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Weekly Word

Entries in Grace (16)

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
Jan012018

When The Godly Are Discouraged

1 Kings 19:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 31, 2017.

Here we are on the last day of 2017 facing the New Year.  Some of you may be excited and chomping at the bit, but chances are, there are many who are discouraged from what has happened in the past.  This is a normal experience for all human beings.  However, for believers in Jesus there is an added weight upon their shoulders and that is the call of God upon our lives.  Yes, Jesus said his burden in light and I believe that.  However, we must be honest about discouragement if we are going to overcome it. 

So part of my encouragement today is to remind you that, if you are discouraged, you are in good company.  All the godly men and women from every generation have felt this very same discouragement from time to time.  Now I am not saying that discouragement is a good thing, only that it is a normal thing.  Let’s be honest many times we get even more discouraged because we think that we shouldn’t be discouraged at all.  We can build up an inner cycle of despising ourselves, trying harder, being discouraged again, and despising ourselves. 

Today we will look at a time in the life of Elijah, the powerful prophet of God.  Here we will see that he too was discouraged, and even on the heels of a great success.  May God help us to lay our discouragements before Him and receive the strength and courage that we need to rise up and live for Him.

There is resistance to the move of God

Chapter 19 of 1 Kings opens up in the city of Jezreel.  Take time to remind yourselves of what had just happened up on the top of Mt. Carmel with fire coming down from heaven on Elijah’s sacrifice.  When Elijah enters Jezreel, he clearly believes that God is putting down Baal worship in Israel and lifting up the righteous.  Perhaps he even believes King Ahab, who witnessed the powerful display of Yahweh over the top of the impotence of Baal, will finally repent and start serving Yahweh, the God of Israel.  However, this sense of victory does not last long.  Yes, God is doing something in Israel.  He is on the move, but not everyone likes it.

Just as Elijah had been a strong leader towards serving the One, True God of Israel, so Jezebel is a strong leader for evil and worshipping Baal.  In contrast to these two individuals, King Ahab appears to be a weak leader who is like a deer in the headlights, frozen and not sure what to do.  He hadn’t been strong in worshipping Yahweh in his past, which eventually led to an alliance with Sidon and marriage to the daughter of the king of Sidon.  This opened the door to the worship of Baal.  It starts with building a temple for his wife to worship her god, and then little by little she convinces Ahab that Baal is a greater god.  At some point Ahab follows her lead and promotes Baal worship for all Israel, while hunting down and killing the prophets of the God of Israel.  There are always many different leaders in a nation that are vying for one direction or another.  We do not always have such clear contrast between a godly leader that fully leads in God’s directions versus an evil leader that fully leads in Satan’s direction.  That said, we have similar resistance to what God is trying to do in our country.  Like Jezebel, they are not impressed by the Word of God and the power of God that is displayed in His people.  They will continue to resist and fight against what God is trying to do.  Jezebel knows that this is about more than religion and whose god is stronger.  This is about power over a nation and Elijah is messing with her power over Ahab and the rest of Israel.  In the face of clear proof of just who is God, she becomes extremely brazen and seems not to flinch.  More than likely Jezebel is actually an atheist that uses religion as a cover and a means for power.  Even though Baal failed on Mt. Carmel, she doesn’t care.  She is going to use her position to protect her power.  Thus we see her threaten Elijah’s life.

Many have questioned why Jezebel would send word to Elijah that she was going to kill him within the next 24 hours.  Why not just do it?  Some suggest that she knew that Elijah’s new found popularity would not take his execution lightly.  It could backfire on her.  Perhaps the threat is an attempt to get Elijah to go back into the wilderness, as was his mode of operating so far.  His presence is meddling and will only force the issue.  She knows that if she can get him to leave, then she can start the damage control and spin everything back to her and Baal.  His leaving will also take the confidence out of those who saw the powerful work of Elijah, but don’t really know the God of Israel.  The absence of his strong faith will leave them alone with their weak faith.  This is a possibility and is definitely filled with speculation.  Regardless, Jezebel tells Elijah that she is going to have him killed. 

Now, resistance to what God is doing is not always so drastic.  It can be something as simple as a person being cynical, always putting the motivations of others in the worse possible light, and passive aggressively claiming the problem is all with the other side.  However it appears, resistance to what God is doing is always present in one form or another.  As Christians, it is important that we learn to fight against the very, human nature to be a sheep in the flock following the herd.  Just as shepherd use dogs to herd the sheep, so power players use problems in society to herd the majority towards a particular solution.  Also called the Hegelian dialectic, this tendency to avoid problems by looking for the easy solution, or most accessible solution, is a weakness within the race of humanity.  We must refuse to be a manipulated people by the leaders in our nation (whether liberal or conservative).  This does not mean that we should purposefully embrace “problematic things” in order to thwart the manipulators.  Often, this is part of the manipulation.  Instead of trying to be smarter and “out-fox” our manipulators, we must look to God as the leader from whom we take our cues.

Elijah flees for his life

In verses 3-4, we see that Elijah doesn’t take long to flee Jezreel.  We are told that Elijah flees to Beersheba in the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah.  In fact he leaves his servant in Beersheba and travels a day into the wilderness.  Clearly, Elijah is trying to put as much distance and political opposition in between him and Jezebel.  Here is a link to a map that will help visualize this trek.  Jezreel is in between the Kishon River and the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee.  Beeersheba is labeled and is around 115 miles from Jezreel (depending on his route).  Later he is going to journey to Mt. Horeb (which is another name for Mt. Sinai).  There is a dispute regarding the location of Mt. Sinai.  Some believe it is in the Sinai Peninsula and others believe it is on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.  Regardless to which is correct, God will tell Elijah to go to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai, which is another 200 plus miles south of Beersheba either way.

This brings up the question regarding persecution that has been an important one for the godly throughout all of history.  Is it wrong to run from persecution and threats?  We can be quick to say that a truly spiritual person would stand without fear in the face of the wicked.  Yet, the Scriptures reveal an answer that is more complicated than that.  The apostles of Jesus would go from one city to another depending on the resistance and persecution that they received there.  Jesus even told his disciples that if people did not receive them positively, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.  We see the Apostle Paul sneaking out of a city at night by being let out of the city wall through a window.  Jesus himself purposefully avoided Jerusalem throughout much of his ministry because it “wasn’t his time, yet.”    All of the apostles followed the example of Jesus.  As long as they believed God wanted them to keep spreading the gospel, they ran from persecution.  But when they knew it was God’s will for them to stand and give witness before the wicked, even to the point of death, they bravely stopped running.  Jesus marched into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested and crucified.  Yet, this was God’s plan.  Paul sailed from Asia Minor and walked into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested taken to Rome and eventually martyred.  Yet, he knew it was God’s will at that point in time.  The key is to recognize that the agenda is not set by man (whether the wicked or the righteous).  The agenda is set by God.  The question cannot be answered by a church official declaring the truth for all the godly at all times.  The question can only be answered by a believer who has taken the time to seek the face of God and hear from Him what He is asking of them.  When God says run, then run.  When God says stand still and see the deliverance of the Lord, then stand still.  But sometimes He says to stand still and lay down your life for me.  So the right question to ask is this, “Is God telling me to run or stand.”  We don’t see in the text any sense that Elijah has prayed about this.   In fact, when he gets to the wilderness south of Beersheba he cries out to God.

His prayer is in verse 4 and several things stick out.  He has had enough and asks God to take his life.  Yes, he could have died by staying in Jezreel, but clearly he would rather die at the hands of a merciful God than at the hands of wicked Jezebel.  Secondly, he reasons that he is no better than his fathers,  that is a failure.  Just as the fathers of Israel had failed to stop the country falling into Baal worship under wicked leadership, Elijah feels like a failure too.  He went into Jezreel thinking that the tide was turning and Israel would turn back to Yahweh.  But Jezebel’s threat awakened him to the reality that it wasn’t going to happen, at least as long as Ahab and her were on the throne.

On one hand we can see that this is not one of his famous prayers of faith.  In fact, God is going to deny his request.  On the other hand, have you ever felt this way?  “God I want to die because I am such a failure!”  Maybe it wasn’t that drastic.  Maybe it was simply, “I quit because I am such a failure.”  It is not up to us when we die or when we should quit.  In fact it is not up to us whether we are a failure or not.  Elijah feels like a failure because he failed to turn Israel back to Yahweh.  But that is his expectation and definition.  The real question is what is God’s expectation and definition.  Now there are times when we think we have failed because it is difficult and not going in the direction we hope.  However, there are times when we truly have failed.  In either case, God hears our prayer and will not abandon us, even if they are prayers that lack great faith. 

Elijah has fled the situation, but at least he is doing the right thing.  He is fleeing man in order to seek God.  A retreat can be good if we use it to refocus ourselves on God and seek His will.  It can be good if we regroup our thoughts and let God give us the courage to go back into the fray with His directions.  It is not how perfect our prayers our, but whether or not our heart looks to man (others or ourselves) or to God.

God still cares

In verses 5-8 the scene shows us that God cares about Elijah.  He doesn’t treat Elijah like He is a Marine drill sergeant.  Instead, God first sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs.  Though the passage doesn’t specify that this is an angel (messenger) from heaven, it seems the most logical explanation of what the writer intends.  Twice an angel wakes Elijah up out of a stress-induced sleep and makes him eat bread and drink water.  There is also an emotional side to this care as well.  In times of great stress and discouragement, we tend to isolate ourselves and pull away from others.  However, we still need physical care and touch in those times.  Discouraged people are horrible at taking care of themselves, which adds to their stress.  God sees Elijah’s condition and sends an angel to minister to him.  You are not alone.  God sees your situation.  Here, eat some bread and drink some water.  The angel tells him that he has a long journey ahead of him (apparently to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai).  We don’t have to have a heavenly angel, though a part of us may desire that.  As fellow believers, we need to be listening to God enough that we can hear Him telling us to be such an angel (human messenger in this case) for one another.  We can be so focused on our own problems that we don’t see those in our life that God wants to use us to encourage.  Great encouragement can be found in looking beyond your own problems and seeing the problems of others.  In the end, discouraged people need to know that God still cares for them, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The angel says something very powerful in verse 7.  He says, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”  Now there is a literal level in which it is true that going 200 miles to Mt. Horeb without food would be too great a journey for anyone.  In fact even the two meals themselves are not enough in the natural.  Yet, the journey to Horeb is also a metaphor for the call of God on Elijah’s life to be a prophet of the Lord in Israel.  When God puts a call on our life, He always calls us to something that is too great for us (alone or in our flesh).  The journey is always too great for us.  Our flesh is always excited about the call of God at the beginning.  Alright God, let’s do this, we say.  But eventually, down the road, our flesh will grow weary and we will be tempted to complain, rebel, or simply give up in to discouragement.  This will happen whether is something small like being a faithful spouse and raising a family, or something as great as being a prophet to a nation, or a political leader. 

The key in this passage is that God has a particular provision for Elijah.  The angel gives Elijah important information, go to Mt. Horeb.  The angel also gives him bread and water.  All of these things are themselves part of the metaphor of the journey.  If we attempt it on our own and with our own natural provisions (information=wisdom and bread/water=strength), we will always find ourselves in such a moment as Elijah does.  In fact, I think even knowing this is the case cannot spare us.  We are just too practiced in leaning on our natural abilities and provisions to do the will of God.  All godly people will experience such moments and generally at multiple times throughout your life.  It is a necessary growing pain in which we learn to let go of dependence on what we can do and to lean into dependence upon what God is doing.  God has made provision for us and we must depend upon it.  That provision comes in the Truth/Information of God’s Word in the Bible.  But, it also comes to us through spiritual bread and water that God supplies.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  The water of Jesus is the Truth about God and what He is doing.  To us it feels like He is slacking or even nonexistent at times.  But, the truth is that God loves us very much and has moved heaven and earth to make it possible for us to be with Him.  Like refreshing water to a thirsty man, this truth sets us free from the manipulations of the world and the manipulations of our own fleshly desires.  Jesus also said a couple of chapters later in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Drinking the water of Christ and eating the bread of life is the same thing.  It is a day by day, moment by moment, believing Jesus, trusting him.  When we are discouraged, we are tempted to give up hope and faith.  But, if we will cry out to God, He will give us provision for our journey.  We can do all things…through Christ who strengthens us (spiritually).

I encourage you to let go of the expectations of what you think should or is going to happen.  Simply be faithful to do what God has given you to do.  Be a faithful spouse, not because it is becoming everything you dream.  Be a faithful parent, not because your kids are perfect.  Rather, do it because God has called you to do it and will reward you for your faithfulness.  Trust Him and see what marvels He will do that you had no clue were in His plan.

Godly Discouraged

Tuesday
Sep052017

The Unshakable Kingdom

Hebrews 12:25-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 03, 2017.

Today we will finish this chapter as we look at the importance of believers in Jesus living each day by faith in Him.  Last week we were reminded of the heavenly city in which we have citizenship.  In this last passage, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  As we close out this section, I pray that you are able to see both the wonderful grace of God that we have been given, and the amazing responsibility we have to keep trusting Jesus, no matter what we may face in this life.

Don’t refuse the voice of the Father

By itself, vs. 25 begs the question, “What voice is being referenced?”  However, as you move back through the passage it is clear that the voice of God is what we are talking about.  If we tie the Old Testament allusions to the earlier references that God disciplines us as a Heaven Father, then it becomes clear that Christians are being told not to ignore the voice of God.  Even today, we can be guilty of ignoring or refusing to obey the voice of God.  But, before we get into what that can look like, let’s first deal with this exhortation to obey God’s voice.

We are reminded of those who rejected God’s voice under the Old Covenant and how they did not escape His judgment.  They did hear an audible voice while they were at Mt. Sinai.  However, the majority of God’s Word was given to them by the prophet Moses and confirmed by the amazing signs and wonders that God did among them.  That first generation that came out of Egypt heard the voice of God and even embraced it by agreeing to a covenant with God at Sinai.  Yet, they did not follow God through the desert in faith.  Most of them perished in the wilderness, not because they lost faith one time or in an instance, but because they continually refused to trust God all along the way.  His judgment was sometimes a quick and instantaneous thing such as when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up in an earthquake’s rift, or the many that died from the fiery serpents, or those who perished in the deception of the Moabites.  The testimony of Scripture is that most of them did not walk by faith and complained with unbelief.  The majority perished by simply growing old and dying in their unbelief.  Later generations of Israel who were not at Sinai to hear “The Voice” had to make a choice.  Were they going to listen to the Word of God’s voice that had been recorded or were they going to refuse to listen to it?  We are in the same position.  Though we are not under the Law of Moses, we have heard the record of the New Covenant that God has made clear through His Son Jesus.  Jesus was the Voice of God and He guaranteed that His Holy Spirit would speak through His Apostles to direct His Church.  This has all been recorded faithfully for us.  We have a choice to make.  We either believe it, or refuse and go on in our disbelief.  All generations are accountable to the record of the God’s voice.  On top of all this, if we walk in faith and trust God’s Word, He speaks to our hearts by His Holy Spirit and leads us through the wilderness of this world.  So the point is clear.  Be like Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, rather than like those who refused to believe and perished.  Physically hearing God’s Word is not enough to save us.  We need to put our faith in what it says.

Verse 26 then reminds us that God is shaking the heavens and the earth with His New Covenant through Jesus.  Just as the voice of God shook Mt. Sinai, so the earth would be shaken by the Gospel.  But, more than that, God was also shaking the heavens.  The devil and his angels were being told that they would be cast down into the Lake of Fire, and the Church would be raised up in their place and even higher.  Now this part about shaking the heavens and the earth is a quote from Haggai 2:6.  Its point is that God would shake things to remove that which can be shaken and replace it with something that would be permanent.  It would be easy to see this shaking as something that started and ended in that first year as the disciples went out into the world.  However, when we think through what the Scriptures say about the removal of the old order, on earth and in the heavens, then we can recognize that the shaking started in the first century and will continue until Jesus comes back and concludes removing the old.  Yes, the Law of Moses and the nation of Israel passed away in that first century and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church were set up.  But, this shaking is not over.  Throughout the New Testament we are given a sense that all that God has promised is both now, and not completely yet.  God has much more to do in this shaking that even involves the restored state of Israel and the Jewish people.  The key to this point is to recognize that in Jesus we are a part of what is going to remain.  Why would you try to go back to that which will not remain, the Law of Moses or the world, and refuse that which will remain?  The shaking has begun to knock down the shakable things of this world and that which cannot be shaken has begun to take its place, but it is not yet completed.

So we are told that believers in Jesus are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  By faith in Jesus we have a part in that kingdom that cannot be taken from us.  As Joshua and Caleb led the next generation into the Promised Land, so we can rejoice at the 2nd Coming of Christ and the inheritance that will be made manifest at that time.  When all the nations of this world have fallen, the Kingdom of Jesus will remain.  We should not be arrogant at such words because we stand by faith in God and by His grace, not by our own power.  So the unshakable kingdom is here, at least in our hearts, but not complete.  The book of Revelation is about the completing of the Kingdom of God.  Just as Israel could not survive its continual refusal to listen to God’s voice, the nations of the world today (America included) cannot survive their refusal.  Think about it.  Is there any nation on the earth today whose government makes every decision based upon what will please Jesus Christ and God the Father, based upon God’s Word?  None do so, not even the United States of America.  So I fear for our country as I watch the federal government, state governments, and local continuing to reject the leadership of Jesus and going their own way.

Let us walk in grace

Surrounded by this sea of unbelief, it would be easy to doubt God’s Word and seek compromises with the world and our own flesh.  The whole point of this chapter has been to strengthen our faith so that we can continue to walk in the grace of God (vs. 28).  It is called grace because we cannot obtain it by obeying a list of outward commands.  It truly is a gift of God to those who repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus.  It is also called grace because we give to others what God has given us, love, forgiveness, and the offer of salvation.

To those first century Jewish believers (the book is called Hebrews for a reason) the temptation was to quit following the grace of Jesus and go back under the Law of Moses.  However, there was no going back in God’s eyes.  The Old Covenant was fulfilled and had served its purpose.  It was time for the New Covenant and the faithful would hear the voice of God and leave the spiritual Egypt behind in order to follow Jesus, who is greater than Moses in every way.  Today many Jews continue to cling to the Old Covenant hoping to find salvation in it.  But salvation can only be found in God.  For most Christians the problem is not trying to go back to the Law of Moses, although some do struggle with this.  Instead we are often tempted to create a kind of Christian Law, by which we attempt to justify ourselves through outward conformity, rather than through inward transformation.  The point is not so much what you turn back towards, but what you are leaving behind in order to do so.  If God is going east and you turn back and go west, then you are headed away from life.  Don’t turn your back on God and His amazing grace.  Other Christians turn towards a kind of intellectual trick that says we can live anyway we want because we are under grace.  They turn grace into a license for immorality.  This too is a refusal to follow God.  The New Covenant has not removed the need for living out the righteousness of God.  Rather, it has provided a safe platform on which we can become more and more like Jesus as His Word transforms us from the inside to the outside.

Thus verse 28 mentions acceptable service.  Though some versions use the word “worship” it intends worship in the sense of everything we do to show God’s worth.  What makes our life acceptable?  I believe the Holy Spirit’s continual reminder in these passages of those who didn’t believe under the Old Covenant reveals it to us.  Acceptable worship is to do what God says to do.  It is to obey and to do so from a heart broken over its sin and overflowing with thanksgiving to God for His mercy.  Acceptable worship is to walk by faith in Jesus and trusting His Word.  No, not just the parts that we think He said.  Jesus guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth.  They faithfully recorded what Jesus taught and what the Spirit taught them.  We are accountable to those words. 

It is also acceptable because it is done in reverence and godly fear.  Why does passage end with such a fierce verse?  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  At Mt. Sinai, Israel was instilled with the fear of a slave towards a master.  But at the cross we are instilled with the respect and healthy fear that a child should have towards their father.  We should always be aware that no matter how close God draws us to His side and no matter how much He loves us, He will not put up with rebellion, unbelief, and refusal to obey.  His very nature of being a consuming fire requires us to approach with understanding.  In fact, it is worth contemplating that the same fire that is able to burn up all our sin and make us a refined product that is 100% pure, can also consume us in judgment.  Faith is what makes the difference.  So let’s fully follow Jesus.  And let’s not do so as we imagine him or want him to be.  Let us hear the word of the Lord and say, “Yes, Father.  I hear and want to follow you!”  Let's not trade an unshakable kingdom for that which cannot last, and a heavenly birthright for the temporary pleasures of sin.

Unshakable Kingdom audio

Monday
Apr102017

When God Calls Our Bluff

Luke 19:37-40.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 9, 2017.

Today is Palm Sunday.  In and of itself it looks like a good day in the life of Jesus, at least on the surface.  But as we did deeper into what is really going on here, we see that ultimately it is a very sad day that reveals exactly why the crucifixion and the resurrection are necessary components to the salvation of a human being.

The calling of someone’s bluff comes from gambling at poker.  Instead of only waiting until you have a good hand to bet large, a person will learn to play a more difficult game of pretense.  I may pretend I have a bad hand or pretend I have a good hand.  It makes it more difficult for others to tell if I am really bluffing.  Now, between humans, this simply comes down to who is best at bluffing.  However, you can always be wrong when you call someone’s bluff.  If you call you must be ready to pay the price if you are wrong.  At this point let’s switch to the topic at hand.

If God calls our bluff, there is no question.  He knows our thoughts and our heart better than we do.  Thus, for God the risk is not calling our bluff.  The risk is to let us continue pretending that we have a good hand when in reality we are living in a land of our own imagination.  People who try to live in reality based upon imaginary things and pretense ultimately will find their dream world turn into a nightmare as everything they think is good proves not to be so.  The point today is that God loves us too much to let us keep bluffing.  In reality this is exactly what Jesus is doing that day all those years ago.  Let’s look at the passage.

Jesus Presents Himself as Messiah and King

The larger context tells us that there is a Passover festival at hand in Jerusalem.  Many people are coming to Jerusalem to celebrate.  So, we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem.  However, there are some unique things that he does.  He purposefully comes in such a way that the religious people of Israel will know that he is presenting himself as the Messiah.

The two terms, Messiah and Christ, have come to us from the first century.  Messiah is a Hebrew term that means “anointed one.”  Throughout Israel’s history God had progressively revealed to them that He would eventually send His Anointed One who would be King of Israel and would restore Israel and the even the world to righteousness.  He himself would be perfectly righteous.  Some passages to back this up are: Psalm 2, 1 Samuel 2:10, and Daniel 9:25.   During the time of David it was revealed that the Messiah would be of the line of David.  So they had a promise of a coming savior who would fix all that was wrong with Israel and take over the whole world.  So, if Jesus is presenting himself as Messiah, we might ask the question, “Why didn’t he do it?”  It has been said that Jesus came the first time to fix only our spiritual problem and that his Second Coming will be about fixing our natural and geo-political problems.  Though there is some truth to this, it is a gross simplification.  To fix a person’s unbelief and sin, is to transform their life in the natural.  Thus those who believed in Jesus and followed His ways discovered a transformed natural life, as well as a supernatural one.  Let’s look at the Second Coming.  Though Jesus will clearly remove the wicked kings and armies of this world and take over politically, it is also clear that he deals with our spiritual enemy, the devil.   By the time of Jesus, the Greek language was as prevalent in the near east as English is throughout the world today.  Thus the word Christ was used as a synonym for the Hebrew term Messiah.  It too meant an anointed one.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had asked people to keep the fact that he was the messiah under wraps.  He wasn’t ready to announce himself yet.  But on this day he is ready.  Before we look at how they would know that is what he is doing, let’s look at the timing issue first.  Throughout their history Israel had waited for the messiah.  Definitely since the prophet Isaiah who spoke of him throughout his book, but especially Isaiah 53.  That would be over 700 years.  But they had also been waiting since David and his many prophecies 950 years earlier.  In some ways we can even go back to Abraham and God’s promises to him, or Eve and God’s promise that one of her seed would crush the serpent’s head.  It is hard to keep positive about a promise that takes so long to keep.  God’s timing is clearly not our timing.  How many generations had been born, heard the promise, hoped in it, and then died without seeing it?  Of course no one person had to wait over a 1,000 or even 2,000 years.  Yet, intellectually they would recognize that it has been a long time.  This would raise the question, is it really going to happen?  Doubts, and even cynicism, easily creep in.  This is typically handled one of two ways.  We either outwardly reject it and live openly without that hope, or, we keep the doubt internal.  We keep up the bluff that we believe in order to get the best out of the system that such belief has built up.  So when Jesus presents himself that day, there are people in different categories.  There are some who have held out hope against all odds that the Messiah would still come someday even though it had been so long.  There were others who only pretended that they believed the Messiah would come.  They actually lived their lives based on other hopes.  Then there are those who had outwardly given up in believing.  The life of Jesus had stirred all of these different groups.  His miracles and powerful words shook them to the core.

I point all this out because we are in the same boat today.  We have been waiting for the Second Coming of Christ coming on 2,000 years.  In 2 Peter 3:3-4, the apostle warns us, “Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning.’”  These same categories exist in our churches and across this world.  In our humanity and in our sinfulness we want, and even demand, God to do it now!  We want Him to operate on our timetable.  Since God has not cooperated, we cast Him aside and seek to make ourselves God: observing all things (omnipresent), knowing everything (omniscient), doing anything (omnipotent), and living as long as we want (immortal).  So the question today is this, do you trust God’s timing even though it has been so long?  Are you willing to wait, or are you only pretending to be waiting for Him.  One day He will call our bluff and Jesus will present himself to our surprise.  On that day the hidden hand that we really have will be laid on the table for all to see.  Don’t cast away the promise of God and forge your own way.  The siren call of the modern world and its technology is that we no longer need a God.  We can become the gods that we have always wanted.  The problem is that there really is a God and He really has asked us to wait for Him.  Future us will slam into that reality at light speed, just as Israel and Rome did all those years ago.

But it is not just God’s timing that bothers us.  It is also the way in which He does it.  There are parts of the plan that Israel liked (getting rid of the bad guys and ruling over the whole earth).  But clearly there were other parts that they didn’t like.  Jesus comes down the Mt. of Olives to the city of Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey as prophesied in Zechariah 9.  But, this gives a far different picture of God’s Anointed King than our flesh would like to dream up.  He does not come as the proud, flamboyant hero that our flesh desires.  Instead, he comes as the humble, peaceful, unpretentious leader who is not drunk on their own authority.  He did not have a sword, nor an army behind him, at least in the natural.  He came not to pat the people on the back and say good job.  But, instead he comes to save them from their sins, and those powers that used their sins to hold them in bondage.  He was not after geo-political boundaries that day, but rather to break down the boundaries and walls that they had built around their hearts (that we build around ours even today).  The heart of the matter is this, we want a leader who will not demand our hearts change, but rather will change the world around us.  We want things to change without us having to change.  Of course this is impossible.  Even progressives who say similar things, but in order to increase our faith in the intellectual elite that will lead us into the New Age of Mankind, do not recognize that the only change that matters is the one that must happen in our sinful and rebellious heart.  No.  Mankind cannot fix itself because to do so is to refuse to change in the one area that it must (in hearts and minds).  Thus our own hearts set us up for the betrayal of leaders who promise heaven and yet deliver hell, who look like Jesus but in the end they are a devil.  Jesus did not fit the profile that the religious leaders had in their mind.  All their lives they had said that they loved God and wanted His Messiah.  And yet, Jesus was the fulfillment of all of this.  God called their bluff and many of them were found wanting.

The History of the Church

There are two aspects to the history of the Church.  On one hand it may seem that it is no different from Israel and that God’s plan didn’t work.  Definitely, the Church as an institution of people is like Israel because it is made of people.  Yet, on the other hand, in the midst of it all, we do see people who believed God and refused to only honor Him with their lips.  They were not bluffing.  Just as Israel had her prophets and believers within the midst of many unbelievers, so too is the Church.  When the hard call came to them in their day and age, they rejected what the world was offering and followed Jesus.  Thus the early apostles did not create little kingdoms over which they all reigned as popes.  Instead, they each sacrificed their lives to give the Truth of Jesus the Christ to the world.  The reformers in Europe refused to shut up and obey man, but instead lost everything in order to follow Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of Martin Luther that he thought he had left everything behind to enter the monastery.  But what he found in the monastery was that there was one more thing he needed to let go of, his pious, proud self-will.  Thus Luther had to leave this in the monastery and go back into the world, all the while being called a heretic and blasphemer by those who held the reins of power.  None of these people were perfect, only Jesus is perfect.  But they understood that to follow Jesus is to let go of everything that comes between us and him.  It is ours to simply say yes to his timing and to his way.  Yes, it will often be inconvenient and difficult.  But it always leads us away from destruction and towards life.

What is it that Jesus is calling us to do today?  Yes, in general, we are to be faithful to His Word and promote Jesus as savior and Lord.  But what is he specifically saying to you about your life.  Every time we read God’s Word, His Holy Spirit works in our hearts to call our bluff, or at least to get us to resist turning towards it.  He calls us to be real.  So what were the responses on that day?  There really are only two that are possible.

The Response to Jesus

Let us not kid ourselves.  Jesus was clearly presenting himself as God’s Messiah (The Anointed One) who was the rightful King of Israel.  As this gauntlet is thrown down those who believed that he was Messiah began to rejoice.  His ways had confused them because he wouldn’t do anything that looked like he was going to take over.  So on this day his followers are ecstatic because they think they know what will happen next.  Finally, he is ready to do what we have asked him to do.  Though they are in for a rude awakening as to what is next, it is still important to recognize their response to Jesus.  They quote from Psalm 118, which was a psalm predicting a coming Anointed King who would save Israel.  They believed in Jesus, and thus believed God who had sent Him.

All that said, even when we initially respond correctly, our faith is always going to be challenged.  Today when he rides down the hill on a donkey their faith is strong.  But what about later when he hangs on a cross and is buried, will they still believe?  When he is resurrected and yet ascends into heaven without fixing everything, will they still believe?  If we really trust God and His Anointed One, Jesus, then it is our duty to follow and accept that His way is perfect and mine is not.  You see even then their hearts were still their greatest enemies.  Would they be led astray by their wicked hearts?  Thus the reality is this, those who believe will do the actions of faith.  Their heart and their mind will protest a thousand times and yet, at the end of the day, they will choose to trust God over their own heart and mind.  We will be tested on this time and time again throughout our life, not because God is trying to disqualify us, but because He is perfecting us.  He is making us to be like Jesus, if we will let Him.

The Second response is simply to not believe.  Those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah resisted and did the actions of unbelief.  Thus the religious leaders rebuke Jesus and tell him to rebuke his disciples.  Resisting can be open and heavy or hidden and slight.  Regardless it is of the same ilk, unbelief.  We are no different today.  We must all come to Jesus as both savior and Lord.  Yes, we want saved but we can’t dictate the terms of our salvation.  We must follow him, not because he is headed in the direction that we desire or does what we desire.  We must follow him because he is the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.  We must follow him because he is the only Righteous One.  Become a follower of Jesus today by walking away from the life that your flesh wants to create, whether religious or not, and letting him who alone has the words of life lead you forward no matter what that may look like.

When God calls your bluff audio