People of Unbelief and Rebellion

I. Introduction

Today’s bible trivia question:  Why is our study book called the Book of Numbers? Slide3.JPG

The Book of Numbers is of great historical significance because the Lord ordered the first census of the Israelites.  Numbers chapters 1-10 have an awful lot of “begats” – that’s when most people, reading the bible in traditional sequence, get bogged down, or should I say begatted down – but the book of Numbers also gives us historical and genealogical record of the Israelites.

As the book of Numbers opens, the Israelites have been camped near Mount Sinai for more than a year.  Moses has brought all the laws and regulations recorded in the book of Leviticus, the tabernacle has been built, priests are busy doing priestly things.  The Israelites are well-equipped to be a new nation of God’s chosen people.  It is now time to move into Canaan and take the land.

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To prepare for Canaan, Moses and Aaron were told by God to take a census, number the men who were able to serve in the army, get the people organized by tribe.   This book is named for this census, or numbering of the people.  But the book of Numbers could just as well been named the Book of Grumpiness.  From the beginning of Numbers to the end, it tells the story of rebellion, unbelief, and grumblings.

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As the Israelite set out from the wilderness of Sinai on their journey to the Promised Land, silver trumpets were used to coordinate their stopping and going. God’s presence was always with them – a cloud of shade by day and a pillar of fire as their night light. They were literally guided one step at a time. Each time the cloud or pillar signaled a move, Moses prayed to God for guidance and victory, each time they were signaled to stop, he asked for God’s presence to rest with His people. No matter how many times they started or stopped, Moses would repeat these prayers. Let’s look at the end of Chapter 10:

Numbers 10:33-36, (Chronological Bible page 227, March 1)
So they departed from the mountain of the LORD on a journey of three days; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them for the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them.  And the cloud of the LORD was above them by day when they went out from the camp.  So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: Rise up, O LORD! Let your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.”  And when it rested, he said: “Return, O LORD, To the many thousands of Israel.”

Moses feared and worshipped the Lord above everything else and put Him first in the life of the people.  The people of Israel?  Not so much.

Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, man has struggled to live by faith in the goodness of God and by the Word of God.  Instead, we continue to live by sight, trapped in our fleshly existence, blind to spiritual truth and spiritual reality.  In the book of Numbers, Israel has the promises of God regarding their existence and their land, plus the very presence of God in their midst.  But still they walk in rebellion and unbelief.  Today’s lesson will focus on four scenes from Numbers 11-16 that illustrate the depravity of the human heart.

Why do we study the Old Testament?  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that specifically this Book of Numbers is a warning to believers.  In 1 Corinthians 10:6, 10-11 Paul says:

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted… nor complain and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now all these things happened to them as examples and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

We are to note what God’s people did in the past and how their decisions affected their relationship with Him, in order to move forward with our own faith in the present. So, in looking at our passages for today, we are going to look at what NOT to do as God’s chosen people.  I’m reminded of some sage advice my grandfather gave to me.  He’d say, “Son, if you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.”

II. #1 on the List of Things Not to Do: Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings

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Let’s look at Numbers 11:1-2 (Chronological Bible page 228, March 2) –

Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.  Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched.

Did your parents ever same something like, “quit whining or I’ll give you something to whine about.”  That is exactly what the Lord did.  Whatever they were complaining about was so insignificant that it wasn’t even recorded.  The Lord send a warning of fire, and the people cried out to Moses and Moses interceded on their behalf.

What did the Israelite do in response?  The continued to complain. Numbers 11:4-6:

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: Who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and then garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!

Whaaaah.  All we have is this stupid manna.  When we are discontented with our current situation, we have troubles remembering how blessed we are.  The Israelites “forgot” they were in bondage and slavery in Egypt and only remembered the “flesh pleasing” things.

Though manna was miraculously provided and was healthy nourishment, they tired of this provision from the Lord and lusted for other things.

Numbers 11:10-11,13-15, page 228:

Then Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families; everyone at the door of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was greatly aroused; Moses also was displeased.  So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you have laid the burden of these people on me? … Where am I to get meat to give all these people? For they weep all over me, saying “Give us meat that we may eat.” I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me.  If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now- if I have found favor in your sight- and do not let me see my wretchedness!

The people were complaining and Moses was complaining about their complaining! “Just kill me now,” he tells the Lord. “This job is too hard!”  And yet Moses is humble and realizes that he is no better than they are!

It takes faith to accept God’s guidance and Israel’s faith wasn’t very strong. Among other things, mixed in among them during their journey were unbelievers that God had warned them about.  The Israelites listed to these unbelievers who convinced the Israelites that maybe God wasn’t all good, maybe God was withholding something good from them.  The people stopped appreciating their blessings and instead focused on what they didn’t have.

Even God’s people too easily forget what God has done and we grumble and complain about what we don’t have.  Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:14-16:

Do some things…. No wait, do a few things… no, Paul says…

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Complaining is contagious. Discontentment is at the top of the slippery slope of sin. When we rebel against Him, God often gives us our own way, which can lead to our destruction.

Let’s continue in Numbers 11:31-33, page 229

Now a wind went out from the LORD, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground.  And the people stayed up all that day, all night, and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers), and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.  But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was aroused against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague.

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The Lord gave them what they wanted, and it killed them.  Moses called the place “the graves of lust.”  It served as a reminder to the danger of asking for “my will be done” over “Thy will be done.”  In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Lord warned Israel that the way they treated the daily manna would be a test of their obedience to His Word.  By rejecting the manna, by rejecting the blessings, Israel really rejected the Lord and it was this rebellious attitude that invited the judgment of God.

III. #2 on the List of Things Not to Do: Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You

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Everyone in Israel knew that Moses, Aaron, and  Moses’ sister Miriam were God’s chosen servants, but that Moses was designated by God as the leader. This had been evident from before they were brought out of Egypt.  God had used Miriam to save Moses’ life and to lead women in worship.  Aaron was the older brother chosen to help Moses with Pharaoh and to serve as the first High Priest.  But Moses was the one to whom God spoke to and spoke through as the leader of Israel.   But even among spiritual leaders, the sin of envy is ever present.  “Envy” says, “that’s not fair! Why not me?” and it can affect anyone at any time

Numbers 12: 1-10 (Chronological Bible page 229, March 2).

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.  So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.  (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)

Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So the three came out.  Then the LORD came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward.  Then He said,

“Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.

I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?”

So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed.  And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper.

Slide18.JPGDespite the Lord clearly talking to Moses, Miriam attempts to be the boss, and convinces Aaron to join her in this rebellion.  The Lord was angry and deals swiftly with her.  At this point Aaron begs Moses to intercede, and Moses cries out to the LORD, saying, “Please heal her, O God!”  So the LORD tells Moses to basically lock her outside the camp for a week and then the Lord will heal her.
God made it very clear that He was in control, God selects the leaders and the people were to respect their authority.  Rebelling against His appointed leaders is the same as rebelling against the Lord.

When you review the history of Israel and their journey from Egypt to Canaan, you see that every time they resisted the Lord’s selected authority, it caused them great trouble.  As the Lord sought to bring them through difficult situations and build their faith, they rebelled against His authority, blamed those He put in charge and made plans to return to Egypt.  No society can function without authority and submission.  God’s plan wasn’t just to free them from slavery but to establish Israel as a nation.

IV. #3 on the List of Things Not to Do: Doubt God’s Plan

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Israel had journeyed from Mount Sinai on their way to Canaan.  Just before they get to the Promised Land, Israel sent out spies to look over the land which they were to possess.

Numbers 13:1-3 (page 230, March 2):

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.  So Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the children of Israel.

Notice that the Lord’s promise: I am giving this land to the Israelites.  No conditions attached, it’s yours.  Moses selects twelve men to travel to Canaan to survey the land in Numbers 13:4-16, way too many names to read, but this is where we first meet Caleb.  Joshua we met earlier in Exodus 17 as one of Moses’s generals and Joshua also went up Mount Sinai with Moses in Exodus 24.

Moses sends the twelve spies to the land of Canaan on a reconnaissance mission.  You know, check out the schools, the cost of living, local museums, that sort of thing.  The spies are told to bring back evidence that this is indeed the land of milk and honey.  In Numbers 13:21-25,

So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin […]  When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs.  […]  At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

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Can you imagine a single cluster of grapes so large that two men have to carry it on a pole between them?  At the end of 40 days, the spies return to Moses and say in Numbers 13:26-29,

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.

But…. You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?

But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.

Caleb demonstrates his faith in God’s promises by saying in verse 30,

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

It’s ours.  What are we waiting for?

The other 10 spies begin to spread a false report out of fear.  The land isn’t good anyway and we can’t move in.  They’re asking for 1st and last month’s rent in advance.  The people doubt God’s plan out of fear.

Which brings us to a question.  Where is your faith?  Is it in God’s promises, or is it your own eyes?  Let’s same your name is John Ruiz, you’re a boxer from the USA, and your opponent on December 7, 2005 is Nikolai Valuev, nicknamed “the Beast from the East.”

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Nikolai is 7’ 2” and weighs 323 pounds.  You look at him like one of the giants from Canaan and you feel like you have zero chance.  You are like a grasshopper in his eyes, and worse, you look like a grasshopper in your own eyes, too.

John Ruiz wasn’t afraid to take the fight to Nikolai.  In that way, he was like Caleb.  I love what John Ruiz said the night before the fight, “I plan on taking the fight to him.  His head is the size of a Volkswagen.  I can’t miss.”

Twelve spies went into the Promised Land. Ten saw obstacles, and two saw opportunities.  It’s a matter of perspective, and it’s the difference between fear and faith. Ten spies looked up and saw giants, Joshua and Caleb looked up and saw God.  And what did the people do?

They freaked out.

In chapter 14 it says they wept all night, then complained against Moses and Aaron. They cried out, “We are going to die!  It would have been better if we had died in Egypt, or in the wilderness.”  And then they started planning to select a new leader and go back to Egypt.

Fortunately, God’s selected leaders stood up to speak in verse 5:

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land.  If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’  Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”

And what was the people’s response? Were they supportive?  Humbled?  Agreeable?  No, verse 10:

And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.

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After hearing the criticism, the doubts, the fears, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord and prayed for them.   Joshua and Caleb try to encourage the multitude and inspire their faith. “The Lord will do it,” they proclaim. “The Lord is with us!”  But no, fear and rebellion ran deep.

Then the Lord spoke, verse 11

… “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?  I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

Once again Moses prays,

And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying,  ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’  Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

Moses appeals to the Lord based on the Lord’s attributes, reputation, and character.  Moses fights his battles from his knees.
And so, the Lord determined that they would wander in the wilderness until all this faithless generation perished, those 20 years and older, except Caleb and Joshua. Only these two would be able to enter the Promised Land. Why? Because Joshua and Caleb followed the Lord with complete faith and trust.

This story tells the story of many of our lives. It was God’s plan that the children of Israel should go straight into the land He had promised them, the land of Canaan, but the people would not. We can put difficulties between ourselves and God like the people of Israel or put God in between ourselves and our difficulties like Joshua and Caleb. The Lord wanted them to enter the Promised Land, but their fear and unbelief kept them out. Their faith failed. They doubted God’s plan.

Is your fear keeping you from all that God has for you? Fear can paralyze even the bravest of hearts. Joshua and Caleb weren’t blind to the giants in their lives.  They just remembered God’s promise, and God was bigger than any giant.

V. Conclusion

God demonstrated His goodness, grace, and mercy by choosing Abraham and His descendants as His own special people, rescuing them from Egypt and leading them to the Promise Land. And yet, Israel’s response to God’s favor reflects the proud, stubborn, rebellious heart of all humanity.  People haven’t changed in thousands of years.  We continually question whether God is good and whether God keeps his promises.

In our lesson today, we have learned that indeed, if one cannot be a good example than one can be a horrible warning.  To stay on the path of the righteous, to walk in the way of the Lord, avoid these horrible warnings:

• Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings
• Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You
• Doubt God’s Plan

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Or if you want to walk in the way of the Lord, do the opposite –

• Give Thanks and Praise
• Submit to God’s Love
• Trust in the Lord’s Promises

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To God be the Glory.  Amen.

Freedom

  I.      Introduction

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation was in bondage.  Made up of 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonies were governed by rules from far across the sea.  Twelve years prior to that, the British and the French were in a great race to colonize the Americas, leading to a great amount of tension.  In 1754, the British, under the command of 22-year old George Washington, ambushed a French patrol and set off a war against the French.  There were about 2 million British colonists and only 60,000 French colonists, so the French enlisted the help of the native American Indians.  This French and Indian War lasted 9 years before the British finally defeated the French, and the French ceded control of all of land east of the Mississippi River to the British. Slide2

This was an expensive war, and the British felt the American colonies should pay the brunt of the expenses.  The British levied higher taxes against the 13 colonies to pay off the war debt, and also imposed other rules that were very inconvenient, such as if the British felt the need to guard your town, you were required to house British troops in your home at your own expense.

The colonies had no say in these taxes.  But of particular irritation was the monopoly given to the East Indian Tea Company.  No tea could be imported to the colonies directly; instead, The British imported tea to Britain, marked it up 25% to pay for war debts, then sold it to the Americas.  In 1773, the Sons of Liberty raided a shipment of tea and threw it all into the Boston Harbor with the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation.”Slide3

Three years later, in 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

II.      Independence

Slide4What does it mean to be independent?  The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others.”  When the young American Colonies rebelled against the British, they wanted representation, they wanted a say in their own fate.  They wanted to govern themselves.  Others were not going to dictate their day-to-day lives; the colonists were going to choose their own way.

From a historical perspective of developing countries, this was unique.  It had never been tried.  No country had ever attempted self-governing rules.  No country had ever tried a system where the governed were also the governors.

But in the history of mankind, this attitude is hardly unique.  The ultimate authority is the God who created us, and we (the creation) have always wanted to govern ourselves.

It seems like every time I teach a lesson, I go back to Genesis 1:1 again.  But today, in a fantastic improvement over that record, we’re only going back to Genesis 2.  Verses 16 & 17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

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And man joyfully obeyed and enjoyed a sinless and holy relationship with God the Father.  And that lasted maybe a day.  After that, we decided we wanted to govern ourselves, and we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

III.      Bondage

When we ate, we rebelled.  We looked to our rebellion and said, “See?  We are free to do what we want.  We don’t allow anyone – including God – to tell us what to do.”  We believed that this rebellion was the same as independence which was also the same as freedom.

But these three words are not the same.  Yes, we rebelled and declared our independence from God.  But were we then free?  What did we gain by rebelling from God?

In our rebellion, we decide to go our own way.  In our rebellion, we decided on our own not to follow God’s plan.  Since God is holy, and God’s plan is holy, our rebellion is… unholy.  It is a sin.  Our sin separates us from God.  In the Old Testament, Isaiah laments this rebellion in Isaiah 63:10 –

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

Slide6In other words, our sin nature, passed along from the first rebellion of Adam all the way to us, vexes the Holy Spirit and makes us enemies of God.  In our study of Samuel this summer, Chris taught us about the rejection of God in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 when the people of Israel – people supposedly free since they had rejected God – demanded somebody to rule over them.  It seems they recognized they needed somebody to lead and guide them, but they just didn’t want that somebody to be God –

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Slide7Next week, we will study 1 Samuel 15, and our rebellion is described like this in verse 23 –

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Slide8Our rebellion against the Lord doesn’t lead to freedom.  Our rebellion makes us enemies of the Lord.  We align ourselves with forces that oppose God.  As enemies of the Lord, we become family with a relative we don’t really want, but we share a common goal with him.  John 8:44, Jesus tells us who we are when we are in a state of rebellion –

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

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Yuck.  I don’t like this family.  So my rebellion against the Lord didn’t lead to freedom, it led to sin.  To oppose God’s plan, I have to align myself with the devil, and I am in bondage to this sin because I am rebellion.  I cannot escape sin because I am in rebellion which is sin.  Instead of freedom, I am in bondage.  I am in bondage to sin.  In John 8:34,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And Romans 7:14-15, Paul recognizes this bondage –

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We all sin.  We are in bondage to that sin.  We’re going to look at 2 verses that describe just how awful the rebellious bondage to sin looks to our Lord.  First, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-7 –

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

In that description, I see my own bondage to sin, and I see that our great United States of America has rushed from independence into bondage to sin.  From “loving ourselves” on social media like Instagram and Twitter, to “loving money” and our fascination with pop culture and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Allowing men to use women’s restrooms if they “identify” as a woman and then brutally verbally bashing those who are trying to promote a chaste and safe public restroom experience.  Over a half-million abortions in 2016 alone because having a baby is inconvenient.  In my lifetime I’ve seen this nation go from prayer in schools to prosecuting people who pray in schools.  Our national fascination with sex.  Did you know there’s actually a reality show on television called “Love Island” that puts 6 men and 6 women in a house strewn with over 1000 condoms and they compete to see who is the sexiest couple?  And that in order to move up in the rankings, they keep changing partners until they’re considered the winners?  The winners have sex with each other during the show, sometimes being watched by other contestants?  Our nation is in bondage to sin, and we celebrate it and put it on the television for everybody to see.

Romans 6:16 also points out that ultimately we only have 2 choices –

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

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Our rebellious sin nature is a trap.  We are stuck in our sin nature and we cannot free ourselves.  Romans 1:24 says that God eventually gives us over to the sinful desires of the heart.  There is no middle ground.  There is no “mostly obedient” state.  Giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the Star of Hope or tithing to the church cannot save us if there is one little speckle of disobedience in us.  And this verse tells us that we are either trying our very best to find God’s will in our lives, or we are not.

We’d like to believe there is a middle ground, where we can be good people and go to heaven.  We’d like to have compassion on good people that aren’t Christians.  Surely good people go to heaven?  Isn’t that fair?  Isn’t that nice?  Since God is such a nice guy, surely He’d see it my way?

But that misunderstands God’s purpose in our lives.  God loves all His children, and He wants what is best for us.  And that means voluntarily giving up our own independent rebellion and agree with the Lord that His will is the best way, and ultimately is the only way.  And God tells us that there is one way to gain the promised land, and everything else belongs to sin.  Galatians 3:22,

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

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IV.      True Freedom

So our rebellion gives us the illusion of independence, but in reality we are trading our allegiance.  I pledge allegiance to God and His ways, or I pledge allegiance to our father the devil.  There is no third option.

So here’s an interesting quandary.  Can we be in bondage, and yet be free?

We make a mistake when we confuse our independence with what we truly desire.  We desire freedom.  Freedom to follow our God-given passions and desires, to seek for God in all the wonderful places He designs for us, to seek His will and find that His plan for us is far, far better than our own independent plans.

Why should we trust this freedom to God?  How many hairs do you have on your head?   Is it 1000?  100,000?   I have no idea.  But this is how well God knows me: Not only does He know how many hairs are on my head, but he’s numbered them.  1, 2, 3, 4…. Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

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A very good reason for trusting the Lord is that He knows me far better than I know myself.  Should I continue to maintain my independence of God?  I certainly have that choice; I can choose to be independent of my creator.  But it turns out that is the same as the sin of rebellion, which means independence from God is bondage to the devil.  Or I can be independent of Satan, and choose to be in bondage to God.  I am in bondage either way.

What does this look like, being in bondage to God?  Do I just follow the Ten Commandments?  Do I just avoid the Seven Deadly Sins?  Do I follow all 613 mitzvots?

Let’s go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and look at what bondage to sin looks like.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

These things that bind us to sin are lovers of ourselves, lovers of money, proud and boastful and abusive and disobedient and ungrateful and unforgiving… and if I am honest with myself, I can see my own sinful nature in this description.  These descriptions of the last days.  It’s what the Father of Lies would call love.  It’s a perversion of what God calls love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

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

Slide16

I don’t know how to do this.  Not on my own.  At least, not at the level necessary to meet the standards of a Holy and Perfect Lord of All.  I’m going to fail.

So the answer to whether I have to follow the Ten Commandments or avoid the Seven Deadly Sins is… all of them….  And none of them

You see, since God knows how many hairs I have on my head, He knows me better than I know myself.  And even when I try to run, He knows me.  Jeremiah 23:24,

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Slide17

God is everywhere I am.  I cannot hide.  Even in my rebellion and my so-called independence, I cannot escape.  The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins judge me and my shortcomings.  They show me how I fail, they show that despite my own efforts, I’m going to fail at being holy.  And that’s ok, because God has given me a solution.  God has given me His Son.

We don’t just “stop sinning” by trying to stop committing the Seven Deadly Sins.  Obeying the Ten Commandments doesn’t stop us from sinning.  This is “legalism,” this is “works.”  We stop sinning by recognizing that we are in rebellion, that our entire lives have been devoted to bondage in sin, and remembering that there is no halfway decision, we choose to be bondservants of Christ.  We choose to cease our rebellion against the Lord.

What about the Ten Commandments?  The Seven Deadly Sins?  These give us insight and direction as to what pleases the Lord.  For those who have had children, if your child takes a cookie before dinner after you expressly told him not to, do you say, that’s it, I’m done.  You’re on your own.  Go outside and never come back.  Is our own identity dependent on whether there is an extra cookie in the pantry?

Of course not.  We set rules for good behavior for our children, we discipline them when they are disobedient so we raise them well, we forgive and love them.  God does the same for us, and all our sins are forgiven when Jesus took them to the cross.  We just have to choose to be in God’s family.  Then if we are imperfect, if we only follow eight-and-a-half commandments, our Father still loves us.

So our goal then, is to recognize our rebellion against God did not lead to freedom.  It just led to a different sort of bondage.  This is where we once were, from 2 Peter 2:17-19 –

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.  For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

When we accept Jesus, then this is who we become from 1 John 1:12 –

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

And when we are children of God, then there is no condemnation for falling short of God’s perfect will.  Romans 8:1,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

 

  V.      Conclusion

When mistake rebellion and independence with freedom, we wallow in a lifetime of sin.  The rebellion against God results in death and misery and frustration.  Or we can attempt to save ourselves by doing good, but the rules we set for ourselves are burdensome and joyless.  Worse, we try to set rules for others so we can be better people.  God’s way is to accept that we are powerless on our own and full of sin, but His Son will take the punishment for our rebellion so we can be slaves to righteousness and serve one another in love.  It’s not rules imposed from the outside, but the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside that brings glory to God, peace and joy to us, and blessings to others.

There is a song by Watermark that I love, called “Captivate Us.”  During the chorus, she sings, “Let every chain be broken from me as I’m bound by your grace.”  Choosing to be a bondservant of Christ Jesus doesn’t restrict our freedom, but quite the opposite.  When a train that has fallen off the tracks, it’s powerless, useless, stalled.  When the train is put back on the track, it is free to do what it was created to do.

This is the truth that brings glory to our Father in Heaven.  John 8:32,

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Slide19

That is true freedom.

To God be the glory.

The Fall of Man

  I.      Introduction

As you may have noticed, my bible is entirely electronic.  I have a traditional paper study bible, and over the years, I’ve highlighted all the significant passages.  Every word of the book is highlighted.

There are have been, for my entire life, horrible stories in the news.  Mass murderers, earthquakes, shootings.  Recently there have been stories of 500,000 refugees fleeing from Middle East countries to Europe, with predictions of up to 35 million people.  And I’m not convinced it’s entirely a refugee situation, as ISIS flags have been seen among the groups and imams saying that the refugees should breed with the Europeans in order to conquer those countries for Islam.

If God is all powerful and all good, why does he let terrible things like this?  Why doesn’t He stop it?  Nonbelievers struggle with this more than believers do, I think.  God could have created robots to be good all the time.  But is that really free will?  God created us to love him voluntarily.  And along with the freedom to love Him comes the freedom not to love Him.

As we’ve studied recently in Revelation, we know that the entire bible points to Jesus as the redeemer of mankind.  Regardless of the problem, Jesus is the solution.  Today we’re going to talk about the source of all the problems.   William Griffith Thomas, a theologian in the early 1900’s, said about Genesis 3, “This chapter is the pivot on which the whole bible turns.”  Open your bible to the cause of all of our problems in Genesis Chapter 3.Slide2

II.      The Sham, Genesis 3:1-5

While this is a familiar story, let’s study it carefully today for additional insights.  Let’s begin with Genesis 3:1-5,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The serpent is not identified here by name, so let’s identify him.  Who is the serpent?  Coincidentally, the last lesson I taught was from Revelation 12, which in Revelation 12:9 says,

The great dragon was hurled down (out of heaven) – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Slide4

The serpent is introduced as a created being and as one who spoke against the word of God.  We know that when God creates something, it is good and it is perfect.  So where did the serpent come from?  There are two accounts that talk about the origin of Satan, in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14.  Both of these verses talk about how beautiful and pure Satan was at the beginning of Creation.  Satan was so beautiful that he believed that he himself was God.  Pride, self-generated pride, was Satan’s downfall, worshiping God’s creation instead of worshiping the Creator.

So here is the serpent, saying crafty things to Eve.  And I’m going to call her “Eve,” even though that’s not her name yet.  In the previous chapter, Adam says, “She shall be called ‘woman’ because she was taken out of man.”  It just sounds funny to me to just keep calling her “woman.”

There is a new Disney Movie coming out next year, and I happened to see the trailer for it.  It’s a live action remake of “Jungle Book” and here’s an edited clip that I think is illustrative:

Satan’s first strategy is to get Eve to question the very word of God by misrepresenting what God said.  Satan asks Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  But that’s not what God said to Adam.  God said to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Notice how the Evil One focused on the negative.  “God is being mean to you, telling you what’s not allowed.  There are so many rules for you.  You deserve to have whatever you want.”  God’s message was generous, gracious, permissive, “You may eat from *any* tree except the ones that may harm you.”

Notice also how Satan talked to the woman instead of the man.  Some studies make a big deal out of how God provided the instructions to the man, how it was his job to protect the woman, and while that may be true, I want to focus instead on how Adam had received the knowledge first hand, and Eve relied on what somebody told her God said.  Adam talked to God, but Eve had talked to Adam.  It’s important in our spiritual life that we are communicating directly to God through His Word and through prayer.  Going to church and listening to Dr. Young has tremendous benefits and is good, but it cannot replace personal study.  We want to be able to respond to any challenge with, “The bible says…”, not “my pastor says…”.  In this case, Eve may have found it easier to ignore God’s commands because she didn’t hear it firsthand.

Eve’s response to the serpent reveals a lot of subtle shifts.  While God said, “You are free to eat from any tree,” Eve phrases it defensively, “We may eat fruit from the trees.”  God doesn’t sound so generous the way Eve phrased it.

Eve also overstated how restrictive God had been with her.  Eve says that Gold told Adam, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it.”  God didn’t say anything about not touching it.  Probably not a good idea to touch it, but God didn’t prohibit them from touching it, just from eating from it.

God’s Word is precisely and absolutely true.  Satan twists God’s word to get Even to question what God says.  In verse 4, the serpent says, “You won’t die.”  This is a direct contradiction to what God said.  This is the very first heresy in the bible, that sin is not punishable by death.  Romans 6:23 states it clearly, “For the wages of sin is death…” We can still hear this heresy today.  How can a loving God send people to Hell?  God wants us to enjoy life, so you should do whatever you want.  It doesn’t matter how destructive it is to your lives and the lives of those around you as long as you are enjoying yourself.

Satan goes on to say in verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Listen to how mean God is.  Do you want to spend the rest of your life with eyes closed, or do you want to be like God?  Satan tells us that God is restrictive, God won’t punish sin, God is looking out for himself.  Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that God has provided everything necessary for the good of man, and that’s God’s true motives are looking out for man’s best interests, but Satan’s half-lies and half-truths says that God is just looking out for his own interests by withholding the best parts of the garden unfairly.

The scam is complete.

III.      The Shame, Genesis 3:6-7

Eve, tempted by the serpent, now justifies her sins.  Verses 6,

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

God has given Eve desires that are in line with His creation.  It is good to be satisfied with food that God has provided.  It is good to appreciate God’s beautiful creation, things that are pleasing to the eye.  It is good to gain in knowledge and wisdom.  But the things of this world will cause us to stumble if we do not satisfy them in a way that pleases the Lord.  It’s like Eve is saying to herself, “God wants me to be happy, and these things will make me happy.  So even though God says ‘no,’ I’m going to do them anyway because I know what is best for me.”

But this justification isn’t in line with God’s word.  It say the tree was good for food.  But was there other fruit in the garden that was good for food?  Of course there was, and God said they could eat from any of it.  Was there anything else in the garden that was pleasing to the eye?  Are you kidding?  They were in the Garden of Eden, *everything* was pleasing to the eye.  God had provided for everything man and woman needed.  But Eve was deceived, and believed by sight – not by faith – that she should have this forbidden fruit.  She deserves this forbidden fruit, and it’s not fair that God should withhold it from her.  How does she know God is telling the truth unless she experiences the fruit for herself?

Failure to appreciate God’s goodness leads to distrust of His goodness.  Distrust leads to dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction leads to disobedience.  Admiring the beautiful fruit was not a sin.  Even touching it was not a sin.  But disobeying God by eating of the fruit led to spiritual death.

Eve has been deceived by the serpent that this is God’s desire for her.

Then the verse goes on to say,

She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

If Eve was deceived, Adam’s response was rebellion.  Adam knew firsthand that God had withheld the fruit of this tree from him.  Adam was not deceived; Adam sinned with understanding.  Man wants to be independent, to be in control of our own destiny, to make decisions for ourselves.

I spoke to someone at work this week about some of our past work experiences; he told me about working at a nuclear facility.  The US government decided that everyone that had been working there less than 5 years had to take a psychological profile, and since he had only been there 4, he had to take the test.  There were a lot of yes/no responses, and if you didn’t get them all right, you had to see the psychologist and explain your response.  The question that got him in trouble was, “Someone is in control of my life, true or false.”

He answered “true.”  And in my head, I’m also thinking “true.”  God is in control of my life, and He is most definitely someone.  My colleague’s response was “true” for a different reason.  He was in control of his own life, and he was someone.

Of course, it dawned on me that both his response and my response would probably land us on the psychiatrist’s couch.

I think this independence, to say to God, “You’re not the boss of me,” is pride, pure and simple.  If I am my own boss, then nobody else can tell me what to do, including God.  To take a step further, pride will lead me down a path that I can tell God who He is and what He can do.  God can’t tell me what the truth is about sexual immorality, about gluttony, and judgmentalism.  I know what is best for me.  I am worshipping God’s creation, me, instead of worshipping the awesome powerful God who created me.  It’s the same pride that had Satan cast out of heaven.

When Adam’s rebellion led him to sin against God, the entire human race from that moment on fell.  The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 5:12,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.

Because of this sin, in verse 7 it says,

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Knowledge of good and evil necessarily requires us to have knowledge of evil.  I was not a particularly rebellious kid, I made good grades in school, I didn’t get into much trouble with the law.  My police record is clean, though Mr. McIntyre in 5th grade said he would be making notes in my permanent record.  But in my 30’s I got a wild streak that led to indiscretions, and let’s just say I’m glad that iPhone cameras were not available back then.

My point is that during this wild period, I saw man’s depravity up close, in those around me and in myself.  My phrase for that period in my life can be summed up by the phrase, “what was once seen cannot be unseen.”  As I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I long for days of innocence where there were some things I was happy I didn’t know.  Have you ever felt the same way, perhaps after watching a movie or reading a news article about some horrific crime?  I can tell you that in my case, I am not edified or built up for God’s purpose.

Adam and Eve surely felt the same.  Before, they freely walked in God’s garden; after the fall, they covered themselves in leaves and shame.

IV.      The Blame, Genesis 3:8-13

Let’s continue with verses 8-13,

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

In verse 7, they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, but I’m guessing that fig leaves aren’t a very efficient form of covering because they’re still naked.  Not only is there shame, but now there is also guilt.  And with guilt, we hide from the Lord.  Have you ever tried to sin while reading the bible?  We all have temptations we are dealing with, and we all fall short of God’s glory, but for just a second, think of your own personal struggle, and when you knowing did something shameful.  Were you hiding from God at that time, like Adam?  Do you think that when God asks, “Where are you?” that He doesn’t already know the answer?

God gave Adam and Eve a chance to confess their sins, but instead they get tripped up by admitting they knew they were naked.  Busted, now they know that God knows they’ve eaten the forbidden fruit.  But rather than confess, the rationalizations and the finger pointing begins.

Adam’s first response it to blame both Eve *and* God.  “The woman, who *you* put here, gave the fruit to me.  I’d have never sinned if you hadn’t have given me a woman.”  And the woman blamed it on the serpent.  And the serpent, well, he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Adam accused both the woman and God for his transgressions.  This is the first accusation in the bible, and it came immediately after the serpent appeared in the Garden.  Revelation 12:10 says that Satan is the accuser of all Christians, accusing us before our God day and night.  Accusation, lies, name calling, shifting blame, even if it is true, comes from Satan.

  V.      The Fall, Genesis 3:14-21

God is holy, and His holiness demands that all sin and evil must be eliminated.  There are repercussions for sin.  Psalm 46:6-7 says,

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;

    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

You love righteousness and hate wickedness

In the account of Creation, God provided 3 blessings.  In Genesis 1;22, God blessed the great creatures of the sea and the air and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And in Genesis 1:28 after creating man and woman, he blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And in 2:3, God rested on the 7th day, blessed it and made it holy.

As the result of the fall, though, there are now 3 curses.  The first curse is given to the serpent in verses 14-15,

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

The serpent will suffer physical changes and lifestyle changes, crawling in the dust for the remainder of its days.  I know some people keep snakes as pets, and I personally don’t have a problem holding one of touching one, but I can’t say I’d ever want to cuddle up with one.  They’re not exactly lovable creatures, and I’m sure a large part of that is the result of the serpent’s deception.  But let’s look at the second half of this.  Some commentaries see nothing more than ongoing hatred between man and snakes.  But the phrasing indicates more than this is going on – it extends to the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.

The offspring of the serpent could refer to the one who possessed the serpent, Satan, the Evil One.  And the offspring of the woman, literally “her seed” may refer to the virgin birth of Jesus since the verse does not say “their seed.”  This verse contains the masculine, third-person singular “he” in the phrase “he will crush your head.”  A seed of the woman will crush the head (i.e. provide a fatal blow), not to the descendants of the serpent (we don’t expect all snakes to be killed by mankind), but by the one who started all of this, Satan himself.

This is the first prophetic promise that God already knows the problem created by man’s sin, but has already begin a plan to redeem mankind from his sin.   In Romans 16:20, Paul writes that the God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  There is a continual struggle of each generation for the good to overcome the evil while the evil tries to overcome the good.  Until our Redeemer, the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, finally defeats Satan and in Revelation 20:10 throws Satan in the lake of burning sulfur.

We’ll get to more of this in a moment, but let’s discuss the other two curses first.

The second curse belongs to the woman –

To the woman he said,

 “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;

    with painful labor you will give birth to children.

Your desire will be for your husband,

    and he will rule over you.”

The relationship between the wife and her husband were changed forever.  Judgement fell on Eve and her offspring in what was uniquely hers as a woman.  While death has entered the world, life will continue, but the pain of childbirth will be a continuing reminder of Eve’s role in bring the fall to all mankind.

Also, her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.  There are several possible meanings here, but the one that seems true to me and is in line with the New Testament is that wife will seek to dominate the relationship and will no longer intuitively submit to her husband as his “helper.”

The third curse belongs to Adam, all mankind, and to the earth –

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

 “Cursed is the ground because of you;

    through painful toil you will eat food from it

    all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

    you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

    since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

    and to dust you will return.”

While Eve was deceived, Adam rebelled, and it is this sin of pride and rebellion that draws the most severe discipline.  No longer will Adam and his wife be able to stroll through the garden and eat of the many fruits, but now Adam will have to work his entire life.  The world is no longer beautiful and pristine, but now tainted by sin.  The world itself has fallen.  Romans 8:20-22 puts it this way,

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

The world is in bondage to decay and death, just as all man, through the sin of one man, is in bondage to decay and death.  I want to point out a subtle change in the words of scripture – Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”  But after the fall, Adam and Eve have sons Cain, Abel, and Seth.  Look at how Genesis 5 begins –

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.  

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.  He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

While we are all made in God’s image, we also carry the genetics of sin with us.  Seth was not just made in God’s image; now the scripture say Seth was made in Adam’s image.  God’s perfect image has been corrupted and that corrupted images and likeness were passed along to the descendants of Adam.  Nobody teaches us to sin.  Because of our corrupted nature, we know all too well how to sin on our own.  We do not teach our children to lie, somehow they already now.  We have to teach them to tell the truth.  The sinful worldly self comes naturally.  The self that longs to be good must be trained and taught.

We long for the day we can again has a relationship with our Father in Heaven without the stain of sin separating us.  But on our own, we have no solution, we have to strategy of success, we have no hope.  How do we live when we are banished from Paradise with our Father?   Let’s look at the rest of Genesis 3 and see if there is a hint of the hope yet to come.

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

“The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”  God in His omniscience, has all knowledge of good and evil, and he didn’t have to commit evil.  Man committed a sin to learn this knowledge.  It’s like a doctor and a patient diagnosing an illness.  Our understanding of that illness is different.  Our understanding of good and evil is both like God’s understanding and unlike it.  Now man will seek to make decisions based on a poor understanding of good and evil, a problem that plagues all of us today.  God has perfect divine understanding of good and evil and He asks us to trust him.  Sometimes we do.  Most of the time we want to do it our own way.

And this sinful self must not be allowed to live forever.  An eternal, sinful life of separation from God would be, literally, a living hell.  But God’s grace provides a solution.  He allows us to die so that we may then live.

Notice how Adam and Eve’s fig leaves have been replaced with animal skins.  Because of their transgressions, an innocent life was shed for man.  This, too is a prelude for what is to come.  No matter what the sin, how rebellious and prideful our decisions are, God is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary so that we may have hope.

VI.      Conclusion

We all inherit a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, and we might think this is unfair to be blamed for something one man did thousands of years ago.  But we are not punished for Adam’s sins, we inherit his nature.  We each have our own sins.  We didn’t chose to have a sinful nature, but let’s be honest, we would have.  Adam was the perfect man, created by God, and placed him in the perfect environment, the Garden of Eden.  And every day, God walked with Adam in the cool of the day to instruct Adam and draw closer to him.  And even with this perfect man, perfect environment, perfect relationship, Adam still sinned.  Through Adam, death entered the world.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we could do better.  We choose our own sin.

But just as we choose our own sin, we also choose our salvation.  God has begun a sacrificial system where an innocent life may be sacrificed as an atonement for sin.  If we try to work off our debt by trying to be good, we will fail. Because of our sinful nature, we are no longer suitable sacrifices for our own sin.  We need a savior.  We need a suitable sacrifice for our sins. Earlier I read from Romans 6:23, but I only read the first half of it.  Here is the entire verse:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For God so loved the world.  For God so loved you.  For God so loved me, that He gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  And that is the one and only solution to the fall of man and our sin.  Jesus Christ.

To God be the glory.

Give Everything You Are to the Lord

   I.      Introduction

A study of Malachi 3

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

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

Slide2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6:19-21 –

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

Mark 10:19-22, the Rich Young Ruler –

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

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 –

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi 3:13-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi 3:16-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Love never fails.

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

VI.      Conclusion

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

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To God be the glory.