Responding to Loss

We’ve been studying the rise of David as King of Israel. David is an interesting man, full of failures, yet David is a man after God’s own heart. What makes David different? How is David different than Saul?

As we studied in 1 Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they asked for, even though God knew it wasn’t in their best interests. Saul, as king, has actions that outwardly display his obedience to God, but we know his heart isn’t right. Saul is full of himself, and his actions are inconsistent. They do not speak of a man fully committed.

At the end of 1 Samuel, David knows he has been anointed by God as the future king of Israel, but he has to wait. Wait and wait and wait. David waits for 15 or 20 years for Saul to die so that David can be king. Who can identify with waiting on God? It’s easy to become impatient, but God’s timing is perfect; it’s our timing that gives us angst.

For these 20 years, David has to deal with everything the human heart is exposed to. Tragedy, romance, family conflict, madness, hate, betrayal. What makes David different is not his righteousness, but his faith. David made his share of mistakes, but he placed his faith in an Almighty God that was bigger than David. As a result, David becomes the king that leads God’s people through peace and prosperity in the land that God promised Abraham.

The first book of Samuel reads like a prime-time television thriller. In Chapter 22, Saul goes on a killing spree, killing off the priests of God. Chapter 23, Saul almost catches up to David to kill him, but has to veer off because of an attack by the Philistines. Chapter 24, Saul’s reliving himself in a cave when David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, scaring and humbling Saul… for a while anyway. In Chapter 25, David has a run-in with Nabal, but Nabal’s wife Abigail averts a battle. The next morning, Abigail tells Nabal what she’s done, and Nabal has a heart attack, so David marries Abigail. In Chapter 26, Saul’s trying to kill David again, but David again spares Saul’s life, and Saul again promises to stop trying to kill David. Chapter 27 is when David finally decides to remove himself from Israel so that Saul will stop trying to kill him.

David’s in an interesting spot; Saul has alternated between trying to kill David and vowing not to kill David. David has had more than one opportunity to kill Saul, but David knows that Saul has been placed as king by God, and it will be God’s actions to remove Saul from the throne, not by David’s hand. David is to respect authority and will have no part of killing Saul.

Chapter 27, David flees to the land of the Philistines. Since the Philistines are at war with the Israelites, David’s logic is that Saul won’t follow him there. David lived there for a year and four months, becoming the right hand man of the king of Philistine by day, slayer of Philistines by night. Chapter 28, Saul goes to a séance at the Witch of Endor’s place to seek advice from Samuel, who died a few chapters back. Samuel shows up and he is not happy. Samuel tells Saul that because of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord, Saul and his sons will be joining Samuel the next day.

Then, when the Philistine army gathers their forces to invade Israel, the Philistine generals don’t trust David to lead his small army against Israel, so David is dismissed from service. David uses this time in Chapters 29 through 30 to destroy the Amalekites, the people that Saul should have destroyed years earlier. While David is destroying the Amalekites, the Philistines invade Israel and destroy Saul’s army at Mount Gilboa. As the Philistines close in on Saul, in chapter 31 Saul and Jonathon fall on their swords and commit suicide to prevent the Philistines from taking them prisoner.

We’re tempted to breathe a sigh of relief at this point; the long saga of Saul’s attempts to kill David has come to an end. We might even be tempted to celebrate. Ding dong, the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch. Ding dong, the wicked king is dead.

But this is not a celebration. This is a day of sadness in the history of Israel. Israel’s first king is dead.

As 2 Samuel opens, David is unaware that Saul has died. David is in Ziklag in Philistine territory after destroying the Amalekites, when a man arrives to tell David of Saul’s death. 2 Samuel 1:5-15 describes the encounter; the man says he was there at Mount Gilboa and Saul was injured. Then the man says that Saul begged the man to kill him, so he does. But we know from 1 Samuel 31 that Saul fell on his sword and killed himself. Why would this man claim to David that he had killed Saul?

The man is obviously trying to buy favors from David, but it doesn’t work out the way the man expects. He tells David he is one of the Amalekites that David has been destroying and admits to killing the Lord’s anointed ruled of Israel, so David find him guilty of murder and has him put to death. David does not reward the man for doing what David has resisted doing for the past 20 years.

David begins a period, not of celebration, but of mourning for the passing of Saul. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 says,

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

And 2 Samuel 1:17-27, David composes a lament in honor of Saul and Jonathan.

Society teaches us, especially men, how to react in situations of grief. We’re supposed to be stoic. We are to control our emotions. And the news provides so many examples of horror in our society, and the movies we watch provide so many examples of death and destruction, that we become numb, calloused, and uncaring.

But I don’t believe that God’s plan for us is to learn to be stoic and uncaring. The only way we can avoid the grieving process is not to become attached in the first place. God wants us to become attached and involved. After loving God, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture supports that we are to spend extra effort loving Christian brothers and sisters, family and friends. And if we get attached, then certainly we will grieve when we experience loss.

God wants us to grieve such losses. Grief is a God-given emotion, a gift to deal with the pain. God doesn’t want us to live in grief; he wants us to use grief as an appropriate tool. It’s important to realize that, whether a believer or a non-believer, we will all experience grief. The issue is not whether we experience grief, but rather how we respond when we feel these emotions. It’s important to remember that, even when we don’t get all the answers we seek, that we can seek comfort in the Lord, that He understands the grief we experience. Be honest with God and He will help you work through your crisis. He may not tell you the answers to your questions, but He will remind you of His love for you. You can find comfort in Him.

Psychologists teach that there are five stages of grief that we go through when we experience a serious loss of a loved one, of a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling. The grief cycle is –

• Denial (shock, numbness). This is a protective reaction and it’s temporary. We’re not ready to deal with it, so we don’t. “This isn’t happening to me.”
• Anger. The actual root of anger is usually hurt or fear, but it’s expressed through anger. It’s normal, part of the fight or flight response. “Why” is the common question when we’re going through the anger phase.
• Bargaining (shame, guilt, or blame). “I promise I’ll be a better person if…” We try to find answers, we try to fix blame on somebody, maybe on ourselves. Sometimes we blame God.
• Depression (sadness). “I just don’t care anymore.” This is the hardest part of grief to overcome, it’s anger, but now it’s turned inward. Professional help is often necessary.
• Acceptance (forgiveness). This is just the way things are. When our desires, our expectations, our needs and wants are not the same as reality, we go through the first four stages. To get to acceptance, we get to a realization that we’re not going to change reality, so we’re going to have to change our expectations.

I’m not a psychologist; I don’t pretend to know all there is to know about grief. As an engineer, I can plot your grief stages in a spreadsheet if that’s helpful. If that’s not helpful, then we need to find some appropriate help in a friend, a confidant, or professional help. If you’re going through this now, Second Baptist offers qualified counselors free through the Barnabas Center to help you deal with issues like this.

But what we can do today is look at David’s responses to grief as a way of working through grief. In 2 Samuel 1:11-12, David goes through the anger and sadness phase by mourning and fasting. In verse 17, we can see the depth of David’s emotions as he composes a lament in honor of Saul and David’s best friend Jonathon. It’s important to find a way to express the sorrow we feel.

Horatio Spafford was born in 1828 and became a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was a deeply spiritual man and devoted to the scriptures. He amassed a great deal of wealth by investing in real estate near Lake Michigan. In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died, and while he was still grieving the loss of his son, the Great Chicago Fire burned up much of his real estate and wiped him out financially. Two years later, he and his wife and four daughters planned to assist Dwight Moody in an evangelism campaign in Great Britain. Spafford got delayed by business for a few days, so he sent his wife and daughters ahead on the S.S. Ville du Havre. On November 22, 1873, his wife’s ship was struck by an English vessel and sank in a few minutes. When the few survivors landed in Wales, Spafford’s wife telegraphed two simple words, “Saved alone.” Spafford had lost all four daughters.

When Horatio Spafford followed by ship a few days later, as the ship was passing through the area where his daughters had perished, Spafford wrote his own lament of personal grief, life’s pain and suffering, and finally, Christ’s redemptive work in his life. You’ve heard these words –

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

Both Horatio and David went through periods of intense grief. Both expressed their grief in powerful ways that gave thanks and glory to God. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun, including a time to mourn. We don’t have to be embarrassed or hide the fact we are in mourning; on the contrary, it shows the deep love God wants us to have for another. But we can learn something else from David’s lament; David had many reasons to be angry with Saul, yet, David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1:19-27 mentions not one word of criticism. Saul is described with beautiful words such as “How the mighty have fallen” and “in life they were loved and gracious,” “they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

One thing David does not mention, however, is Saul’s godliness. David knew that Saul failed as a spiritual leader of a nation. David praised Saul for the strengths Saul had, and did not resort to embellishing his praise with lies. Saul had his strengths, and David praised those honestly. What I find most amazing is that David’s grief and lament is about a man who made David’s life miserable, a man who hunted him into exile. But David acted in a godly manner, and it didn’t matter whether Saul did. Proverbs 24:17 says,

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice

God is displeased when we rejoice in another person’s troubles. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. David loved Saul out of compassion and without malice.

Sometimes we have a love / hate relationship with someone; often I hear it’s about a father, one full of stern discipline and sometimes harsh treatment that we nonetheless respected and loved. Once they’re gone, it is not the time to remember what we disliked about them, but to celebrate the strengths and positive characteristics they possessed.

I’ll confess that I feel uniquely unqualified to teach much more about grief; the Lord had blessed me with a wonderful life with little grief, and one my life’s biggest reasons for grief, my divorce from Diane, God gave me the chance to do it over in His way. But I know there are many of us that have recently experienced grief, and some of us are expected to experience grief. I would like to give us a chance to express a lament for those we may grieve for. I’d like to open up for discussion some thoughts about the grieving process.

First, what are some of the ways that Christians can respond in times of loss that honor God?

Why is it important for people to express grief after a loss?

How does acknowledging a loss help us grieve and help us ultimately move on with our lives?

What are some of the ways a believer can acknowledge loss in a relationship that had problems?

Perhaps you’re not currently going through a season of grief, but it’s likely that somebody you know is. What can we learn from David about other’s grief? When others grieve, sometimes it’s difficult for us to know how to respond. When the Philistines captured Saul’s lifeless body, they mangled and mutilated it, and his remaining men had the grisly task of burying what was left of the body. In 2 Samuel 2:5-7, David meets with these men who buried Saul. Look at the beautiful, encouraging words from David –

The LORD bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the LORD now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”

As we go through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we will all react differently. Sometimes when a difficult person passes away, we feel relief and then guilt at feeling relief. We might hide the grief with a joyful exterior. We might put ourselves to work and lose ourselves in our jobs or in service. We might shut down and withdraw. We might even use humor to ease our grief. We can be kind to others in their grief. Professional counselors can help individuals in dealing with their grief, but there is no substitute for the love and care from others to help the healing process. Our church, our bible class, is our spiritual community to do just that.

If you’ve recently been through a grieving process, what are some of the things that people have done for you that helped?

The reason God wants us to express our grief to a community of believers is because we are uniquely positioned by God to be here as support to our Christian brothers and sisters that need us. David grieved with others and shared his thoughts through prayers and service to others. It’s tempting to withdraw into ourselves and suffer alone, but that’s not God’s plan. We need to share our losses with others so they can strengthen us. I don’t know why we feel the need to suffer alone. Pride, maybe? That somehow suffering a loss or the fact that we’re hurting somehow makes us look weak? But if we share our grief, we can be encouraged by those who care for us.

Who here has recently experienced a reason to grieve or expects to experience one soon? Pray silently for just a moment, and if you feel led, tell us who you grieve for and a positive quality about their life you can share with us.

(Prayers and thoughts from the class)

Another lesson we can learn from David after his lamentations is to look at his actions in 2 Samuel 2. In verses 1-4, David seeks the Lord’s advice on how to respond. Our first priority in life must be to seek God’s guidance, whether in joy or pain. This includes big questions such as “should I take a new job” or “should I move to a new city,” but smaller questions such as “should I continue to serve on a particular church committee.” What process do you follow in making decisions?

I think David was able to deal with his grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan because he could see God working His plan for Israel. Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, David focused on God’s sovereignty and grace. After a loss, we want to ask why. Why did she die? Why did I lose my job? Why did I get cancer? But I’m convinced God wants us, instead of asking “why,” to ask “how” or “what.” What do you want me to do in my life, Lord? How shall I respond to this loss, Lord? We know that God promises that in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. In all things. We have to have faith that when God says all things, He means it. Even in times of grief.

So our time of grief is a season that we go through, but grief is not a place where we stay. We should express our grief to others so they may strengthen us. How long do we spend grieving? That’s up to each of us individually. 2 Samuel 2 begins with the words, “In the course of time, David.” David had a destination as king of Israel and he had to get on with his life. In the course of time, we, too, must get on with our lives. God has prepared a destination for us, too. Let us give thanks to Him.

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Hearing God

I hear a story about a coach teaching his first soccer team made of seventh graders. The coach described the role of the goalie, how to setup offensive a defensive plays, and how to pass the soccer ball. When Saturday came for their first game, the kids all bunched up around the ball in a compact huddle, kicking at the ball for all they’re worth.

The next week, patiently, the coach again described offensive and defensive plays, took them out to the field to practice. Saturday came for the game… and again, the kids bunched up around the ball just kicking at it for all they’re worth.

The next week, frustrated, the coach again starts explaining how to run offensive and defensive plays, when one of the kids raises his hand. “Coach? You mean we’re supposed to do this during the game?”

It’s one thing to hear the message. It’s quite another to put it into practice.

Last week, Fred told us the story of Hannah and how she dedicated Samuel to the Lord. She kept her word and Samuel was delivered to the Lord’s sanctuary in Shiloh. Shiloh may have been a religious community, but it was a less than ideal place to raise a boy.

Samuel is growing up in the period between Judges and Kings in the bible. Judges is a period of failure for Israel. Spiritually, there was no direction. Religious leaders were corrupt. The Philistines oppressed the Jews and there was little justice for evil. And while there had been a few bright spots in the leadership of Israel like Samson and Gideon, the book of Judges ends on this note (Judges 21:25) –

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

I’m having a little difficulty drawing any sort of parallel between that statement and our society in America today. Anybody have any ideas?

1 Samuel provides a transition between Judges and kings. Later this year we’ll transition between the king Saul, a failure, with David, a success. Now we’ll transition between the priest Eli, a failure, and Samuel, a success. First, let’s look at Eli and see if we can see what is wrong with his ministry.

Let’s start with 1 Samuel 2:12-17

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”

If the man said to him, “Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would then answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”

This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.

Now skip down to 1 Samuel 2:22-25

Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.

What I find interesting is that Eli’s knowledge of the Lord is very good. He has exemplary words and terrific advice. It’s his practice of God’s instruction that’s lacking. Eli’s sons are wicked men; verse 12 says “they had no regard for the Lord.” It more likely meant that they never gave God a second thought, much less a first thought. In the Book of Leviticus, chapter 7, the priests were entitled to a portion of the offerings brought to the Lord. The fat portions of the offerings were to be burnt as a sacrifice to God; the breast and right thigh were given to the priest, and the rest of the animal was cooked and eaten by the family of the person making the offer. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas sinned against the people by taking their share, but worse, they sinned against the Lord by taking the share that was dedicated to Him. Verse 17 says this was treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.

Eli gives very wise advice in verse 25. If man sins against another man, God may mediate for him. If man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him? This is similar to the question in Job 9; if you get into a disagreement with God, who would be the referee? Who would you ask to settle the argument? It’s a rhetorical question, because we know that the almighty God is the dispenser of perfect justice. You cannot win an argument with God.

We know that Eli was unsuccessful at persuading his sons to change their ways. His sons not only stole the Lord’s portions of the offerings, but they also slept with the women at the Tent of Meeting. The disobedience of the sons to the Lord and their reprehensible acts could not go unpunished. In Romans 1:24-32, Paul writes that God “gave them up” to their sinful desires. Eventually, if we disobey God long enough, God will let us have what we want. He will let us have our selfish pride, our wanton lusts, our every kind of wickedness, greed and depravity. He will let us have death.

The book of Samuel continues, 1 Samuel 2:27-36. A man of God, an unnamed prophet, comes to Eli. This prophet tells Eli that Eli and his sons were chosen by the Lord to be His priest, to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and the Lord asks, “Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?” The prophet goes on to say that since Eli’s family has not served the lord faithfully, the Lord has passed judgment on Eli, and verse 34-35 says,

“And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always. “

Basically, the Lord has given Eli’s sons over to their wicked ways. The Lord’s will, however, will still be done. It always is. But Eli and his sons will not be part of it. God will choose a new faithful priest to do His will.”

As for the people, “everyone did as they saw fit.” People of God are limited by the teaching, the discipleship, and the pastors of the church. One of the reasons for the mediocre spirituality of the people of God today is the low level of spirituality among pastors. God’s warning is that He will only tolerate this for so long, and then He will replace them. Eli and sons failed as spiritual leaders, and God took away their priesthood and promised to establish a new dynasty of priesthood from 1 faithful priest. God prepared a new leader and prophet in Samuel. Let’s look at 1 Samuel 3:1.

The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

Without faithful leadership, the people did as they saw fit. In response, the Word of the Lord was rare. God was silent. He’s given them over to their ways. Silence from God is horrible. Silence is deafening. Because they were unfaithful, God was silent.

We should remember this when we go to God in prayer. If we will not walk in obedience to Him, we cannot be sure we hear Him. He may be silent. Often before God answers our prayers, He has an expectation that we will do our best to obey the Words He has spoken. If we are willfully disobedient, we may not be able to hear Him. He may be giving us over to our wicked ways. If we want God to hear us, we had better be listening to what He has already said. Sometimes we pray for God to light our paths, but we have no intention of ever moving our feet.

That’s the prophetic warning to Eli and to us that our obedience matters to a most Holy God, and that He will only tolerate our willful disobedience for so long before He passes judgment on us. While Eli’s sons led people astray, let’s look at a future man of God that the Lord has already put in place.

In the last chapter, 1 Samuel 2:18, Hannah’s son Samuel has been dedicated to the Lord. Samuel, who is about the same age as our 7th grade soccer players, is ministering before the Lord, despite the poor examples of faithful leadership around him. And in 1 Samuel 3:4, it says, “Then the LORD called Samuel.”

Our parents may have prayed for our salvation, and we may also pray for our children’s salvation, but it’s the Lord who finally speaks to a willing heart. Samuel’s mother had dedicated him years before to the service of the Lord, but now is the time for the Lord to call Samuel. And Samuel, obedient and faithful, answers the call. Except… he’s not sure where the call is coming from.

Verse 2-5 –

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Something to notice here is Samuel’s surroundings when the Lord calls him. Samuel is near Eli, who despite having raised disobedient children, is still the priest of the temple. The lamp of God is still shining, and Samuel is near the ark of the covenant. If we’re to hear the word of God, not only do we need to be obedient, but we need to surround ourselves, immerse ourselves, in godly situations with godly people. It is at this point that God calls Samuel.

And Samuel mistakes the calling of God. When we are listening to the world, there are so many voices that speak to us. The voice on the news, on the television. Voices from work and from family and from friends. The truth of God can get lost among the voices if we are not attuned to Him. It would me so much easier if God called us on the telephone. I have caller ID. I could look down when my phone rings and says, “Sorry, I have to take this. It’s God calling.” Or perhaps the UPS truck driver delivering a package that has a return label, “FROM GOD.” But God speaks to us in a still, small voice. He speaks to us when we read our bibles. He speaks to us through the wise counsel of others. He speaks to us through good experiences, and He most definitely speaks to us through bad experiences. The point is that God speaks quietly and we can easily mistake God’s calling if we’re surrounded by noise.

But even though Samuel mistakes the calling of God, it’s remarkable that Samuel heard Him at all. Only because Samuel was faithful, Samuel could see and hear clearly, both spiritually and physically. And he reports to Eli, who tells Samuel to go lie back down.

2 Samuel 6, the Lord calls a second time, and again, Samuel go to see Eli, and again Eli tells Samuel to go lie down. And again in verse 8. This time, Eli realizes that the Lord is calling Samuel. Why did it take so long for Eli to recognize the calling of the Lord? I think we can get a better understanding by re-reading verses 1 and 2.

The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.

Eli wasn’t expecting to hear from God. The Lord rarely spoke because men weren’t willing to listen. Eli’s eyes had grown weak; Eli’s spiritual eyes are probably not much better.

But Samuel has been faithful; now we also see that Samuel is obedient. Eli gives appropriate spiritual advice to Samuel; when the Lord calls again, Samuel is to tell the Lord he’s ready.

In verse 10, the Lord calls Samuel yet again, and this time Samuel asks the Lord to speak, for His servant is listening. The Lord’s message to Samuel is that He will pass judgment on the house of Eli. Verse 11-14 –

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family — from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ “

And with those words still ringing in his ears, Samuel went back to bed.

In the morning, Eli asks, “Oh, by the way. I meant to ask. What did the Lord say to you last night?” You know Samuel must be nervous. He was afraid to tell Eli that the Lord was going to judge Eli’s family and make an example of them before Israel. But bless his heart, Eli does the right thing. He tells Samuel to give it to him straight and not to be afraid. Samuel should be more afraid of the Lord than afraid of men. Samuel should give the world the Lord’s message, and not water it down to tell the world what it wants to hear. Pastors, teachers, and all people of God should pass along the Lord’s word, even if the world doesn’t want to hear it.

We know some of the harder words that the world doesn’t want to hear. That we are no inherently good people; we are sinners in need of a savior. That there are not multiple and many ways to heaven; Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him. That casual Christianity is insufficient; lukewarm Christians will be spit out of Jesus’ mouth, and wide is the path to destruction. People don’t want to hear those words. They’re harsh. They’re judgmental. But they’re God’s words and they reflect His perfect judgment.

Many commentaries discuss the Lord’s call to Samuel and about how to hear His voice. They discuss the Samuel’s upbringing in the temple of the Lord, maintaining his witness, preparing through obedience, growing in godly character. Few commentaries discuss Eli’s response to hearing this devastating news about his family. Eli says in verse 18 in response to Samuel’s prophecy, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

He is the Lord. God will do what is good in His eyes, not ours. The message was hard, yet Eli wants the truth from Samuel. He asks Samuel to be open and honest about God’s word, and not try to please him with a watered down message, to resist the temptation to edit or moderate God’s word, or even try to be a mediator between God and the one receiving the word. Just give him the truth.

I’m encouraged by Eli’s response; it is one of surrender. It’s a response of peace. It’s a response of acceptance. Let the Lord do what is good in His eyes. Eli surrenders to the word of God and recognizes that Samuel is the new leader that God has chosen. Samuel will be leading the people of Israel; Eli has no further role to play except to witness the death of his sons and to witness the capture of the ark next week.

Samuel became leader with these words in 1 Samuel 3:19 through 1 Samuel 4:1 –

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

These words bring the story of Samuel’s birth, Samuel’s spiritual growth, and Samuel’s call. Samuel will return in our studies when we get to Chapter 7, but for now, the work God is doing in Samuel, from prophecy, character, and obedience, are enough to grow Samuel’s reputation from Dan to Beersheba. That’s like saying, “from California to the New York Island; from the redwood forests, to the gulf stream waters.” This is a time of Samuel’s maturing, as verse 19 says, “Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.”

The word of the Lord is hard to hear when you are doing your own thing, but if you’re obedient and listening, God can use you, just as He called Samuel. Not for our own interpretation, but for us to spread God’s word truthfully and faithfully. The key is to be faithful when God calls us.

Almost Persuaded

JUDAEA, Herodians. Herod Antipas. 4 BCE-39 CE....Image via Wikipedia I almost made coffee last week.

I’m a cheerful riser. Happy to talk and visit, happy to greet the new day. I’m almost always in a good mood first thing in the morning. But my brain isn’t exactly working at full speed. I need a routine to follow in the morning or I do goofy things.

And a week ago, when Diane and I came back from a little festival near Brenham, we came in the back patio and something spelled wonderful. Like fresh ground, vanilla roasted coffee beans. See, early that Saturday morning, Diane was still asleep, and I tried to do two things simultaneously first thing in the morning. I tried to walk our dog, Bella, and I tried to make coffee.

The coffee maker has a grinder on top, so I got the bag of beans out of the freezer, and put them in the top of the grinder. Yum, vanilla roasted beans, my favorite. Then I put the bag back, and put in just enough water to make a half a pot of coffee. Then I pushed the start button.

Now it’s time to get Bella. I get the leash out just as the coffee grinder starts grinding, clip the leash to her collar, and step outside… and I can still hear the grinder. It’s grinding a whole lot longer than I expected. Suddenly I realize I forgot to turn this little knob on the front of the machine, and it’s grinding enough beans for a whole pot of coffee. And this will be combined with a half pot of water and be some very strong coffee indeed. I come rushing back inside, tell Bella to stay by the front door, and find the off button on the coffee maker. Whew.

Ok, I can still save this pot of coffee. I don’t know how much beans have been grounded, but I can restart the brewing cycle without further grinding. Push this button, turn off the grinder… ok, I think I got it. Push the button to start brewing. Go back, get Bella who is very confused about this walk so far, and walk out the front door.

But something doesn’t seem right to me. I can hear the gurgling from the brew cycle starting, but something’s not right. And it dawns on me I forgot to put a filter in the coffee machine. And the next most reasonable thing for me to do in my cheerful and completely inept morning state is… to pull the filter basket out to look to see what’s inside.

Which dribbles hot coffee sludge, a mix of hot water and soggy coffee grounds down the front of the kitchen cabinet. I… put my hand under the basket to keep from dripping on the floor… hot! Hot! Hot! I push the basket back in.

Ok brain, try to get it together. Ok, first, unplug the coffee pot. I’m still creating hot coffee sludge. Open the back door. Pull the basket out *and* the coffee pot simultaneously, carry them both outside. Find some lucky plant that wants some vanilla fertilizer, dump the whole mess out.

Where was I? Oh yeah. I was walking the dog. Later that day, after the sun had been out and we came back from our festival, our patio had that lovely, vanilla-roasted coffee fertilizer smell. Diane asked me what it was, and I said… “Look! A dragonfly!”

I almost made coffee that morning. But you know, “almost coffee” isn’t good enough to drink. Lot’s of things aren’t good enough if they’re “almost” right. Skydiving, for example. Skydiving “almost” done right sounds horrible.

And this week, we’re going to look at another example of “almost” good enough. We’re studying Acts 24-26 this week, and let’s setup the situation. First, Paul is in jail. Again. Seems the last few weeks, Paul’s always in jail. Why is he in jail this time? Well, we have to go all the way back to Acts 21 and Paul is in Jerusalem. Paul is speaking at the temple, and some Jews stirred up the crowd, the crowd mobs Paul and begins to beat him with the intent to kill him. This mob attracted the Roman troops in the city who came down to see what the fuss was all about. When the Roman troops showed up, the crowd, of course, stopped beating Paul, and the Roman commander has Paul arrested. He asks Paul what all the rioting is about, and Paul says, “well, let me show you; may I speak?” Then in Acts 22, he stands in front of the temple and gives his testimony to the crowd, and the crowd erupts again.

And then, oddly, the Roman commander orders that Paul be arrested and flogged to find out why the people were yelling at him. Just before they flog him, Paul asks them if it’s legal to flog a Roman citizen. Alarmed, the commander withdraws and decides that perhaps beating a Roman citizen isn’t such a good idea.

By Acts 23, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees decide that if the Romans aren’t going to kill him, they will. They ask the Roman commander to setup a meeting with Paul on the pretext of gathering information, but secretly they’re arranging an ambush. Paul’s nephew gets wind of the plot and tells the Roman commander who has had enough of all this rioting and plotting. He decides to transfer Paul to Caesarea with 200 Roman soldiers to protect him.

The commander also writes a letter to the Governor of Cesarea, Governor Felix. It basically says, “Governor, I can’t find anything this man did wrong. But because there is a plot against him, I’m sending him to you and ordering his accusers to present their case to you.”

Everybody up to speed? We’re in Acts 24, in front of Governor Felix, along with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and a whole bunch of lawyers. The lawyers present their case first; Acts 24:5-8, they say,

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”

It’s like the Olsteen trial all over again. Anyway, Paul gives his defense, saying that even his accusers know he’s done nothing wrong. At the end of Acts 24, we find that Felix is a piece of work. He knows Paul is innocent, and he’s even interested in Christianity, but what he’s really interested in is money. He wants Paul to give him a bribe. Paul spends two years in prison teaching about righteousness, self-control, and judgment, and at the end of two years, Felix leaves him there.

He’s succeeded by Festus in Acts 25, and in Acts 25:13, Festus gets a visitor, King Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. King Herod Agrippa II is the grandson of the Herod that killed all the newborn males in Bethlehem when Christ was born. Agrippa was the nephew of the Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist. Agrippa was the son of Herod Agrippa the 1st who executed the Apostle James and would have executed the Apostle Peter had not the angel of the Lord rescued him. For Agrippa, this was a chance to meet a celebrity, so Festus sets up a meeting. Acts 25:23 says,

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.

In Acts 26, Paul begins, yet again, his message of redemption, repentance, and judgment. From Acts 26:1 through Acts 26:23, Paul gives his testimony. How he lived as a Pharisee, the promise given to the twelve tribes of Israel. Paul’s persecution of Jesus in verses 9-11, and then Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus from Acts 26:12-15, and the instructions Christ gave Paul to reach the Jews and Gentiles in Acts 26:16-18. Then Acts 26:19-23 –

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

At this point, Festus yells at Paul that Paul’s lost his marbles, his education has made him insane. And Paul keeps focusing on King Agrippa in Acts 26:25-29 –

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Agrippa’s response is a hypothetical question. The New King James translates it as, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

And that is probably one of the saddest responses in the entire bible. “You almost persuaded me.”

What went wrong?

It wasn’t the messenger. Paul was a very powerful messenger, and apostle of Christ who had seen the risen Lord face to face. How much power did Paul have? In verse 22, Paul says, “But God has helped me to this very day.” And the messenger was passionate, so passionate that in verse 24, Festus leaps up and tells Paul that he’s lost his mind. And Paul was persuasive – in verse 29, Paul tells Agrippa that he wishes Agrippa were just like him, but without the chains. The irony is incredible here – Paul is free in Christ, even though he is in chains. It’s Agrippa that is in bondage to sin.

So the messenger was powerful, passionate, and persuasive. So it’s not the messenger. Perhaps it was the message?

I don’t think so. The message was the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And not hearsay; Paul’s personal testimony was how Jesus had interceded directly on Paul’s behalf and proven to Paul firsthand. And the message was true. King Agrippa knew the words of the prophets and he knew the fulfilled testimony of Christ. Agrippa has no rebuttal to this; in verse 27, when Paul asks, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do,” Agrippa’s only response is that… “you almost persuaded me.”

Almost persuaded.

As we share God’s word with others, Paul has shown us that the message isn’t always received the way we would like it to be. Some people want to wait; we just keep talking. Some will ridicule us, but we’re called to show respect in our responses. Some receive the message with silence; we learn to ask open-ended questions to get them to talk. And some absolutely refuse, and all we can do is express concern. But there’s nothing sadder than somebody who hears a persuasive message from a persuasive messenger and is almost persuaded.

For those that have not accepted Christ, there are forces in opposition to the Word. Satan does whatever he can to keep people from giving themselves to Christ, and we can see almost all of these in Agrippa.

The forces include –

• Pride. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall.” It’s pride that tells us we can be good enough to get to heaven, that we can stand unashamed, on our own, before an almighty and holy creator. And Psalms 10:4 says, “In his pride, the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” Pride blinds us to our need for a savior.
• Position. Agrippa was king of the Jews. Like pride, our position in society keeps us from being humble. We are too important to make ourselves low. But Jesus called a little child to him and told his disciples in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
• Possessions. Agrippa was a very rich man. Matthew 19:23, Jesus says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” People, like Agrippa, get attached to the things of this world and can’t give them up to save their own souls.
• Peer pressure. Felix and other Jewish leaders were looking at Agrippa to see what he would do. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
• Procrastination. Agrippa was “almost persuaded” but put off his decision. He could always revisit this question tomorrow. But sometimes, tomorrow doesn’t come. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” And 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

But Paul looks directly at King Agrippa through this exchange. Paul was persistent and told his personal testimony about how Jesus changed his life. While Herod Agrippa II and his family may have been persecuting Christ, Paul also confesses he once persecuted Christ. Agrippa’s sins are no different than Paul’s sins, except Paul’s sins are forgiven.

It’s true that in the bible (Mark 6:11), Jesus told the disciples that if they were not welcome in a town, they should shake the dust from their feet as they left. But that’s a matter of being a good steward of the time we have available. Jesus never counseled us to give up on somebody. Jesus didn’t give up on me, and I am so thankful He didn’t. If you have a family member or a friend you’re praying for, don’t give up. You don’t want them to be almost saved.

Michael Rodriguez is a man thankful somebody didn’t give up on him. He’s one of the “Texas Seven” that broke out of prison in 2000 and on Christmas Eve, killed a policeman. He was sentenced to death; unlike most people on death row, for the last 2 years he has been waiving every appeal opportunity, saying he deserved the death penalty. The sentence was carried out a week ago Thursday.

At 6:10pm, he began his last words. “I know this no way makes up for all the pain and suffering I gave you. I am so, so sorry. My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and sorrow I have caused. I hope that someday you can find peace. I am not strong enough to ask for forgiveness because I don’t know if I am worthy. I realize what I’ve done to you and the pain I’ve given. Please Lord forgive me. I have done some horrible things. I ask the Lord to please forgive me. I have gained nothing, but just brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people. I am sorry. So so sorry. To the Sanchez family who showed me love. To the Hawkins family, I am sorry. I know I have affected them for so long. Please forgive me. Irene, I want to thank you for being with me on death row and walking with me and helping me find Christ’s love. These last few steps I must walk alone. Thank you and thank your husband Jack. I’ll be waiting for you. I am so sorry. To these families I ask forgiveness. Father God I ask you too for forgiveness. I ask you for forgiveness Lord. I am ready to go Lord. Thank you. I am ready to go. My Jesus my Savior there is none like you. All of my days I want to praise, let every breath. Shout to the Lord let us sing.

“My Jesus, my Savior, there is none like you,” he sang softly. “All of my days I want to praise, let every breath. Shout to the Lord, let us sing ….”

Among his last words were, “I’m ready to go Lord.” At 6:20pm, he was pronounced dead.

Michael Rodriguez is thankful that Irene and Jack, whoever they are, didn’t give up on Michael Rodriguez. And while the angels in heaven rejoice that another sinner has turned to God, non-Christians don’t understand why a murderer gets to go to heaven. They don’t understand that they can never do enough good to get to heaven, nor can they do enough evil that Christ cannot save him. It’s never too late.

Who’s been watching the Olympics the last week? Anybody here actually in the Olympics?

When it comes to the Olympics, most people are spectators. They don’t actually participate in the games; they watch some of the events on television. A few actually get to participate. The best of the best win medals – some win bronze, some silver, and the very best wind the coveted gold medal. Or like Fred said last week, perhaps a tin medal.

But the gold medal for all humanity is arriving in heaven in the pure and holy presence of God. The vast majority of people are spectators in this race. They see the lives of Christians, but they make no effort to join. They’re… almost persuaded.

The bronze medal for Christianity is being aware of Jesus. If you ask them what religion they belong to, they may even answer that they’re a Christian. But if you press them further, they don’t know why they’re a Christian. They know Jesus is a really good person, and they also want to be a really good person. And that means not being judgmental. They believe all roads leads to heaven, there are many paths. They don’t believe a loving God would send people to Hell, not realizing that God doesn’t send people to Hell, people go to Hell because they reject God. They are really only dimly aware of what Jesus said, and they make no effort to share their faith or go to church or grown in the spirit. They get a bronze medal for being aware of Jesus. King Agrippa gets a bronze medal. He had plenty of knowledge about Jesus.

Then there’s the silver medal, awarded to those who believe in Christ. They know He’s the Son of God. They’ve heard the Sermon on the Mount; they’re happy the meek will inherit the earth, because then they can beat up the meek and take it from them. Their actions don’t reflect the love of Christ; they do not model forgiveness, controlling their tongue, serving others, or loving their neighbors. But they believe in Jesus, so they win a silver medal. But they don’t grasp the concept that even the demons believe in Jesus. As Fred mentioned last week, faith and repentance are linked. It’s not enough to say you have faith without your life demonstrating your repentance.

But spectators and bronze medalists and silver medalist are almost persuaded to be disciples of Christ. Perhaps they have an idea that heaven will be like standing on the scales of justice – as long as you do more good than evil, you get into heaven. But Jesus says that isn’t enough. Jesus says to follow Him and He will make you fishers of men (Mark 1:16-17). Jesus says that if anyone would come after Jesus, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). And we may have heard Jesus say in John 8:32, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” but what’s the line immediately before that? “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.'”

And what about the disciples that settle for “well, this is good enough?” Jesus tells the church in Laodicea what he thinks about “good enough.” Revelations 3:15-16 –

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Literally, it means “vomit you out of His mouth.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, except when I get to heaven, I don’t want Jesus to be looking at me like that.

The gold medal is a heart that yearns to follow God. Matthew 7:13-14 –

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

The gold medal is the narrow gate to heaven. Everything else is just “almost.” Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 just before his death –

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Thank the good Lord that He loves us. Thank the good Lord that He is our gold medal. Can you imagine if the scripture says that God so loved the world that He almost gave His only begotten son? That Jesus almost died on the cross for us?

Let’s yearn for that gold medal of righteousness, and not settle for merely being “almost” persuaded.

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Christian Carnival CCXXVIII

This week, Chasing the Wind is honored to host the 228th edition of the Christian Carnival, a collection of this week’s best Christian blogging. This week is Father’s Day – so let us remember this week that it is our Father in heaven that gives us Life in Him!

Would you like to participate in a future edition of the Christian Carnival, either as a host or as a writer? Jeremy has provided up to date instructions on how to do that at his website, Parableman.

First on our list is a promotion for a new Christian social network called His-Friends:

Christopher Johnson presents Smart Personal Finances » Blog Archive » His-Friends posted at Smart Personal Finances. I need your help to build a Christian community where everyone can come to make friends, keep in contact with friends and family, and give and receive support and encouragement.

What does the bible say about money? Quite a bit, actually:

FMF presents The Responsibility of Wealth posted at Free Money Finance. With wealth comes responsibility.

The bible also has quite a bit on the subject, of sex, too:

Cheapham presents Paul and Sex(uality) “According to Nature” posted at Theology for the Masses. The post deals with Roman sexuality and Paul in Romans 1. However, there is some good discussion brewing the comments on how to do biblical scholarship.

At the same website, a different author offers a prayer for the community:

JR Madill presents A Prayer I Prayed posted at Theology for the Masses. JR was asked to pray a prayer for “the least of these” Parkade Baptist Church “Battle for America” Concert of Prayer Monday night, June 2nd.

Diane looks at some positive benefits of legalism:

Diane R presents The Old Time Religion (Legalism)…Maybe Not So Bad After All? posted at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet. Maybe the old time fundamentalist legalists weren’t that stupid after all.

John asks what it’s like to be accepted by God:

This week at Light Along the Journey John looks at the great truth that Christians are Accepted by God.

Does observing the liturgical calendary help or hinder the Christian Church?

Mark Olson presents Toward or Away From The Secular posted at Pseudo-Polymath. Liturgical calendar, Nativity, Epiphany, Lent, Easter/Pascha, Pentecost, and so on. Many Protestant churches have abandoned the liturgical calendar. Why? In asking, I present argument why not.

A thoughtful post on the theology of St. Luke is here; I look forward to the next installment:

Richard H. Anderson presents Reading Conzelmann Again for the 1st Time posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

What is the bright side of the high price of oil? Find out here:

Thom presents High Priced Oil, a Struggling Economy, and Spirituality Part 1 posted at Everyday Liturgy. Thom begins a discussion on the spiritual consequences of living in the present economy.

Where is God when you need Him most? God is here:

Wickle presents God Is Here posted at A True Believer’s Weblog. After a terrible week, Wickle and his family were reminded that “God is Here,” and he shares some of that in his post.

God is our Father, not just on Father’s Day, but everyday. Why not our Mother?

Jeremy Pierce presents John Oswalt on God and Motherhood posted at Parableman. John Oswalt gives an interesting explanation of why the Bible calls God a Father and not a Mother.

And finally, broaching the subject of Christian erotica. Can erotica and/or porn also be Christian?

In P$rn vs. Er*tica posted at The View From Her. Discussing a disturbing trend in writing “evangelical er*tica”.

Empowered to Witness

The book of Acts was written approximately 60AD; the strongest evidence is that Acts closes with Paul in a Roman prison. We also know that Paul was martyred in 63AD or 64AD, and this would surely have been mentioned by the author.

Who knows who the author of Acts is? Most scholars believe it’s written by Luke as sort of a conclusion to the book of Luke, especially because in several places the author switches from a third person “they did this” to a first person “We saw this,” implying that the author saw some of the events firsthand. Acts 1:1 begins with the words, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Luke 1:3 says “… it seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus…”. So we can think of the book of Acts as sort of Luke, Part II. Or Luke, the Sequel. Or Luke and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Luke begins Acts with short summary of the last days of Christ and 4 major points –

a) Verses 4-8, the resurrected Jesus appears and tells the apostles to wait for the gift of the Holy spirit;
b) Verses 9-11, Jesus ascends into Heaven and angels remind them that Jesus will return the same way;
c) Verses 12-14, all the apostles unite in prayer as they wait for the Holy Spirit;
d) And verses 15-26 the entire church, about 120 of them, discuss the fate of Judas and his replacement according to scripture.

We’re supposed to covers Acts 1 & 2 today, and we’re not going to be able to do it justice. There are so many lessons in here; prophecy, obedience, the kingdom of God, the resurrection, the ascension, baptism, spiritual gifts, tongues, the early church structure, loving and caring for believers, and more. I remember when I was teaching about the life of Joseph and how his brothers threw him in the well. I thought, “Is that it? Can’t I have the next chapter where Joseph gets out of the well?” The first 2 books of Acts, though, are full of lessons.

I want to focus, though, on verses Acts 1:4-8 and the last instructions Jesus gave to his disciples.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus tells us that we will be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. What keeps Christians from fulfilling this command? Why do Christian not witness?

Notice Jesus says, “wait for the gift my Father promised.” What is this gift? And what is the Holy Spirit? Is it a ghost? Is it, as Obi Wan says, a force that flows through us and surrounds us? No, the Holy Spirit is a person. He is the third person of the Trinity.

What does the Holy Spirit look like? Oh my goodness, we just got through studying Genesis and you’ve already forgotten. Genesis 1:26, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.'” The Holy Spirit sort of looks like you and me.

The Holy Spirit does many things for us; for instance, sometimes He tells us what do do. Look at Acts 8:29 –

The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Yes, sometimes God, through the Holy Spirit, commands us to do things. The Holy Spirit helps us and intercedes for us; look at Romans 8:26-27 –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

The Holy Spirit is more than our conscience; the Holy Spirit guides us, helps us, gives us moral direction by directing us to obey God’s will. When you are troubled or confused or in conflict, ask God to search your heart like David did in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” The same Psalm in verse 7 asks,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

That is why Jesus says if you seek Him, you shall find Him, because no matter where you go, there He is. Come to think of it, no matter where I go, there I am, too. Coincidence? I think not.

The Holy Spirit also guides us. Look at John 16:13-14 –

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth; if what you hear conflicts with the Word of God, then you’re not hearing the Spirit, you’re hearing something else. And notice that it says the Holy Spirit will bring glory to me. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to Jesus Christ. Turn to John 15:26-27 –

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to tell people about Jesus Christ and how they can have a relationship with God. God, Spirit, Jesus. The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus, and then Jesus says we also must testify. Let’s turn back to our study today at Acts 1:4 –

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised”

Why do you suppose Jesus told them to wait?

I find it interesting that these disciples were with Jesus throughout his ministry, they witnessed His teachings, His miracles, His death, resurrection and ascension. But they were not told to give a witness of their account. They were told to wait for the Holy Spirit and *then* witness.

God can do all things in His good time; I believe God is teaching us two things here. First, be patient. “Dear Lord, give me patience, and make it snappy!” We’re are by nature impatient and we want things now, but God’s plan requires us to wait on Him. We want things now; we want a new car, we want a bigger house, a better job. We want a bible study to grow, we want a family member to be saved, we want pain to end, we want, we want, we want. But God is trying to teach us that it is not our ability that accomplishes anything lasting. Only by waiting on Him will His will be accomplished through us. So the apostles were to be patient and wait on the Lord. We are not to do things under our own power; when we do, we are attempting to bring glory to ourselves. Listen to these instructions from the Lord to Israel in Ezekial 36:25-27 –

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Notice a pattern there? Who is responsible for cleansing us, for changing us, for putting the Holy Spirit in us? God wants us to know that He is responsible for all of these things. We wait on the Lord, because we need Him. Jesus repeats the instructions from John 15 in Acts 1:8 –

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Not only do we need the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises we can have it! Turn to Acts 2:1-4 –

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

This is not the first appearance of the Holy Spirit; He was with God in the beginning and He made appearances throughout the Old Testament for specific reasons and for limited times. But at the day of Pentecost, the holy Spirit makes a powerful entrance to show us the power and permanent residence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

The Day of Pentecost was an annual feast celebrated on the day after the seventh Sabbath according to the rules of Leviticus, the 50th day after Passover. It was originally the Feast of the Firstfruits of the grain harvest. After the resurrection of Jesus, He appeared for 40 days, then ascended into heaven, so there were 10 days the disciples waited and prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit to come. The Feast of Firstfruits has significance as these were the first 3000 who came to faith of many millions who would come after.

The Holy Spirit arrived dramatically; there was noise, a sound like a violent wind like a tornado or hurricane. There was sight as tongues of fire came down on each of the 120 disciples gathered. And then a gift of the Holy Spirit, speaking in many languages to enable them to spread the gospel to the entire world. In verse 8-9, they spoke the language of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia and Egypt and Libya and Rome and more. And the people witnessing this extraordinary event, did they immediately recognize God at work? Verse 13, “Ah, they’re just drunk.”

It’s important to understand the power given to Christians. Just as we are to wait on the Lord instead of doing things on our own, the handiwork of God is not apparent to nonbelievers without us telling them about it. In verse 14, Peter stands up in front of the crowd and explains the prophecy of the Holy Spirit’s coming. As believers, can you see the work of God? Can you see the stars and marvel at His glory, can you look at a blade of grass and marvel at the intricacies of the tiny veins? Can you look at your spouse and see the fingerprints of God? Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Romans 1:20 says,” For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” For people that do not know God, they attribute the beauty of the heavens to anything *but* God. God chooses to work through people filled with His Spirit to spread the Gospel, people that rely on the Spirit and not on their own abilities. Since the day of Pentecost, this power of the Holy Spirit is available to all who follow Jesus.

Notice what Peter does in Acts 2:14-36; Peter tells them about prophecy fulfilled, about the son of God paying the price for our transgressions, about Christ’s resurrection. Acts 2:15 Peter says, “These men are not drunk, it’s nine in the morning!” In verse 16-20 he quotes the book of Joel so that the unbelievers hear about the fulfilled prophecy, with a powerful statement in verse 21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That’s everyone, as in Jews and Gentiles alike.

And then in verse 22-23, Peter tells them how evil they have been,

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Peter repeats the accusation in verse 36,

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Some of you know that I grew up as a believer in Jesus. But I wasn’t a follower of Jesus until I gave my life to him in 1998. This statement by Peter was a powerful influence on me. Sure, I knew that Jesus died and was raised. But did He do it for me? When Jesus was arrested and people in the temple asked Peter if he knew Jesus, what did Peter say? That’s right, he denied it three times. Now Peter’s faith is firm because he saw the resurrected Jesus. Peter now knows Jesus conquered death. And he now gives this eloquent witness to the power of the death and life of Jesus, and telling the Jews, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

In my mind and in my heart, I realized then that I was no different from Peter. I didn’t have to deny Christ; I was a living example that I was not following Him. I wasn’t going to church, I wasn’t reading His Word. I could see myself doing the same thing Peter did, the same thing the Jews did, the same things the Romans did to Jesus. I was denying Him, I was mocking Him. If I had been there, I would have crucified Him. Christ died for me, personally.

We all crucified Jesus. We weren’t there, but we aren’t any different. And through our sinful actions, we crucify Jesus over and over again. We nailed Him to the cross and murdered Him, and He went willingly so that we, who knew not what we do, could have eternal life in Him. What a stunning display of mercy and grace.

What was the response of the people when they realized they had brutally murdered the son of God? Verse 37-41,

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Luke, the historian, does not mention tongues of fire or the sound of violent winds when the 3000 were baptized. While the Holy Spirit empowers all Christians, the miracle of Pentacost was a one time event.

When we wait on the Holy Spirit, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the only thing God asks us to do is be a witness to the good news that Jesus is our savior. What is the ultimate purpose for the Holy Spirit empowering believers?

Let me ask you, and don’t raise your hand. How many people have you led to the Lord? One? Three? None?

If your witness if ineffective, there are many reasons that may be holding you back. Perhaps you don’t feel you know enough of the Word of God. How do you change that? Read the Word of God. Perhaps you’re afraid they’ll make fun of you, or perhaps they’ll think you’re odd. Perhaps you’re relying on your own understanding. We are not responsible for making nonbelivers feel guilty for their sins; that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. Our job is just to share our faith, our witness, our testimony of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives.

It’s not about you; it’s not about me. It never was. It’s about the good news that in Christ, we are free, free from the bondage of sin. We have everlasting life in Him whom we trust. Peter, scaredy-cat Peter who denied Christ, is now infused with the power of the holy Spirit and proclaims loudly that Christ is Lord. And with the Holy Spirit filling him, those 120 followers of Christ baptized 3000 more believers. Those were some powerful firstfruits working for the Lord.

How do we get more of the Holy Spirit? That’s just it, you can’t. You have to surrender and let the Holy Spirit have more of you. The Holy Spirit isn’t like Underdog’s Super-Energy Pill that we take just before we sing, “Here I am to save the day!” If you want to be part of the work of God, you have to live with the spirit every day. Galatians 5:16-18 tells us how to do this –

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

When we surrender to the Holy Spirit, we walk with Him daily. What does that mean? It means submitting to God’s authority, being obedient to His word. It means communicating with God regularly through prayer and study. It means being active with other believers in fellowship and in service so that we can see and hear the Word of God at work in the lives of others. With a lifestyle of obedience and communications, we learn to give control of our lives to the Spirit and let God direct our lives instead of us trying to tell God who He is.

We need the power of the Holy Spirit; God tells us to wait on Him. We can use the power of the Holy Spirit because it is a gift promised to all followers of Christ. And when we submit to God’s authority in obedience, we can see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and the lives of others.

Reconciliation

Sweet treats for everybody; I’d like to pass out some candy favors today; little pieces of sweetness as a symbol of the wonderful friends we’ve developed in this class.

(For my illustration today, I’ll pass out little candy favors to everybody, but “accidentally” overlook Margaret.)

Sometimes big conflicts can fracture a relationship. Sometimes, little things do. Perhaps it’s something as simple as accidentally overlooking somebody, or even perhaps intentionally overlooking somebody. Everyone except Margaret received a piece of candy. I know I’m partially at fault, but maybe I’m ashamed that I overlooked her. Perhaps the look on her face let’s me know she’s upset and I don’t want to deal with her emotions. Left unchecked, a little thing can fester into a big thing, and then one day we find we’re no longer on speaking terms.

I need to get things right; I’m sorry I left you out. Would you like a piece of candy?

Loss of friendship hurts. It hurts us, it hurts them. Dealing with the hurt is hard; sometimes there is mistrust or pain from verbal abuse and name calling. And if neither side apologizes or owns up to their contributions to the argument, the friendship is never healed. We just sort of coexist on the same planet. If somebody has caused pain to us or to a loved one, if hostility has been expressed by the other person or let’s face it, by us, reconciliation may seem a long way off.

If we feel the hurt was intentional or insensitive, we just don’t feel like reconciliation. In fact, sometimes we’d rather seek revenge. “They don’t deserve my friendship.” After a while, the separation becomes semi-permanent. Some want to just leave well enough alone; perhaps it’ll work itself out all by itself. Or perhaps, we just completely ignore the other person, avoiding any contact, because is there really a need to go through all that emotional pain again? Or perhaps we spend months or years waiting for the other person to come apologize to us. Each of these approaches end with a permanently broken relationship.

Q: Why do we ignore or avoid the other person rather than work toward reconciliation? Is reconciliation something you say, or is it something you do? Why?

Reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness. Usually before you can reconcile with somebody, you have to forgive them. We often get confused about what forgiveness is; often we think we will forgive them if they ask for an apology, as though forgiveness is something we are offering to them. Forgiveness is not for them; who is forgiveness for?

Reconciliation comes after forgiveness and requires both parties to participate. Reconciliation is a change in both people who were once at odds with each other. While forgiveness is something we should always do, reconciliation is only something we can initiate, and also depends on the other person to reciprocate. Chris’s lesson last week talked about how to decide if the other person is ready for reconciliation and today we’re going to build on that. God wants us to take whatever steps are necessary toward reconciliation with anybody we’re alienated from. Let’s turn to Genesis 43 and sort of summarize what’s going on so far.

In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain, all except the youngest, Benjamin, who stayed home with Jacob. Since Joseph was the governor of Egypt now, the brothers came to see him and bowed down with their faces to the ground, fulfilling the prophecy of the dream Joseph had as a boy. Joseph recognized them, but the brothers didn’t recognize Joseph in return for a lot of reasons. They had sold their brother into slavery years ago, and would not have expected him in this position and dressed so richly.

Joseph challenges his brothers to see if their hearts have changed, and accuses them of being spies. When the brothers mention that the youngest is still at home with their father, Joseph devises a test; he agrees to sell the brothers the grain they need, but they’re going to have to leave one of the brothers behind as hostage. Secretly in each brother’s sack of grain, Joseph puts the silver they used as payment back in their sack. Joseph then throws Simeon in jail and says that Simeon won’t be released unless the youngest brother is brought to him as well.

When the brothers arrive home, they discover the silver in the sacks and become frightened; they’re certain they’ll be accused as thieves if they return. Then Jacob starts complaining. First, years ago, he lost Joseph. Now the brothers have lost Simeon, and they want to take Benjamin away, too. Jacob refuses to le them go back to Egypt.

Then in Genesis 43, all the grain is gone, and Jacob finally says, ok, you must return to Egypt for more food. The brothers remind him that all the brothers must go, including Benjamin. Jacob complains, why oh why did you tell him you had a younger brother. Their answer is simple; the man asked, we told him.

Ok, Jacob says. You can take Benjamin. But take a lot of gifts with you this time, some balm and some honey and spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Also take along double the amount of silver. And Jacob places all his trust in the Lord in verse 14, “And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you.”

By verse 19, the brothers had arrived back in Egypt and brought to Joseph’s house. They’ve been invited to dinner, and they’re scared.

So [the brothers] went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. “Please, sir,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”

“It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed low to pay him honor.

As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”

Joseph wants to desperately for his family to be reunited again, but can he trust his brothers? This last time he tested them, they delayed their return. Perhaps they weren’t ready. Are they ready now?

Genesis 44:1-5,

Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.

As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’ “

Why do you think Joseph put the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag? Joseph is seeking confirmation that the hearts of his brothers have changed. The brothers are now caught with the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. What are the possible responses Joseph could expect?

The brothers make a rash promise in verse 9; they believe they are innocent, so they say that if any of them is found with the cup, they will die and the rest of the brothers will be slaves. Fortunately in verse 10, the steward says that whoever has the cup will be a slave and the rest will be set free, and of course Benjamin has the cup.

Once, these same brothers threw Joseph in a well. They left him for dead, but then changed their mind and sold him into slavery. Their motive was probably jealousy and envy since Jacob clearly favored Joseph by giving him his Technicolor dreamcoat. Now the other favored son is in trouble. Joseph has an ideal test. Will the brothers sacrifice Benjamin, or will they try to save him?

The next several verses are very touching and show the changed hearts of Joseph’s brothers; in verse 16, Judah says that since they cannot prove their innocence, all of them will be slaves. The brothers will not abandon Benjamin. Joseph says that’s nonsense, only the youngest is a slave, the rest can go.

Judah came forward. He said, “Please, master; can I say just one thing to you? Don’t get angry. Don’t think I’m presumptuous—you’re the same as Pharaoh as far as I’m concerned. You, master, asked us, ‘Do you have a father and a brother?’ And we answered honestly, ‘We have a father who is old and a younger brother who was born to him in his old age. His brother is dead and he is the only son left from that mother. And his father loves him more than anything.’

“Then you told us, ‘Bring him down here so I can see him.’ We told you, master, that it was impossible: ‘The boy can’t leave his father; if he leaves, his father will die.’

“And then you said, ‘If your youngest brother doesn’t come with you, you won’t be allowed to see me.’

“When we returned to our father, we told him everything you said to us. So when our father said, ‘Go back and buy some more food,’ we told him flatly, ‘We can’t. The only way we can go back is if our youngest brother is with us. We aren’t allowed to even see the man if our youngest brother doesn’t come with us.’

“Your servant, my father, told us, ‘You know very well that my wife gave me two sons. One turned up missing. I concluded that he’d been ripped to pieces. I’ve never seen him since. If you now go and take this one and something bad happens to him, you’ll put my old gray, grieving head in the grave for sure.’

“And now, can’t you see that if I show up before your servant, my father, without the boy, this son with whom his life is so bound up, the moment he realizes the boy is gone, he’ll die on the spot. He’ll die of grief and we, your servants who are standing here before you, will have killed him. And that’s not all. I got my father to release the boy to show him to you by promising, ‘If I don’t bring him back, I’ll stand condemned before you, Father, all my life.’

“So let me stay here as your slave, not this boy. Let the boy go back with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? Oh, don’t make me go back and watch my father die in grief!”

Do you think Joseph sees the evidence of changed hearts? The brothers are all united here, even though they were allowed to go. Judah’s words and actions indicate that they are not willing to repeat the act they committed against Joseph many years ago. Judah originally had the idea to sell Joseph to the caravan. Now Judah is showing that he’s learned from his past mistakes. He’s learned how his actions have hurt his family, how his father grieves, and he’s reevaluated his life. Joseph can now see that Judah is a changed man.

Joseph spent much effort is seeking their hearts. His efforts will be different than the effort we should produce, unless you’re a servant of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Our efforts should include prayer, first of all. What other efforts can perform to see if another has a changed heart?

And now, the happy ending in Genesis 45. Joseph breaks down crying and reveals to his brothers that he is Joseph and asks if his father is still alive. Verse 4-7, instead of blaming his brothers, he demonstrates that he’s forgiven them and gives all the credit to God, who had a plan all along.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

This is the first occurrence in the bible of the word “remnant.” God’s people are rebellious, over and over again, and yet God always spares a remnant of righteous people who will survive.

Joseph urges his brothers to bring their father to Egypt, and then in verse 14, Joseph finally gets to hug his little baby brother after 22 years.

And they all lived happily ever after. And the moral of the story is…?

God is teaching us through the story of Joseph about the great joy there is in reconciliation. More than just forgiveness, reconciliation is restored relationships. In our married class, God has provided us with a spouse with whom we can express our love to each other. Sacrificial love, agape love, serving love, affectionate and intimate love. Such closeness can bring hurt, though. Uncaring words to a stranger bounce off; uncaring words to a spouse hurt. Thank our heavenly Father that we have such wonderful Christian spouses that share the same goals; how much more difficult in those marriages that do not share a love of Christ.

And when we fight with each other, we are given a chance to forgive each other, such as God forgives us of all the many things we do that could bring judgment on us. But with our spouse, His grand design is more than just forgiveness. When we wound each other as we eventually do, lingering unforgiveness can lead to distance in our marriage. We think somehow the distance will keep us from getting hurt even more. But is God’s plan for us merely to live separate lives in the same house, or are we to cleave and become one flesh? The lesson God teaches us through the story of Joseph is that changed hearts lead to reconciled relations. We learn these lessons first hand with our spouse. If there is coldness, bitterness, separateness, then changed hearts are needed. We should be seeking reconciliation daily to be as close to our spouse as we possibly can.

Craig introduced our new class motto this week, Ephesians 5:33. Here’s how God wants us to live, verses 22-33, from The Message,

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

Does that sound like we’re merely supposed to coexist with each other, or does God see our relationship with each other as special?

Reconciliation with our Christian brothers and sisters is also important to God. God tells us in Matthew 5:23 that gifts and service to God are secondary to our relationships with each other.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

God knows it’s not always possible. It requires changed hearts, and God allows us to harden our hearts. But Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As far as it depends on you. Seek a changed heart for yourself. Seek a changed heart in others. Then reconcile with each other.

And what reconciliation does God wants most of all? Our reconciliation with Him. We are born with hardened, selfish hearts. God watches, waits, calls to us, waiting for a sign that our hearts have changed. Jesus tells us in Luke 15:10 that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. God wants more than just to forgive us for our sins. God wants to reconcile with us. God wants a relationship with us.

When Joseph reconciled with his brothers, there was joy in the reconciliation. There is joy when we reconcile with our spouses, our families, our friends. And there is joy in heaven when we show a changed heart and seek a relationship with our Creator.

And then, they all lived happily ever after.

When All Hope Seems Lost

Coptic-Arabic manuscript, Ayyubid period, AD 1249-50. Images depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ, his appearance before Caiaphas, Peter's denial at cockcrow, Christ before Pilate, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
This week we follow Joseph into prison. If we’re headed to prison with him, let’s recap how we got here. We know that Joseph was born into a family that was trying to follow God’s will but at the same time was highly dysfunctional. Joseph had eleven other brothers, born to four different women. His own mother had passed away. His father Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph because Jacob learned that from his father Isaac.

Joseph has a dream that God will make him ruler, and Joseph’s family will bow down to him. Joseph’s brothers are less than enthused by this dream, and they throw him in a well, expecting to kill him. Now, when I was growing up, my brother and sister and I fought, but we never threw any of us in a well. At least not that I remember. At least not for very long. And we never sold one of us to the Egyptians which is what Joseph’s brother decided to do, rather than kill him.

When Joseph was at the bottom of the well, things looked pretty hopeless. No food, no water, and the only people around that could get him out of the well were the same ones that threw him into the well in the first place. Joseph knew God’s plan for him held great things in store for him, but how were they possibly going to come true if Joseph is dying at the bottom of a well? I think we can learn from Joseph about how to handle serious setbacks in our life and how we should respond. I came up with four ways, but I’m not going to tell them to you yet because the lesson would be over and it’s too early for lunch.

Instead of killing Joseph, his brother decided to sell him to the caravan to Egypt. I was always amazed at that caravan to Egypt that “happened” to come by, right at that moment, while Joseph was at the bottom of the well. How many months had that caravan been traveling to reach that exact spot at that time? From Joseph’s perspective at the bottom of the well, things must have looked bleak. Things must have looked hopeless. But God was in control all along. He knew Joseph would be in a well that day, so months earlier he sent a caravan to pick him up and take him to Egypt to fulfill His plan.

And for a while, it certainly looked like Joseph was living the dream. Head servant to Potiphar, officer to the Pharaoh himself, Joseph is given great responsibilities and freedoms because of his faithfulness and trustfulness. But then, Joseph is a victim of seduction and false accusations. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but Joseph denounces the seduction as a wicked sin. Potiphar’s wife isn’t named in the scripture; she’s one of the unnamed people in the bible, like Lot’s wife or David’s mother or the Magi. Scholars believe her name was Zulieka, married to Ptahwer, an officer of Pharoah Ahmenemhet III of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Zulieka’s shade is observed by Dante in the Eight Circle of Hell. She doesn’t speak, but Dante is told the Eight Circle of Hell is reserved for perjurers that violate the ninth Commandment not to bear false witness and she will spend all of eternity with a burning fever. And this is the kind of thing that sidetracks me when I’m studying and I need to get back to Joseph. Joseph flees from the sin of temptation but he leaves some article of clothing behind, and because of this evidence, Potiphar has Joseph thrown into prison.

I think sometimes we tend to think that if we follow God’s will, we will only see God’s blessings. Or perhaps we think that if we’re going through some challenge, we’re in some dark well or we’re in prison to our sin that God has forgotten us. Joseph had been in a tough position, what would be sexual harassment today, a daily temptation. If he resists Potiphar’s wife, she’ll be mad, and if he gives in, Potiphar will be mad. God will be offended. Clearly, Joseph had no choice that was without serious consequences. Joseph chose to do the right thing and was thrown into prison for it. And again, where was God? Would God send the equivalent of another caravan to rescue Joseph? Let’s read Genesis 39:21 and see.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that being the best darn prisoner in all of Egypt is not what Joseph expected when he decided to follow God’s will. But when all hope is lost, when we’re in a well or we’re in some prison and we don’t know how we’re going to get out, we can learn the first way we can respond to serious setbacks in our life. How many ways are we going to study? Four, that’s good, just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

I. We can trust God

We can trust God, that He has a plan and He will see His plan done. While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him. We might be tempted to ask, well, if the Lord was with him, why was he in prison in the first place?

Well, the Lord doesn’t seem to work like that; there is a place for suffering in the lives of Christians. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 that suffering will produce perseverance, character and hope. James 1:2-4 tells us that the trials we face gives us spiritual maturity. Faith in an all-benevolent, gift-giving God is easy; to increase our faith, God grants us trials so we not only believe in Him, but we learn to rely on Him. God is interested in our circumstances, but He is far, far more interested in our response to our circumstances.

Joseph was in a place of hopelessness, a life imprisonment. The only he had going for him was the fact that Potiphar didn’t execute him, the customary punishment for adultery. Potiphar must have believed him, but it didn’t keep him out of prison. Joseph has no family to comfort him; it was his family’s actions that setup this circumstance in the first place. He’s a slave, in a foreign land. Joseph had one thing and one thing only. Scripture says the Lord was with Joseph.

Sometimes, when things look bleak to us, this is the only thing that can sustain us. The Lord is with us, even when we can’t see it. Family members hospitalized, troubled marriages, abuse, traumatic accidents, lost jobs.

Q: What does it mean to you to trust God? How does the promise of God’s presence build your trust in Him?

We know Joseph’s future. Joseph only has his knowledge of what the Lord has told him in a dream. If Joseph knew what we knew, having faith in prison for a crime he didn’t commit would be easy. Joseph didn’t have such knowledge, but he did have faith that God is true. And that’s the same thing we have. We have God’s word that He is with us, no matter what. You’ve heard it said that if it is written once in the bible, it’s important, but if it’s written twice, better sit up and pay attention? Look at Deuteronomy 31:6 –

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Joshua 1:5 –

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Hebrews 13:5 –

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And Matthew 28:20, Jesus says,

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us. What’s our first step to dealing with troubles in our lives? Trust in God, for He is with us.

II. We can serve others

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-8 –

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Joseph could have been wallowing in self-pity. He had a lot to wallow about. He could have used his situation as an excuse; “I can’t help you know, can’t you see I’m in prison? Sheesh!” But instead, Joseph looked to serve others. In verse 4, the term “served them” or “attended them” or “ministered to them” could mean he performed menial service, but Joseph’s care goes further than that. It was Joseph that noticed their faces were dejected. Joseph took the time to care about them, inquire about their welfare, and taking the time to listen to their stories.

And Joseph credited all the dream interpretation to God. Just like Joseph, even when we’re troubled, we can still find a way to minister to others. Joseph used his faith to reach out to others in their need, just as we can serve others in the Lord’s name as a way to comfort others.

Helping others is a sure fire way to take your mind off your own troubles. If you can do nothing else for somebody else, just take the time to listen to them.

One of the reasons we suffer is so that we may understand others who suffer. People afflicted with cancer relate better to a cancer survivor. Recovering alcoholics attend AA meetings to be with other people with the same struggles. A large reason Diane relates so well to the elderly is because many of the aches and pains they have, Diane identifies with them because she’s had them, too.

Nobody understood that better than Jesus. Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins. Do you think Jesus can’t identify with your pain? The humanity of Jesus gave him direct access to the worst pain that can be inflicted on a man, and His anguish troubled Him so much His sweat was like blood. Jesus knows suffering. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 –

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Q: What kind of things can we do today that makes a difference in somebody else’s life?

III. We can seek help

So Joseph offers to interpret their dreams, and the chief cupbearer goes first. Genesis 40:9-15 –

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

Just giving comfort to others helps us, consider that getting comfort from others blesses them, too. Joseph saw an opportunity for somebody to help him, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. Joseph’s ordeal had him in prison for the rest of his lift, and the prophecy of this dream coming true gave Joseph hope for the future. He was not afraid to ask for help. “Mention me to Pharoah and get me out of this prison.” Sometimes there is a solution to our problem that’s available if we just ask for it.

The cupbearer received good news from Joseph’s dream interpretation. The baker now asked for Joseph to interpret his dream. Genesis 40:16-19 –

When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

Well. Sucks to be the baker, I guess. Actually, there is a lesson here. Joseph approached the cupbearer for help because he knew the cupbearer would eventually be in a position to help him. It’s important to use discernment when seeking help. Seek those who can provide Godly wisdom and comfort or who may be in a position to help. And don’t be a baker in Pharaoh’s prison.

Q: How did God use others to encourage Joseph? How has God used others to encourage and help you?

IV. We can be patient

And lastly, we can be patient and wait on God whose timing is perfect. Genesis 40:20-23 –

Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Patience is hard; patience is a virtue. Patience takes practice. There are many places we wait in life. We wait in traffic. We wait for the microwave to finish. We wait for the right job to come along. We wait for the right spouse to come along. We even wait on our spouse to become the spouse God intends, just like our spouse waits on us. We’re waiting for children to grow up, we’re waiting for children to move out, we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.

Have you ever considered that we’re sometimes just waiting in God’s waiting room? We see a situation in our lives or the lives of someone close to us, and we wonder why God doesn’t fix it now. Surely it is God’s will for this thing to happen. Why is He taking His time?

God has great plans for Joseph. Plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future. But for now, Joseph is in God’s waiting room. And sometimes, we are, too. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He wants us to love Him, He wants us to love one another. He wants us to grow spiritually in a closer relationship with Him. And sometimes He uses time to accomplish His will.

Are you waiting on God for something? For somebody to come to faith, for somebody’s heart to soften, for somebody to apologize, for the pain to stop, for the health to improve? I understand, waiting is hard. God understands waiting is hard, but sometimes it takes time for God to work His will, not because God is slow, but because people are slow to respond. As Joseph is getting to depend on the Lord and serve the Lord, he’s waiting in prison. His hope for the chief cupbearer to tell Pharaoh at the birthday party about Joseph’s innocence did not happen. The chief cupbearer forgot. But God remembered, and when His timing was right, we’ll see Joseph delivered. But he has two more years to wait on the Lord.

Be patient. Whatever you are waiting on is a small part of the picture. God sees the whole picture in the fullness of time. When God acts, it may look like good timing, or bad timing, or no timing at all, but its God’s perfect timing. Keep Romans 8:28 in mind,

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.

God will act when He knows the time is right. In the meantime, we continue to grow in Him by serving and studying and being obedient and praying. Timothy must have asked Paul about the persecutions and the injustice he saw, and Paul told him in 2 Timothy 3:14 to just continue.

Q: Why do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph? Why is it so hard to wait when facing a hopeless situation?

Q: Which one of these four steps is the easiest to do? Which one is the hardest?

These four steps take practice. Pray and lean on Him when you’re going through difficult times. Our human nature often leads us to respond incorrectly and in ways that are ultimately destructive. Joseph could have responded with anger and bitterness. He could have said ugly things about Potiphar’s wife. He could have been mad at Potiphar. He could have harbored resentment towards his brothers. Joseph’s life so far includes abuse, abandonment, hatred, slavery, false witness, and now prison, all while Joseph tried to do the right thing. Can you picture Joseph years later, a 90 year man, eaten up with bitterness about how he was treated? Anger and bitterness are not the solution.

Or Joseph could have turned his back on God and taken the situation into his own hands. Joseph could have gossiped about Potiphar’s wife, you know how many slaves she sleeps with, she’s such a tramp. And that Potiphar, what an idiot for believing her. Sometimes we want to take charge of the situation and change it, only to make it worse. Some people see trouble and turn their back on God, not understanding the pain and the waiting could possibly be from a loving God. And they seek other sources of comfort in alcohol, drugs, infidelity, materialism, whatever. Others see the same pain and waiting and understand God’s perfect timing as a time of spiritual growth and develop a deep confidence in waiting on the Lord.

In an Expositional commentary to Genesis, I read this story told by Billy Graham. Billy Graham told a story of a friend that went through the Great Depression who lost his job, all his savings, then his wife and then his home. But he was a believer in Jesus Christ and held onto his faith even through he fought with depression about his circumstances. One day he stopped to watch some workmen doing stonework on a huge church. One man out front was chiseling a piece of stone into a triangle. Curious, he asked what the triangle was for.

See that little opening on the top of the spire? I’m chiseling this down here so it’ll fit up there. And his friend left with grateful tears; God was doing the same to him, shaping him for heaven by chiseling him through his ordeals.

So trust in God. Continue to serve, and to ask for help, and be patient and wait on God’s perfect timing.