Encouragement

In the

Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word
For what can an antelope say?

Every spoken word, every action we take, effects another person. We either affect somebody positively or we affect negatively. Even many neutral actions, since they don’t affect another in a positive way, can be considered negative. We label ourselves as either an optimist who sees the glass half full, or a pessimist who sees the glass half empty. Or an engineer, who sees the glass as too big.

Some Christians look at the people around them and find fault with them. They gossip too much, they only hang around with their friends; they don’t serve like they should. Other believers seem to have a good word for everyone they meet. Which type or person do you like to be around? Which type of person are you?

If we’re critical of others, we make excuses for our behavior. I don’t feel good. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It’s just the way I am. God made me this way. Or, they’re just out to get me. They deserve it. Or we hide our criticism behind the phrase, “bless their heart.” You can say the absolute meanest, despicable things about somebody as long as you add the phrase, “bless their heart” to it. “He’s just a blathering idiot, bless his heart.” “She’s a wicked gossip who smells bad and dresses like a vagrant, bless her heart.”

Why do we do this? Like many sins, this one, too, is based on pride. We’re better than them. If they don’t know that, then we can drag them down and push ourselves up by criticizing them. We think so highly of ourselves that we don’t consider the other person’s feelings before we open our mouths.

That’s not God’s plan for us. God wants all of his children to encourage and lift one another. Proverbs 10:10-11,

He who winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

And Hebrews 3:13,

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

What day is it? That’s right, it’s Today. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. And 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

And Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ok, so does God want us to encourage one another? Who can guess the answer to that question?

Today we’re going to study Acts 11 starting in verse 19 about a great encourager. This is a difficult time for the early church; the early Jews preaching the gospel were persecuted by Herod. Stephen had been stoned to death, and the early Christians were scattered. There was some confusion around this time about the good news of the gospel and who could receive it.

Then Peter has a vision; Fred touched on this last week in Acts 10. In Acts 11:1-3,

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Criticism is everywhere; here, early believers are criticizing Peter, one of the original 12 Apostles. I can imagine them saying, “Well! He may have traveled and listed to Jesus for 3 years, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Why, just the other day, he was eating with so-and-so, you know, that ‘gentile’. He calls himself a follower of Christ but you sure can’t tell he’s one by the way he’s behaving.”

As a devout Jew, entering the house of an unclean gentile would cause Peter to become unclean, a fact other Jews pointed out to him. In verse 4, Peter tells them about his vision. He repeats it “precisely” to them; he saw a sheet coming down from heaven, and inside were four-footed animals, and a voice from the Lord saying, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

Peter’s response indicated Jewish thinking; he cannot eat those animals because Jewish law forbids it. “Surely no, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth!” And the Lord responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

When we study God’s word, we often stop right there and think that God’s message is that it’s ok to eat pork. Or shellfish. Or… scorpions. Or whatever. And indeed, the scripture tells us this. When you couple this vision with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” we can also conclude that we are not bound by the Old Testament laws because Jesus completed them. We are free in Christ.

But for Peter, the vision he received also addresses the salvation of gentiles. Gentiles are also made by God. Gentiles can also be made clean by God. Peter would not defile himself by walking into a gentile’s home. The Holy Spirit came upon some gentiles in Acts 11:15-18,

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

In verse 19, after the stoning of Stephen, the early Christians scattered but continued to preach. Those that went to Phoenicia, Cypress and Antioch taught only to Jews. Other early Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene also went to Antioch, but began to teach the gentiles, the Greeks. The early church began to grow rapidly. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the early church there began to hear of the conversion of gentiles in Antioch. Verse 22-24,

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Barnabas is a great example of the Christian God wants us to be. In Acts 4:34-37, scripture introduces us to this man.

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

His name was Joseph, but the early church gave him the nickname “Barnabus”. A complete reading of the word “barnabas,” gives a more complete picture of his name. Barnabas means –

• Son of encouragement
• Son of prophecy
• Son of refreshment
• Son of comfort
• Son of consolation
• Son of preacher

In Hebrew names, the prefix “bar-” meant “son of.” For instance, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah.” It meant “Simon, son of Jonah.” If Jesus had said, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Smith & Wesson,” that could also mean “blessed are you Simon, you son of a gun.”

The selection of Barnabas by the early church was a wise decision. Barnabas is described in glowing terms in verse 24. He is the only man in Acts called “good.” He is “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith.” And then Barnabas gives 3 examples of who we are to encourage. First, by going to Antioch to share the gospel with gentiles in verses 19-22, Barnabas encourages new Christians. These new Christians came not from Jewish backgrounds, but from pagan backgrounds. It is because of this encouragement that (verse 21) “the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

Why do new Christians need encouragement?
• May have zeal and happiness, but not knowledge of scripture
• May fall into old secular habits easily
• If not welcomed, may seek inclusion elsewhere

We can definitely encourage new Christians by assuring them that God is at work in their lives, that God loves them and gave His son for them. We can encourage new Christians, not by looking at what they are doing wrong, but by affirming the positive qualities they have and the positive actions they do. We must approach them in love, not criticism or condescension.

I look at these early Christians, the aggressive evangelism they do to spread the Word, and the persecution they endured, and compare it to the safety and comfort of our modern church. We’re coddled by Christianity, but it’s the suffering of the early Christians that produced the hope and character of zealous Christians.

Another person Barnabas encouraged was Saul. Verse 25-27,

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Saul wasn’t exactly a new Christian; Saul was an educated Pharisee, a very devout Jew who had persecuted the Christians until Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. When Saul converted to Christianity, there was a lot of suspicion about him. After all, Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen; how could this man be so changed after his encounter with Jesus?

Barnabus went specifically to search for Saul and bring him to Antioch and together they helped grow the early church there. This was not the first time Barnabus had encouraged Saul; in Acts 9, immediately after Saul’s conversion, the Jews conspired to kill him and Saul tried to join the early church. But the Christians there were afraid of him and distrusted him. Then Acts 9:27, “But Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles.”

Saul became Paul and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, including the letter to the Hebrews, verse 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.” While we think of Paul has an incredible teacher, how much of Paul’s writing can be attributed to the encouragement and joy of Barnabas?

Why do established Christians need encouragement?
• Initial zeal of forgiveness fades, tempted by world
• The stronger the Christian, the more Satan steps up his attacks
• Like Paul, Christians we encourage may contribute to God’s work in ways we could never imagine

It says here in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. Here’s the rabbit trail for this week; up until this time, followers of Christ had sort of an identity crisis. For a while in Acts 1 through 4 they were called “believers”. In Acts 5, they referred to themselves as the church, and then in Acts 6 they called themselves disciples and then brothers. In Acts 9, they called themselves “The Way,” I assume because Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They also called themselves the Lord’s people in Acts 9, the Followers in Acts 17, and the Flock in Acts 20. But it was here in Acts 11 that followers of Christ were first called Christians.

So back to Barnabus; he’s encouraged new Christians, he’s encouraged experienced Christians, and now Acts 11:23 it says Barnabus encouraged all of them, the entire church of Antioch. So Barnabus has shown by his example we are to encourage new Christians, established Christians, both individually and in groups. Did we miss anybody?

Acts 11 ends on a note that a severe famine began to spread throughout the Roman worlds, and in verse 29-30, ” The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” Barnabus’ encouragement was not limited to words; he also encouraged them by his acts of service. There are many ways of providing encouragement; here’s a list called “8 Simple Ways to Encourage Others” :

• Take an interest. I believe this is one of the most effective ways of encouraging others. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Get them talking. People like to talk about themselves and once you get them talking, you fire up their enthusiasm.
• Acknowledge what’s important. When you acknowledge what’s important to another, you provide validation about who they are and what they’re doing. Whether we admit it or not, each of us craves acknowledgement. Affirmation fuels confidence and self-esteem.
• Acknowledge a job well done. Worthwhile accomplishments take time and effort. You can encourage by acknowledging someone’s effort. A simple “well done” or “thank you” can have a strong effect, which can make the difference between going on or giving up.
• Show your appreciation. It’s common courtesy. Thank someone when they do something for you. Thank your partner after they cook a nice meal. Thank a friend for lending you a book. A simple thank you lets others know what they have done is meaningful to you.
• Return the favour. If someone does something nice for you, show your appreciation by returning the favour. This should not be seen as an obligation, nor as a contest. You’re not trying to top the other’s contribution, but to express what their actions mean to you.
• Do something unexpected. This is a step beyond returning the favour. Respond with something unexpected: out of the blue. Such a response has a strong impact and can reach others at an emotional level.
• Ask for advice or confide in them. Haven’t you felt important when someone asked for your advice or confided in you about something important? Didn’t you find you were energised and eager to help. Taking someone into your confidence can motivate them to show your faith in them is well founded.
• Lend a hand. Waiting for someone to ask you for advice is passive. You can take the initiative by offering to lend a hand. If a person sees you are willing to commit your time and energy to their interests, they will be more committed to seeing it through and less likely to give up.

What about you? Are you an encourager? Do uplifting words come from you, or do words of condescension and criticism come from you? Are you a Barnabas? Or are you a barnacle?

Let’s keep in mind that all Christians need encouragement. For new Christians, simply going to them and offering help is encouraging. For maturing Christians, we can encourage them by affirming their good work and character and helping them apply their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord. For all Christians, just being concerned about them and helping them is encouraging.

Nicole Johnson, a Christian author and encourager herself, wrote “Encouragement is to a friendship what confetti is to a party. It’s light, refreshing, and fun, and you always end up finding little pieces of it stuck to you later.”

Let’s go be encouraging confetti to someone today.

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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.

Tower of Babel

Even though lunch today is at Fajita Flats, I brought along a suggestion from a restaurant I was recently visiting called La Place in Hengelo, The Netherlands. Here’s also a list of today’s specials; I can highly recommend the voorgerecht.

(Other handouts go here: the complete menu, shopping flyers, German newspaper, Dutch newspaper, French airport guide. If you’re reading this online, you’re out of luck.)

One of the toughest things about traveling is the language barrier between us and the country. It’s rewarding and exciting to travel outside of the touristy areas, but the further you get away, the more language becomes a problem.

About a year and a half ago, Diane accompanied me on a business trip to Europe, and one of the places we stayed at was a little French town of Honfluer in lower Normandy. It was quaint, a little fishing village of about 8000 people. Diane and I had just arrived in France earlier that day and driven in from Paris and were sitting down to our first meal. We chose a little outdoor café where we could watch the sights and the people and enjoy the sunshine. The waitress came by to drop off some menus and I asked, “English menus?” and she shook her head no. Diane and I stared at the words in French.

So, like a gentleman, I offered to order for Diane. When the waitress came back, I pointed at Diane and said, “She’ll have” and then pointed at the menu, “this, this, and this.” Then I pointed at me and said, “I’ll have that, that, and that.” The waitress wrote it down, smiled, and walked off.

Diane asked me what I had ordered. “For you, I ordered this this and this. For me, that that and that. Pay attention.” I had little idea what I had ordered. I recognized a few words from previous trips, so I was fairly certain I had ordered some sort of chicken with potatoes, but I may have ordered snails with motor oil.

Communication is very difficult when there is a language barrier. You know, I’ve discovered that, even when we all speak English, communication is difficult. We say one thing, our spouse hears another. Our spouse says one thing, we hear something else. Why is communication so difficult? Let’s turn to Genesis 11 and study the chapter on scrambled communication, The Tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1-9:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

I had to look up the pronunciation since I’ve heard it pronounced “babble” and “BAY-bell.” Turns out the correct pronunciation is “buh-BELL.”

Verse 1, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” When did this take place? Some scholars look back a chapter at Genesis 10 verse 5, 20, and 31 which tell us that Noah’s offspring had their own language. For instance, in Genesis 10:5 it says, “From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.” So it seems reasonable that the building of the tower took place soon after the flood and before Noah’s offspring had completely left to populate the earth. This makes sense; in Genesis 9:7 as God was placing His rainbow in the sky, God told Noah, “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” And Genesis 10 tells us that Noah had a son named Ham who had a son named Cush who had a son named Nimrod and that Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the LORD, and Genesis 10:10 says Nimrod founded Babylon in the plain of Shinar. Instead of these sons of Noah spreading out and populating the earth, though, men thought they knew better than God. Instead of spreading out, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. Huh. Direct disobedience to what God told them to do. Of course, *we* would never do that, would we?

Genesis 11:3-4 says,

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Where’s God in this decision? Let us make bricks, let us build ourselves a city, so that *we may make a name for ourselves* and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. We see man deciding that he knows better than God. When we go against God’s instruction, it is always evil. It is always sin. It is the same sort of sin that has tempted man since the Garden of Eden. We know better than God what we need. We know better than God what’s important. So here we see Godly men, mighty hunters before the LORD, giving way to their own desires again.

The evil in this case is in numbers; the safety in numbers is a flawed concept when compared to being in the safety of God, but these men wanted to make a name for themselves. Perhaps with the flood still fresh in their minds, they wanted to build a tower of safety. Instead of trusting God’s rainbow, they will trust themselves. This is the beginning of secular humanism, thousands of years before we gave it a name. Safety in numbers does not provide safety in the world. Safety in the world is obtained by trusting in God. Correct worship of God is in trust and obedience in Him.

This secular humanism, trusting man instead of God, continues today. While we can blame our secular society for teaching to trust in man, in separation of church and state, it continues inside each and every one of us. We give lip service to trusting in God, but when we find some instruction from God in God’s Word that we don’t like, we trust ourselves first. Oh, I’m not going to do that, certainly God can’t mean that. Or, I know that God says that, but he doesn’t understand our difficult that is, so I’m going to do it my way. This secular humanism, this trusting in ourselves, leads to pride. If we’re going to trust ourselves, then we must promote ourselves until we are on equal footing with God. Or we must bring God down to our level so that we seem better than we are. These descendents of Nimrod are saying, “let us build a tower so that we may make a name for ourselves.” Trust in ourselves leads us to inflate our own egos. Let us not be fooled; we are not God. Making a name for ourselves is not God’s plan. Fellowship with our Lord and giving praise to God’s name is His plan.

Is God pleased by pride? Genesis 11:5-7,

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

While men believed they were building a tower that reached to the heavens as a monument to themselves, from God’s perspective, this was a puny little project. Whatever they were trying to build for themselves, these people had no claim to greatness. When people begin to rely on people and we inflate our own egos and we begin to act like we are gods, nothing seems impossible. But look at our track record as people independent from God. Have we ended war? Have we ended poverty? Have we ended hunger? Have we ended sickness or disease or global warming or pollution or overpopulation or illegal immigration or child abuse or murder or stealing or anything else? Is there anything man has accomplished apart from God?

This puny tower did not threaten God’s sovereignty. This puny tower was only huge in the eyes of the people that created it. I don’t believe God took the building of the tower as a threat, but God did take the sin of pride that led to the building of the tower seriously. God’s plan was for man to spread out and populate the earth, and instead, man has staked a spot in the desert and is building a monument to himself. This is a step along the path to disobedience and the resulting consequences. Whenever we attempt to be our own God, God will confuse our plans. God already has a plan and doesn’t want us to make our own plans independent from Him. The common language of the people led to achievement, which led to prideful disobedience. They substituted their own purposes for God’s purposes.

Discussion questions –
If we believe we can accomplish anything, is that right or wrong? Why?
What things do people do today that show they trust themselves more than they trust God?

I think of how powerful and omniscient and holy God is, looking down at this pitiful little tower and seeing man placing their faith in their own accomplishments. How little it takes for us to develop pride in ourselves. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, but often we think we can do anything we want without repercussions. God could have easily toppled the tower, just given it a little tap and knocked it over. But I think we’d be like some sort of human ant colony, we’d start scurrying around and swarming and rebuilding the monument to ourselves. Instead of using brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar, we’d delude ourselves by upgrading the building material. We’d build towers out of steel and glass, skyscrapers reaching to the sky to demonstrate the power of man. It’s still all self-delusional accomplishments. It pales next to the creations of God.

God does something more amazing than knocking over an anthill; He confuses their language. While Nimrod and the people have this wonderful idea to band together to worship themselves, God effortlessly stops them. Nimrod’s idea to unite the world in one religion of secular humanity depended on effective communication. With the inability to communicate effectively disabled, Nimrod’s idea still gave birth to alternative worship, alternative man-made gods, that we still are dealing with today. Nimrod may have failed at creating a single unified counterfeit religion, but he still created the basic idea of a counterfeit religion. Even now, man’s belief in his own superiority leads to confusion, conflict, wars, and often based on counterfeit, man-made religion. All because man attempted to create a plan independent of God.

The sin of pride in man’s own accomplishment no doubt led to the first of God’s Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” God acts here to prevent man from establishing a counterfeit, uniform worship that would disrupt God’s plan of redemption. By confusing their language, man could no longer find adequate safety in numbers. With communication problems, now they become suspicious of each other, sometimes angry at each other when communication is impossible. They had tried to band together to show they could unite in rebellion against God, but now, effortlessly, God made that impossible.

Lastly, in Genesis 11:8-9,

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

It’s ironic; they find themselves doing God’s will, whether they want to or not. They wanted to proclaim themselves free of God, able to do their own will, but God scattered them all over the face of the earth. Where they once had freedom to go where they wanted to and fulfill the Lord’s command to populate the earth, now the Lord simply scattered them. In search of their own freedom, they now find themselves in slavery to their sin. The Lord is always in control and His will is always done. We can have the freedom to do it His way, or He will accomplish His will without us. God works out His plan through people who resist Him as well as people who obey Him. Nimrod and his followers discovered God’s control through His judgment. Ultimately, every human who rebels against the Lord also discovers the same thing. God is and always has been and always will be in control. We have the freedom to be in His will, but we do not have to freedom to override His will.

More discussion:
Why do people, even believers, sometimes resist God’s will and directions?
How does God accomplish His will anyway even if people resist Him?

So “bay-bell” or “babble” or “buh-bell” in the ancient Hebrew means “to confuse by mixing.” Where is the tower of Babel today? The plain of Shinar is today’s modern day Iraq, and Babel eventually became Babylon. Today, it’s an area of ruins about 60 miles south of Baghdad. It’s amazing that the defiance of God and the source of much of the world’s continuing confusion still emanates from the same place after all these centuries.

Is it God’s will that we cannot communicate with each other? No, God’s will here at the Tower of Babel ended man’s ability to unite together in defiance of God. Man is still in defiance of God, but there are dozens and dozens of man-made religions and are no longer united against the Lord. God’s will is that we are able to communicate His purpose. In Acts 2 as the Holy Spirit came upon men, it says “we heard them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” When we unite behind God’s purpose, God can facilitate our communication. The first thing, though, before we communicate with each other, is to communicate with God. We read God’s Word so He speaks to us; we go to the Lord in prayer so we can speak to Him. How can we possibly know God’s will if we’re not in communication with Him? We should choose to talk to God and cooperate with Him first. I believe we’ll find our communication with each other is far, far better if we’re in communication with our heavenly father first.

As humanity spreads out across the earth, we see a small remnant that worships the one true God, and the rest of humanity abandoning God and worshiping itself or other false religions. And we can begin to see how God is going to take this mess that humanity makes and offer us a true relationship with Him. From Adam and Eve who sought to become their own gods and know right from wrong, God’s justice banned them from the Garden of Evil and the Tree of Life. We saw through Cain and Abel as humanity’s ability to sin further separated us from God as Cain killed Abel. The true worship of our Lord continued through Seth, the son of Adam, but by the time of Noah, the true worship of God was only alive in one man, and through the story of the ark, God’s grace was extended to Noah and his family and the human race was spared. And even with the flood, we see that man’s ability to try to make himself his own God continuing as Nimrod’s people attempt to build a tower, a monument, to their own secular power.

At the end of Genesis 11 in verse 10, we see a genealogy emerge. We know from Genesis 10 that Noah had 3 sons to continue the true worship of the Lord; Ham, Shem and Japheth. Ham fathered Cush, Cush fathered Nimrod. The apostasy of Nimrod led to the rise of the pride in humanity and the consequences of the Tower of Babel. But in another line from Noah, God’s true name is worshipped. Two years after the flood, Shem became the father of Asphaxad who fathered Shelah. Shelah fathered Eber who fathered Peleg. Peleg fathered Reu who fathered Serug. Serug fathered Nahor who fathered Terah who became the father of Abram. And in Abram the worship of God is being preserved.

We see a repeat of Noah; Abram alone is worshipping the one true God while the rest of the world, now a confusion of many languages. Will God repeat the flood? No, He made a covenant with Noah and sealed it with His rainbow. No, God will not destroy humanity with another flood. God has a new plan of redemption that He will establish, beginning with Abram. While Nimrod said, “Let us build a city,” through Abram God promises, “I will make of thee a great nation.” The nation that God will create through Abram shall identify the one true God to a world that has turned from Him. Nimrod, the mighty hunter whose name means “rebellion,” sought to make a city, a tower for themselves. God’s plan was to make a nation unto Him.

Our communication problem, even when we’re all speaking English, is a result of man’s pride so many centuries ago. God did not create us to create little monuments to ourselves. God created us to show His glory in a world that continually turns its back on Him. While His perfect judgment led to our multitude of languages, His Holy Spirit unifies us and gives us a singular purpose. We become one in the body with each other when we are in communication with He who created us. Let us seek Him and communicate with Him through prayer and worship and obedience, and we will find that we can communicate with each other far better than if we try to do it without Him.

God Loves His Creation

Sometimes it can be difficult to remember that God is in control, that God has a plan for us. Let’s open God’s User Manual, Chapter 1, and start at the beginning. Genesis, verse 1:1 begins –

In the beginning, God created…

Let’s stop right there and discuss just those 5 words. Lately on the New York Times Best Seller List, books by atheists have been topping the list. “God: The Failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist,” “The God Delusion,” “Letter to a Christian Nation,” “God is Not Great.” In response, prominent Christian apologetic authors have come out with books like “The Case for Christ” and seminars like the one we recently had from Reasons to Believe.

Usually, an atheist begins his argument with, “prove to me that God exists” as if somehow you’re going to be able to argue him into heaven. How does God answer this question? “In the beginning, God created.” The bible wastes no time trying to explain the existence of God. God is. Remember when Moses asked God what His name was? Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” God is. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Genesis 1 begins with the understanding that God exists and has always existed and doesn’t spend any time giving evidence to fools who demand to see evidence that already surrounds us.

In verse 2, the second part of the Trinity is introduced, the Holy Spirit which hovers over the formless void. To me, this shows an anticipation of greater things to come; the Hebrew word rachaph is also used in Dueteronomy 32:11, describing how a mother eagle flutters her wings over her young to protect them. The Lord God did not create the world impersonally; creation is very personal to God and he protects us under His wing. If the Spirit of God is hovering, what is He about to do? He is taking a formless void and giving it purpose.

Diane challenged me to read each word carefully, and she’s right, there is so much more to Genesis than a simple story of creation. It’s a story of God’s relationship with His creation and His purpose for His creation.

In verse 3, it says, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God spoke the light into existence. I think of this as an introduction to the third person of the Trinity, the Son of God. John 1:9 introduces Jesus as “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Our Savior is the source of all light; our human perspective tells us that light comes from the sun, but if you’ll look down to verse 16, we’ll see that God created the light on the first day, but didn’t create the sun until the fourth day.

Jesus as the source of all light is also revealed in the book of Revelation at the end of time. Revelation 22:5 says, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

As science progresses and helps explain the origins of the universe, it’s interesting to see how, thousands of years before science, God’s Word tells us how the world was created. First the universe, then the earth, then the plants and then the animals. Throughout this creation, God declares His creation to be good. Verse 4, Day 1, the light was good. Verse 10, Day 2, God declares the earth and sky and water and land to be good. Verse 12, Day 3, the vegetation with plants and trees and fruit, God declares to be good. Verse 18, Day 4, God creates the sun and the moon and the stars and declares them good. Verse 21, Day 5, God creates the great creatures of the sea and every winged bird and declares them good. Verse 25, Day 6, God creates livestock and land animals and declares them good.

On the 6th day, God creates man, and verse 31, God declares it to be very good. Not just good, very good. Nothing further needed to be made; His creation was exactly what God had planned. God’s creation reflects God’s glory, and God’s creation continues to reflect God’s glory, even if man’s ability to reflect God’s glory is imperfect. Man is different from the rest of creation. On the first 5 days, look at how God spoke creation into existence. God said, “Let there be light.” God said, “Let there be sky, let there be land, let there be seas.” But when God created man in verse 26 it says, “Let us make man in our image.” This phrase is far more personal than the previous 6 days where God effortlessly spoke creation into existence with “Let there be.” The phrase, “let us make” is quite unlike the others. First of all, it’s plural. Let “us” make man. Who is this “us” God speaks of, and why is there no “us” in the rest of God’s creative activity?

The presence of the Holy Spirit and verse 2 and the hint of the Christ to come in verse 3 form the plurality of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is omniscient and knows this creation of man will be disobedient to Him and He knows how much this disobedience will cost Him. The bible tells us in 1 Peter 1:20 that Christ was chosen before the creation of the world to be our redeemer; God knows that the Son will one day be sacrificed to pay for our sins. He planned it during creation.

Why is there no “us” listed in the first 6 days? Perhaps because the first 6 days show God’s creative ability and his omnipotence, but nothing in the first 5 days shows God’s love like the day He created man. God is going to demonstrate and prove His love by creating the one creature to whom God will make Himself vulnerable. For God so loved the world that He gave us His son and planned this love from the very beginning of creation. God created man already knowing the cost to Himself, a love that humans can barely comprehend.

God created both men and women in His likeness, in His image. His image has nothing to do with gender or our skin color or our height or weight or any other differentiation between humans. By creating us in His image, we are to reveal something about God, but we are not gods ourselves.

I think the importance of the phrase “in His image” should not be taken lightly; it underscores the importance of human life to our Lord. In our society, we see many, many debates that degrade the importance of human life. When it comes to the life of the unborn, God values the life long before birth. Pslam 139:13-16 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

In debates about euthanasia, we hear about the quality of life as though we have set ourselves up to be the gods who determined what sufficient quality of life is. Who are we to determine God’s plan for another’s life? Who are we to determine whether somebody else’s life no longer has meaning? For that matter, who are we to determine whether our own lives have meaning? God’s voice is clear – human life is sacred, human life is holy, human life is made in His image.

Genesis 1:29-30 emphasizes the sanctity of life of creation. It says,

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

We see the so-called “natural order” today and can’t imagine the world any other way, but God gave man every seed-bearing plant and ever tree with fruit for us to eat. The next line implies that all the other animals, too, were herbivores. The importance of life is subtly confirmed here. The bible also predicts a future day when respect for all life will yet again be the order of things; Isaiah 11:6-7 says

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

We know that coming up in a future lesson in Genesis will be about the Fall, when man chooses to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. After sin is introduced into the world, animals are first slaughtered for human benefit in Genesis 3:21, and were probably used for food for the first time after the flood in Genesis 9:3. The sanctity of animal life will not be fully restored until the future reign of Christ on earth when sin is conquered forever.

The first book of Genesis describes humans as the completion of God’s creation where God demonstrates His love for us. The second book of Genesis describes God’s plan for men and women. In Genesis 2:2, after creating man and woman, God rested on the seventh day, and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Was God tired?

God did not rest because God needed rest. God rested, I think, to show us the importance of rest. One day a week devoted to simply enjoying what God has created. We tend to put work first in our lives as though our work was our god, and we work all seven days of the week. The seventh day is holy, set apart, for our benefit, not God’s. God has no need of rest, but he knows that this rest is so important he made one of the Ten Commandments.

That’s not to say, though, that work isn’t important. It’s says in Genesis 2:15 that God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden and told him that his job was to work the garden and take care of it. The Hebrew word for “work” used here means to labor, to work for another, and the serve God. God’s plan is for us to work, not an idle life of recreation and laziness.

Let’s back up to Genesis 2:4 and see the relationship God wants to have with His special, very good creation. Throughout Genesis 1, God is called in Hebrew by the ancient name for deity, Elohim. In Genesis 2:4, God’s is called by His intimate name, Yahweh, or “I am”. It’s appropriate that God’s intimate name is introduced here because God begins to act in very personal ways with His creation. In verse 7, God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The beasts of the earth received life by means of the spoken Word of God, but man gets a personal CPR, a mouth-to-mouth infusion of life that clearly lifts man above the animals. Clearly, God has affection for His creation. Will His creation also have affection for God? It is a test that continues to this day. Will we choose to love God as He loves us?

Just like creation without man is incomplete, the creation *of* man is also incomplete. In verse 18, The Lord God, Yahweh, says that it is not good for man to be alone, and He will make a helper suitable for him. If you’ve ever taken a good look at a giraffe, you know that God must have a sense of humor, and I think God shows his humor here. Verse 18-20,

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

It’s like God is saying, Adam, dude. Pick an animal, any animal, to be your helper. You know, when I go shopping, I’m like most men. We decide we need it, we go out and buy it and bring it home. I’m just glad Adam didn’t go shopping for a helper like I go shopping. All the animals are paraded before him, and Adam says, “Are these my only choices? Well, I guess I’ll take the platypus.”

No, it says no suitable helper was found. Whew. Verse 21-22,

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

As God created woman, man was deep asleep and observed nothing, preserving the mystery of God’s work. To this day, men don’t seem to understand where women are coming from.

Back in Genesis 1, we read that male and female were created on the same day, but this passage makes it clear that man was formed first out of the dust, then the woman is formed from the man. Man’s need for a helper does not come from man; God says in verse 18 that it is not good for the man to be alone, and that He will make a helper for him.

While the woman would be like him, she would also be different. Man didn’t need another person exactly like himself. God created man with certain strengths and God-given abilities. Then God created woman with different strengths and abilities that complimented man. The verbs used for God’s creation are different; God “formed” man out of dust, just like a potter forms a vessel out of clay. But God “made” woman, built for a specific role. Though man and woman are different, man and woman are made from the same substance and share a tie that can never be broken.

Adam was obviously overjoyed he didn’t settle for a platypus. When he awoke, he said, “Wo, man!” Verse 24,

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Two separate people become a single unit with shared dreams, hopes, and tasks. Though different, as married couples we are united. Though separate, we function as one. We learn to love the other and treat them as more precious than ourselves, and so get a glimpse of the love our Creator has for us. Like most people, we want others to see us as better than we really are. When we are physically naked, nothing’s hidden. Yet, the man and woman felt no need to hide who they were, even though they were naked. They celebrated their similarities and worked together to accomplish their God-given responsibilities. A man and a woman’s commitment to God and to each other form the basis of a Godly marriage. In marriage, we accept our spouse just like God accepts us, for who he or she is.

It’s far too easy in our society today to abandon God’s plan for our marriage, to bail when things get tough or uncomfortable. God’s plan is obvious; marriage should be a lifelong commitment to help one another as one flesh in a covenant relationship.

Why would God ordain such a relationship? In all of God’s creation, God first expressed a relationship with man. It was on the 6th day that God used the plural to make man in our image, and it was with man that God first intimately breathed life into his nostrils. God loves us, and wants us to love him. True love is a choice, and we can choose not to love him.

Marriage is an interim step toward knowing the love of the Lord. With a partner, we are naked, we hide nothing. Our spouse knows us and should know us better than any person on this earth, better than anybody but God. We are to be one flesh. With our spouse, we are able to give forgiveness, just like Christ forgave us. With our spouse, we are able to receive forgiveness and recognize in ourselves just how much we fall short of perfection. With our spouse, we can practice loving unconditionally. The tears and the joy of sharing one another’s life, helping each other as one flesh, is God’s plan for our lives.

Ephesians 5:25 tells each husband to love his wife sacrificially, just as Christ gave Himself up for us. Men, do we do that? Or do we place things above our wives? Ephesians 5:25-31,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

And the two will become one flesh. Where have I heard that before? Husbands, let me tell you – whatever sacrifice you think you’ve made on behalf of your wives, it’s not yet enough. Unless you think you’ve sacrificed more for your wife than Christ sacrificed for you.

Wives, you were made for a purpose, to be a helper for your husband, to provide for him things he cannot do for himself. What would you do for Christ if He was in your presence today? If Jesus wanted something from you, would you tell him “no?” Ephesians 5:22-24,

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Your husband is your ministry; you demonstrate your love for Christ by the way you demonstrate your love for your husband. While your husband is called to live sacrificially for you, wives are called to remember that they were made to be their husband’s helper in everything.

They way we serve our husbands needs and the way we sacrifice ourselves for our wives gives glory to our Father in heaven who has a purpose for creation. He has a purpose for us in creation, and we are his most precious creation. Will we remember when we leave this room today that every word, every action, should be pleasing to God, and that our marriage is God’s plan to demonstrate His love for us? Listen to the words of Psalm 8:1-4 as we close today:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

God loves us and desires most of all for us to love him in return, and to demonstrate that love to one another beginning with our marriage. All of creation declares His love for us.

Christian Behavior in God's Church

I’ve discovered how slow to understand I must be. We’ve been remarking that when Chris or Fred teach, they get large amounts of text to cover. Chris had the entire Beatitudes plus half of the New Testament to teach in 30 minutes. Fred gets, like, the entire Old Testament when he teaches. And when I teach, Got assigns me an entire sentence. Today’s no exception; we’re going to study Matthew 18 today.

At this point in the ministry of Jesus, the time of His death and resurrection was approaching rapidly, and Jesus’ teaching begins to focus on preparing His disciples to carry on after His crucifixion. Last week, Fred showed us how Jesus taught about the qualities of the church and how we worship and serve Him in unity and obedience; this week, Jesus teaches about interpersonal relationships and how we are to treat one another within the church.

I. Christian Humility (v. 1-9)

Who is the greatest person in America? George Bush? Hillary Clinton? And what makes a person great in America?

The qualities that make a person great in our society are different than the qualities that make a person great in the eyes of the Lord. In fact, sometimes the qualities are the exact opposite. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

I read a story about Billy Graham, a man who has consistently demonstrated the light of Christ publicly without wavering. In his early ministry years, he was scheduled to preach in a small town and needed to mail a letter. He asked a young boy where the local post office was. The boy told him, Billy Graham thanked him, and then told the boy, “If you come to the Baptist Church this evening, you can hear me preach about how to get to heaven.” The boy answered, “I don’t think I’ll come. You don’t even know how to get to the post office.”

Let’s look at Matthew 18:1-4

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

What quality makes a person, not just great, but the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Humility. Probably the biggest sin in the bible is pride, because so many sins originate in pride. Pride tells us how important we are, how infallible we are. Pride tells us that we don’t need God.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Humility tells us that we need God. Humility tells us that everything we are, everything we have, and everything we are ever going to be comes from God. Humility helps us recognize that we have not been placed on this earth so that others may serve us, but for us to serve others.

Matthew 18:7 tells us that our world is a sinful place, full of pride and arrogance and independence from God. There’s no avoiding it; you don’t fill a glass full of mud and expect to drink fine champagne out of it. You don’t fill a world with sinful people and expect paradise on earth. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” As Christians, as Jesus’ church on earth, we should be diligent about making sure we are not the cause of a brother’s sin. Jesus goes so far as to say that if your foot causes sin, cut it off and throw it away.

Why does this warning come right after Jesus’ admonition to be humble? What does “humility like a child” have to do with worldly sin?

I think it’s related to the pride that is in all of us. None of us are too good to sin. Our human nature leads us to sin constantly. Disobedience to what we know God wants us to do. Gossip. Lust. The only one strong enough to resist the constant temptation in our world is the Holy Spirit that lives in us, and when we lean on the power of God, we can resist all temptation. When we try to do it on our own, we will most certainly fall. Humility helps us recognize the power of the Lord working within us, and not our own work.

II. Christian Attention (v. 10-14)

Humility also helps us see the importance of others. When we are within the church, we are spiritually strengthened. We can encourage and we can be encouraged. But what about those outside of the church? What about those inside the church but spiritually weak?

The human tendency is to see ourselves better than others, to pump ourselves up. Our church is better than that church, our family is better than that family, our country is better than that country. As a follower of Jesus practicing humility, we are instructed to continue to lift others up. See how in verse 10 Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Since this phrase “little ones” comes so soon after the instruction about being like a child, “little ones” could mean a child, but it can also mean weak or marginal people. Every person in the Christian community is considered important to Jesus, and those who come to faith have a guardian angel that always sees the face of God. Hebrews 1:14 describes these angels as “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” If these “little ones” are considered so important to God that they have their own angel, shouldn’t they also be important to us? We should take special care to look out for those who need looking out for most. For verse 11 says, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

[As an aside, sometimes when I’m studying, I come across “rabbit trails;” interesting tidbits of information that have little or no bearing on the lesson that the Holy Spirit is directing. Verse 11 was a particularly enticing rabbit trail; I discovered that the NIV doesn’t have verse 11 in it. We can talk about it at lunch, but after following this rabbit trail for too much time, I’ve decided that verse 11 should be in there.]

Jesus continues with a mini-parable about lost sheep in verse 12-14 –

Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.

As we grow in Christ, we should take care that we don’t grow in pride. We grow in humility; we grow in service and caring, and all the more sensitive to reaching out to those who need spiritual nourishment.

III. Christian Reconciliation (v. 15-20)

Jesus next gives His church instruction on how to resolve differences among believers. In verse 15-17 –

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Let’s make sure we know who Jesus is talking about. In the first sentence it begins, “if your brother sins against you,” this is specifically to Christians within the church, when Christians are in conflict with one another. Of course Christians are in conflict with one another. It seems that every time we forget who’s Lord of our lives, we’re in conflict. The measure of our spiritual maturity is not whether we’re ever in conflict, but whether we use the conflict to grow spiritually.

This is so important – we have conflicts within the church, conflicts sometimes right here in this class. And perhaps, just perhaps, once or twice, we’ve had a conflict with our spouse. Unresolved conflicts among Christians destroy our unity, but learning how to resolve conflicts in a Christian way can bring us closer together. This is so important; a few chapters back in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,

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

Leave your gift; first go and be reconciled. When you are at odds with another believer, your gift practically worthess. God doesn’t want your stuff; He created it, after all. He wants you to be in unity with His church. The unity in the church is what makes the church effective; the unity in the church is what motivates God to be responsive to our prayers.

Think about that; God is responsive when we are obedient and in unity with one another. Do you ever feel your prayers are unanswered? Is there unresolved conflict between me and my spouse? Is there unresolved conflict between me and somebody in this class? These questions are related.

A. Right Attitude

First, be honest with yourself about your role in the conflict. With humility, ask God to show you how you have contributed. Remember, this is conflict with another Christian. I can almost guarantee you that when I am in conflict with another Christian, when I am in conflict with my spouse, there is some measure of disobedience in me. As Christians, we certainly don’t argue because we think we’re wrong. No, I argue because I think I’m right, and my Christian brother argues because he thinks he’s right. If I can’t see my own contribution to this conflict, then I am blinded by my own pride. It’s only with humility that enables me to see my own disobedience. If you have unanswered prayers, ask God to show you how you have been disobedient to Him. Then, leave your gift at the altar and go be reconciled with your spouse or your brother or sister.

B. Right Approach

How do we reconcile? First, we go tell everybody else about the conflict. I mean everybody. “You know what so-and-so did to me? Well, let me tell you. She said this and she said that and I don’t know why God doesn’t send some sort of lightning strike to turn her into charcoal.” We should gossip to as many people as you can.

Or at least, that’s what we often end up doing. Jesus gives us different instructions, and they begin with a private conversation. Let your brother or sister know, with humility, what they’ve said or done that’s hurt you. Do it soon so that the problem doesn’t fester and make you bitter; remember, your prayers are hindered as long as the conflict remains. And do it face-to-face; it says go and *show* him. Don’t send a text message, don’t send an email, and don’t leave a voice mail.

This is the first step toward unity in our marriages and unity in our church, and we often miss this first step. It’s hard, but mostly because our own pride tells us that we’re right, they’re wrong, before we ever have a conversation with them. Humility and being honest with ourselves about our own selfish motives are required before we can resolve conflict with our brother.

Because we rarely complete this private meeting, we almost never get to step two when we bring a third party. Our tendency is to bring along somebody to gang up on them, but Jesus wants us to bring a neutral party as a witness. Step three is to bring the issue to the church, a pastor. Our effectiveness as a Christian, as a married couple, and as a church depends on the unity we create by humbly resolving the differences between us.

IV. Christian Forgiveness (v. 21-35)

And finally, Jesus instructs His church on Christian forgiveness. In verse 21-22 –

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Most manuscripts say seventy times seven; I’ve worked out the math, and that’s 490 times. I recommend getting a PDA so you can keep track of the number of times you’ve forgiven somebody, so that when you get to the 491st time, you know you don’t have to forgive them anymore. If you don’t have a PDA, try keeping a piece of paper in your pocket or purse with their name and a running tally of the number of times you’ve been forced to forgive them. I know Fred keeps such a list, and so far I’m only up to 112 things he has forgiven me for. I’m hoping his version of the bible says 490 instead of 77.

Why such a big number? Of course, we’re not supposed to keep track of our brother’s sins against us. We’re supposed to forgive every time; we’re supposed to constantly forgive. We’re a lot like Peter in this scripture; if we forgive our brother, if we forgive our spouse, we think we’ve done something magnificent. But we feel like there ought to be a limit, at some point, we don’t have to forgive anymore. I don’t deserve this, I can’t take that, I’m through with this. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving 3 times was sufficient. Peter felt that by the time he got to 7, he should win some sort of medal. Wouldn’t you? We think we’re showing great faith and love by forgiving 7 times, but Jesus calls us beyond faith and love; he calls us to humility and service by forgiving seventy times seven. The definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love keeps no record of wrongs. No record at all.

This is not blind or shallow or careless forgiveness. Philippians 1:9-10 tells us that abounding love also increases our depth of insight and our discernment, so there’s no reason we have to become a doormat. If Chris gives me $100 to go buy pizza for the class, and I decide to buy lottery tickets instead, should Chris forgive me? Of course he should. Should he trust me with $100 again? I sure hope so, cuz I was *this* closing to winning it big last time.

The parable told by Jesus in Matthew 18:23-35 illustrates the importance of forgiveness between brothers and sisters.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

The servant goes through 3 stages of forgiveness. In verses 23-27, the man is a debtor. He owes a lot of money, far more than he can ever pay back. But he thinks somehow that he can pay it all back, given enough time. There is a lack of repentance brought on by pride here; does the man say he’s sorry and confess and repent? No, he’s ashamed he’s caught. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 it says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Worldly sorrow is just being sorry you got caught.

This servant has no hope of paying off his debt, even if his pride tells him he can. His case is hopeless. The only thing that keeps him out of prison is the grace from the king.

In the second stage of forgiveness, the servant is also a creditor. When the servant thinks the king is out of sight, he comes across another servant that owes him pennies compared to the huge debt that the gracious king forgave. Instead of sharing with his friend the forgiveness that he has already received, the servant mistreats his friend. His friend’s words were almost identical – “I can pay it all back!” But instead of forgiveness, the servant mistreats his friend and demands the money is paid back. The servant was unwilling to be gracious even though he wanted others to be gracious to him.

The servant was absolutely with his legal right to demand payment, too. Nobody denies that he was owed the money. But even though he had a legal right, he didn’t have a moral right.

The last phase of forgiveness is really a stage of unforgiveness. He becomes a prisoner. Through the grace of the king, the servant had been released from prison. Through his own selfish unforgiveness, the servant puts himself back in prison. In essence, the king has given the servant a choice; he can live free through grace, or he can live imprisoned through the law. Through Christ Jesus, we are free. We were so far into debt, we didn’t even know how far in debt we are. We believed we could get into heaven just by paying the debt, by doing good works. But Christ freed us from our debts, and he wants us to experience not only being forgiven, but also forgiving others.

This parable was told to believers, to brothers and sisters in Christ. We have indeed received forgiveness from our Lord, but we often haven’t truly experienced forgiveness. We continue to live by justice, demanding what is ours. When we live this way, demanding justice from others, we are putting ourselves in prison, the prison of the unforgiving heart. We can be just like this servant, ready to receive the forgiveness of Christ, but stingy to share it. God forgives us frequently, readily, and endlessly.

It’s not enough for us to receive this forgiveness. To truly experience forgiveness, we must learn to grant forgiveness as easily as we received it. We have received so much that we don’t deserve, and all we had to do was say, “I accept.” To encourage the type of church of believers that Jesus wants us to be, let us practice forgiving others as our advocate as already shared with us, for it is with Christ Jesus that we have been set free from our prison. As it says in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

edit I am reminded that holding back forgiveness is like putting the one who wronged you in jail – except you have no key to the door. You must stand there and hold the jail cell door shut. While your adversary may be in jail, you are too; you cannot go anywhere if you’re holding the door.

As Christians in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to build the church that He has called us to be, we must have a humble heart, recognizing the pride that keeps us from leaning on our Creator. We must watch for our spiritually weaker and younger brothers and sisters, making them feel welcome and loved so they do not drift away, for Jesus cares for each and every one of His sheep. We must recognize our own selfishness and disobedience and the conflicts that come between us, and lay our gifts at the altar and be reconciled with our spouses, our brothers, and our sisters. And we do this by forgiving them quickly, seventy times seven times, so that we do not become imprisoned by our own unforgiveness, just as we have been forgiven by our loving and gracious Lord Jesus Christ.

Resisting Temptation

I’m sure you’ve all heard the prayer that goes,

Dear God,
So far today, I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper.
I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish.
But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed
and that is when I’m going to need a lot of help.
Amen

Sinning is easy. Nobody has to teach child to lie. Nobody has to teach men to ogle women. Nobody has to teach women to gossip. I had to be taught to cheat on my taxes, but that’s only because I’m a slow learner. Not sinning, well, that’s a little harder. The world around us provides sin, tempts us with sin, and keeps many people in bondage to sin.

In Christ, we are free from the bondage of sin. Why are we free? It is because Christians know the truth, and the truth sets us free. We still sin, of course, but we are no longer slaves to sin. We’re able to turn away from sin, and more important, we know why to turn away from sin. The sin in our lives has a price; since we’re not perfect, we’re also not worthy on our own to stand before a perfect God. Who paid the price for our sin?

Jesus.

Let’s consider two men who rob a convenience store. They’re caught by the police, they are tried by a jury, they’re convicted of their crime. When it’s time to receive their sentence, the first robber says, “You can set the other robber free. I’ll serve his punishment.”

Will the judge set the second robber free?

No; each robber must serve his time. The first robber cannot serve for both because he is guilty and has his own time to serve. That’s no different than you and me. Perhaps we’d like to volunteer to take the sins of a father or mother, wife or son, so that they can see heaven, but we can’t do that. We’re too busy ogling girls and gossiping.

But Jesus is different. He was man, so he could be tempted, but He did not sin. As a man, though, he could take away the sins of another, perhaps. As God, though, He can take away the wins of the world through His sacrifice as a man without sin. Hebrews 2:17-18 says,

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Is it a sin to be tempted? No, not at all. We live in a world full of temptation, and of course we are tempted. Temptation comes from outside; sin comes from inside. If somebody asks you to lie for them, you haven’t sinned… unless you lie for them.

Was Jesus tempted? And if so, did He sin? And if so, how did He resist sinning? Did He give us an example? Funny you should mention that because we’re studying from the book of Matthew today, so turn to Matthew 3.

While you’re turning there, consider that it is important that Jesus was tempted. For one thing, Jesus had to have free will. Jesus had to have the ability to choose right from wrong. To express his love for the Father, He must have the ability to turn away from love. A faith is made strong when it turns from evil to do good. Innocent faith may be pure, but as we saw in the Garden of Eden, innocent faith is not strong.

I’d love to spend time on Matthew 3:1-11; there is terrific scripture, fulfilled prophecy, amazing imagery. I want to continue focusing on how Jesus resisted sin, though, so we’ll have to go into detail on these early verses some other time. John the Baptist is preparing the way for the arrival of Jesus, from his “voice of one calling in the desert” to his unique appearance. He wore clothes made out of camel hair, very coarse and ugly, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He was not a normal person, which tells me that God can use abnormal people for important roles. There’s hope for me, after all.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees in verse 11 that John is baptizing with water for repentance, the forgiveness of sins. There are two other baptisms mentioned here that the one who comes after John will do. Baptism by the Holy Spirit – this is mentioned again in Acts 1:5, and it is the baptism of believers today. When a sinner gives their life to Christ, they become a new creation with the Holy Spirit living inside. The other baptism by Jesus, baptism by fire, is not mentioned in Acts. This baptism refers to the final judgment in Revelation.

And then Jesus arrives to be baptized by water for the forgiveness of sins. Why is Jesus being baptized if He has no sin?

John asks almost the same question in Matthew 3:14. “But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” John is like, “This isn’t right. I shouldn’t be baptizing God.” “Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. ”

Jesus’ baptism is unique; Jesus is being baptized in obedience to the Father, he is obeying the Law. By being baptized by John, Jesus gives approval to John’s ministry, and John in turn provides witness to Jesus as the Son of God. Immediately after baptism, the spirit of God descended like a dove onto Jesus, and God speaks from heaven to say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” There’s something unique here, by the way, something more amazing than the visible appearance of the Holy Spirit or the voice from heaven. All three persons of God are present here simultaneously. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And God says He is well pleased, giving encouragement to His Son and approval of His baptism, and providing the Holy Spirit. Jesus is showing us at this moment the first step toward resisting temptation and leading a sin-free life: obedience. Jesus is obedient to the Lord. Jesus knows what the Law requires, and Jesus is obedient to the Law. What I find very intriguing about this is that Jesus does not put Himself above the law. Jesus is obedient to the Word. The bible isn’t just an interesting book; the Son of God put himself below the Word of God. The first step toward a righteous life of resisting temptation is obedience.

And then, Darth Vader appears. Notice that it’s after baptism and after obedience that the devil appears and offers temptation.

Let me tell you a hunting story. A hunter stops by his friend’s house to ask him to go hunting with him, but he finds his friend groaning, weeping and praying to the Lord for deliverance from the devil. The hunter says to his friend, “You seem to have a good deal of trouble with the devil and he never bothers me at all. And yet you are a good, praying Christian and I am not. Why doesn’t he bother me?”

His friend replied, “Let me explain. When we are out shooting ducks, which do you send the dog after first, the ones that fall dead or the ones that wounded and are trying to get away?”

The hunter replied, “Well, of course, I send the dog after the wounded ones. The dead ones we are sure of and can pick them up later.”

His friend said, “And so it is with Satan. He already has those who are not born again. But those that know the Lord are the ones the devil sends his dogs after. The dead ones he can pick up later.”

The devil’s attack begins when one begins in earnest to do the will of God.

Worldly sin, the sin from the devil, comes from outside. You might remember the old Flip Wilson show in the 70’s where Flip would say, “The devil made me do it!” The devil doesn’t “make” us do anything; the devil just gives us opportunities. The devil doesn’t “make” us eat dessert, does he? He just serves us tres leches on a pretty plate with a little raspberry cream reduction on the side and dusted with powdered sugar, yum. But he doesn’t make us eat it. What we choose and how we choose is up to us and the free will given to us by God. Worldly sin can be divided into three large categories. In 1 John 2:15-17, it says,

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

The three broad categories of sin are –

  • Cravings of sinful man, or lust of the flesh. This includes primitive, self-satisfying desires. Food desires, lazy desires, sexual desires, alcoholism and drug addictions. Things we want because it feels good.
  • Lust of the eyes. This includes the temptation of wealth, the temptations of power, the temptation of coveting our neighbor’s stuff. Things we want because they look good.
  • Boasting of what one has or does, or the lust of pride. Glamour, looking good, thinking of ourselves more than others. Things we want because “we deserve it”.

Want to see how Jesus handled it? Me too. Matthew 4:1-4,

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

This is, of course, the first broad category of sin, the lust of the flesh. Jesus had been in the desert for 40 days fasting. He’s human, he’s hungry. Gimme food. And Satan tempts Jesus, “Why doesn’t your Father feed you? Why did He put you in this desert, anyway?” The devil tries to makes us believe that God doesn’t love us, it’s ok to satisfy our flesh. Eat all we want, have sex all we want, drink all we want, whatever it takes to satisfy us. The devil knows when we take responsibility for satisfying our own flesh, we don’t lean on God.

How did Jesus respond? With scripture. Jesus, just like the people of Israel, wandered in the desert for 40 days. Deuteronomy 8:1-5 says,

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

What tools do we have today to resist temptation? Do we have any tools that Jesus didn’t have? Jesus was able to resist temptation because he kept the Word of God in His heart, ready to quote the Word of God instantly.

We all are tempted, but unlike Jesus, we’re sinners. Sometimes, unfortunately, we give into sin. There’s no need to share, but think for a moment about the sin you are struggling with. We all have them; I freely admit I’m a sinner. Think about your sin; do you know why it’s a sin and what God says about it? Does the bible have instruction about your particular sin? Most importantly, while you’re sinning, what are you thinking about? Yourself, or God’s Word? Ask yourself this; if you could keep God’s Word in your heart with memorized scripture, and when you are tempted by sin, repeat that scripture to yourself, would it be easier to resist that sin?

That’s exactly what Jesus did to resist temptation. He knew what God’s Word said, and God’s Word was Jesus’ shield to resist temptation.

Satan has a comeback; just because you’ve successfully resisted sin one time doesn’t mean you’re free. Satan will double his effort, and worse, Satan has learned from your resistance. Matthew 4:5-7 –

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

I find it very disturbing that Satan knows scripture. You see those old horror movies where people hold up a cross or a bible to protect themselves from the devil, that’s inaccurate. Satan knows scripture, and he’s thrilled to use it against us. Jesus is love, God wants us to be happy, believe in God and you will become wealthy. Satan’s false teachings give rise to cults, weakens the church, teaches legalism and anti-Semitism and how to be intolerant of others. Satan knows scripture; to be honest, he probably knows it better than we do.

If we don’t study and continually learn, we remain ignorant of God and what he wants. The sanctification process isn’t a one time event; we are to continually grow in the spirit for the rest of our lives. It reminds me of a story about a young evangelist walking down his street. As he approached one house, there was an elderly gentleman sitting on the porch. The young evangelist asked the old man, “Are you a Christian?”

The old man said, “No, I’m a Smith. The Christians lives two doors down.”

The young evangelist said, “You don’t understand. I mean, are you lost?”

The old man said, “No, sonny, I ain’t lost. I’ve lived here for 25 years.”

The young evangelist said, “What I mean is, are you ready for the Judgment Day?”

The old man said, “When’s it gonna be?”

The young man said, “Well, it could be today, or it could be tomorrow.”

The old man replied, “Well, please don’t tell my wife, ‘cuz she’ll want to go both days.”

Satan quoted from Psalm 91 but omitted the context; God will indeed protect His children, but Psalm 91 also says that this blessing is for His children who acknowledge Him in all His ways. In fact, Satan’s distortion of scripture sounds suspiciously to me like the “name it and claim it” preaching I’ve occasionally heard. It leaves out an important part of the scripture, the part about obedience to the Lord. The Psalm is addressed to those who rest in the Lord; the Lord will protect those who are doing God’s will. If Jesus tried to force God to perform a miracle, is that God’s will?

Jesus knew not only what God said, but how He said it and why He said it. He knew the Word in context. Notice that Jesus says, “It is *also* written.” If you take one part of scripture and isolate it, you can prove almost anything you want. My favorite example is flipping through the bible until you find, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then flipping through the bible and find Jesus saying, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus responds to Satan with Deuteronomy 6:16, “Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.” If we refuse medical care to force God to perform a miracle, is that the way God works? We cannot test God, we cannot force God to perform miracles on our behalf. Scripture tells us to trust and obey the Lord, not boss the Lord around. When we trust in the Lord, we tell God, “you *are* the boss of me.”

Satan hasn’t given up; he comes back with a third temptation, this time the lust of pride. Matthew 4:8-11,

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Jesus knew the will of the Father; I’m sure the difficulty He faced was knowing the torture, the pain, the sacrifice and crucifixion that was coming. Satan offers a compromise; sure, Jesus, you can be king of the world. Just do it my way. Yeah, you can follow God, but you can follow me, too. You can be king of kings but without all that pain and suffering. Why go through all that? Here’s a shortcut. The ends justify the means.

And so the devil tempts Jesus by appealing to pride. You can have what you want. Just bend the corners, take a couple of shortcuts. Pride tells us that we’re too important to follow the letter of the law, we’re above all that. We’re too good for that. We’re basically good people, aren’t we? And since we’re so good, it’s ok to compromise a little here and there with the world. It’s ok if men and women live together before marriage, we’re basically good people. It’s ok to keep that tithe for ourselves, we’re basically good people, the church will accomplish its goals without my little contribution.

I am convinced that this pride and the selfish compromise that accompanies it is the reason why godly people do ungodly things. A little pride in how good we are, a little compromise here and there, and suddenly we’re like Jim Bakker, in jail for embezzling from the PTL in order to keep a mistress quiet, guilty of tax fraud, embezzling, and racketeering. He’s since confessed and repented, wrote a book called “I Was Wrong” and all the money given back to the PTL. He’s denounced his “prosperity teaching” and he’s been forgiven, but the damage was done, wasn’t it? A little pride in how good we are, a little compromise here and there, and suddenly we’re like Jimmy Swaggert, caught with a prostitute, and telling his congregation that the good Lord told him that it was none of their business. Christians are especially vulnerable to pride and compromise with the devil; we can convince ourselves that our sin is ok because, other than that, we’re doing the Lord’s work. We’re basically good people.

But we’re not basically good people, we’re sinners. We need a savior because we’re all guilty as sin. That little secret you and I have, that little whatever we are doing and justifying and compromising with the devil is *not* ok with God. Eventually, that sin against God will be exposed. Either God will expose it to show light upon our darkness, or the devil will expose it to reduce our effectiveness and do his best to thwart God’s will. The ends do not justify the means, and we are not better that.

How did Jesus combat the sin of pride and compromise? Again, Jesus used scripture and he used it in context and it was ready and in His heart. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Jesus didn’t need Satan’s offer; while the world may be ruled by Satan, God is the maker of everything and the one truly in control. Psalm 2:8, the Lord says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” What the devil promised wasn’t even the devil’s to give; it belonged to the Lord. The devil isn’t the lord of nations; the devil is the lord of plumbing. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you about our hot water heater, our upstairs bathroom, and our kitchen sink this week. Jesus avoided compromise, knew God’s Word, and was obedient unto death. No shortcuts are acceptable when doing the will of God.

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” In Luke’s account of the temptations, Luke 4:13, it says, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” If we know God’s Word, we can protect ourselves from the devil… for a time. Angels do the will of the father, and just as they attended to Jesus, they attend to us, too, when we are doing the will of God. But Satan regroups, learns, and attacks again. If Satan isn’t planning an attack on you, then ask yourself, “Why isn’t Satan worried about me? Why isn’t Satan trying to pick up this wounded duck? Doesn’t he consider me a threat to his evil plans?”

If Satan’s attacking, it’s ok. It’s not a sin to be tempted, it really isn’t. It’s how we respond to that temptation that matters; we prepare by being obedient to His Word, we give our life and trust the Lord; we study His word and treasure it in our hearts. We continually grow and seek Our Creator’s will in our lives, we memorize scripture and apply it appropriately in context. When we’re appropriately prepared, then we can successfully resist the temptations that are sure to come. Thanks be to Jesus who gave us this powerful example of how to resist the temptations of the flesh, the temptations of the eyes, and the temptations of compromise and pride.

Dependence

Zechariah’s lampstandI’m going to be honest about my struggles this week to study for Zechariah books 4-6. Zechariah is full of symbolism and things difficult to explain and interpret. When I started studying it, I was lost. It was like trying to understand the book of Revelation using only a Julia Childs cookbook for interpretation. Things just didn’t make sense.

But I’m starting learn how God teaches me; the lesson I study is the same lesson God is teaching me. I pray and hope that His Word today finds you receptive to the message He would have us learn.

Fortunately an angel of interpretation visited Zechariah to help us understand what was going on. I’m glad the angel was there, otherwise the symbology of colored horses and baskets of women and flying scrolls would be completely lost on me.

In Zechariah 1-3 last week, Zechariah began seeing a series of eight night visions. These visions of prophecy revealed God’s plans and purposes to His people.

The first vision, Zechariah saw horsemen patrolling the earth. The earth was at peace, which sounds like good news, but it’s not. It meant Persia’s rule of Judah, over God’s people, was strong and secure. The second vision of four horns represented the heathen powers who had scattered God’s people, and then four craftsmen of God that defeated the heathen powers.

The third vision was a surveyor who drew new boundary lines around Jerusalem, with God Himself becoming a wall of fire of protection around it. Then a fourth vision that Joshua would take off unclean clothes and dress is splendid robes so that Joshua would be usable and acceptable in God’s sight. A messianic prophecy that God would send His son as the Branch who would take away the sins of the world so that we may all live in peace under the authority of Jesus Christ.

So far, so good. Four visions have so far come to Zechariah in chapter 1-3, and now Zechariah is plum tuckered out. We’re going to study the next 4 visions, starting with vision number 5, visions that include lampstands, olive trees, a flying scroll, a basket with a woman in it, and chariots pulled by colored horses between bronze mountains, and then we’re going to figure out how to apply these colored horses and flying scrolls to our own lives. Turn to Zechariah 4.

Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”

I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”

I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”

He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

You would think that after 4 visions from God and being offered interpretations by angels, Zechariah would be fully awake, paying attention, and writing things down, but he’s not. It says in Zechariah 4:1 that “the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep.” Zechariah’s mind was wandering, not paying attention, possible taking a little nap. How could Zechariah possibly be sleeping at a time like this?

Let me rephrase in New Testament terms – Jesus Christ died for our sins and the Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to do what is right and what is good, for the day of the Lord is approaching. How could we possibly be satisfying our own selfish desires when Jesus calls us to do so much more?

There, got your attention.

The angel of interpretation wakens Zechariah and says, “What do you see?” And Zechariah answers (Zechariah 4:2-3), “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” If we jump down to the second half of verse 10, the angel explains that the seven lights on top are the eyes of the Lord which range throughout the earth. Scholars have interpreted in several ways; one scholar compared it to the lampstands in Revelation 1 where the lampstand represents a church. That would imply that the lampstand here represents Jerusalem or the rebuilding of the temple. The vision goes on to explain in verse 11 and 12 that the two olive branches on each side of the lampstand continually pour out golden oil that keeps the light burning.

There’s a lot of symbolism here, but with the angel of interpretation here, we’re able to understand the meaning. The olive tree branches symbolize Joshua and Zerubbabel. Joshua was the high priest of Israel, Zerubbabel was the governor. Together, they are the priest and king of Israel. In verse 14, they are described as the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” The golden oil represents the Holy Spirit being poured out to light the lampstand. So let’s put this altogether to see what the vision means.

Joshua and Zerubbabel are to rebuild the temple. It’s a daunting task, it’s huge, it’s far to much to expect two men to do it. But through the Holy Spirit working in them, the temple, the lampstand, will be rebuilt. The temple will be visible to all the earth; through the rebuilt temple, God will shed his light on Israel and bring them out of their darkness, and God’s plans will be fulfilled.

Is everybody with me so far? The priest and king, through the Holy Spirit, rebuild the temple to shed light on God’s people. Good. Now, as we have been studying, God’s relationship with Israel is instructive to us; God is unchanging. How do we apply this to Christians today? Well, let’s see. There are 4 parts to this vision:

  1. The olive branches. In Zechariah’s vision, the angel explains that these are Joshua and Zerubbabel, the priest and king of Israel, anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth. Who would that be today? That’s right, the priest and king is the Messiah, Jesus, anointed to serve the Lord. But while we wait for the return of the Lord, who is the body of Jesus? Who are His hands and feet? That’s right, we are.
  2. The lampstand. In Zechariah’s vision, the lampstand represented the temple. Who is the temple of the Lord today? The church.
  3. The lights, the eyes of the Lord that bring light. As a church, we are the lampstand that shows the love of Christ to the world. God’s light is visible to the world when the world looks at us, His temple.
  4. The golden oil. In Zechariah’s vision, the Holy Spirit enabled Joshua and Zerubbabel to accomplish the Lord’s will. The Holy Spirit now works within all Christians to accomplish the Lord’s will.

What the vision is trying to tell Zechariah is instructions on how to do the Lord’s will. The exiles in Zechariah’s day had started to rebuild the temple, but then they gave up. It was too hard. For 15 years they had done no work on the temple. The people put their personal concerns first and allowed discouragement to take over. It’s too hard, it’s not important, and we have other things to do.

Today, we do the same thing. God speaks to us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. But we don’t always want to obey. We don’t always want to listen. When we open our bibles and read, “Ye shall do this to glorify me,” and then we find excuses not to. Remember the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Jesus tells us that all of God’s commands can be summarized by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And 1 Corinthians 13 are instructions to us, to tell us what love is and what love is not. But yet, we are easily angered, we are rude, we do seek our own pleasure at the expense of others. Why do we do this? It’s because we allow discouragement to take over and we place ourselves first, exactly like the exiles that had given up on rebuilding the temple.

How else are we disobedient to the Lord? Is He the Lord of your life? Is He the Lord of my life? If He is the Lord, we give our lives to Him and obey His commands. Or is He only Lord of part of our lives, and we offer excuses not to obey? The instructions on loving one another are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to love those who hurt us are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how we treat our spouses are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to honor our parents are clear, yet we don’t always do it. Why don’t we do it? It’s because it’s too hard for us.

Let’s admit it. It’s too hard for us. And that’s precisely the point, it is too hard for us. But it’s not too hard for God. In Zechariah 4:6-7, it says,

So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!'”

The vision given to Zechariah doesn’t show that Joshua and Zerubbabel should rebuild the temple by relying on their own strength. The lights of the lampstand are filled with the Holy Spirit. When we find something too difficult for us, the instructions are clear. We rely on the Holy Spirit and do what the Lord tells us to do. No excuses, no discouragement, no personal reasons why these instructions shouldn’t apply to us. We pray, we rely on the Spirit, we obey. Through our obedience and the Lord’s strength, His purposes will be accomplished. The Lord put the mountain in front of us, and He can make the ground level again. Not us.

When I was studying for this lesson, this is about the time that I realized what God was teaching me this week. All the symbolism in the book of Zechariah was too hard for me. I’m a black and white sort of guy. I’m a spreadsheet guy. I’m an engineer. I don’t understand it, and therefore I can’t teach it.

Which is precisely the point. It’s too hard for me and I was relying on my own knowledge and strength to understand it. I’m like Zechariah here. The angel asks, “What do you see, and what does it mean?” Zechariah’s answer is the same each time, “Uh… I dunno.” And the angel interprets the vision for him. If Zechariah leaned on his own understanding, he’d have no idea what the Lord was saying. And isn’t that what the Lord wants us to do, to lean on Him? Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” The Lord wills us to obey and to trust in Him, even when we don’t want to, even when we don’t understand why. If we just lean on Him and do what He asks of us, He will lead us.

We are fortunate the Lord is so patient. While we’re quick to point out the faults in others and say the Lord’s judgment will come upon them, we’re not so quick to point out our own sins and ask for the Lord’s judgment. “Lord God, I’m a sinner, please punish me. And hurry!” No, the Lord’s judgment is delayed because of His mercy. We have 3 more visions to go that illustrate God’s judgment on those who do not obey.

In Zechariah 5, Zechariah sees a flying scroll.

“This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.'”

The flying scroll is thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide, which, interestingly, are the same dimensions as the holy place in the tabernacle, perhaps indicating God’s presence. The angel explains that this is a call by the Lord to righteousness. Every thief will be banished – those who take from others instead of giving of themselves. And everyone who swears falsely will be banished – those that claim to follow the Lord but are disobedient and rebellious, tarnishing the name of God. Possibly the text on the flying scroll contained the Ten Commandments, the law by which the Lord will judge His people. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that it is through the law that we become aware of our own sin. While the law is perfect, it is a curse to man for it shows us that we can never be righteous on our own.

The next vision is a woman in a basket. I’m so glad this angel of interpretation explains all these things so I don’t have to guess. Zecharaiah 5:5-11 –

Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is appearing.”

I asked, “What is it?”

He replied, “It is a measuring basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”

Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth.

Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.

“Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.

He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”

One interpretation could be that women are evil and should be shipped off in a basket, but that’s precisely why we are not to lean on our own understanding. A woman is used in this imagery because the Hebrew word for evil is a feminine noun and the woman is used to show evil personified. It does not mean women are evil. For some reason, every biblical commentary I read on this passage wanted t make that point clear.

God is all powerful. God is demonstrating that He has power over evil. He measures the sins of the Israel, and takes the evils of materialism, greed, and dishonesty back to their starting place in Babylon. When God is ready, He will set the basket on its base and destroy it in the final judgment prophesied in Revelation 17-18.

Notice that it’s a measuring basket. The King James version says it’s an ephah with a talent of lead to cover it. This may indicate that the evil has its root in money and currency. That’s not too far of a stretch, the love of money being the root of all evil. As a prosperous society, we tend to trust in the dollar more than we trust in God. We trust in our 401k, our health insurance, our education, our job. If we have Social Security, do we need God? Prosperity can blind us to our need for God. We trust in our own labor and our own savings plan. When we trust in our prosperity, prosperity becomes our God because that’s where our heart is. When we trust in our own prosperity, we stop working on the temple like the people of Jerusalem did, and God’s work is delayed because we’re working on our stuff instead of His. No wonder God wants to put it all in a basket and ship it to Babylon.

Let’s look at the last vision we’re going to study today, the vision of the four chariots. Zechariah 6:1-8 –

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”

When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.

Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

This a prophetic judgment on the rest of the world. The Lord God of Israel is also the Lord God of gentiles like us. The colors of these chariots match the colors of the four horsemen in Revelation 6, suggesting a similar purpose. The two mountains of bronze are often interpreted as Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives and symbolize God’s strength. The red horse is war, the black horse is death. The white horse is victory, and the dappled horse is disease and famine. God’s judgment in the last days rides swiftly and powerfully across the earth, and God’s Holy Spirit is only at rest when His perfect judgment is complete. That’s not good news for those of us in rebellion to His word; between the flying scroll, the basket of evil, and the four chariots of judgment, God’s perfect justice will eliminate evil. Including the evil that is in each one of us.

Our Good News – literally – is that God sent a perfect sacrifice for us. In Exodus 12 during the first Passover, God’s judgment came to Egypt, but if any household would place the blood of a perfect lamb over the door, the Lord God would pass over that household. Jesus came to be our perfect lamb and shed His blood for us. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect; it means that when God looks at us and we are clothed in the sacrifice of Jesus, God sees the blood and passes over us, too.

Zechariah 6 concludes with this Messianic prophecy, a foretelling of the coming of Jesus. Zechariah 6:9-13,

The word of the LORD came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

To the people of Jerusalem, this imagery was profound. Joshua was the high priest, and the high priest didn’t wear crowns. The crown belonged to the king, and so Zerubbabel should get the crown. Levitical priests were never crowned as kings, and kings were never priests. In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah tried to function as a priest and was stricken with leprosy. God’s law called for the priesthood to be separate from the government.

The vision of Joshua being crowned king foretells the coming of Jesus, whose name is the branch. Jesus would become both our high priest in the order of Melchizadek, as well as king of the Jews. Jesus will build our temple of the Lord, Jesus will bear the glory, and Jesus shall sit and rule on His throne, a priest on His throne, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then and only then will there be true peace and harmony.

So let’s recap what we’ve learned today –

  • We are to obey the Word of Our Lord, to do what He tells us to do. The rebuilding of the temple was delayed because the people found excuses and personal reasons and discouragement. When the people didn’t obey, the temple of the Lord wasn’t built. We, too, find excuses not to obey. The Lord uses us to accomplish His will, so it is important for us to obey, even when we don’t want to or when we don’t understand.
  • It’s too hard for us to obey. We are weak individuals. But relying on our own strength misses the point of what God expects from us. We are to rely on Him who gives us strength. God can move mountains, and with the Holy Spirit pouring through us like a golden oil, we can do His work to glorify Him and light up the world.
  • The flying scroll symbolizes God’s law that shows us our sins, and the sinful will be banished from God’s temple.
  • God is in control and more powerful than evil, able to contain it in a basket and put a lid on it. Eventually, God will destroy evil.
  • This applies to the entire world, and God’s judgment will ride out like chariots over the world. Through war, famine, death, and victory, all will bow their knee to Him.
  • God knows this is too hard for us, but he expects us to try. He has provided a sacrifice on our behalf, and crowned a Messiah, a priest to intercede for us and rule over men. If we accept the sacrifice, God will see that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and His perfect judgment will pass over us.

May the good Lord use us for His purposes this week. God bless each one of us.