt of the litter.  Gideon’s error is that Gideon seems to think he has something to do with the Lord’s victory.  The Lord doesn’t need our help, but He desires our heart, our willingness, our obedience.  God wants us to step out on His behalf, to be His ambassador, but the victory is the Lord’s, not ours.  The Lord’s response in verse 16,

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

God calls us to lead a godly life of repentance, obedience, love and joy and peace and sometimes it seems like it’s just too hard to do everything we are supposed to do.  It’s just too much.  It’s too stressful, I can’t be sure I’m doing it right, I don’t see it working, we find a myriad of excuses.  Gideon’s excuse is that he was too little.   He’s little enough to hide in a hole.  He’s the runt of the litter.  He’s the smallest of the small.  Other people are better suited.

But that completely misses the point of what God is asking of us.  He’s not asking us to be victorious, he’s asking us to be obedient and then God will be victorious.  Go in the strength you have.

Remember when God asked Moses to lead His people out of Egypt?  In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses as a burning bush and says to Moses, “Go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  Moses’ first response is, “Who am I to do these things you ask?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And Moses says, “What if they don’t listen to me?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And then in Exodus 4:10-13,

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

One thing I know about each and every believer: God has a plan for each one of us, a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.  And I cannot fulfill the plan God has for you, and you cannot fulfill the plan God has for me.  The plan God has for you can only be fulfilled by the one person God created to fulfill that plan.  Moses finally recognized that God had a plan for him and became obedient.  When Moses finally appeared to Pharaoh and began to lead the Lord’s people out of Egypt, there was quite a few obstacles, including that inconvenient Red Sea obstacle.  But when it came time to overcome that obstacle, who parted the waters?  Was it Moses?  Or was it God?

When Peter walked on water, was He enabled by Jesus, or did he walk on water on his own power?

God doesn’t ask us to be victorious, He doesn’t ask us to move mountains, He doesn’t ask us to perform miracles.  He just asks us to be obedient.  Use the mouth the Lord gave you to speak and do not be concerned whether you speak well.  Use what the good Lord gave you, and that’s more than enough.  The Lord has already equipped you for the work He has given you.  It’s not about us, it’s about the Lord, and the victory is already His.

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In the next chapter of Judges, Gideon finds out he is massively outnumbered before the battle with the Midianites.  Gideon has 32,000 men, the Midianites have 135,000 men.  The Midianites outnumbered him four to one.  And the Lord says to Gideon, “You have too many men,” and Gideon’s army was reduced to only 10,000, or 13:1.  And the Lord says, “You still have too many men.”  And Gideon’s army was reduced to 300 men.  He’s now outnumbered 450 to 1.

Why does God drastically reduce the size of Gideon’s army?   If Gideon is outnumbered 4:1 or even 13:1, Israel might boast of their victory.  But when they are outnumbered 450:1… Israel would not boast.   It is apparent that with such overwhelming odds there was no way Israel could win.  The victory belonged to the Lord.  It could only have been victorious because of the Lord.

That’s why it doesn’t matter what you think about your abilities.  If you speak well, or you’re unable to speak.  If you can lift 1000 pounds or 10 pounds.  God created you for the task He gave you and you are already perfectly equipped to fulfil that task.  Just be obedient to the call you hear.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it like this to the body of Christ.  You do not save yourselves, there is nothing you can add to or take away from your salvation, it is a gift and all of the glory belongs to the Lord.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

             V.      Conclusion

I’ve got a snippet of a video that sort of illustrates this point, and I hope you’ll bear with me.  It’s not exactly the best illustration of today’s lesson, but I baked my brain in the sun this week and I was a little incoherent.  But I went with the strength I had and the victory belongs to the Lord. Here’s the setup:

When Barney sings under his own power, the result is, shall we say, acoustically challenged. Andy comes up with a plan but it requires Barney getting out of the way:

So the day of the performance arrives, and here’s the result:

God wants us to open our mouths, then get out of the way and let Him sing through us.

Judges 6:14 –

Go in the strength you have.

And the victory belongs to the Lord.

To God be the glory. Amen.

Value Life

             I.      Introduction

Today’s lesson is going to veer from my normal study.  I like to present God’s Word directly, connect the dots, provide explanation.  And even though we all have a tendency to project biases in our work, I am conscious that that possibility exists and try to make sure I’m as factual as possible.

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But the church is making a coordinated message today on the sanctity of life.  It’s something I feel very strongly about, but my feelings are based on conclusions I’ve drawn from the bible.  In others words, there is no scripture that says “abortion is wrong,” but I think a reasonable conclusion based on statements from God is that abortion is wrong.  So I’m going to tread carefully and try to make sure my opinions are clearly expressed as opinions based on scripture, not a quote from scripture.

Also, I know these topics can be emotional for a variety of reasons, so when I make a case against abortion, I want you to know that I have personal experience with regard to abortion, though in my case, the abortion was stopped and the child is alive today.  That’s not to my credit though, I give glory to God for His work, but your story may be different.  Just know that, regardless of your history with some of these controversial topics today, regardless of your past, it’s not a judgement against you.  As a child of God, you are forgiven permanently, and every day is a new day to live for His glory without living in bondage to your past.

That felt like a legal disclaimer that you see on television commercials.  “Warning, may cause nausea, dry-mouth, head-ache, inability to breathe, temporary tooth loss, minor blindness, imaginary smells, excessive earwax, redundancy, redundancy, and possible death. Consult a lawyer before taking blah blah blah.”

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In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And He made light and darkness, water and sky, the land and the seas and all the plants and animals.  This took 5 days and after each day, God saw that it was good.

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On the 6th day, Genesis 1:27, 31 –

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

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And of all the things that God created, it wasn’t until God created man and woman did God declare His creation to be very good.

          II.      Evolution vs Creation

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 doctrine of evolution is responsible for the callous attitude of our young people toward human life.  In 2012 in Missouri, 15 year old Alyssa Bustamante killed Elizabeth Olten by strangling her, stabbing her in the chest, then slicing her throat.  The reason was because “she wanted to know what it felt like” to kill someone.

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Not an isolated case, by the way.  Here in Texas, two teenagers are being tried for murder.  Dakota White and Brandon Warren originally selected a 12-year old to kill, but then killed an 18-year old instead.  Their reason?  They wanted to know what it would feel like to kill someone.

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And just this week, Dylann Roof was found guilty and sentenced to death in South Carolina for killing 9 people at a bible study.  At his sentencing, in front of the jury, Dylann offered no remorse.  He said, “I still feel like I had to do it.”

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We are not just a collection of evolved cells that decided to work together.  We are created in God’s image.  When God created us, He said it was very good.  We have value to Him.  God has a love for us and a yearning for us to be with Him.  But it wasn’t long before we messed that idyllic Garden of Eden relationship.  We disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, and created a problem.  Our God is holy, we are tainted with evil, and like matter and antimatter, they cannot exist in the same place at the same time.

We also created new problems between people.  That, too, started in the Garden of Eden.  God asked Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam through Even under the bus.  “Eve gave it to me, that’s why I ate some of it.”  Eve of course, blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.  I can’t image how the holidays were at the first Garden of Eden Thanksgiving, Adam and Eve glowering at each other, each blaming the other.  “The only reason we have to have Thanksgiving dinner here in this cave instead of the garden is because you had to go and eat that fruit, didn’t you?”

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Of course, their kids had to see this attitude in their parents.  Cain and Abel were probably like, “he’s sitting too close to me.”  And “he’s looking at me.”  And “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.”  And then one day Cain’s attitude overcame him, and Cain killed Abel.  Now Thanksgiving is really awkward.  It’s not like they could go to their in-laws.

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But it was God that was pained.  Every human life is important to the Lord, and when Cain killed Able, God said in Genesis 4:10,

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 conflicts.  Tribal conflict turned into national conflicts, then became wars.  Then genocide.  Over the centuries, mankind has become very efficient at killing mankind.

In the United States of America, we got off to a slow start in killing people.  In the American Revolutionary War, 25,000 American lost their lives. Americans died at the rate of 11 people per day.  By World War I, there were 116,516 deaths at the rate of 279 a day.   World War II, 405,399 deaths at the rate of 297 a day.  But before that, American deaths peaked during the American Civil War, 750,000 deaths at 420 per day.

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Those, by the way, are just American deaths.  World War I killed 17 million people.  The Holocaust, perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews, killed 78% of the Jews in Europe, estimates as high as 17 million.  World War II killed 85 million.  Under Stalin, the Russians killed 10 million in gulags and 20 million through forced starvation.  And in China, Mao Zedong killed 78 million through starvation, forced labor and executions.  Between wars, terrorism, genocide, we humans have become efficient and ruthless at trying to eliminate the human race.

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And of those millions and millions of people in those death counts, each and every one is a soul that God fashioned with love and kindness.  In Psalms 139:13-16,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Before we were even born, God created each and every one of us individually for a purpose.  Our sinful nature and the world ruled by Satan has corrupted that purpose to horrific results.

       III.      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.  That statistic about the worst war, the American Civil War, killing 420 people a day?  Abortion kills 3300 per day in the US alone.  Worldwide, 115,000 per day.  42 million souls per year.  1.3 million already in 2017.

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Roe vs Wade in 1973 divided the unborn human life into 3 trimesters.  In the first trimester, Judge Blackman ruled that since abortion was safer than childbirth, the woman and her physician had the sole decision on whether to abort.  The second trimester until “fetal viability,” the state could regulate abortion as long as the health of the mother was the primary legislative purpose.  And in the third trimester, the state’s focus should switch from the life of the mother to the “potential life” and that abortion could be regulated as long as there was an exception to preserve the life or health of the mother.  This exception, “to preserve the life or health of the mother,” turned out to be big enough to drive a truck through.

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Fortunately for the original plaintiff, “Roe” was a pseudonym, the real “Jane Roe” recanted.  Norma McCorvey wrote a book in 1994 called “I am Roe” and described her reasons for the abortion.  Later that year, McCorvey gave her life to Christ and was baptized in 1995.  She then wrote a second book, “Won by Love,” and has since become an outspoken advocate of the pro-life movement.  She wrote in her second book,

I was sitting in O.R.’s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. ‘Norma’, I said to myself, ‘They’re right’. I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth — that’s a baby!

I felt crushed under the truth of this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception’. It wasn’t about ‘missed periods’. It was about children being killed in their mother’s wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more of this first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion — at any point — was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.

She petitioned the Supreme Court in 2005 asking them to overturn Roe v Wade since she had legal standing as one of the original participants, but the petition was denied.  The Supreme Court said the issue was settled.

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 I heard once a long time again that if one believes that life begins at conception, then why should the baby be punished for the act of the father?  Statistics show that even if you support this exception to abortion, it’s a very minor contributor to the reasons 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 would be alive today.  That’s about the same as the entire population of China or India.

          IV.      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 and The Netherlands and now the state of Oregon 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.

I haven’t even gotten to all the other ways we humans destroy life.  Terrorism.  Murder.  We are proficient.  And if this all sounds depressing, it’s not supposed to be.  It’s realistic.  The number of lives that never even have an opportunity to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is staggering.

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.

Isaiah 49:16,

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

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.

Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

How much does God value us?

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.

             I.      Conclusion

Look, I’ll make it simple for you and me.  Here is our life’s purpose, beginning with 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.

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We live our lives according to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20,

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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.

And time is running out, for you and for me and for the entire world, 2 Peter 3:9,

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The Lord wants no one to perish, but to have everlasting life.  Our purpose is to value life the way our heavenly Father values us.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

I Believe in Miracles

             I.      Introduction

Let’s start our lesson today in the book of Joshua, book 10.  We actually have to start at Joshua 1 to find our place in history, so let’s have a little background.

Moses has led the Israelites out of the land of bondage with the Egyptians.  For several reasons, Moses was not able to lead them into the Promised Land before he died, and that task was given to the Lord’s servant and prophet Joshua.  Joshua believed the Lord when he said in Joshua 1:3,

I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses.

The land of Israel belonged to the Israelites, and the Lord will deliver that land if His people just follow the Lord’s commands. slide2

When we get to chapter 10, Joshua has led Israel against several cities such as Jericho where the walls of Jericho miraculously fell before the conquest.  Joshua has conquered a city called Ai and completely destroyed it, and the town of Gibeon has effectively surrendered.

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The Amorites who lived in the land were greatly alarmed at this, and 5 Amorite kings banded together, joined forces, and set out toward the town of Gibeon to take it for themselves.  Joshua set out toward Gibeon with his entire army to confront the Amorites.

One thing we need to know about Joshua is his complete trust and obedience in the Lord and His promises.  When Joshua first came to Israel as a spy, it’s documented in the book of Numbers.  Ten of the twelve spies reported that the land was full of milk and honey.  And giants.  Caleb and Joshua, though, said the Lord has given the land to the Israelites, so nothing should stop them, including the giants currently living there.

Now, years later, Joshua is still the fierce warrior and dedicated servant of the Lord.  When Joshua hears that the Amorites have gathered against him, the Lord tells Joshua (Joshua 10:8):

The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for I have handed them over to you. Not one of them will be able to stand against you.”

The Lord said it, so Joshua believed it.  It is done.  Joshua attacks and defeats them and the Amorites begin to run.  Joshua doesn’t even have to chase them, verse 11:

As they fled before Israel, the Lord threw large hailstones on them from the sky along the descent of Beth-horon all the way to Azekah, and they died. More of them died from the hail than the Israelites killed with the sword.

The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise to Joshua.  A hailstorm from the sky on top of your enemy is certainly miraculous, but then something even more miraculous happens.  Joshua needs more time to defeat the remaining Amorites, so he prays for the day to be longer.

          II.      God Answers a Big Prayer

Joshua 10, verse 12,

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

And the Lord answers in verse 13,

And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

Have you ever doubted something you read in the bible?  Over the years from my early days as a casual Christian to later years as a disciple of Jesus’ teachings, my level of trust in the bible has certainly grown.  But I still stumble over passages and wonder if what I’ve read is true.  Today’s passage is one of those.

When preparing to study for today’s lesson, I wanted originally to gloss over this passage.  I could focus on God’s promise to Joshua and God answering that promise, and I think we’re still going to do that today.  But the longer I pondered this passage, I realized I couldn’t just skip over it.  The Holy Spirit was telling me I had something to learn, and I wasn’t going to learn it if I skipped over passages I found difficult.   If Joshua’s faith was rewarded for believing in the Lord, then my doubts over something the Lord says tells me I have a lot to learn from Joshua.

The bible makes some grand claims, and sometimes does so in spectacular ways.  God said, “Let there be light.”

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God placed Adam and Even in the Garden and Eve, who were then deceived by a serpent.

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God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights and flooded the earth.

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A prophet was swallowed by a big fish and lived to preach in Nineveh.

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God caused the sun and the moon to stand still for an entire day.

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God rose His son from the dead.

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       III.      Can I Trust God?

When I was younger, I made a lot of excuses for God.  The Garden of Eden is a figurative place, it didn’t really exist, but the imagery was useful in teaching about our relationship with God.  Or 40 days and 40 nights flooded a large area, and even though the bible said it flooded the whole earth, it just seemed that way to the people at the time.

There are four miracles attributed in the book of Joshua, we’ve already talked about two of them, the hailstorm and the day that the sun stood still.   Earlier, Joshua parted the Jordan River, and on another occasional, Joshua blew the horn and the walls of Jericho fell.  How much do I trust the scripture?

Let’s start with what the bible says about the bible.  We just finished studying the books of Peter recently, and in 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter says,

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The bible tells us that the bible wasn’t written by men.  Sure, men put the words on the paper, but it was the Holy Spirit telling them what to write.  We can also look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Your version may translate “God-breathed” as “inspired,” which is more or less accurate, but the original Greek work packs a lot more meaning into it.  The word is “theopneustos,” “θεόπνευστος,” and literally means “divinely breathed by God.”  God spoke His Word to us with purpose for us.

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And let’s not forget the beautiful opening words of the book of John 1:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

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God did not intend for us to misunderstand His Word.  It’s a mystery only in the sense we have not completed our lifelong study of His will.  The words themselves are both simple to understand and difficult to fully comprehend.  As Mark Twain once put it,

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

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The biggest problem I see it that when I try to determine which parts are true and which parts are stories, then I am essentially deciding to be the arbiter, the judge, of which parts of the bible I want to believe.  And then it’s a short step to decide on my own which parts I want to obey.  In essence, I have appointed myself God.

Is that what God meant when He breathed His word for me to read?  What if I take the Word at its Word?

Certainly, there are parts that are figurative, but for the most part, they’re labeled clearly.  The parables of Jesus, for instance, almost always start with the words, “Then Jesus told a parable…”  But Jesus himself described the Bible as historical and authentic and referenced on separate occasions Moses, Noah, Sodom, Johah, and Lot’s wife.  And Jesus did not leave an opening for me to choose some parts of the bible to be accurate and allow me to disregard other parts.  In Matthew 5:18, even the individual letters in the word are to be believed:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Jesus asks me to trust the Word, because He *is* the Word.  The bible claims to be both infallible and inerrant.  It’s God’s Word.  When I start to question what I read, then I am reminded than the Holy Spirit Himself is directing the words, and doubting what I read in the bible is doubting God.

The understanding and trust of God’s word grows over our lifetime.  We begin our earthly lives as enemies of God, and this is how we understand God’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18,

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

And we spend our entire lives, practicing to be the very perfection of Christ, trying to live up to these words in Proverbs 3:5-6,

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

In other words, we begin thinking everything we read is foolishness, and end with thinking everything we read is wisdom.

Which makes sense to me.  So I made a decision. When I have been given a choice between trusting God’s Word the way it is written versus trusting my own interpretation, then I will trust in the Word.  I will doubt my doubts.  I will believe in Him.

So back in Joshua 10, is it so hard to believe that God made the sun stand still?  Let’s look at this verse again,

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

Maybe I misread it, or it’s not translated right.  What does “stood still” mean?  The Hebrew word is “amad” “עָמַד” and means, “to stand, to cease, to continue, to dwell, to endure, to establish, to be, to raise up, to remain, to set forth, to wait.”  Ok, I don’t see a lot of wriggle room there.  The sun stood still.

I read lots of commentaries on this, from perspectives ranging from very liberal to very conservative.  Critics and liberal theists insist that the event was impossible.  Couldn’t happen so it didn’t happen.  And by the way, since you can’t trust this story, you can’t trust the rest of scripture either.

One explanation is that it’s figurative, a story.  For instance, maybe the Lord helped Israel win so decisively in such a short time that it felt like the day was longer.  But this breaks one of the basic rules of translations of the bible, in that one should translated literally until proven figuratively.  Joshua 10 is written as an historical narrative, not like a fable.  The text is simple, “the sun stood still and the moon stopped.

Or maybe there was some sort of natural explanation.  Some proposed that the planet Mars passed so close to the planet Earth that it tilted on its axis, making the sun hang in the sky longer than normal.  Not a whole lot of evidence for this one, the earth has never tilted on its axis like that and who knows what sort of earthquakes or tsunamis we’d see.

Or maybe it was just a local miracle.  Maybe the sun’s rays refracted off the moon so miraculously that the night appeared as bright as day.  Or maybe it was the earth that stopped spinning and then started back up.  The trouble with these explanations is that you’re basically replacing one miracle with another, and the basic problem skeptics have is that it’s a miracle in the first place.  That’s what they’re trying to eliminate.

Or we take the scripture at face value.  The simplest explanation.  The sun stopped, the moon stopped.  Indeed, the entire universe may have stopped in its tracks for a day, with all relative positions and motions simply suspended.  A miracle.  Joshua prayed for assistance to do the Lord’s will, and the Lord answered.

Why is it so hard to believe in miracles?  If we are going to believe God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence, well, let’s look at Psalm 33:8-9 –

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

An interesting thing about this passage is that other cultures record this same day.  In pagan culture, the ancient Greeks record in their Orphic hymns that the god-man arrested the course of the sun and the moon.  In Hindu culture in India, legend says that the sun stood still to hear the cries of the prophet when Crishna died.  In Buddhist culture, a holy Buddhist named Matanga prevented the sun at his command from rising.  The ancient Incas and Aztecs of Mexico also have a legend, as well as a Babylonian and a Persian legend.  China says that when Emperor Yeo died, the sun stood still.  Herodotus says Egyptian priests showed him their temple records with a strange account of a day that was twice as long as the natural length.  And Harry Rimmer in 1940 wrote that the Polynesians also have in their history of a day that the sun stood still.

The entire universe, the sun, the moon, and the earth are a miracle that exist because God says so.  And a God that can do that can do anything.  He can suspend the very rules He created.  I choose to doubt my doubts, the bible says what it says.  God spoke the world into existence and for that particular purpose on that particular day, God paused the Universe so that Joshua would win the battle.

          IV.      God Makes a New Promise

If we are going to fully understand God’s word, then we need to learn to accept God’s Word like Joshua.  Accepting some of the Word is a good start – it opens up even more of the Word.  The Word itself says so.  In Matthew 13:11-13, the disciples of Jesus ask Him why He speaks in parables.  Jesus says that one must understand a little of the scriptures before you can understand a lot.  So what’s with all the stories, Jesus?

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Jesus says if you want to understand the entirety of scriptures, start by understand what you already know, and more of the Word will be revealed to you.

             V.      God Fulfills a New Promise

Once we accept that the Lord performs miracles to serve His will, then it becomes much easier to accept that God has been at work throughout the human history and He is not finished with us yet.  In Isaiah 7:14, God describes in advance a miracle He is going to provide.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Two thousand years ago, a virgin conceived and gave birth to a son.  A miracle.

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The magi from the east came to Jesus, bearing gifts, by following a star.  A miracle.

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Jesus lived and died in accordance to prophecy, taking away the sins of the world.  A miracle.

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Today, I am assured of a place in heaven because I have placed my trust in Jesus and I believe.  A miracle.

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          VI.      Conclusion

Joshua believed the word given to Him, that the promised land belonged to Israel.  He acted with faith that the Lord’s word was infallible and inerrant, and the Lord provided a miracle so that Joshua would win the Lord’s battle.

We can believe the word given to us, that we too will win the battle and will one day dwell in the promised land.  And that is the true meaning of Christmas, the miracle of Christ the Savior.  A miracle we can believe it.

Isaiah 9:6 –

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulders.

And his name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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I believe in miracles.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

The Day of the Lord

             I.      Introduction

Today we are going to wrap up our study of 2nd Peter, and as you may recall, Peter was considering his imminent death and wanted to leave behind words of strength and encouragement to the early church.

Those were difficult days for Christians.  During the first few years after the death of Jesus, Christians were considered a sect of the Jewish religion.  This sect was led by Paul, Peter, James, the brother of Jesus.  But in 62 AD, the Jews stoned James to death, and hostilities between the Christians and the Jews were cemented.  Then the Romans withdrew official protection from the Christians two years later.  Then came the Great Fire in Rome, and legend has it that the emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.  It was not a very accurate legend; we know that Nero was 35 miles away when Rome burned, and the fiddle hadn’t been invented yet, but hey, it’s a good legend and makes for some nice imagery.  Nero did however use the Great Fire for political gain, and blamed the Great Fire of Rome on Christians, and outright persecution of the Christians then began in earnest.  Peter writes his letter to the church 31 years later in 95AD after decades of persecution and being fed to lions to reassure Christians.  Peter wanted them (and us!) to know about our eternal life and how we should live while we wait.

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The persecution that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 3 is probably better translated as “sufferings.”  The letter was probably written to churches as far away as Corinth, outside of Rome, and these Christians probably were not being fed to lions.   slide3While some persecutions of Christians existed, probably due to local governors sympathetic to Nero, it was more likely these Christians were subjecting themselves to antinomianism, the belief that grace is so sufficient, that morality is of no use.  As Paul says in Romans 5:20,

Where sin increased, graced increased all the more.

We are saved, dudes, and there’s nothing we can do to lose it, so let’s party on.  But this attitude is Christian anarchy.

Even today, this very liberal view of Christianity is very widespread.  “If God loves me and I cannot lose my salvation, then why not enjoy the good life?  Why not spend all my time and money on pleasure?  God will forgive me.”

But this is like an engaged woman saying, “He loves me and he’s going to marry me, no matter what I do.  Why not play the field a while longer?”  It shows a one-sided love.  It shows God’s love for us, but it also shows we don’t truly love God back.

Antinomianism is not true Christianity – Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1-2,

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Antinomianism is a false teaching, and it is likely that Roman immorality and paganism was embraced by these false Christians, perhaps to better fit in with the Roman culture, who then either taunted or lured Christians away from their life of purity.  And it is in this setting that Peter writes to the church about our hope in Jesus forever.  One day the Lord will harvest His crops in love, and the weeds will perish in the fire and the believers will dwell with the Lord forevermore.

          II.      Resist and Rest, 2 Peter 3:1-7

So let’s open to 2 Peter 3 and look at the first 7 verses –

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.  I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

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

Ok, in verse 3 we are warned that in the last days, scoffers will come.  And what will the scoffers be doing?  They will be scoffing.  I am certain I have never called anybody a scoffer, it just sounds funny.  Robitussen Scoff Medicine.   I’d use ridiculing, making fun of… I guess my vocabulary is more limited.  You can scoff at me if you wish.

These scoffers are essentially saying that Jesus isn’t coming.  There’s no evidence.  The world today is the same as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow.  God doesn’t change the world, it’s been this way ever since He created it.  The second coming of Jesus can’t be possible because that would be a big change in the way God treats the world.

Peter responds that the scoffers are deliberately misleading.  God has intervened in the history of the world.  God does make miraculous, major changes.  The first major change was creation itself.  What was the world before God created it?  It was nothing, a void.  Then God spoke, and the universe was created.

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God made another change during the time of Noah.  He flooded the earth to remove the unrighteousness.  Destroyed every living creature except those rescued in the ark.  Afterward, you may recall, God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the world by water.

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But He will one day destroy it by fire.  In Psalm 50:3, David said,

Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.

So not only are the scoffers wrong, but the scoffers know they’re wrong.  God has indeed judged the world before, and He will judge the world again.  And to the true Christians listening to Peter, don’t believe the scoffers.  Resist the call of the scoffers to party like it’s 1999, and rest instead on truth.

And what is the truth?  The truth is that Jesus will come again.  Peter’s writings are an introduction to eschatology, which is the study of the end of time, a study of the end of the world.  Christian eschatology is the study of the destiny of humankind as revealed by the bible, including death and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Rapture, the Tribulation, Millennialism, the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth of the World to Come.slide11

The word eschatology comes from two unpronounceable Greek words eschatos (ἔσχατος) which means “last,” and logeia (λογία), which means “the study of,” or more accurately, “a collection.”  These words are unpronounceable and even harder to write down.  It’s like Greek to me.slide12

Before the resurrection of Jesus, there were two main Jewish viewpoints on what happens to people after death.  The Sadducees recognized only the Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament.  According to the historian Josephus, the Sadducees believed that the soul is not immortal; there is no afterlife, and there are no rewards or penalties after death.  One just ceased to be.

This was a major point of contention with the Pharisees, who accepted not only the Torah, but also the Oral Law which eventually became the Mishna and the Talmud.  The Pharisees accepted, for instance, the Book of Daniel, and in Daniel 12:2 it says,

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Even today, not all Christians have the same beliefs in the afterlife.  Seventh Day Adventists teach that upon death, the soul sleeps and is reawakened at the Resurrection.  Catholics teach that one enters into heaven either immediately or through a purification known as Purgatory, or immediately into Hell.  Most Protestants believe that Christ removed all obstacles and there is nothing we can add or take away, Christ paid for all of our sins and we enter directly into the presence of God after death.

Regardless, Peter emphasizes that there will indeed come a day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.  Even though scoffers may ridicule them and party like there’s no tomorrow, Christians can be confident in Jesus’ return.  And today, Christians are still surrounded by the ungodly, by partiers, by pagans and New Age type beliefs.  When is this day of judgment going to come?  What is God waiting for?

       III.      Be Aware and Behave, 2 Peter 3:8-13

I’m glad you asked that, because Peter addresses that in the next few verses.  In 2 Peter 3:8-13,

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

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

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

We like the idea that God judges the guilty, as long as it’s other people he’s judging.  We’re less enthused about God judging us, and if we’re honest, we know we’re not innocent people.  Thankfully, we have a Savior.  Since we’re saved, we should have no fear of the Day of the Lord.  So what is God waiting on?  We’re surrounded ungodly everywhere we turn.

The answer is found in God’s unfailing love.  God’s love begins with the very first definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4.  Love is patient, love is kind.  God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.  God made man in His image.  And God withholds the Judgment of the Day of the Lord so that no one will perish.

Remember Abraham trying to bargain with God not to destroy Sodom?  The Lord said that their sin was so severe that He was going to destroy Sodom.  Abraham said, “Will you kill the righteous with the wicked?”  God said to Abraham, “If I can find 50 righteous people in the entire city of Sodom, I will spare them.”

Abraham started dealing.  “How about forty-five?  Thirty’s a good number.  Twenty is even better.  How do you feel about only ten righteous people?”  But when Abraham arrived in Sodom, all he found was wickedness.  He couldn’t find even 10 righteous people.  It was only then that God destroyed Sodom.slide16

And how about the story of Noah and the Flood?  God saved Noah and his righteous family, then sent a flood to wash the world of its wickedness.  Afterward, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and passes out naked.  And Noah was the righteous one.  Can you even imagine the wickedness that was washed away?slide17

Eventually, God’s perfect love and patience will eventually be overcome by His perfect justice.  He cannot let evil prevail.  And on that day, we won’t have any warning.  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief.slide18

Peter uses the phrase “Day of the Lord” which was an Old Testament phrase for the final judgment.  Isaiah used it, Isaiah 13:9 –

See, the day of the Lord is coming
—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it.

slide19And in Joel 2:1,

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.

slide20And then again in Zephaniah 1:14  and Malachi 4:5.  But Amos 5:18-24 seems especially apropos, directed at the so-called religious who were not living righteously –

Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

So for the non-righteous Jews, for the antinomians who abused their freedom in Christ, the Day of the Lord is the day God’s righteous anger punishes evil.

When will this happen?  Only God knows when this will be.  God created the universe, and one day He will bring it to an appropriate end.  Jesus told us this day would come (Matthew 24:14), that we should watch for the signs (Matthew 24:29-30), and the timing will be according to God (Matthew 24:36).  It’s been 2000 years since Jesus, and that seems like a long time, but God doesn’t exist in time the way we do.  God is outside of time, and “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day .”slide23

We’re aware this day is coming.  The Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Book of Revelation describes it in great detail.  So what do we do in the meantime?   We live with the expectancy that this day could come at any time.  Peter tells us to live holy and godly lives.

Why is that important?  I think first of all, living a holy life enables the Holy Spirit to work within us.  We’re here, each and every one of us, for a purpose that only we can fulfill.  When we live in the Spirit, we’re attuned to God’s direction; it’s easier to obey because it’s easier to listen.  We find it easier to understand that it’s not happiness that God wants from us, but righteousness.  But when we seek first His righteousness, then all these things, including happiness, will be given unto us.  Living a holy life demonstrates the Spirit lives within us.

And when the Spirit lives within us, then we demonstrate to others the spirit lives within us.  We demonstrate that righteous living brings godly blessings; we exhibit the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And we do this to draw others to Christ, because God does not want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.

          IV.      Work and Watch Out, 2 Peter 3:14-18

While waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas.  In the last part of 2 Peter 3, he says,

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.  His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

These scoffers and false teachers will be with us to the end of the age.  Our best defense is a good offense.  And the best offense against false teaching and antinomianism is to continually seek God’s will.  When we read the bible, we read first-hand how God treats his people, how God expresses His love for us, and what thoughts, words, and actions please Him.

Is it possible to live a spotless, blameless life?  Of course not, but that’s not what Peter says.  He says, “make every effort.”  Of course we’re going to make mistakes, we’ll take the blame for something.  We won’t be spotless, we’ll get spots.  But that’s ok.  It’s because we are fallible that we also know we need a Savior.  We’re not perfect; that’s too high of a bar for us.  But if we make every effort, we can be at peace because we know the Lord is pleased at our righteousness.

Sometimes we stumble here – somehow thinking this obedience is required to earn our salvation.  That is absolutely false – we cannot earn our salvation.  If we think we must somehow earn our salvation, we start to travel down the road of legalism.

No, we obey the Lord because it pleases Him.  It’s our love returned to God.  In 1 John 2, the author says,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  and He Himself is the satisfaction for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;  but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

The reason we read the bible?  To grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Because we cannot keep His word if we do not know His word.  Because we cannot resist false teaching unless we know what the truth is.  We must be on our guard, because our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Christ will come again, and when He does, we want to be safe and secure in His arms.

            V.      Conclusion

What have we learned today?  We’ve learned that there are big words like antinomianism we’ve never heard of before.  And we’ve learned that Greek is a really hard language.

But we’ve also learned that we can have faith that Jesus will come again.  He’s prepared a place for us, and someday He will take us there.  We learned that the secular world around us will make fun of us, scoff at us for these beliefs, but they do not know the Lord.  Our Lord is full of perfect love and patience, but there will come a day where the Lord’s perfect justice will rule, and the unrighteous will be destroyed by fire.  We don’t know when that will be, a day or a thousand years, but we know that day is coming.  And while we wait, we are to strengthen ourselves with knowledge of His Word and obeying the Lord’s will, not out of fear or obligation, but because we love the one who first loved us.

And then we will spend an eternity in the presence of the One who loves us.  That’s something good to hope for.

I’d like to conclude this message at Thanksgiving with a hymn that demonstrates both the thankfulness of the holiday season as well as an illustration of the message today from 2 Peter 3.  In 1844 A.D., Henry Alford wrote this old English hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified, in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

To God be the glory.  Amen.