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My Yoke is Easy

  I.      Introduction

We’re only going to study 5 verses today.  How long can that possibly take?  Let’s start by turning to Matthew 11.

When I just sit down and read the bible, I often just read quickly without slowing to ponder the meaning.  But once I stop to examine a passage, often I find a deeper meaning, a revelation, a message to ponder.  When I find one of these passages, I highlight it in my bible.  And now, today, every passage is highlighted.

So I guess what I’m saying is that getting through 5 verses that hold an exceptional amount of meaning that can take all day.  I hope you brought your lunch.

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Let’s put the Matthew 11 in context.  Jesus has been speaking and teaching to Jews in the towns of Galilee.  Galilee is a province in the northern part of Israel, the other provinces being Judea and Samaria.  Jesus spent much of His ministry living and teaching here and his life and miracles are captured in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Interesting, the book of John primarily focuses on Jesus’ life in Judea, not Galilee.

Beginning in verse 20, Jesus warns those that do not repent of their day of destruction, and the very presence of Jesus performing miracles in the towns of Galilee is to give evidence that Jesus is who He says He is, the very Son of God, and the miracles are given to give weight to Jesus words of repentance.  But a great many people see the miracles, and even want the miracles for themselves, but do not want to believe.  And we come to our first verse to study today, Matthew 11:25.

II.      Matthew 11:25, Truth Revealed to Little Children

Matthew 11:25,

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Jesus praises God the Father for who He is, and rightly proclaims God the father to be Lord of heaven and earth.  In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.”  During the life of Jesus, though He was also God, He lived His life as man, and it was proper for Jesus to show us how to live, including giving all honor and glory to God.  Jesus, Son of God, God the Son, gives praise to God the Father.

Jesus is One with the Father, He is Emmanuel, God with us.  But to demonstrate to us what it means to live a life free of sin, Jesus talks to the Father, not as an equal, but as a faithful servant.  He speaks to God the Father as a man.

I looked up the Greek word for Father used here, and you might have heard plenty of sermons where Jesus uses the phrase “Abba” to call to His Father, a phrase a toddler might use when he just wants to be held.  But that’s not the word Jesus uses here, he uses “pater,” and uses the same word to begin the Lord’s prayer, “Our ‘pater’, who art in heaven.”  When applied to God the Father, Strong’s Dictionary defines it this way,

God is called the Father

  1. of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator, upholder, ruler

  2. of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector

  3. of Christians, as those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father

  4. the Father of Jesus Christ, as one whom God has united to himself in the closest bond of love and intimacy, made acquainted with his purposes, appointed to explain and carry out among men the plan of salvation, and made to share also in his own divine nature

 

Could there be a better description of our heavenly father?

Then Jesus says, “because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

The “wise” that Jesus mentions here likely refer to the self-righteous Pharisees who obeyed the letter of the law but understood not the intent of the law.  From a human perspective, they were wise and learned.  They knew the Old Testament scripture, and were not afraid to apply to others and be judgmental about how other people lived their lives.

How can we best understand that being wise is foolish?  The first step toward wisdom is recognizing our own ignorance.  We do not, and cannot, know everything.  We will never be omniscient, knowing everything that ever was and is and is to come.  Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:4-8.  Paul says,

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.  We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

There are clearly two kinds of wisdom.  There is worldly wisdom and there is Godly wisdom.

The source of worldly wisdom is man’s own human intellect.  It is human ideas and human reasoning and human philosophy.  There is nothing wrong with human intellect as long as it is based on spiritual truth.  Building intellect on spiritual truth is like building or foundation upon rock.  The book of James talks about this at length.  You might be familiar with James 1:5 that says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James tells us that if lack Godly wisdom, all we have to do is ask God.  Less well known is what James says about worldly wisdom in James 3:15,

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Worldly wisdom misrepresents truth and leads many Christians into gross errors.  It looks good.  It sounds noble.  It seems to make sense.  But worldly wisdom can lead us astray, from seeking God’s will.  It fosters doubt, makes us question God’s goodness, teaches us to put faith in ourselves and our own smarts.  The “wisdom of this world” appeals to the flesh and to our carnal nature.  We listen to worldly wisdom because we can do what we want instead of what God wants.

What does God want?  Well, knowing that comes from godly wisdom.  We just have to ask God.  He gives graciously.  But first we have to acknowledge that, compared to God’s incredible knowledge and wisdom, our own meager worldly wisdom pales in comparison.  We are like children.

And that’s not just a metaphor.   Jesus wants us to be innocent in worldly wisdom and abundant in godly wisdom.  That’s why he says in our verse today that God reveals his truth to little children.  Jesus reinforces this is verses like Matthew 18:1-5,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Why does God hide his wisdom from the wise and learned?  Well, that’s the next line of scripture in our study today.

III.      Matthew 11:26, Because It Pleases Him

Matthew 11:26,

Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

I think that many times God works through weakness, and that belief is reinforced in scripture.  Paul had a thorn in his flesh, and when he asked for it to be removed, God said His strength is made perfect in our weakness. But then I want to ask, “Why?  Why can’t God’s strength me magnified in our strength instead of our weakness?”

This verse says this is God is pleased to do this.  I don’t really know why.  Well, part of me knows that when we depend on our own strength, we just give credit to ourselves for our good works.  We pat ourselves on the back and say, “good job.”  But when we can’t do it ourselves, we have to acknowledge we are not in control, and that our Creator has a plan bigger than us.

Job asked some of these same questions.  Job had a really bad day and lost his family, his property, and grew boils all over his body.  Job’s friends said it was because Job had some sort of hidden sin that he needed to confess, but Job said that that view wasn’t scriptural, and besides, Job was a righteous man.  But then Job got to wondering, “so why, then, am I being punished?”  And Job demands an audience of God.  Job believes that, since he is righteous, God owes him a good answer for these boils.

God finally does answer, but not in the way Job expects.  God asks Job some questions.  Where were you when I created the universe?  When I marked off the dimensions of the earth, where were you?  When I give the command to the morning where the dawn’s light should shine, where were you?  The Lord commands the constellations, counts the number of clouds, directs the lightning bolts, Job, where were you?

And Job realizes that his righteousness is insignificant compared to the majesty of the Lord.  God doesn’t provide any answers to Job.  God wants Job to be obedient because of God’s superiority.  There is no one like God. In essence, God’s answer to His children is, “Because I said so.”

This morning, while you and I were setting our alarm so that we would show up to church on time, and trying to decide what we wanted to wear, God was orchestrating the universe and telling the galaxies what to wear.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Because He said so.

So who can know the will of the Lord?

IV.      Matthew 11:27, To Know the Father, Know the Son

Matthew 11:27, Jesus says,

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Just two verses earlier, Jesus was praising God the Father and calling Him the Lord of heaven and earth, but Jesus has been given this authority.  All of these things have been given to the Son by the Father.    Jesus, as God’s only begotten son, has a special and intimate relationship with God the Father.  And because Jesus alone has intimate knowledge of the Father, it is only through Jesus that the Father can be known.  No one knows God the Father except through Jesus the son.

And here’s an interesting phrase at the end.  The scripture says that Jesus knows the Father, and those Jesus chooses can know the Father.

Who does Jesus choose?  Does He choose those who are already righteous and do good works?  Does He choose tall people, or people who are good in math?  No, Jesus chooses sinners like you and me.  Only those God calls can hear the message, and Jesus repeatedly invited those who had ears to hear.  Why?  Because God said so.

Again, I think it’s so God can demonstrate His power and glory through our weakness.  He didn’t choose me because I was some great whoop-de-do (although I am tall and good at math).  No, he chose me while I was still a sinner, and I am forever grateful.  Literally, forever grateful.

And to those Jesus chooses, He reveals the Father.  In Matthew 11.27, the word “reveal” comes from the Greek word apokalupto, to take off the cover; to disclose or reveal.

In Old Testament times, the Shekinah glory of God dwelled within the innermost part of the Tabernacle behind a veil. No one could enter behind that veil except the High Priest, and even then under the strictest set of rules.

Exodus 40:34

Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

 

When Moses received the Law, God’s Glory shone upon him so much that he “glowed” with the heavenly radiance.

Exodus 34:35

And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with God.

 

God’s plan is to reveal Himself in the Son.  God sent His Son so that we may “see” the Father.

John 14:8-9,

Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

 

When Christ died for us, the veil that separated us from God was torn in two from top to bottom.

Matthew 27:50-51,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

Whereas in Old Testament times only the priest could see the shekinah glory of God, now Jesus is our high priest forever and ever.

Hebrews 4:14-15,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

When we want to see the Shekinah glory of God, we only need to look to Jesus.  Or, under the burden of the law, all we have to do is follow the 613 old testament laws to be saved.  Did you know the Old Testament specified 613 commandments?  There are 365 Negative Mitzvots (to remind us not to do bad things every day of the year) plus 248 Positive Mitzvots (the number of bones in the human body, so we can obey the laws with our whole body.)  Here’s a list:

Here’s a list of all 613 mitzvots.

Obey all 613 Mitzvots, and you will be saved.

  V.      Matthew 11:28-30

Goodness.  613 commandments.  If I thought following the Ten Commandments was difficult enough, how am I supposed to remember all 613 commandments, let alone follow them all?  That sounds like a lot of work, and I’m weary just thinking about it.  Fortunately, I know where to find rest for the weary.  It’s in our scripture verses for today.

Matthew 11:28-30,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

 

The yoke of the law was not light.  613 Mitzvots is a lot of mitzvots.  What exactly is yoke, anyway?

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In a literal sense, the word ‘Yoke’ means a bar of wood, harnessed around the necks of two animals (usually oxen), enabling them to work in the fields, drawing loads, pulling farming equipment.  In the Bible, it is figuratively used as a symbol of bondage and oppression, such as in Isaiah 9:4,

For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,

especially bondage to sin, as in Lam 1:14:

My sins have been bound into a yoke, by his hands, they were woven together

The farmer would bind the yoke upon the neck of the oxen so that it would not fall off or be shaken off.

Why did the Pharisees rebel against Jesus? Because the Pharisees were intellectually and spiritually proud and would not become little babes in humility and honesty.  The Father reveals Himself to the Son, and the Son reveals Himself and the Father to those who are willing to come to the Son in faith.  These verses indicate both the sovereignty of the Father and the responsibility of the sinner. Three commands summarize this invitation.

“Come.” The Pharisees all said “Do!” and tried to make the people follow Moses and the traditions.  But true salvation is not found in works, it is found only in a person, Jesus Christ.  To come to Him means to trust Him. This invitation is open to those who are exhausted and burdened down. That is exactly how the people felt under the yoke of legalism.

“Take.” This is a deeper experience. When we come to Christ by faith, He gives us rest. When we take His yoke and learn, we find rest, that deeper rest of surrender and obedience. The first is “peace with God” as shown in Romans 5:1 –

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And then “Learn.” The first two commands represent a crisis as we come and yield to Christ; but this step is into a process.  As we learn more about Him, we find a deeper peace, because we trust Him more.  Life is simplified and unified around the person of Christ.

As we learn, we find the “the peace of God” in Philippians 4:6-8.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

 

Farmers, when binding their oxen, often bound an experienced ox to a younger, untrained ox.  They did this so the new oxen would learn in the experienced oxen’s ways.  When we submit to Christ, we yoke ourselves to Him so that we may learn.  The word “easy” means “well-fitting”; He has just the yoke that is tailor-made for our lives and needs.  The burden of doing His will is not a heavy one.  On the contrary, when we are in the will of Christ Jesus, we find abundant joy.

Jesus was saying that any kind of law-keeping is a burden and amounts to a “heavy yoke” of oppression because no amount of law-keeping can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness.  God says through Isaiah that all of our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment.”  Paul said in Romans 3:20 that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.”

Jesus brought good news.  To all who come to Him, He will give us rest from the heavy burden of trying to earn our way into heaven and rest from the oppressive yoke of self-righteousness and legalism.  Jesus encourages those who are “heavy laden” to take His yoke upon them, and in so doing they will find rest for their souls. The yoke of Jesus is light and easy to carry because it is the yoke of repentance and faith followed by a commitment to follow Him.

This is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:20.  His yoke is easy and His burden light.   Is there is really a difference between the commandments of Jesus and the Jewish Law?  Isn’t the same God responsible for both?  If anything, one might argue that the commands of Jesus are even more burdensome because His Sermon on the Mount actually goes above and beyond outward conformity to the Law and deals instead with the inner person.

What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and His burden light is that Jesus fulfilled the Law of God.  He has already carried the burden that we were meant to carry.  His perfect obedience is imputed to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross.  Our obedience to Jesus then becomes our “spiritual worship”.

And we have the Holy Spirit who works in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, thereby making the yoke of Jesus easy and His burden light. The life lived by faith is a much lighter yoke and a much easier burden to carry than the heavy and burdensome yoke of self-righteousness under which some continually strive to make themselves acceptable to God through works.

 

VI.      Conclusion

So are you striving hard to be a good Christian?  Are you trying to follow some man-made law that tells you who you are?  You are more than a set of rules.  You are more than a secretary or an engineer.  You are more than a mom or dad.  Your struggle for the approval of others can be set at the foot of the cross, it’s not a burden you were meant to carry.  You are an adopted child of God, righteous in His sight.  Worship our Lord with your obedience, but don’t make your obedience a definition for who you are.  Christ sacrificed Himself so that we are free from the burden of works.  His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

To God be the glory.

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The Faith of the Centurion

  I.      Introduction

The Roman Empire conquered by force much of the known world in days leading up to the birth of Jesus.  By 37 BC, the Romans placed Herod the Great to rule Judea as a Roman province, with Roman troops stationed in Jerusalem to enforce the peace.

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After the death of Herod in 4 BC, Judea came under direct Roman administration and suppression.  The Jewish people longed for their Messiah, their deliverer, to free them from bondage, to give the land of Israel back to the Jews.

This was the land where Jesus preached the gospel of salvation to the Jewish people, under bondage to the Roman military machine.

II.      Matthew 8:5, Roman Occupation

A Roman legion was approximately 6000 Roman soldiers.  To manage such a large number of soldiers, they were organized in groups of approximately 100 called “centuries.”

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Soldiers that demonstrated superior leadership skills were promoted to command a century and were known as “centurions.”  Since these centurions represented the face of the Roman empire, they were hated and despised by the Jewish leaders and people, though in the New Testament, centurions were always mentioned with respect.

During the life and ministry of Jesus, Jesus preached almost entirely to the Jewish people.  While ultimately His message was for all of God’s adopted children to place their faith and trust in Him, Jesus reached out first to God’s chosen people.  The Jewish people looked for their Messiah to confront the Roman occupation and emerge militarily victorious, but Jesus during His ministry confronted primarily the Jewish Pharisee leaders for their hypocrisy.

However, in the midst of this occupation and hatred of Roman soldiers, Jesus did have a few interactions with the gentiles, and we are going to look at a significant one today.  Let’s turn to Matthew 8, verse 5-6 –

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”.

Already we can see some interesting things here.  Jesus has given His amazing Sermon on the Mount, and now left His hometown of Nazareth and arrived in Capernaum, the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John the fishermen, as well as Matthew the tax collector.  And a Roman centurion, commander of a century of soldiers, has come to Jesus for help.  This same story is told in Luke 7 and it says elders of the Jews came to plead with Jesus on behalf of the centurion, saying that the centurion is a good man, loves the Jews, and built a synagogue for the Jews.  Not your typical Roman centurion.

The centurions had a reputation as ruthless warriors, and they often took slaves or servants from the local population.  Neither Matthew or Luke mention this, but it’s very possible the servant is Jewish.  And when a servant or slave becomes paralyzed while in service to a centurion, they were no longer of any use.  Under Roman law, slaves that could no longer perform their duties could be killed.

But this centurion seems unique.  As a commanding soldier in the occupying Roman army, he could expect to order a Jewish rabbi like Jesus to appear before him.   But instead, rather than summoning Jesus, the centurion comes to Jesus.  Rather than trying to command Jesus, he asks Jesus for help.  And instead of asking for a personal favor, the centurion comes to Jesus humbly to ask for help on behalf of another.  Perhaps if the servant was Jewish, the centurion was more confidant that Jesus would come heal a Jew.  Jesus’s response is immediate.

 

III.      Matthew 8:7-9, The Humble Centurion

It says in verse 7,

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Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Some translations translate this as a statement, “I shall come and heal him.”  But the Greek word for “I” used by Jesus, “egō” is only used emphatically.  “Shall *I* come and heal him?”  Sort of like Miss Piggy saying, “Moi?”  Or Robert De Niro saying, “You talkin’ to me?  You talking to *me*?”

Jesus is pointing out to us and to those around him how unique this request is.  “Are you, a Roman centurion, asking for a favor?  From a Jew?”  Is this a really a polite request?  Or is this an order from a commanding soldier to a subservient occupied Jew?

The commanding Roman centurion soldier responds humbly, and acknowledges that Jesus’ authority is supreme.  Verse 8-9 –

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The centurion shows his faith not only by acknowledging his own unworthiness, but also recognizing that the power of Jesus is so great that this request is so small.  The Jewish people at the time did not believe that long distance miracles were possible, but the centurion reasons otherwise, based on his own experiences.  The centurion can issue commands and receive obedience at a distance because he is under authority of the Roman Empire, which rules the land.  Therefore, Jesus, as a ruler under the authority of the God of Israel, merely has to issue a command from His own mouth to banish powers that are subject to Him, such as sickness.  He knew the word of Christ and His authority were enough. He believed Christ’s words before He saw the works.

 

IV.      Matthew 10, The Amazing Faith of the Centurion

Jesus then makes two incredible statements.  First, in verse 10, Jesus says,

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Jesus is amazed at the gentile’s faith.  The gentile doesn’t need to see the signs. The gentile understands, believes, and acts on it. This is an indictment against the Jewish nation which insists on seeing signs as proof and then still doesn’t believe even after they see the signs.

The Greek word “thaumazo” is translated “marveled” or “amazed” and there are only 2 times in the gospels that record Jesus has being amazed.  This is the second instance; Jesus is amazed at the great demonstration of belief displayed in the gentile Roman centurion.  The first time is in the book of Mark, chapter 6:4-6 –

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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Here Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith.  I think Jesus would still be amazed today at the lack of faith.  That left to their own, people must answer for every word ever spoken, every deed ever done, and if we are honest with ourselves, our words and deeds fall far short of perfection.  And yet, Jesus came to bear the punishment we so richly deserve and bore the whips and scourge on his back for us.  By His stripes we are healed, if we but believe in Him.  But due to a lack of faith, so many will miss out on this forgiveness.  It is truly amazing.

Then Jesus says in Matthew 8:11-12,

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and [m]recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The centurion gets far more than he asks for, and this is a result of his faith, not his authority as a commanding officer in an occupation army.  We should remember that this man asked nothing for himself, only for his servant, and yet he receives two of the finest blessings for which a man could ever hope.

First, the centurion receives the highest praise any man, Jew or Gentile, receives in the Gospels.  This Gentile’s faith surpasses that of any Jew in Israel, and it receives the commendation of our Lord.  Second, this man receives the Lord’s promise of inclusion and fellowship that he would never have imagined. The centurion did not consider himself worthy or qualified to have Jesus pass through his door.  Jews during this day would never pass through the door of a gentile, for they would be defiled.

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But Old Testament ceremonial food laws also separated Jews and Gentiles. That is what we see in the case of Peter, both in Acts 10 and in Galatians 2. This man could not conceive of Jesus entering his door, much less sitting at his table.  But Jesus tells him that in the kingdom he will be reclining at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He also says that while many Gentiles will be found at this table, a number of Jews will not be there.

This would have been a radical idea to the Jews listening.  As God’s chosen people, they didn’t not believe gentiles or pagans would belong with God after death.  This was a spot reserved for them, the chosen people.  But Jesus says that gentiles will have a place at this great Messianic banquet.

Gentiles, pagans, and God’s chosen.  Note that Jesus heals at a distance, something the Jews didn’t believe.  But I think there is something symbolic here.  In the first part of Matthew 8 verses 2-3, Jesus heals a Jewish leper by touching him.  For the gentile, Jesus heals from afar.  While Israel is God’s chosen people, but now God’s power is demonstrated and magnified through gentiles.

Also, these few words of Jesus tell us a little something of heaven is like:

  • It is a place of rest; we sit down or recline in heaven.
  • It is a place to sit with good company; we enjoy the friendship of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in heaven.
  • It is a place with many people; Jesus said that many will come into heaven.
  • It is a place with people from all over the earth; from east and west they will come to heaven.
  • It is a certain place; Jesus said many will come, but others will be cast out.

This gives me some comfort that we will indeed know one another in heaven.  When we pray, maybe we can keep our eyes open.  I want you to be able to see me so that when we all get to heaven, you can recognize me.  “Look!  There’s Michael!”  Charles Spurgeon puts it this way:

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“But ye shall hear those loved voices again; ye shall hear those sweet voices once more, ye shall yet know that those whom ye loved have been loved by God. Would not that be a dreary heaven for us to inhabit, where we should be alike unknowing and unknown? I would not care to go to such a heaven as that. I believe that heaven is a fellowship of the saints, and that we shall know one another there.”

As well, Jesus reminded his Jewish listeners that the Jews racial identity was not a guaranteed entrance to the kingdom of heaven, just as the Gentile’s racial identity was not an automatic barrier. Though Jews were God’s chosen people, they might end up in hell.

 

  V.      Matthew 8:13

In Matthew 8:13,

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go!  Let it be done just as you believed it would.”  And his servant was healed at that moment.

Remember, Jesus had just given his amazing Sermon on the Mount that had a lot of radical ideas in it.  The Jews would have loved to hear, “Blessed are the descendants of Abraham,” or “Blessed are those who keep the Law of Moses.”  But instead, Jesus redefines who the blessed are.  The meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn or are humble.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and now He is demonstrating this love in action.  When Jesus heals the servant, he is providing for the well-being of the enemy, an occupying soldier in the Lord’s holy land.  But rather than use this as an excuse, Jesus demonstrates from the Sermon on the Mount, love thy enemies, pray for them, do good to them.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Do we have the faith of the centurion to recognize the greatness of God’s power?  If we love the Lord and are obedient to His will, we may have confidence the Lord has the ability and love to fulfill His promises.  Jesus provides the authority for us to do the work He has called us to do.  The work is His and not our own.

Just like the faith of Abraham his son Isaac we studied a few months ago, Abraham rested on his faith in the Lord.  In Genesis 22, The Lord tested Abraham and ask him to sacrifice his only son.  But earlier, The Lord had told Abraham he would have more descendants than the stars in the skies.  How would the Lord fulfill both promises?  In verse Genesis 22:3-5 we read –

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

On the third day, a shadow of things to come in Christ Jesus, Abram’s son would live.  Abram would sacrifice his son, and somehow his son would live.  Abraham showed his faith when he told his servants “we” will return.  God fulfills His promises despite appearance.  And Abrahams faith was credited to him as righteousness, and he’s listed in the Hebrews hall of faith.

Will we be like Abraham, and trust in the Lord’s promises despite appearances?  Will we be like the centurion and trust the Lord has the power to overcome death?  The centurion didn’t use his position or status as an excuse not to follow Jesus.  He didn’t say, “I’m too busy, I’m a soldier.” Or, “I’m too busy at my job, I can’t right now.”  Or, “My company prohibits any sharing of faith.”  The centurion was a busy soldier in a pagan, gentile occupation, yet still boldly followed Jesus.

Will Jesus be amazed at our demonstration of faith, like the centurion?  Or will he be amazed at the lack of faith, like the people of Nazarene?

Jesus came for His chosen people first, but then stretched out His hand to save the gentiles, too.  Not our ancestry, not our works, but only our faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah will save us. This is what makes us a true offspring of Abraham.  In Romans 4:13-17, Paul writes –

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.  For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

Demonstrate faith.  Do not just bring your problems to Jesus.  Look at your problems *through* Jesus.

This centurion, who sought the Lord’s mercy toward his servant, came to Him on the basis of faith, and it is this faith which not only healed the servant, but saved the centurion.  We here in this room are Gentiles, and our lesson today has told us that Jesus came for us as well as the chosen people, and that by trusting in Him, by relying by faith in the awesome power of Christ Jesus, that we may be saved through His sacrifice.

If we but trust in Him, that amazing faith will save us.

To God be the glory.

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Revelation 12, Jesus Defeats Satan

  I.      Introduction

History and prophecy.  God uses both throughout time to display to all creation that He alone is in control.  There is prophecy that tells what God will do, then, when God fulfills His promise, the prophecy becomes history.  And then there is new prophecy.  Some prophecies have already come true; others are yet to come.

Open your bibles to Revelation 12 and this morning we’re going to study both prophecy and history and examine the battle between good and evil, God and Satan, throughout time, beginning thousands of years ago and is ongoing today and is still yet to come.

Ever heard that statement, “Jesus never says He is God?”  While technically accurate, if you’re a student of the bible you know it isn’t true.  Jesus used word specifically to indicate to the Pharisees that Jesus was Lord, and the Pharisees turned him over to Pilate to be crucified for it.  Also, the entire book of Revelation points to the deity of Jesus and His Kingdom and millennial reign.  Revelation doesn’t even try to justify the deity of Jesus with words like, “Jesus is God because…”  No Revelation just states it as fact.

II.      Christmas and Easter, Revelation 12:1-5

Today’s study is intense with symbolism, verse 1 begins with “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  But just because it’s symbolic doesn’t mean it’s hidden from us, or cloaked in mystery.  The passages of Revelation open up to us if we examine the scriptures carefully and try to understand each verse separately, then put them all together to understand the story that is being told.

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And Revelation is meant to be understood, it is “revealed” so we can understand our place in this world and the parallels in the heavenly realm.  The Greek word for Revelation is Apokalupsis which means to reveal that which was before unknown.  To reveal the things that have been, that are, and are to come.

There is a system to understanding the symbology Revelation.  First, search the immediate verses.  Throughout Revelation, 26 times the interpretation is given in the immediate verses.  If that doesn’t provide the interpretation, then search the Old Testament for the same symbol.  There are 404 verses in Revelation, and 278 of them are explained in the Old Testament.  Most of the symbology refers to Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.  In particular, the visions of Daniel are represented.

The first 5 verses of Revelation 12 are a history lesson from the perspective of heaven.  It’s a story that needs earthly translation, as God says, “His ways are above our ways.”  Let’s read verses 1-5 –

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.  Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.  Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Ok, there’s some symbolism here, but it’s relatively easy to figure out.  There are three characters in this symbolic story so far, let’s see if we can figure out who they are –

  • Verse 1: A woman.
  • Verse 3: A dragon.
  • Verse 5: A son.

Let’s take them in reverse order.  The son is a male child who will rule the nations with an iron scepter.  Let’s take a peek at the Old Testament where this phrase is used in Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 laments that the nations conspire against the Lord and the kings and rulers of the band together against the Lord.  The Lord responds by saying in Psalm 2:5-9,

He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter,
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Our male child is the Messiah, savior of His people, ruler of nations.  And when Revelation 12:5 says the male child was “caught up unto God,” it’s reminiscent of Acts 1:9, when Jesus ascended into heaven in sight of His apostles.

The second character in our story is a dragon.  And the dragon is the devil because I can skip down to verse 9 where it says the great dragon was called the devil.  I could figure that one out on my own, didn’t need any bible study guides at all.

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The third character in the story is the woman, and she’s a little harder to figure out.  For years some scholars posited that she was the early Christian church, but that can’t be right.  The woman gives birth to the male child, and the Christian church didn’t give birth to Jesus.  Quite the opposite – Jesus through His sacrifice opened God’s grace to the gentiles and the Christian church was born.

Since the surrounding verses don’t positively identify the woman, let’s see if we can find our clues in the Old Testament.  The woman is described as having the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  Let’s go all the way back to Genesis 37, where Joseph had a dream.  Joseph was the son of Jacob who God renamed Israel, Joseph was Israel’s favorite, and Jacob’s brothers would eventually drop him in a deep well and leave him.  But just before that, Joseph had a dream he told to his family.  Joseph said, “Listen, I had a dream, and in this dream the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”  His father Israel rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream you had?  Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”  In this dream, we understand that the sun is Joseph’s father Israel, the moon is Israel’s wife Leah (Rachel had already died by this time), and the 11 stars are Joseph’s brothers who became eleven tribes of Israel, which Joseph becoming the twelfth tribe.

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The woman in Revelation 12, then must be Israel.  The twelve stars are the tribes of Israel, and the woman brought forth Jesus, who brought forth His church.  And then we realize Revelation 12:1-5 is the Christmas story as told from the heavenly perspective.

Let’s look at the exact same story from the earthly perspective, told in Matthew 2 and is already very familiar to you.  Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  The Magi from the East, commonly referred to the Three Wise Kings, stop at King Herod’s and discuss the birth of the new King of the Jews.  Herod is so disturbed by this, that his rule may be overthrown, that he orders every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed.  The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt.

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Jesus was born, this is the Christmas message.  Matthew 2 tells the story from the perspective of the earthly realm, Revelation 12:1-5 tells the same story from the spiritual realm perspective, as Satan tries to prevent the birth of our Savior.  Revelation 12:1-5 tells us a history lesson about Satan’s failed strategy to prevent the birth of the Messiah..

Verse 4, the angelic realm’s perspective of the devil trying to destroy the Messiah before He was born, we have to realize that this isn’t the only time Satan tried to destroy the Messiah.  Throughout the Old Testament, the devil tried many times to prevent the arrival of the Messiah.  Satan is trying a preemptive attack, trying to prevent the arrival of the Messiah and prevent God’s prophecies, because the devil knows he loses the spiritual warfare and Jesus will conquer death.  Satan is a fallen angel that believes he can take the place of God, and he used Herod’s insecurities to kill every baby in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt and escaped.  Before that, the devil tried for millennia to prevent the birth of Jesus.

Before Herod (Matthew 2), Cain killed Abel.  Satan believed since God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice, then the Messianic line would certainly come through Abel (Genesis 4, 1 John 3:2).  God’s plan, though, was through the lineage of Abel’s  younger brother Seth.  Then, in Exodus 1, Pharaoh tried to drown all the Jewish babies.  In 2 Chronicles 22, Athaliah tries to destroy all the royal offspring of the house of Judah, but the priest hid Joash in the temple and the Messianic line is preserved.  In the book of Esther, Haman tried to exterminate all the Jews.

Satan is called the prince of this world, and he doesn’t want to give it up.  It’s all he has.  He even tried to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:5-7 by offering Him the kingdoms of this world.  Jesus didn’t disagree that Satan was the prince of this world.

But the history is past, God is in control, and the Messiah, our Savior is brought into this world.  The devil loses.  How wicked, how dangerous the devil then becomes.  Now the devil needs a new strategy; to destroy Israel.

III.      War in Heaven, Revelation 12:6-12

God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that in him, all the nations of the world will be blessed.  Israel is the only nation that God started directly and has a covenant with God.  God will bless Israel, and Israel will bless the world, that’s God’s plan.  Israel has already blessed us.  Israel has provided scripture – all the authors of the bible with the possible exception of Luke were Jewish.  It says in Romans 3:2 that the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.  The Jews gave us a Savior.  Did you know Jesus wasn’t Baptist?  No, He was a Jew.  And it says in Isaiah 2:2-3 that the Kingdom in the future would be headquartered in Jerusalem.

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So just like Revelation 12:1-5 is Satan’s past failed strategy, Revelation 12:6-17 is Satan’s present and future strategy, also failed.  Satan is trying to do a preemptive strike to destroy the nation of Israel to prevent the coming of the kingdom.

Satan knows that the kingdom is coming to the earth through Israel.  He is trying to destroy Israel like he once tried to destroy the messiah.  Verse 6 is set in the future to the 2nd half of the Tribulation.  It says,

The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

To understand the symbology, the woman is Israel, as we’ve studied.  The wilderness most scholars believe to be the city of Petra, in the wilderness, to be taken care of my God.  And 1,260 days means… 1, 260 days.

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The study of eschatology is the theology of the end times for mankind and the word.  We’re not going to get into the various comparisons, other than to note that not all scholars agree on how the future unfolds.  In the eschatology of a pre-Tribulation worldview, first comes the Rapture where believers meet Jesus in the air according to the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. Then begins seven years of Tribulation as God pours out His wrath, and Jesus comes to establish 1000 years of the millennial kingdom on earth.

Slide16

At the midpoint of the seven years of Tribulation, there is a blasphemous desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus tells the Jews in Matthew 24:15 that they are to flee to the mountains.  And this is where we find ourselves in Revelation 12:6 as the woman flees to the desert for 1260 days, which is 3 and 1/2 years.  We are looking at these verses that describe the spiritual war from the angelic realm.

Revelation 12:7-12,

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”

Satan is furious.  Christ is coming, the Lion of Judah, and bringing the Kingdom of God.  Up to this point, Satan believes he can still thwart God.  Satan has access to God’s throne room – remember in Job 1 where God and Satan have a discussion about Job’s future?  Satan is in God’s throne room, not to worship as other heavenly beings do, but to accuse.  In fact, this verse says Satan accuses us before our God day and night.  We should be careful we ourselves do not become accusers.  The side doing the accusations has an ally that we should want nothing to do with.

But now, halfway through the Tribulation, Satan is thrown down from heaven, permanently.

IV.      War on Earth, Revelation 12:13-17

Then we look at verse 13, and Satan is losing the war.  He has already failed in the past when he was unable to prevent the coming of the Messiah, then he loses access to the heavenly throne room as he is thrown down, and here in the future, furious, Satan pursues Israel in earnest because he knows he only has 3 1/2 years to prevent God’s kingdom on earth.  And just like God rescued the Messianic line from Satan’s plans, now God rescues the woman Israel.

Verse 13-17,

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.  The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.  Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.  But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

The most difficult part of Revelation 12 for me to figure out was “time, times, and half a time.”  Sounds like a math problem, and I’m an engineer, I should be able to figure this out.  It’s just a weird way of saying 3 1/2 years or 1260 days.  “Time” is “1 year,” “times” is “2 years” and then add “half a time” for a total of 3 1/2 years.

Satan’s final efforts to destroy Israel will also fail.  Notice Israel is given “the two wings of a great eagle.”  This symbology comes from Exodus 19:4, when God protected Israel from Pharaoh.  God tells Moses to say to the people of Israel, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  The image of being carried on eagles’ wings shows God’s protection during persecution, carried safely out of harm’s way.  This is God’s divine protection.

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Also, a favorite verse is Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Some scholars have tried to interpret the eagles’ wings as being protected by the USA who has the bald eagle as our emblem.  I’d like to say we will continue to protect Israel, but sadly, that’s not to be the case.  The USA, too, will one day persecute Israel.  Indeed, just in the last month the USA struck a deal with Iran so that Iran will have nuclear technology.  Iran then chants, “Death to America” and pledges to wipe Israel off of the map with nuclear weapon technology provided by the USA.

Wiping Israel off the map, though, would actually be an improvement, though, because the official world map from Iran doesn’t even show Israel.  I guess that means they will put Israel on the map first, then wipe Israel off.  Psalm 83:4 sounds exactly like something the leader or Iran might say.

“Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.”

Here is a map of the Middle East showing the Muslim countries, with Israel at the center.  They say there will be peace in the Middle East if Israel just gives up a little more territory.  Here’s what Benjamin Netanyahu says about the Middle East peace process:

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more ‎violence. If the Jews put ‎down their weapons ‎today, there would be no ‎more Israel.”

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Satan been trying throughout the ages to destroy Israel.  Perhaps he thought for a while he succeeded – the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD and the Jewish diaspora were scattered throughout the earth.  Even without a country, the Jewish people and culture survived, so Hitler and his Nazis destroyed 6 million of them in World War II.  And still Satan was unsuccessful, and when the United Nations reestablished Israel as a nation in 1948 after nearly 1900 years without a country, Satan realized his plan was failing again.

One cannot underestimate how furious Satan is.  Look at some of the words used to describe Satan’s emotions:  Verse 12, “filled with fury,” verse 13, “persecuted.”  Verse 15, “sweep away,” Verse 17 “war” and “enraged.”    God’s divine protection is in place, though.  In fact, the word for “persecuted” in verse 13 is the exact same Greek word that is used on Jesus’ sermon on the mount when He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted.”

Satan knows scripture, and he knows how badly things end for him.  But he believes he can replace God, and there is no end of his deceptions and lies in order to thwart God’s will.  1 Peter 8 says that your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  And if you think the deceptions and lies and accusations he uses against Christians are tormenting, it pales when measured against Satan’s fury against Israel.

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See, God’s plan is to bless Israel, and Israel will bless the nations.  Satan’s plan is not.  I believe antisemitism, and hatred of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is driven by Satan himself.  The desire to wipe out Israel is our earthly demonstration of the war in heaven and is rooted in the angelic conflict of good versus evil.

Jerusalem will be at the center of the Kingdom of God and of His Christ according to Zechariah 14:17 and several other verses.  Satan hates this.  Once the kingdom comes, his kingdom of this world is permanently ended, he is permanently bound and thrown into the lake of fire.

  V.      Conclusion

Be ever careful and vigilant to stay on the side of good.  Nobody is immune from Satan’s lies and deceits.  We have a God of love and forgiveness and grace, and all hatred is against His will, but antisemitism is especially evil and comes from the devil.  Satan has an evil plan for this hatred of Israel.

This battle in heaven with the battle on earth that mirrors it is widely perceived as a struggle between good and evil.  There are wars and famine and death in this world that may seem evil is winning, but it’s not.  Sata is dangerous, but Satan also is defeated.  The battle isn’t even close.  Jesus wins overwhelmingly.

To God be the glory.

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Give Everything You Are to the Lord

   I.      Introduction

A study of Malachi 3

This Spring, we studied the following minor prophets, beginning with Nahum, then Zephaniah, Obadiah, Zechariah, Habakkuk, Haggai, and now Malachi.  Many times, these Minor Prophets brought us a repetitive reminder:

  • God is perfect.
  • God is holy.
  • God is awesome.
  • We are flawed.
  • We are rebellious.
  • We deserve wrath.
  • God gives us mercy.

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God’s perfect justice demands wrath, but God’s perfect love prevails, and He gives us mercy through our savior Jesus Christ if we just accept it.

Repent, and seek the Lord.  There.  That’s pretty blunt.  Any questions?

One of the things that crossed my mind during these minor prophet studies is how rebellious the Israelites were and how often God was patient with them over the centuries.  Despite the stiff-necked ways of the Israelites, God remained faithful.  God blessed, fortified, rebuked, disciplined, and demonstrated miracles to guide the Israelites in the ways that are holy and pure.

The book of Malachi was probably written about 420 BC, about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, but neither of those prophets mentioned Malachi, so it’s difficult to be sure.  The Jews at the time attributed the book to Ezra, but within the next century, scholars had dropped Ezra’s name from the book.  Some attribute it to Zerubabbel or Nehemiah, or to a relatively unknown Levite named Malachi.  The form of the word, though, suggests the book was intended to be written anonymously.  The word “Malachi” may not be a name but an adjective, meaning “one charged with a mission”.  Malachi may have been simply an anonymous missionary to bring us a prophetic message.

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II.      God Sends Us a Savior, Malachi 3:1-5

We’re going to pick up where Libby left off last week in Malachi 3, so let’s turn there and read Malachi 3:1-5 –

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

Who are we talking about?  This is the promise of the coming Messiah, a prophecy fulfilled by the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, Emmanuel, who came to defeat death itself.  This message, as we know it today, is cause for celebration, but for the Jews, it was cause for worry.  Were they faithful enough?  Were they pious enough?  Were they Pharisee enough?  God’s discipline on the Jewish people had been full of trials, and now God Himself was coming.

 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

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Purifying.  Refining.  The Lord will be like a refiner’s fire.  The story goes that a silversmith first heats his furnace to the melting point of silver, about 1800 degrees F.  I think that’s the setting I used on my oven the last time I tried to cook something.  The silversmith holds the silver over the heat of the furnace so that all the impurities are burned away, but he has to hold it carefully because if it’s too hot, the silver oxides and is destroyed.  So he watches carefully.  And when he can see his reflection in the silver, then he knows it is pure.

God is our refiner, and He is watching us carefully.  Our lives, if they are truly dedicated to Him, will be refined by the Lord to teach us to be holy and pure like silver.  He holds us in many trials in our life to teach us to trust in Him.  We learn what has everlasting value, and what is temporal, what is junk.  And when God can see His reflection is us, then he knows his purification is complete.

Me, personally, I do not like this purification process.  In my life, I’ve been through it more than once.  I know once I’ve been refined, I am indeed closer to God, but there’s often pain along the way.  CS Lewis described pain this way,

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Slide7

So while I do not care for the refining process, I joyfully endure it again and again as it brings me closer to my Lord.  And I say that with the utmost of trepidation and trembling, because this refining is for those of us in Christ.  Back to Malachi 3, those that reject Christ are not refined, but judged –

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

It’s interesting to me how many times the bible says “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”.  And how many times we *are* to be afraid.  Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  But for those of us in Christ Jesus, we are to fear the Lord’s incredible might and majesty, but we are not to fear His judgment.  God’s discipline is coming and will He will right all wrongs, correct every mistake, and that includes our own mistakes.  Christians fear God now so they do not fear God at Judgement Day.  For those opposed to God, they do not fear Him now, but one day they will.

III.      Do Everything in Love, Malachi 3:6-12

God wants us to be authentic in all we think, say, and do.  God is our refiner, and I thought about the qualities of the silver that the refiner is watching.  Did you know that silver is a far better conductor than copper?  It has lower resistance.  If we used silver wire, we would have lower energy bills, we would have more efficient motors.  We don’t use silver, though, because it is so must more expensive than copper.

I think we are to remember that God’s purified children are worth a great deal to God.  If we want God to be able to work in us and through us, though, we have to stop being copper and learn to be silver.  We need to lower our resistance so God can conduct more of the Holy Spirit through us.  We do this by being more authentic.  Let’s look now at Malachi 3:6-12 –

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.  Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe, says the Lord Almighty.  “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

This is not “prosperity gospel;” tithing will not make you rich by the world’s standards.  Tithing is one of our early lessons as God’s children; we are to give 10% of what we make to the Lord.  But as we mature in Christ, we come to an understanding that far exceeds the value of our tithe.  If we make $1000 and give God $100, does God need $100?  Our majestic and all powerful omnipotent God who breathed the universe, time and space into existence, needs $100.  God Himself does not need money, don’t be ridiculous.

So there is something else going on.  As we tithe and the years go by, we start to see the meaning and the purpose.  From a practical standpoint, money is fuel for God’s church.  It supports our pastors and our missionaries and pays for the air conditioning.  When we tithe, it shows our support for God’s work.  But as time goes on, we realize that’s not what the tithe is, either.

During the next step of Christian maturity, we grow to understand that what we own actually doesn’t belong to us.  Everything belongs to God, He is asking us to give only a part of what He has already given us.  So the attitude changes – we no longer think of it as, “I made $1000, and God wants me to tithe 10%.”  Instead, we think of it as, “God gave me $1000 to steward for Him.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  It is my duty, my honor, my pleasure to give back a portion of what God has given me.”  And we come to realize that not only was it God that gave us the $1000, but God gave us… us.  Our very hands to work, our very legs to walk, our very brains to think, the very air we breathe… all of it came from the Lord.

So if we say we are Christians but do not tithe, God says, “Why are you robbing me?  All of earth, all of creation, belongs to me, yet the portion I have entrusted to you, you withhold from me.   You know it belongs to me, but you will not give it to me.”

How much should we give?  The Old Testament guidelines say 10% for the tithe plus other offerings.  The New Testament is both more simple and more complex.

Matthew 6:19-21 –

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Mark 10:19-22, the Rich Young Ruler –

You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 –

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

The Gospel, the Good News in the New Testament, is that we are free of the law.  Christ died to set us free.  So we are no longer compelled to “tithe plus” our 10% under the law.  But God is sitting as a refiner to see if He can see His reflection in us.  He wants us to have a heart that we can give everything we have cheerfully because we recognize it all belongs to Him.

So give nothing at all.  You are free of the law.

Or give away everything you have.  Give it cheerfully, knowing that treasures in heaven are worth far more than treasures on earth.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Give, and give cheerfully.  God doesn’t need $100.  But He died for you, and wants all that you are.

IV.      Say Everything in Love, Malachi 3:13-15

Malachi 3:13-15

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

 “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?  But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'”

Remember that childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”  Our parents give us this rhyme when we are children and we pass it along to our children.  We mean well.  Children can say hurtful things, and we teach them that just because Bubba Duell down the street calls us stupid or ugly, we’ll survive.  Words cannot hurt us.

But then again, maybe it’s only words that can hurt.  James 1 says that if we cannot reign in our tongue, our religion is worthless.  Listen to what James says in James 3:3-10 –

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

I found 17 verses on the power of the tongue and the purpose for it.

Slide19

God wants us to use our speech for good.  With our words we can build people up or we can tear them down.  We can encourage or we can criticize.  We can praise or we can condemn.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:1, 17-18 –

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

So maybe it’s words that can hurt, not sticks and stones.  Our earthly bodies have expiration dates, but Jesus says in Matthew 12:36 “that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  What comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, and it’s the heart God wants.  Our faithful hearts are God’s treasured possessions.

  V.      God is Looking for His Faithful Remnant, Malachi 3:16-18

Malachi 3:16-18

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

We are saved through our Lord Jesus Christ.  God says that those who accept this sacrifice and call him Lord will be spared from the Day of Wrath that is coming.  God is looking for His faithful remnant that will serve Him.  So what does it mean to serve the Lord?

I think the answer for that is uniquely tailored for each of us.  Certainly the calling that Dr. Young heard is different than you and I.  But I don’t think the actual service is what it important.  Remember, God doesn’t need $100.  He desired our hearts, they are His treasured possessions.

You know that phrase, “fake it till you make it?”  There’s a lot to that, at least initially.  God uses us best when we are in motion and trying to do something for Him.  If you don’t know what God wants from you, are you just sitting and waiting?  Or are you in motion?  Volunteer for something.  Anything.  Don’t feel the Holy Spirit moving in you?  Say something encouraging to somebody.  Can’t stand the sight of somebody and the hate an unforgiveness inside you is eating you up?  Do something unexpectedly nice for them.

But “fake it till you make it” is still fake.  It’s surface, it’s shallow.  God wants the depths.  While you are working from the outside it, God will be working from the inside out.  Eventually they will meet.  You will “make it.”  You will be authentic, a whole person.

So right now, you and I may not always feel like a solid Christian.  Ever grumbled that you had to go to church?  Even inside?  You sit in the pew, and somebody that you don’t care for is sitting where you can see them.  And you’re thinking, “that no good so-and-so, they are so fake.  Coming to church for Christmas and Easter, but not in a bible study.  They’re just taking up space.”  All while you’re singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”

We’re not whole.  If we “fake it till we make it,” we’re putting up a nice exterior for people to see.  And if we’re in prayer and repentance, the Holy Spirit is working on the inside.  We still have our old sinful self with pride and arrogance getting in the way daily.

For our math teachers, what is an integer?  It’s a whole number that can be positive or negative.  It’s not a fraction like three quarters ¾ or a decimal like 0.5829.  It’s a whole number.

Slide22

The word comes from the Latin “integer.”  “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”.  Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”

God wants us to be an integer.  Whole, upright, untouched, untainted.  The same all the way through.  The same on the inside as we are on the outside.  He wants us to be people of integrity.  To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.

We can’t do this on our own.  It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ.  Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions.  A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions.  It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.

So if I can control my tongue to only offer encouragement and praise, that’s a start.  If I am not whole, if this attitude does not penetrate my heart, if I am not an integer, then God’s most treasured possession, my heart, does not belong to Him, then my words are meaningless.  If I tithe 10%, or 15%, or 25% or 100%, but my actions are not driven from the heart and my love for God, then my tithing is meaningless.  It’s my heart for Him that the Lord wants.  1 Corinthians 13:1-8 –

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

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

 Love never fails.

Faking it is not the goal, but it gets the body moving.  Our goal is making it, having a heart that belongs to Him and Him alone.  We do that by loving our God who first loved us and sent His son to die for us, to pay the price for our sins that deserve the wrath of God.  But because of His mercy, we are Children of God and our hearts and words and actions, our tongues and our tithes, our whole selves, belong to Him.

VI.      Conclusion

Ask God daily to give you a heart of love for Him.  Be wholly devoted to our Lord and Savior.  Give everything you are to Him who sits on the throne.  Abide in Christ, and be one in Christ Jesus.

Slide26

To God be the glory.

Zechariah title

The Promised Messiah

Zechariah title  I.      Introduction

We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets, and these minor prophets have stark messages.  These messages display God’s glory and how God communicates both His love and His wrath, and how they are both consistent with His character, that our God is a consuming fire that loves us gently, and He has given us what we need for service in this world and eternity with our Lord forever.

Through the minor prophets, we learn 3 things about God –

  • God is sovereign.   He alone is God.  He alone is King.  He alone is the Creator.  He alone has the right to judge what is right and wrong.  He alone is the great I AM.
  • God is holy. He is perfect, He is all that is good.  His holiness is untainted by evil, there is no sin in His presence.  His wrath will destroy all that is evil, judged with perfect justice, revenge belongs to Him alone.
  • God is love. His wrath is withheld so that no one may perish, but have everlasting life.  He has given us His one and only son as a perfect sacrifice, not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us.

Zechariah is one of the more difficult of the minor prophets, not just for the Jews living under the Law at the time, but for us Christians today.  Many of the verses are full of symbols and imagery; there are lampstands and menorahs, olive trees, flying scrolls, and a woman in a basket.  Fortunately, there’s an angel speaking to Zechariah that explains much of the imagery, but it’s still a challenging book to understand.

Zechariah imagery

Zechariah was a young man when he began his ministry; some scholars suggest he may have been as young as 16 years old.  He was a contemporary and friend of the prophet Haggai, and while Haggai encouraged the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, Zechariah encouraged the people with the hope of a coming messiah and reign of glory.

The Book of Zechariah is divided primarily in 2 “advents.”  The word “advent” means the arrival of something important, especially something that has been awaited.  The first 9 chapters, which we’ll study today, prophecy the advent of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Let’s take a peek at our key verse today Zechariah 9: –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is the 1st advent, a prophecy of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem 500 years after Zechariah, of Jesus riding into town on a donkey, what we now call Palm Sunday.  Coincidentally, or perhaps not, today is Palm Sunday, so I think it is so very appropriate that we’re studying this today.

The second half of the book of Zechariah concerns itself with the 2nd advent, or the 2nd coming of Jesus.

Zechariah 14:3-4,9

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.  On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Revelation tells us that one day every knee will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but there are certain benefits to bending our knee voluntarily.

Today, as we look forward to Easter on this Palm Sunday, we are going to focus on the 1st advent, Zechariah’s prophecy of a messiah for Israel.

II.      Examine the Prophecy

Most people who study Old Testament prophecy can point to the book of Isaiah for prophecy about Jesus the Messiah.  Verses like …

  • Will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Will have a Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1,2)
  • Will be an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 11:1, 10)
  • Will have His way prepared (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • Will be spat on and struck (Isaiah 50:6)
  • Will be disfigured by suffering (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2)
  • Will make a blood atonement (Isaiah 53:5)
  • Will bear our sins and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, 5)
  • Will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment for sin (Isaiah 53:7,8)
  • Will be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)

These are not the only prophecies about Jesus, of course.  The Books of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezekiel – indeed, the entire Old Testament points to a Messiah who will suffer and die for us, taking away all of our sins.

The Jews understood – intellectually, at least – these prophecies of a messiah.  This messiah would be a mighty king of both victory and peace.  In Zechariah 9:9, the messiah is king –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The messiah king would usher in a new day for Jerusalem.  The days of captivity would finally be behind them, they would be free to worship and serve the king of the Jews.  The Jews had not had a king since Babylon destroyed the temple, and this verse told the people that a king of impeccable character, righteous and victorious, was coming for them.  A day to rejoice, a day to shout with triumph, a day to celebrate the arrival of their king.

In Zechariah 9:10, they knew the Messiah would be a man of peace –

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The Jews understood the coming Messiah to bring peace among men, among distant lands, from Jerusalem to the promised land of Abraham and his descendants to the very ends of the earth. His kingdom would be peaceful, because the Messiah was a victorious conqueror.  There would be no need for weapons for the Messiah to establish His rule.

In the next two verses, Zechariah 9:11-12, the Messiah would be a man of victory –

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

The Messiah would be a mighty conqueror.  Nothing would be able to withstand the might and power from heaven to rescue His daughter Zion from those that would persecute her.  Those that had been captured by evil and confined to darkness would be rescued and set free, given hope and a stronghold in the Lord.

Zechariah often refers to the Lord as the “LORD of hosts”, as in chapter 1 verse 3.   It could also be translated, “LORD of armies.”  This is a powerful name of God, Jehovah, Leader of an army of angels and our strong and mighty tower.  There is no need to fear with such a mighty leader of armies on the side of Zion.

When would this messiah come and rescue them?  We have to look to other Old Testament prophets to get the whole picture, but a key prophecy is found in Daniel 9:25.

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.

These “sevens” would have been very familiar to the Jews; each “seven” is a period of seven years, and the end of each seven years the Jews had a Sabbath year.  And for the phrase “from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” we have go back to Nehemiah 2.  Remember just a couple of months ago when we studied this?  Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king Artaxerxes, and the in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad.  Nehemiah had been praying for that moment, and he asked the king to let him rebuild the city.

Well, now it’s simple math to determine when the messiah comes.  Artaxerxes came to power in 474BC.  The twentieth year of his rule was 455 BC.  “Seven ‘sevens’” is 49 years, and “sixty-two ‘sevens’” is another 434 years, so the Messiah arrives in 29AD.  And since the Messiah is foretold to be in the temple, when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, Jews know the Messiah was to have come between 29AD and 70AD.

Zechariah prophecy

The timing of the Messiah has since come and gone, and Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  But if not Jesus, then who?  I read several rabbinical letters on this subject.  Through the years, the Jews have put their hope in a Messiah on several people through the years such as Bar Kokhba in 132 AD.  Bar Kokhba fought a war against the Roman Empire, defeated the Tenth Legion and retook took Jerusalem. He resumed sacrifices at the site of the Temple and made plans to rebuild the Temple.  He established a provisional government and began to issue coins in its name. Ultimately, however, the Roman Empire crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kokhba. After his death, the Jews said, “well, I guess he’s not the messiah, either.”  Today, the Jews still wait for a messiah.  They believe he didn’t come at the prophesied time because the Jewish people weren’t ready.  The Jewish people will either have to be so good that they deserve a messiah to rule over them, or so bad that they deserve to have a messiah to rule over them.

How did the Jews miss the arrival of their messiah?  They were looking for a mighty warrior.  They were looking for a man of peace.  They were looking for a king in the year 29AD while Jerusalem was occupied by Roman forces.  And then, Jesus came riding to the temple on a donkey.

On one hand, I’m sort of glad the Jews missed the coming of the messiah.  It’s because God knew the Jews would reject His one and only son that the offer was then extended to the gentiles, and gentiles like me have an opportunity to accept this offer of salvation.  God’s not done with the Jews yet, they are still His chosen people.  Following the tribulation, things will be different, and the Jewish leaders will receive Jesus’ love in their heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 –

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

III.      Prophecy is true

How many prophecies did Jesus fulfill?  The easy answer is “all of them.”  It’s hard to determine an accurate count of the prophecies, but one study I read counted them at 365 prophecies foretelling the coming Jewish Messiah, of which 109 that *only* Jesus could have fulfilled.

http://bibleprobe.com/365messianicprophecies.htm

Today, we know that Christ died for us on a tree, our sins upon Him and bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, that we may have everlasting life with Him.  It is so obvious, nobody can miss it.

Or can they?  I know people that have accepted Christ, but I know far more that haven’t.  Some might even say they are Christian, but based on their fruit, they would be hard to recognize as believers.  And others are agnostic, unsure of any belief.  And some are atheistic, certain there is no God.  And some follow other gods of their own making.

IV.      Jesus came for us

Why did the Jewish people miss the 1st Advent of Christ?  Or better yet, why do some of us still miss the signs of Jesus in our lives?

John 5:36-40,

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus must be in our hearts, not just in our heads.  Studying God’s Word is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Evangelizing is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Compassion, good works, attending church, prayer is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.

The Jewish religious leaders studied the Old Testament diligently.  To them, salvation came with knowledge.  If you understood the word, you were given a place in the kingdom of heaven.  If you didn’t study, you were doomed.

John 7:49 –

The Pharisees said, “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”

2 Corinthians 3:15 –

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.

But it’s not what you know in your head that counts, but rather faith that trusts Jesus as the Messiah – something these Jewish leaders were unwilling or unable to do.  But we are to believe with our heart, not just our head –

Romans 10:9

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.

  V.      Conclusion

Today, in Zechariah 9, we’ve learned that the Messiah was a king, victorious, peaceful, righteous, and humble.

Matthew 21:1-9 –

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus speaks to us even now.  We must be in His word to hear him, or we miss the message He has for us. We must walk in His ways to see Him at work.  We must be with believers to see His love in action.

Isaiah 53:3-6 –

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Our Messiah has arrived during this celebration of Palm Sunday.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest heaven.  Thank you for coming for us, king of victory, king of peace, king of righteousness.  King of kings.

Zechariah Palm Sunday

To God be the glory.

Wrath of God

The Wrath of God

A study of Zephaniah 1

   I.      Introduction

Wrath of God

The wrath of God by John Piper:

I thank the Lord again for my opportunity to serve Him today, and I pray my words are full of His truth today.  Often my lessons have some humor, some lightheartedness because I truly believe that being a child of God should be a joyous occasion and bible study should be a happy place.  Today’s lesson is from the minor prophet Zephaniah, and I do not know how to present this in a lighthearted way.  In many ways, lessons on encouragement and love and kindness are easier to teach than fire and brimstone.

One of the things I like about Second’s bible studies is that, if you stick around long enough, we will study every book in the bible every 7 years, including little three-chapter books like Zephaniah, tucked in between Habakkuk and Haggai.  It may be a little book, but the first chapter alone has a powerful message.  It’s not comfortable, it’s not warm, it’s not fuzzy and feel-good … but it’s the Bible and it’s a Revelation from God and of God.

Tim mentioned a few weeks ago if I believed God was still a God of wrath, and I answered in the affirmative.  Little did I know that that very lesson would be given to me to study and to teach.

I was so concerned about the tone of today’s lesson that I ran it by one of the Second Baptist pastors this week.  He made a few tweaks, suggested some small changes, and he is now hiding under his bed waiting for the thunder and lightning to begin.  One of his insights, though, was that if I felt that a study of God’s wrath was difficult, imagine what it was like for Zephaniah, bringing these words to the Jewish people?

Not much is known about Zephaniah.  He lived about 640 BC, he prophesied in the days of King Josiah, and was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  The purpose of his prophecy was to speak out against religious and moral corruption and idolatry in Jerusalem.  His prophecy was fulfilled a few decades later when Jerusalem collapsed under a wave of immigrants.

Let’s turn to Zephaniah 1:1-6 and see the prophecy of the Day of Judgment of the entire earth.

The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
“I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
the very names of the idolatrous priests—
those who bow down on the roofs
to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
and who also swear by Molek,
those who turn back from following the Lord
and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

Have we been led to believe that our God is only capable of love?  That Yahweh is not capable of anger?  That Jehovah God incapable of wrath and justice?  Do we simply discard scripture that deals with His anger and wrath?  Is our God limited and powerless against evil?

If we do not know that God hates pride, arrogance, and evil, then we do not know Yahweh.  Proverbs 8:13,

To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.

If we do not believe that God Almighty will right every wrong, then we do not know Yahweh.  2 Thessalonians 1:5-9,

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.  God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

God’s wrath in the Old Testament gives us examples of His tolerance for disobedience and sin.  In the Old Testament, we can see God’s balance between love and justice and mercy.  When Egypt held the Jews in captivity and in the fullness of time God when reached out to save his people, the Egyptians received God’s wrath.  Psalm 78:43-48,

the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the region of Zoan.
He turned their river into blood;
they could not drink from their streams.
He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
and frogs that devastated them.
He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
their produce to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
He gave over their cattle to the hail,
their livestock to bolts of lightning.

Against Pharaoh who had hardened his heart against God, God turned their river into blood, sent swarms of biting flies and frogs, sent locusts to devour their crops, destroyed their vineyards with hail and sleet, destroyed their livestock with lightning.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of eradication of sin that sometimes involved destruction.  The plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood of Noah, the destruction of Jerusalem.

It says in Psalm 78:49,


He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility—
a band of destroying angels.
He prepared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death
but gave them over to the plague.

Satan is most certainly behind all evil in this world, but Satan uses mankind to carry out his evil ways.  God’s fury, God’s burning anger, calamity, and result of his anger is against mankind who serves Satan.  God has been unjustly accused by Satan and mocked by unfaithful mankind.  We have been offensive and insulting.  This pride and arrogance on the part of man leads to calamity, a mighty correction of the perversion of justice we have done.

I want you to note carefully here that these plagues are not brought about by Satan, but by God.  God is a warrior and will destroy evil.  These end times plagues and judgments, the very wrath of God serve a purpose to cleanse His creation of all evil.

As Christians, we need to be able to reconcile the God of Love with the God of Wrath.  Churches that teach only prosperity or love are teaching a watered down version of Truth that neglects to tell people the source of evil, the effects of evil, and the ultimate judgment of evil.

Our God is Love.  Our God is Wrath.  How do you explain this dichotomy? Or sometimes, the question is phrased this way:  How can a loving God send people to hell?

We’ll come back to that question, but first, let’s take a look at ourselves.  We are made in God’s image, and we know we are capable of love.  But if someone lies to us, applies a false label to us, accuses us unjustly, do we not get angry?  If we are capable of both love and anger, then it should not be hard to believe that our God who created us can be both loving and full of righteous anger.

We have a God of love, a God of beauty.  But we also have a God of justice.  A God who will judge the wicked, righting all wrongs.  God hates sin.  Intellectually, we know this, and we approve of this.  God should punish the wicked.  But we’re only ok with this philosophy as long as God is punishing others.  “God, while I was changing lanes, that man cut me off.  Smite him, Lord, either in this life or the next.”  But our own sin?  “God, I only stole because I needed it.  Forgive me, Lord.”

 

II.      Revelation

What does the future hold for sinners?  When we ask ourselves about all the evil in the world, what will God do?  We have to go to the back of the bible, the book of Revelation, to see.  (Just as an aside, after our study of the minor prophets, we will be studying Revelation this summer, ironically while it is hot as blazes out there.)  Revelation describes end times philosophy, it begins with a greeting to the seven churches who served the Lamb of God, then gives praises to the king, and every creature in heaven and earth saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”   In Revelation 6, The Lamb of God begins to open the seals of judgment against the earth, and the 4th seal, well let’s read Revelation 6:7-11,

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”  I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Then, the martyrs who have died for God beg God for justice (Revelation 6:9-11,

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Who can stand from the wrath of God?  Revelation 6:15-17,

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

Here the wrath of God has not yet begun, but just opening the seals of judgment was terrifying enough that people hid in caves and begged for the mountains to fall on them.

In Revelation 8-9, the Seven Trumpets then announce the approach of God’s final judgment, and Revelation 9:20, mankind still refuses to give up idol worship.  By Revelation 14, the Seven Angels bring Seven Plagues, and Revelation 17 the Seven Bowls full of the wrath of God are poured out upon the earth, punishment to wicked men for their evil ways.  And even while the bowls of wrath are poured out over man, man curses God and refuses to repent.

God will destroy this evil in His creation, just as He said He would do.  Evil will be destroyed, and Satan will be bound and cast into the Lake of Fire to burn forever.  And those men that choose not to worship God, who choose to do evil in His sight, whose carnal desires are living away from the one true God, will receive the justice they deserve.  God will not be mocked.  Back to our minor prophet Zephaniah 1: 14-18,

The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
That day will be a day of wrath—
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness—
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
“I will bring such distress on all people
that they will grope about like those who are blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
Their blood will be poured out like dust
and their entrails like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.

III.      Where are we?

We are mankind.  We are all sinners, born of original sin.  Born to make a choice in this world, who we will serve and honor.  We are all born from the father of lies.  We are born into sin.  We want to sin.  We are slaves to sin.

And when I say “we,” I mean everyone is born into sin.  Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  And the consequences are dire.  Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”  The world is under God’s judgment, and we have been warned.  God’s wrath is upon all men.   We are all dead.  Ephesians 2:1-3,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

 

In Jeremiah 5:7-9, God’s people have asked for mercy, but God tells them adamantly that their sins will be their destruction.


“Why should I forgive you?
Your children have forsaken me
and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs,
yet they committed adultery
and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for another man’s wife.
Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

As a people, as a nation, we are so far from God’s purpose, but we have become hardened and used to evils.  We like our evils.   What we once tolerated, we now celebrate.  We are in the midst of the end times, where evil is called good and good is evil.  Mankind has proven itself to be of Satan, and mankind celebrates it.  We should fear God, holy and righteous, who not only has the power to judge what is good and what is evil, but he has the right.  All sin will be destroyed in judgment and in the lake of fire.  The sinner inside each of us will be judged and found wanting.  Hebrews 10:30-31 says,

For we know [God] who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Our God is a consuming fire, and we are without excuse.

IV.      Who then can be saved?

Is there no hope?  If we are born in sin, and celebrate our sin, and die by our sin, is there no hope?

Not by our own strength.  Even the apostle Paul famously said he continues to do what he does not want to do.  The apostle Paul was a sinner, deserving of judgment and God’s wrath.  You and I are sinners and deserving of God’s wrath.  We can say that since we are churchy people, we are good and holy, but that is untrue.  1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus’ disciples worried, too.  In Matthew 19, the rich man asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life, and Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  Wealth, both then and now, are often seen as blessings, rewards for a life well-lived.  It was thought by others the man was wealthy because God had found favor with him, but Jesus said, no, he too is condemned.  And the disciples cried out, “who then can be saved?”

Who indeed?  Who is righteous among us if we are all sinners?  How do you reconcile the God of beauty, of creation, of truth and righteousness with the God of revenge and wrath and destruction?

We have all sinned.  Little white lies, or even the truth can be sinful if we’re being hurtful.  Gossip, adultery, pride, lies, murder, stealing.  What are some of the things God hates?  Romans 1:18-32,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  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 people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

We are bound for destruction, the penalty for sin is death.  We have no place next to the pure holy Jehovah God with even the tiniest sin.  And His wrath will be complete, and we are right to fear God’s wrath.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

We need help.  If the punishment for sin is death, then we need somebody else to *be* sin and die for us.  We need a savior.  Somebody fully man who understands life’s trials and temptations, yet remained fully innocent.  He would have to be innocent; the guilty cannot take the punishment for another person when he himself is guilty.  And not just a man who can take the place of one person, but someone who can take away the sins of the world.  We need Jesus.  Oh Lord, how we need Jesus.

There is cause for celebration in the midst of our message today.  Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  He took the punishment we deserve.  We are saved from the destruction and the wrath of God we deserve.  Hallelujah.

Our holy God of Wrath and justice is also a God of mercy and hope and ultimate love.  Our God has always given His people hope. John 3:16-18,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

That’s ultimate love and sacrifice.  I stand deserving of the wrath of God for the sins I’ve committed.  I deserve punishment.  But God so loved me that he sacrificed His only son to take the wrath I deserve.  And God so loved you, that he gave up His son to take the wrath for you.  Not because we’re such fabulous people, but he did this for us while we were still sinners and deserving of wrath.  Why?  Because we have a beautiful living awesome God of love and mercy and forgiveness.  I don’t know why God loves me, but I am so grateful that He does.  He’s forgiven my sins, clothed me in the blood of Jesus, lets me walk boldly to His throne with my prayers, and has made me His adopted son.  I am a child of the one true king.  Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did.  I am no longer condemned.  Jesus saves, Amen.

So let’s go back to our earlier question, “how can a loving God condemn people to hell?”  It’s not the right question.  The question completely misses the character of God.  God’s wrath will come to those who deserve it, and God’s mercy and grace will come to His people who do not deserve it.  A better question might be, “Why are any of us saved?”  God has provided a savior for us, freely available to all who choose it.  He has reached out His mighty hand and asks us to take it so we may live.  It is available to everyone.  It was the purpose of Jesus, to save us.  We often refer to Jesus as our Savior, but do we truly grasp what He saved us from, the Wrath of God?  1 John 3:8 says,

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

We may be saved from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, but God still hates sin, even this sin in us.  But as children of God, it is not God we war with.  We battle Satan and His plans, we put on our full armor of God and brandish the sword of truth.  God still hates the sin we think, the sin we speak, and the sin we do.  But on that Day of Judgment, we escape the punishment because our savior has already paid for our sins.  God’s full wrath was on Jesus that day and God poured out His wrath painfully on Jesus who became sin for us so that we might live.

God’s judgment on the world is still yet to come.  Why has God not yet pronounced judgment?  That day is coming quickly.  2 Peter 3:8-10 says,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

So that no one may perish, He stays his wrath.  God has so far exhibited two thousand years of patience with us, but one day God’s justice will demand satisfaction.  Time is running out.  God loved you will you were yet a sinner; who do you love?  God forgave you while you were still a sinner; who will you forgive?  Spread the Good News that Jesus loves them, too.  They just have to accept the free gift, to allow God’s son to bear the burden for their sin.  Evangelize.  Save those who you love.  And who do you love?  Family, friends, and the good book says we are to love our enemies.  God gave his son for the world, so that no one may perish.

But one day his patience will end.  Time is running out.  The coming of Man will be sudden, God will call the righteous home and promises that all the indignities that we have suffered, the abuse we endured for His sake, He will avenge, He will make right.  His wrath will be poured out.  It is not for us to fight that battle; revenge and wrath belongs to the Lord.

It is time for all of God’s selected to accept the gift of life that God has freely offered.  Tell others that time is running out.  John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

It is a fearful thing to know that God’s wrath awaits.  Philippians 3:18-20,

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even in the wrath described in Zephaniah 1:7 we find hope –

Be silent before the Sovereign Lord,
for the day of the Lord is near.
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited.

  V.      Conclusion

When will this Day of Judgment come?  Scripture tells us that no one knows the day or the hour.  That’s why the time to accept our Savior is urgent.

Are you ready?

Time is running out, the wrath of God approaches.  Choose life.  Choose Jesus.

To God be the glory.

What is Faith?

             I.      Introduction

We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose.  Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions.  The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.

Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood.  He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world.  He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God.  And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.

The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied.  Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what?  What are we supposed to do with all this information?  So Jesus is great, I get that.  But what does it mean for me?

The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love.  We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love.  But what is faith?

          II.      What Faith is Not

We all place our faith in something.  In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it.  When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing.  When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.

We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities.  There are lots of self-help books out there.  I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books.  I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation.  There were 351,562 books in total.

Self-Help
Abuse (5,646)
Anger Management (841)
Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)
Communication & Social Skills (140)
Creativity (5,301)
Death & Grief (16,156)
Dreams (4,928)
Eating Disorders (2,739)
Emotions (857)
Handwriting Analysis (710)
Happiness (13,149)
Hypnosis (2,066)
Inner Child (554)
Journal Writing (216)
Memory Improvement (1,894)
Mid-Life (729)
Motivational (51,511)
New Age (955)
Personal Transformation (75,093)
Relationships (72,510)
Self-Esteem (13,639)
Sex (19,569)
Spiritual (19,191)
Stress Management (11,539)
Success (27,513)
Time Management (2,233)
Total (351,562)

I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like.  We may find we come up short and we need some more help.

We can also have faith in others.  But can people let us down?  We can be disappointed in others.  They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us.  People can let us down sometimes.

We may even have faith in faith itself.  Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen.  Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God.  That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking.  (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do).  Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful.  The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).  It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.

And what we need most is Jesus.  The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

       III.      Does Faith Replace Reason?

Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.  Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs.  Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason.  If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason.  If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith.  Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark.  They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”

If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Faith without reason is stupid.  If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense?  Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything.  In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event:  Christ is raised from the dead.  If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe.  Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.

But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.  Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty.  Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses.  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus.  And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it.  And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.

We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive.  The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus.  Why would they die for a lie?  But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise.  They knew who He was.

No, our biblical faith is based on reason.  Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.

          IV.      Dead Faith

Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice.  If we do not, our faith is dead.  Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have.  Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine.  We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain.  We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription.  I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work.  I believe everything about this medicine.  But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on.  That’s dead faith, useless faith.

No, we must do something with the faith.  James 2:14-19 says,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith.  The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved.  Knowing that, can we let those we love perish?  What kind of useless faith is that?

             V.      Little Faith

Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action.  Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us.  After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson.  Surely that is enough?  We’re not church elders or pastors or staff.  It’s those people that have an abundance of faith.  It’s enough that I’m here, right?

I haven’t been a Christian long.  I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true.  Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections.  I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction.  I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.

I guess it’s been longer than I thought.  That’s coming up on 20 years ago.  I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.

I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study.  You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on.  Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us.  But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God.  The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were.  I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself.  But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching.  If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?

Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge.  I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough.  I didn’t have enough faith.  I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.

And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow.  The Lord has equipped me for today.  So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew.  I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since.  And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today.   I only had a little faith, but that was enough.

Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same?  I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples.  They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them.  Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?”  I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough.  They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.

But these men of little faith went a long, long way.  They were given the task of evangelizing the world.  It doesn’t take much faith.  In fact, it takes very, very little faith.  With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain.  You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.

          VI.      What Can Faith Do?

What can our little faith do?  God will do amazing things with our faith.  Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today.  This is what faith can do –

  • By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
  • By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
  • By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
  • By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
  • By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
  • The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.

A little faith is enough.  A little faith is more than enough.  The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.

       VII.      Conclusion

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him.

FAITH.

Faith is taking God at His word.  His entire word.  Full confidence that every word is true.  That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.

I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too.  God can use my little faith to move mountains.  My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient.  And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.

Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,

“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

To God be the glory.