Slide9

A Harsh Word, A Gentle Word

   I.      Introduction

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there lived a husband and a wife named Nabal and Abigail.  This is a story of their lives in the land of their king, King David.

II.      Nabal

Now Nabal was a very wealthy man.  He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep.  I’m not exactly sure what one does with 1000 goats; make tons and tons of goat cheese, I guess.  I am not rich like Nabal; I myself do not have 1000 goats, nor would I want 1000 goats.  The closest I have to that is 1000 goat jokes. Slide2

Like, “What do you call a goat with one ear?  Vincent Van Goat.”

Or this one: A farmer found out his pig had been murdered in the barn.  The only witness was a rabbit.  The farmer lined up all the suspects, the cow, the horse, the goat, the rooster.  The farmer asked the rabbit who did it, and the rabbit stared right at the goat.

The goat said nervously, “I didn’t do it!”  And the farmer said, “Hare’s looking at you, kid.”

So I’m not a wealthy man like Nabal with his 1000 goats and 3000 sheep.  Thank goodness.

All this wealth did not make Nabal a happy person.  In verse 1 Samuel 25:3 – oh, I forgot to tell you this is a bible study, so open your bibles to 1 Samuel 25.  In verse 3 in the NIV, Nabal is described as “surly and mean in his dealings.”  The NASB calls him “harsh and evil.”  The King James calls him “churlish”, whatever that is, but I’m guess it’s surly and mean and harsh and evil.  Or it means he owns goats.Slide5

Historians aren’t sure that Nabal is his real name.  The word “Nabal” occurs 42 times in the Old Testament.  Twenty-two occurrences are in this chapter, describing this man.  The other 20 times the word “nabal” is translated “stupid, foolish and wicked”.  As in Jeremiah 17:11,

Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay
are those who gain riches by unjust means.
When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them,
and in the end they will prove to be fools (nabal).

Slide6So it’s possible that the writer changed the name of the man to “fool” because he didn’t want to honor this man throughout history.

Then I went on a rabbit trail.  Who *was* the writer of the books of Samuel?  Was it Samuel the prophet?  Let’s look at the first 3 words of this chapter, 1 Samuel 25:1,

Then Samuel died.

I’m thinking if Samuel wrote this entire book, then Samuel had help.  Most scholars believe that chapter 1-24 were indeed written by Samuel the prophet, but starting in 1 Samuel 25, Nathan, the son of Saul, probably completed the books.

In says in verse 2 that Nabal was shearing his sheep in Carmel, and I don’t believe for a moment that Nabal was shearing the sheep himself.  I think he ordered his servants to shear the sheep.Slide8

Carmel was a small town in the hill country of Judah, about 10 miles south-southeast of Hebron, near the bottom of the Dead Sea.  Remember 3 weeks ago when we heard of Saul’s partial obedience in killing the Amalekites, but he spared the best of the cattle for himself and then build a monument to himself to proclaim how good he was?  That was at Carmel.  Saul is still nearby; Saul sometimes proclaims how great David is and other times tries to kill David, and right now there seems to be peace between them.  The point is that Nabal would know everything going on at this point since he’s living and working at the heart of this conflict.

Nabal is also a distant relative of David, because verse 3 says Nabal was of the house of Caleb.  He was a Jew, though his parents aren’t mentioned anywhere in scripture.  Caleb, you might remember, was one of the 12 spies representing the tribe of Judah, and David, too was descended from the line of Judah.

III.      Abigail

Now Nabal the fool was married to Abigail the beautiful and wise.  I know she was beautiful and wise because in verse 3 it says Abigail was beautiful and wise.   Abigail, too, was a Jew, though it’s not clear in the passage.  Her lineage is real confusing.Slide10

2 Samuel 17:25 Abigail is listed as the daughter of Nahash, whose name means “serpent.”  It’s not exactly clear who this Nahash is; there is a Nahash, king of the Amorites in 1 Samuel 11 who routs Jews at the city of Jabesh-gilead and threatens to put out the right eye of every male Jew until Saul, recently appointed king, kills all the Amorites and possibly Nahash.  I say possibly because 40 years later, Nahash, king of the Amorites, is a friend to David in 2 Samuel 10.

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, in 1st Chronicle 2:1-16, we find out that Abigail is a sister of David.  Some scholars think Nahash and an unnamed woman had a daughter, when Nahash died, Jesse married her and adopted Abigail.  Others think this is a completely different Nahash and might even be a woman, the name of Jesse’s wife.  Still other scholars think that Nahab might even be another name for David’s father Jesse.Slide13

I spent way too much time on this.  Let’s just say Abigail was beautiful and wise and David already knew her.

 

IV.      David

Then there’s David, son of Jesse, King of Israel if Saul would quit horsing around, slayer of Goliath, and a man’s after God’s own heart.  And it’s that last description that makes this passage so crazy.  David wants to kill Abigail’s husband, Nabal.  And like a good CSI:Israel show, let’s review the plot and motive to see how a man’s after God’s own heart went into a murderous rage.

See, while Nabal was in Carmel, he had his 3000 sheep with him and it was sheep-shearing time.  No doubt this was long hard work.  Sheep wool is thick and difficult to cut, and they had hand tools, so I’m certain it took days or even weeks to shear all the sheep.  Unless you’re Matt Smith from New Zealand and you set the world record for sheep shearing, 731 sheep in 9 hours averaging one every 44 seconds, like this:

Some days I have trouble staying focused on the lesson.  Let’s just say that shearing Nabal’s 3000 sheep took a lot longer than 44 seconds.  It was such hard work, but apparently it’s also a festival time, because 1 Samuel 25:8 says it’s a feast day.

What has David been doing lately, besides hiding out from Saul?  Among other things, David and his soldiers have been near Nabal’s flock of sheep, and since they’re armed fighting men, nobody dares attack Nabal’s herd.  Nabal’s getting free protection.  Now that the sheep-shearing feast day has arrived, David and his men are hungry, and, well, here’s 1 Samuel 25:4-8,

When David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep, David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name.  And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: ‘Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have!  Now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds were with us, and we did not hurt them, nor was there anything missing from them all the while they were in Carmel.  Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David.’”

Basically, David’s saying, hey, we’ve been guarding your flock for free, and now that you’re having a feast for those who have been helping you, how about a little something for me and my men, whatever you can spare.  We like BBQ lamb.

Nabal’s response is mean, verse 10-11,

“Buzz off, Goat-breath.”

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And in the NIV translation,

Then Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, “Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master.  Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?”

The response is both mean and a lie.  If Nabal doesn’t know who David is, how does he know he’s the son of Jesse?  He’s saying that David is just a runaway slave and Nabal is not even going to provide bread and water.

When David’s men return and tell David, David goes ballistic.  Not literally, because they didn’t have bullets back then, but you know what I mean.  David tells 400 of his men to grab their swords, they are going to slaughter Nabal and every male that belongs to him.  So sayeth the man after God’s own heart.  We’re going to come back to that in a moment.

One of the men approached Nabal’s wife, and says, “Dear Abby, King David asked for a little food during the sheep shearing feast, and Nabal was verbally abusive and insulting to David.  Now David wants to slay every male here, including me.  What should I do?  Signed, Confused in Carmel.”Slide19

I’m certain that I’ve mentioned that Abigail was beautiful and wise, and she demonstrates her wisdom this night.  Abigail gathers a feast of bread and wine and lamb and raisins and figs, and meets David who is in full battle mode.  And Abigail dismounts off of her donkey, falls at David’s feet and says,

Dear Confused,

My husband is an idiot.  Please don’t kill us.  Here, have a sandwich.

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This is from Michael’s paraphrased edition, of course.  The longer version says Abigail fell on her face before David, and she said her husband matches his name, he is ignorant and he is a scoundrel.  But I, Abigail, didn’t know you needed help, I didn’t see the men you sent, please forgive me.  I know that the Lord is with you and will defeat your enemies.  If you spare us, then the Lord will remember your goodness, and then when the Lord has dealt well with you, please remember me.

And David listens and blesses the Lord for Abigail convincing David to stay his hand and from coming to bloodshed.  And he accepts her sandwich.

Abigail has done both a good thing and a bad thing; she has definitely disobeyed her husband, but her disobedience is outweighed by the good.  She’s avoided bloodshed and she’s obedient to David the future King of Israel.  But now she has to go home and tell her husband Nabal why they’re out of mayonnaise.  She’s made sandwiches for King David and all of his men, despite her husband saying they should be sent away hungry.  Her husband is mean and an idiot, what shall she say to him?

In verse 36,

Now Abigail went to Nabal, and there he was, holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; therefore she told him nothing, little or much, until morning light.

Ok, she’ll wait until the morning to tell him, after he’s slept off his drunken gluttonous stupor.  Verse 37,

So it was, in the morning, when the wine had gone from Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became like a stone.  Then it happened, after about ten days, that the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.

Um, I guess that’s good news.  This sounds like Nabal first had a stroke and then died 10 days later.  This was certainly good news for David, who then gave thanks and praise to the Lord for protecting David from doing evil, verse 39,

So when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept His servant from evil! For the Lord has returned the wickedness of Nabal on his own head.”

And in the remaining verses in 1 Samuel 25, David sent for Abigail and then proposed to her.  She accepted and became David’s wife, and they all lived happily ever after.

  V.      Various lessons

I enjoyed studying for this lesson, and I hope you enjoyed today’s story.  However, trying to find an application of this particular story to our daily lives was a challenge.  There is not a single, coherent theme that runs through this chapter.  Instead, I found a great many smaller lessons.

And isn’t that the way our lives go?  In my own life, I often don’t see God’s Grand Plan being lived out through me day to day.  Instead of being called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, I’m asked to love my neighbor.  Instead of building an ark and saving all animals and humanity from the flood, I’m asked to love my enemy.  Instead of facing my giant with nothing more than a sling, I’m asked to trust in the Lord for my daily bread and know that He will provide for my needs.

Nabal is the least likeable person in this story, and for good reason.  Besides being mean-spirited, he’s not smart, and he’s given to overeating and overdrinking.  And all of this brings about Nabal’s destruction.

I think Proverbs 15:1 illustrates all 3 people very well,

A soft answer turns away wrath,

But a harsh word stirs up anger.

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Nabal has a harsh word for David.  David gets furious and wants to kill Nabal.  Abigail provides gentle words for David, and David’s wrath is calmed.  Perfect illustration of this proverb.

Nabal’s not a likeable character.  I mentioned a moment ago about loving our neighbor and loving our enemy, and Nabal illustrates the opposite.  Even though David and his men had been guarding Nabal’s sheep and men and lands, David’s request to Nabal was pretty reasonable, I thought.  “Hey Nabal, you’re having a feast, can you spare a bite to eat?”

And rather than give David a little of his surplus, Nabal thumbs his nose at David.  Harsh words stir up anger, and David is mad.  David probably had a right to demand some of the food; after all he was the future king of Israel.  But his anger is stirred not by righteous anger for the Lord, but by personal  selfish anger.

And Abigail is disobedient to her husband, but obedient to the Lord.  It is righteous submission to the Lord’s will, and her soft answer turns away David’s wrath.

And did they live happily ever after?  David proposes and marries her, but David was already married.  When David defeated Goliath, Saul gave his daughter Michal to David as his wife.  David went on to marry Abigail, and then later married Bathsheba, after having an affair with her and sending her husband to the front lines of a battle in order to kill him off.  And then David married Ahinoam.  And Maacah.  And Haggith and Abital and Eglah.  We know David had at least 8 wives, and in 2 Samuel 5:13 we are told David has other wives in Jerusalem.  Also there were concubines.Slide25

It’s important to remember when we are studying the bible that everything recorded in the bible is not approved in the bible.  Polygamy may be recorded in the bible, but it’s clear from Genesis that says the “two will become one flesh,” not more than two.  And thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife from Exodus 20:17, not thy neighbor’s many wives.   It’s clear from scripture that God’s plan is for man to have a single wife.  God seemed to allow it in the Old Testament sort of the way He allowed divorce – because men’s hearts were hard.

And in David’s life, these multiple marriages came back to cause all sorts of grief later, family infighting, greed and jealousy, and murder.  One could only imagine how David’s life would have gone if he was not only a man after God’s own heart, but also a man after God’s own will.

VI.      Conclusion

Our story today was the story of the fool who was also gluttonous and a drunkard.  It was the story of the beautiful and the wise with a soft word that turns away anger.  And it was the story of a man after God’s own heart who demonstrates his own flaws, his own anger, and his own mistakes.Slide26

Somewhere in our story, we may also find our own story.  We are flawed, we make bad decisions sometimes.  As Christians, our goal is to live according to the will of God despite our circumstances.  If we are not invited to a feast, we don’t assemble an army to kill them, of course not.  We let the Lord’s will prevail in our life and in theirs, leaving justice to the Lord and practicing forgiveness and gentleness.

And, regardless of our flaws or our actions or our emotions, there is a happy ever after for those who place their faith and trust in Christ the Lord.

To God be the glory.

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Facing Our Giants

  I.      Introduction

Have you ever heard the story of David and Goliath?  That’s exactly what I thought – everybody has heard this story.  Christians have heard this story since they were children.  Even non-Christians have heard this story.  It’s inspiring, about an average David standing up to a giant.  We all know this story.

They even made a cartoon about it, a boy named Davey and his talking dog Goliath.  Only Davey could hear the dog talk, so I sort of wonder whether Davey was just hearing voices.  Fun facts about this series, it ran on television from 1960 to 1965, although several specials were made all the way through 2004.  The series was created by the same guy that created Gumby, and was produced by the Lutheran Church of America.Slide2

Perhaps during our study today, we can learn some new insights about this famous battle.

II.      David

Let’s take a look at David first.  You know, in my early Christian days, I was always amazed at the number of people named David in the bible.  There was David and Goliath, David and Bathsheba, David the man after God’s own heart, Jesus from the line of David… it wasn’t until I actually read 1st and 2nd Samuel that I realized they were all the same David.Slide3

Like this sculpture of David by Michelangelo.  I had seen picture of this sculpture over the years, and then I was blessed to work in Florence Italy briefly a few years back.  Most people will see the replica of the stature outside in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, but the original is inside the Galleria dell’Accademia.  It was only when I was reading the history of the sculpture that I realized David is holding a sling over his shoulder, and this is the same David as the David and Goliath.

Which is probably why Goliath was defeated so easily.  Goliath was probably thinking, “Hey, this guy that came out to fight me is naked as a jaybird!  What does he think he’s doing?”  ***thwaaack****

In our study of 1 Samuel 17 today, David is still a young boy.  He looks like this picture of David by Michelangelo.  Ok, he probably doesn’t, the Renaissance artists weren’t exactly known for being authentic when depicting figures from the bible.  Last week, Theresa taught us how Samuel was in communion with God, and almost selected Eliab, the oldest son of Jesse, but the Lord told Samuel that the Lord will look to a man’s heart, and not his outward appearance.  Then Samuel interviewed all the remaining sons and finally had to send for the youngest, David, from the field where he had been attending sheep.  The Lord confirmed to Samuel that the Lord had chosen David to be the future king of Israel, and it says in 1 Samuel 16:13 that Samuel anointed David in the presence of his brothers.  That’s an important statement and we’ll discuss this shortly.

You might also remember from 2 weeks back that Saul, the current King of Israel, had a son Jonathan.  Saul put Jonathan in charge of 1000 men, and then Jonathan attacked a Philistine outpost, which really ticked off the Philistines, and the Philistines have decided to eliminate the Jews from the land.

III.      Goliath

So at the beginning of 1 Samuel 17, the Philistines have arrived.  Verses 1-3,

Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah.  Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines.  The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.

Now, even though the Philistine army outnumbered the Israelites, the Israelites had chosen a good defensive position for their camp.  The Philistines would have to fight uphill against the Israelites.  So the Philistines stopped at one side of the valley, and the Israelites at the other side of the valley.  Stalemate, neither side wanting to fight uphill.

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So the Philistines selected a champion named Goliath.  I’m going to use the Contemporary English Version for this verse because all the sheckels and cubits are translated into measurement that make sense in Texas.  1 Samuel 17:4-7,

The Philistine army had a hero named Goliath who was from the town of Gath and was over nine feet tall.  He wore a bronze helmet and had bronze armor to protect his chest and legs. The chest armor alone weighed about one hundred twenty-five pounds. He carried a bronze sword strapped on his back, and his spear was so big that the iron spearhead alone weighed more than fifteen pounds. A soldier always walked in front of Goliath to carry his shield.

Slide7This was a big guy, a very big, strong guy.  This is JJ Watt on steroids.  His armor and weapon weighed at least 140 pounds.  Since there was a standoff between the two armies, Goliath would come and stand in the Valley of Elah and taunt the Israelites.  Goliath challenged the Israelites to find somebody to fight him, winner take all.   It says in verse 11 that Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.  This giant of a man is just too big and too strong to fight.

And this goes on for 40 days, every day a fresh taunt from Goliath.  Goliath would say, verses 8- 11:

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me.  If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”  Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”  On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

Goliath would continue with taunts like,

  • You’re such a weakling. You need to get two friends to help you change your mind.
  • When they were giving out heads, you thought they said beds, and you said “I’d like something soft.”
  • Your armpits smell so bad your teacher gave you an A for not raising your hand.

Ok, those taunts are funny, but I want to reflect a moment here.  We all face giants in our lives, a problem that is just too big to overcome.  A disrespectful kid.  An abusive coworker.  A bill collector.  The loss of a job.  In Theresa’s case, she shared her giant with us, multiple myeloma and the resulting bone lesions.  These giants stand between us and our goals, and they taunt us every day.  And the next day.  And the next day.

The response of the Israelites was to shake with fear.  Now, I’m no motivational speaker and I don’t have answers for all of life’s problems, but “shaking with fear” isn’t exactly a solution, is it?  Yet, we all do it in the face of our giants.

We’ve heard David was a man after God’s own heart, and David is going to enter our story now.  David’s 3 oldest brothers have followed Saul off to war and are facing the Philistines.  I don’t know what brothers 4-7 were doing, the scripture is silent, but the youngest, David is tending sheep.  No doubt Jesse is worried about his older sons, so he packs a picnic basket of bread and cheese, gives it to David and says, “take this to your brothers and bring back to me word of how they are doing.”  Let’s read verses 20-24,

Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry.  Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.  David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were.  As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.  Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

When I first read these verses, I saw this scene in my head.  David arriving at the battle front just as Goliath comes out to taunt them again.  David with his picnic basket dropping off the bread and cheese, all the Israelites quaking with fear.  But there’s more in these verses; remember, these are the actions of a man after God’s own heart.

First of all, David is being obedient.  His father asked him to do something, so David took care of his responsibilities, making sure the sheep were cared for, grabbing the supplies and delivering a basket of goodies to grandmother’s house, deep in the woods.  The giant has come out to fight, but not David.  David is just trying to be obedient to what has been asked of him.  When we are facing giants in our lives, just continuing with our lives bravely and being obedient is a suitable offense.

David is also serving others, he’s brought food for his brothers that are fighting.  Or, actually, his brothers are not fighting, they’re cowering, but you know what I mean.

And finally, I noticed that line that says, “David left his things with the keeper of supplies.”  In other words, David left his baggage behind.  Carrying around old baggage is not helpful when getting ready to face our giants.

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IV.      Facing Our Giants

There are many reasons given to David next why he should fail when facing the giant.  First is the discouragement from others in verse 25,

Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

Others around you may say, “Of course you’re going to fail.  It’s just too hard.  There are too many obstacles.  Just give up and give in, you can’t win.”  Let’s face it, the world can be a discouraging place.  Even well-meaning Christians can be discouraging as long as they preface their discouragement with “Bless your heart.”  “Bless your heart, having to deal with a coworker like that.  You should just quit.”

We should be attentive to our own words and be careful what we say to somebody going through tough times so that we do not discourage.  I love the way Hebrews 3:13 admonishes us,

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today.”

What day is it?  Yes, it’s today, again.  Seems like every day is “today,” now that I think about it.  What is David’s response?  Verse 26,

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

What kind of unholy sin dares to stand up to the Living God?  Or as Romans 8:31 says,

If God is for us, who can be against us?

When we fear our giants, we demonstrate that we have little faith in our God.  We see a big giant, and think our little god can’t handle it.  We see a storm and complain how big the storm is instead of telling the storm how big our God is.  David is astounded that this uncircumcised Philistine is still standing in the Land of Israel.

Remember David’s brothers?  Samuel anointed David as the future king of Israel in front of David’s brothers, yet David’s brothers have no faith in the Lord acting through David.  They belittle him.  Verse 28 says,

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

But what day is it?  It is today, the day the Lord hath made.  We should rejoice and be glad in it, and we should encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today.

Saul, the current king of Israel, hears of David’s faith and sends for him, and David tells Saul that David will answer the challenge of Goliath.  More discouragement follows, for Saul tells David that the battle is hopeless, Goliath is going to win because he’s more experienced and David is just a boy.  But David knows the Lord has equipped him for this battle.  He tells Saul in verse 34-37,

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.  The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

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David’s God is bigger than the storm.  What does David have to fight Goliath?  David is a young sheepherder, not a warrior, but the Lord has been equipping David for this battle.  David has protected his flock from lions and tiger and bears (oh my), and the Lord has protected him.  That same strength from the Lord will protect him now.

Your giant may also seem too big for you to handle.  And you may be surrounded by people that tell you that the battle is hopeless.  But the Lord does not stand idly by to watch His children fail.  The Lord is my banner, Jehovah Nissi.  The Lord is Almighty and All-Sufficient, El Shaddai.  Slide19There is no battle bigger than the Lord, and He has been with you your entire life, through your triumphs and through your failures, through your joy and through your sorrows.  And the Lord has brought you to today to face your giant and he has spent a lifetime equipping you.  Who is this uncircumcised Philistine in your life that should defy the army of the Living God.  You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

I suppose Saul sees the strength in David, or he just wants the battle to end, I’m not sure.  Saul continues in verse 37-38,

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head.  David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

If it’s not bad enough that others around us discourage us and tell us that the battle is lost, when it’s clear you’re going to fight anyway, they then try to load their baggage on us and weigh us down.  David is a boy; Saul was a king and a warrior.  Saul is saying to David, look, you cannot win, but if you’re going to fight, you need to be weighed down with all the same baggage that made me afraid.   David immediately recognizes the problem, one that cannot be solved by wearing heavy, unfamiliar armor.  Remember, when we face our giants, the battle belongs to the Lord, and the Lord has equipped us for today.  We do not need to place our trust in man-made bronze helmets.  We need to place our trust in Almighty, all-powerful Jehovah God.

“I cannot go in these,” David said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.  Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

Win or lose, David is going to battle with the tools that God has already given him.  There is truth and wisdom listening to the advice of others, but once you have considered all the options and you have prayed to our father in heaven, God has equipped you for exactly the giant you are facing.  Don’t let others, no matter how helpful they are trying to be, load you down with weight.  Don’t let them tell you that you need to pray more, or tithe more, or give more, or serve more.  Let the Lord tell you what He desires, and He will equip you to fight the battle.

Goliath, the giant facing Daniel, curses and discourages him again, in verse 41-43,

Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David.  He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him.  He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

Your giant doesn’t respect you, either, by the way.  But it matters not, if the Lord is on your side.  David responds with what I think is one of the greatest declarations of faith I have ever heard in verses 45-47,

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

 

David took his sling, fitted it with a single smooth stone, slung it and killed the Philistine giant.  For David knew that that battle wasn’t his alone.  David knew the giant wasn’t standing there against God’s will.  David knew the giant was not invincible.  David knew the Lord was with him, and would equip him as necessary.  David’s God was bigger, far far bigger, than any giant the Philistines could put in front of him.

  V.      Conclusion

How is your giant looking now?  Does it still loom huge in front of you, taunting you, calling you names, discouraging you?  David teaches us that our giants are not invincible and cannot defeat us.  As David was obedient in caring for his sheep, we should continue to be obedient in caring for those God has place in our path.  As David was serving others, we too should continue to do the Lord’s work as He leads in our lives.  And rather than let taunts discourage us or let others weigh us down with unnecessary baggage, like David left his baggage with the keeper of supplies, we can leave our baggage at the feet of Jesus.  And when the devil curses us, we can stand firm so that all those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give our giants into our hands.  For we know the battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore, we put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, we may be able to stand our ground, and after we have done everything, to stand.

We don’t tell our God how big our giant is.  God knows.

We tell the giant how big our God is.

Slide24

To God be the glory.

Slide27

Almost Obedient

  I.      Introduction

Slide1We’ve been studying the book of 1 Samuel, and if you remember back in 1 Samuel 8, the people Israel demanded a king.  Samuel said, “Are you sure about that?”  And the Lord said, “my people have rejected me, so I will give them what they want.”  So today, we’re going to look at the king the people of Israel received.  I think two verses illustrate this new king very well.  First is 1 Samuel 9:17,

When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

Then a few verses later in 1 Samuel 10:20-22, it’s time to present Saul as king to the Israelite, and I’ll paraphrase a little here:

But when they looked for [Saul], he was not to be found.  So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

So Samuel appointed Saul as the first king who had been hiding in the kitchen pantry for some reason.  The people of Israel eventually had to seize him and force him to be king.

The Philistines mostly ignored the happenings within Israel, but the formation of a monarchy is about to renew the conflict with the Philistines.  The Philistines had defeated the Israelites in previous conflicts; if you remember all the way back to 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites made an attempt at independence, attacking the Philistines while holding the Ark of the Covenant in front of them like a luck rabbit’s foot.  On that day, 30,000 Israeli soldiers died and the Ark was captured by the Philistines.Slide3

The Philistines maintained control over Israel with strategically placed garrisons.  While the tribes of Israel were easily dominated, when Israel proclaimed they had a king, this was a sign of independence and the conflict began anew.

At the beginning of the chapter of 1 Samuel 13, the new king Saul divides his army and puts his son Jonathon over one division with 1000 men.  Jonathan was a devoted follower of the Lord and he faced a decision; the Lord had long commanded that the people of Israel occupy the land of Canaan, but the Philistines are in control.  Jonathan displays fearless devotion to God and immediately attacks a small Philistine outpost and routes them.  It’s a small victory.Slide4

Israel has been repeatedly defeated by the Philistines, so any victory here over the Philistines is significant.  Losing this garrison was humiliating to the Philistines, but it also threatened the Philistine’s control of the region.  While before small skirmishes erupted from time to time, this time because of the new proclaimed king and the loss of the outpost, scripture says Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistine.  The Philistines decide to eradicate the people of Israel.  Now it’s war.

The Philistine outmatched the Israelis in numbers, strategy, organization, and weaponry.  Let’s look at the Philistine army in 1 Samuel 13:5 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

Some manuscripts say 30,000 chariots.  Either way, this is the largest chariot force mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament.  Continuing in verse 6 –

They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven.  When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.

Slide5

Whew.  Israel expected some sort of punishment or military retaliation for their raid on the outpost, but this is a full-scale invasion that appears intent on eradicating Israel forever.

The Philistines had iron weapons and chariots; the Fighting Farmers of Israel had pitchforks.  Worse, Israel was dependent on Philistine blacksmiths for making and repairing tools they needed to farm.  This was a strategic decision by the Philistines; it says in verse 19 there was not a blacksmith to be found in Israel to prevent them from making swords and spears.  So the Philistines arrive in overwhelming numbers and defeat seems inevitable.

The Lord has a plan – doesn’t He always have a plan?  It’s our pride and independence that gets us into trouble, which we would avoid if we just stayed obedient.  What are the Lord’s instructions to Saul?  Let’s back up a little bit to last week’s lesson in 1 Samuel 10:5-8.  The prophet Samuel takes a flask of oil, anointing the new king Saul in the name of the Lord, and then says –

After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost… Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.

Pretty straightforward.  Wait seven days for the prophet Samuel who will offer a sacrifice to the Lord and then tell you what comes next.  But what does Saul actually do?  1 Samuel 13:7b-13 –

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.  He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter.  So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.”  And Saul offered up the burnt offering.  Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash,  I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.

God’s instructions through Samuel told Saul to Gilgal and wait seven days for the priest Samuel to come and sacrifice burnt offerings.  Faced with overwhelming odds from the Philistine army, Saul acts by assuming the role of the priest and offering a sacrifice.  Saul foolishly disobeys God’s command out of fear, and his disobedience reveals that Saul has no comprehension of his responsibility to God.  Saul feared the loss of his soldiers and he feared losing the battle.  And what’s more, the whole purpose of sacrificing a burnt offering indicates absolute dedication to God, so Saul’s disobedient offering had absolutely no meaning.  If Saul was truly dedicated to God, he would have obeyed and waited on God.

II.      Fear

After Saul has completed his sacrifice, Samuel arrives and asks, “What have you done?”  It’s not like Samuel didn’t know, the aroma of burned meat was still in the air.  Ever come home at the end of the day and your neighbors are barbecuing?  You know exactly what they’re doing.  Samuel knows, too, but he asks Saul anyway to get the disobedient king to think about what he’s done.

But instead, Saul comes up with excuses for being disobedient.  The 7th day was not over, yet Saul didn’t wait until the evening.  Therefore, it must have been Samuel’s fault for not arriving earlier.  Saul was forced to do what he did.  When scholars write of Saul’s disobedience, they discuss failures ranging from taking on the role of the priest to failing to wait the full amount of time.  But the real reason is Saul’s character.  He didn’t trust the Lord to do what he was supposed to do.  He feared the consequences of failing to sacrifice more than he trusted in the Lord to whom he was offering the sacrifice.

Slide9

Proverbs 29:25 says that fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe.  Saul was afraid of the battle, afraid of the enemy, afraid his own men were not up to the task.  And so out of fear, Saul was attempting to summon the Lord’s power with his sacrifice, to pull a miracle out of a hat.  But one cannot conjure up a miracle from the Lord.  One commentary calls this “theological blackmail.”  The Lord will save His people, not because He has been summoned through our actions, but because it is in His nature to do so.  We cannot compel God.  God acts because He loves us.

We still do this today, don’t we?  How often out of fear, out of panic, out of lack of trust do we go to the Lord in prayer?  I remember the panic when both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike were bearing down on Houston and reading about how many people went to the Lord in prayer for the first time in weeks or months or even years?  Yet to seek the Lord’s favor only in times of panic is futile.  God wants us to seek Him always.  God does not want us to live in fear; 2 Timothy 1:7 says –

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Slide10Samuel tells Saul that if he had obeyed, the Lord would have established Saul’s kingdom over Israel for all time, but because of his disobedience, Saul’s kingdom will not endure. Unfortunately, Saul doesn’t learn from his disobedience; I think Saul is in denial about his disobedience, especially since we’re about to see this disobedience continue.

 

III.      Redefine Obedience

Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15; the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amalekites; we have to go all the way back to Exodus 17 to understand who the Amalekites are.  They’re one of the many -ites that trouble Israel over the centuries.  The Amalekites, the Amorites, the Canaanites.  The Nightlights.  The Stalactites and the Stalagmites.  The Saturday Nights.

Moses, leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amelekites who are picking off women and children that are straggling.  You may recall Joshua led a battle against them while Moses held his hand in the air.  Moses’ arm is tired so his arm is held up by Aaron and Hur.   Joshua wins that battle, but our God isn’t pleased that while leading His people to freedom that they are attacked.  In Exodus 17:14-16,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.  He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Slide11God’s justice will remove the Amalekites and blot out their memory.  Anybody here know any Amalekites?

Now is the time God has chosen for Saul to wipe out the Amalekites; 1 Samuel 15:1-3,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.  This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

The time for justice to be delivered to the Amalekites has come, but listen to how Saul carried out these instructions in 1 Samuel 15:7-9 –

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt.  He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.  But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Of course Saul obeyed the Lord, *if* you redefine what obedience means.  In 1100 BC, capturing the king during a war meant riches for the winner.  The king could be ransomed off for a handsome profit.  And it would be a shame to kill all the animals, too, when there were so much better uses for them.

IV.      Denial

In verse 10, the Lord tells Samuel that He is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His commands, so Samuel goes to see Saul, who in verse 12 is told that Saul is busy building a monument in his own honor.  In verse 13-15 –

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

It’s like Saul is saying, “Hey, not only did I obey, but I improved upon the Lord’s instructions!  I did so good, I awarded myself a trophy!”

But did Saul obey?  Saul is in denial about his obedience.  “The Lord bless you, I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” he says.  As Christians today, we have specific instructions, too.  “Forgive one another, up to seventy times seven.”  And our response?  Oh, I forgive him, I don’t hold any grudges.  I just want to talk to him or ever see his face again.  Submit to one another, love one another as Christ loves us.  Are we really being obedient?  Or are we in denial, too, redefining what it means to be obedient?

  V.      Partial Obedience

One method of denial, a method of disobedience, is to be partially obedient.  Samuel’s question – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one.  First he is in denial, then Saul explains that partial obedience is more than enough.  Look at verse 20 –

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.

The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said of course he destroyed them except their king.  Colossians 3:5-6 says –

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Those are the Lord’s instructions to us, these are the Amalekites of sin to us.   Yet, too often, we believe that we can pick and choose among God’s instructions, and then we act as though God should be appreciative of the bits and pieces that we do.  God defines obedience as total obedience.  We obey mostly, but we leave kingdoms of sin in our lives.

Let me offer a question for us to ponder – rather than asking ourselves how much we obey God, let’s ask God to show us where we do not obey.  Scripture tells us to hold captive every thought so that we do not sin.  Ever had a critical thought about somebody?  Scripture says we should be slow to speak so our tongue does not cause us to sin.  Ever said anything unkind?  We shouldn’t fool ourselves and imagine we are obedient.  We are nonstop disobedient; we just don’t want to acknowledge it.  We pretend partial obedience is sufficient.  But we cannot think ourselves as obedient to God when we redefine to ourselves what it means to be obedient.  If we’re partially obedient, we’re still disobedient.

VI.      Blame Others

Another way we are disobedient to is to blame our disobedience, our partial obedience, on somebody else.  I could forgive him if he wasn’t such a jerk.  It would be easier for me to go to church if the people there were friendlier.  That what Saul says.  In verse 20, Saul says, “But I did obey the Lord” and then he continues on in verse 21…

The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

I did obey the Lord, but the soldiers didn’t do right.   I had this great plan to serve the Lord, but somebody else messed it up.  Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but you don’t know my spouse.  Of course I can forgive my friend as soon as she asks for forgiveness. Sometimes we even blame God.  I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.

This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book.  Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve.  “It’s her fault!” And the Eve blamed it on the serpent.  But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else.  God will see through that every time.

Slide22

VII.      Rely on Rituals Instead

And finally, we disobey because, well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.  There’s no need to change if nobody’s complaining.  Besides, as a Christian, I attend church, I go to bible study, I tithe, I serve, I pray, I teach.  So those things cover up what little disobedience remains, right?

Verse 22-23, Samuel answers that question.

But Samuel replied:

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

The Lord expects and receives our sacrifices, but He does not delight in them.  Sacrifices in the Old Testament atoned for sins.  Sacrifices in the New Testament further the Kingdom of God.  Those things are good, but God does not delight in them.  God delights in obedience.  God delights in the righteous who seek after Him.  Look at Matthew 5:23-24,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus tells us that if we bring a sacrifice to the temple but we have something against our brother, we are to leave that sacrifice there and make amends with our brother.  Only then are we to return and offer our sacrifice.

Look, making it up to somebody when you’ve wronged them is a good thing.  But wouldn’t obedience in not wronging them in the first place be better?  Sacrifices are payments for disobedience, sacrifices are accepted by God, but it’s not sacrifices that God wants most.  He doesn’t need our sacrifices, because the Lord needs nothing from us.  He desires us to be obedient for our benefit.

VIII.      Conclusion

A man wanted to help his son understand the importance of making right choices.  He put up a post in the back yard, and every time his son made a bad choice, the father would give him a nail and have him nail it into the post.  When he made a good choice, he’d get to remove a nail.  As the boy grew, there were always a couple of nails in the post, but as he grew and matured, one day he pulled the last nail out of the post.  He felt pretty good about it, too.  But his dad asked him to take a good look at the post.  The nails were gone, but the post was full of holes.

Slide27

We’re forgiven of our bad choices.  But the effects of our sins leave scars.

We disobey for many reasons and in many ways..  Fear, redefine, denial, partial obedience, blame others, rely on rituals.   Saul performs a perfect hat-trick in verse 15; denial, partial obedience, *and* blaming others all in one sentence, so we’re not limited to disobedience in one category.

The Lord calls us to obedience, and sometimes we’re our own worst enemy when we try to obey.  We act out of fear instead of trusting in the Lord.  We deny our disobedience or try to redefine it.  We make excuses, or we try to make up for it afterword.   Don’t ask yourself in what ways you’re being obedient to the Lord; in some small ways, everybody is partially obedient.  Ask yourself instead how you’re not obeying the Lord.  Are you following God’s commands?  Are you living a life of partial obedience to God’s commands?  Do you find it easier to be obedient when you know people are looking?  Have you been struggling with some area of your life that you know needs to be surrendered to God?

Don’t try to answer the question by listing all the things you do.  I go to church, I sing in the choir or play in the band.  I teach a class.  I serve God most of the time.   That is not the standard God wants for us.  Partial obedience doesn’t cut it.   God wants us to trust Him and follow Him with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and strength.  Don’t settle for less.

To God be the glory.

Slide1

Freedom

  I.      Introduction

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation was in bondage.  Made up of 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonies were governed by rules from far across the sea.  Twelve years prior to that, the British and the French were in a great race to colonize the Americas, leading to a great amount of tension.  In 1754, the British, under the command of 22-year old George Washington, ambushed a French patrol and set off a war against the French.  There were about 2 million British colonists and only 60,000 French colonists, so the French enlisted the help of the native American Indians.  This French and Indian War lasted 9 years before the British finally defeated the French, and the French ceded control of all of land east of the Mississippi River to the British. Slide2

This was an expensive war, and the British felt the American colonies should pay the brunt of the expenses.  The British levied higher taxes against the 13 colonies to pay off the war debt, and also imposed other rules that were very inconvenient, such as if the British felt the need to guard your town, you were required to house British troops in your home at your own expense.

The colonies had no say in these taxes.  But of particular irritation was the monopoly given to the East Indian Tea Company.  No tea could be imported to the colonies directly; instead, The British imported tea to Britain, marked it up 25% to pay for war debts, then sold it to the Americas.  In 1773, the Sons of Liberty raided a shipment of tea and threw it all into the Boston Harbor with the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation.”Slide3

Three years later, in 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

II.      Independence

Slide4What does it mean to be independent?  The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others.”  When the young American Colonies rebelled against the British, they wanted representation, they wanted a say in their own fate.  They wanted to govern themselves.  Others were not going to dictate their day-to-day lives; the colonists were going to choose their own way.

From a historical perspective of developing countries, this was unique.  It had never been tried.  No country had ever attempted self-governing rules.  No country had ever tried a system where the governed were also the governors.

But in the history of mankind, this attitude is hardly unique.  The ultimate authority is the God who created us, and we (the creation) have always wanted to govern ourselves.

It seems like every time I teach a lesson, I go back to Genesis 1:1 again.  But today, in a fantastic improvement over that record, we’re only going back to Genesis 2.  Verses 16 & 17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Slide5

And man joyfully obeyed and enjoyed a sinless and holy relationship with God the Father.  And that lasted maybe a day.  After that, we decided we wanted to govern ourselves, and we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

III.      Bondage

When we ate, we rebelled.  We looked to our rebellion and said, “See?  We are free to do what we want.  We don’t allow anyone – including God – to tell us what to do.”  We believed that this rebellion was the same as independence which was also the same as freedom.

But these three words are not the same.  Yes, we rebelled and declared our independence from God.  But were we then free?  What did we gain by rebelling from God?

In our rebellion, we decide to go our own way.  In our rebellion, we decided on our own not to follow God’s plan.  Since God is holy, and God’s plan is holy, our rebellion is… unholy.  It is a sin.  Our sin separates us from God.  In the Old Testament, Isaiah laments this rebellion in Isaiah 63:10 –

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

Slide6In other words, our sin nature, passed along from the first rebellion of Adam all the way to us, vexes the Holy Spirit and makes us enemies of God.  In our study of Samuel this summer, Chris taught us about the rejection of God in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 when the people of Israel – people supposedly free since they had rejected God – demanded somebody to rule over them.  It seems they recognized they needed somebody to lead and guide them, but they just didn’t want that somebody to be God –

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Slide7Next week, we will study 1 Samuel 15, and our rebellion is described like this in verse 23 –

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Slide8Our rebellion against the Lord doesn’t lead to freedom.  Our rebellion makes us enemies of the Lord.  We align ourselves with forces that oppose God.  As enemies of the Lord, we become family with a relative we don’t really want, but we share a common goal with him.  John 8:44, Jesus tells us who we are when we are in a state of rebellion –

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Slide9

Yuck.  I don’t like this family.  So my rebellion against the Lord didn’t lead to freedom, it led to sin.  To oppose God’s plan, I have to align myself with the devil, and I am in bondage to this sin because I am rebellion.  I cannot escape sin because I am in rebellion which is sin.  Instead of freedom, I am in bondage.  I am in bondage to sin.  In John 8:34,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And Romans 7:14-15, Paul recognizes this bondage –

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We all sin.  We are in bondage to that sin.  We’re going to look at 2 verses that describe just how awful the rebellious bondage to sin looks to our Lord.  First, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-7 –

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

In that description, I see my own bondage to sin, and I see that our great United States of America has rushed from independence into bondage to sin.  From “loving ourselves” on social media like Instagram and Twitter, to “loving money” and our fascination with pop culture and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Allowing men to use women’s restrooms if they “identify” as a woman and then brutally verbally bashing those who are trying to promote a chaste and safe public restroom experience.  Over a half-million abortions in 2016 alone because having a baby is inconvenient.  In my lifetime I’ve seen this nation go from prayer in schools to prosecuting people who pray in schools.  Our national fascination with sex.  Did you know there’s actually a reality show on television called “Love Island” that puts 6 men and 6 women in a house strewn with over 1000 condoms and they compete to see who is the sexiest couple?  And that in order to move up in the rankings, they keep changing partners until they’re considered the winners?  The winners have sex with each other during the show, sometimes being watched by other contestants?  Our nation is in bondage to sin, and we celebrate it and put it on the television for everybody to see.

Romans 6:16 also points out that ultimately we only have 2 choices –

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

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Our rebellious sin nature is a trap.  We are stuck in our sin nature and we cannot free ourselves.  Romans 1:24 says that God eventually gives us over to the sinful desires of the heart.  There is no middle ground.  There is no “mostly obedient” state.  Giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the Star of Hope or tithing to the church cannot save us if there is one little speckle of disobedience in us.  And this verse tells us that we are either trying our very best to find God’s will in our lives, or we are not.

We’d like to believe there is a middle ground, where we can be good people and go to heaven.  We’d like to have compassion on good people that aren’t Christians.  Surely good people go to heaven?  Isn’t that fair?  Isn’t that nice?  Since God is such a nice guy, surely He’d see it my way?

But that misunderstands God’s purpose in our lives.  God loves all His children, and He wants what is best for us.  And that means voluntarily giving up our own independent rebellion and agree with the Lord that His will is the best way, and ultimately is the only way.  And God tells us that there is one way to gain the promised land, and everything else belongs to sin.  Galatians 3:22,

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

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IV.      True Freedom

So our rebellion gives us the illusion of independence, but in reality we are trading our allegiance.  I pledge allegiance to God and His ways, or I pledge allegiance to our father the devil.  There is no third option.

So here’s an interesting quandary.  Can we be in bondage, and yet be free?

We make a mistake when we confuse our independence with what we truly desire.  We desire freedom.  Freedom to follow our God-given passions and desires, to seek for God in all the wonderful places He designs for us, to seek His will and find that His plan for us is far, far better than our own independent plans.

Why should we trust this freedom to God?  How many hairs do you have on your head?   Is it 1000?  100,000?   I have no idea.  But this is how well God knows me: Not only does He know how many hairs are on my head, but he’s numbered them.  1, 2, 3, 4…. Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

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A very good reason for trusting the Lord is that He knows me far better than I know myself.  Should I continue to maintain my independence of God?  I certainly have that choice; I can choose to be independent of my creator.  But it turns out that is the same as the sin of rebellion, which means independence from God is bondage to the devil.  Or I can be independent of Satan, and choose to be in bondage to God.  I am in bondage either way.

What does this look like, being in bondage to God?  Do I just follow the Ten Commandments?  Do I just avoid the Seven Deadly Sins?  Do I follow all 613 mitzvots?

Let’s go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and look at what bondage to sin looks like.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

These things that bind us to sin are lovers of ourselves, lovers of money, proud and boastful and abusive and disobedient and ungrateful and unforgiving… and if I am honest with myself, I can see my own sinful nature in this description.  These descriptions of the last days.  It’s what the Father of Lies would call love.  It’s a perversion of what God calls love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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I don’t know how to do this.  Not on my own.  At least, not at the level necessary to meet the standards of a Holy and Perfect Lord of All.  I’m going to fail.

So the answer to whether I have to follow the Ten Commandments or avoid the Seven Deadly Sins is… all of them….  And none of them

You see, since God knows how many hairs I have on my head, He knows me better than I know myself.  And even when I try to run, He knows me.  Jeremiah 23:24,

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

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God is everywhere I am.  I cannot hide.  Even in my rebellion and my so-called independence, I cannot escape.  The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins judge me and my shortcomings.  They show me how I fail, they show that despite my own efforts, I’m going to fail at being holy.  And that’s ok, because God has given me a solution.  God has given me His Son.

We don’t just “stop sinning” by trying to stop committing the Seven Deadly Sins.  Obeying the Ten Commandments doesn’t stop us from sinning.  This is “legalism,” this is “works.”  We stop sinning by recognizing that we are in rebellion, that our entire lives have been devoted to bondage in sin, and remembering that there is no halfway decision, we choose to be bondservants of Christ.  We choose to cease our rebellion against the Lord.

What about the Ten Commandments?  The Seven Deadly Sins?  These give us insight and direction as to what pleases the Lord.  For those who have had children, if your child takes a cookie before dinner after you expressly told him not to, do you say, that’s it, I’m done.  You’re on your own.  Go outside and never come back.  Is our own identity dependent on whether there is an extra cookie in the pantry?

Of course not.  We set rules for good behavior for our children, we discipline them when they are disobedient so we raise them well, we forgive and love them.  God does the same for us, and all our sins are forgiven when Jesus took them to the cross.  We just have to choose to be in God’s family.  Then if we are imperfect, if we only follow eight-and-a-half commandments, our Father still loves us.

So our goal then, is to recognize our rebellion against God did not lead to freedom.  It just led to a different sort of bondage.  This is where we once were, from 2 Peter 2:17-19 –

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.  For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

When we accept Jesus, then this is who we become from 1 John 1:12 –

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

And when we are children of God, then there is no condemnation for falling short of God’s perfect will.  Romans 8:1,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

 

  V.      Conclusion

When mistake rebellion and independence with freedom, we wallow in a lifetime of sin.  The rebellion against God results in death and misery and frustration.  Or we can attempt to save ourselves by doing good, but the rules we set for ourselves are burdensome and joyless.  Worse, we try to set rules for others so we can be better people.  God’s way is to accept that we are powerless on our own and full of sin, but His Son will take the punishment for our rebellion so we can be slaves to righteousness and serve one another in love.  It’s not rules imposed from the outside, but the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside that brings glory to God, peace and joy to us, and blessings to others.

There is a song by Watermark that I love, called “Captivate Us.”  During the chorus, she sings, “Let every chain be broken from me as I’m bound by your grace.”  Choosing to be a bondservant of Christ Jesus doesn’t restrict our freedom, but quite the opposite.  When a train that has fallen off the tracks, it’s powerless, useless, stalled.  When the train is put back on the track, it is free to do what it was created to do.

This is the truth that brings glory to our Father in Heaven.  John 8:32,

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

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That is true freedom.

To God be the glory.

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Ark of the Covenant

I.      Introduction

Our lesson today studies the Ark of the Covenant, so I would like to back up a long, long way in scripture.  I’m never sure how far I should go back to provide the right historical context, and it seems like every time I study this I want to go all the way back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.”  But I suppose I don’t have to rewind that far back every time.  So where do I start in a study of the Ark of the Covenant?

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

II.      History of the Ark

Ok, so let’s turn to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” I’m just kidding.  We’ll start the famous crossing of the Red Sea, after Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and heads for Mt. Sinai.  Three months after crossing the sea, the people of Israel are camped at the bottom of Mt, Sanai, and Moses goes up into the mountains where God etches the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for Moses to bring to the Israel people.

Exodus 24 says that God Himself engraved the stone tablets with His own finger, verse 12,

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

The Lord God promises to dwell among the people, and the Ten Commandments are to be stored in the Ark.

So make yourself an Ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The Ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the Ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Sorry, that’s the wrong Ark.  That was Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6, let me try again from Exodus 25, where we first read about the Ark, and God’s precise description of it to Moses:

“Have them make an Ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.  Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry it.  The poles are to remain in the rings of this Ark; they are not to be removed.  Then put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the Ark and put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you.  There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Here is what it looks like:

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Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

Actually, this is a pretty good representation of the Ark of the Covenant, and many parts of this movie got it right.  Let’s take a look –

Some were exaggerations, like Brody saying it “leveled mountains.”  That’s probably a reference to Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.  Blowing horns and carrying the Ark, the Israelites circled the city, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  And remember the scene where Indiana tells Miriam, “Don’t Look!”?  The Ark was considered holy and dangerous, and only those specified by the Lord could touch it or look in it, and then only after they had been purified.  Coming into direct contact with the holiness of God was instant death.  In Leviticus 10, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by flames from the Lord.  In 2 Samuel 6 while moving the Ark, the oxen stumbled.  A Levite named Uzzah steadied the Ark, and Uzzah was struck dead instantly.

The Ten Commandments were placed inside and sealed with the cover.  The Ark was then placed inside the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and when the Levitical priest made his annual sacrifice for the people of Israel, he shed the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb and sprinkled it on the top of the Ark, which call the Mercy Seat.  The shekinah of God rested on this holy seat.  This was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.  It is where God sat when He dwelled among His people.

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The location of the Ark today is unknown.  Centuries later, when the Babylonians sacked Israel, led by Nebuchadnezzar, they hauled off a great deal of religious artifacts from the Temple and made detailed lists of what was taken, but the Ark was not listed among them items.  One of the final kings, Josiah, may have buried it beneath the temple mount, beneath the Holy of Holies, and sealed it in stone.  One Jewish archaeologist, Leen Ritmeyer, has identified a section of bedrock below the Temple Mount cut out in the dimensions of the Ark.  It is unlikely any excavation will ever be allowed by either Muslims or Israelis.

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III.      The Ark is Taken

So it is within this history that we examine a time where the Israelites, in battle with the Philistines, gain a new understanding of the power and holiness of God.  Approximately 300 years after the battle of Jericho, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines.  The Philistines are mentioned as far back as the days of Abraham in Genesis 21, and they’re mentioned in the books of Samuel over 150 times.  These were originally a seafaring people from the Aegen Sea who sought to control the land we know as Palestine.  The word Palestine is derived from Philistine, and this conflict over territory continues to this day.

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Scripture says that at this battle, 4000 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Israelis must have been perplexed.  Wasn’t this land given to them by the Lord?  Then why were the idol-worshipping Philistines defeating them?  When the remaining Israeli soldiers returned to camp, the Israeli elders conclude that the reason Israel lost is because they didn’t carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle like they did at Jericho.  If the elders had read their scripture, though, they would have read in Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:39 that their defeat was not caused by the Ark, or the lack of the Ark, but by their disobedience to the Lord.

So instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins first, they decided to imitate Moses and Joshua and take the Ark into battle before them.  Rather than seek the will of the Lord, the people of Israel attempted to use the Lord to fight their battle.  In 1 Samuel 4 the people of Israel brought the Ark out of the Tabernacle and let out a mighty roar, so loud the ground shook.  The Philistines were afraid, look at verses 6-8 –

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.  We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.

The battle began, but the battle did not end as expected.  The Israelites were slaughtered, this time 30,000 Israeli soldiers died, and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  Israel was crushed, and the Philistines rejoiced.  The spiritual leader of Israel, Eli, mentor of Samuel, was so distraught by the capture of the Ark that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

These are dark times indeed for Israel.  It appears to the Israelites that God has been taken hostage by the Philistines.  They’ve lost their battle, their soldiers, their land, their spiritual leader, and worst of all, they’ve lost the Ark of the Covenant.  But we will see in today’s lesson that there is far more at play here.  God is not an idol.  God does not need for men to carry Him about.  God is the One who carries Israel.  They have forgotten who their God is.  In fact, the terms of their covenant with God was that God would sit on the mercy seat when the people were obedient and submitted to God’s will.

The Philistines took the captured Ark with them to Ashdod, one of 5 major cities the Philistines controlled.  In Ashdod, the Philistines worshipped their god Dagon, and they take the captured Ark of the Covenant and lay it prostrate into Dagon’s temple in a position of submission.  Rejoicing, no doubt that the God of Israel has been captured and forced to bow before Dagon.  But the next morning, they were astonished to see the roles reversed.

1 Samuel 5:1-3,

After the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.  Then they carried the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

They put their god Dagon back in his place.  Dagon is an idol that does have to be carried by man.  The next morning is even worse – not only is Dagon back on the floor in submission, but his hands and head had been broken off, with only the body remaining.

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Is Dagon in the hands of an angry God?  Dagon is prostrated before the Ark of God, but Ark of the Covenant is not a god.  It is not an idol like Dagon.  The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people.  It has great symbolic value, but it is not an idol.  Dagan, the man-made God, has to be picked up, glued back together, sent to the shop for repairs.

Verse 6 says the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines and brought affliction and tumors.  The people of Ashdod want nothing more to do with this captured Ark, so they send it to the next Philistine city, Gath.  In Gath, immediately the same tumors and afflictions affected all the people.  So the people of Gath decide to send it to a 3rd Philistine city, Ekron.  And the people of Ekron see the Ark arriving and they cry out, “They brought the God of Israel to kill us!  Send it away!”

I find it incredible how the Philistines don’t get it.  Earlier before battle, they heard the Israeli roar so loud the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid of the God who brought the plagues upon Egypt.  Now, their idol God Dagon is hacked to pieces and lies prostrate before the Ark.  And the Philistines are dying of some sort of plague with tumors as long as they keep the Ark.  Their man-made god is powerless against the Almighty, but they still choose to worship their idol.

Send it back.  Send it back, they say.  With the presence of the one true living God in their midst, they want to send it away.  It is too hot to handle.  Send it away.

IV.      The Ark is Returned

For seven months, the Philistines hold on to the Ark and are plagued with tumors.  They know they have to get rid of it.  At first, it was a political problem as they passed it from one city to another, but now it’s a religious problem.  The want to return the Ark to Israel, but they don’t want offend Israel’s angry God.

1 Samuel 6:1-3,

When the Ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

They answered, “If you return the Ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

The Philistine priests come up with a guilt offering, a really weird one.  They make five gold tumors.  Yes, tumors, modeled after the tumors that afflicted their bodies.  They make 5 gold tumors, and also make 5 gold rats for carrying this plague.  Look how well the Philistine priests understand the Jehovah God in verse 4-6 –

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

Again, it’s interesting that they know the power of God but they refuse to worship Him.  Instead, they continue to worship their idol Dagan who, as I understand it, doesn’t have any hands anymore.  Or a head.

They Philistine priests devise a plan in verse 7 to see if the Ark is really the source of their problems, and if the Lord will be appeased if the Ark is returned.

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the Ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it.  If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

So they take 2 cows that have never been yoked, pen up their calves, and load the Ark on the cart.  Their thinking is that the natural inclination of the cows is to return to their young, but if the Lord is in control, He will guide the calves back to the Israelites.

Which is exactly what happened; the cows didn’t even look to the right or the left.  The Philistines followed the cows and the Ark to the end of the town of Beth Shemesh where the Israelites were harvesting their wheat.

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A big cry of joy from the Israelites when they see the Ark being returned on the cart of two cows.  So excited they were, they took the Ark down, chopped up the cart for firewood, and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh lined up to look inside the Ark – some manuscripts say 70, others say 50,070.   Was the Lord pleased?  God responded by striking the Israelites dead.

The Israelites were ecstatic to have the Ark returned; now they are shocked that the Lord God would strike down so many worshipping Israelites.  The Israelites cry out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?”

Israel, in its exuberance, did not follow the law, and the punishment is death.  The book of Numbers, chapter 4, specifically says that those that look inside at the holy things inside the arc will die.  And the burnt offering of cows?  Leviticus 1:10 says that all burnt offerings shall be male.  In their exuberance, the Israelites disobeyed and were killed.

  V.      Conclusion

So what can we learn from today’s lesson?  We begin with Israel’s first battle with the Philistines, which Israel loses 4000 men and is defeated.  The priests of Israel are Eli’s sons at this time are corrupt and practicing evil.  1 Samuel 2:17 says the sin of the young priests was very great in the Lord’s sight.  And the Israelites decide to take their lucky rabbit’s foot, the Ark, into battle, for the Lord is undefeated.  Instead, their defeat is far, far greater, and 30,000 die and the Ark is taken.

When the Ark is returned, the Israelites celebrate the return of their lucky rabbit’s foot.  They celebrate the return but disobey the Lord’s instructions, and even more Israelites die.

As for the Philistines, they know about the power of the Lord and the plagues against Egypt.  After capturing it, they too mistake the Ark for the Lord God of Israel.  They try to place the Ark in a position of submission to another pagan idol god, not understanding that it’s not the Ark that has the power, but the Lord God Himself.

Before coming to Christ, at some point in our lives, we are like the Philistines.  We see the power of God all around us, we understand He is in control.  But we hold on to our pride, our lives of greed and gluttony, because seeing the power of God is not the same as following and trusting the power of God.  We think God, like the Ark, is too hot to handle, and we just want to move the Ark along to the next person or town.  We want to keep worshipping at the feet of the world, our reality tv, our social media, our idol god Dagon.  It’s comfortable, and our idol expects nothing from us except to occasionally glue him back together when he breaks.

In Mark chapter 5 we see the response of people who are uncomfortable with the power of God in their midst.  Jesus arrives by boat in Garasenes and a deranged man comes running out of the tombs at him.  The deranged man had been terrifying the local town, and chains and irons couldn’t hold him.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs, and the man is able to sit there in his right mind and have a conversation with Jesus.  How do the people who witness this react?  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power of God is just too great to have in their midst.  They’d rather live among the demons.

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But sometime during our walk in the spirit, we become more like the Israelites.  But maybe we don’t fully understand what living by faith is all about.  We believe that we just have to give up smoking and drinking and start going to church more often, and our lives will be blessed.  We hold up our church attendance like the Ark in front of us and go into battle, like somehow our church attendance is a lucky rabbits foot.

Our God is not a god to be carried in front of us to win our earthly battles.  God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.  If we expect nothing will ever go wrong when we hold out our crosses or rosaries or holy water in front of us, then we do not understand the battle or what God is doing with us.  God is less concerned about the challenge than He is with our response to that challenge.  Our battle has already been won for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t live in an Ark to be used for our personal gain.  God lives inside of us so that we may be used by Him.  We are the Ark of the New Covenant.  On our own, we have no power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us, the faith of a mustard seed will crumble mountains.

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To God be the glory.

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Acceptance

   I.      Introduction

We’re continuing in the Book of Acts, and last week, Theresa gave a great lesson that touched on Peter’s character.

I like Peter.  He’s messy.  When I study Peter, I find I’m often studying myself.  Peter’s growth isn’t clean and neat, it’s random and backsliding and lurching forward.   It’s full of mistakes.  And yet, Jesus loved Peter.

II.      Acceptance of Peter

As I was studying the life of Peter for this lesson, I found that many scholars believe that the book of Mark could have possibly been called the book of Peter.  Mark wrote the gospel, but many indications are that Peter dictated his life experiences to Mark who wrote them down.  One indication that Peter dictated the book of Mark was that Mark was a constant companion of Peter and they were very close.  1 Peter 5:12-14, Peter ends his letter like this:

Slide2This is the same Mark, and so close to Peter that Peter calls him his son.  Then, one of the most telling indications that Peter dictated the Book of Mark is from the Transfiguration of Jesus, let’s take a look quickly at Mark 9:2-4 –

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So Jesus Peter, James and John were all alone.  So where was Mark?

Some of the confusion, I think, comes from thinking that Mark is one of the twelve apostle, which he is not.  The word “apostle” implies “sending forth,” while “disciple” implies “following.”   Mark was certainly a follower of Jesus and a close friend of Peter, but Mark was not one of the apostles.

Peter was a fisherman.  Fishermen were gruff, sometimes vulgar.  They used colorful language.  They had tempers.  They smelled like old fish.  And yet, when Jesus said “follow me” in Luke 5, Peter dropped everything to follow Christ.  Jesus accepted Peter, smelly fish deodorant and all.

Slide8

Peter still made mistakes.  In Mark chapter 8, Jesus is telling his disciples that the Messiah would suffer and die for their sins, and Peter rebukes Jesus.  And Jesus turned, looked at Peter, and said, “Get the behind me, Satan!”

It’s not the only time that Jesus looked directly at Peter.  In Mark 14, Jesus tell his disciples that they will all fall away from him, like sheep they will be scattered.  And Peter, “Even if all the others fall away, I will not.”  And Jesus tells Peter that this very night, Peter will deny him 3 times.  When the rooster crows for the third time, Luke 22:61 says, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  Can you imagine what “the look” looked like?

And yet, there’s hope for Peter.  When Jesus asks His disciples in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say I am?” Peter blurts out – Peter blurts a lot of things – “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”  After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter was the first to “raise his voice” at Pentecost, the day the church came into being.  Peter was “the rock” that Christ founded His church. 

And today, in Acts 10, we see both sides of Peter.  We see his stubbornness and we see his leadership at the same time.  He’s already founded the church and our smelly fisherman is now preaching to the church.

III.      Acceptance of Food

Let’s start with Acts 10:9-15 –

Slide9

We’re going to look at our scripture today from a couple of different viewpoints, but first I want to point out that Peter is still a mess, but he’s learning.  Peter’s initial response to his vision is basically this:

“Lord, no.”

 If the Lord asks us to do something, our response shouldn’t be “no.”  Is He Lord or is He not?  If He is Lord, then our only response should be “yes”.  But like Peter, I seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.  Sometimes my response is something like, “Good idea, Lord.  I hope somebody does that.  Soon, too.”

God tells Peter that it’s ok to eat that which was previously considered unclean.  Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 defines what is unclean, things we should not eat.  Things that are unclean include fish that do not have scales, a mammal that that does not both chew the cud and have a divided hoof, flying insects that walk instead of hop.   It’s a pretty complicated list.  Most carnivorous creatures, so some birds like vultures and seagulls.  Interesting that though the list of unclean foods goes back thousands of years, science is starting to show that “unclean” foods are not the healthiest things to eat, and some are very unhealthy.  So under Old Testament Law, the Jews were prohibited from eating unclean foods.

Slide11

http://www.uncleanfoodsdietarylaws.com/clean_unclean_food_list.html

The list of clean and unclean foods was quite extensive.

Peter was a devout Jew.  He didn’t eat unclean foods.  But remember that, while we learn a lot about God’s character through the Old Testament, we do not have to obey the 613 mitzvots.  We can if we want to, but two scriptures tell us that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law, and that such obedience doesn’t save us anyway.  We cannot work our way into heaven.  First is this statement from Jesus 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 didn’t delete the Old Testament; He fulfilled the Old Testament.  It is finished.  Galatians 3:24-25 says –

So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

 Now Peter is still trying to live under the law and refusing to eat unclean foods, when God tells Peter that these rules regarding unclean foods have also been fulfilled in Christ.  God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

IV.      Acceptance of Gentiles, You and Me

Jew Acts 10 goes on to say that Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision when a Roman Centurion named Cornelius summons him.  The Holy Spirit tells Peter to get up and go with them. 

Now, this was something Peter wouldn’t want to do as a devout Jew, so when Peter arrives at the centurions, he says in Acts 10 verse 28,

Slide14

This is important to us as follower of Jesus.  God’s plan of salvation was originally for Israel alone.  However, especially in the book of Matthew, we see that the Jews rejected the Christ, and salvation was opened to the gentiles as well.  Peter is sort of clumsily getting this message – in fact, one of Paul’s letters to Peter was to rebuke Peter for his duplicity.  When Peter would go to a new town, he would go to the synagogue and observe all the Jewish rituals and traditions.  Peter would be a very devout, orthodox Jew.  But then Peter would preach that there was only one plan of salvation, and that was to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ.  It was gift of grace, and nothing we could do would earn our salvation.  Paul’s letter essentially asked, “Well, which is it?  Why are you following the law if it is by grace alone that we are saved?”

Peter’s vision was about unclean food, but he realizes that the message is for Jews and gentiles, too.  God created gentiles, and it was not for Jews to judge God for His plan of salvation for the gentiles.  And it is good news indeed that God accepts gentiles like you and me.

I make mistakes.  To that extent, I’m a lot like Peter.  And the more I study, the more I realize what a slow learner I am.  Even this week, during a visit with somebody very close to me, I attempted to make a funny.  But it didn’t come out funny.  It came out vulgar and crude. It came out ugly.  It came out like a fisherman’s deodorant.

Slide15

And I realized that, though I try to walk in the light and live my life according to the riches and the grace within Christ Jesus, I still walk in the flesh.  I’m still a mess.  And I am so, so very thankful that, despite my deodorant, I am accepted.  I am loved.  I am a child of God.

  V.      Acceptance of Others

In Acts 10:34, Peter offers this observation,

Slide16 Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  Not just the Jews.  Not just people in Judea.  Christ is Lord of all.  Jews, gentiles, you, me, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton. 

The thing is, that nobody who we are, Jesus Christ will accept us.  When Jesus asks us to follow Him, He doesn’t ask us do run some sort of spiritual obstacle course before we’re allowed to call ourselves Christians.  When He calls us, He meets us where we are.  We might own our own company, we might work for somebody who owns their own company.  We might be a world traveler; we might be a homebody.  There are no prerequisites, Jesus accepts us as we are.  If we accept Jesus into our hearts, then we begin a lifelong journey of understanding love, forgiveness, acceptance, sacrifice.  But we don’t start at the end of that journey, we start at the beginning.

Accepting Jesus is easy.  Living for Jesus is a lot harder, but don’t confuse the two.  Accepting Jesus gives us a gift to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Living for Jesus gives us the abundant life He promises us, now and eternal.

For those of us who have accepted this gift, we begin a new relationship.  Of all the gospels, the Book of John is written to the gentiles.  The purpose is to evangelize a lost world and call the gentiles to the love of Christ.  In John 1:9-13, let’s read the message to gentiles –

Slide17

Let’s parse this a little to understand it.

  • “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”  Who is John talking about?  John is talking about Jesus, the true light that shines in a dark world of sin that we were born into.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that has come to fulfill God’s plan to take away the sins of the world.
  • “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”  Jesus was born in this world, but John 1:3 says that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  In other word, though Jesus was responsible for creating our world, the very world He created didn’t know who He was.”
  • “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  Jesus came as the Messiah to save the Jewish people, but the Jewish people didn’t now accept Him as the Messiah.  Instead, they taunted Him, they scourged Him, they crucified Him.  They killed Him.
  • “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  And here good news for the gentiles – if we receive Jesus Christ, our lives are changed forever.  Where once we were enemies of God, now we are His adopted children.

I think it’s important for us to recognize where we are in this world before we accept Jesus.  We are children of God now, it says.  But before, well, let’s look at John 8:42-44 –

Slide22

Like it or not, before we are adopted by God, we are children of the devil.  The destination for the children of God is heaven, the destination for those who do not accept the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus is to accept the wages of sin, and the wages of sin is death.  John 8:23-24, Jesus says,

Slide23

It’s more than sad that those that die in their sins are one profession of faith from eternal life.  But when one rejects God in this life and chooses not to follow Jesus, God grants their ultimate wish.  If they do not want to be with Jesus, then forever more they will be away from Jesus.

We are children of God; they are children of the devil.  We are in this world; they are of this world.  But God’s instructions to us as followers of Jesus is to be like Christ Jesus.  We do not – cannot – condemn those who reject Jesus.  Instead we pray for them and live our lives with the light of Jesus Christ within us.  They are one profession of faith away from being our brother or sister in Christ.

I’ve been going to a bible fellowship every other Friday night, and for the last year, one of the group has asked us to pray for her brother.  She had accepted Christ, her brother had not.  And every time she brought up Jesus to him, he shut her down, told her he didn’t want to hear of it.

He developed cancer, and it advanced rapidly.  He went into hospice 2 weeks ago, and he would let his sister read from the bible, but other than that, would not discuss it further.  She continued to ask the group for prayers.

And then, this week, he died.  As John 8:24 says, he died in his sins, no evidence that he had accepted the free gift of salvation that was right in front of him.  No matter how he had lived his life, he would have been accepted all the way to the last breath.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Everybody wants to be accepted by somebody.  I once read an essay that everything we say and do can be summarized by just one goal:  We want to matter to somebody. 

Love and acceptance is available to us in abundance if we just know where to look.  Christ loved Israel.  Christ loved the gentiles.  Christ loves the world.  Christ loves you and me, and accepts us just as we are.

We’re called to be like Christ, which means we are to love those that do not yet love Christ.  To let them know they are accepted.

And we can be at peace, that despite our deodorant, Christ accepts us.  Turns out, we do matter to somebody.  We are adopted children of God, and we matter to Jesus.  We matter so much that He gave His life so we can be saved.

Have you made an error you regret?  Something so icky you would never talk about it with friends or family?  And is it coming between you and God?  Don’t be afraid that it’s too icky for God.  God saw death on a cross, and scourging and crucifixion is icky.  Whatever it is, acknowledge it to God and talk to Him about it.  God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west.  God is accepting and does not hold it against you.  You shouldn’t hold it against you, either.

Let others know that this love and acceptance is available to them, too.  It doesn’t matter who they are, where they came from, what they’ve done, salvation is available to everyone who asks. As it says in Galatians 3:26-28,

Slide24

 

To God be the glory.

Slide1

Evangelizing in the Wilderness

  I.      Introduction

We’ve been studying the early church as witnessed in the Book of Acts, and before I begin today’s lesson, I want to review where we’ve been and then maybe we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going.

Slide2

I think it’s important to know where we are before we begin a journey.  If somebody asks you how to get to Texas, do you tell them to head west?   Or maybe south?  The directions depend on where we’re starting from.

In Acts 1, Jesus has competed his ministry after His death and resurrection and He has ascended into Heaven.  Acts 2 saw the arrival of Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell in His temple, the body of the believer, now considered righteous due to the sacrificial death of our Lord.  Peter gives his first sermon, and 3000 people accepted Christ as their Savior.  The Holy Spirit is powerful in this first church, and the believers share everything according to those in need.  Then in Acts 3 Peter gives his second sermon about the miracles in the church and the purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection.

In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested for teaching in the synagogue, and the persecution of the church begins.  In Acts 5, we see some issues in the church, and Bananas and Sopapilla, I mean Ananias and Sapphira, put their selfishness and pride ahead of the Lord.    In Acts 6, which Theresa taught last week, we learned that every Christian is given a gift and a ministry by the Holy Spirit (though it’s up to us whether we want to serve in that ministry).  In Acts 7, Stephen preaches the gospel and is stoned to death by angry Jews (including a self-righteous Pharisee named Saul), and becomes the first Christian martyr.  In the beginning of Acts 8, Saul is still persecuting and killing Christians, and the apostles and leaders of the church are forced to scatter. Slide3

One of those forced to scatter is Philip the Evangelist, who first heads up to Samaria Acts 8 to preach the Gospel.  Now, one of the original 12 apostles is named Philip, but this is a different Philip.  This Philip was introduced back in Acts 6 when Theresa mentioned the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and seven men were chosen to serve meals to the widows and deal with financial matters.  This is that Philip, and he’s often referred to as Philip the Evangelist to distinguish him from Philip the Apostle.

Slide4

In says in Acts 8:4 that even though the Christian leaders were forced to scatter, they went on their way preaching the message of good news.  First Philip went to Samaria, then after he finishes preaching there, God has a new plan.  Let’s pick up our study in Acts 8 verse 26-29 –

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.  The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

There is a subtlety that escaped me when I first read this passage, but you might recall a few weeks ago we discussed Acts being a book that is unique as a transitional book between Old and New Testament.  In the Old Testament, because the people did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling because of their sin nature, God often sent an “angel of the Lord” to speak His message to a prophet.  Here, the angel of the Lord tells Philip to take the road to Gaza, and when he approaches the Ethiopian, the Holy Spirit tells him to stay near the chariot.

The desert road in our scripture is a desert road.  Gaza is a small town about two and a half miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s the last town which a traveler would pass through on the way from Jerusalem to Egypt, and it was the entrance to a wilderness desert.

Slide6

The angel of the Lord tells Philip to go south to the road.  The phrase “toward the south” in the original Greek is “kata mesembria” which is also translated “at noon”.   Your bible translation may say “noon” instead of “south”, which makes the angel’s command even more unusual.  The angel of the Lord told Philip to go stand in the desert at noon.  Why would travelers even be on the road at noon in a desert?  But God had a divine appointment for Philip to meet one man, an Ethiopian eunuch, who was on his way back home after worshiping in Jerusalem.

So Philip is participating in a good old-fashioned church building, preaching the gospel to the Samarians, and God says, go out to the desert road at high noon and stand in the sun.

So Philip arose and went.  No questioning, no arguing, no mumbling under his breath.  He just went.  And he meets the Chief Financial Officer of the Bank of Ethiopia.

Now, Ethiopia was a long way off.  Also called Cush, Ethiopia at the time was massive kingdom that covered from the Red Sea to the great desert west of Africa and from Egypt to further south.  The Romans and the Jews considered Ethiopia (or Cush) to be the very rim of the edge of the Earth.

Slide9

Do you remember the Great Commission from Acts 1:8?  Jesus says,

and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Following the lead of the Holy Spirit, that’s exactly what Philip is doing.

Now, the Ethiopian was a eunuch – well, you can look up that term yourself, let’s just say the Ethiopian eunuch won’t be getting any Father’s Day cards, if you get my drift.  But he’s coming from Jerusalem where he had been worshiping.  This would have been a problem for him, since Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibits eunuchs from entering the temple.

Now he’s on his way home, riding in a chariot full of wealth, and reading the book of Isaiah.  To even possess a sacred scroll showed both how rich and how devout this Ethiopian was.

He’s reading from Isaiah aloud which was common among Hebrews who still read the scripture aloud.  Philip recognized the text, and in Acts 8:30-35,

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Consider this, why Philip was called the Evangelist: he recognized the scripture.  Would you have recognized that the eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53?  To know the Word, you must read the Word.

These words from Isaiah 53:7-8 were written 800 years before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, yet it reads like an eyewitness account.   Let’s look at more of Isaiah 53 beginning in verse 4 –

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

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

Whatever our sin is, Jesus paid the price, and His punishment has brought us peace with God.  Where we once we enemies, now we are adopted children.  At the end of Isaiah 53, Jesus has paid the price and God has exalted Jesus, beginning in Isaiah 53:11,

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

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

This is the gift that Jesus brought to those who place their faith in Him.  Jesus Himself didn’t leave this interpretation open, He quotes Isaiah 53 in Luke 22:37, right after He tells Peter that Peter will deny Him three times:

It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah perfectly.  The Eunuch didn’t seem to have a problem interpreting the words, but about who the prophet Isaiah is talking about.  Is Isaiah talking about Isaiah?  Or is he talking about someone else?

And Philip, moved by the Spirit and having the Word of scripture in His heart, proceeds to explain to the eunuch that the prophecy is of Jesus, that because we cannot atone for our own sin, we need a perfect Savior to pay the price for us.  And that Jesus died not just for the many, but in particular Jesus died for the Ethiopian.

Now, the first and only thing we must do for our salvation is to place our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  But the first step of sanctification, of growing in our faith, is obedience to His divine commands and for many of us that is baptism.

But Philip and the eunuch are in the desert, on the road to Gaza at high noon.  It’s not possible to be baptized without water.  And it would take a miracle to find water like that in the desert.

Acts 8:36 –

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

Slide15

You know, a miracle like that.  Like water in the desert.

The eunuch’s question is not a rhetorical one. While he has already been to Jerusalem to worship God, as a eunuch he was prevented from being in the temple.  In the past, he has encountered obstacles between himself and the God of the universe.  His question isn’t idle; he’s looking for the list of reasons why he cannot worship the Lord.  Or to phrase it another way, “I know I cannot be baptized, I just want to know why.”

Acts 8:37-38 –

And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

Slide16

Your translation of the bible may not contain verse 37; of the earliest manuscripts available, many of them do not contain this verse and many modern translations don’t include it.  But regardless, the first step of obedience for the eunuch was to trust in Jesus and be baptized.  There are no barriers, nothing preventing the eunuch from being baptized.

I think this misconception today prevents people from trusting in the Lord.  They believe that they are somehow “not good enough” to be a Christian.  And they’re right.  They’re not good enough.  Neither are you.  Neither am I.

I freely admit I’m not good enough.  But you know what?  That’s the whole point.  If “good enough” were “good enough”, then I wouldn’t need my Redeemer.  Here’s a list of people in the bible who are good enough to get to Heaven on their own:

Slide17

For Romans 3:10 say,

There is no one righteous, not even one.

And Romans 3:23 –

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

Wow.  All have fallen short.  That means you, me, Philip, and the eunuch.  Every single one of us since the day that Adam and Eve first rebelled against God by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has fallen short of being good enough.  And the beauty of this is that God knows it already.  God knows what a mess I am.  God knows my lying and cheating as a child.  God knows the relationships I poisoned.  God knows me.  And whether you’re struggling with an addiction, a felony, anger, sex, selfishness, God knows.  If we are going to be honest with ourselves, calling myself a friend of Jesus is way out of my league.

So many think they have to clean themselves up first before they come to church and meet Jesus, and it becomes an excuse.  I can’t meet Jesus today because I’m not good enough.  But that’s the whole point.  Jesus died for losers like us who can’t earn our way to Heaven.  Jesus doesn’t ask me to get sober, get clean, get out of debt, whatever my biggest regret is, Jesus doesn’t ask me to clean myself up before I come to Him.  When Peter first met Jesus, Peter was a fisherman.  Jesus’ first words to Peter weren’t, “Whew, man, could you use a shower.”  They weren’t, “goodness, what’s that smell?”  They weren’t, “a sprinkle a day helps keep odors away.”  No, Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Throughout His ministry, Jesus hung out with tax-collectors, lawyers, telephone solicitors, people who change lanes without signaling, and people who don’t tip at restaurants.  Because Jesus didn’t come to just hang out at church with people who are good enough.  Here’s who Jesus hangs out with in Mark 2:15-17 –

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s (the tax-collector’s) house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It is not the healthy who need a doctor.  You don’t get cleaned up to meet Jesus.  You meet Jesus, and He cleans you up.

II.      Conclusion

We are fascinated by a chance encounter.  Along a lonely road in the desert, a man suddenly appears and asks, “Can you tell me who Jesus is?”

And we have all walked the eunuch’s spiritual journey.  In a wilderness, scorched and dry, looking for spiritual truth.  Parched and dry, we are all seeking the Living Water that can only come from faith in Jesus. Alone in the desert wilderness, we will never find salvation.  Even at the Temple in Jerusalem, the eunuch didn’t find salvation.  Only by trusting in Jesus.

As you walk with Jesus throughout your life, you may find times when you realize you’re no longer walking in the spiritual wilderness like the eunuch.  You’re living the abundant life, full of hope and promise of an eternal future where there are no more tears, and no more pain.  When you find yourself living the abundant life, then you’re no longer the eunuch.  Then you’re like Philip.  Look for another who believes they have to get cleanup up first.  Tell them that Jesus loves them and died for their messiness, and all they have to do is trust that Jesus is the son of God.

Acts 8:39,

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

Slide21

Once we have accepted our Savior and put our trust in Him, then we, too, have great reason to go on our way rejoicing.

To God be the glory.