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Entries in God (10)

Tuesday
Apr232019

Empty Promises

Mark 12:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 21, 2019.

Today is Easter Sunday and therefore we are going to look at another passage further ahead in Mark than we currently are in our exposition of this Gospel.  Next Sunday we will be back on course.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, celebrates the day that our Lord Jesus conquered sin and death.  It is easy to scoff at such things.  However, the amount of evidence regarding both his death (he did not merely swoon) and his resurrection is overwhelming (over 500 people testified to multiple accounts with many people at the same event).

We can hide behind the sophistication of modern man.  Yet, we still find ourselves in the same place as those in the first century or even two millennia before that.  We are still fallen people who are extremely broken inside and who need a savior.

Today we celebrate the reality that God has a plan to save us, and Jesus Christ is the man He has given to us to lead us to salvation.

The parable that we are going to look at this morning is one that Jesus told in the temple compound during the last week of his life.  This parable gives us a metaphor to help us understand just what was going on when Jesus was crucified and yet later raised from the dead.

Understanding the Parable

In verses 1-8, Jesus tells a parable that presses the issue of his coming execution.  The public is not aware that the leaders have decided to execute Jesus when they can, but Jesus does.  In this parable the metaphor has a biblical precedent from Isaiah 5.  There Isaiah tells a parable in which he states that Israel is the vineyard of God.  He even speaks of a tower for defense and a winepress.  This sets up an easy identification for the hearers, but also for us.

Let’s walk through the parable and identify each element.  First, we see that the man who owns the vineyard clearly represents God and, as we stated earlier, the vineyard represents Israel.  It would be better to use the phrase, the people of God, because this puts a better image in our mind.  It is not about a nation, but about a people who belong to God and are in relationship with Him.   The next element is the vinedressers, which are also translated as farmers or tenant farmers.  The Greek word that is used literally means worker of the earth and is where we get the name George.  The are the leaders of Israel who are supposed to ensure that the people of God are fruitful in their lives.  Technically, this means both the political and religious leaders, but it is told during his last week while he is in the temple.  So, it seems that the religious leaders are taking the brunt of the teaching- this is most likely due to the fact that the political leadership had long been separated from Israel with Herod (not from the tribe of Judah) receiving his position as king from Caesar.  I would quibble with the word tenant farmer, not because it ruins the parable, but because the emphasis is not on the fact that they are getting paid.  It is on the fact that their job is to oversee the vineyard and make sure it is fruitful for God.  They had taken their offices under the guise of performing the purposes of the Lord, and yet, too often these became empty promises that were not fulfilled.  They superficially performed the purposes of the Lord while all along serving their own interests.

Next, in our parable we see that the man sends servants at the appropriate time to get evidence of how fruitful the vineyard is.  These servants have been with the man and are the special or extra-ordinary teachers that God sent from time to time known as the prophets.  The leaders of Israel were also servants of God, but they represent those who spend their time in the vineyard all the time.  They are the day to day servants of God.  The prophets would come at special times with a special mission.  They would give direction and corrective instructions from the Lord so that Israel could be fruitful.  In light of the spiritual nature of the parable, the fruit that God is looking for is evidence that the people are growing in their trust of God and living according to His Word.  The very Scripture that the religious leaders took care to copy and memorize testified that the prophets were generally abused and often put to death by the political and religious leaders of Israel.  Thus, as God sent his prophets to help make Israel fruitful, they would abuse them and kill them.  Yet, later they would give lip-service to them.

This leads to the man deciding to send his beloved son.  Of course, this represents Jesus.  The parable presents it as a hopeful attempt to turn things around.  However, in many other places we are told that Jesus was sent knowing that he would be abused, executed, and excommunicated (i.e. thrown out of the vineyard).  Thus, the leaders would kill the Son and leave their promise to tend to the people of God for God’s purposes unfulfilled.

As the parable ends, we are left asking if it was really as bad as the parable shows.  Somewhere along the line, the leaders had lost sight that this nation belonged to God literally.  They existed for His purposes, not theirs.  They had edged God out by pushing Him high into the heavens, but using the system for their own ends.  When Jesus arrived on the scene, they could only see that Jesus would inflame the hopes of the people that He was Messiah.  Rome would then come in and quash it, while holding the religious leaders responsible for letting it happen.  They would lose their authority and that couldn’t happen in their minds.

Lest we seem too hard on the Israelite people, let’s use the parable as a set of glasses for our times.  If we look at our times religiously, we must confess that the leaders of the Church of Jesus have often fallen into the same mentality as those of Israel did.  We give lip service to God and His purposes, but we abuse and kill those prophetic voices that He sends from time to time.  O sure, there are real heretics that must be faced and rejected, but not everyone labeled a heretic throughout the Church’s history were so.  Our leaders have too often hijacked the people of God and their devotion to Him for their own ends and purposes. 

What if we look at our times nationally (the United States of America, or insert your nation here)?  Are not our leaders leading us in a way that serves their own purposes and do they not lack any care for what the God of heaven thinks?  Sure, there are anomalies, but the majority give God lip service at the best.  Was it not God who supernaturally enabled us to break free from the political tyranny of King George III.  Side note, it is interesting that George’s name has the root used in our parable.  He was King Vinedresser, but had come to think the vines were all for him and his pleasure.  The testimony of our forefathers is that we succeeded by God’s help, period.  Has not the Lord of America come looking, from time to time, for godly fruit by sending special, prophetic voices, only to be cast aside and ignored?  Are we not, as a society, killing the Word of God as we cast it aside and live for our own purposes?  Also, this begs the question.  Do you not know that your own life is itself a vineyard of which God has put you in charge in order that it be fruitful for His purposes?  His ways lead to life, but ours continually lead to ever more creative expressions of death.

God still has a plan that cannot be thwarted

The parable does get rather dark and foreboding.  Jesus in verse 9 asks the question.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  They are going to be removed and destroyed.  Ultimately, they will not succeed in their attempt to use God’s people for their own ends.  They will be removed and God’s purposes will continue unthwarted. 

The religious and political leaders would do exactly what this parable says.  They would reject Jesus, abuse him, execute him, and then excommunicate him.  This is why the book of Hebrews makes such a big deal about Jesus being crucified outside of the city gates.  This ancient sign of extreme banishment (extreme in that they also killed the person) was the ultimate rejection.  Hebrews 13:12-14 says, “Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  We are in danger of losing the eternal for the sake of holding on to the temporary at all times.  Is it not better to surrender that which you cannot keep in order to receive that which you cannot lose?  You can and should trust God.  His plan is not thwarted, and cannot be thwarted, whether by man or spiritual powers in the heavenlies.

Jesus would be rejected and killed, but this would not extinguish the fact that He is the key component to God’s plan.  In verses 10-11, Jesus reminds the leaders of Psalm 118:22-23.  There the psalmist uses the imagery of building the temple of God.  In such building projects, the stones would be fashioned at a remote quarry and then arrive at the building site with some mark explaining its place in the structure.  The builders are the leaders of God’s people who are supposed to have the skill and knowledge to take the stone and put it in the proper place.  The psalmist speaks of a stone that arrives, but the builders reject it and cast it aside.  However, the God of heaven overrules them and uses it as the most important stone of all, the key foundation stone.  These leaders were rejecting the most important part of God’s plan, and He would intervene so that Christ would indeed be what He was sent to be.

Though our parable is challenging the earthly human leaders, there is another layer to this whole thing.  We forget that Jesus is very aware of the evil, spiritual forces around him.  Just as many of his sayings slighted the religious leaders who overheard them, so too they also slight the spiritual powers in rebellion to God.  This parable is no different.  There were spiritual powers who had been put in charge of the nations after the Tower of Babel incident.  These powers had abused their delegated authority and twisted the peoples’ hearts with false religion that lifted the rebellious spiritual powers up as gods.  They too were complicit in the execution of the Son of God and therefore fall under the same judgment given here.  In fact, the spiritual component makes even more sense than the human.  The religious leaders never looked at Jesus as the Son of God who must be killed so that they can inherit those who belong to God.  However, this makes perfect sense of the spiritual powers.  They knew exactly who Jesus was and apparently believed that they could kill Jesus and seize mankind for themselves.

Nearly 40 years after the death of Jesus, after a time of his disciples warning the nation of Israel of the coming destruction and God’s plan of escape, the Roman legions destroyed the city and dismantled the temple stone by stone.  The people of God, who clung to Christ, went to the world with this rejected stone that had now become the chief stone, not just of Israel, but of the whole world.  If you wonder what in the world God is doing then I would put it this way.  He is offering anyone who will an opportunity to be a part of His people, and to participate in a kingdom that will come into existence at the Second Coming of Jesus.  He is not as enamored with our buildings, institutions, and plans, as much as we are.  He is more interested in you, that you are bearing the fruit of faith, the fruit of trusting His Word and living for Jesus in this dark world.

This brings us to the reality that the promises of God are counterbalanced with the promises of the world and those spiritual powers behind it.  This world promises us better things if we will cast Jesus aside and pursue pleasure, or wealth, or fame and accomplishment.  All of these things still leave you feeling empty in the end.  Why?  They do so because we were not created to be satisfied with temporary and material things.  We are trying to stuff small temporary things into an enormous eternal space that is as vast as the universe.  You cannot fill it with the temporary.  Only God can fill that space.  Only a relationship with Him can fulfill the promise of peace and joy.

Over time the philosophies of the world have turned away from God and religion, and towards man.  We must do it.  No God will do it for us.  These are the mantras of humanistic materialism.  Sadly, too many Christians practically do the same thing by pushing God as far up into the heavens as they can.  He doesn’t intervene.  He expects us to do it for ourselves.  Such philosophies have no real basis for upholding good values.  We can pretend that love is a good value, but if we have a philosophy that states humanity is an accident and there is no absolute truth, then why is love good?  Is life precious?  Without God, we only find the precious nature of life ground out of us on every side.  Hopelessness and despair continue to reign from shore to shore and we have no peace because we have rejected the Prince of Peace.

You may feel like God has not kept His promises to humanity, but remember.  He is the God of the resurrection.  Jesus did not back away from the last step to the cross out of fear and lack of faith in His Father.  He showed us that if we would live for God all the way through our death, without turning back, then He will exalt us in due time.  There is a day when the people of God from every generation will be resurrected in the same way that Jesus was, almost 2,000 years ago.  I hope that you have made the choice to be apart of that day because the promises of God will never fail!

God will keep His promises to us.  If you have waffled on trusting Christ then do it today.  If you have been partially trusting Christ, yet basically floating aimlessly, then choose to fully trust Him today.  If you have been trusting Jesus, then don’t let this world rob you of your victory.  Jesus overcame this world by His faith in the Father, and therefore, He is given a place above every other name.  Through Him, you too can overcome and take your place at His side as the Father brings a fulfillment to every word that He ever gave us.  Jesus rose up from the g rave because He is greater than death.  Those who trust Him cannot be destroyed by death, but only made stronger!

Empty Promises Audio

Friday
Dec282018

The Mind behind the Incarnation

Philippians 2:5-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 23, 2018.

It is easy for Christmas to be taken over by the things that our flesh likes.  We can become far too excited about the latest technological gadget that we are getting, or similar things.  We can bask in the nostalgia of family, big meals, and “magical moments.”  However, Jesus did not come to make us feel good about life and ourselves, although we will have those things from time to time.  Rather, Jesus came to save us.

Yes, God wants to save us from oppressive governance that sees itself as god.  Yes, God wants even to save us from those fellow citizens who seek to take advantage of us like a wolf does a chicken.   Yes, God wants even to save us from our own lower motivations and mistakes.  Yet, ultimately Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). 

Our sins affect our heart and our mind to the point that we can never feel or think our way out of their effects.  Yet, God so loved the world filled with humans that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life.  Today we are going to focus on the mind of Christ and the mind of God the Father who sent him to earth.  We are going to talk about the kind of thinking that can save us from all those things I mentioned earlier. 

Let’s look at Philippians 2.

The mind of Christ

In verses 1-4, Paul describes several issues that go to the heart of how we tend to think.  In verse 3 he says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or deceit.”  In verse 4 he states, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests.”  Later he emphasizes this more in verse 14, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.”  Also he says in verse 21, “They all seek their own interests.”  All of these descriptions flow from a heart and mind that is twisted towards self.  This is every single person who has ever lived besides Jesus.  If it was not for him coming to earth and demonstrating a different heart, a different mind, we would still be lost and without hope.

So, when we think about the baby in the manger, let us also think about the mind, or the thinking, that was behind what was happening that day.  Let’s remember that Jesus represented not just a clash of thinking between God and 1st century Jewish religion and philosophy.  Rather, he represents a clash of thinking between God and every generation who has ever lived, including ours today.

Thus starting in verse 5 Paul tells us that we need to have the same mind or thinking that Jesus had when he left the throne of heaven to be born in a lowly stable.  We should question ourselves this morning.  What mind have I been using and living by?  Have I lived by the mind of Christ or the mind and rationale that comes naturally to me?

So what is it about the mind of Christ that we need?  First Jesus did not cling to being in the form of God (vs. 6).  The KJV and the NKJV translate this verse to say that Jesus didn’t think it robbery to be equal with God.  However, the flow of the argument is not towards Jesus being equal with God, but rather away from that state.  He is leaving heaven in order to take on that which is lesser than God.  Thus the point is not that he didn’t think that he had robbed God to be equal with Him, but that His equality with God was not something to cling to or snatch at.  Jesus was willing to lay that amazing, incredible place with the Father aside in order to come down and save us.  So what am I clinging to that I need to let go of in order to experience what God has for me and others in my life?  Jesus wasn’t climbing the ladder and clinging to his place.  He was descending the ladder in order to help us.

Another part about this mind of Christ is that he was willing to “empty himself” in order to become a servant, in human form.  We are not told exactly of what Christ emptied himself.  However, we know that at the very least he emptied himself of his position and the rights or privileges that go along with it.  His mind, which is the same mind as that of the Father, does not cling to power and position, but rather lays it aside in order to serve others, at least if need be.  For you and I, we only have to descend out of the high and loft position of our inflated ego in order to be of service to God, but for Jesus it was truly a humbling of epic proportions.  We should ask ourselves today.  What do I need to empty myself of in order to serve those that God has put in my life?

Lastly in verse 8, we are told that Jesus laid down his human life in order to obey God’s will.  It is easy to focus on the sacrifice of Christ and the love for us that compelled him, and yet overlook his love for God the Father.  He chooses to obey the Father’s will by laying down his life.  Our impulse is to throw God’s commands and plans back in his face and shout, “You expect too much!”  Yet, Jesus trusted the plan of the Father, even when it led him to become a servant to serve mankind, and even to be crucified on a cross.

It is not easy to trust God, but Jesus did.  He also asks us to trust him, pick up our own cross, and follow him.  Do I trust him that much?  Am I refusing to follow Jesus because it costs me something, even my life?

After Paul shows us the mind of Christ that we need in order to be what God wants us to be in each other’s life, he then turns to the effects of this selfless obedience to God the Father.

The reward of God the Father

In verses 9-11, we are shown the response of God the Father to the selfless actions of Jesus. 

First of all God highly exalts Jesus and, I will add here, at the proper time.  The actions of Jesus are all the opposite of self interest and exaltation.  Jesus actually is humbling himself and doing a humbling work that leads to death.  Nothing he does is about trying to lift himself.  We can get so consumed with trying to get ahead, whether secularly or spiritually, that we neglect to think about what we may be risking.  What will God think of my thinking and the actions that it led me to do in this life?  Were they all about self promotion and seeking to be higher?  Or were they similar to those of Christ?

We are told that Jesus is currently at the right hand of the Father awaiting the signal to come back to earth and take control of the governance of this world.  However, that is his experience after the Father chose to exalt him.  Before this exaltation, Jesus is humbling himself and rejecting the temptation to make those things happen on his own.  Even now Jesus is not exalting himself.  He only accepts the exaltation that the Father has given him. 

1 Peter 5:5-7 says, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Notice that God opposes the proud.  When we humble ourselves, we put ourselves in a position for God to exalt us at the proper time.  I would put before you today that this life is not the time for exaltation.  Our flesh can’t handle it.

Verse 7 highlights the big problem.  When we are humble we get worried and anxious about all that we aren’t getting.  We are counseled to trust God and his care for us.  Our flesh doesn’t like such an answer, but God does.  You can exalt yourself in this life and be humbled by God at its end, or you can humble yourself in this life and be exalted by him at its end.

Part of Christ’s exaltation is that he is given a name above all others.  The emphasis is not on some new name that is really cool.  A person’s “name” is equivalent to their reputation and standing among others.  Jesus is given a reputation and standing that is above all others, both on earth and in heaven.  This position is similar to that which he had before because it is once again at the Father’s side, but now he has an even greater honor and standing.  He is now the Redeemer and Savior of humanity.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  If we will take on the same mind that Jesus had, and if we will live out this life as the Holy Spirit leads, we will also join him in attaining great honors and standing at his side.

We are told that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in heaven, or on earth, or in the grave.  This is not just about the physical position of bowing, but about the submission it represents.  Eventually even the enemies of Christ will have to recognize his true standing.

In that moment we are told that they will also confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  What Jesus lost by not seeking his own selfish interests, is given back to him in even greater portion by the Father.  What the religious leaders of his day gained through their self seeking actions, was taken away from them by the Father. 

Knowing that God is bringing all beings of creation to a place where they will confess that Jesus is Lord, what should we do?  To double down on being a rebel only ensures that we would die in our sins and stand before God, confessing that Jesus is Lord, but to no avail for our future.  However, if we will confess him as Lord in this life, and take on the mind of Christ, if we will humble ourselves and live in obedience to his commands, then our confession will lead to the reward of God the Father, who gives us a place at the side of Jesus forever.

So let us contemplate this Christmas season.  Am I following the thinking of this world, the thinking of the devil, or am I letting the mind of Christ lead me?  Let’s live according to the mind of Christ and truly find life!

The Mind behind the Incarnation audio

Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

1 Kings 18:40-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 17, 2017.

Last week we saw how God had honored Elijah’s public display of faith by a miraculous fire from heaven coming down upon his sacrifice.  This was all in contrast to the pitiful failure of the prophets of Baal.  Today we will look at the fallout of that momentous event and talk about spiritual victory in our own lives. 

But before we get into that it might help if you familiarize yourself with the geography of this passage.  Click here for an online map from a great website called BibleAtlas.org.  Pay attention that we are in the northern part of Israel west of the Sea of Galilee.  The sacrifice has taken place on Mt. Carmel which is on the left of the map part way down (part of the name has been cut off).  Jezreel is basically in the middle of the map with the Kishon River (thin blue line) flowing from that area past Mt. Carmel and into the Mediterranean Sea (where modern day Haifa sits).

The enemies of God’s work are executed

When we read verse 40 the passage can be shocking to our modern, western sensibilities.  However, I would remind you right up front that we in the West are shocked by things that people in the East are not, and vice versa.  Just because it offends us does not mean it is wrong.  So try and get over the shock that the prophet of God Elijah orders the people to execute all the prophets of Baal and, instead of tossing God’s Word aside, take time to understand what God wants us to understand here.

A big question that often arises from passages such as vs. 40, is that of whether or not Christians are hypocrites when they proclaim peace and yet have such a thing in their “holy book.”    If fact, one of our recent presidents, who also claims to be a Christian, chided Christians about eating shellfish when it is forbidden in the Old Testament.  Others claim that Christians are hypocrites when they promote love for our fellow man because of passages that speak of the death penalty for sexual perversion.  Each of these statements or accusations has a problem in their logic.  They assume that the Bible itself, and more importantly God who is its author, teaches that Christians should obey the Old Testament Laws.  In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.  You cannot point out one verse and ignore the context of the rest of the Bible and also hold the intellectual high-ground.  If we want to deal with the Bible honestly then we must recognize or determine what God’s purpose was in creating Israel as a nation.  He created then and made a covenant with them in which they promised to obey The Law that God had given them through Moses.  Clearly they did not do such a good job at that, but then we would be casting stones from a glass house.  God’s purpose with Israel and The Law of Moses was not to provide a positive template for all the nations of the world.  The salvation of the world is not found in converting the whole world over to follow the Law of Moses.  The whole purpose of The Law was to shut the mouths of those who claim to be righteous.  Israel had divine laws (i.e. better than the wisest minds of mankind could come up with at the same time period).  Yet, the people of Israel were not divine and there lies the problem.  The Law of Moses failed to save Israel for the same reasons that the Constitution of the United States cannot save us.  Nations are run by people who are weak and condemned by the very laws they claim to follow.

So let’s look back at this situation.  Ahab is completely stunned.  Only moments ago, he held all the power.  He would execute Elijah when this was over with and he would continue to lead Israel into worshipping Baal rather than the God who had created Israel, Yahweh/Jehovah.  Much like a jury nullification of the law, the powerful demonstration of Yahweh’s power nullifies Ahab’s command.  The people and even his soldiers have just seen for themselves the power of God.  Notice that Ahab does not speak until the next chapter.  Even if Ahab would have tried to command for Elijah to be executed, who would have dared to carry it out?  Ahab rolled the dice and they came up “snake eyes,” or “dogs” as the ancient Romans used to say.  The stakes were Ahab’s life against the lives of the prophets of Baal and they lost.

But, Elijah’s command could not come from a truly righteous person could it?  We need to understand that Elijah is not some murderous psychopath who loves killing people.  The Law that God had given Israel (i.e. their constitution) stated that any prophet who led Israel to worship foreign God’s was guilty of a capital crime.  Thus these prophets new they were breaking The Law and committing a capital crime.  However, they could care less because they were under the protection of Israel’s Law-breaking king.  Ahab had been leading Israel in a direction that was illegal and treasonous.  These men have been helping him to commit this treason.  If you want to verify this then read Deuteronomy 13, especially verse 5.  Several times in Deuteronomy 13, 17, and 18 God declares these things a capital crime.  So now that we have exonerated Elijah from the guilt of homicide, we must deal with God.  It was His Law.  Is it barbaric?

Whether or not we agree with such a punishment today, we must agree that this was Israel’s law.  Part of understanding why God commands the death of false prophets is to understand the difference between God’s purpose with Israel and God’s purpose with the Church of Jesus Christ.  Israel was given the task to bring forth the Messiah or Savior for the world.  But, they also modeled to the world the problem with trying to create a perfect society through legislation.  All societies have to have laws to function.  But, even with divine laws it becomes a bloody business filled with hypocrisy.  This is true whether you are looking at the government of Israel or Sidon in the 9th century B.C., or you are looking at the modern governments of The United States of America, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, et. Al.  In the West we keep telling ourselves that if we just make better laws it will fix everything.  Yet, things keep getting worse and worse (yes, not everything is getting worse, but hear what I am saying).  We have to quit fooling ourselves.  Even divine laws, or laws created by an Artificial Intelligence, will fail to fix mankind because our problem is a spiritual one and is deep in each heart.  The best we can expect from laws is that they will slow down the evil nature of our hearts and give hope for people to see it and seek God’s help.  The only way to change a heart is repentance from our own dead works and turning towards belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  God’s laws of capital punishment on one hand teach us that some sins are worthy of death.  However, the cross teaches us that God does not want to execute us.  He is giving us a choice.  It is appointed unto a person once to live and then the judgment.   Through the Church God is warning the world of a coming judgment or execution.  Yet, He is also giving opportunity for people to make peace with Him by putting their faith in Jesus.  The Church is not about building a perfect kingdom, but rather, it is about calling people to become citizens who are being perfected by God.  Israel focused on a geographical place on earth that required capital punishment to keep it pure, and even that failed.  The Church focuses on the spiritual geography of our own heart.  Definitely Christians should obey the laws of the nation, as long as it doesn’t break God’s commands.  And, we should also work for better laws.  But laws are not our hope.  The return of Jesus our King is the hope that we hold out to the world.  This makes a big difference and makes the Gospel far more potent in light of Israel and The Law.  We await the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought down at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Until then, we do our best to live at peace with even those who disobey God.  Instead of executing those who break God’s command (as God told Israel), Christians speak the truth in love to them, while executing those things within our own heart and mind that would lead us astray from God’s Word.  That is why Christians should be restrained in the amount of laws that they promulgate.

A contrast of character

I spent a lot of time on verse 40 because the contents are important in our day and age.  In the rest of this chapter, we see a sharp contrast between the character of Elijah and that of Ahab.  Elijah is a wise leader and Ahab is a foolish one.  After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat because of the sound of a great rain.  Now it is clear from the passage that there is no sound of rain at the moment.  What is Elijah talking about?  Elijah is speaking by faith.  Even though there is no outward sign, Elijah is confident that God will keep His word.  God had told him what would happen and we see him acting and speaking upon that.  As I said earlier, Ahab doesn’t speak here.  But his administration has been one, big lack of faith in God’s Word.  Now it is important to guard our heart, mind and our mouth.  We should be careful of our decisions and the way that we speak about things.  Am I trusting in God’s Word or doubting it?  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  However, speaking by faith is not a matter of wish fulfillment, or only speaking “positive things.”  Christians should not fall into the error that tries to draw good things to us by acting and speaking positively.  Regardless of what you say and do, God is going to do certain things.  God is going to judge all the governments of the world in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.  It will be a great negative thing to those who are not on His side, but a great positive thing to those on the side of Jesus.  Speaking by faith is remembering what God has said and agreeing with it in our speech.  In other words we actually believe that God means what He says, and is not a liar.  May God help us to speak by faith in His word.

Although it is Elijah’s idea, Ahab is a king and can do what he wants.  Notice that King Ahab is feeding his belly while Elijah is praying for the rain to come.  Ahab is a man of the flesh, not because he eats food.  We all eat food and even Elijah ate food.  But something powerful and spiritual has just happened in Israel.  But one man is praying for God’s will and the other is satisfying the will of his stomach.  God’s people can enjoy the physical joys of life within godly boundaries.  However, we must not let our lives be only about them.  Though God has promised rain, Elijah will not rest until it comes.  He goes back up to Mt. Carmel and begins praying for God to fulfill His word.  Then we see a cycle of Elijah praying, and asking his servant to check and see if any rain is coming.  This goes on seven times until the servant notices a small cloud on the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.  This seven times is intended to highlight that Elijah was not a man who would quit in prayer.  He persevered in prayer until God kept His word.  He waited upon the Lord completely and kept himself watchful through prayer.  We should be the same way concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  We should not be apathetic towards what God has said He will do with a kind of que sera, sera attitude (whatever will be, will be).  Jesus is not coming back for a people who have an intellectual assent that He will do so, but for those who have desired it and have spent their lives praying and watching for it (like Elijah).  When a cloud the size of a man’s hand is seen, then Elijah knows the fulfillment has come.  May God help us also to remain faithful even in the day of small things.  It may not seem like anything big, but God is in it and rejoices to make it happen.

In the end, it is God’s will working with Elijah’s faithfulness that brings rain to the land.  Elijah’s speech and life have been lived by faith in what God had said in the past and what He was personally telling Elijah.  In contrast, it was the unfaithfulness of Ahab and the people of Israel who followed him that led to the drought and famine, both naturally and spiritually.  We must be careful that we do not give up living lives faithful to God and His Word simply because the society around us does not pat us on the back for doing so.  Even in the face of active persecution, the hope of our land depends upon Christians living out lives faithful to Jesus.  We concern ourselves not with just physical rain and dry land, although that is important to people’s livelihood.  We concern ourselves more importantly on spreading the rain of God’s Word into the lives of those who are dry as deserts from years of rejecting or being ignorant of God’s Word.

Lastly we see that God’s power is upon those who are humble.  The power of God comes upon Elijah as the rain comes and he runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel.  Now in our competitive modern minds we would read this as God empowering Elijah to outrun the chariot of Ahab and to be the first to Jezreel.  Now this is no small feat.  Jezreel was about 10-15 miles away.  However, an ancient person reading this would see a servant running ahead of his master.  Elijah is running ahead of Ahab’s chariot, like a servant who is letting people know that the king is coming.  It is as if God is showing Ahab what could be.  God, and His servant Elijah, do not have to be enemies of Ahab.  Elijah was not seeking a crown, though he could have tried to take it after such a powerful display.  Who wouldn’t want a king who could call down fire from heaven?  Instead, Elijah’s run says to Ahab, I will take my place as your servant if you will take your place as God’s servant.  May the Lord help Christians today to have such a humility and empowerment from the Lord.   Instead of seeking to have the highest place, may we be the influence that those who have it need, to become what God wants them to be.

Spiritual Victory audio

Monday
Jul032017

The Potter's Wheel

Jeremiah 18:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 02, 2017.

As we approach Independence Day, we want to be careful to gratefully thank God for its blessings.  However, we want to also recognize the responsibility it brings us.  You see, in times past our forefathers could appeal to God and point to the sins of King George III of Great Britain.  But, once we have been granted independence by God, we are now responsible for what happens in our country.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  We can always look to the proverbial “authority over there” and complain that our life would be better without them, whether it is London, Washington D.C., Olympia, the county seat, or city hall.  Of course we don’t stop there.  On down to bosses and parents, we typically end at ourselves.  Yet, shouldn’t we go one step further?  Part of the problem of governance is that it is difficult to even govern ourselves.  My own life and heart has its own set of predilections, those sins that we are partial towards and have the disfavor of God as much as anyone else.  In fact, we often feel oppressed by the tyranny of those urges and desires of our flesh that lead to trouble.

In some ways I have painted a very dire picture.  However, this is precisely why the grace and mercy of our God is so powerful.  The Gospel is not some kind of mental exercise where we learn that we have always been free and just need to change our mindset.  Rather, it comes to each of us in the midst of our bondage to all the things listed above and says, “Come follow Jesus and receive His freedom.”  He loves us and is working for our good.  But He also works in response to our heart.  As an individual I am responsible for my response to God’s Word.  But as a citizen, I am responsible to be an advocate of God’s Word within this nation.

This passage that we will look at in Jeremiah 18, speaks to this area of God dealing with nations and their people.  May our nation hear God’s Word and change its rejection of Him and His King, Jesus.

The Illustration of the Potter

If pictures are worth a 1,000 words, then movies are worth an innumerable sum.  God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and watch him for a while.  The scene, that Jeremiah witnesses, becomes the parable for God’s message to Israel and also to us.   In this parable it is clear that we are to see God in the potter.  The question is asked in verse 6, “Can I not do with you as this potter?”  At the heart of this question is our belief about God (His ability), but also our faith in God (His intentions).  What are God’s intentions and purposes?  A potter has a particular piece in mind when they sit down to the wheel.  They work the clay, regardless of its imperfections, and do everything in order to create that vision.  Even the punching down of the clay and starting over, which could be seen as something bad, is part of the process of working the clay and obtaining the purpose.  This picture is intended to provide hope that even now, when it seems like everything is falling apart, God can reshape us.  We are not alone to the forces of the world.  God is working in our life.  So regarding intention or purpose, God is working to do something good.  But also regarding His being, God is the molder and we are the ones who are molded.

If God is the potter, then we are the clay.  Like Adam who is physically formed from the earth, so there is a higher level on which God shapes and forms us.  Because we are created in God’s image, there are some ways in which we can be seen as “molders.”  Much of our life is spent trying to arrange things the way we want it and then trying to get it to stay that way.  However, we cannot escape the greater reality that we will always have things in which we are not in control, things that shape us and not we them.  Of course in the analogy, clay is inanimate and has no mind.  As humans we can cooperate or not cooperate with God’s purposes in our life.  In fact we should recognize that it is not just believers that are shaped by God.  Even sinners are on God’s potter wheel.  No matter how much we disbelieve in God and flee anything that smacks of Him, we cannot avoid the reality that we are creatures within His creation.  All of creation operating and moving around us, is part of the process by which God shapes us.  The events that happen in our generation, both great and small, and the decisions we make and those others make, all work together to shape what we are becoming.  So ask yourself today, “What am I becoming?”

Now in verses 7-11, God begins to speak to things that need to be learned by His people.    He is the Lord of the nations.  The fate of the nations is in His hands.  So in verses 7-8, He points to a situation in which He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is going to be torn down.  Yet, the fate can be avoided by the nation’s response to that prophecy.  If they turn from their evil ways, then God will turn from the destruction He had purposed to do.  Similarly in verses 9-10, He points to the reverse situation.  If He has spoken a prophetic Word to a nation that it is to be built up (like Israel had) and that nation responds by turning away from Him and towards evil ways, then God will respond by changing the good purpose that He had towards them.  Now we need to keep in mind that we are talking about nations as a political entity here.  God doesn’t just pick certain nations whimsically and obtusely bless them and curse all the others.  God works in relationship with the nations of the world.  Thus the destinies of nations are never set in stone.  They are always changeable, to the good or to the bad.  Thus we should not be arrogant when we think that God is favorable to our nation, and neither should we despair when we think it is bad.  Putting aside the fact that we can be wrong about which is true, we should always grasp hold of the hope that we are not at the mercy of an uncaring and unjust God. 

Even when God is against a nation, He still cares about the individuals within it.  Individuals should never be confused with the political entities that govern them.  Jesus Christ died to save individual people, not political entities.  In this sense nations cannot “get saved.”  As we recognized last week, people can receive the eternal life of God.  But nations can only be saved in a temporary sense.  The response of each generation affects the next chapter of their future.  Now regarding individuals, Jesus and His apostles made it clear that it all comes down to our faith and trust in God, especially in His Savior, Jesus.  If we put our trust in Jesus and follow Him (regardless of what nation we are in and God’s disposition towards it) then He will perfect our faith and make us to look like Jesus.  He is the master teacher and we are the disciple students.  He shows the way, we follow Him.  I say this to remind us that we cannot do enough good things to get God to work for our good.  We can only trust Him.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  So it is not about my flaws and failures.  Rather, it is about my faith. 

This is precisely where Satan loves to attack us.  If my life seems to be imploding and falling apart, I am tempted to believe that God hates me and push Him away.  This is not trust in God.  But if I trust God and keep my eyes on Jesus, then I can trust that even these things that are broken down and taken away are just God punching me down into a ball so that He can start shaping again.  It is out of love that He allows these things or even causes some of them to happen.  Negative things do not always equate to God’s wrath or rejection.  So faith is the victory over the temptation and scheme of the evil one.  Put your faith in Jesus today if you are not a believer.  By doing so, you will go from being a vessel that is being shaped for dishonor and into a vessel that is being shaped for honor.

So what about our nation, The United States of America?  It is clear from history that God has both intended and accomplished some good things through our country.  But each generation has to face this issue for themselves.  In some ways we see that one of the greatest missions movements of all time has happened through the efforts of this nation.  The English language has become the second language of most of the world, enabling the Scriptures to be accessible to many.  On top of this is the amazing explosion of translating the Scriptures into the “heart language” of most of the world.  How many individuals have moved to other countries to learn their language and culture so that they could share the Gospel of Jesus?  Clearly God has been working in the past to shape us into a helpful vessel.  Yet, over time we also see evil things that seem to be increasing every day.  How much perversion do we pour out into the word in videos and magazines?  If God is to purpose good for America’s future then we need to change our ways as a nation.  We need to stop walking in pride and arrogance as if we cannot be touched.  We need to quit rejecting God’s Word and forging our own ways.  We must stop embracing false religions and mixing their teachings with those of Christ in order to make God’s Word more palatable.  We need to stop sacrificing our children on the altar of convenience and self-love.  We need to cease seeking ever new ways to try and erase His mark of design upon our body and life.  We will have to reject hatred, murder, all sexual perversions, and especially an overall lack of love towards one another while overflowing in love towards ourselves.  Ultimately we must repent.

So Christian, do not look at the world with the despair of one who says, “Good riddance.”  This is not the image of Christ.  Rather, pick up the mantle of hope for your nation and become an ambassador of God’s Word to the people around you.  We have lost this nation one person at a time, and thus we can only win it back one person at a time.  So, what about America?  Well that is up to us.

Potter's Wheel audio