Blessings & Curses

I.      Introduction

Our scripture is Leviticus 26, and my initial reading understood God saying to the Israelites, “here is a list of blessings if you do right, here is a list of curses if you do wrong.”  There are a lot of blessings and curses.  In fact, that’s really everything in Leviticus 26, blessings and curses.

And I want to make clear right up front that I’m not going to teach on the importance of legalism.  You must do the following things or the Lord God is going to provide a smackdown on you and your family.  Nope, I’m going to leave that to the Pharisees.  There might be some Pharisees here in class, please don’t raise your hand.

But as I read these blessings and curses, I wondered if there was a bigger picture.  Perhaps I could start in Genesis and end in Revelation again?  I think the answer is yes.  The lesson always seems to start in Genesis and end in Revelation for some reason.  So as I read these blessings and curses, I think that sometimes just a missing bit of information can change our whole perspective on a situation, give us a new understanding.

For instance, here’s a story that could use a new perspective.  I know of a man that is confined to a room.  He is surrounded by men in masks.  One of the men in a mask has a knife.  The man in a mask with the knife begins cutting into the man confined in the room, while all the other men in masks do nothing to stop the man with knives.

The new perspective?  The man with the knife is a surgeon.Slide2

II.      Progressive Revelation

I grew up Catholic with all the baggage that comes with it, works are necessary for salvation, you have to be in the Catholic Church to go to heaven, yada yada.  In college, I went to my first Protestant church which began my journey as a Christ-follower.  Before I fully committed my life to Christ, one of the first things I learned was that the Old Testament wasn’t applicable, or so the explanation sounded to me.  I was told only the New Testament was applicable to Christians and the Old Testament was for historical purposes and to demonstrate God’s character.  I think today I would word that differently, but the gist is sort of correct.  When you read in Leviticus 11 that one is not supposed to eat shellfish, all of a sudden a bowl of shrimp and grits takes on very confusing theological significance.Slide3

I hadn’t realized at the time that I was just dipping a toe into understanding progressive revelation about Old Testament Law.  While God is unchanging, because of man’s sinful nature man keeps changing, so God’s relationship with us changes.  His relationship with us in the Garden of Eden – see, I told you I’d start in Genesis – God’s relationship with us was changed forever when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  God made covenants with man through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and of course, Christ, and each covenant built upon the previous one.  Each covenant revealed additional information about God’s love for us.  It was progressive revelation for us over time.

So here in Leviticus, there’s more to this chapter than just a list of blessings and curses.  It’s the center of understanding the history of Israel and the messages of the prophets, it illustrates how the Lord uses both blessings and curses today to accomplish His will, and ends in a message of hope for all believers.

III.      Blessings, Leviticus 26:1-13

Let’s look at the beginning of Leviticus 26, verses 1 & 2,

‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.  You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord.

This is the preface to the chapter and declares the Lord to be not only worthy to be worshipped, but the only one worthy to be worshipped.  And while this is an Old Testament statement from the Lord, the Lord is unchanging, and I believe these words are relevant for today for Christians.

Whatever we do in this world, we should remember who created the world.  The Lord God is who he is, and worthy to be praised.  Things that are important to the Lord should be important to us.  We are too often distracted by something else we feel we have to do instead of going to church or reading our bible.  I mean, after all, we’re busy people, right?  But those things become idols, things we end up worshipping more than the Lord.

The next 11 verses of Leviticus are the promised blessings to Israel, but they are conditional promises.  They begin with the word “if” –

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments

If.  When we get into trouble over our heads, it’s not uncommon to plead to the Lord, “Lord, please rescue me.”  And then we have the nerve to judge God on whether He responds.  But how did we get into trouble over our head in the first place?  Were we walking in His statutes and keeping His commandments?  If the Israelites walked in the ways of the Lord, the Lord promised the following blessings –

  • Rain for the crops
  • Trees with fruit
  • Abundant grapes
  • Eat until they’re full
  • Security
  • Peace in the Land
  • No fear
  • Enemies will perish
  • Many prosperous children

And finally, in Leviticus 26:11-13,

Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you.  I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

God alone is worthy to be praised.  God reminds the Israelites that God alone is responsible for their freedom and that God wants to rain blessings on them and walk among His people.  All they have to do is fulfill the first “if” – honor the Lord alone and walk in His ways.

IV.      Curses, Leviticus 26:14-39

But there is another “if” in today’s scripture, but this half are the repercussions if Israel doesn’t honor the Lord.  It begins in Leviticus 26:14-15,

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

Man, I don’t like to think God uses both a carrot and a stick to complete His will for us.  Some of the curses described here are directly from God, and others are more like warnings that bad behavior has bad consequences.  These curses include –

  • Crops consumed by raiding enemies
  • Rains will cease
  • Crops will fail
  • Infertility
  • Men killed by hostile animals
  • Pestilence and disease
  • People turning on one another
  • Cannibalism

Each one of these curses is an opposite to the blessing.  Here’s the list side-by-side:

Blessings and Curses in Leviticus 26
BLESSINGS (v1-13) CURSES (v14-39)
God Confirms Covenant (9) God’s Vengeance For Covenant (25)
God’s Presence God’s Absence
God turns toward His people (9) God sets His face against them (17)
God will dwell among them (11) God sends them into captivity (38-39)
God walks among them (12) God becomes their adversary (33)
Peace Peril
Security (5) Soul pines away/sudden terror (16)
Peace of mind (6) Terror, fear, panic (36-37)
Beasts won’t harm them (6) Beasts destroy and decimate (22)
Prevail over their enemies (7-8) Attacked by enemies – raids (16)
Struck down by enemies (17)
Ruled by enemies (17)
Flee, but none pursue (17)
Delivered into enemy hands (25)
Scattered among nations (33)
Destroy themselves – cannibalism (29)
Prosperity Poverty
God gives rains in season (4) God withholds the rains (19)
Crops will grow abundantly (4-5) Crops don’t grow (20)
Old grain cleared out for new (10) Enemies raid and steal crops (16)
Famine—lack of bread (26)
Land is desolate (32)
Israelites fruitful and increase (9) Consumption, fever, waste away (16)
Wild animals decimate (22)
Pestilence in cities kills (25)
Israelites kill and eat their own (29)

Obedience brings blessings of peace and security.  Disobedience brings insecurity, peril, and fear.  Israel will be defeated by her enemies, scattered, and ruled by others.  Instead of God dwelling among His people, Israel will experience separation.  In verse 17, God sets His face against His people.  Then, because Israel remains hostile toward Him, God becomes their enemy and God will drive them from their sanctuary into the hands of their enemies.  In their absence from the promised land, the land will enjoy the rest God promised.

I think people that do not study their bibles sometimes see God as being unpredictable or arbitrary.  They do not understand why good things happen to bad people, or why bad things happen to good people.  I don’t always understand, but sometimes I do.  God’s standards for Israel, the consequences for obedience or disobedience are clear, and they are given far in advance of any punishment or blessing.  The motivations are both positive and negative.  The purpose of Leviticus 26 is to motivate Israel to keep God’s covenant.

And it’s important to realize that, even though there are good things and bad things promised, the purpose is good and always positive.  God wants to dwell among His holy people.  Throughout Leviticus 26, as gruesome as the warnings are, the benevolence of God is apparent.  God’s first response to Israel’s sins is to discipline His people and bring them to repentance.  And every time Israel refuses discipline, God increases the penalty.  If you think you can win a fight against God, then you don’t know God.

Some might look at God’s responses as harsh, but remember, God’s first promises were blessings.  All Israel had to do was walk in the ways of the Lord.  And the harsh response from God is due entirely to Israel’s rejection of God’s laws and all that God stands for.  Let’s look at verses 14-15 again –

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

His ways.  God wants what is best for His people.  Blessings if you walk in His ways, Curses if you reject Him.

V.      Past History of Israel

So what happened?  Despite these warning, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways.  The book of Joshua for the most part demonstrates that God delivered on the promised blessings.  Israel followed the Lord’s commandment and God was faithful in delivering abundant blessings.  But then the book of Judge showed the people os Israel rejecting the Lord’s ordinances, and God discipline was then forcefully delivered.

Leviticus 26, is the center of the history of Israel’s cycle of obedience, blessing, victory, apathy, disobedience, defeat, repentance, obedience.  Leviticus 26 is absolutely accurate.

God repeated his promises of blessings and curses through the prophets over the years to remind Israel that they were His chosen people.  Every prophet of Israel in the centuries to follow told Israel of the blessings to come if they followed in the Lord’s ways, and the destruction that follows disobedience.  And again and again, the cycle repeated.

VI.      Future History of Israel

So if God makes a covenant with Israel, but Israel repeats their cycle of obedience and disobedience despite the Lord’s promises of blessings and curses, who can fulfill the covenant?  Only the Lord can deliver Israel, and the Lord says at the end of Leviticus 26:44-45,

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.  But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.

The Lord is saying in these last 2 verses that, despite obedience or disobedience, the Lord God will never turn His back upon His people.  He says specifically that He will never break His covenant.

So how does the Lord deliver His people when His people turn their backs in disobedience and bring down the curses promised in Leviticus 26?  If God is to deliver on His promise but the people will not hold up their end of the covenant, then God will fulfill their end of the covenant.  God will send a deliverer or a Messiah.  This Messiah will be God Himself as prophesied in Isaiah 49:1-3 –

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
 
He has made My mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me;
And He has also made Me a select arrow,
He has hidden Me in His quiver.
 
He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory.”

In this verse, the Messiah has been selected to show the glory and power of God from and through Israel, but since God himself is the deliverer, Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah will also call gentiles to serve the Lord in Isaiah 49:6 –

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

After all those cycles of obedience and disobedience, God Himself steps into time to take the curses upon Himself and deliver His people, but it now includes gentiles like you and me, anybody that believes in the Lord.

VII.      The Messiah Fulfills the Law

So when I read Leviticus 26, I needed a new perspective.  How could these verses of blessings and curses be applicable today?  The new perspective is that God has provided the blessings and born the curses Himself to deliver His people.  Jesus is our Deliverer from the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

Now, the Old Testament Law hasn’t been abolished by Jesus.  Jesus specifically says that he came to fulfill the Law.  First in Luke 4:16-20, Jesus goes to the synagogue, reads from the book of Isaiah, then sits down.  Sitting down indicated that had had finished speaking and his message was complete, but then Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And then Jesus says later in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus led a perfect life without sin in complete obedience to the Father, even up to and including laying down His life for His followers.  Not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles.  In so doing, He completed the Old Testament and broke the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

We still have the Law with all the blessings and curses, but the Law has no power over us.  Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the Old Testament Law cannot save us.  We have demonstrated to God for centuries that we are disobedient; we cannot follow the law perfectly.  Instead, the Law demonstrated to us that we needs God to save us from the Law, so God sent His Son.

Are we free then from the law?  Well, yes and no.  We are free from following the 613 mitzvots that only demonstrated that we are sinners and needed a savior.  But many of the Old Testament laws are repeated as New Testament Christian principles.  Jesus gave us the example of one of the Ten Commandments that prohibited adultery.  The Pharisees focused on the behavior.  Jesus says we are responsible for even what we think, and if we think about adultery, then we are guilty.  But rather than focusing on 613 mitzvots, Jesus gave us a much easier understanding of how God wants us to live our lives.  Matthew 22:35-40 –

One of [the Parisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.  Leviticus 26 opened with God telling the Israelites to remember that God is God, don’t worship anything else, and live your lives in a way that pleases God.  Those instructions haven’t changed in 6000 years.

We don’t suffer the blessings and curses that God promised the Israelites, but our Christian walk is still important, and the things we do or don’t do still have consequences.  Paul tells us in Galatians 6:7-8,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

When we follow God’s plan, we receive blessings according to His will.  And when we do not, we still have to deal with the repercussions of our actions.  But we are no longer under the Law with all the blessings and curses that come with us.  Jesus fulfilled the Law for us in a way we did not earn.  Jesus provided grace so that we inherit eternal life, not through our own efforts, but through His.  In the Age of the Church, we are under Grace, praise Jesus.  Jesus bore our curses so that only God’s blessings remain for us.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

What We Offer to the Lord

I. Introduction

I’ve always joked that if I was ever asked to teach a lesson from the book of Leviticus, I would focus on the evils of shellfish. I’m allergic to shellfish – did any of you ever see the movie “Hitch” with Will Smith? And after another one of his disastrous dates where he eats some shrimp and his face gets all puffy and swollen and they have to go to the drugstore and buy a bottle of Benadryl? That’s what happens to me, I was going to bring in some shrimp gumbo and teach a lesson that would be unforgettable and maybe end in a hospital visit.

Well, we’re studying Leviticus this week, but, for some reason, the Holy Spirit didn’t lead me to do any shellfish experiments. That’s a good thing for all of us, I think. Turns out there’s a more meaningful lesson in Leviticus today.

One of the best investors of the last fifty years was a nice Jewish fellow named Bernard. His clientele was hand-picked; you practically had to be invited to invest with him. He was always generous and never lost money. His background on Wall Street was impeccable, and investors bragged about how well their investments were performing. By September 2009, there was $36 billion invested in Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC.

I’m sure you know the name by now. Of that $36 billion, Bernie Madoff reported that he had grown their investments to $65 billion, but he hadn’t. In fact, he had spent or lost half of it. A lot of this money was stolen from Jewish charities like Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Yeshiva University, Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation. Thousands of people who thought they had a great retirement invested with Bernie Madoff found their entire savings gone.

If you had given your money to somebody to invest for you – you give them $100 because they promised to make it grow to $200 and give it back to you – but instead you found they invested it in a nice dinner at Perry’s Steakhouse and ate it, how would you feel?

If the court system said that out of the $100 you invested, you can have $50 back but you have to give $30 to your lawyer, would you feel justice was served?

What if the court made the scammer give back your $100 in full, would that make everything right? Would the scammer then be guilt-free?

As Christians, we are saved by the grace of God, and all of our sins are forgiven, paid by the penalty on the cross. And as Christians, we are no longer slaves to sin, but that doesn’t mean we have no sin. And even though we are forgiven, solid Christian living and the gracious forgiveness we receive from God does not mean we do not have obligations and repercussion because of our sin. Today we’re going to see what God asks us to do when we have sinned because it’s the right thing to do.

II. Atonement for Sin

Throughout first half of Leviticus, God gives Moses instructions for how to lead His people and how to maintain a relationship with the Lord. The concept of sacrifice was established, where the innocent could pay the price of the guilty or as a method of worship. There are several types of sacrifices for which God provided instructions.

Let’s look at the types of sins and the sacrifices that go with them.

Leviticus 1 describes the Burnt Offering. Leviticus 1:3-4,

If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.

What is atonement? Sometimes it’s spelled At-One-Ment. We are sinful people, inherited separation from God because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Atonement is making peace with God, asking for forgiveness. It’s our reconciliation, that we may still have a relationship with the Almighty God even though there is sin in us that He cannot abide.

This burnt offering provides a one-ment with God. The burnt offering required a blood sacrifice of an innocent animal. This offering was not shared by the priests; the offering was completely consumed, completely dedicated to the Lord. Verse1:17 says this aroma was pleasing to the Lord; the Lord is pleased, not for the death but for the reconciliation.

Today, we no longer sacrifice burnt offerings. We now have eternal reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice is misunderstood by many of those outside the Christian faith – the sacrifice of the Son of God is not what pleases Him. It is the reconciliation with His children that pleases the Lord.

III. An Offering of Gratitude

God’s desire to have a relationship with us, especially considering throughout history how we have rejected the Lord, should fill us with gratitude that the Lord pursues us until we turn from sin and turn to Him. The offering described in Leviticus 2 is the grain offering and is offer to express our gratitude, our faithfulness to God, our commitment to a life that is pleasing to the One who created us.

Leviticus 2:14-16,

If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire. Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering. The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as an offering made to the LORD by fire.

So our gratitude to the Lord is shown by our willingness to give to God the best of what we have, our firstfruits. And again, when this offering is burned by the priest, verse 9 says the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. Unlike the burnt offering that was totally consumed in dedication to the Lord for our sins, this offering belongs to the Lord and for the use by Aaron and his sons, the Levitical priesthood.

Today, we don’t bring grain offerings, but we still offer our firstfruits in gratitude to the Lord. Today, this is our tithe. Where God has blessed us, we acknowledge our thanks that all things are provided by the Lord, we give thanks for allowing us to be good stewards of His gifts by returning the best of what we have, the best of which already belongs to the Lord.

IV. An Offering of Fellowship

The next offering is one of peace and fellowship. Leviticus 3:5 says the offering should be an unblemished animal from the flock that is burned on the alter as food, and the aroma is pleasing to the Lord. The food is to be shared by all the people, including the priests, and a portion is to be set aside for the Lord.

Our fellowship, one with another, is why we’re here. We learn to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. We learn how to be gracious and giving, as the Lord has been gracious and giving toward us. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves in celebration of the Lord’s love for us.

Our relationship with each other is so very important to the Lord. Matthew 5:23-24 says,

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

Our relationship with each other is so important that if we are at odds, God wants us to forgive each other far more than He wants our offering. Why is this?

I believe there are several reasons for this. A rift between brothers and sisters is like a wound or a sore in the body of Christ. It keeps the church from functioning well, and it keeps us from showing the light of Christ in our lives to others. If we are at odds with one another, it shows that we truly don’t understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He died for us, not because we’re basically good people and we deserve a good sacrifice once in a while. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

V. The Sin Offering

We’ve had three offerings so far – the burnt offering for atonement, the grain offering of thankfulness, and then the barbecue, the offering of fellowship. These are essentially offerings of worship for our communion with God and with one another. All three of these were offered on the altar in the compound of the Tabernacle.

The fourth offering is similar to the offering of atonement, but it’s not made so much in worship but in payment for our sins. And like Jesus, who paid for our sins on a cross outside of the city of Jerusalem, this offering is made outside of the camp. Leviticus 4 describes the offering in payment for our sins.

The common word throughout this chapter is the word “unintentional.” This offering assumes the follower has the right heart and is following the Lord’s commands, and the sins he commits are unintentional. While the Lord will not look upon sin, this indicates that not all sin is viewed the same way. The unintentional sin can be atoned by a sacrifice to the Lord as payment. The defiant, intentional sin is different. Look at the book of Numbers, chapter 15 for a moment. Numbers 15 also addresses offerings made to the Lord, and Numbers 15:22 also addresses offers for unintentional sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says,

But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.

We talk about sins of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission is something we do. Lying, cheating, stealing are sins of commission. And then there is the sin of omission – something we should have done, but didn’t. We should have tithed, we should have shared Christ, we should have offered help to our neighbor. Unintentional sins can be either be by omission or commission.

There is no offering prescribed for a defiant sin. One cannot praise the Lord with all his heart, yet at the same time thumb his nose at the Lord’s commands. His guilt remains on him; how awful, how terrible, to pay the price for one’s own sin, for Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. A defiant sin acts like a wedge between us and the Lord and drives us away from His love and compassion. Romans 1:21 talks about defiant sin; it says that while wicked men knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but instead claimed to be wise and instead made themselves foolish. God therefore gave them over to their own sinful desires.

God doesn’t force us to love us. In fact, God gives us exactly what we want. If we want an eternity in the presence of Jesus, we can have it simply by confessing Jesus as both Lord and Savior. And if we do not want God’s influence in our lives, He will make that part of our eternity instead. Defiant sin is a terrible thing. But the unintentional sin of the Christian is paid for by the blood of Christ.

VI. The Guilt Offering

The last offering described by Moses is the guilt offering. This is repayment of the harm caused by the sin. While many times sin can be against another person, sin is always against the will of God. Leviticus 5 says that if one sins, one must make full restitution.

Leviticus 5:1-5 mentions several ways one could sin; verse 1 talks about keeping silent when he should speak, perhaps of witnessing a crime but choosing not to do anything about it. Verse 2 and 3 talk about our actions, of doing things that offend the Lord. And verse 4 talks about the sins of the tongue, of cussing and swearing and breaking oaths. Look at the last part of verse 4 –

even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.

When does a sin become a sin? When you commit the sin, or when you learn about the sin?

A couple of months ago, headed to work out Highway 59, I exited Williams Trace. I approached the intersection; the light was red but there was nobody in the intersection. After looking carefully, I turned right on red, a perfectly legal thing to do in Texas.

The red light camera thought different. They took not only a nice picture of my license plate but also a nice video and posted it on the web for me to see. And I watched the video and had no idea why they were sending me a ticket.

I didn’t come to a complete stop; while that camera has been there for years and I’ve worked there for years, I apparently had never approached that intersection on red with nobody in front of me. Since I didn’t come to a complete stop first before turning, I got a ticket. I was guilty. Was I guilty when I first received the ticket, or when I turned the corner on red without coming to a complete stop?

We are guilty of sin when we commits the sin, whether we realize we did it or whether we even knew it was a sin. But when we realize we have committed a sin, we are to confess the sin.

When I was growing up, apparently I was a boy. Boys can be trouble sometimes, so I’ve heard. But not me. When something bad happened around the house, when the lamp was broken or, say, you were five years old and tipped over 2 50 lb bags of dog food in the garage and ran over it with your tricycle, making wonderful little crunching noises until all the dog food was a fine powder that covered the entire garage… hypothetically, of course. My mother would line the three of us kids up, my sister, my brother, and me, and say, “If one of you don’t confess, all three of you will get a spanking!” And my sister would crack under the pressure and confess. Every time. So… she was really the guilty one, right?

My sister and I are close and we joke about this now, but I realize studying for this lesson that it’s a long ago sin, but I’m guilty. I’ve never made restitution, and I should leave my offering on the altar and make sure things are right with her after all these years. I would have apologized earlier, but it was all her fault I didn’t. No, no, I mean I confess my transgression and go make things right. It doesn’t matter when I knew it was wrong, it’s never the wrong time to go apologize and make things right.

When the sin is committed against another person, restitution must be paid more than in full. Look at Leviticus 5:16 –

He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven.

Bernie Madoff stole billions that he can never repay, and for his crime he will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. Remember the $100 that our so-called friend promised to invest for us but spent it at Perry’s steakhouse? If we discover that we have sinned against another and we have to make restitution, do more than what is expected to make up for it. Pay back $120 instead of the $100 borrowed. And if they want you to walk a mile for them, walk two. And if they strike you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek, too.

VII. Conclusion

We talked about five offerings in Leviticus 1-5. An offering for the atonement of sin so that we may have fellowship and worship of the Lord. An offering of gratitude, to give to the Lord the best we have to offer. An offering of fellowship, of loving our neighbor as ourselves and a celebration of belonging to the body of Christ. And then an offering for our sins and an offering for our guilt and to make restitution and go over and above to make sure things are right between ourselves, the Lord, and between each other, no matter when we discover we have sinned.

And we can give thanks that God himself loved us so much that He provided the ultimate offering as payment for our sins, His son and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Amazing Deliverance

I. Introduction

Who in this class has a collection? Dolls, thimbles, something else?

I used to collect pennies when I was a young teen. I’d go through my grandfather’s big jar of coins looking for specific pennies I didn’t have. The oldest penny I had was from 1916, if I recall correctly. Once, based on something I read, I took a magnet to my grandfather’s old coins and discovered two 1943 pennies made of steel. These coins bring back memories, as I’m sure the thimbles and dolls collected by some of you also bring back memories.

We try to protect precious memories. One of the most important memories I have is the day I married Diane for the second time. God had delivered me from my own bad mistakes and healed a broken marriage in a way no person could have done, and He did it on a specific and perfect timetable that I can look back on and remark upon His miracle. We celebrate this anniversary annually; it marks a new beginning of our family. It’s important to do something to commemorate our anniversary because it renews our memories of this important day. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten.

Today we’re going to study how God asked His people to remember when God moved His hand to deliver His people from bondage. Have you ever found yourself trapped by something? A struggle that you cannot free yourself from? Traps can be physical, like those 50 ships, including 2 passenger ferries, stuck in the Baltic Sea when it froze over a couple weeks ago. One of the cruise ships had 1000 people on it; ice breakers sent to rescue them also got stuck as the ice froze over as fast as it was broken. Traps can be emotional, they can be financial, the can be spiritual.

So, with so many traps keeping us in bondage, it’s no wonder we need deliverance just like the Israelites. Who needs deliverance? Why do we need deliverance? How can you experience the Lord’s amazing deliverance?

God delivers us from life’s traps. It’s a theme repeated throughout history, God delivers His people, and He still delivers you and me.

Last week Theresa taught us about 9 plagues the Lord sent against Pharaoh to free His people, and how each time Pharaoh promised to free the Israelites but then hardened his heart. Those plagues were frogs, gnats, darkness, really bad acne, um, halitosis, I forget the whole list. Still, the Israelites were trapped, in slavery, unable to free themselves from their bondage, and in need of a savior.

Now, God sends the 10th and final plague. Let’s see how He prepares His people.

II. Exodus 12:1-5, New Beginning

Exodus 12:1-5 –

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.

God is creating a new beginning for His people to commemorate His deliverance. This new beginning is the first month of the first year of a brand new calendar. To remember this occasion, the head of each household will select an unblemished and perfect lamb to sacrifice.

Besides teaching us to commemorate the hand of the Lord, and how the Lord will deliver us, we also the beginning of the concept of atonement, or substitutionary death. Why was it important for the lamb to be unblemished, free of any defect?

How did Jesus meet this criteria? 1 Peter 1:18-19 says that we were not saved by perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29 the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with these words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The sacrifice of the innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty. The lamb was innocent of any wrong doing. Just as Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us, you and me. And Romans 6:23 says that the punishment for our sins is death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This concept of atonement begins here in Exodus 12, continues through Isaiah 53:5 that says that our redeemer was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. And all the way through the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds we have been healed.”

Any other method of trying to provide for our own deliverance will fail. We do not have the ability to save ourselves any more than the Israelites could save themselves from Pharaoh. If we try, we will find we are sinners and must pay for our sins with eternal death. Jesus, the son of God, paid that price on our behalf that we may live in Him.

And when we accept this sacrifice, we become new creations. God delivers us from our eternal punishment, and we become adopted children of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creations; the old has gone, the new has come!” God delivers us.

I remember vividly when I gave my life to Christ. I was old for a Christian, having spent my life claiming to be a Christian but living for myself, and gave myself to the Lord in the fall of 1998 at the age of 37. Got baptized in a swimming pool in Singapore. Do you have a new life in Christ? When did it begin? How has god provided a full life since then?

III. Exodus 12:6-11, Urgent Attitude

Once we have accepted Jesus, our lives take on a certain urgency. Exodus 12:6-11 –

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Remember the traps we talked about? Being stuck in the ice, financial traps, emotional traps? God tells the Israelites to eat in haste. Why is there urgency is being delivered from those traps? God is forever, but our earthly lives are not. Eventually, the sand runs out of our hourglass. We are now on a mission, the Great Commission, and we have a deadline. And we don’t even know when the deadline is, but it surely is coming. Matthew 24:42 says, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

What does God expect from us? God expects us to be obedient to Him, to trust in Him because He know all. God expects us to become more and more Christ-like, to become sanctified through the Word. God expects us to be a light to all, to be submissive to each other and strengthen each other. God expects us to spread the word, make new disciples that will continue to spread the gospel long after we’re gone.

God wants us to remember all these things. If we are going to experience the deliverance from God and expect others to also experience God’s deliverance, it’s urgent we practice obedience now. God expects us to take our mission seriously and urgently. And whatever traps us now, there is an urgency to surrender that to God and just let Him deliver us. We cannot move forward as long as we let something hold us back.

We cannot underestimate the significance of sin in our lives and how offensive sin is to a most Holy God. When Julie taught us that the smallest amount of sin in our lives would cause us to fry in the presence of Jehovah, it was a vivid picture of how far we are from trying to earn our way into heaven. God tells his people to make bread without yeast, unleavened bread, and later in Exodus 12:19 God says that whoever eats anything with yeast in it during this Passover will be cut off from Israel. These are not baking instructions. Jesus says in Matthew 16:11-12, “How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” So it’s definitely not a baking recipe, it’s a warning that a little sin will spread throughout the whole body.

Let’s not overlook the significance of the blood covering. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Blood is life. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our advanced society still requires blood donations and haven’t developed artificial blood. They’ve developed some stuff that can help refill the circulatory system in case of blood loss, but they haven’t developed red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells for fighting diseases, plasma with proteins, platelets to stop blood loss, and so on. Blood is life.

And 1 John 1 :7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” It is the blood of Jesus that saves us and gives us eternal life.

For the Israelites, it was only the covering of blood over the door that would save them and deliver them from their bondage. For us, it is only the covering of the blood of Jesus that saves us from our sins and delivers us from our eternal punishment.

So is it any wonder that God told the Israelites to make their preparations with haste?

IV. Exodus 12:12-13, Divine Mercy

If God’s people did as they were instructed and made their sacrifice in haste, the they were saved from the wrath of God. Verse 12-13 –

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

And so begins the 10th plague, the death of every firstborn. Who was judged this night? Egyptians were pantheists, believing that everything in the world was part of a god or goddess. And they were polytheists, worshiping many gods that were all around them. Each god or goddess was involved in a different part of their lives.

God is very deliberate in His wrath, demonstrating his power over all of nature. God says, “I am the Lord.” He stands apart, holy. All other gods are demons. Each of the first 9 plagues demonstrated God’s sovereignty over a popular Egyptian god to demonstrate that He alone is God. And now the 10th plague over all male firstborns including animals demonstrate that no one is god but God alone.

Death is a powerful and painful lesson. It gets our attention like nothing else in this world. And it’s unavoidable. It is God’s final recourse in showing His power to liberate His people and God’s supremacy over Pharaoh’s little gods. When Pharaoh refused, thousands perished. When Israel believed, thousands lived. And today, every person’s fate hinges on either believing or not believing the one true and living God in heaven. And God used the ultimate death, His son Jesus, to save us.

Who needed mercy that night? Everyone, was it not? Who received mercy that night? What was the sole distinguishing mark that granted the Israelites divine mercy?

Romans 2:5 is addressed to those who have not accepted the blood covering of Jesus. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Who needs mercy now? And who receives mercy? This is God’s plan to the end of time; in Revelation 7:9, there is a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. In Revelation 7:14, we are told who these people are and the distinguishing mark of the believer. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

God has had a plan from the beginning to deliver us from our sins that deserve His wrath. His judgment is perfect; that’s why we should fear Him. But His mercy is perfect; that’s why we should love Him. He first loved us and provided a way to deliver us from our sins that trap us in bondage. We are free in Christ.

God is our deliverer. Psalm 68:20, “God is unto us a God of deliverances; And unto Jehovah the Lord belongeth escape from death.” Psalm 40:17, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.” Psalm 144:2, “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer.” God’s divine mercy has freed us from our traps through Jesus Christ. There is no reason to remain in bondage, halleluiah.

V. Exodus 12:14, Precious Memory

These lessons must be continually learned from one generation to the next. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten, so we must carefully prepare our lives and celebrations in a way that the next generation will also come to know the saving blood of Jesus. Exodus 12:14 –

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.

Why did the people of Israel need a permanent statue? What would this memory do for them when they faced hard times later?

Do rituals save us? What rituals do churches observe today?

1 Corinthians 11:23-28 describes why we eat of the Lord’s Supper:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Rituals can enslave us if we make the ritual the point instead of a remembrance. The whole purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember the divine sacrifice Jesus made for us and to remember to examine ourselves to see if we are living lives pleasing to the Lord. That is the reason we commemorate God’s amazing deliverance and pass those memories down to future generations. So that they, too, may be delivered from their bondage.

VI. Conclusion

Trying to commemorate a deliverance that hasn’t occurred is meaningless. How can we be certain we have experienced God’s love in salvation?

Our goal today was twofold: We want to be certain each of us has experienced God’s amazing deliverance, and we want to be sure to commemorate our deliverance so that we never forget and that others know of God’s plan for salvation. And if you are in a trap or bondage that you have not surrendered to the Lord, it’s about time we give it to the Lord and surrender to Him. We are free in Christ.

We can experience a new beginning when we trust in the Lord for our deliverance and obey His instructions. The Lord gives us a sense of urgency, for we do not know the day when the Lord returns. God’s deliverance is an amazing display of his divine mercy for which we should be eternally thankful. We can show our thanks for our deliverance by continually remembering and celebrating the Lord and all He has done for us. Give thanks today and remember.

Compassionate Action

I. Introduction

It’s difficult to see God at work sometimes, isn’t it? Unanswered prayers, world hunger, wars. Our own lives, sickness, injuries. Let’s start off today with a list of problems. Things that we believe God should solve, should do differently. Some big “why” questions. I’ll start off with a couple.

What’s up with that earthquake in Haiti? Why is Charlotte’s leg taking so long to heal? Why hasn’t my son turned toward Christ? If we are adopted children, why doesn’t God answer His children right away when we are troubled or in pain?

Just because we do not see God at work, we can know that God is indeed always at work, and He does it consistently and faithfully. And oddly enough, through very flawed people.

We begin a study of Exodus today that is an extension of the book of Genesis. We know that Moses was the author (Exodus 24:4, “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.” There are multiple Old Testament and New Testament passages that identify Moses as the God-inspired human writer of this book; Joshua 8:32, 1 Kings 2:3, Daniel 9:11, Mark 7:10, Mark 12:26 and Luke 2:22-23. Most history scholars, like Chris, piece together passages such as 1 Kings 6:1 and believe the book was written after 1446 B.C., about the time I was born.

The word “exodus” means exit or departure, and this book’s purpose is to document God’s deliverance of His people. God made a covenant promise to Abraham, and God always fulfills His promise. God freed the Jews from slavery, led the through the wilderness, and established a holy nation.

How long could we spend in Exodus? I found the long term curriculum for our bible studies; our classes will study every single book in the bible in seven years, then I suppose we’ll repeat. That’s both good and bad; good that we’ll study the whole bible, but bad that we have to fly through the bible. We’ll even get to Leviticus beginning in May, and I’ve been joking lately that I’ll give an entire lesson on the evils of shellfish. We’ll see if that really happens. The book of Exodus covers many familiar stories; Moses’ birth and floating down the river in a basket of reeds, the 7 plagues upon Egypt and the confrontation with Pharaoh, the parting of the red sea, wandering in the desert, bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain.

What else? (golden calf, burning bush, … ). Anybody remember that movie with Charles Heston? 1956, Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner as the bald Pharaoh?

Today, we’re studying Exodus 1-4. Zoom. But our study today is going to focus on God’s compassion and his actions and God works through very flawed people like you and me. Ok, flawed people like me. Ok, nobody’s like me. You know what I mean.

I may be a mess, but so was Moses. If you recall at the end of Genesis, Jacob, after having been thrown down a well, rescued by a caravan, spent time in Pharaoh’s house, then prison, then rose to power under Pharaoh after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, then during the famine brought Jacob’s brothers to live with him in Egypt – remember all that? Am I going to fast? Anyway, that’s how Jacob and his family of 70 came to live in Egypt.

For many years, the Hebrews were treated well and lived in peace among the Egyptians, and their numbers grew. So much so that when a new king came to power in Egypt, he forgot about the historical relationship between Egypt and Jacob and instead feared the numbers of Jews. Out of fear, he enslaved the Hebrews. They still grew in numbers, and that’s when the king gave the order for all newborn Jewish males to be killed to decrease their number. Moses’ mother, to save him, put Moses in a basket and floated him down the river, and one of the Egyptian king’s daughters found Moses and took him in.

So Moses, instead of being killed by Pharaoh ended up being raised by Pharaoh. I like God’s sense of humor. Anyway, Moses grows up into an adult and goes out to watch the Hebrews work at hard labor. The movie showed Moses as a capable leader of the Egyptians construction and compassionate for the Hebrews, but Exodus 2:11 doesn’t really say that. It appears to me Moses is just watching for entertainment. But when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses kills the Egyptians and buried him under some sand.

But word got around the Hebrews that Moses had killed someone, and Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses. Here is a messed up individual; he’s a murderer, no family of his own, and not welcome by either the Hebrews or the Egyptians. And so Moses flees to Midian, probably the other side of the desert near the Arabian peninsula. Banished, outcast, he spends 40 years in exile. Later we find out he also has a speech impediment. How can God use such a flawed man like Moses? And what happened to that covenant promise with Abraham, anyway? Where is God?

I can identify with these questions. There are times in my life I wonder where God is. He is a God of miracles, of compassion, of mercy, is He not? What about those unanswered prayers and sickness and wars and hunger we talked about earlier. Where is God?

II. Exodus 2:23-25, God Takes Notice

Exodus 2:23-25,

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

As long as the Pharaohs remembered how Joseph had saved Egypt from the famine, the Hebrews were treated well. But those days had long passed. The Israelites groaned in their slavery.

God has a plan and His timetable often isn’t clear to us, especially when we are waiting on Him. I note a multitude of lessons and timing underway here, and God is patiently waiting for His plan. I’ve learned that God often waits until we hit rock bottom before answering. Sometimes we may feel we hit rock bottom and then start digging. We are learning what the Israelites are learning; where does your help come from? For a time, their help came from the Egyptians who gave them land. Should the Israelites depend on the Egyptians for help? The Israelites are enslaved; can they provide their own help?

Psalm 121:1-2,

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Ultimately, this is the only place our help can come from. We might pray and say we depend on the Lord, but do we really? When things get tough, when we feel we are hitting bottom, what are we depending on? Our job, our savings, our own strength, our health, our friends, our family, our charisma?

Whatever we’re depending on is what God wants us to stop depending on. Lean on Him. When we are dependent on someone or something else, we are not practicing faith. We’re idol worshipping. My job is my god. My health is my god. My house is my god. In order for us to learn that our help comes from the Lord, sometimes we must first learn where our help does not come from. Everything else can let us down.

While Israel moaned in slavery, Moses was learning humility. Forty years in exile because he took matter into his own hands, killing the Egyptian. When did God tell Moses to kill an Egyptian? Pompous adopted son of a Pharaoh, taking justice into his own hands, but learning humility in exile. Moses wasn’t in charge. God is. Moses was learning that when one is full of pride, God cannot use you. When you have pride, you are saying that you know best, you don’t need to ask God, you can be your own God.

But Proverbs 3:34,

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

But now, forty years later, the Pharaoh that wanted to kill Moses is dead. And Moses is no longer prideful, but humble. And Israel is crying out for help. It’s God’s timing to bring these two together, and God remembers His promise to Abraham.

III. Exodus 3:1-6, God Reveals Himself

And so God reveals Himself to those seeking Him. Exodus 3:1-6,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God first got the attention of Moses, using the miracle of the burning bush. To talk to us, our focus must be on God. He wants us to look toward Him. I think sometimes when we look at the troubles we have in the world, people put the blame on God, but it’s really us who should have had our attention on God all along. This problem began with Adam and Eve looking toward the serpent for advice and continues through this day. We want God to perform His miracles, but we won’t give Him 5 minutes a day to study His Word. And when we don’t know His Word, we don’t know what God’s purpose is. Everything appears as confusing as a burning bush to us.

God’s first step in taking compassionate action for us is to reveal Himself. He does this in so many ways; in Moses case, the burning bush. In my case just this week, He made himself known to me through this lesson. I know this doesn’t appear to be a lesson on marriage, but for me it is. God revealed to me that He is at work through bible study and through the words and actions of people close to me.

How does God reveal Himself to you?

What are we supposed to do when He does reveal Himself?

Today, God primarily reveals Himself through His word. I want to try an experiment. Left side of the class, turn to Exodus 34:6-7. Right side of the class, turn to Micah 7:18-20. While the whole bible reveals God’s character to use, these 4 verses, 2 in Exodus and 2 in Micah, are the Clift Notes shortcut to revealing God’s characters.

What characteristics of God are revealed to us?

Compassionate Merciful Loving Impartial
Patient Good Just Wise
Holy Perfect Faithful Sovereign
Glorious Jealous Immutable Truthful

God uses many ways to get our attention so that He may reveal Himself. Some of them are the very issues that we cry out that we do not see God’s hand at work. Our health, our jobs, wars and hunger and earthquakes and accidents. We end up with a host of questions about God that are not new but go all the way back to Job questioning God.

An atheist looks at these disasters and concludes life is random and meaningless, nature is just bad. Atheist Richard Dawkins says that “Human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce.”

A philosopher looks at calamity and concludes that if God must not be powerful enough to stop evil. In other words, God is not God. Or if God is all powerful, perhaps God isn’t good. The Swiss philosopher Armin Mohler said that “God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.”

Even Christianity struggles with how to explain disasters. The legalist says that all evil is a result of sin. Remember Pat Robertson saying that the people of Haiti deserved the earthquake because of their pact with the devil? And liberal Christians are all over the map, blaming God for evil, blaming other gods for evil, believing that God isn’t in control after all and really needs to come up with a plan B.

But true Christianity understands that God is full of mercy. True Christianity is trusting in the wisdom and sovereignty of God without making God the author of sin.

Psalm 66, selected verses (1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16, 19) –

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

Come and see what God has done,
his awesome deeds for humankind!

He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.

You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.

but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.

God’s listening. God’s in control. And God has a purpose. But first you must recognize who God is and focus your attention on Him.

IV. Exodus 3:7-10, God Takes Action

Once God’s perfect timing is ready and our attention is focused on Him, then God takes action. I believe God works this way so that once we see His compassion and action, we give proper credit to Him. Exodus 3:7-10,

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

I think it’s instructive to note that God’s plan is a complete plan. God says that He will rescue His people. And then what? Turn them loose in the desert? No, God’s plan is more than just ending evil. God plan is providing good. It’s reminiscent of His plan for our own salvation. When God calls us to repent, it doesn’t mean just to turn from evil. It means turn around and head toward God, to do good and to serve and to learn and be sanctified. When God reaches His hand to us and offers us salvation, He’s not just rescuing us from Hell and turning us loose. He’s taking us from Hell to Heaven, our land flowing with milk and honey.

When we are fulfilling His plan for us, when we become His hands and feet of compassion, it’s important to remember that our work for Him must be just as complete. We don’t condemn people, tell them to stop doing evil. We show them a better way, one of love and compassion and in the life of Jesus. Jesus is not just our rescuer. He’s also our deliverer.

God tells Moses, “So now, go.” Why did God wait so long to act?

I don’t think God was waiting. I think Moses and the Hebrews just didn’t notice God was in action the whole time. Moses was impetuous and prideful, and God had spent 40 years preparing Him for this. Moses knew the Hebrews, Moses knew the Egyptians, Moses received an education from Pharaoh’s royal court. Even Moses father-in-law was a priest of Midian, teaching Moses about God. And now Moses was fully prepared to be a servant of God, recognizing God when He calls, focusing on God’s plan, humble enough to be God’s servant in rescuing His people from slavery and delivering them to the promised land.

Moses wasn’t perfect by any stretch. It may have been 40 years, but Moses was still a stutterer and was once a murderer. But Moses was different now. Gone is the Moses that killed the Egyptian. In his place in the Moses of verse 11, “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I?

And that’s the right question to be humble before the Lord. Because it’s not about us. Who are we? We are creations, we are not the creator. God responds, “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.”

What is God teaching us about serving Him? If we are inclined to serve at, say, Star of Hope or Angels of Light or the Church in the Park next month, that’s great service. But if we then puff up our chests with pride about what a good job we’ve done, we’ve missed the point. It’s not about us. It’s about the great ‘I AM.’

V. Exodus 3:19-20, God Works Wonders

It’s God at work in His creation; it’s not about His creation trying to steal the show. To God goes all the glory. And when His time is perfect and His plan is in place and our focus is on Him, God will fulfill His promises. Exodus 3:19-20 –

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

Moses was concerned that he wasn’t fit for this role because of his past and because of his handicap. Would the Israelites believe Moses? Would they trust Moses to lead them? Did Moses have the capability to persuade Pharaoh?

God reassures Moses at each step that God is exactly who He says He is. He is God. And God recognized that this is a difficult task, that a mighty hand will be necessary to free His people. But God has a mighty hand to do just that.

And when we have a task ahead of us that seems too great for us, then we are exactly where God wants us to be. He wants us to recognize that the task is too great for us, but not for Him. God still performs miracles today. He still rescues people from under the earthquake rubble, He still heals diseases, He still provides hope and peace. He doesn’t always perform the miracle we expect on our own timetable, but there is a promise He will keep because we have a covenant promise from Him. We have the promise of everlasting life with Him through His son, Jesus. And because we know God will fulfill that promise, even when we don’t see Him at work on our timetable, we can be sure He’s at work on His timetable. That will give us strength in our weakness, hope in our despair, and abundant life even in the valley of the shadow of death.

God is at work, though we may not see Him. He can use us with whatever flaws we have, because He has prepared us for this day. And he will use others to perform unexpected miracles in our life regardless of their flaws. He is the great ‘I AM.’ To God be the glory.

Trust in the Lord

I. Introduction

Do you ever get discouraged? What situation have you been in that discouraged you? (Job loss, health issues, family matters). I’ve told you that I’ve been saying goodbye to co-workers lately. They stop by my office, shake my hand, say it’s been nice working together, and do I know anybody that’s hiring. As hard as it is to say goodbye, it pales next to being the person that’s leaving the company. I know, I’ve been there.

How do you manage during difficult times? As a church and as a class, we teach reliance on the Lord through good times and bad, but how do you do that when you’re wondering where God is in your life. He made promises to his people, didn’t He? Well, where is He?

We’re going to study Psalm 125 today and see how the Lord provides strength in troubled times. Psalm 125 addresses the discouragement God’s people have when wicked people are in charge over righteous people and it seems like God is not at work.

II. Trust in the Lord

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds his people, both now and forevermore.

The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.

Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.

But those who turn to crooked ways the LORD will banish with the evildoers.

Peace be upon Israel.

Let’s put aside our own discouragements for a while and see who is making this lament. Most commentators believe this Psalm was written in the time of Nehemiah, between 445 and 420 BC. The Babylonians occupied Jerusalem, and the evil rulers allied themselves with influential Jewish leaders. The righteous people, therefore, were rules by both corrupt leaders from both outside and inside their faith.

Psalm 125 helps us to put ourselves in perspective to God’s plan and helps us understand how God deals with both righteous and unrighteous people at the same time.

Verse 1 begins, “Those who trust in the Lord.” The Old Testament describes several ways we can relate to the Lord. We are to fear Him, to acknowledge God has the ability and the justification to punish us for our sins. We are to love Him, to understand His mercy and grace saves us, and we become His children. We are to know Him, to become personally intimate with the Lord and all He will teach us if we seek Him. And we are to trust Him, to understand that whatever our circumstances, He is in control.

Scripture has a lot to say about trusting in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” What does it mean to trust God?

Do we trust the Lord only in good times? If we are struggling with circumstances, is that reason to stop trusting in Him?

Louisa Stead, in the late 1800’s, along with her husband and daughter were enjoying the beach at Long Island, New York, when they heard a young boy calling for help. Louisa’s husband tried to rescue the boy, but the panicked boy dragged Mr. Stead under water. Both drowned. Louisa and her daughter were left without a husband or a father. In her grief, she penned the words,

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise, just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Louisa Stead and her daughter became missionaries to South Africa and died in 1917. Out of a early tragedy in her life, Louisa Stead learned to put all her trust in the Lord, no matter what happens.

It is the Lord’s will that we place our trust in Him. John 14:1-3, Jesus says,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

In the book The Peacemaker, a Christian guide to resolving personal conflict, there is this wonderful instruction regarding trusting in the Lord:

“Trusting God does not mean that we will never have questions, doubts, or fears. We cannot simply turn off the natural thoughts and feelings that arise when we face difficult circumstances. Trusting God means that in spite of our questions, doubts, and fears we draw on his grace and continue to believe that he is loving, that he is in control, and that he is always working for our good. Such trust helps us to continue doing what is good and right, even in difficult times.”

III. The Lord Protects

Psalm 125:1-2 says that God’s people, those that place their trust in Him, are like Mount Zion, and God is like the mountains that surround it. Mount Zion is a relatively small hill in Jerusalem and it is surrounded by much higher mountains. Travelers that approach Jerusalem must pass through mountains, and until they cross the mountains, they cannot even see Mount Zion.

Just like the Lord surrounds us. We are not in a prison; we can easily leave the protection of the Lord. But when we are in His will, we are protected by the same mountains, and the troubles that come into our lives are only those troubles permitted by the Lord.

Why is this important to us? It means that whatever is going on in our lives, God has allowed it, God remains our protector, and even in our current difficulties, God is still protecting us from troubles we are not even aware of. He surrounds us and protects us.

In the time of Nehemiah when this Psalm was written, the Lord permitted Jerusalem to be overrun by the Babylonians. Why? Jerusalem had given in to sinful ways; the Lord desired something better for them. I’m always reminded of the prophet Habakkuk. Read chapter 1 sometime – Habakkuk cries out to the Lord, “why do I have to look at all this injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? The wicked rule the righteous.” And the Lord answers, “I’m going to do something amazing – I’m raising up the wicked Babylonians to crush Jerusalem.” And Habakkuk is like, “Wait… what?”

The Old Testament shows Israel’s relationship to the Lord, and it mirrors our own relationship to God. Israel repeatedly sinned against the Lord, through pride, stubbornness, disobedience, and ungratefulness. Sin must be defeated; defeat leads to repentance. Repentance leads to deliverance. But deliverance makes us lazy and take our God for granted, and we return to sin.

Sin –> Defeat –> Repentance –> Deliverance –> Sin

What the Old Testament makes clear is that the Lord uses evil to crush evil. The Babylonians overran Jerusalem, but God will not allow evil to triumph. Look at verse 3; “The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” The “scepter of the wicked” is the rule of evil over the land of righteous; the Lord is aware that this must be temporary, lest the righteous be either tempted or forced to do evil.

In the Lord’s perfect timing, He will judge perfectly. Verse 4 says that the Lord will do good to the upright in heart, verse 5 says that the Lord will banish the evil. This may happen in our lives; this may happen in the end of time. Either way, the Lord is in control.

IV. Conclusion

So, how do we apply this to our lives? When evil people seem to be in control, should we be discouraged? No, remember that our trials are given to us for a purpose. The Lord allows trials in our lives. Sometimes the trials are small – I have a leaky refrigerator this week. Sometimes they are big, like the loss of a job. And sometimes they seem overwhelming, like the loss of a child or a parent.

God is in control, but He allows us to experience trials because He is far more concerned with our character than he is about our job. The trials, whether we understand them or not, are designed by God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. We have the choice to struggle, or we can learn to trust the One who molds us.

What do we learn from trials?

• Faith. Trials purify and strengthen our faith for His glory. 1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

• Patience. Trials develop our patience. James 1:2-4 –

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

• Trials teach us obedience to God’s Word. Psalm 119:71-72 –

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

• Trials teach us discipline. Hebrews 12:5-6 –

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

• Trials sanctify us. Hebrews 12:10-11 –

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

• Trials teach us important lessons. Deuteronomy 8:2-5 –

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

• Trials teach us humility, especially if we don’t know why we have trials. It makes us realize who we are before God. Romans 11:33-36 –

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

• And it teaches us to trust on God. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 –

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Yes, that’s right. We trust God to protect us, and He allows trials to strengthen that trust.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give thanks to God for trials in my life. Trials are unpleasant, serious, traumatic, life-changing. But we can learn to give thanks to God for the character He is developing in us through the trials He brings. For the Lord is our protection and He wants us to learn to place our trust in Him.

The Suffering Servant

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible
Image via Wikipedia

We’ve been studying Isaiah and fulfilled prophecy; today we reach the exclamation point of the entire Old Testament.

I once recently read that the entire bible points to Jesus. I had a hard time grasping that concept. I knew the New Testament told the story of Jesus, and I knew the Old Testament told the story of God’s relationship with Israel. But until the last few weeks, I never understood how much the Old Testament also points to Jesus. The passages we’re studying this week, Isaiah 49 through 53, are the heart of this prophecy. They are beautiful stanzas, beautiful poetry; they are descriptions of the Christ to come.

Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for us. We have an egocentric, a “man-centric” view of this plan. God sent His son to die for *me* so that *I* may have a relationship with God. And that’s true, God did that for you and for me. For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But God has a “God-centric” view. Everything in God’s creation gives glory to God. That includes His son. That includes us. God sent His son to die for us so that we may bring glory to Him. God glorifies Himself by flooding our lives with mercy found in Christ.

Jewish scholars understood that Isaiah 40-53 were the messianic prophecies, a Messiah to come that would deliver Jews and Gentiles to the Lord. As Christians, we understand that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Jews did not accept Jesus as the Christ, but continued to believe that a messiah was to come. Jewish scholars continued to hold this view well at least until the twelfth century. They altered their interpretation then; Jewish scholars now interpret these passages as a description of the suffering of Israel. That view has problems, for Isaiah 53:8 says that the Servant will die for the sins of Israel. How can Israel die as a sacrifice for Israel? And verse 9 says the Servant was innocent of sin and suffered unjustly, but who will claim that Israel is innocent of sin?

The original interpretation by Jewish scholars was correct; these passages point to an innocent individual who would take away the sins of the world. Today, Jews that study both Isaiah and Jesus come away convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Servant.

Jay Sekulow grew up Jewish kid in New York. When he went to college, a friend named Glenn. This is from Jay Sekulow’s testimony

Glenn suggested I read Isaiah 53. My mind was boggled by the description of the “suffering servant” who sounded so much like Jesus. I had to be misreading the text. I realized with relief that I was reading from a “King James” Bible, and after all, that’s a “Christian” translation. So the first thing I said to Glenn after I read it was “Okay, now give me a real Bible.” I grabbed the Jewish text, but the description seemed just as clear. Even though this caught my attention, I wasn’t too worried. It still sounded like Jesus in the “Jewish Bible,” but there had to be a logical explanation.

I began to research the passage and I started to look for rabbinic interpretations. That’s when I began to worry. If I read the passage once, I’m sure I read it 500 times. I looked for as many traditional Jewish interpretations as I could find. A number of them, especially the earlier ones, described the text as a messianic prophecy. Other interpretations claimed the suffering servant was Isaiah himself, or even the nation of Israel, but those explanations were an embarrassment to me. The details in the text obviously don’t add up to the prophet Isaiah or the nation of Israel.

Jay could not explain these scriptures as anything other than the sacrifice Christ as made and today is a member of “Jews for Jesus.” He is also a prominent lawyer and Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.

God’s plan has been evident from the beginning. Century by century, generation by generation, God gave men a promise of a blessing through the bloodlines of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David. Through Abraham’s seed, all nations of the world would be blessed, and the ruler’s scepter would never leave the tribe of Judah. Through David, his throne would be established forever. These were the earliest messianic prophecies.

Through Isaiah 7, we learn that the Messiah would be born of a virgin mother. Isaiah 9 tells us that the Messiah would be God incarnate, in the flesh.

The Servant is introduced in Isaiah 49; the Servant is the prophetic name for the future Messiah, Jesus Christ. The scripture here says the Servant of the Lord will summon Judah to return to the Lord and be a light for all peoples on the earth. All of Israel will be restored. You and I will be restored.

How can this be? How can imperfect people have a restored relationship with the powerful, perfect, and Holy God? We should fear even to look upon Him because of our character and who we are. I confess my pride yet again; sometimes I look at the blessings in my life and thank God. I have a beautiful and servant-focused wife that loves me with a depth that I am in awe of. Because of my service and faith in the Lord, I am truly blessed with deep friendships. And I look at the lives of other people and think that I am not like them. In the news I see horrors I cannot fathom, and know that it’s because I’ve devoted my heart to the Lord that I do not experience the same things in my life.

It’s as though my life was laid out on a beautiful green rolling hills. I am a lamb, enjoying the pastures God has given me. Picture such a hillside, with the bright morning sun shining on the grass and the blue lakes. And as I imagine myself as a lamb, what color is the lamb?

But now imagine a crisp, clear day after a snowfall. The same lamb on the same hillside covered in snow? Now what color is the lamb?

Am I a righteous person? Is there no blame in me? Are you a righteous person? We understand intuitively that we are not righteous, that somehow we should be a better person. Yet, when there is disagreement among ourselves, we never find the fault in ourselves. We find fault in others. When we cling to our own righteousness, we don’t realize that we are in fact clinging to our own guilt. We just need a scapegoat, someone else to take the blame for why we aren’t righteous. We have no righteousness apart from God. When we cling to our own righteousness, we cling to the sin of pride. All of our guilt and pride and sin must be given to Christ, and we must realize that if we have any righteousness at all, it doesn’t come from us. It comes only from Christ.

My life is but filthy rags, and the best I can hope for is a dingy gray next to the perfect life and sacrifice of our Lord. Isaiah 50 makes this distinction very clear. There is a strong contrast between the Servant’s perfect obedience and Israel’s sin. The disobedient, the spiritually adulterous, are temporarily divorced from the Lord. Isaiah 50 makes it clear this is precisely our problem; it’s because of our sins that we cannot be in the presence of the Lord. The Lord asks rhetorically in verse 2, “was my arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to deliver you?” The Lord God will send His Servant to Israel and we will mistreat Him, but the Servant will be vindicated by the Lord.

Isaiah 51 provides encouragement to the faithful, and the Lord promises joy and salvation that would be known throughout the ends of the earth. And then Isaiah 52-53 foretells the Servant of the Lord who would suffer, be rejected by His own people and die for their sins. He would be buried with the rich and then raised to life, then be exalted according to the will of God. The Servant Jesus would provide forgiveness of sins for all who put their faith in Him.

And then in Isaiah 53 we see God’s gracious plan to offer His son, the Servant, as a willing sacrifice as a means for us to restore the relationship with Him that we had lost through our sins. Isaiah 53:1 begins with, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”

The question is clear. The message spoken through the prophets is clear. Yet the message reaches blind eyes and deaf ears. Most do not respond to God’s call, yet for those who do respond, unimaginable blessings await.

The Suffering Leads to Glory and Exaltation

Isaiah 53 is the pinnacle of the Old Testament; many scholars believe the beginning of the Chapter should start at Isaiah 52:13, so we’re going to start there. The New Testament quotes Isaiah 53 more than any other Old Testament chapter; there are at least 41 references. This is the fourth Servant Song, five stanzas of three verses each. I encourage you to go read the entire Servant Songs beginning in Isaiah 49, but we’ll focus today just on this last one beginning in Isaiah 52:13-15. First stanza –

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—

so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Verse 52:13 says the Servant will be exalted, and verses 14 and 15 say the exaltation will contrast the humiliation.

When Jesus was arrested and brought before Annas, he was spat upon, slapped and beaten on the head with fists. Brought before Pilate, Jesus was scourged with a instrument of torture with metal hooks that literally ripped the skin off the body. Prisoners often died just from the scourging. The graphic details are not found in the New Testament, though Psalm 22 tells of the horror the Son of God endured.

Many have asked why Jesus had to die for our sins. Jesus did not deserve this kind of death. But you and I do. When we study the details of the life of Jesus, we can find ourselves in the lives of the people around Him. In the judgmental Caiaphas, whose self-righteousness says he is above those he judges. Or the Roman soldiers who mocked Him and tortured Him. I once found myself in Peter, a self-proclaimed follower of Jesus who denied Him in order to fit in better with those around me. Only when I was in church did I claim publically to be a Christian. I was a coward for Christ.

Jesus knew this about me, and He knew it before I was knit together in my mother’s womb. Yet He loved me anyway, and willingly had the flesh stripped from His body as the punishment for my sins that I deserved.

We may read about the death of a person that arouses fear or sympathy or abhorrence. I once saw a video that was seared into my head forever during the early days of the Iraq war, where terrorists tortured an American until he confessed to something, anything, and during his confession, the terrorists slit his throat. But Christ’s death is more than just his scourging, his flesh ripped off, the nails pounded through his hands and then strung up on a tree. The gospel message is not that Christ died. The gospel message is that Christ died for our sins. You and I are just as guilty as Annas, Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, and Pilate.

Jesus laid down His life for me. Jesus laid down His life for you. He paid the price for our sin. He deserved life, yet we gave Him death. The wages of sin are death which we so very much deserve, yet He gave us life.

Verse 15 says kings will shut their mouths because of Him. Now we see why people are astonished when they understand the message of the gospel. The man we condemned to die has declared us condemned unless we turn from sin and trust Him. We condemn Him who is innocent, but it is we who are already condemned. And the one we tortured to death is our willing savior. We cannot rejoice in the good news until we first understand that we are condemned. Jesus did not suffer and die because He was guilty, but because we are guilty. It shuts our mouths.

The Suffering is Humiliating and Offensive

The second stanza, Isaiah 53:1-3 –

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others,
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.

Verse 53:1 says the people did not believe the message. Verses 2 and 3 day the Servant was humble and rejected.

This is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, a humble life, a rejected servant. Two primary themes in Isaiah are that the “arm of the Lord” is mighty to judge and also mighty to save. He is a God of perfect judgment and we stand condemned, yet He is also a God of perfect mercy. People regard the Servant as a nobody, a loser, despised and unwanted. He had no grand beginnings; he was born in a manger. In his adult ministry, they said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” They put a cheap price of thirty pieces of silver on Him. Yet people still reject Christ because Christ does not represent things that people value, things like wealth, social prestige, reputation, power, personal comfort. We reject what God values. Yet God regards the Servant as a tender plant that He will care for.

The Suffering is Punishment and Redemption

Stanza three, Isaiah 53:4-6 –

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.

Verse 4 says the Servant’s suffering is punishment, and verses 5 and 6 say the punishment was redemptive.

This is the heart of the entire gospel. The innocent Servant dies as a sacrifice for sin. Expiation is the removal of guilt through the payment of the penalty. The heart of Israel’s religious system is the innocent animal that dies in place of the guilty sinner. While the wages of sin are death, God permits the blood of the innocent to be shed as a sacrifice for the guilty.

God’s amazing wisdom provides a method of redemption for all eternity. While the blood of one innocent creature can pay for the sins of one guilty person, who can wash away the sins of the entire world? A mere man cannot provide such redemption. The sacrifice must be omnipotent; only God is omnipotent. The sacrifice must be God.

But how can a perfect and holy God identify with our sins? Jesus not only bore our sins, but also identified with the consequences of Adam’s sins. The emphasis on these verses is on plural pronouns. Our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our sins. We have gone astray; we have turned to our own way. Jesus died, not for what He had done, but for what we had done. Jesus identified with us because He was also man.

And so he was pierced for our transgressions. The Jewish form of execution was stoning, but Jesus was pierced. His hands and feet were pierced with nails, His side pierced by a spear. And he was crushed for our iniquities; the word “crushed” means to be broken, bruised, shattered by a burden. Psalm 38:4 says that sin is burden that grows heavier the longer we resist. The burden of sin crushed our Lord and Savior.

Sin is serious. Isaiah calls it “transgression,” which means rebellion against God. We dare to cross the line that God draws. Isaiah also calls it “iniquity,” which refers to our crooked nature. In other words, we are sinners by nature, but also sinners by choice. By nature, we are born children of wrath, and by choice, we are children of disobedience. And Christ, though He kept the Law perfectly, took our punishment so that we may have peace with God. We are no longer condemned. How great is the grace of God to give us forgiveness instead of the condemnation we deserve!

The Suffering is Accepted

Stanza Four, Isaiah 53:7-9 –

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Verse 7 says the suffering Servant is silent. Verse 8 and 9 say the suffering Servant was innocent.

A servant is not permitted to talk back. A servant submits to the will of the master. When Christ was accused by Caiaphas, He was silent. He was silent before the chief priests and elders, before Pilate, before Herod Antipas. And when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him, He did not speak. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading this passage when the apostle Philip walked up to his chariot. The silence of the suffering Servant impressed the eunuch to want to know more about this Servant, and he was led to Christ by Philip.

Christ was silent in His suffering; Christ was silent in His trial and condemnation. But Christ was innocent of the charges. Everything about His trial was illegal. Yet Christ was silent, for to speak would proclaim His innocence. Christ did not come to be freed, but to free us.

And so Christ was killed for us. As a criminal, His body would have been left unburied, but God had other plans. His body was placed in the grave of the wealthy man Joseph so that all may witness the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Suffering Satisfies and is Effective

Stanza Five, Isaiah 53:10-12

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Verse 10 says the suffering was God’s will. Verse 10b and 11 says the suffering was for our justification. Verse 11 and 12 say the suffering will lead to His exaltation.

In this stanza, the prophet Isaiah explains the Cross from God’s point of view. Even though wicked men crucified Jesus, the death of Jesus for foreseen and determined by God. The death of Jesus was not an accident, nor did the death of Jesus make Him a martyr. Jesus was a willing sacrifice for the sins of the world.

And in triumph over evil, He did not remain dead. There is nothing that the wicked can accomplish that God cannot overcome. Jesus triumphed in His resurrection, He triumphed over every enemy, and He claims the spoils of victory. He was obedient unto death, and God highly exalted Him.

This obedience of the Servant satisfied the heart of the Father. God did not enjoyment in death, let alone the death of His son. But the obedience of the Son provided the redemption that God wanted for His people, redemption that God had planned from the beginning. The death of the Servant also satisfied the Law. God hates sin. It offends Him. It violates His Holy Law. In His holiness, God will judge sin, and the punishment is death. He cannot ignore sin, He cannot diminish it, He cannot compromise with it. His holiness is perfect. Yet His love, too, is perfect, and he desires to forgive us for our sins.

So how did God solve the problem of perfect judgment and perfect love? God is the judge and God is the prosecutor. In His amazing love, God also takes the place of the criminal. The Law is satisfied, and God can graciously forgive all who receive His Servant.

What did I do to deserve this love? What did you do? The answer is nothing. There is nothing we can do; we deserve the wages of our sin. Grace poured out for the sinners who will accept it. God will no longer keep a record of our sins. We are justified; we are sinners declared righteous before God. Romans 4:5 says that God has justified the ungodly.

He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our sins. The punishment that brought us peace was now upon Him. By His wounds we are healed. In five days, Good Friday is upon us. Reflect this week that if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of our savior, it should be us on the cross, paying the price for our sins. Christ died for you and for me, though we do not deserve this mercy.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

May we all truly appreciate what God has done for us this Easter.

Amen

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Christian Carnival CCLIV

I could call this the “Day After Trying to Recover From What Might Have Been a Minor Flu Edition,” but I won’t. Christmas Season and Flu Season accompany each other every year, like Hansel and Gretel, or Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. I had just enough aches and pains to baby myself to prevent a flu… heck, enough of the excuses. Instead of posting the Christian Carnival last night, I took some Nyquil and went to bed at 8pm.

Feeling good today, and ready to roll. And whoa, there are a lot of submissions this week. Here’s the 254th Christian Carnival in reverse submittal order-

Vickie Sloderbeck presents How to Be a Sidetracked Mom posted at Sidetracked Moms. Apparently this takes instruction.
🙂

Jeremy Pierce presents Bob Jones and Race posted at Parableman. A reflection on some Christians’ resistance to Bob Jones University’s repentance on the race issue.

Jody Neufeld presents Wanted: an Available Tool in the Hand of God posted at Jody’s Devotionals. Have you considered the story of the widow who gave her all and what that might mean in your life?

Henry Neufeld presents Stories in a Chronological Context posted at Participatory Bible Study Blog. Sometimes we behave as though the Bible consists of nothing but God’s interventions. Perhaps we ought to consider the time that passes between our favorite stories as well.

A Sower presents Solomon- God’s Greatest Disappointment? posted at A Sower’s Heart. What can we learn from Solomon’s life?

Minister Mamie L. Pack presents Open Confessions posted at The Life I Now Live. A beautiful study of a transparent life.

Tiffany Partin presents Five Bucks and a Piece of Tin Foil posted at Fathom Deep: Sounding the Depths of God. A simple gift, 2 opposite reactions. This is the season to offer help to those who really need it.

A. Lee presents Edvard Munch : the Man behind the Scream ~ Biography posted at e Art Fair .com. What does Munch have to do with Christianity, you might ask. Everything, I’d like to answer. Munch comes from a strictly religious upbringing and this influence has permeated his art.

In a post entitled God’s arrival in Jerusalem, Weekend Fisher traces an Old Testament prophecy of God’s arrival in Jerusalem back to when God’s arrival was first announced: “Prepare the way of the LORD”. These are among the words which Mark uses to open his gospel. WF considers the possibility that Mark considered Jesus to be the LORD spoken of in the prophecy. Read the article at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.

Vickie Sloderbeck presents Some Thoughts on Why I Homeschool My Children posted at Sidetracked Moms. Good thoughts on the benefits of homeschooling. Yeah, I know it’s a second entry from this blog, but if I can post the carnival a day late, then Vickie can have 2 posts.
🙂

Drew Tatusko presents the great emergence from abundance posted at Notes From Off Center. God’s grace is a gift that extends beyond any contingencies in which the cause and effect of life finds all people. This includes death itself. Because God’s grace is not contingent on what happens in the world in which we live, God must deserve thanks at every point in time and history. A more fitting alternative is to say either that God simply must not exist, or at least the God who gives the gift of grace to all, for all, and forever must not be real.

Allen Scott presents Living in the Land of Denial posted at Journey Across the Sky. Many people live their lives in a state of denial. An altered state of reality you could say. A place where, in their opinion, everything is as it should be, but those around them hold to a different viewpoint.

Mike Weaver presents Will I Ever Finish? posted at COURAGE FOR TODAY. Lessons I have learned in my Christian walk with the Lord, this time about procrastination.

Mike Weaver presents Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue posted at COURAGE FOR TODAY. Lessons I have learned from my Christian walk with the Lord, this time about my grandmother’s Christmas tree.

Richard H. Anderson presents Date of the Crucifixion according to Luke posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

Raffi Shahinian presents 7 Christian Clichés…Re-appropriated posted at parables of a prodigal world. Bite-sized morsels of Christianity.

Gil presents Matachines posted at gilocafe. Soldiers of the Virgin dance in her honor.

Jennifer in OR presents Christmas Music: Annie Moses Band! posted at Diary of 1. Contemporary and Classical mix of Christmas music.

ChristianPF presents What the Bible says about this economic downturn posted at Christian Personal Finance Blog. A look at what the Bible says about the economy and what we should be doing now.

ChrisB presents A Concordance as a Devotional posted at Homeward Bound. Even the “begats” can teach us something important with just a little work.

MBB presents Christmas Shopping Credit Tips posted at Money Blue Book Blog.

Stephen Miracle presents Christmas Charity: Giving This Holiday Season posted at Inspirational Articles @ AltNoise.net. It might be harder to give this Christmas season, but it gives us the perfect opportunity to help those in need. It will no longer be automated action, but something actually coming from your heart.

FMF presents Free Money Finance: The Fuel to Feed the Fire posted at Free Money Finance. You can turn your financial life around if God is with you.

Rodney Olsen presents The Bishop of Harare posted at RodneyOlsen.net. Christians in Zimbabwe are suffering persecution. What would the church be doing to stand beside our brothers and sisters?

Henry T (Hank) Imler presents Objections to Calvinism Part 8 of 5 posted at Think Wink.. Does the New Testament discuss Limited Atonement?

Henry M Imler presents Seeking One’s Own Glory posted at Theology for the Masses. God’s glory, which is God’s own being, is God’s love.

Tom Fuerst presents Culture, Theology and Gender posted at Theology for the Masses. The traditional role of women in the home and church versus secular feminism.

Johnny and Kate Brooks presents Hey! You’ve got my nose! posted at Pure Christianity. Way back, we all came from the same family.

The 253rd edition from last week, the Advent (Conspiracy) Edition CCLIII, can be found at “Parables of a Prodigal World.”
http://www.parablesofaprodigalworld.com/2008/12/christian-carnival-ccliii-advent.html
You know you’re itching to submit an article. You can do so with the Christian Carnival Submission form http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_1551.html

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