Grace on the Ark

  • Introduction

Genesis 9:11 –

Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

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In Genesis 6, we are told that creation was in dire need of a “reset.”  As we learned last week in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve introduced sin into this world, and since then it has spread across all of humanity.  Romans 5:12 says –

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.

We see this in Genesis 4 with the first murder, as Cain kills Abel.  Eight generations later, we see Lamech kill a man and even boast about it.  Then we get to chapter 6:1-4 and we read that the sons of God were marrying the daughters of men which some have interpreted as the intermarriage of fallen angels with humanity.  Whatever *that* was, it was a detestable thing that broke the heart of God.

Genesis 6:5-7 –

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Did the Father truly regret making people in His own image? Did God make a mistake in His creation?  No, God’s pain is not sorrow over His mistake; His pain is sorrow over our mistake.  Sin is not only offensive to God because it robs Him of the glory that He is due, but it also robs us of the joy that He designed for us.  Because of this, in one fierce storm, the likes of which will never be seen again, God blotted out nearly all the life on this earth.  Nearly, but not all.  Because of His great mercy and grace, God preserved a remnant through one faithful servant, Noah.  As we study the story of the flood today, we will see that God’s grace was extravagant, even in the midst of His righteous and terrifying judgment.

  • Build an Ark, Genesis 6

Genesis 6:13-19 –

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.  Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.  This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.  You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.  Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.  But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark – you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

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Noah is introduced in Genesis as a man that found favor in God’s eyes. The Lord informed him of His plan to flood all of creation because of humanity’s sin.  However, God also tells Noah that he and his family will be spared through the construction of an enormous ark.  Noah is given a baffling instruction to build this enormous sea vessel in the middle of the desert.

I’ve received some strange requests in my life.  Usually they come from my wife as I’m driving past the grocery store.  “Can you pick up some basil, orange juice, and broccoli?”  I have no idea what she’s making for dinner.

I’ve also heard some strange requests from God in my life.  When I was earnestly seeking Him for the first time at the ripe old age of 38, God sent me to Singapore.  I’m sure there was someplace closer where I could find Him.

But Noah’s request was much stranger.  The Lord asked Noah to build a boat longer than a football field, including both end zones, and four stories tall.  Noah’s neighbors must have thought he’d lost his mind.

Noah is appointed ship-maker, captain, and zookeeper all at once.  He is told that at the appointed time, God will lead two of every kind of creature into this boat to ensure the future repopulation of the earth.  But the ark was so large that even with all those animals, there was still room to fit more people.  All the while Noah was building, Noah was also preaching for others to be saved.

  • God Offers Grace Before Judgement, Genesis 7

In 2 Peter 2:5, Peter says Noah was a “herald of righteousness.”  All the while Noah spent in construction of the ark, Noah also proclaimed God’s righteous plan to his neighbors.  Noah surely explained that God was angry and that He was going to pour out His wrath through a worldwide flood.  Noah must have pointed to the massive ark under construction as God’s visible offer of salvation.  But only the eight people in Noah’s family boarded the boat as passengers. No one believed his story.  No one repented.  No one asked to be on that boat with him before the storm.

You know, this story of Noah continues today.  Every day, people ignore a  Noah in their life and the salvation of the ark.  God sends “Noahs” all the time.  Sometimes they are friends, family members, or colleagues.  Other times they are preachers or missionaries. They all are used by God as His “heralds,” proclaiming the hellfire and brimstone to come, but they also point to an ark as a means of salvation.

What is our ark?  Where is our salvation?  Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord and in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection, we can be protected from the wrath of God that is to come.  We are offered a new life filled with hope, just like Noah.

Noah’s friends and neighbors were given plenty time to think about Noah’s message and accept his offer.  But eventually the window of opportunity closed, and the floodwaters came.  And today?  2 Peter 3 tells us the world we know will eventually end in fire when that window of opportunity closes.  When will that be?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says,

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Peter says Jesus has not returned yet because He is giving us additional time to get on “our ark.”  For most of us, we don’t have 1000 years.  Statistics say I have less than 40 years left.  But many ignore the messengers and the message of the salvation found in Jesus.  The story of Noah reminds us that the window of opportunity will eventually come to a close.  Genesis 7:11-16,

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.  The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.  On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds.  So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life.  Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him.

After years of construction, God fulfilled His promise.  The floodwaters came for 40 days and 40 nights.  But the water did not just come from the “top-down,” it came from the “bottom-up” as the “fountains of the great deep.  The earth began to gush with water and the earth began to accumulate water at a rate never seen before or since.  Water topped even the highest of the mountains and there was no salvation available apart from the ark.  People on the outside quickly learned that even the patience of God has a limit.

God generously gave years for people to heed Noah’s warnings, but the day came where His warnings were over.  Instead of hearing about God’s wrath, people began to witness it for themselves.  And God’s last word to them was not in the form of a sentence. It came through the form of divine action: He shut the door of the ark.

First, God shut the door to protect those who were inside.  God had promised Noah and his family salvation through the ark.  God personally sealing the door was a powerful message to Noah that God was present and in control.  Likewise, God follows through with His promise of salvation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:13-14

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

When we step into our ark, by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ, God likewise seals us with the presence of His Holy Spirit.  God is with us in the future storms of this life and that our salvation is safe and secure. Nothing can break through and rob us of the salvation that we have accepted from Him through faith.  Our salvation is in good hands.

Secondly, God shut the door because time was up.  Jesus says in Matthew 24:38 that just days before the flood, people were eating, drinking, marrying, and celebrating.  Despite the forewarnings, they were caught completely off guard by the raging storm.  Maybe they ran to that boat in desperation when they saw the waters begin to rise.  But they could not enter the ark because God’s grace had a time limit. They now believed Noah’s warnings, but it was simply too late.  Faith is the key to opening up the door to salvation.  Hebrews 11:6a says

And without faith it is impossible to please God.

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When we die or when Christ returns (whichever comes first), there is no longer room for faith because even the ungodly will see the wrath of God firsthand.  The door to our own ark, salvation, will close.

So, God shuts the door and the rain came.  For 40 days and 40 nights, the heavens are opened and creation experienced a torrential downpour.  Finally after 40 days, God closed the heavens but water continued to rise for 150 days.  As the water finally started to peak, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.  On that mountain, Noah’s family had to wait seven more months for the water to recede fully.  In total, they spent a little over a year on that ark together.

  • A Fresh Start, Genesis 8:15-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Covering of Blood, Genesis 9:4-6

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

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

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

But God has a restriction; the animals may be eaten, but not the blood of the animals.  In the blood is life, and lifeblood is important to man and God.  The same restrictions are given in more detail later in Leviticus 17 and Deuteronomy 12.

The importance of blood to the Lord is shown by how often the word is used in the bible.   In the New King James version, it is used 424 times in 357 separate verses (in the New King James Version).  That blood represents life can be shown in the following passages –

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

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

  • The Covenant, Genesis 9:8-17

After Noah’s altar and sacrifice, God creates a covenant with Noah.  Genesis 9:8-11,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Every time we see a rainbow, we should remember the faithfulness of God and every one of His promises.  He even says His covenant of peace with us is just as sure as His covenant with Noah and all generations.  Isaiah 54:9-10,

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

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

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

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

It is remarkable that God is holy, omniscient, and omnipotent, but He consents to enter into covenant with man, who is feeble, sinful, and flawed.

  • Conclusion

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

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

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

Accept the new beginning and the promise that is in Christ Jesus.

To God be the glory.

The Faith of the Centurion

  I.      Introduction

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

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

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

II.      Matthew 8:5, Roman Occupation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

It says in verse 7,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IV.      Matthew 10, The Amazing Faith of the Centurion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Jesus says in Matthew 8:11-12,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  V.      Matthew 8:13

In Matthew 8:13,

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

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

 

VI.      Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be the glory.

Answered Prayers

  I.      Introduction

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

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

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

II.      Who is He that Hears Our Prayers?

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

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

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

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

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

III.      Why Does He Not Answer All Prayers?

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

Habakkuk 1:2 –

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

Psalm 13, verse 1, says:

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 21, verse 1 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And also John 15:7 –

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

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

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

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

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

It’s important to pray with the right motives.

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

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

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

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

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

IV.      Conclusion

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

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

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

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To God be the glory.