Responding to Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Is Well With My Soul

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

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

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

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

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

Horatio Spafford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Prayers and thoughts from the class)

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

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

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

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The Many Ways We Disobey

Map of Canaan
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s recap the history in 1 Samuel so far and then continue reading in 1 Samuel 13-15. Today we’re going to focus on Saul, appointed by God and a man who gives every appearance to fear and obey the Lord, yet the Lord is displeased with him. Saul gives only the appearance of being obedient, yet we’re going to see how instead he is disobedient.

Last week, Fred taught us how the people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king over them; the elders wanted Israel to have a king just like their neighbors had. By appointing a king, the elders felt they felt that this would eliminate the organizational advantage their enemies had. Samuel warned them that the absolute power of a king held dangers, but the people wanted a king anyway. The Lord gave the people what they asked for, but considered this request just another of their rebellious choices. Samuel appointed Saul as the first king who had been hiding in baggage claim for some reason. The people of Israel eventually had to seize him and force him to be king.

When the Ammonites attacked, Saul finally acted, mobilizing an Israeli army and winning a decisive victory. During a national celebration at Gilgal, we see a transfer of political leadership. What used to be part of the judgeship and priesthood of Samuel now belongs to the monarchy of Saul. There is a division between Samuel and Saul that reflects their individual goals. Samuel is responsible to listening to the Lord and advising Saul what to do, and Saul is responsible for obeying the commands of the Lord and protecting the people. The prophet would receive instructions from God and relay them to the king; the king’s role was to protect the people from external enemies.

The Philistines mostly ignored the happenings within Israel, but the formation of a monarchy is about to renew the conflict with the Philistines. The Philistines totally controlled Israel from strategically placed garrisons. Saul divided his army and put his son Jonathon over one division. Jonathan was a devoted follower of the Lord and he faced a decision; the Lord had long commanded that the people of Israel occupy the land of Canaan, but the Philistines were intent in controlling the Israeli territory. And Jonathan displays fearless devotion to God and immediately attacks a Philistine outpost in 1 Samuel 13:5. While the victory was small, the confusion was great, and in the panic, the Philistines began to attack one another and the Philistine army was routed.

Israel has been repeatedly defeated in small battles against the Philistines, so a victory here over the Philistines is significant. Losing this garrison was not only humiliating to the Philistines, it also threatened the Philistine’s control of the region. While before small skirmishes erupted from time to time, this time the Philistines decide to eradicate the people of Israel. Now it’s war.

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

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

Some manuscripts say 30,000 chariots. Either way, this is the largest chariot force mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 13:5-6 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.

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

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

What are the Lord’s instructions? Let’s back up to last week’s lesson in 1 Samuel 10:5a,8; Samuel takes a flask of oil, anointing Saul in the name of the Lord, and then says –

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

But what does Saul actually do? 1 Samuel 13:7b-13 –

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

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

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

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

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

FEAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

REDEFINE OBEDIENCE

Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15; the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amelekites; you have to go all the way back to Exodus 17; Moses, leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amelekites who are picking off women and children that are straggling. You may recall Joshua led a battle against them while Moses held his hand in the air, held up by Aaron and Hur. Joshua wins that battle, but our God of infinite mercy is also a God of perfect justice. Exodus 17:14-16,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DENIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

PARTIAL OBEDIENCE

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

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

The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said he destroyed them except their king.

Colossians 3:5-6 says –

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

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

Let me offer a question for you to ponder – rather than asking yourself how you obey God, ask God to show you where you do not obey. Husbands and wives treating each other the way God commands? Holding captive every thought so that we do not sin? Impure or critical thoughts about another? Being slow to speak so our tongue does not cause us to sin? We cannot think ourselves as obedient to God when we redefine to ourselves what it means to be obedient. If we’re partially obedient, we’re still disobedient.

BLAME OTHERS

Another way we are disobedient to is to blame our disobedience, our partial obedience, on somebody else. I could forgive him if he wasn’t such a jerk. It would be easier for me to be faithful if she wasn’t always, you know, that way toward me. Of course I respect and submit to my husband as long as he does what I tell him to. Verse 21, Saul says, “But I did obey the Lord” –

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

… but the soldiers didn’t do right. I had a great plan to obey the Lord, but somebody else messed it up. Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but I didn’t mean that. You don’t know my spouse. Sometimes we even blame God. I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.

This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book. Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve. Eve blamed it on the serpent. But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else. God will see through that every time.

RELY ON RITUALS INSTEAD

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

Verse 22-23, Samuel answers that question.

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

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

The Lord expects and receives sacrifices, but He does not delight in them. Sacrifices in the Old Testament atoned for sins. Sacrifices in the New Testament further the Kingdom of God. Those things are good, but God does not delight in them. God delights in obedience. God delights in the righteous who seek after Him. Jesus tells us that if we bring a sacrifice to the temple but we have something against our brother, we are to leave that sacrifice there and make amends with our brother. Only then are we to return and offer our sacrifice.

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

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

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

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

Discussion time. What are some examples of disobedience in a Christian’s life, and which category does it fall in?

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

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

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Hearing God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with 1 Samuel 2:12-17

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

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

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

Now skip down to 1 Samuel 2:22-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2-5 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

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

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

Almost Persuaded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What went wrong?

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

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

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

Almost persuaded.

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

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

The forces include –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PBS and the Separation of Church and State

When the US Government funds anything remotely Christian in nature, all sorts of “separation of church and state” groups get upset. The ACLU files a lawsuit and the “offensive” Christian material is removed.

So why is it ok for US tax dollars to be used to oppose Christianity? Shouldn’t the same standard be used? PBS, a government funded liberal and atheist propoganda tool (not that I’m opinionated on the subject) is funded by the US government and is producing a show that attacks the underlying tenets of the bible.

Among other things, this show says –

  • Abraham, Sarah and their offspring didn’t exist.
  • There is no archaeological evidence of the Exodus.
  • Monotheism was a process that took hundreds of years.
  • The Israelites were actually Canaanites.
  • The Israelites believed that God had a wife.

For me as a Christian, it’s bad enough when free speech is exercised to attack my beliefs; my right to free speech also belongs to others to say the opposite. Will my tax dollars also be used to fund a show friendly to my beliefs? Probably not; the ACLU will sue to prevent the use of tax dollars for Christian-friendly projects. So why is the government allowed to fund an attack on Christianity?

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.

God's Dysfunctional Children

Dysfunctional: abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group.

We’ve been studying a dysfunctional family now for the last several weeks. They’re a mess! We had Abraham; Abraham had been promised by God that he would have so many children, as many as there were stars in the heavens. How long did Abraham wait before God answers? Over 80 years – and Abraham thinks that maybe it’s time for him to do things his own way. A godly decision would be to continue to wait on the Lord. A dysfunctional decision would be … to sleep with the maid, Hagar. And it was his wife’s Sarai’s idea! And then when Hagar gets pregnant, Sarai gets mad at Abraham and Hagar and tells Abraham to fix it. I’m sure Abraham was like, “but this was your idea, wasn’t it?” and Sarai would be like, “don’t give me that, just fix it.” So Abraham sends Hagar and her son, Ishmael, to live in the desert, and the bible says that Ishmael’s descendants live in hostility toward their brothers. Wonder why. Stars in the heavens, indeed, with these little supernovas going off.

Abraham finally has a son with Sarai, Isaac. Isaac probably grew up a little distrustful of Dad because Dad almost sacrificed him on an alter. Isaac marries Rebekah, and they have two children, Jacob and Esau. They play favorites with the children; Isaac likes Esau best, Rebekah likes Jacob. As Isaac lay dying, Rebekah and her son Jacob make a plan to steal the blessing from Esau. Then Esau’s mad as a hornet and wants to kill Jacob, so Jacob flees to his uncle Laban’s home.

Jacob and Laban trick each other for years over Laban’s daughters and livestock, and Jacob eventually marries two daughters, Leah and Rachel. And Jacob runs from Laban back to Esau hoping that his brother won’t kill him. The two brothers sort of patch things up, and Jacob settles down with his wife Leah, who he didn’t really want to marry, but he has 6 sons with her, so I guess they got along ok. Two more sons with Rachel, and then for good measure, two son’s with Rachel’s slave Bilhah and two sons with Leah’s slave Zilpah. Twelve sons in all by four different wives, all living together. And of course, Jacob has learned from Isaac that he should play favorites, so he likes Rachel best, and her son Joseph best. One big happy, dysfunctional blended family.

We’ve actually learned quite a bit from this dysfunctional family.

a) The human nature is rebellion against God.

While we can point fingers at Abraham and Sarai and all their children and grandchildren and say, “what were they thinking?” stop for a moment and reflect on your own life. You are a believer in God. Have you ever rebelled? Romans 3:9-12 says,

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

Not even one. Your life and my life is full of thoughts that rebel against God. Your life and my life is full of actions that betray the Lord. This can be caused by many different things; circumstances in our lives that cause us to wonder if God is in control. Or a lack of appreciation for our relationship with God, or our desire to do things our way instead of God’s way. All of this comes from our natural rebellious state. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all people of God and didn’t seek rebellion, but often fell into rebellion because they didn’t remain focused on God. We aren’t so different; we rebel, we pretend we are not rebelling, we miss God’s calling because we’re doing it our way instead of God’s way. We are the Lord’s dysfunctional children.

b) God is in control.

God knows more about us than we know about ourselves; God was able to accomplish His plans. God knows every human heart, and knew that Isaac and Rebekah would have favorites and that Jacob and Esau would feud. But God is in control no matter how much we rebel. The lessons learned by this family teach us that our own rebellious nature makes things harder on us and on the others around us. Whether we justify our behavior because “I deserve this” or “he did that first” or “she said that to me,” we initiate a chaos in our lives as our actions and reactions fail against God’s omnipotent plan for us. We blame the chaos in our lives on the actions of other people, and pretend that our own rebellious actions have no effect at all.

And now we come to the story of Joseph, born in the middle of a dysfunctional family. A grandfather who slept with a maid, cousins who dislike us, and uncle that wanted to kill his father, a mother who died at childbirth and half-brothers from a step-mother and two other slave mothers. Let’s pick up the story in Genesis 37:1-4,

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

I spent some time trying to figure out what Joseph was up to here. It appeared to me that Joseph was snitching on his brothers, but I think it goes deeper than that. The phrase “bad report” can also be translated “evil whisperings” or “malignant defamation.” Joseph was 17 by this time, and he’s probably old enough to decide that his brother’s comments were some sort of evil or threat against his father. Perhaps some of his trials are the result of a commitment to do the right thing. The right thing is not always easy to do, especially when others around us are not doing the right thing, either.

Joseph’s brothers hate him. Coming from a father with 2 wives, 2 concubines, and twelve half-brothers, all the half-brothers are affected by bad decisions from their parents. God is aware that our rebellious nature is inevitably going to lead to our chaotic lives. The sins of our parents cause damage in our lives and the lives of our children. Exodus 20:4-6, in God’s instruction not to worship idols, God says,

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 34:6-7,

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God is well aware that the rebellious nature of men and women lead to chaos in their children’s lives. But that is not an excuse to blame our rebellious disobedience on our parents and grandparents; look at Jeremiah 32:18-19,

You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.

The disciples asked Jesus a similar question in John 9:1-3,

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

God knows about our chaos. He knows that our lives are in chaos because of not only our rebellion, but also the rebellion of our parents. But our dysfunction circumstances are not an excuse for even more dysfunctional rebellion. We are responsible for our own actions.

Why do you think Joseph’s brothers hate him?

Is Joseph responsible for the hatred of his brothers? Yes and no. In telling Jacob that his brothers were up to no good, Joseph was doing the right thing. That was his own action, and doing the right thing stirred up their anger. The right thing isn’t the easiest thing, and it may make those you are closest to mad at you.

But Joseph’s brothers hated him because of their father Jacob’s actions, too. They were jealous. Joseph was the second youngest son, but Jacob’s favorite. That’s not Joseph’s fault; he didn’t choose his mother or his order of birth. Joseph is dealing with people who hate him because of his own actions, other people’s actions, and just plain circumstances.

Do you think Joseph should have told his father what his brothers were up to?

In Genesis 37:5-10, Joseph shares his dreams with his brothers,

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Knowing that his brothers already hated him, did Joseph do the right thing by sharing his dreams with his brothers.

Some commentaries go into a study of discernment and speaking the truth in love here. I think there’s a lot to be said for that; sometimes the truth hurts, and sometimes kindness should temper our words. On the other hand, Joseph has a faith and a walk with God like no other person in Genesis so far. If he knows what God says, should he keep his brothers in the dark, or should he tell them what he knows, even if they hate him for it?

I think it’s important we temper the truth with kindness. There’s nothing in the scripture here to indicate Joseph’s tone; he doesn’t appear arrogant. I think Joseph was correct in sharing the dream with his brothers because his brothers were a part of the dream, even if the dream added to his brother’s hatred of him. Why do you think Joseph shared the second dream with his family after the reaction they had to his first dream?

When we share the truth about God with others, whether they are believers or not, it’s important to be kind. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to speak the truth in love. What do you think that mean, to speak the truth in love?

Let’s read Genesis 37:12-19

Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Joseph is persistent in doing the right thing, following his father’s instruction. Jacob sends Joseph to check on the status of his brothers and the flocks, and sends him to Shechem about 60 miles north of Hebron, and when he gets there he travels another 15 miles to Dothan. Joseph’s brothers see him coming and plot to kill him. They call him “that dreamer” so they’re obviously still mad about Joseph’s dreams and perhaps plot to kill him to prevent the dreams from coming true.

Genesis 37:21-25

When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing- and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

Rueben was the oldest of the ten brothers there (Joseph was the 11th, and Benjamin wasn’t with them). Rueben has second thoughts about killing Joseph and convinces the other 9 brothers to throw him in a well instead. I don’t know where Rueben goes at this point; he’s making some sort of plan to rescue Joseph and he’s taken off somewhere. The other 9 brothers are callous; while Joseph is at the bottom of a dry well without food or water, they sit down to have a meal. Then a caravan comes by.

God’s control is amazing – many weeks before Joseph is thrown into the cistern, God has sent a caravan to be there at the right spot to pick up Joseph and take him to Egypt to complete God’s plan. How awesome is that?

Genesis 37:26-30,

Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

Judah comes up with an idea to sell Joseph for 20 sheckels of silver, the price of a slave. I find his justification for this interesting; “let’s not kill him, he’s our brother. Let’s sell him instead.” When we look at such simple reasoning, it looks silly, but we all do this. We convince ourselves that instead of doing something really horrible, we only did a little bad thing, then we pat ourselves on the back for how much we restrained ourselves.

Reuben returns at this point and finds Joseph is gone and Reuben’s upset. I don’t know what Reuben thinks happened; eventually, he must find out Joseph was sold, but for now, Reuben participates in this next deception in Genesis 38:31-36,

Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him.

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

“All his sons and daughter came to comfort him” shows the hypocrisy of his children; the sons knew Joseph was alive and they were responsible for Jacob’s grief, yet they came to him to comfort him. Meanwhile, Joseph has been sold again, this time to the Egyptians.

Joseph’s trials are the result of his own actions, the actions of others, and his circumstances.

• What were Joseph’s actions that led to his trials?
• What were the actions of others that led to his trials? (Father’s favoritism, brother’s hatred)
• What were circumstances that tried him? (being born 11th of 12 sons)
• And a final question to think about: how long did Joseph have to wait to see the dreams from the Lord fulfilled?

Joseph waited on God for years and years and went through many more trials. Joseph accepted the trials that came with obedience. He could have used his circumstances as an excuse not to follow God; he could have said, I’m the 11th of 12 children; it’s up to Reuben to do God’s will. He could have found an excuse in the actions of others; I don’t have to follow God’s will anymore because this person said something to me or that person did something to me. Or he could have found an excuse in his own actions; hey, I did my part, now it’s up to somebody else.

But God understands our dysfunction; He knows who we are and He knows how we got here. He knows our circumstances. He knows our grandparents were in rebellion to Him and our parents were in rebellion to Him and that we are in rebellion. And He loves us anyway. What God wants for us is our spiritual maturity and a focus on Him, regardless of our circumstances. We are responsible for our own actions. Joseph came from a dysfunctional blended family, yet Joseph has a solid relationship with the Lord. The Lord wants us to learn patience and to wait on Him to complete His plan.