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Weekly Word

Entries in Fasting (3)

Tuesday
Feb132018

A Proper Response to Judgment

1 Kings 21:27-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 11, 2018.

In the 1970’s a program was developed to try and help juvenile delinquents, or those in jeopardy of becoming such.  It was called Scared Straight!  It involved giving the teens a tour through a prison facility and then having inmates speak to the kids about avoiding the path that they had taken.  Over the years there has been investigation into how well programs like this really work.  Typically it is found that they typically do not work over the long haul of a person’s life.

When we look at what the Bible has to say about the concept of being scared straight, we find that when people are scared they will draw close to God, but then very quickly go their own way again.  The fear of punishment is not enough to completely change the heart of an individual.

Some people who read the Old Testament declare that they see a God who is vindictive and mean.  They don’t like the judgments that are always talked about in its pages.  Yet, they will often notice a stark difference with “the God of the New Testament,” as if He is someone different.  In the New Testament God seems so nice and non-judgmental.  The problem with this idea is that it is a gross mischaracterization of the Bible and specifically God.  Clearly such people have not read the Bible closely enough, neither have they read it with the proper intellectual honesty.  The truth is that the Old Testament is full of the grace of God (we have been studying how gracious God had been to Ahab though he deserved none).  Also, the New Testament is full of the judgment of God.  The famous John 3:16 verse about the love of God and His grace is followed up by verse 19 which states, “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  The book of Revelation is all about the just judgments of God.  The Second Coming of Jesus is part of God’s judgments upon the kings of the earth and their armies.

Believers have a difficult job.  Many people are not convinced that there is a God, much less that they are in danger of His judgments.  If a person is not convinced that they are in danger, how then can they truly believe in Jesus as their Savior?  What would He be saving them from?

Our passage today explores some of these events as we see King Ahab being scared straight (at least for a little while).

Ahab humbles himself after God’s decree

Last week we looked at verses 19-24 of this chapter and saw that the prophet Elijah was confronting Ahab with the decrees or judgments of God.  Remember, at its core the word judgment isn’t necessarily good or bad.  It simply means that a person or situation comes before God’s attention and He makes a decision about whether it is good or bad.  Thus, judgment can be good if it is in your favor and it can be bad if it is not in your favor.  Of course that is viewing it personally.  From an objective point of view, it is the justice of the judgment that makes it bad or good.  A bad person will not like a good judgment because it will find him or her guilty.

When God had viewed Ahab’s actions, He decreed that His wicked deeds should be punished.  There were three aspects to the judgment:  

  1. Ahab will die and dogs will lick up his blood in the same place that Naboth’s blood was licked up by the dogs (see the first part of this chapter). 
  2. Jezebel, the queen and his wife, would die and be eaten by dogs outside of the city of Jezreel. 
  3. Lastly, Ahab’s dynasty would come to an end with the death of all the male descendants of his biological line.  When Ahab hears these decrees, he is scared by what he hears and responds by humbling himself.

We are told that he tore his clothes, which would have been good clothes as a king, and he put on sackcloth.  Sackcloth is basically what we would call a gunny sack or burlap bag.  Even though he has more clothes, he wears the sackcloth as an outward symbol of his low place or poverty of his heart.  He also fasted (went without food and drink to some degree) and mourned over the judgment from God.  He carries out the traditional actions of one whose close loved one has died.  However, the news he has gotten is far more devastating than that.

Clearly Ahab believes Elijah and he should.  Elijah has a perfect track record.  Even though Ahab doesn’t like it, he is sure though that he is in trouble.  Now the outward signs are not the most important thing.  They only help us to see that the decree bothered Ahab and also that he was outwardly humbling himself.  But what was going on inside?  Repentance always begins with humbling ourselves before the word of God.  But then it must go on to do the actions that are indicative of true inner repentance.  It is not enough to feel sorrow over our judgment.  We must also see the true wickedness of our sin that brought that judgment.  I must sorrow over my decision to reject God’s way and choose my own, but also sorrow over the foolishness of my way.  Thus we must turn away from those sins.  Though Ahab believed the judgment spoken by Elijah, we do not see any later statements of him turning from his sins.  There is no, “Then Ahab got rid of all the prophets of Baal.”  There is no, “Then Ahab called all Israel together and instructed them to worship the God of Israel alone.”  There is no, “Then Ahab sought out the nearest relative of Naboth, gave the stolen vineyard back to him, and publicly exonerated Naboth’s reputation.”  These would have been the actions that were worthy of true repentance.  Regardless of the reality of this, in the moment Ahab is humbling his prideful self before the God of Israel and there is always hope when a person does this.  God met him where he was even though it wouldn’t last.  This is the grace of God.

God’s response to Ahab’s humility

It is most likely that this is the first positive word that Elijah ever received regarding Ahab.  God still gives Ahab one last measure of grace, even though He knows that Ahab will not follow through with his humility.  The grace comes in the form of a modification to the original judgment.  Now the death of Ahab is not modified and neither is the death of Jezebel.  However, the calamity that was to come and wipe out all of his male descendants will no longer happen during his life.  It will happen in the next generation.  Now that might not sound like much grace to you, but then you are in the safety of your house and do not have your whole family under the decree of death by God.  Such grace is really a test of our heart.  Will Ahab take God’s grace and run with it?  Will he change his wicked ways and live for the God of Israel alone?  Sadly we will find in the next chapter that this is not how the rest of the story goes.  Yet, God works with people in the moment.  He works with the sinner’s present heart, regardless of what it will be in the future.  Thus we should be careful with the grace that we are receiving today.  It is not an indication that we are now “bullet-proof” and into the future.  It is simply God’s grace.  What we do with it is incredibly important.

This modification of the original prophecy or decree of God begs a question.  Must all true prophecy come to pass?  Our knee jerk response is to quote Deuteronomy 18:22 and declare that a true prophecy must always come to pass and without any variations from the original prophecy.  It is true that passage I just mentioned lays down a principle that if God says something will happen, then it will happen.  Yet, this is not the only verse in the Bible on prophecy and it is not the only principle we should bear in mind when thinking about this question.

Think for a bit about the story of Jonah and Ninevah.  Yes, there was all that whale business (technically the Bible calls it a big fish).  But the crux of the story is God’s judgment on Ninevah.  Jonah finally walks into Ninevah and prophesies “In 40 days Ninevah will be overthrown!”  Wow, pretty specific and clearly a true prophecy representing the actual judgment or decree of God in heaven.  But when the king of Ninevah hears the words of God from Jonah, he is struck with fear and humbles himself in exactly the same way King Ahab does in this story.  He even commands the whole city to humble themselves before God.  Jonah 3:10 says, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”  In a particular moment in time the Ninevites humbled themselves before the word of the God of Israel.  Thus God relented from or overturned His original decree completely.  Think about it.  On day 40, nothing happened.  I’m sure there may have been a few extra guards posted on the walls that day, but God had relented.  We know the story, but what would stop a person on the ground during those days of accusing him of being a false prophet?  Mustn’t the words of a true prophecy always come true?

This brings us to another principle when dealing with prophecies.  In prophecies of judgment, which decree punishments and even death, it is sometimes stated, but always implicitly understood that the judgments are spoken so that those who are under it will repent and turn from their sin.  In other words, the reason God warns us of punishments is so that we will repent, and be spared from them.  He isn’t going on record so that He will get the glory when people are destroyed.    Rather, it is to melt the hard heart of wicked people and induce repentance.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

If you want a chapter and verse on this principle then we need to go to Jeremiah 18:5-12.  We can call this principle the Mercy Clause.  However it is true towards the good and the bad.  Thus we probably should call it the Mercy/Justice Clause.  In this passage God has told Jeremiah that he can refashion Israel like a potter punches down the clay and remakes it when it isn’t shaping correctly.  Thus he tells Jeremiah to tell Judah that God intends to bring disaster upon them.  However, He also wants him to tell them to return from their evil way, and make their ways and actions good.  God then goes on to explain the Mercy/Justice Clause.  In verses 7-8 God posits a hypothetical kingdom that He has decreed judgment and destruction upon.  However, if that nation turns from its wicked ways, then God will relent from sending the disaster that He had already decreed to bring upon it.  Clearly, God’s purpose in declaring disaster is so that we can avoid it.  Notice that Ahab’s decree is only partially averted.  Most likely that is due to the fact that his repentance would not be complete.

In verses 9-10 of Jeremiah 18 we see that the opposite is true as well.  Here God posits a hypothetical nation that He has decreed to bless.  However, if that nation does not obey God’s voice (i.e. His words) then God will relent concerning the good with which He had already decreed upon it.  Of course this would eventually lead to God speaking a word of disaster over that nation in hopes that it would repent.

It is not God who is wavering in this principle.  It is us.  God is always true to His nature, and it is His nature to be gracious, but just.  He gives justice, but leaves room for repentance.  He gives people and nations far more time than they deserve to change their ways. 

Thus we must keep this principle in mind when we are judging whether someone is a true prophet of God or not.  I am not saying that this will make it an easy determination.  Sometimes we have to let things grow until they show their true colors.  Just like God we should give it time, but not for the same reasons.  We should give time out of the humility that we cannot see people’s hearts.  Whereas God gives time for people to repent if they are wrong, or grow if they are right.

Isn’t this the very heart of the Gospel that we are to take to the people around us?  It may not be “40 days” away.  But, all who have not put their faith in Jesus by coming into obedience to the word of God are under a judgment of being guilty.  The decree has already been given.  Its punishments hang over us even now.  Yet, Christians share the good news with people that there is a mercy clause in God’s judgments.  Yes, the soul who sins will die.  But those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.  These are not contradictory decrees.  One supersedes the other.

Friend, let us not bank on past righteousness and blessing of God.  Even the present blessings of God are not proof positive that we are okay.  Instead, let us walk continually with a heart of humility and the actions of a heart that is turning towards God and not away.  Thus, we need not live in fear, but we must not live in false pride either.  For those who hear this, don’t let the fact that God judges your life as sinful and deserving of judgment cause you to turn from Him.  To do so is to only seal your fate.  But if you will humble yourself, pray, and turn from those wicked ways, He will hear from heaven, relent, and even heal you.

Response to Judgment audio

Tuesday
Aug052014

The Powerful Purpose of Christ

Today we are going to look at the passage in Luke 9:37-45.  Jesus, Peter, John and James are coming down the mountain the day after the transfiguration of Jesus, in which his majesty and glory were revealed to the Three.  If you add that situation with all of the other signs and wonders they had seen, the power of Christ was well impressed upon them.  In this passage there is another powerful encounter as Jesus casts a demon out of a boy.  This kind of power can cause people to drool over all the imagination of what you can do.  Whether it is the people of Israel ready to conquer the Romans and remove the wicked leaders in the Sanhedrin or the disciples imagining their positions of power alongside of Jesus, we would not use such power for the same thing Jesus did. 

Yes, Jesus healed people everywhere he went.  But, that wasn’t his main objective.  Jesus physically couldn’t fix all the difficulties in the world limited within a human body.  But even if he did go around healing people and setting them free from evil spirits, it wouldn’t fix the underlying problem: our sin.   Jesus was sent to deal with the root of mankind’s problem.  We are a world that has come under the sway of sin and spiritual death.  Such a problem needs a spiritual answer.  Yet, that answer is counter-intuitive to our worldly thinking.  Even when we accept Christ’s death on the cross, we tend to see it as an example of how bad hatred is and how good love is.  Jesus is merely an example.  However, the testimony of Scripture is that he was paying the price for the sins of mankind.  Jesus had to lay down his powerful life and die on a cross in order to deal with our sin.  This seems like a waste of power to many people.

Jesus Heals A Possessed Boy

In verses 37-42, a large crowd sees Jesus coming down off the mountain and meets him.  Particularly, there is one gentleman who has a demon possessed boy.  He begs Jesus for help and states that his disciples (the nine who did not go up the mountain) couldn’t cast out the demon.

Now in the gospel of Mark chapter 9 we are given a lot more detail than Luke gives.  Let me go through some of those details.  We are told that the boy has been possessed since he was a small child.  The spirit had caused him to become mute and deaf.  The spirit would often seize the boy near fire or water, thus endangering his life.  He would not only seize, but would also foam and gnash his teeth.  It would be easy to scoff at the idea of a demon and look at these descriptions as antiquated relics of ignorance.  Of course medically we do know much more.  However, they had medicine back then as well.  Even today, there are incidents that modern medicine have problem explaining.  They typically get thrown under the banner of “mental disorders.”  Now not all mental issues have to do with demons.  However, there are three main problems that crop up in some mental issues.  The first is that the mention of Jesus or Scripture triggers events of seizure and difficulty in some.  Secondly, they sometimes speak in a different voice cursing Christ, the Bible, and Christians.  Lastly, it can be brought to the end at a vocal command through the power of Jesus.  These things cannot be mere coincidence or cultural.  So this really does seem to be more than just a brain problem.  There is a spirit that is doing this to the child.

The 9 disciples that had stayed behind had been trying to cast out this demon without success.  Now keep in mind that they had previously gone out throughout Israel healing people and casting out demons.  Jesus had given them authority to do so.  There was something wrong in this situation and they didn’t know what it was.  This goes to show that casting out demons is not about knowing the right words or merely being a disciple of Jesus.  Definitely we need to be connected to Christ in a living relationship.  But there is more to it than that.

In verse 41 Jesus brings up the issue of faith and perversion.  It is not addressed to the disciples, but to the generation as a whole.  It seems that this situation is itself a picture of how degraded Israel had become and how plundered by the enemy they were.  Spirits cannot just possess someone.  They can only take hold of someone when they have willfully opened themselves up to them.  This is done through false religions, occult arts, magic, sorcery, fortune tellers or any other such things.  Somewhere someone in this family has been going to spirits for something and it has resulted in a small child being possessed.  What does faith and perversion have to do with this?  God had given Israel perfect laws that would enable them to walk in power before the spirits of this world.  He had warned them of those spiritual traps the enemy used to gain power over people.  Yet, some did not believe the “old, archaic” words of the Bible.  Instead they willfully went their own way seeking power from sources God had told them not to.  On top of this, Israel had not merely sought power from another source, they also had done so while still claiming to be God’s people.  Their lives had become a mixture of things from the Bible and yet things forbidden in the Bible.  To twist God’s ways is to pervert them.  Thus the child bound by a demon and the impotence of the disciples is a small picture of the problem throughout all of Israel. 

Yet, Jesus tells the man, “If you believe all things are possible.”  To which the man replies, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  Here we see the mercy of Christ.  Though it is frustrating that they are in the situation because of their own willfulness and sin, God still has compassion on us and wants to save us.  Jesus points him back to the root problem.  If you will have faith in God all things are possible.  We are being challenged in this ourselves.  We are a generation that is lacking faith in God’s word and in His ways.  We have called our perversions acceptable to God by twisting Scripture to our own ends.  We need to take warning.

Mark tells us that Jesus commanded the Deaf and mute spirit to come out of the boy.  The boy convulsed greatly and screamed and then suddenly stopped.  The crowd thought the boy was dead.  However, Jesus took the boy by the hand and raised him up and gave him back to his father.  This is a picture of us.  We come to God full of all manner of evil things begging for help.  Though he sets us free, it leaves us in a powerless state like this boy, as if dead.  In his mercy, Jesus takes us by the hand and helps us to get up and walk in the new freedom that he has given us.  Not all have been possessed by demons, but we all have found ourselves helpless and bound to the lies that they have sown throughout our society.  Only Jesus can set us free.

Mark also has the additional information of why the 9 disciples could not cast out the demon.  Jesus told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”  There are two things that stick out in this answer.  First of all, there are kinds of spirits.  Some are apparently harder to cast out than others.  The disciples had not run into this kind before.  The second issue has to do with prayer and fasting.  We are not given the explanation of what prayer and fasting does to enable casting out “stronger” spirits.  However, the greatest work of prayer is to focus us on God and his work.  If we live our lives mostly focused on material things of this world and rarely on God, we will find that we lack power for certain spiritual things.  Jesus points his disciples to this area.  When he is gone, they are going to need to prayer and fast at greater levels in order to do the work that God has for them.

Christ’s Purpose vs His Power

In verses 43-45 we see an interaction between Jesus and his disciples.  All of the displays of power that Jesus had been doing caused them to expect the exact opposite of what Jesus was going to do.  They expected a confrontation with the Romans and the leaders of Israel in which Jesus takes over.  All of the majestic power of Christ was not headed to this objective.  Rather, He was headed to a cross.  Even today, many reject Christ because his answer to the world seems weak and pitiful to them.  What a colossal waste of power, they think to themselves.  This difficulty in understanding God’s ways has been a timeless problem for mankind.  We don’t just think differently, but our thoughts lead in the exact opposite direction.  The bible tells us that even the foolishness of God is far higher than the greatest wisdom of man.  In Luke Jesus says, “let these words sink down into your ears…”  A surface understanding alone will not work.  Jesus was to be betrayed and killed; get it through your head.  If we follow Jesus in a superficial way and ignore all the tough things that he says, we will not get far.  The closer Jesus got to the cross the fewer people who gathered around him, until he was all alone.  Jesus is the Rejected One.  No matter how popular he is in a moment in time, we will all be tested in the long run.  You will be forced to choose.  Whom are you following?  Are you following Jesus or the wise and great of this world?  This is the question that is constantly put before those who wish to follow Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to pick up your own cross expecting to die along with him.  Let these words sink into your ears.

Powerful Purpose of Christ Audio

Tuesday
Nov192013

When The New Becomes The Old

Today we are going to look at Luke 5:33-39.  Here the subject of prayer and fasting comes up.  But, rather than looking at the mechanics of how to do them, the issue is the Why and When of prayer and fasting.

The Question of the People

The question that is brought to Jesus starts with an observation.  The people had observed that prayer and fasting was a big part of the Pharisees and their disciples.  It was also a big deal with John the Baptist and his disciples.  Yet, the disciples of Jesus were not seen fasting and praying all the time.  Why?

Now let’s remind ourselves what biblical fasting is and what it is not.  There was only one fast that was commanded in the law and that was on the Day of Atonement.  All other fasts were voluntary, either as an individual or as a nation.  Even prayer is more assumed or expected rather than commanded.  So prayer and fasting are generally specific to a time of need.  Over time, the people of Israel had added public, memorial fasts to commemorate difficult times.  Things like the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple became times of national remembrance.  It would be similar to the United States declaring 9-11 as a day of fasting and prayer for our nation.  So why weren’t the disciples seen fasting on all these expected fasts?

Now we need to also remind ourselves of how the prophets corrected Israel on its many fasts.  Isaiah in chapter 58 took the nation to task.  Fasts had become a ritual in which they expected God to be impressed that they went without food and yet, on the same day, they would break his commands.  Fasting was never about impressing God with our ability to go without food.  Also, Jesus himself had taught in Matthew 6 that they shouldn’t pray in order to be seen by men, but rather to pray in order to be seen by God.  He also warned them to not use empty repetitious phrases.  So we would expect that his disciples would pray more in private than in public.  Also in regard to fasting, Jesus had taught that they should not make themselves look like they were fasting (in order that men may notice).  So it would make sense that their times of fasting would go unnoticed.  Jesus made it clear that God was not enamored with the ritual of prayer and fasting.  He was enamored with the heart that truly sought Him over the top of the things of this world.

Thus fasting has always been the mourning of a person who seeks God in prayer because of a difficult need or situation.  It is the cry of a person to God asking for mercy and help.  We want Him more than our daily food.  The situation is so devastating that we have no appetite.  We only want help from God.  Yet, this is not what is going on with the disciples.  They are not such good students of Jesus that they are never seen praying and fasting.  No, the answer was simpler.

The Answer: The Bridegroom And His Friends

In verses 34 and 35 Jesus gives the first of 3 parables or pictures which explain why his disciples weren’t fasting.  In this first parable, Jesus depicts himself as a bridegroom.  Now this is important to remember because Jesus used this image in other parables.  Here the disciples are called the friends of the bridegroom.  Even though the Church is called the bride of Christ, the marriage of the Lamb is not until the end of the age.  The Church is technically engaged to Christ.  So in this story Jesus compares them to his friends before the marriage.  This is clearly a happy time.  It would be the wrong time to act sad and start fasting.  Rather, it is a time to rejoice and feast together.  Israel had waited over a thousand years for the Messiah and here he was.  It would not only be unfitting to mourn and fast, it would be insulting.  Picture it this way.  If you were fasting and praying for a job and you got a call from a prospective employer saying that you are hired, it would be strange for you to continue fasting and praying as if nothing had happened.  You would be excited and scurrying around getting ready for your new job.  You would be happy and throwing a party.  The simple answer is that it isn’t time to fast.  Something wonderful has happened.

Yet, Jesus prophetically said that they day will come when he is taken away from them.  Then they will fast and pray often.  After the cross we see the disciples fasting and praying in the book of Acts.  Also throughout the New Testament letters we see that fasting was part and parcel with the early Church.  Why?  It is because of the fact that they were enduring the tribulations of this world for the sake of Christ and looking to that day when they could be reconnected with him.

The Answer: A New Patch, Old Garment

Jesus switches the analogy to that of an inanimate thing: clothing.  If you had an old garment and needed to fix it, you would not use a patch of new clothing.  Thus the Old Covenant was not just being patched up.  God was doing a new thing.  Even though the Law was old and tattered, it was not morally bad.  It was broken down by the sins and failures of Israel.  Yet, it still had served its purpose of demonstrating God’s righteousness and our sinfulness.  No man could be saved by Law.  The Law is righteous and I am not.  Therefore, I must die.  To simply patch the Law by adding grace would not be a good fix.  Grace is so vastly different that it would end up destroying both the old garment and the new patch.  This theme of bad mixtures runs throughout the Bible.  God warns us that not all mixtures are beneficial.  To mix some grace in with the Law is not God’s answer.  Grace comes in as a whole new set of clothing.  We are not under the law, but by grace we fulfill the righteousness of God.  In fact he says the two wouldn’t even match each other.  The Gospel is a completely different picture and vision than the Law.  They would be like trying to match a chromatic suit with a Hawaiian shirt.  It would look ridiculous even before both are destroyed.  You can’t promote one vision without diminishing the other.  You must choose between the Law (your righteousness) and Grace (the righteousness of Jesus).

The Answer: New Wine, Old Wineskins

The last picture has to do with wine and their containers.  Wine here is representative of the teaching of Jesus and the gospel.  Jesus had come to explain and show the Grace that God had made available to those condemned to die.  This new wine is different from the old wine of the Law that explained that everyone was sinful and disqualified before God.  The wineskin is the people and their response to the wine (teaching) over time.  Israel had the Law poured into them at Mt. Sinai.  Over the years their reaction to it had hardened into ritualized ways of dealing with it.  The Law had run its course and had affected them.  Thus the Law itself was new wine at one time.  The fledgling nation of Israel was also a new wineskin.  However, the Law had fermented and Israel had hardened.  Now it was time for new wine.  But God needed new “unhardened” people to pour it into.  God was unveiling the mystery of Grace that had been hidden and yet hinted at from the beginning.

Notice that both the wines came from God.  In fact Christians today should recognize that the Gospel itself has become “old wine.”  You may think it is blasphemy to say so, but that is because you think of old wine as bad.  Jesus wasn’t saying the old wine was bad, but that it had run its course and had its effect.  This world has heard the gospel for 2,000 years.  I am not saying it is time to stop, but the times of Grace to the nations does have a terminal point in the future.  Christian institutions and denominations have clearly followed a similar pattern as Israel did with the Law.  We have been affected by the Gospel, but in some ways, have been hardened by it.  The coming new wine is that of the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom.  God is doing this in such a way as to preserve the Law and Grace as both righteous, perfect tools in the hand of God.  Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  We must not bring the Church under the Law of Moses.  But neither must we attack it and declare its precepts unrighteous.

So let me end with these cautions.  The old wineskins always tend to not want the new.  Have you become so hardened to the Word of God that you are no longer useable by God?  Yet on the other hand, all that is new is not of God.  What vintage are you seeking?  In the name of progress and new wine, this world will embrace the antichrist spirit’s ultimate expression in the “Man of Sin.”  Why?  Simply because they hardened themselves to loving the Truth and set themselves up to believing a lie.  Caution!

 

New Becomes Old