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Weekly Word

Entries in Fear (10)

Tuesday
Mar122019

Touching the Untouchable

Mark 1:40-45.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 10, 2019.

Today’s passage deals with a man who has leprosy.  In the Bible leprosy can be connected to a similar disease today called Hansen’s Disease.  However, it is clear that the Bible uses this term for far more than what would be considered Hansen’s Disease.  It was more of an umbrella term that was used to describe a range of skin problems, and even molds and mildew on stone or wood.  The man in our story appears to have a skin problem.  How bad his case is and how long he has had it we do not know.  This much we do know.  In the ancient world, the only answer for leprosy was a miracle.  Short of a miracle, a person was doomed to a life of being ostracized from society.  Lepers had to live outside and away from the dwelling places of the uninfected and they had to warn people if they approached.

This in and of itself would be bad enough, but then we must add the human element.  Humans added to the difficulty of lepers by showing little to no compassion.  Self-preservation was the order of the day and it was often laced with a derogatory hostility.  They were often seen as deserving of a punishment from God.  It is true that the Bible records some situations where a person who was rebelling against God came down with leprosy as a punishment.  However, this does not mean that every case is the result of judgment.  In general sin is in the world because humanity is fallen.  It is a result of the general sinful condition of mankind.  Though God can direct disease as a primary force, He typically allows proximity, DNA, and chance take its course.  Though we may wish God would protect everyone, or at least children and the helpless, etc., He has a plan to make us like Him.  If we are protected from the results of our fallen nature then we will never grow to become like Him.  The first reaction of Christians to disease should be the same compassion that we see in Jesus in this passage and the attempt to do for them what we can, both physically and spiritually.

An Untouchable approaches Jesus

The event begins in verse 40 and happens somewhere outside of a city because none is mentioned and lepers were very limited in where they could go.  In Matthew this same story is recorded right after the sermon on the mount, which happens near Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives.  Therefore, it is likely that Jesus is outside Jerusalem, but we cannot know for sure.

People who had contracted leprosy were supposed to keep their distance and shout “Unclean! Unclean!” as a warning to people.  However, this man knows the reputation of Jesus as a healer and breaks protocol.

He kneels down and implores Jesus to heal him.  Now, kneeling for a person with leprosy can be a dangerous thing.  These diseases typically are caused by bacteria that attack the nerve endings and work their way to the core of the central nervous system.  The lack of feeling is as much responsible for their wounds as any cellular deterioration.  Yet, this is a desperate man.  He pleads with Jesus for help. 

If leprosy symbolizes sin then we should recognize that this man’s knowledge of his own condition, his own helplessness, and just who could help him, is symbolic of the answer to sin.  Only God could help this man wracked by the ravages of a disease.  Only Jesus had given him the hope that something could be done about his condition.  The same is true for us and our own sinful condition.  Without Jesus, we are at the mercy of sin and our selfish flesh.  They drive a wedge between us and the relationships in our lives, making us numb to life, and eventually destroying all hope.  We cannot approach Jesus with proud demands, but if we approach in brokenness and humility, we will find Him gracious and willing to help us.

Let’s analyze the statement the man makes.  First, he states the conditional, “If you are willing.”  This is enlightening.  He knows that God can heal him, but up to this point it hasn’t happened.  When he hears about Jesus, he has hope again, but still doesn’t know if Jesus is anymore willing to heal him.  There are some today who answer this question by saying Jesus is always willing.  If you are sick and come to Jesus, you should always get healed.  If not, then there is something wrong with you not Jesus.  Let’s lay this larger issue aside for a second and recognize in this moment how critical that question is to an individual.  It is often the result of countless hours of beating yourself up with the hopelessness of your situation and the idea that God doesn’t care about you.  Jesus was probably the first time that this man felt any hope that it could happen, but it hinges on the willingness of Jesus.

The second part of his statement is this.  “You can make me clean.”  It states an unwavering belief (faith) that Jesus had the power to heal him.  Of this, he seems to have no doubt.  Now, we have no indication that Jesus has healed other lepers up to this point.  He is the first recorded in the gospels.  However, it is possible because of all the blanket statements that say that Jesus healed all who were brought to him (at a particular instance).  Regardless, he believes.

The word clean is used because biblically the person with leprosy was declared “unclean.”  This was a ceremonial declaration that they could not participate in any temple rituals, whether to offer sacrifice or whatever.  Also, those who were ritually clean could not touch them at risk of becoming ritually impure themselves (note: mere touch could only cause temporary uncleanness, but contracting the disease would create a permanent uncleanness without healing).  So, the use of the term has two meanings.  The man could not be declared clean by the priests unless he was first healed from the disease.  He wants Jesus to heal him so that he can then be declared clean. Once he is clean, he can take his part in the heritage of Israel and go to the temple for worship and sacrifice.  It would open the door of access for him. 

The same is true for us today.  Without Christ, we are still in our sins and shut out from God’s heavenly temple.  Only Jesus can clean us from our sins.  However, even more than that, only Jesus can restore us to a position in which we can participate in the heritage that God has for His people today, that heritage that will take us into eternity, and the new heavens and the new earth.  Christ has not come just to rid us of the bad, but also to restore us to that good thing that we have been missing in our life.  Fellowship with God the Father and the Power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to image the Father to this broken and lost world.

Jesus responds to him

So, let’s look at the response of Jesus to such an approach.  Does Jesus respond with fear and calling for the stoning of such brazen audacity and wanton disregard for scriptural protocol?  I am not exaggerating, because historically certain rabbis have gone on record of responding with such reactions towards those with leprosy.  Of course, Jesus does no such thing.  Verses 41-42 show us a powerful scene of compassion.  We must be careful of brushing over such moments in the Scripture too quickly.  We are told that Jesus is moved with compassion.  The word for compassion speaks of a very deep emotion that comes from the guts.  We often have compassion on people, but typically it is for those who are very close to us, or the compassion is not very deeply felt.  Here is a man who has no connection to Jesus other than to be a fellow Israelite.  Yet, Jesus is moved with deep emotion for this man and his condition.

Do you believe that God is deeply moved by compassion when He looks at the world and its bondage to sin?  We only need to look at the cross and see the suffering of Jesus in order to know that He is deeply touched by our sin.  He does care.  He hasn’t abandoned you.  Put your trust in Him and He will never fail you.  He won’t do everything you tell Him to do, but He will be faithful to you to the very end.

We also see that Jesus was not afraid to touch the man.  There is great significance in this touch because Jesus did not have to touch him in order to affect a healing.  He is powerful enough to just think it and it will happen.  On top of this a person with leprosy were basically like a dead person.  If you touched a person you would be ritually unclean, and even worse, you could contract the disease.  In the case of a dead person, someone from the family has to bury the body.  However, Jesus didn’t have to touch the leper and yet He does.  Put yourself in the sandals of this man.  No one had touched him for years and here is a powerful prophet touching you in the name of Father God.  It must have been powerful.

Here is a brain bender.  Is Jesus ritually impure when He touches the man?  He would be technically.  However, the guy is made clean by the touch.  So, shouldn’t that disqualify the touch as making Jesus unclean?  Of course, I am treating this a problem for priests who are trying to follow the Law of Moses.  It is clear that when the Holy One, the Clean One of God, touches a person, the impurity of the person does not affect Him, but His purity affects the impurity.  That is how powerful the life of Christ is.  For us as humans, we cannot conquer someone else’s disease with our own health.  We can only hope to fight off the disease that they may have and could still succumb to the disease, no matter how healthy we are.  With Christ, this is not so.  The power of Jesus disintegrates the bacteria in every cell that is ravaging this man.  Jesus shows the true purpose of the purity laws.  They are not about walling us off from each other and from God, but rather about turning our eyes towards and connecting with the only One who can truly make us clean!

The man is instantly healed

Jesus was willing to heal the man, O, happy Day!  How those words must have washed over the man.  We are told that the man is instantly healed, which is saying a lot for a disease that would have been ravaging his whole body.  There would not only be destruction of the invading bacteria, but also reconstruction of destroyed cellular tissue. What a powerful healing.  So, what happens next?

Jesus warns the man not to tell anyone.  Of course, the man is extremely excited.  Why would Jesus give such a command?  Doesn’t this run counter to our duty to tell the whole world about Jesus?  Jesus is trying to minister somewhat under the radar of the religious authorities.  He knows that if He “pokes the bear” too much and too quickly then their attempts to kill Him would begin too soon.  God had a particular timing and purpose for the ministry of Jesus.  It is now clear that He needed to minister for 3 ½ years before He was to be killed.

Of course, today we are not under such a command from Jesus, although people sometimes act as if they are.  Jesus continually told His disciples that His death and resurrection would be the turning point for them to go public, declaring Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world.

Jesus also tells him to go and show himself to the priest as a testimony to them.  This was the requirement of the Law of Moses for anyone cured of leprosy.  They had to present themselves to the priests and go through several protocols that would determine whether they were truly healed or not.  Can you imagine what it must have been like at the temple that day?  Keep in mind that it is highly doubtful that the priests had ever had to perform this ritual.  There was probably a frantic scrambling around of priests trying to figure out what to do.  Yet, all of this was to be a testimony to them.  God was moving and there was a God in Israel who was making lepers clean.  Who had ever heard of such a thing (only a couple of times in the Old Testament)?  It was very rare.  The greatest testimony to the world of the power of Jesus is your own life transformed from sin and cleansed to be like Jesus.  None of us are perfect, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk in truth and righteousness before the world, and yet, also be compassionate and life-giving.  We don’t have to fear anything, even incurable diseases.  Sure, some people reject the testimony, but some are shocked and believe.  Others may tuck it in the back of their mind and it comes to fruit later.  Regardless, may we be a true testimony of Jesus Christ.

Next, we see that the man didn’t listen to Jesus and tells everybody what He did.  Here we see that even a good thing can be a bad thing if it is not exercised in wisdom.  Thus, we must learn to trust the wisdom of Christ and His representatives, the Apostles, rather than our own mind.  He knows better than us.

I said earlier that they are most likely outside of Jerusalem.  Thus, it is most likely the city that He couldn’t openly enter.  The passage tells us that Jesus goes north to minister in the Galilee region again.

Here we have a story about our broken and rotten condition without God meeting the compassion of God in Jesus.  If you are a believer today then I encourage you to remember that you were such a spiritual leper, being ravaged by sin, before you met Jesus.  He had the compassion to touch you!  He loves you.  However, we must also see ourselves in the place of Jesus.  Ask Christ to build such a deep compassion in you for those who are broken around you, whether they deserve their situation or not.  Pray that you may have such an impact upon the lost.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, then I encourage you to search your heart and see your true condition with Jesus.  You are being ravaged by a spiritual disease of sin that has deeply infected you to the core.  It will isolate you from everyone that you love, and destroy your life one cell at a time, until you are completely destroyed.  However, Jesus loves you and wants to touch you too.  If you will only fall down before Him and ask for His healing touch.  Lord, Jesus heal me of all my sin and make me clean that I may take my place in the heritage that belongs to God’s people, instead of being shut out and excluded.

Untouchables audio

Tuesday
Feb262019

The Power of Jesus

Mark 1:21-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 24, 2019.

Having introduced us to Jesus, Mark goes on to give evidence of the powerful things that Jesus did while he ministered on this earth.  This is important because we need to recognize that, though Jesus was smart and spoke in a way that amazed people, the biblical authors highlighted his power over his talk.  Paul references the effect of this reality in 1 Corinthians 4:20, when he says, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” (NIV) 

If we only have fine sounding words to offer people then we might as well hang up our hat now.  At some point, they will come to realize that they need real power.  Yes, knowledge is power, but not all knowledge can set you free from the bondage of sin and hurts that so easily entangles us.  Even knowing the Scriptures is not enough to break the bondage of sin.  We must have a living relationship with Jesus, who alone has power to break every fetter!

Jesus teaches in Capernaum

Jesus focuses his ministry in the northern part of Israel for several reasons.  The more he ministered in Jerusalem the quicker the authorities would want to kill Him, and God had a particular timing about all of this.  Another reason is that it was symbolic of God’s care and heart for those who need help.    Jerusalem represented the best of Israel in the natural.  All the political and religious leaders were there.  Compared to Jerusalem, Capernaum represented the country bumpkins.  Jerusalem represented riches and knowledge, whereas Capernaum was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and would not have the greatest teachers in the land.  Those who know they are poor are quicker to receive than those who think they already have everything.

So Jesus goes into the synagogue of Capernaum on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was the day of rest, which corresponds to Friday evening to Saturday evening.  The people of Israel had developed the habit of gathering in buildings in order to worship God, to hear the Word of God read and to have it explained.  The concept of a synagogue developed at some point after Israel’s exile into Babylon and subsequent return to the land.  Before this time, their religious life was mainly at the Temple, where they worshipped God and offered sacrifices.  With the temple destroyed in 586 B.C., they had to wrestle with continuing to worship.  Thus the concept of synagogues that focused on teaching was born.  In fact, early Jewish Christians called their gatherings synagogues as well.  However, the term “Church,” that had been used by Jesus, later became the main word to describe Christian gatherings.  So this is much like a Jewish Church service in its function. 

The fact that the leaders of the synagogue let Jesus teach says something.  He was not a rabbi who had learned under the rabbis of the day.  Normally this would preclude him from being able to teach.  Yet, the prophet, John the Baptist, had gone on record that Jesus was God’s anointed one, the Messiah.  Thus the talk had preceded Christ and the people were eager to hear from Him. 

We are told that the people were astonished because he taught “as one with authority.”  It may be easy to read into these words that Jesus was cocky and arrogant.  However, the emphasis is the contrast between how Jesus taught and how the scribes taught (who were men trained in the religion of Israel).  The scribes normally taught by referring to different views of the great rabbis from the past and the present.  They basically were relaying what others had said and those great rabbis often disagreed with each other.  Though we do not have a text of this teaching, it is safe to say that Jesus did not quote any authorities to substantiate his interpretation of the text.  Jesus is “acting as if” He is the authority on the subject.  Of course, that is because He actually is.  Knowing who Jesus is, we can recognize that He is the most qualified man of all history who could give authoritative understanding on what passages of the Bible meant and what God intended us to understand from it.

Today, we need to be careful that we do not make either of two mistakes.  One, we can forget that we have received authoritative understanding on what passages of the Bible meant and why the Law of Moses was given.  These were given by the true author of the Bible, God Himself, and those who He personally trained.  Two, we can use the authority of Jesus in order to teach things that He and His apostles did not teach.  Confidence is not good if it is placed in the wrong thing, but when it is placed upon the right thing, or right person, then it is a good thing.  We can confidently proclaim the teachings of Christ and His Apostles, but we should never become arrogant and take to ourselves a confidence that sees the authority of Jesus as something that has been handed down to us.  Jesus is still the authority.  Paul Himself said in Galatians 1:8 that even if the apostles were to teach a gospel that was other than what was originally given, they should be considered cursed by God and rejected.   We must never forget this truth.

Jesus casts out an unclean spirit

At some point in the teaching of Jesus a man with an unclean spirit cries out and interrupts the meeting.  It doesn’t seem that he had been brought to the meeting in order to be delivered, but it is possible.  Sometimes a person who is demon possessed may retain their faculties most of the time.  Depending on the situation these demons will “manifest” or show their presence from time to time.  The Gadarene demoniac seems to have been under constant “manifestation.”  He was never in his right mind and people could not interact with his human psyche.  Whereas others have demonstrated varying amounts of self control with times in which the spirit takes control, or manifests.

The phrase that is used in this passage is “unclean spirit.”  What is an unclean spirit?  Unclean is another way of saying evil or bad.  It is a reference to the spiritual defilement that sin and rebellion against God brings to a being.  Therefore this spirit is sinful and in rebellion against God.  In that sense we could say that the Devil and his angels are also unclean spirits.  This would be true technically, but the phrase never seems to be used of the Devil and his angels (fallen angels).  Much speculation and dogmatic ideas have been put forth from then to now.  However, the Bible seems to equate unclean spirits with evil spirits and demons.  There are different beings within the spirit realm and there are hierarchies within the spirit real as well.  Thus we cannot be completely sure what exact “species” (for lack of a better word) demons or evil spirits are.  They may just be lower level beings that rebelled with the devil and his angels, or they may be something else.  However, we can be confident that the Bible has told us what we need to know.  We do know that demons, or unclean spirits, appear to be restless until they are able to control a human being to some varying degree.  How do they get this control over humans?  They are not “spiritual ticks” that happen to fall on people.  Rather, they are able to get control and influence through the activity of the person who has connected to the spirit through some form of spiritual arts (divination, séance, occult rituals, and basically anything promoted by these spirits to get control).  Christians should not be enticed by t he so called knowledge that spiritists of any sort promise to give to them because these spirits cannot be trusted.  They resist God and hate mankind.

At this point, I should point out that it is easy to make the mistake of seeing all mental problems as demonic, and the opposite mistake of seeing all such problems as only a physical problem of the mind.  Unclean spirits are real, but they are not the only reason why people have ailments.

It is clear from this passage that the unclean spirit is afraid of Jesus.  This is notable because it was not common for demons to show any fear in the presence of people, quite the opposite.  Thus, this is astounding to the people watching.  The spirit is afraid and Jesus is not.  By following the text, we can see some of the fears of the spirit.  First, it wants to be left alone.  If fears that Jesus is going to interfere with its control on this human (and for good reason).  It also asks if Jesus has come “to destroy us.”  Since there is no sense that multiple spirits are involved, this seems to be the same fear that the legion of demons in the Gadarene demoniac.  The unclean, demonic spirits know that there is coming a time when they will be evicted from this earth and put in the Lake of Fire.  Thus, they are afraid of that coming destruction.  Third, it is afraid because it knows exactly who Jesus is.  It refers to Jesus as “The Holy One of God.”  It is a phrase that refers to God’s Anointed One who is beside Him in the heavens, but would come to earth one day. 

At this point, Jesus commands the spirit to be silent and to come out of the man.  We do not want to make a big deal out of the fact that the demon calls Jesus the Holy One of God because the spirit is a tainted witness.  He can’t be trusted either way.  The testimony about Jesus is an important theme in the Gospels.  They emphasize that the Father and the Spirit witnessed or testified that Jesus was the Messiah.  They also emphasize that John the Baptist, the greatest prophet of that time, had testified that Jesus was the Messiah.  Then lastly, we have the testimony of the words that Jesus spoke, the life He lived, and the powerful miracles He did.  Jesus had very strong testimony from far better sources than to let demons give testimony.  Demons are liars and as such, you cannot know when to trust what they say and when it is a lie.  If we believe Jesus is God because a demon says so, then we are on shaky ground.

In the exorcism that occurs we do not see Jesus doing any rituals or reciting a mantra, as were common in those days.  He simply commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  The power of Jesus is not in ritual knowledge and magical arts.  Rather, His power is in the authority of who He is and the position that He holds.  Jesus has a position that is above all beings on earth or in Heaven, save the Father.  Though this spirit had “legally” gained entry to this human, Jesus had come to set the man free.  Thus, one command from Him was enough to send the demon packing.  Even in cases where one has consciously and willingly chosen things that ail them, there is hope that Jesus will set them free.  Many people today are stuck in things that they know they chose, but Jesus has come to offer us freedom.

We are told that the unclean spirit leaves with a convulsion and a cry.  This seems to be one last fit of resistance and protest from the demon at having to leave.  Of course, the real challenge is to remain free of the spirit.  The man’s life needs to change, if he is not to fall prey to another or the same unclean spirit.

The people watching this are amazed at how easily Jesus does this.  They are flabbergasted that he could make an unclean spirit leave with a simple command.  No rabbi had demonstrated such power in all their experience. 

As believers today, Christ has given us power over the enemy as well.  Yet, we must remember the lesson of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19.  They attempted to cast out a demon by saying, “We cast you out by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”  The spirit then responded, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?”  The authority that Jesus gives to us is not some special power that we hold in and of ourselves.  It is always His authority.  By their own testimony, the sons of Sceva did not really know Jesus.  When we really know Jesus and have a relationship with Him, then and only then should we confidently stand in opposition to such unclean spirits when they manifest.

Praise God that we need not fear any evil spirits no matter what station they hold on the other side.  It is our relationship with the All-Powerful One that protects us and gives us strength.  I pray today that you will not so easily scoff at the power of Jesus as mere tricks in an age when people were ignorant.  If Jesus were too walk into our mental institutions today and with a mere command give someone their sound mind, who would we rely upon to give an accurate description of what happened, Jesus or the psychiatrists who are often unable to do anything with schizophrenia?    Again, I am not saying all mental illness is demonic.  However, I am saying that regardless the problem, whether they need healing or freedom from an unclean spirit, Jesus has the power to set us free!

Power of Jesus Audio

Tuesday
Jan232018

God’s Grace towards the Undeserving

1 Kings 20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 21, 2018.

There are times in our lives when we need something so badly, and yet we feel like we don’t deserve it.  The world often counters this with the trite saying, “Yes, you do deserve this.”   In fact Christians can also fall into this trap of thinking that we deserve things from God.  The truth is that much of life has nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not, and whether for good or for bad.  Today, our passage highlights the grace of God to help Israel in a time that they and their king do not “deserve it,” and yet He gives it. 

I pray that you are not guilty of the depths of rebellion that King Ahab and Israel were in the passage today.  However, I know how the enemy operates.  He gets into our head and uses our failures, of any size, as fodder for talking us out of trusting God (e.g. “You don’t deserve it.”).  Don’t tell yourself that God no longer cares, regardless of how hopeless the situation or our level of “deserving” something.  Instead trust the God who is not seeking to make you pay, but rather is seeking to help you draw nearer to Him.  In our passage today, God is trying to draw the hearts of the people of Israel and King Ahab.  Ahab is an especially bad model of how to respond to God’s grace.  Yet, if you will turn to Him in faith and repentance then you will find Him already at your side, regardless of what you are facing.

God’s grace is given to Israel

In the previous chapter (1 Kings 19) we saw how God had graciously ended the drought that Israel experienced for 3 years.  We also saw that Ahab and Jezebel had not responded in repentance, but rather in doubling down on their sin of Baal worship.  We would expect this chapter to be full of rebukes from God and disaster.  Instead, chapter 20 is filled with the grace of God, grace that they did not deserve.

In the first 6 verses we see that Ben Hadad, the king of Damascus, has surrounded Ahab’s capital city of Samaria.  He is joined by 32 other kings and their armies.  These are vassal kings who rule over walled cities around Damascus.  As was typical in siege campaigns, Ben Hadad gives Ahab the terms of surrender that he will accept, which are “your silver and gold are mine.  Your loveliest wives and children are mine.”  Now Ben Hadad and the armies that are with him represent a very capable and serious threat.  Ahab knows that he is in a bad situation.  So how does he respond?

Ahab very quickly agrees to the terms of surrender.   Why lose everything when he can purchase the lives of his city with his wealth and family?  We could say that Ahab deserves some commendation because of his willingness to sacrifice his things for those of his people, but that might be overly naïve.  Yet, we should also notice that there is no sense of seeking God or Baal for wisdom on what to do.  Ahab only sees the natural element and thus only seeks natural answers.  It is important to recognize that though our life is filled with the natural, there is more to life than the natural.  There is a whole spiritual side to the things that are happening in our lives and the world around us.  A person who understands this will be a person who seeks God and His direction.  When Ben Hadad receives the quick answer from Ahab, he ups the ante by sending back “new and improved terms of surrender.”  Basically he will send his soldiers into Samaria the next day and take everything that is valuable.  They will be pillaged and the city will be left with nothing, while the most skilled will be carted as slaves.  Ahab balks at this and talks to the elders of the city.  Backed into an impossible corner, they decide to fight (which may have been Ben Hadad’s true purpose).  Again, at the human level we can say that this is commendable.  It is better to die free and fighting than to die enslaved and submitting.  And yet, there is still no thought of seeking God’s help.

In verses 11-14 we have a tense exchange between Ahab and Ben Hadad.  In the middle of it, God sends one of His prophets to Ahab.  There is irony in the fact that Ahab has spent years having the prophets of the Lord hunted down and killed.  Here in his own moment of being hunted, God sends one of His prophets to promise him victory.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  When we abandon the ways of god, we often destroy the very things that God wants to use to bless us.  With our own hands we tear apart the very things that we will need down the road.  Yet, God is still gracious to Ahab even though he doesn’t deserve it.

Ahab quickly pounces on the words of the prophet because he is desperate.  Thus he quizzes the prophet as to how this victory will come about.  The prophet tells Ahab that he is to have the young leaders of the provinces lead the attack (as opposed to his seasoned veterans).  This would not be normal military advice.  But another sign of Ahab’s desperation is the fact that he follows through with the prophet’s instructions.  Throughout Israel’s history God would many times instruct them to do things that didn’t make sense in the natural.  In one battle they were told to put the Levites in the front of the army with musical instruments and praising God.  This is always done in cases when God wants to demonstrate that the battle is not being won by natural means, but by supernatural help from Him.  In life we can get so used to seeing the natural that it becomes the only thing we see.  We can lose sight of God’s supernatural grace all around us every day.  From time to time, God removes those natural barriers so that we can see His grace.  These are always times that are distressing to our natural selves.

In verses 16-22 Israel comes out of Samaria and win a huge victory.  As is common in warfare, soldiers are fickle creatures.  Even though they have superior numbers, the quick success of Israel’s initial attack causes the armies of Ben Hadad to flee.  They all flee back to Damascus with their tails between their legs and being attacked by Israel all the way back.  On the heels of such a great victory, the prophet of the Lord speaks to Ahab again.  Though there is victory, he warns Ahab that Ben Hadad will attack next spring.  It was common for armies to avoid the winter months because cold and mud would hamper the movement of troops and engines of war.  There is a spiritual lesson here for us to remember.  When we stand upon the Word of the Lord and trust His instructions, we can put our spiritual enemy to flight.  The Bible says in James 4:6-7, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  When we stand our ground and continue doing what God has told us to do it puts the devil to flight.  We resist him by trusting God and obeying His word.  Yet, we must realize that even though the devil may flee, he will also regroup and figure out another way to attack us.  Thus victory is no time to get arrogant and cocky.  It is a time to praise God and prepare for future attacks.  We must use the time between spiritual attacks, whether temptations, trials, or doubts, to prepare ourselves for the next wave.  So draw near to God in a relationship of trust and love.  Learn His Word and what He is calling you to do, and be faithful to do it.  Too often we coast in times of ease, and thus set ourselves up for spiritual failure in the future.

In verses 23-28, we see that Ben Hadad returns the next spring (as prophesied).  Only this time his forces take up position near the city of Aphek, which was on a plain across the Jordan.  Several things stick out in this passage.  First, Israel’s army looks like two, little flocks of goats before the Syrians.  In the natural they are in trouble.

Second, we should notice the foolish counsel of the Syrians to Ben Hadad.  They believe they lost because the God of Israel is stronger in the mountains.  If we can only fight them in the plains, then surely our gods will win.  This blasphemy against God (saying untrue things about God) is not well received by God.  He intends to teach everyone a lesson.  You see the God of Israel is not just God of the mountains, but also God of the valleys.  It is one thing for God’s enemies to underestimate Him, but God forbid that His own people should underestimate Him.  In our day and age, it appears that all the earth is turning against God and His Anointed One, Jesus.  We may look like two little flocks of goats before their sheer numbers and power.  However, God is the one who gives the victory.  We must not lose heart, but rather stand in faithfulness to the mission that God has given us.  This chapter goes on to see a great victory given to Israel and prophesied by a prophet of the Lord.  In fact, over 20,000 Syrian soldiers perished when the wall of Aphek collapsed on them.

At the end of such a string of victories that were foretold by the prophets of God, what would you think Ahab would do?  The chapter ends with Ahab still playing up to Ben Hadad, who had been captured.  Ahab makes an alliance with Ben Hadad and sends him back to Damascus.  Ahab does not trust the Lord.  Instead he trusts military alliances, or natural things.  Thus God sends another prophet to rebuke Ahab for his refusal to do what God had decreed: put Ahab to death.

Where is Elijah and Elisha?

This whole chapter begs the question, just where is Elijah and Elisha?  Several possibilities have been conjectured through the years.  Perhaps God has put Elijah on the bench so that he can get his attitude adjusted.  Perhaps God is giving Elijah time to train Elisha before sending him back into the fray.  However, the most likely idea is that God is proving His point to Elijah that He still had 7,000 who hadn’t worshipped Baal.

This chapter emphasizes that God always has others who can serve, and there is a rhyme and reason for why He chooses certain ones to do certain things.  We see at least three different prophets at work in this chapter, and they are all unnamed.  Now God uses each of us differently.  If you are discouraged because you feel like you are the only one and are all alone, then wake up and start leaning on God.  He has others who are working as well.  Everything is not up to you.  We can lose sight of this and forget.  May God help us to learn to listen to Him, to do the work He gives us, and to trust that He can work through others also.  Instead of letting the enemy get inside your head and pillage all that God has given you, choose to stand your ground through repentance, and faithfulness to our Lord, Jesus, alongside other faithful believers.

God's Grace 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