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Weekly Word

Entries in Doubt (4)

Monday
Dec112017

Confrontation of a False God-II

1 Kings 18:30-39.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 10, 2017.

Last week we saw how the prophets of Baal, a false god of the Canaanites, were unable to get an answer of fire from the heavens.  Today we will look at Elijah’s turn, but in truth it is the One, True God’s turn to prove who He is.  As the day is well past, Elijah steps forward and starts the process of setting up the sacrifice, so that he can call upon the God of Israel to show Himself to the people watching.

Israel is drawn back to God

Several phrases throughout this passage make it clear that God does not want to “wow” the crowd.  Rather, He desires to draw Israel back to Him.  We see this in Elijah’s initial address for them to “come near” and also in Elijah’s prayer that Israel would understand that God is turning their hearts back to Him.  This is an important theme throughout the Bible.  Sin has separated man from God, but God calls out to mankind to draw near to Him through His sacrifice, Jesus the Christ.  Every time a person turns to the Lord in repentance, or a group of people turn back to Him in revival, it always begins with the grace of God turning our hearts and calling us to Him.  Of course people must respond.  God will not force people to come back to Him.  But it always starts with His grace to make it possible.  This call comes through the prophet of Elijah.  Come near, and see what God will do.  They deserved judgment for abandoning God and worshipping Baal.  But, instead, God is going to give a great demonstration of His power to them, while calling them back to Him.  Elijah is not the only prophet whom God did this through.

This same theme is highlighted by Jesus and His Apostles after Him.  Let us draw near to the throne of God for mercy.  In John 7:37-38 we see, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Also, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  The Spirit of God is continually calling us to draw near to Him.  He wants to satiate our thirst and give us relief from the burden of our sins.  But do we hear him?  And, better yet, do we respond to Him?  He calls us near so that we can experience the goodness of who He is.

Before Elijah can set up the sacrifice, he has to repair an altar of the Lord that already existed on that site.  It had fallen apart and was in disrepair because of the abandonment of worshipping Him.  The people had grown weary of sacrificing and praying to Yahweh, and so had left off for more popular altars.  Never forget that when we abandon the things of God, their disrepair is a symbol of our lives spiritually.  Think about the abandonment of God’s exclusive institution of marriage for life.  All across this land are the tattered remnants of broken marriages left in the dust, which give us a picture of the hearts that have abandoned it.  We see the same thing with the raising of children.  Broken homes and children raised by single parents and grandparents have become the norm.  The broken kids who come out of dysfunction help us see our hearts.  Of course, we should encourage and help those who step up and care in a situation that is not optimal.    But that does not counter the point I am making.  How about the many churches around the country that are empty and in disrepair?  Sure, some of it is the fault of the churches and those who lead them, but not all of it.  There are many good churches around the country that are preaching the truth of God, but people don’t want to hear it and have abandoned being connected to a church.  The disrepair of such places becomes a prophetic symbol of our hearts and lives.  So Elijah repairs the altar because the altar is the place where an individual or a people gather to meet with God.  How is your altar today?  Is it in disrepair?  I am not talking about a literal altar.  We no longer sacrifice animals as they did in those days.  Our altar is a spiritual thing.  Wherever we draw near to God in prayer becomes our place of altar.  But the altar is about more than prayer.

First it is a place of preparation.  Yes, Elijah repairs the altar.   But then he has to put the wood upon it and then prepare the animal and lay its parts out.  Elijah also adds a strange aspect to this sacrifice.  He has a trench dug around the altar and has water poured out over the sacrifice and filling the trench.  Notice that the altar is not a speedy quick-order place.  It is a place where we spend time preparing ourselves to hear from God.  Don’t be so quick to walk away from the altar when it seems like God isn’t listening.

Of course, the altar is also a place where a sacrifice is made.  The secret is not the animal used, but the heart that prepares it, and the God to whom it is sacrificed.  God had told people to approach Him in that way.  It seems strange to us, but it is highly instructive.  First, it highlighted for them and for us the coming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as the Lamb provided by God.  It is also instructive because it always costs us something to approach God.  When our hearts are willing to give to God that which is valuable to us, He sees it from heaven and smiles upon us.  Elijah sacrifices a bull, but it is not the only thing being sacrificed.  The water is very precious on the heels of a 3.5 year drought.  I don’t know if it came from King Ahab’s personal stash, but everyone watching could not help but think of this as a tragic waste.  So what do we sacrifice today?  We no longer sacrifice animals because Jesus is the “once for all” sacrifice for our sins.  We put on the altar of our heart those things that would separate us from God.  Some of those things are sinful.  We should put them on the altar so that God’s fire can burn them out of our lives.  However, some of those things are not sinful in and of themselves.  We still put them on the altar and let them go because we would rather have God than those things.  Some of those things that we put on the altar, that are not sinful, will be given back to us.  We see this with Abraham and the near s sacrifice of Isaac.   When God saw that Abraham would rather have God than the son whom God had promised him for so long, then God told Abraham to stop and gave him a substitute sacrifice.  This is an amazing picture of Christ.  But it also shows that God is not interested in taking things from us.  But rather, He wants our heart to be in right relationship to those good things in our life.  They are not God and they are not our source.  Only God deserves that highest place in our heart.

The altar is also a place of humility.  Elijah publicly risks himself.  Ahab can now put him to death or in prison.  What if this public demonstration fails?  Elijah does not have the ability to bring fire down from heaven.  He hasn’t been practicing in the desert and is now ready.  It took great trust, faith, and humility for Elijah to stand up in the face of a whole nation and declare that the God of Israel is greater than the false god Baal.  The altar is never about our great ability to approach God.  It is about our desperate desire to know God and His great grace to respond to our faithful obedience.

Lastly the altar is a place of prayer.  Once Elijah has everything in place, He calls out upon the Lord.  His prayer is in verses 36-37.  He makes it clear that this is about raising the honor of God and the truth about what has been going on in Israel.  He also makes it clear that this is about God turning the nation’s hearts back to Him again.  Oh that our hearts would be turned towards the Lord in the country, rather than to the world and what we want to do.  There is no shortcut to these things.  There is only a continual going back to the Lord, preparing ourselves in humility and speaking to God about those things in our life.  What is your will Lord?  I trust that You will answer, even when I go long periods of silence.  In fact, when we are waiting for a word from the Lord, it is easy to forget to be faithful to His last set of instructions.  God has told us to live lives that are faithfully following Jesus, not our imaginations of Jesus.  We are to be faithful to Jesus and to share the Gospel with the world around us.  You no longer have to climb up into the heavens to reach Him; He has come down to us in our worst hour.  Instead of running from Him, draw near!

At the end of Elijah’s prayer God responds in great power as fire falls from heaven upon the sacrifice and burns up everything even the water in the trench.  This causes all the people watching to break out in shocked praise of God.  The Lord, He is God!  This phrase is shouted by the people several times.  There was no question on that day just who was God.  It is indeed an amazing time when God demonstrates His great power.  But this demonstration is leading somewhere.  God is about to allow the rains to come back to Israel.  Men love to give credit to everything but the One True God.  In those days they would have accredited it to Baal the storm god, this was precisely his area of strength, water and fire the elements of storms.  Yet it wasn’t Baal who answered by fire that day, and thus the people would know later when the rains begin, that it was Yahweh, not Baal, who had done it.  In our day we would be giving the credit to nature, or to our scientist’s ability to manipulate it.  But, we should remember that God is the God of nature.  As the creator, He is the One who is ultimately in charge.  Nature is following the laws that He put in place from the beginning.  Now we cannot just run out and try to force God to show up in power.  Elijah states clearly that he is following the instructions that God has given him.  So what are our orders?  Though this is a real event that literally happened, there are also spiritual lessons here.  We can use this event as a metaphor for ourselves.  God needs faithful believers who will risk their lives on the altar and publically stand up for Him, whether He promises a powerful sign or not.  When we sacrifice our lives publically before the world and through prayer call upon the God of heaven, the fire from heaven will come down upon us.  This is the Holy Spirit of God.  Instead of destroying us, we are filled with the power to live godly lives and speak powerfully to the world around us.  This is the way that God has determined to turn hearts back to Him.  May we take time to repair the altar in our lives and begin walking with the Lord, rather than telling Him how He should be running things.

Confrontation II audio

Monday
Dec042017

Confrontation of a False God-I

1 Kings 18:20-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 3, 2017.

In our passage today, we will start to look at a powerful confrontation between Yahweh (or Jehovah), the God of the Israelites, and Baal, a false god of the Canaanites.  Now we are taught in the Bible that even though idols are not really representations of real gods, there are demons (evil spirits of some sort) that lie behind the worship of those idols.  These demons use the dedication and devotion of those who play their religious “games” to obtain permission or authority over those people’s lives.  So don’t be deceived.  Magic, the occult, Wicca, and any form of using spirits to manipulate the material world around you, is a system designed by evil spirits to manipulate the lust of mankind for power over others.  This game, as I have called it, is simply seeking your permission to operate in your life, even to the point of dominating your life totally.  As we will see today, such spirits should not be listened to.  In the face of the One, True, and Living God, they are impotent.

We have a tendency to mix religious ideas

Throughout history humans have proven to have the natural tendency to mix religious ideas.  Israel in the Bible is a classic example of this.  However, there are many more.  The Romans would not destroy the temples of those nations that they conquered.  Instead they would fix up the temple, even build new ones, and add their god to the growing pantheon they had accumulated.  The underlying premise is this: we will accept your god/s as long as you accept ours.  Now this tendency may seem to be good in some ways.  However, it is not a sign of wisdom to mix things that should not be mixed.  Many of the ancient religions had similar ideas and gods who differed only by the name used of them.  The world view was often the same.  So, such mixtures were not a big deal.  But the God of Israel and the world view of the Bible was a cosmic clash with these religions.  Thus to mix them was, and still is today, asking for trouble.

In our passage today the prophet Elijah is setting up a confrontation with Ahab and his prophets of Baal.  This confrontation is for the purpose of proving to the people of Israel that the God of Israel was greater than this foreign god Baal.  Elijah calls out to the people in verse 21.  They are faltering between worshipping the God of Israel and worshipping Baal.  So how had they come to such a situation?

It started when the northern 10 tribes broke free from Judah and the kings of Jerusalem.  Solomon’s son did not inherit his great wisdom and tried to increase taxes with an ungrateful attitude.  This created a civil fracture with the northern kingdom going by the name Israel and the southern going by Judah.  When this happened the King of Israel was afraid that if he let his people go to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices at the temple, they would switch allegiance back to Judah.  Because of this fear, the king decided to build two different shrines in the north and told the people not to go to Jerusalem, but to offer their sacrifices in Dan and Bethel.  This was in direct disobedience to what God had spoken through Moses.  Over time this was not enough.  King Ahab had married Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon, for a political alliance.  He built her temples for her God Baal, and then began to promote worship of Baal while stamping out those who worshipped the God of Israel.  Instead of listening to God, they had continued to walk as the masters of their own religion.  It is popular today for people to treat spirituality like a kind of stew that they create from the different ideas of all religions.  If it doesn’t taste good, then they throw this out and add that in.  The mixed or syncretic system that each creates becomes their own personal recipe.  Now I would agree that it is a bad thing for governments to force their people to observe a particular religion, but it is an equal folly for people to think that they can determine truth or error, in regard to spiritual things, by their own tastes.  God has proven His word throughout history and also tells us that people can only see the wisdom of His word by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we see in this passage the end of a typical cycle.  It starts with fear, and then fear leads to compromise and disobedience.  Disobedience over time can lead to apostasy (falling away from the faith).  Once faith is undermined by fear, we become captive to a sea of intellectual quicksand and easy prey for the devil’s schemes.  This leads us to the next point.

Elijah challenges the people to quit playing both sides.  They have to get off the fence.  Now Ahab and Jezebel have made their decision clearly.  But the average person in Israel was still in doubt.  In fact, this whole event is more about the people then it is about Ahab or the prophets of Baal.  God is calling them to repentance.  In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other.”  Although Jesus is speaking about the choice between God and wealth, the principle applies here.  They could not stay on the fence forever.  Elijah is calling to them like Joshua did when he said, “Choose this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  If you are faltering in the valley of doubt and indecision, and you have a long past of compromising what God says with what the world / your flesh says, then hear the Holy Spirit calling to you today.  It is time for you to quit faltering between two opinions.  These things will not mix together.  Jesus Christ alone is God’s answer for the sin and wickedness of the world, and for your own too.

Yahweh puts Baal to the test

Throughout this passage, but especially in verse 21, you might notice that the word “lord” is in small caps, i.e. “Lord.”  You may also notice that back in verse 13 Obadiah refers to Elijah as lord, but it is in lowercase letters.  This is the interpreter’s way of showing us that two different words are being used in the Hebrew.  Lower case lord is the term adoniy and means one who rules or is in charge, regardless of the scope.  It could be used for the man of the house, a mayor, a king, or even of God.  The term is relative and contextual.  It is similar to the Spanish word “senor.”  They sometimes refer to God as El Senor, i.e. the Lord.  But, when the word is spelled in small caps, the word that lies behind it is the name of God that was given to Moses back in Exodus 3:13-14, when he met God on Mt. Sinai in the Burning Bush.  The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt.  Meanwhile they had turned to worshipping the gods of the Egyptians.  When God sends Moses to deliver them, Moses asks God what name he should use of God.  God’s reply was “I am who I am,” thus you shall tell them “I Am” sent you.  This shortened form was the letters YHWH.  Historically it has been spelled as Jehovah or Yahweh.  It is the name of God that delivered Israel from Egypt and gave them the Law.  He is the “I AM.” 

Elijah is not acting on his ideas.  It is Yahweh, the God of Israel that is putting Baal to the test and has told Elijah what to do.  He is following the orders of the Lord.  Thus, this story which appears to be a clash of humans, is even greater a clash of gods.  It is a confrontation between the God of Israel and the god of the Canaanites that Ahab and Jezebel were pushing on the people of Israel.  The test is simple.  They will both prepare sacrifices on an altar.  But, instead of lighting it on fire, as is usually done, they will each pray to their god and whichever god answers by fire will have proven that they are greater.  Fire has to come down out of the sky and light the sacrifice on fire.

What can be lost in this story is the fact that God does not give such dramatic proof on demand.  Imagine our success at evangelism, if God always responded with fire from heaven.  We could fill Safeco field in Seattle or any local ball field with the promise that they will see God answer with fire from heaven.  Atheists themselves can think that they are smart to use this against Christians.  Come on, let’s see if your God can do this!  Prove your God exists by doing it again.  Now we must recognize that God is not some kind of “dog on a leash” that does tricks on demand.  He is God and He chooses the timing and audience of the proofs of His power.  The truth is very few of the people alive on the earth in those days saw this proof.  Of those who saw this proof, it did precious little to stop Israel’s slide into idolatry and disobedience to God.  Sure, people who are scared to death by such events may be in church tomorrow.  But, over the long period of life in which God does not do this, over and over again, they will follow the same course of fear, doubt, compromise, disobedience, and apostasy.  Over time God has given many proofs of His existence and power, but it is too easy to say that we would believe if He would just do it for us.  We can miss the forest for the trees.  We want to see a particular tree, when we are surrounded every day by proofs of God’s existence and power.  The universe is crying out every day that such ordered power could not exist without a designer that is greater than it.  The spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into vastly different cultures shouts out the existence, truth, and power of God.  Also, in the hearts of individuals surrounding you, every day, is the testimony that God’s Spirit is speaking to their heart through these things and delivering them out of their own bondage to sin.  Yes, we ignore mountains of evidence everywhere around us and demand that God show us something that we dream up.  Such a person does not deserve a miraculous sign because they are not a person of faith.  So let’s look at the attempt of the prophets of Baal.

We get a glimpse into the ideas of the Canaanite religion.  They get to start first and it appears to be some time in the morning.  They begin calling on Baal to light the sacrifice on fire.  It is interesting to note that Baal was seen as not just a god of fertility, but also of storms.  So to cause lightning to fall from the sky is supposedly right in his wheelhouse.  They began leaping around the altar in some kind of ritual dance as they pray.  After hours have passed we reach noon.  At this point Elijah begins to mock the prophets of Baal.  He tells them to cry louder; surely Baal is really a god.  Maybe he is meditating, busy (a euphemism for going to the bathroom), or he went on a long journey.  He might be sleeping.  Cry louder so you can wake him up!  These taunts may seem to be in bad form for the servant of the Lord, but the taunts are not for the prophets of Baal.  Elijah is speaking for the benefit of the people who are watching.  He is trying to get them to think about what they are seeing and what possible explanation can be given for Baal’s impotency.  We don’t need to mock people’s religion, however, we do need to get people to think about what they are believing and the inability of the religions of this world to overcome the sin nature.  Only the gospel of Christ has shown itself to have the power to overcome the sin of an individual.  Yes, there are people who pretend to follow God, but this has never been the Gospel (Come, pretend to believe in Jesus!)  No, the Gospel is an invitation into a relationship with God, not a new set of rules.

At this point the prophets of Baal become more desperate.  We are told that they cut themselves with knives and pierced themselves with lances.  Surely, Baal will answer now that he sees how strong our devotion is to him.  Again we see the common belief among the ancient religions that if I cut myself, or sacrifice my child, then the gods will act on my behalf.  Such gods demand that people suffer and hurt themselves in order to receive good from them.  Though the One True God may allow us to suffer from time to time, it is no so that we can curry His favor.  He allows us to suffer so that we can identify with His suffering and that we can participate in His overcoming victory over all sin and suffering.  What a sweeter victory we shall have because of our difficulties and sufferings in this life.  God responds to us when we have a broken and contrite heart (repentant heart).  This is the heart he hears.  The volume of your prayers is irrelevant.  The sacrifices you make are irrelevant, if they do not come from a broken and repentant heart.

The prophets of Baal kept it for at least 3 more hours.  We are told that at the time of the “evening sacrifice” Elijah took his turn.  It is not the prophets of Baal who have failed.  It is Baal who has left his followers in the pinch.  The time of the “evening sacrifice” is not clear.  If you go by the words alone then you would think of it happening at twilight as the sun goes down.  However in the days of Christ we are told that the evening sacrifice happened around 3:30 in the afternoon.  Regardless, the prophets of Baal have used up most of the day without success.  Verse 29 is a sad verse.   I say that not because Baal fails, but because it demonstrates the plight of all who leave God behind in search of something better.  “There was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.”    You see, they weren’t looking for a voice per se.  The “voice” is a metaphor for fire from heaven.  Just like pictures speak a thousand words, so fire coming from heaven and consuming the sacrifice would speak volumes to the people.  However, Baal was silent that day.  We will look at Elijah’s success next time.  But let us pause and analyze this failure.

There is a part of us (that modern, scientific part) that would think that gods are fictions of the mind.  Of course no fire fell from heaven.  But we need to recognize that the same Bible that records no fire falling that day warns us that Satan is capable of “lying signs and wonders.”  In Revelation 13:13 we are told that the False Prophet, who leads the world to worship the Antichrist, will have the power to call down fire from heaven in the sight of men.  Thus, we need to recognize that even though Baal is not a literal god, the evil spirits behind the worship of Baal do have the power to wow people.  So why did no fire fall that day?  It seems that would have been a perfect time to do so.  The biblical answer is as it always has been.  They were restrained by God.  They were told by the Lord of the Heavens to stand down.  Even today we are told that the Antichrist, or man of sin, would come forth if he could.  But God is restraining what the devil is able to do.  What a shock people will get in the days ahead.  After years of rejecting the truth and proofs of God, they will get a show from a deceiver who calls down fire from heaven.  In this sense we see that it isn’t about dramatic and miraculous proofs.  It really is about truth.  Jesus is Lord and no amount of great signs in the heavens and fire from the sky can change that.  The devil is a liar and is not leading the world to progress and godhood.  No, he leads them to destruction.

Christian, today, though we see evil all around us, we must recognize that the devil is being restrained by God, to some degree.  This is not the time for fear and doubts.  This is not the time for compromise and disobedience.  This is not the time for slack hands.  Today is a day to be sharing the Truth of God with the world around us.  Yes, many will mock and throw it back in our face.  However, the gods of this world are impotent in their lives.  And, there are some, knowing the impotence of that which they follow, who will believe, if we only stand for the Lord.

You know what, this world does not need fire from the heavens to fall in a stadium and burn a bunch of meat on some sticks and stone.  What it needs is a man or woman of God who will sacrifice their reputation and let the fire of the Holy Spirit come down upon them.  When we let the Spirit of God work through us, we become the proof that people are seeking (if they are honestly seeking).  Let’s be about our Father’s business, but not in our own strength, but in His strength and power.

Confrontation I audio

Thursday
Nov172016

Doubts & Fear

Matthew 27:45-51; Psalm 22:21-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 13, 2016.

We have been looking at the many ways in which our society is under siege by Satan and his cohorts, and we could continue.  But I want to stop and deal with the issue of doubt.  One of the reasons the enemy attacks from so many different angles and vantage points is in order to overcome our faith in Jesus.  He does so by making it increasingly difficult to stick with Jesus.  This can happen in several ways.  The first is the seductive attack.  When I am following Jesus, I am missing out on all those “pleasures” that Christ is taking me away from.  Satan clearly tempts and pulls on us to go his way rather than the Lord’s way.  The second attack is in-your-face intimidation.  When I am following Jesus, this bad thing and that bad thing happens to me.  Satan clearly persecutes those who want to follow Jesus and he generally does so through willing human accomplices.

Now when something impacts your life it is normal to ask questions.  Any honest question in a difficult situation will stir up doubts.  Whether you are talking about a career choice, marriage, large purchase, etc… everyone has felt those moments of buyer’s remorse after the fact (many times even when we know that we made the right choice).  So it is important for us to look to Jesus himself and recognize that he knows what it feels like to doubt.  In Hebrews 4:15 it says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Let’s look at the moments leading up to the death of Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:45-51.

Doubts are dredged up by our emotions

Of the things that Jesus said while he was on the cross, the statement, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” would seem to be the most troubling to Christianity.  It appears that Jesus is confessing that he was wrong and that God has abandoned him.  Yet, this seems strange in light of the fact that Jesus told his disciples that this not only would happen, but had to happen.  So there is something deeper going on.  Now traditionally, it has been explained that because Jesus was taking all of the sins of the world upon himself in that moment, God could not look upon him.  Thus the quote is a pointing out the breaking of that eternal communion that they have shared (something Jesus would have never felt before).  I think there is merit to this as a starting point.  However, I think there is more to see here.

It is interesting how our emotions toy with us in the middle of difficult and important times.  When Jesus is dying on the cross, he is not only paying for our sins.  He is also fulfilling what Old Testament prophecies said must happen.  The reason I say this is because everything that Jesus is experiencing is exactly what the Scriptures foretold, and exactly what Jesus said would happen. Normally when things go exactly as planned our faith is encouraged.  But Jesus appears to have doubts.  Now it is important to point out that Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 22:1.  Whether or not people at the time recognized this is not important.  Eventually the disciples recognized this quote and were amazed by what they saw when they read Psalm 22.  It is normally treated as David complaining to God about his persecutions at the hands of Saul and his men.  But it is shocking how well it describes what happened to Jesus on the cross.  In fact we are told by the Apostle Paul that David was a prophet and many of his Psalms were prophecies about the Messiah (Acts 2:29 and following).  Now here is the main point I want to make about this.  If it is true, and it is, that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy and everything is going as planned then it must not be the facts of the situation that cause this doubt.  The doubt here comes specifically from his emotions.  Please know this: emotions will often mislead us in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Have you ever done something you absolutely knew was right and yet were dogged by doubts because of your emotions?  The core of what Jesus taught is never more vindicated than in this exact moment, as the religious leaders reject him and execute him.  But it is not reason and facts that plague his mind.  In reality it is emotion and imagination that are the real enemies of our faith.  Here is an example.  The Bible says that in the last days people will become lovers of themselves and scoff at those who believe God.  This is clearly proven true.  Yet, the facts themselves don’t always encourage our faith.  Why not?  They often fail because of the power of our emotions at being rejected and scoffed at.

We need to recognize as we are going through life that our emotions and moods change with our experience.  Jesus is letting us know that he is not just acting out a charade.  He is letting us know how he actually felt in that moment of fulfilling all the Old Testament was pointing to.  He is letting us know, he is letting you know that he understands your doubts and your fears.  He understands how even in the very moment of God’s Word proving true, our emotions can rise up and rebel against it.  “I don’t want to keep following you, even though everything you said is coming true.”  Bill Bright in his famous tract, “The Four Spiritual Laws,” has a part in the back in which he deals with the subject of emotions.  He uses the image of a train and makes the point that emotions should never be the engine, but rather the caboose.  The caboose only follows the train wherever it goes.  Thus even when our emotions rebel and want to go a different direction than with Jesus, Christians refuse to let emotions direct them.  C.S. Lewis, a Christian writer, put it this way in his book Mere Christianity.

“Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway.  That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion.  Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.”

The truth is that God will never forsake you, but your mood is that He actually has.  This is what Jesus was feeling.  He knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s plan and that this would lead to great joy for Him and the Father.  But, he still felt like God had abandoned him.  He did not protect himself from the pain of the nails, nor the emotional pain of the injustice while God is silent.  The disciples that had reasoned in their minds that Jesus must be the messiah, allowed their faith to be temporarily derailed on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus.  In fact it was important for this to happen.  We, as much as them, need to recognize that our salvation is not based upon how great our following of Jesus is.  It is not based upon what others do to us.  It is based upon the fact that Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to die on your behalf.  It is also based upon the fact that the resurrection (which was witnessed by over 500 people) is proof that God the Father accepted the death of Jesus on our behalf.  This is what sustained those early disciples when their every emotion screamed, “Just give in, it’s not worth it!”  Even in the face of death, they kept their faith in Christ because their emotions could not change the facts.

In Psalm 22, the psalmist complains that God doesn’t hear his cry (vs. 2).  He goes on to complain that God hear others, but not him.  “I am a worm,” he says (vs. 6).  He goes on to describe how he is being put to death and God does nothing.  This is how he felt.  But God had not forsaken him.  This complaint completely changes in verse 21.  Let’s look at Psalm 22:21-24.

God always hears the honest cry

I actually think the phrase “You have answered me,” should stand by itself.  Something happens between “Save me from the horns of the wild oxen,” and “You have answered me.”  We are not told what it is.  There is a period of time between the complaint that God isn’t listening and the answer.  For Jesus that time was 3 days.  It is not the length of time that is important.  It is the reality that the disciples spent 3 days with their hopes shattered thinking God had forsaken them all.  But then came Resurrection Day.  So when Jesus is on the cross he is not just dying.  He is demonstrating that God always answers the cry of the afflicted, even when it looks like He doesn’t.

It is interesting how the mind of the psalmist felt like there was something different about him.  God helped others, but he felt like a worm because God wasn’t “doing anything.”  Listen, everything within our flesh rebels against having to endure difficulty, suffering, or injustice.  We don’t even like suffering the effects of our own choices that we know we deserve.  So we sometimes say to ourselves, “It works for others, but not for me.”  What, like Jesus is a car that you jumped in and it wouldn’t start?  Or every time you turned the wheel it didn’t drive where you wanted it?  There is a world of misunderstanding in those words, “didn’t work,” because in them we see that the problem was that we were trying to control things and get them to go in the direction we wanted.  Remember, Jesus is the Lord.  We are following Him.  He is the one that not only saves us, but leads us to the Father.  He will not settle for being a paint job on your car while you drive all over town doing what you want to do.  So in this regard, there is nothing different about you.  Your flesh doesn’t like where God takes us as much as anyone else.  Faith in Jesus is not an emotional decision.  It is a rational choice that is going to be challenged by your emotions many times on the road ahead.  Satan has worked hard through the many different facets of our society to dismantle the reasons for your faith.  He manipulates our emotions to get us to drop Jesus, to quit believing.  Let me tell you a secret.  All the godly people of the past felt like “it didn’t work for them.”  When you read all the great people of faith in the Bible, you find that they had all kinds of doubts and fears.  And yet, they held on to God, and He revealed more and more to them until we received the full revelation in Jesus Christ.  Through the Bible they are saying to you that they felt like quitting as well.  But, hang in there.  God isn’t finished yet.

In fact the difficulties we face do several good things within us.  They test our commitment to God and make us more like Jesus.  They change us for the good if we keep our faith in Christ.  Let me give an example.  The Bible teaches that our ultimate inheritance is not in this life, but in the life to come.  It is simple enough on the face of it.  However, this is easier to believe when you have something in this life.  But what about the person in Aleppo, Syria who has lost everything and whose life is being hunted by evil men?  Sometimes when people are in great grief the above promise may seem hollow.  And, yet it is still true none the less.  In fact, such a person has nothing to lose.  Why not trust Jesus? 

Psalm 22 highlights this problem.  The person writing the psalm points out in verse 24 that God has not hidden His face from the afflicted.  The whole psalm is the problem between the afflicted as a class of people in life and the afflictors or persecutors as a class.  Since the serpent afflicted Adam and Eve and brought death into their lives, or Cain went after his brother Abel and killed him, there has always been those who simply wanted to serve God and yet suffered because of it.  In those moments there is a part of us that gets angry and wants to throw the white, good-guy hat into the mud and put on the black, bad-guy hat (if you remember the old westerns).  This division within humanity shows that people make a decision in their life if they will follow the way of Jesus or of Satan, the way of the afflicted or of the oppressor.  Satan and his hordes are the oppressors of humanity.  Many humans throughout history have joined with them because they see it as the winning side.  Yet, the psalmist declares that God has not forsaken the afflicted.  You see Jesus could have stayed in heaven and simply destroyed the oppressors.  However, he chooses to come down and take his place among us as one of the afflicted.  If the God of heaven took on the badge of affliction and did not despise it, how much more ought we to hang in there and trust him?  When Jesus is crucified, he is not just saving us.  He is also condemning all wicked people and all wicked spirits of the heavens who have chosen the path of Satan.  The cross shows us the truth that Satan could care less about you.  He only wants God’s place.  So what will you choose?  Your mind and heart know that the right thing is to choose to suffer with the righteous.  But your emotions and imagination stir up all manner of fears and doubts.  This life is your test and your proving grounds.  Will you wait for the answer from the Lord, even if it comes after your death?  Or, will you grow tired of waiting and join the other side?  Choose this day whom you will serve. 

Let me also remind you of the man Moses in the Bible.  Moses was born to parents who were Israelite slaves in Egypt.  However, by the help of God he was adopted and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter.  In Hebrews 11:24-26 we are told, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he looked to the reward.”  So too you have a difficult choice to make.  Should I do all I can to enjoy the temporary pleasures of this life by joining the oppressors, or should I go for the greater riches and reward that God offers to all who will follow Jesus?  Don’t be tricked into identifying with Satan, the Pharaoh of this world, and rejecting your true identity.  God created you to become like Jesus and take your place among the Sons of God in the world to come.

Thus Psalm 22 ends with the psalmist rejoicing in the testimony of the afflicted.  It starts out dark and ghastly, but ends with rejoicing and exhortations to praise God.  I know that when you look at the world, or at your life, at times both will seem dark and headed towards no good.  But God has made a promise to those mankind and those who will follow Jesus.  He has promised that this story will end in great rejoicing for those who trust Him.  But those who trust in Satan and the path of self-will, self-strength, will only find suffering and punishment.

Doubts & Fears audio

Tuesday
Mar252014

The True Jesus: Of Faith and Doubt

In today’s passage, Luke 7:19-23, we get our last glimpse of John the Baptist before Herod Antipas has him executed.  John the Baptist represents the ultimate, faithful prophet.  He is a picture of great faithfulness to the Lord.  Yet, whether it is Elijah in the wilderness or John the Baptist in prison, we see that they were only men doing their best to do the right thing in trying situations.  They had to battle with doubts just like you and me.

It is an error to think that those who are faithful never have doubts, or that those who are courageous never have fears.  So if you have fears and doubts, take heart today.  It doesn’t mean you can’t exercise great faith and courage.  In fact, it is the presence of fears and doubts that makes faith and courage remarkable.

The Circumstances of John

Back in Luke 3:20 we were told that Herod had imprisoned John.  So let’s look at the background to this.  The day to day history of the Herods is equal to any soap opera today.  Herod the Great, who ruled when Jesus was born, died a few years later while he was still a toddler.  Rome then divided the kingdom among Herod’s sons.  Two of them were Herod Antipas and Herod Philip.  Herod Antipas ruled over the area on the east side of the Jordan and around the Sea of Galilee.  Over the course of time, Herod Antipas fell in love with Philips wife, Herodias.  She wanted him as well.  So, Antipas divorced his wife and married Herodias.  On top of all of this Herodias is actually their niece.  This gives you an insight into the lack of morals within these royal families.  John the Baptist had publically rebuked Herod Antipas for these actions.  It was then that he had John imprisoned, reasoning that John had a lot of followers and they might be inclined to revolt.

However, Herod was afraid to kill him because he saw John as a righteous prophet.  Furthermore, he would have John brought out of prison before him, from time to time, because he liked to listen to John’s preaching.  However, Antipas liked his preaching more like someone likes a song.  It sounds lovely, but he is not going to change his life because of it.  He was a man ruled by passions and filled with many conflicting emotions.  It is in this environment that we read John sending two of his disciples to Jesus.

The Questions of John

Most likely John was held in prison up to a year.  So it is understandable that he began to question his understanding about who Jesus was.  John’s questions are twofold.  Is Jesus the Messiah?  Or, is he just another forerunner like John?  Now John had already publically testified on numerous occasions that Jesus was the Messiah, the coming one.  However, he now wonders if perhaps he was mistaken.  In the moment when Jesus was being baptized it was very clear to John who he was.  But, given time in a prison he began to lose his clarity.

We might also point out that John doubts Jesus, not God’s promise to send a Messiah.  Just like the disciples were confounded by what Jesus did and allowed to happen, so John is perplexed.  Surely Jesus would have taken his place as king of Israel by now.  This central issue of who Jesus is has continued to be the main thing to this very day.  However, it does require a foundational belief that God has made promises that He will keep.  To a world that believes in a creator we must convince them that Jesus is the Son of God sent to perform salvation.  But to a world that doesn’t believe in any supernatural Creator, we must convince them that such a God exists.  Jesus is the key to this.

Part of the problem here is that John most likely didn’t foresee ending up in prison.  Remember that while John is in prison Jesus is teaching that He came to set the captives free. It is here that we see the importance of the spiritual message behind what Jesus was saying.  If Jesus meant he came to empty the prisons of the Herods then he failed miserably.  Clearly Jesus was speaking spiritually.  Faith is always tried when the physical situation seems more important to us than the spiritual.  John is in the furnace.

In these moments discouragement sets in.  Physical pains and difficulties over a long period of time wear us down and deflate our courage.  Of course, John doesn’t ultimately lose faith.  But his faith was severely tried.  When he had doubts he sought answers from Jesus and this is exactly what we must do in our times of doubt.  It is difficult to be under a cloud of discouragement.  It would be easy to condemn those who are discouraged for not having enough faith.  I would challenge you that discouragement is part of the process of purifying faith.  It is a necessary opponent that we must battle.  Instead of condemning discouragement, we need to be like Barnabas was.  Saul who was a new Christian was not trusted by most of the Christians.  In this discouraging time Barnabas came along side of him and promoted him to the brothers.  Love encourages people to turn to the Truth.  And that is exactly what John the Baptist did.  He sought an answer from Jesus.

The Answer Of Jesus

As John’s disciples arrive with the questions, they witness a scene in which Jesus is healing and preaching.  At some point when there is a break they are able to ask their question.

Jesus first says, “Go tell John all the things you have seen and heard.”   The blind were seeing, the lame walking, lepers cleansed, deaf hearing, and the dead raised.  Notice that in each of these a deficiency is met with the sufficiency of Jesus.  In fact all of these are pictures of spiritual problems.  We can be spiritually blind, lame, blighted with a deteriorating disease, deaf, and even dead.  Jesus is the answer to them all.  This is exactly what the Messiah was supposed to do.

At the end of this part he also says to tell John that the Gospel is preached to the poor.  The Gospel is the good news that they can have a part in the Kingdom of God through Jesus.  In light of the way John describes the earlier healings we could say that the poor receive the riches of heaven, Jesus himself.  This is intended to reach the heart of John the Baptist.  In his heart he knew that the Jews had mangled the Truth of God and instead of healing the hurting were making things worse.  Jesus was changing all of that.  Just like the Scriptures said that the Messiah would.

Lastly, Jesus adds a powerful statement, “Blessed are those who do not stumble because of me.”  Now remember this is intended to be an encouragement to John and to us.  He is reminding John of the stumbling stone of Isaiah 8 and 28.  In one place Isaiah says that God is going to take a stone that the builders reject and make it the capstone.  Notice the builders stumble in their analysis of God’s Rock.  In the other place we are told specifically that the Messiah would be a stumbling stone.  “He will be a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.” Isaiah 8:14-15.  Paul notes this in Romans 9 when he says that many in Israel stumbled over the Messiah because they sought righteousness by their own works of the Law, rather than throwing themselves by faith upon the mercy of God.  They trusted themselves over God.

Do you have doubts and fears?  Then hear the Truth about Jesus.  All the physical miracles He did point to spiritual issues that only He can heal.  Take hope in the reality of those things that Jesus has done.  He will do what God has said He will.  Don’t lose faith.  Remember that God is concerned about those who are ground down in this life and offers the riches of heaven to all who will respond.  You are a part of that group.  Don’t give up.  Lastly, you will be blessed if you don’t stumble over Jesus.  Many people today stumble over Jesus.  They do so by either totally rejecting him, or remaking him into an image that they can be comfortable with.  Both lead to destruction and cannot help.  Save yourself from this wicked generation, believe on the Lord Jesus, and be saved from the coming judgment.  And, like John, even if you are to lose your head for your faith in Jesus continue to go to Him for the answers you need to continue in faith.  Faithful to the end.

Faith and Doubt audio