Willing

             I.      Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives.  I’ve lost my job; what should I do now?  I have a medical issue; how should I treat it?  Is this person right for me?  Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often.  Yearly, monthly, daily.  Some of the decisions we face are very mundane.  Should I wear this tie today?  Some are more serious.  Should I go to church and bible study today?  And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices.  Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses.  I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations.  And then the day finally came for me to have the operation.  It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup.  Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin.  So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate.  I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table.  I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work.  And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close.  And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered.  And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody.  I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety.  What was I thinking?  What if something went wrong?  Would this hurt?  What if I was blinded?  Can I change my mind?  Can I get a refund?  You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all.  I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision.  Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death.  How did Jesus get through this decision?  That’s what we’re going to study today in Luke 22.

          II.      Luke 22, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history.  Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy.  But the end of the chapter of Luke is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself.  Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Luke 22 has a series of disappointments for Jesus.  His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down.  Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1-2,

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching.  And the chief priests and the scribes were trying to find a way to put Him to death, since they were afraid of the people.

These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time.  They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him.  There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy.  Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose?  I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there?  Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like?  So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verses 3-6,

And Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot, who belonged to the number of the twelve.  And he left and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he was to betray Him to them.  And they were delighted, and agreed to give him money.  And so he consented, and began looking for a good opportunity to betray Him to them away from the crowd.

The disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal.  And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer.  A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus.  And Judas, hand-picked by the Lord Himself, leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in next week’s lesson, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin.  And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples, Peter, who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that.  And Luke 22 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen.  How do you think Jesus felt?  Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared.  Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man.  He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision.  What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

       III.      The Prayer of Jesus

Luke 22:39-41 –

And He came out and went, as was His habit, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him.  Now when He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you do not come into temptation.”  And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night? 

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision? 

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.  Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place.  Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John  – with Him for support. 

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.”  His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side.  It had all come down to this.  Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him.  Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me.  The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully.  Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience. 

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer.  Our prayers are shallow.  Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.”  And I suspect most of the time we don’t.  We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray.  What are some of the reasons we don’t pray?  (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:41b-46 –

He began to pray, saying, “Abba, Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.  When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you do not come into temptation.”

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God.  Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing.  He fell to the ground.  He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request.  And His first word is…. Abba.  This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s.  Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word.  Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to.  He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship.  “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament.  The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6,

And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to?  A concept?  A belief?  The Force, like in Star Wars?  Some vague deity somewhere in the sky?  God wants more from you.  He wants you to know Him as He knows you already.  He wants an intimate, personal relationship.  That sounds great.  How do I do that? 

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father.  He only becomes our Father when we become his children.  How do we become a child of God?  John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do?  Philippians 2:15, 

“You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” 

This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10,

“So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God.  Everything is possible for you.  What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers?  We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible.  The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers.  I prayed and God didn’t answer. 

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect.  In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect.  God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why.  Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer.  Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands.  Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something. 

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable.  But God doesn’t force His will on anybody.  But it’s not because God is not able.   The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself.  I struggle with this, I don’t know why.  I feel guilty, praying for myself.  I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself.  But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy?  And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for? 

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer.  How much of that prayer is for us?  Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation.  It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us.   Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves.  But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right.  The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest.  “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  How do you know the will of God?  To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible.  It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example.  Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God.  I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God.  I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something.  Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on.  I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will.  Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father. 

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur.  But He added a “yet.”  Yet not my will, but your will.  Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us. 

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

    IV.      Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer.    Pray.  Focus on God’s will.  Choose God’s will.  Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision.  Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Lord, your Creator, and the source of all hope.

The Lord is My Shepherd

             I.      Introduction – Why do We Pray?

First of all, I want to apologize for my absence recently.  It’s been a difficult month for me.  My stepfather was a warm, loving father who taught me much about the meaning of family and forgiveness, and he was also the first close family member to me that passed.Slide2

I learned much about prayer this month.  At the funeral, they handed out this card, and more than one Christian brother remarked to me that the verse on the card and the verse assigned to me to study this week are the same.  There are a total of 31,102 verses in the bible, yet God singled out 6 of them for me.

One of the questions I asked myself is, “Why do we pray?”  We’ve given admonishment before that God is not some sort of magic genie and we are granted 3 wishes, yet in the midst of our trials, we go to God and start asking for our 3 wishes.

Let’s look for a moment at Matthew 6.  In the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us much instruction on prayer, but this verse in particular, verse 8, Jesus says this about prayer –

For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

And in Romans 8:26,

In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.

In my case, sometimes I imagine the groaning of the Holy Spirit comes with an eyeroll of the Holy Spirit.  Groan, Michael never gets this prayer right, I’ll have to fix it for him.  Again.

So God, being perfect, knows what we need before we ask, and if we get it wrong, intercedes for us and prays for the correct thing.

So why do we pray?  When we pray for God to do something for us, knows in advance and corrects our prayers, so why do we pray?  Do we think our prayers are somehow going to change God, when it is God who is perfect and we are fallible?

When we pray and ask God to change, then we miss the most powerful aspect of prayer.  Pray doesn’t change God.  It changes us.  It brings us in line with God’s will, His plan, His desire.  Our goal in prayer should not be to put together some sort of compelling argument so that God will answer our prayer.  Our goal should be for God to bring us in line with His will so that our prayer and God’s will align.  When we are in line with God’s will and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are seen as righteous before God.  And James 5:16 says the prayers of a righteous person is very powerful.  Not because we are powerful or even righteous, but because He is powerful.

          II.      Prayer through difficult times

When we are seeking the very face of God through our prayers, God is pleased with us.  In the Old Testament, the incense burned on the altar represented the prayers of the people, God tells us the prayers are a pleasing aroma.  David wrote a Psalm, essentially a prayer about prayers, where he wrote in Psalm 141:2 –

Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Slide4It’s important that we pray; if we look at the rest of James 5:13-18, James gives a lot of insight into the purpose of our prayers.

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.  Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land.  Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.

We’re not telling God anything that He doesn’t know.  But God wants us to acknowledge Him in all our ways, through good times and bad, through times of plenty and times of famine.

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer was given as a “model” prayer.  It was never intended to be mere words, quoted over and over; the same chapter two verses earlier, Jesus cautioned us not to let prayer become “meaningless repetition.”  Instead, God wants is to open our heart, go into our closet and have a private conversation.  Just God and me.  What do we ask for if God already knows?  The New Testament has many verses that tell us what God wants us to pray for.

  • Pray at all times —Ephesians 6:18
  • Pray for opportunities to witness —Ephesians 6:19
  • Pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding —Colossians 1:9
  • Pray without ceasing —1 Thessalonians 5:17
  • Pray for knowledge —Philemon 6
  • Pray for good conduct —Hebrews 13:18
  • Pray for wisdom —James 1:15
  • Pray for those who are sick/suffering —James 5:13-14
  • Pray for one another —James 5:16; 1 John 5:16
  • Pray for those who persecute you —Romans 12:14
  • Pray for good health —3 John 2
  • Pray without doubting —James 1:6
  • Pray with the right motives —James 4:3
  • Pray knowing God is listening —1 John 5:15-16

So we should be honest.  We should pray what is on our hearts.  And above all, we pray that it is not our will, but Thy will be done.

       III.      Pray in Life

Because if we’re honest, we don’t always like it when we don’t get our way.  This list above are all good reasons for us to pray, and answers to those prayers seem to be within God’s will, but then sometimes God is silent.  Or God says no.

Sometimes God says no when we pray about our finances.  Sometimes God says no when we pray about our health.  And some of the toughest prayers are when we pray about life itself.

In Genesis 5, the descendants of Adam are listed.  At the age of 130, Adam had a son Seth, and Adam then lived till the age of 930.  Seth had a son Enosh when he was 105, and then lived to 912.   Enosh lived to 905, his son Kenan was just a young child at the age of 70 when he fathered Mahalel.  And so on until Noah; Noah was 500 years old when he fathered Shem, Ham, and Hapheth.

Slide7So why don’t we live until the ripe old age of 900 years?  Why do we die?

The length of our lives have been impacted by our sin nature.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve at the fruit from the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And knowledge of Evil taints us; what we have seen cannot be unseen.  Part of the fall of man included this judgement from God in Genesis 3:22 –

The Lord God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”

And Noah, at 500 years old, lived in such an evil, wicked world, that God brought forth a flood to kill all the evil.  After Noah, the Lord said in Genesis 6:3,

And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.”

It seems to me that God has a purpose for death.  We have a deadline sometime in our life to accept the sacrifice of His son.  We don’t know when that deadline is, but it is surely less than 120 years.  And this limit is because of our own sin nature.  We are limited in days because of God’s mercy and protection from this fallen world.

So when my stepfather was moved to hospice last month, there were many days God interceded in prayer.  Maybe I overthinked it.  Overthunked it?  Do I pray for my stepfather to continue living so we can enjoy his company for a while longer?  Do I pray for his release from pain?  We loved him so much none of us wanted to see him suffer, yet we loved him so much we didn’t want to see him go.  And it was at this point, this fork in the road between two conflicting prayers of life and death I found myself, marked with tears of grief either way.  And I know that God answers some prayers the way we hope about health and life and death, but eventually death comes to us all, and we are marked for eternity by the choices we make.

I’m thankful the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans.  And eyerolls.  I know that God provides peace that surpasses all understanding, but I couldn’t figure out how to get from grief to peace.  I needed God’s guidance, I needed God’s comfort, and I realized the fork in the road wasn’t between life and death.  When I prayed for God’s will to be done, I realized the third option was not life, not death, but life everlasting.  There is peace knowing that Jesus Christ rescues us from death and gives us eternal life, and that I know I will see my stepfather again in heaven, where there is no pain and there are no tears to wipe away.

          IV.      Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd

This life offers many challenges, and when we are younger, I think we believe we can win them all.  But age and experience teaches us that we cannot win over all our enemies, we cannot live without the impact of illness, we do not always feel blessed by abundance and opportunity, and grief and sadness will come to all of us.

Kind David had a full life.  We’re familiar with his childhood, full of braggadocio and power.  His faith was so pure that God enable David to bring down the giant Goliath with just a stone.

Slide10But his life had challenges, especially as he got older.  Despite David’s loyalty to King Saul, Saul kept trying to kill him.  David lived in caves for a while because David wouldn’t harm Saul, yet Saul would try to kill him.  Later, once David was king, his whole family had serious issues that dwarf what you or I face.  David’s oldest son Ammon raped his half-sister Tamar.  Tamar’s brother Absalom was David’s favorite, but Absalom was outraged that King David did nothing, so Absalom ordered the king’s servants to murder Amnon.  Absalom lived in exile and eventually organized a rebellion against his own father, King David.  In 2 Samuel 18:33, David cried out in heartbreak and grief, “O my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”

We’re not sure when David wrote Psalm 23, but no doubt David had already experienced grief and heartache few can bear.  It’s only 6 verses, but they’re powerful verses.

Psalm 23,

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Slide11.JPGSuch a beautiful prayer.  It speaks not just of our life now but our confidence in a life everlasting with our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting to me that this Psalm is part of a Messianic trilogy.

Psalm Verse Time / Image Theme
Psalm 22 / The Good Shepherd My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Saviours Cross Past His past death for His people
Psalm 23 / Great Shepherd Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Hebrews 13:20-21 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him… The Shepherds Crook Present His present care and provision for His people
Psalm 24 / Chief Shepherd Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. 1 Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. The Kings crown Future His future return for His people as the King of Glory!

Past, present and future.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 in a little more depth.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

The Lord.  Every word in the bible is important.  Jesus is Lord.  We sing songs about Jesus being our friend and our savior, and those are true, but he is also Lord.  The Lord’s name is Yahweh, sovereign, almighty, delivering Lord God.  When we seek comfort, begin by acknowledging that He alone is Lord of all.

Is.  Jesus is my shepherd right now.  Yes, he was there in the past, and yes, He will be there in the future, but Jesus is the great I AM.  He is here now within our midst.

My.  Jesus is personal.  He’s not a figurine hung on a cross in the front of a church.  He is not an abstract idea of goodness, He is not simply a long dead teacher or morals.  He is Mine, and I am His.

Shepherd.  Jesus is our shepherd, and we are His sheep.  What’s interesting about sheep is they are 4D.

  • Dumb
  • Dirty
  • Defenseless
  • Dependent

They are dumb; if there was a school for farm animals, sheep would be dropouts.  If there is a wire fence, they will get their necks caught in it, not just today, but tomorrow, too.  Their wool smells like you’d imagine a wool coat would smell if you left it in the rain, they have no ability to defend themselves, they have terrible eyesight, they are fearful skittish creatures that are prone to wander and get lost.  No wonder we need a shepherd who will provide for us, protect us, guide us, and wash us clean as snow.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Don’t get confused; David isn’t saying, “I don’t want a shepherd.”  The word “want” here means “needs.”  If the Lord is my Shepherd, then there is nothing else I need.  The Lord Jesus is all sufficient, and I place my trust in Him.  There may be trials of all sorts ahead for us, but the Lord uses everything for good, and I will trust in the Lord to provide everything I need for the day he has given me.  Everything will be ok.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

When our bodies are tired, we put them to bed.  A nice comfy bed and a soft fluffy pillow, and we rest.  The Lord does this for our soul, if we only let him.  If we follow the Lord, our soul can be still and know that He is God.  When we rest in Him and leave our troubles with Him, He restores our soul.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.  He teaches me to be righteous so that I may bring Him glory.  I cannot do this on my own, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  If I am following my Lord’s direction and letting Him guide my path, then the Lord receives the glory due to Him.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

This world is not the valley of life.  This world is the valley of the shadow of death.  Death comes to us all, no more than 120 years and for most of us a lot less.  My hope alone is in Him so that one day I may walk in new life.

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me.

David has changed pronouns; in the first three verses, David talks to God in the third person and refers to him as “he.”

But when you are surrounded by evil, God is not a distant third party.  We can talk to Him directly.  David talks directly to God, saying, I have nothing to fear for my hope is in you.  You surround me, you comfort me, you love me.  And if you are for me, then who can be against me?

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The Hebrew word here translated “rod” can also be translated as rod, scepter, and weapon.  It is not a “walking stick.”  A shepherd’s rod is about two and a half feet long with heavy pieces of iron embedded on the end, like a mace.  The rod is the shepherd’s primary offensive weapon for protecting the flock from enemies, whether the threats are wild animals or human thieves.  When used as a weapon, it is intimidating and deadly.

Slide14The rod and staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4 represents God’s defense and His divine guidance.  His rod is used to drive off our enemy, Satan and his minions.  God’s staff is used as guidance to us, to lift us back on the pathway after we fall.  The Lord protects me from my enemies, and rescues me from my own mistakes.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

God provides everything I need, despite the efforts of Satan to undo me.  In fact, God provides an abundance for me so that my cup runneth over and I can provide blessings to others.  Even though he is my Lord and my Savior, God treats me as an adopted son and an honored guest.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;

If you trust in the Lord, then no matter how far you stray, the Lord follows you with goodness and mercy.  The Hebrew word used for “follow” is the same word used when Pharaoh “followed” Israel across the Red Sea.  It doesn’t mean goodness and mercy follows from a distance.  God is actively pursuing us daily.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

            V.      Conclusion

God knows our lives.  He knows us before we are born, He knows us through our final destination.  He actively pursued us and rescues us.  And while goodness and mercy may actively follow me, one day I am going to slow down enough so that he catches me, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Forever is a very long time.  It’s far longer than the 120 years allotted to us.  Our prayers bring us in line with the spirit of the Living God who comforts us and provides for all our needs; he is our shepherd, and there is nothing we shall want.  I know that my stepfather dwells in the house of the Lord, and one day, I too, will dwell there, for Jesus promises there are many rooms in His mansion, and one day he will come back for me.  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

I’ll leave you with these two verses from our hope and future in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 7:17,

for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 21:4,

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

The Lord is my Shepherd.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Waiting on the Promises of God

  I.      Introduction

Open your bible to Genesis 15, and the first two words are, “After this.”  After what?  Ok, open your bible to Genesis 14.

II.      A Promise Given, Genesis 15:1-3

Let me summarize what’s happened with Abram recently.  In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew Lot had settled down with his family near Sodom and Gomorrah, hardly the best decision Lot had ever made.  An intense geopolitical power struggle was going on, and I count no less than 9 kings and kingdoms that were at war.  Four of the kings conquered and pillaged Sodom, and Lot was captured and hauled off as a slave.

Slide3

Abram had a mighty army of… 318 people.  More than enough, with the Lord’s power.  Abram routed the four kings, recaptured all the possessions and people, including Lot.  And he gave all the remaining captives and possessions back to the King of Sodom, saying (in Genesis 14:22-23),

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’

Abram made it clear that if and when Abram received all the things that God had promised to Him, that God alone would get the glory.

Ok, let’s go back to Genesis 15:1 –

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.

Now God says to Abram, you have chosen wisely.  You have chosen a way that pleases me.  The Lord your God will be your very great reward.  And do not be afraid that the kings will return to attack, for I will also be your shield.

Trusting in the Lord can be hard.  We have our sense of self, our entitlements, our wants and needs, and we’ve placed them on the throne of our hearts as idols to be worshipped.  We follow our idols instead of trusting in the Lord.  We leave our church and bible study on Sunday morning, and by Sunday night we’ve forgotten what it was that resounded in our heart earlier in the day.

The Lord makes His promises to us, but we find it easier to trust in ourselves.  Sometimes it’s terrifying, to place our trust in something besides ourselves.  Sometimes it seems stupid.  “You’re building a *what*, Noah?  Dude, it’s not even raining.”

The bible tells us that trusting in the Lord will seem foolish, but we are to do it anyway.  Proverbs 3:5 should be a memory verse for all Christians,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Paul reinforced this in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1:15,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world to shame the strong.

Now, after Abram’s battles with the four kings and then rescuing Lot, God comes to Abram and says, “Do not be afraid.”  Did you know that in the bible, every time God says, “Do not be afraid,” He then tells us why we should not be afraid?

This is the very first time in the bible, “Do not be afraid” is said.  I read somewhere that the bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times, one for every day of the year, a daily reminder from God to be fearless in our Christian faith every day.

Slide9

God tells Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, because I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”  God gives Abram two reasons not to fear. The first is that God Himself will be Abram’s shield.  God will protect Abram.  God protects you and me, too.  We may face calamities, loss of loved ones, but these are temporal things.  Jesus says in Matthew 10:28,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

There’s that “do not be afraid because” statement again.  God is our shield against the devil; in John 10:28, Jesus says he gives us eternal life and no one will snatch us out of His mighty hands.  God is our shield.  Psalm 3:3 we sing,

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,

my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

But the second reason not to fear, God tells Abram, is truly amazing.  Not only will God be Abram’s shield, God will also be Abram’s reward.  Not just any reward, but an exceedingly great reward.  There is no greater reward than God.  Gold and diamonds are insignificant compared to the God who created gold and diamonds.  Compared to God, all the plunder Abram just gave back to the King of Sodom is like dust.

But what does it mean to have God as a reward? How can God be a reward? We belong to Him; He does not belong to us.  How can God, the Creator of the universe, give Himself as a reward to humans, let alone a single person?

Abram may have been confused by this as well.  Maybe in his own mind, Abram is thinking, “God can’t mean that He will give Himself to me.  He must mean He will protect me and provide for me. That must be what God means.” But that is not what God means.  God means that God Himself is what Abram is seeking.  God Himself is what Abram wants.  God Himself is what Abram needs.  God Himself is the missing piece of Abram’s life.  God Himself is Abram’s exceedingly great reward.

What do we pray for?  We often pray for what we do not have but we think we need.  We pray for physical needs like food or money.  We pray for wisdom to make good decisions.  Sometimes, when we do not understand what God is doing, we pray for understanding.  We pray for encouragement when we feel the trials of life are overwhelming.  We pray for protection from those who are against us.  We pray for healing and life and health.  We pray for truth and a better understanding of God’s plan.  We pray for God to be able to use us.

  • Bread
  • Light
  • Knowledge
  • Care
  • Life
  • Truth
  • Fruitfulness

These are all good things to pray for.

Slide12

In Genesis 15:2, Abram had concerns, prayers, requests from God.  And God says, “I know.  I am going to give myself to you.  And in Me, all your needs will be met.”

Are our prayers met the same way?  I believe they are.  In the Gospel of John, we find seven “I am” statements.

  • “I am the Bread” (John 6:35)
  • “I am the Light” (John 8:12)
  • “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
  • “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1)

Slide13

Everything we ask, everything we imagine, everything we need or want is found in Jesus.  We all want something from the Lord, but God wants us to want Him.  We want some answer to prayer, but God wants to give us Himself.  It is in Him, that all these other things are found.  When Jesus Christ is our everything, we can go hungry, we can wander without direction, we can wonder how that bill will get paid, we can have health problems and family crises and still have a peace that passes all understanding because Christ is ours to hold.  Jesus says we will live the abundant life if we find all we need in Him.  Our minds are so earthly focused, it is hard to understand how just by loving Christ and enjoying His presence that we can have the contentment, joy, peace, and happiness that would never be ours otherwise – even were God to grant us all the things we prayed for.

It is so hard to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ alone. We want to focus on the things that come through Him and from Him, rather than focus on Him.  Jesus says, “I give everything I am to you,” and we reply, “yes, but what about my Christmas list?”  So I am in full understanding when, after God tells Abram that God Himself will be Abrams very great reward, Abram says in verse 2 –

But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me?”

Isn’t that we often pray?  “Oh Lord, thanks for everything, your promises, your comfort, your Holy Spirit.  But what will you give me?”  Abram wants a son.

III.      A Promise Believed, Genesis 15:4-6

Then in Genesis 15:4, God promises Abram that Abram will have a son of his own.  And not just a son, but more descendants than Abram can count.  God and Abram go outside and look at the stars and says that if Abram can count them all, that’s how many his decedents will be.  And Abram believed.

Let’s not overlook the importance of this statement.  Genesis 15:6 –

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Believe in the Lord, that He is who He says He is.  He is the great I am.  He has sent His son for the transgressions of our sins, and we are now washed clean in His sight.

How can we know God keeps His promise?  How do we know that when we die, that we have eternal salvation, freely available to all who believe?  Abram is a great testimony.  He believed God.  God credited it to him as righteousness.  Not because Abram was a great guy and has some nice sheep and goats, but because He believed.  And Abram, on this expression of His faith, was declared righteous.

Is this same credit is available to you and me, just by believing?  How can we believe?  By choosing to believe.  We believe by choosing to believe that God is who He says He is, that all creation belongs to him.  Romans 4 – the entire chapter – is devoted to this one sentence, that Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:18-25 –

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

In one of the great mysteries of this universe, at least to me, is that God keeps His promises to us.  And if we only believe that Christ died for our sins, then God will forgive our sins and credit our belief to us as righteousness.

It’s not about how fervently we pray, how many times we attend bible study, how often we do good things for those who can’t.  We do those things out of love, but it’s not our prayer or our service or our worship that gives us salvation.  It is our belief.  God wants us to believe in Him.

What did Abram believe?  Was it merely the promise of more grandchildren than he could count?  There’s more to it than that – in John 8:56, when Jesus was talking to Jews who were trying to kill Him, He says,

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.

If Romans 4 tells us that Abram was the father of all Gentiles, then Jesus says that it was Abram’s faith in the future Messiah that brought Abram joy.  Abram, as well as countess others throughout the Old Testament, are saved through their faith in the future Messiah yet to come.  Abram believed in the coming Messiah for eternal life, and that the Messiah that would come through Abram and his descendants. It is at this point, when Abram believed the Lord that the Lord credited him with righteousness.

When we believe God’s Word, that God gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Jesus for it, like Abram, we are declared righteousness by God. There is no other way to receive eternal life. Abram believed the promise, and so was justified. Of all the ways that God gives Himself to us, this is the greatest. God told Abram in verse 1, “I will be your great reward” and now Abram has received God’s righteousness as part of that reward. No matter what happens in life, if we have Jesus, if we have God as our reward, we have more than everything we need.

The promise has been given, the promise has been believed, and now we will see the promise guaranteed.

IV.      A Promise Guaranteed, Genesis 15:7-21

In Genesis 15:7 –

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

God has made this promise to Abram already in chapters 12 and 13, but perhaps Abram is wondering when God’s going to keep his promise.  Genesis 15:8 –

And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

Abram says, “Well, ok, God, I trust you that you’re going to give me a son.  But how can I know you’re also going to give me the land?”  Abram is already 85 years old at this point, and he and his 318 men in his army aren’t getting any younger.

God then makes a covenant with Abram, a complex scene that involves sacrificing animals and dividing them in half.  Some commentaries tell me that this symbolized a way back then to seal a deal.  The two people would sacrifice and split their animals in half, then walk in between the pieces.  The thought was that, if I break my side of the covenant, may I become like this sacrificed animal and be split in two.

Now in these more modern days, we are much more civilized.  We don’t divide animals in half.  Now it’s the lawyers who are animals trying to divide the people in half.  But I digress.

But this covenant with Abram isn’t fulfilled with both partners walking between the animal pieces.  No, a blazing torch appears and passes between the pieces alone, symbolizing that God alone will fulfill His promise to Abram.  Abram doesn’t need to do anything except believe in the Lord.  The Lord makes this promise to Abram in Genesis 15:13-16 –

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.  You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.  In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

This is a prophecy about the future.  God has delayed his promise in order to show Abram, and show the Israelites that it is not by their effort that His covenant will be fulfilled. It is by God’s faithfulness alone His promises are fulfilled.  God tells Abram that his descendants will go to a land that is not theirs and be slaves for 400 years.  When that time is up, the nation they serve will be judged.  Abram’s descendants will then come out of the land with great possessions.  Before all of this happens, Abram will die in peace.

Why is God telling Abram this?  Because the promise of the land will not be fulfilled in Abram’s time.  Abram may be getting impatient to get some of the land that God has offered to him, but God says that the promise of the land will only be fulfilled with Abram’s descendants, long after Abram is dead.  The reason for this is because the iniquity of the people dwelling there is not yet complete.

And when God walks through this covenant alone, God is saying that He alone will fulfill this covenant.  No matter how Abram sins or fails to live up to God’s standards, God reassures Abram that God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Just like our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is a one sided covenant.  God asked Abram to bring the animals, which Abram did.  But God walked through them alone.  God asks us to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life.  But God paid the penalty, bought our salvation, and guarantees it all by Himself.  God requires nothing from us except to believe in Him and have it credited to us as righteousness.  He does not demand anything of us.  Eternal salvation is a one-sided covenant which cannot be broken.

God does it all.  God does not meet us half way.  God doesn’t even meet us most of the way.  God does it all.  We do nothing.  In legalistic churches and groups, we talk about being committed to Christ, about the works we must do to secure our salvation, about have a Christian must say, believe, and do certain things.

But God’s covenant with us reveals something else entirely.  We aren’t the promise keepers.  God is.  He makes the promises to us, and He keeps them all by Himself.  We don’t give ourselves to God.  He has already given Himself fully and completely to us.  We don’t make covenants with Him.  He makes covenants with us, and there is only one name to sign on the bottom – His.

Jesus says in Matthew 11, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There is no labor, no hard work, no effort involved.  Paul writes similarly in Philippians 1 that He who began the good work will carry it on to completion. Philippians 2 says that it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. God does it all in us and through us.

Are you still trying to win your salvation?  Are you still trying to prove that you’re worthy enough to enter His kingdom?  It’s time to lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross.  Just trust in the Lord.  Trust in His unconditional promises to you. Don’t try to meet God half way.  Let Him do it all in you and through you for His good pleasure.

  V.      Conclusion

We talk about “accepting” Christ, but this a term not found in the bible.  What we “accept” is an understanding that God has called us and is calling us.  We realize that we are wretched and naked without God.  There is nothing we can do to clothe ourselves on our own, but we trust in the Lord, trust in the promise of Jesus that when we put on Christ, we are then clothed and beautiful.  Perhaps we do not feel our prayers being answered today, but God will fulfill each and every promise He makes.

And when we feel that when we have found Christ, our journey is not complete.  We find Christ so that we can seek Him more.  We accept Christ so we can accept Him more.  We acknowledge Him as our Lord so that He may command and lead us to pastures green, the land He promised unto Abram, and the salvation promised unto us.

Psalm 23:1-3,

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

To God be the glory.