Hope

I. Introduction

We are continuing our special series of bible studies on Advent, and this week we are going to study Hope.
I sort of felt like I made a mistake this week studying.  I loved Chris’ lesson on Joy last week.  Chris told us he relied heavily on Brad’s lesson, and he was teaching a lesson that was not his own.  And it was a powerful, well-delivered lesson.
• December 2, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 1 – Joy
• December 9, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 2- Hope
• December 16, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 3 – Faith
• December 23, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 4 – Love
• December 30, 2018 – The Authority of Scripture
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But I had already started studying Hope, and I realized after Chris’s lesson that I wasn’t on the same page.  My lesson was supposed to be about Hope, but also to bridge the gap from the 3 Eras Christ taught in the Creation Era, Patriarch Era, and Exodus Era, and continue through the Conquest Era, Kingdom Era, and Judges Era. 
By the time I figured out my error (not Era, but error), I was sort of stuck between several possibilities.  I could throw away the half-lesson I had partially finished and teach what Brad had prepared.  I could just try to blend the two of them together into a single 90-minute lessons, but then I was certain I’d have to bring lunch for everybody.
I took the 3rd option.  I kept what I had studied, brought in the Conquest Era, ignored the Kingdom and Judges Era in the interest of finishing our bible study in under two hours, and then wrapped up with my original lesson.
Funny thing about trying to teach God’s word.  They only way I know if it pleases the Lord is if the words pour out of me into the page easily.  I pray I’m bringing Him glory and honor with my hodgepodge of blended lessons, but I honestly feel this was the lesson given to me this week, so I also pray you will find the lesson revealing and brings a message from God to you.  And next time I teach, I promise to do a better job of sticking to the agenda. 
So, now we know Michael went off the reservation.  Next week, Theresa will be teaching about “Faith,” and I expect she and I will talk about many of the same things.   Theresa, since I forgot to talk about the Kingdom and Judges Era, feel free to cover them for me.
So, my first question when I started studying while off the reservation is, “what is the difference between hope and faith?”

II. Faith vs Hope

That’s wasn’t easy for me to answer.  I mean, try out these two phrases –
• I have hope the Texans will win this weekend.
• I have faith the Texans will win this weekend.
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What will be difficult about today’s lesson is that, over the centuries, the English language has completely obliterated the difference between “hope” and “faith.”  And what I’ve discovered is that in many bible translations, even the translations often exchange the words “hope,” “faith,” and even the word “trust.”
So today, we are going to take a closer look at the word “hope” and see if we can understand and apply it to our lives in the way meant in the original scripture.  Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 13:13 –
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Clearly “faith” and “hope” are different things since both words are used here, but again, we’re trying to get away from the English connotations of these words and get back to the original meaning.  Here’s the same verse in the original Greek,
νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις ἐλπίς ἀγάπη τὰ τρία ταῦτα μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη
The word “faith” is translated from the Greek, πίστις pístis, which means assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity.  The word “hope” is translated from the Greek confidence, ἐλπίς elpís, to anticipate, usually with pleasure.
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What I found interesting when I was researching “faith, ἐλπίς elpís” is that it’s not always a good thing.  In James 2:19, scripture says,
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
The word for “believe” is πιστεύω pisteúō, the same root word translated as “faith” in 1 Corinthians 13.  In this context we can see pisteúō faith is confidence, but not the kind of “pisteúō faith that brings joy.
So “faith,” “hope,” “trust,” and “belief” are all very closely related.  And I’m going to stop with the study of “faith” now because that’s really next week’s lesson, and instead focus on hope, a confident and joyful expectation of things to come.

III. Hope is Not Wishful Thinking

Let me return to an earlier example –
• I hope the Texans will win this weekend.
• I hope you have a good day.
• I hope it doesn’t rain.
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That may be good English, but it’s lousy Greek.  Over the centuries, the English version of “hope” is just wishful thinking.  To desire something.  But no real assurance, just unfounded optimism.  Compare that to –

• I hope my boss will pay me Friday.
• I hope the sun will come up tomorrow.
• I hope Christmas is coming.
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Will I get paid Friday?  Sure.  Based on the fact Friday is payday and there is history that I get paid on Friday, I have a confident and joyful expectation the same will happen on Friday.  I have a confident and joyful expectation the sun will rise tomorrow, I’ve seen it in the past and it’s never failed.  My entire life, Christmas has come on December 25, and I have a confident and joyful expectation that it will happen again this December 25.
A Christian’s definition of hope is far superior to the world’s definition of hope.  Our hope is based on the promises of God and those promises will be fulfilled because they are a promise.  God never lies.  Hebrews 6:18 says in part –
…it is impossible for God to lie…
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So if God says it, by definition it must be truth.  We can trust in it, believe in it, have hope in it.

IV. Biblical Hope

The hope of Christians is found in a study of God’s Word to see a glimpse of God’s grand plan and how we fit into it.  When we begin to understand God’s plan, we see promises He’s already fulfilled, giving us faith that He will fulfill all His promises, including all promises He’s already given to us.  When we know God will fulfill His promises, we have confidence and joyful expectation for His plans for us.  We have hope.
Let’s look at Romans 8 for a while to see how Paul taught us about this hope, beginning in verse 22 through 25 –
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
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Biblical hope is the joyful expectation of the future that we cannot yet see.  It encourages us to look to the future instead of today, and to place our heart on heavenly things instead of earthly things that perish.
I think this describes hope and God’s purpose for hope very clear.  Is there a tangible or material thing you’ve longed for?  You saved for a car, some jewelry, a house or apartment?  I discovered I like wanting things more than I like having things.
A few years back, I had worked a lot of overtime in single year and saved a nice little down payment for an SUV I wanted.  I’m an engineer, so first I made a spreadsheet, listed all the pros and cons, and finally whittled it down to a specific model.  One of the key features I wanted was a diesel engine.
You know why?  A co-worker bought a diesel and told me something interesting I didn’t know:  Diesel engines go 50% further than gasoline engines.  If your car gets 300 miles on a tank of gas, the exact same car would get 450 miles on a tank of diesel.
That means instead of filling up at the gas station every 10 days, I’d only have to go every 15 days.  Over a year, instead of 36 visits to the gas station, I’d only have to go 20.  I had to have a diesel.
So armed with all this spreadsheet information, I went to the dealer to go buy a diesel SUV.  And he said, “We don’t have any diesel SUVs.  But we can order one for you.  It’ll be 8 weeks.”
So I put my deposit down and waited and waited and waited.  And waited.  I was going to have the best diesel SUV on the planet.  And when the day finally came, I excitedly went to the dealership and drove off in my shiny new diesel SUV.  The thrill of having a new car lasted nearly 8 weeks until somebody ran a shopping cart into the passenger side door.  And then I started wondering what kind of SUV I was going to get to replace it.
I realized I enjoyed the anticipation, the waiting, the hoping for the arrival of something new.  And I realized that’s how God wants us to live.  This verse says
But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
I believe that every Christian goes through tough times.  What sustains us?  What keeps us from becoming mired down in depression and darkness because this world has dished up something cruel and cold to us today?  Hope.  Hope, joyful confidence and anticipation that God has something better for us in the works.   Romans 8:28 and 8:31 says,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
God has a plan, and He is invincible.  If I am a child of God, He is with me, and no enemy shall ever prevail.  God tells me in Jeremiah 29:11,
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
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God gives me hope.


V. Hope of the Resurrection

Whatever this world throws at me, I have hope for a future because Jesus is not just my Lord, but my Savior.  He rescued me from death and gave me eternal life.  He proved He defeated death by His resurrection, and appeared to hundreds of people.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 –
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;  then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
The early church suffered some horrendous persecution, but Peter reminded us that Christ proved who He was by fulfilling scripture, His death and resurrection, and that Christ our Savior died to save us.  Us!  He is coming back for us to gives us that hope and a future we so eagerly desire.  1 Peter 1:3-5,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
That’s our hope.  God has reserved a place in heaven for those who place their trust in Christ Jesus, and that reservation in heaven for us is protected by the very power of God.

VI. Hope in God

The world has a different definition of hope.  “I hope you have a nice day.”  But the world is without the hope Christians have.
Sometimes I wonder about people that have placed their hope elsewhere.  I don’t know much about the eastern religions – I don’t know where Buddhists or Hindus et their hope.  In the case of reincarnation, maybe they just have hope it’ll be better next time around.  But we know we have one life to live and then we appear before our Maker to explain how we used this life.
There are atheists.  I suppose they have hope in this life, but I’ve never met an atheist that expressed hope for the future.  Their hope is in this life.  And when health issues or money issues or relationship issues come into their lives, where is their hope?  This life, at best, has temporary blessings, but eventually moths and rust destroy everything in this life.  And eternity?  In the future of the atheist, the best that they can hope for is… nothing.  They hope nothing happens, there is no eternal judgement for sins.
And I know people who think they are Christians without hope.  Yes, there are people who think they are Christians.  Look at this survey –
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Although it varies by age, only 2/3rds of Christians “who have made a personal commitment to Jesus”, believe they will go to heaven. 
Their hope is somewhere other than the promises of God.  Perhaps if they refrain from cussing, God will think they’re good enough to go to heaven.  Or maybe if they refrain from road rage.  Or they give to the Red Cross.  Or they toss their spare change in the Salvation Army bucket.  They are trusting in their own works instead of Jesus who did it all for us.  And if we trust in own works, how can we ever be sure our works are enough?  But if our hope, our joyful expectation is in God’s works and the fulfillment of His promises, well, God’s works are always enough.  His grace is always sufficient.

VII. Hope Through the Ages

Through the Ages, God’s plan has always been our joyful expectation that we trust in the Lord.  Last week Chris brought us the message of Joy, God bringing Light to a dark work, using stars to provide a promise to Abraham that would be passed on to Isaac which was passed on to Jacob and all generations to follow.
When times are tough, trusting in God’s promises yet to come bring us joy.  At the end of the Exodus Era, God provided light to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  Among many promises given to the people of Israel was hope in a new land.  But as we enter the Conquest Era, the Israelites find that before they could enter the Promised Land, there were difficulties ahead.  Moses had brought them so far, but when Moses died, a new leader arose to complete the Journey.  The promises of God can be found in the story of this new leader, Joshua, in Joshua 1:1-4 –
Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.  Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.
Joshua’s people had joy, but not in their present circumstances.  Their joy was in the confident expectation of God’s promises fulfilled.  In the present they had difficulties – the land promised to the Israelites were occupied by people who did not believe in God and they didn’t like the people who did.  But God gave them a promise for the future in Joshua 1:5-9 –
Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Hope begins when we realize victory is in the Lord’s hands, not ours. Joshua realized he could not conquer the people occupying the land of promise based on his own skills and abilities.  However, victory is in the Lord.  To be in the Lord, Joshua realized meant he needed
  • to be connected to God through scripture (vs. 8a, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night…”)
  • to be obedient to what scripture says (vs. 8b, “so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it”)
  • to live a life of hope which is exhibited by being strong and courageous (vs.6, 7, 9, “be strong and courageous”)
God used Joshua to sneak into the land to spy to see what they were up against.  They met a prostitute named Rahab, who helped the spies and kept them safe by using a signal of a scarlet colored rope hanging from her window.  When the spies returned to Joshua after receiving the help from Rahab they had news for him.  Joshua 2:24,
They said to Joshua, “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.”
God’s promises were now a reality. The hope they placed in God led to joy, because God always fulfills His promises.

VIII. Christmas is Hope

We approach the Christmas season, and the celebration of the birth of our Savior gives us hope, joy in the promises we are certain will be fulfilled.  The hope we have is confident, the hope we have is joyous, the hope we have strengthens our faith. 
Over the Eras, God made numerous promises about sending a savior for us, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  The savior would be a man, born of a virgin woman, who will crush Satan and his power.  He would be a Jew, son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He would be the son of David.  He would be born in Bethlehem.  And in Matthew 1:1-16 we see 14 generations leading up to the Messiah,
The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.  Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.  Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon.  Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.  Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.  Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa.  Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah.  Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.  Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah.  Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.  Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor.  Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud.  Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob.  Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
God’s delivery of our Savior was centuries in the making, but God is faithful and never forgets his promises.  We can see in the lineage Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.  We can even see  Rahab, the prostitute from the Conquest Era, in the lineage, both showing us the magnitude of the sins that can be forgiven and the reminder that God’s plan has always been for us to have Hope in Him.
God keeps His promises and uses very flawed people like Rahab, like you, like me, to accomplish His purposes.  He uses imperfect people because that’s all He has to work with.  In the end, the only name in this genealogy that matters is Jesus.
And in the end, in the future, the only name that matter is Jesus.  This world would be a very dark place without our future hope of our Redeemer.  But one day Jesus will return, and sin will be eliminated, and Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer will be eliminated.  Death itself will be destroyed, and Jesus Himself will wipe away every tear.  Our present hope is in our future glory in Christ Jesus.
During my study, I came across a study of a painting called “Adoration of t by the Dutch artist Rembrandt.  It was painted in 1646, and it’s a very dark painting, imagining a night scene inside a barn as the shepherds gather round to see the newborn king.
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The dark tones encourage the viewer to slow down and study the images carefully.  The savior is in the middle, in a manger.  Mary is there, Joseph is there, and the shepherds are gazing with love at the birth of their savior, announced by the angelic choir and heavenly hosts.  In the back is an old wooden ladder leaning a crossbeam, and it takes a moment to realize the ladder and crossbeam make the outline of a cross.  Even in this joyous moment, the cross looms over the baby Jesus.  The description I read about the painting then says,
“But the most significant feature is the light. Unlike other Renaissance artists, Rembrandt didn’t paint Jesus as an angel with a halo. He is a very normal, very human baby. All is dark in the painting except for the baby in the manger. The light isn’t shining on the baby; it’s shining out from him. This was Rembrandt’s way of saying that all hope and light shines from the manger, lighting up a darkened world.”
All of our hope, perfect grace and salvation for all of us, in a humble manger.
IX. Conclusion
Hope conquered fear and hate 2000 years ago at Bethlehem.  To receive that hope, like the shepherds did, we must come to Bethlehem and bow before the newborn King.  Hope is freely given to those who humble themselves and bow in faith before the Lord Jesus Christ.
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
Hope is Born.
To God be the Glory.  Amen.

True Freedom

I. Introduction

We’ve been studying the book of Galatians and the truth of how God loves us, to free us from our bondage to sin. So that no one may boast by works, our salvation is secure through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. And I also know we’re supposed to study Galatians 4:8-20, but we’re not going to get that far. We’re only going to cover 3 verses today and stop in verse 10.

II. Galatians 4:8, Slaves to Sin

Today we’re in Galatians 4 beginning in verse 8, and Paul is reminding the Galatians who they once were.

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

The Galatians were pagan gentiles living in the Roman Empire. They worshipped Roman deities like Apollo the sun god and Venus the goddess of love and beauty. One of the cities in the region of Galatia was Lystra, and there’s a peculiar story about Lystra in Acts 14. In Acts 14:8-10, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel, and Paul spied a man who was lame since birth and had never walked. When Paul realized this man had “faith to be made well,” Paul commanded him to stand up on his feet and walk. And the man got up and walked!

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The crowd around Paul and Barnabas were amazed at this miracle and proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be Roman gods. Not just any gods, Barnabas was Zeus, the head god, and Paul was Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the Gods. And I know those are the Greek names, but that’s because the book of Acts was recorded in Greek. The Roman equivalent were the gods Jupiter and Mercury.

Anyway, I digress, Paul & Barnabas immediately denied they were gods, of course, and gave credit to our Lord in heaven who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. The crowd, of course, nodded their collective heads in understanding and then immediately tried to stone Paul and Barnabas to death.

That is who the Galatians were before they received Christ. Paul reminds them in Galatians 4:8 of their past,

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

Before the Galatians came to Christ, they were enslaved to demons impersonating deity. The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” It’s #1 on God’s list.

In the New Testament, Jesus repeats this Commandment #1 in more gentle terms; when asked by a Pharisee which commandment was more important, Jesus says in Mark 12:29,

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

If we are not free in Christ to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we are in bondage to sin. Jesus puts this bondage to sin even more strongly in John 8:44a,

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.

There is only one was to be free of this slavery to sin. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

III. Galatians 4:9a, Free in Christ

So, now we are free in Christ. Now what? Let’s look at the next verse, or rather the 1st half of the verse, Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

It’s a curious phrase. Paul is writing to the Galatians, and halfway through his sentence, he corrects himself.

God already knows us, of course. In Matthew 10, Jesus is telling his disciples to spread the good news, and that God Himself will protect them from evil in verses 29-31,

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

Slide8.JPGGod knows us before we are born, Psalm 139:13-14,

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

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So when Paul says, “or rather be known by God,” Paul cannot be saying that God doesn’t know us. I believe Paul is using a phrase to describe our spiritual growth in getting to know God.

Another way to look at it is this: everybody knows there is a god because the universe declares His existence. Psalm 19:1,

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Slide10.JPGAnd we know that as God, he created the heavens and the earth, he is just and punishes the wicked, he is all powerful. But what does God think of me? How do I get to know the love He has for me? Why does He think of me so valuable that He would sacrifice His only son so that I may dwell with Him forever in the House of the Lord? My spiritual walk consists almost entirely of getting to know God intimately, only to discover that God already knows me. So let’s look again at Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

And now look at it in the original Greek cuz it’s fun,

νῦν δὲ γνόντες θεόν μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα οἷς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεύειν θέλετε

Yeah, don’t understand it either, it’s Greek to me. But this word shows up twice,

γινώσκω ginṓskō, ghin-oce’-ko; a prolonged form of a primary verb; to “know” (absolutely) in a great variety of applications and with many implications (as follow, with others not thus clearly expressed):—allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.

When Paul says the Galatians are to know God and be known by God, he means to know God intimately. In fact, we are to get to know God so intimately that we know how much God already knows us intimately.

I find it comforting to know that God knows me so well. My struggles, my plans, my history, my health, my thoughts… God already knows them because He loves me. And Paul challenges me to get to know God as well as God already knows me.

IV. Galatians 4:9b, Weak and Worthless Elemental Things

Let’s continue with the rest of Galatians 4:9,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

When we become Christians, we are free of the penalty of sin. Jesus tells us in John 8:36,

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Slide15.JPGBut what does that mean?

When I last taught from Galatians 2, I spent a lot of time going over what it means to have faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone, and all of the rules we put in place that become obstacles to new believers. Nothing else saves – not church rules, not church attendance, not praying a prayer, not baptism. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

I was focusing on repentance, and how we are to change our mind about Jesus, in order to have faith, and it is this faith that saves us, and not by our own effort, but because of God’s love. But that lesson focused on how to become a believer and gain salvation.

But what then, once we are believers? I have this little chart that talks about our spiritual growth and the different meanings of salvation:

Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10

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So last week was all about the justification column. It occurs once for all believers and then that’s in the past. Once saved, we are free of sin’s penalty. For the rest of our temporal lives, we are sanctified, on our spiritual walk, and we are free of sin’s power. And then when we die or are raptured, our heavenly bodies are glorified in Christ and we are free from the very presence of sin.

So this week, let’s talk about that middle section, our spiritual walk. We are free of sin’s power as well as sin’s penalty, but not free from the presence of sin. That comes later in heaven.

So how does that tie into our scripture in Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Sin is all around us, and we can be so easily deceived. Christians are not immune from turning to “weak and worthless elemental things.” Christian superstitions. For instance, I know realtors sometime bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house they’re trying to sell. In fact, when I went looking for an illustration for this, I was astounded to find that you can buy a St. Joseph Home Sale Kit from Walmart for only $13.90. Free shipping, too.

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And this isn’t the only example of Christian superstition – rosary beads, holy water. Have you ever seen a horror movie where the good pious people were saved from a vampire by holding up a wooden cross?

What was happening in the church of Galatia was that these new Christians had started as pagans which mandated observations of certain days such as full moons, spring equinox, summer solstice, and so forth. Once these pagan Galatians had converted to Christianity, though, Jewish Christians convinced the former pagans that they should now follow the Jewish calendar of festivals.

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There are a lot of pagan holidays. Here are some of the holidays for just this month of September 2018 –

1: Celtic Tree Month of Hazel ends (there are thirteen lunar divisions in the Celtric Tree Calendar, Hazel Moon celebrates to “the life force within you.”)
2: Celtic Tree Month of Vine begins (Vine Moon celebrates happiness and wrath and intense emotions)
22: Mabon, the autumn equinox (celebrate gifts of the earth)
24: Full Moon – Harvest Moon (storing your harvest for the winter, and a month of thanksgiving. )
29: Celtic Tree Month of Vine ends
30: Celtic Tree Month of Ivy begins (self-improvement)

But many people do not realize the pagan influences on our Christian culture. The early church began new traditions on the same day as pagan traditions, I suppose to replace them. Instead, they melded in some weird hybrid way.

a: Christmas is probably the most well-known. While we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time, what’s with the tree? Christ wasn’t even born in December since shepherd would not have been in the fields in this month. The Christmas tree’s origins are based on the pagan celebration of Odin the sun god. Yes, that Odin, the father of Thor and Loki. And evergreen trees and mistletoe were decorations honoring Odin. Odin is usually depicted as a big chubby elf with a white beard and flowing coat.

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b) Easter. What’s with the bunnies and the eggs? As a kid, I wondered what kind of bunnies laid eggs. But while Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the date is chosen around the spring equinox and celebrates new life and the end of winter. Not surprising early Christians could connect this with Jesus. Even the word “Easter” has pagan roots, named after a goddess of fertility.

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c) Halloween. The origins of this come from Celtic pagans marking the end of harvest and the beginning of death, spirits roaming the earth and spirits of ancestors returning home. Costumes were created to keep the spirits from recognizing the living.

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What did Paul say again to the Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

I think we need to give thought to the holidays we celebrate. The celebrations should be out of love, not obligation. And we should be careful to give God the glory, and not Thor or the Hulk.

V. Still Galatians 4:9b, Do Not Be Enslaved All Over Again

Look, whether one celebrates Christmas or Easter or Halloween or Valentines Day makes no difference to whether one is going to heaven or not. But Paul is telling the Galatians specifically that an obligation to follow a certain ritualist holiday is just like becomes enslaved to sin all over again.

How could that be? What is Paul really saying here? I believe he is saying that, to God, there is no difference between paganism and legalism. Whether one worships other pagan gods or whether one tries to comply with biblical rules makes no difference. Our obedience to the Lord’s commands should be out of love, not obligation or fear or compulsion and slavery to cultural expectations.

I think when we first come to Christ, we find joy and peace and life in Him. But we may also try to cling to our old ways because they’re comforting. We do them because they are tradition, or because we grew up doing it, or because our family or friends or neighbors expect us. And if those are our reasons, we have enslaved ourselves to the culture around us. We are in the world and of the world. You are in the world and of the world. And returning to our old self, our old ways, our old habits, our old sins before we knew Christ is how it’s described in Proverbs 26:11,

Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.

Slide24.JPGI know as we approach each holiday, I’m going to examine my motives. I am not interested in being a slave to the culture around me; I want to be a bondservant of Christ. So here are some of the thoughts I’ve had regarding the holidays – just for me and my household, you make up your own mind:

a) Thanksgiving. I’m still going to enjoy turkey or ham, and still celebrate a season of thanksgiving. But I’ll be sure to thank God for all His provisions. Just being thankful, in and of itself, to me is meaningless. I thank God specifically.

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b) Christmas. I’m still going to celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s good news! And the lights are pretty, I love driving around and seeing Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. My wife and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago, though. As she put it, “It’s not my birthday.” If I had kids, I’d probably still give gifts to express love for them. I’m conflicted on the tree, though. If I just like it because it’s pretty, then, sure, let’s have a tree. But considering the pagan roots and how I don’t see how it honors God, am I allowing myself to be enslave to the culture? Do I think people think it’s mandatory I put up a tree because I’m Christian? I want to be sure I’m honoring God with everything.

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c) Easter. There is never going to be a bunny or an Easter egg hunt or goddess of fertility in my future. But celebrating our risen Lord? Is there any better news? In the last few years, though, I’ve stopped calling it Easter and started calling it Resurrection Day.

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d) Halloween. You’ve got to be kidding.

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VI. Conclusion

Whatever you decide, make sure you examine your motives carefully. Make sure that your choice honors God and you aren’t following traditions because it’s an obligation. Don’t be enslaved to rules and regulations.

And whatever you decide – whether to go trick or treating or not, whether to have an Easter egg hunt or not – has no effect on your heavenly destination. But if you do not examine your motives and giving glory and honor to God, then you’re enslaved to culture and the world’s expectations. Your spiritual walk, your progressive sanctification, depends on your examining your motives and aligning yourself to God.

God wants our hearts in everything we do. He wants us to seek Him as He sought us. He wants us to love Him and love others out of love and not obligation. He wants us to be more like Christ because we love Christ and not because it’s a rule in the church.

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Christ came to free us, so let us be free indeed.

To God be the glory. Amen.

I Believe in Miracles

             I.      Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          II.      God Answers a Big Prayer

Joshua 10, verse 12,

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

And the Lord answers in verse 13,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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God rose His son from the dead.

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       III.      Can I Trust God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          IV.      God Makes a New Promise

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

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

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

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

             V.      God Fulfills a New Promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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          VI.      Conclusion

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

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

Isaiah 9:6 –

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

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

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I believe in miracles.

To God be the glory.  Amen.