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Entries in Grace (19)

Monday
Nov262018

Faith in the Lord Jesus for Life

Romans 1:16-19; Habakkuk 2:4.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 25, 2018.

Over 500 years ago a young, Roman-Catholic worried about how he could be truly right with God.  When lightning struck dangerously close to him, it scared him badly.  He then became a monk and spent his time in prayer and fasting, attempting to settle things with God.  Lacking peace throughout this whole time, the young man then heard the Lord speak to him one day.  “The just shall live by faith.”  As he contemplated Romans 1:17, young Martin Luther began to understand the truly wonderful truth of the Gospel for the first time.  He wrote later, “I felt born again like a new man.  I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God.”  Until that day Luther lacked peace and rest in his spirit, but afterwards he had sweet relief.

Today we are going to transition from talking about how faith is necessary for salvation to the point that faith is necessary for living our lives on this earth.  Technically our lives on this earth are a part of our salvation, but it is a whole new phase of the work of God in our lives.  Let’s look at this passage in Romans.

The righteousness that we need is from God

In this passage, Paul clearly has salvation in mind, but for him salvation is not just a thing that happened at a point in the past.  It is also something that is lived out each and every day.  So before we get into how he uses the truth, the just shall live by faith, we will take some time to look at where this truth was first revealed in Scripture.

In the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, the prophet is questioning God about some difficult things that he sees.  It seems to him that God is not doing anything about it.  Anyone who begins to follow Jesus will quickly discover that we often have questions and do not understand the wisdom behind how God runs things.  God does not always protect the righteous from the deeds of wicked people.  As Habakkuk wrestled with that question, God tells him in Hab. 2:4, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright within him, but the just shall live by faith.”  So we have two parallel statements that contrast each other.  The subject of the first is the proud.  The statement is that they are not upright within themselves.  Since this is a contrast we might expect the second statement to have “the humble” as its subject, but instead we have “the just,” another way of saying the righteous.  God could have said for Habakkuk to look at the humble and how their spirit is upright within them, but He doesn’t.  Think about the many other verses in the Old Testament that speak about the inner life of mankind (both proud and humble).  Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  The proud, whether religious or not, think that they are right or just.  They exercise all manner of faith in their own righteousness.   However, God sees through them.  On the other hand the just, i.e. those who are truly righteous from God’s perspective, will live by faith in God rather than themselves.  They are not even perfectly upright inside themselves and they know this.  The righteous are those who reject the arrogant tendency to trust our own mind and heart over the top of the revelation of God.

Thus the righteous see their failings and look to God in faith for their salvation.  They are declared righteous by God because of their faith in Him.  Of course now we are directed particularly to Jesus.  The Father has sent His Son and all who put their trust in Him are declared righteous.  In case you are not completely convinced, think about the first 3 chapters of the book of Romans.  In chapter one he shows how the gentile nations were lost and depraved in their thinking and living.  However, he then goes on to show how even the “righteous” Israelites had fallen short of God’s glory.  Romans 3:22b-23 compares the Gentiles with the Jews and states, “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  There is not a single righteous person throughout this whole earth who is righteous in and of themselves.  If they are righteous it is because of their faith in God.  In Romans 1:17 Paul speaks of the “righteousness of God.”  Jesus is the righteousness of God and He offers this righteousness freely to those who will lay aside their own false righteousness.  He alone is truly right within Himself.

Thus Paul answers the question, “Who are the just?”  His answer is this.  It is those who have received the righteousness of God instead of clinging to their own.  Martin Luther and other early reformers actually called this “alien righteousness.”  This was to emphasize that the righteousness a true believer has is not their own.  It belongs to another, Jesus.  None of us has it in ourselves.  We must receive it from God Himself and God only gives it to those who lay down their righteousness and embrace Jesus in faith.

Paul states that it is in the Gospel that we are told these things.  In other words these things are what God has revealed in His Word.  We must not skip over this point lightly.  The Law of Moses does reveal a kind of righteousness, but it is a righteousness that none of us have (nor did any in the days of Moses).  Think on it.  Anywhere you have a set of laws, you will find no one who perfectly keeps them all, especially if you take in account what Jesus said about our inner thought life in Matthew 5:18.  What we actually find there are many people who are proud in their ability to look like they are in compliance.  That is why we always find law makers who don’t pay their taxes, etc.  The prophets pointed to the need for a man to be made righteous by God because they saw our inability to perform the law of God.  The Gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ reveals to us this righteousness that none of us has in ourselves, but can obtain from God Himself by putting our confidence in Jesus and following Him.

The world today challenges believers to separate themselves from God’s Word, whether completely or only partially.  However, if we run from the Bible to any degree, we are only destroying ourselves.  Don’t run from the Bible because it is the only hope that we and this world have.  It points us away from ourselves and towards Jesus, who is the righteousness of God.

This enables us to live by faith

It is our own righteousness that tends to trip us up in this life.  When we jettison it and look to Christ we are suddenly enabled to actually please God and do the righteous things as He desires.  Verse 17 uses an interesting phrase to describe this faith.  In the NKJV it reads, “by faith from first to last.”  Literally the passage says, “out of faith into faith.”  I am not quibbling with the translation.  Notice though how it describes a person moving from a position of faith into another position of faith.  This is what it means to walk with God.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, God has given us some knowledge, but we still have huge gaps and struggles with where things are headed.  Like Habakkuk we don’t understand why we are seeing what we are seeing.  If we are going to follow God it will only be by taking one step of faith after another.  No matter how confident a saint may appear, or how long they have walked with Jesus, they never get to a place where they no longer have to walk by faith.  They too must trust God all along the way, often at the expense of what they see, feel, or think.  Our flesh does not like walking by faith and will always find things to complain about.  Faith is not a one-time step into salvation, but a continual step after step from that very first step of faith in Jesus Christ to that last step of faith as we leave this world.  For the righteous it is always a walk of faith in the Lord Jesus.

Faith in Jesus is the only solid ground that can hold up a righteous life.  Habakkuk knew these things to some degree, but we still see him struggling with them.  He struggles with why God has let so many wicked people in Israel rise to leadership.  When God tells him that the Babylonians will come and conquer Israel, then Habakkuk questions how God could use those who were more wicked than Israel to judge them.  You see if we fixate on the things of this world and how they are going, we will be robbed of our faith.  You too will have to struggle with your fears and thoughts in order to keep your faith in Jesus.   There is nothing in this world that will keep you strong, except putting your trust in Jesus completely.  Jesus Himself is the solid ground upon which we stand.  We feel like it is less solid, but it is the only thing that will hold when God begins to shake things up.  Your righteous works won’t hold.  The greatness and goodness of the United States of America won’t hold.  The promise and hope of a representative republic won’t hold.  Your favorite philosopher or biblical teacher won’t hold.  Only Jesus will hold because He alone is the righteousness of God.  When you have Him, you have a solid foundation for taking that next step and then the next and then the next.  He will hold us up until we reach our place in heaven beside Him.

Let me close by recognizing verses 18 and 19.  Paul transitions here to the wrath of God.  The proud will go on in their self righteousness and experience the wrath of God, but those who live by faith in Jesus will not be exposed to this wrath.  Oh, we do have a healthy fear of God.  However, we understand His offer of grace, and His offer of righteousness.  Thus we walk in confidence in Him.

What is faith?  Faith is a complete confidence in Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  Without Jesus I can’t be a good father, husband, pastor, or insert any part of your life here, but with Him I can become the righteousness of God.  When we humble ourselves to this very low place, we find salvation and God enables us to rise up and walk with Him day by day.   Yes, we have questions and we have days when our faith meter may not be so strong.  However, in those moments may we all understand that God is only teaching us to trust in Him rather than those things that are making us waver.  Let’s walk with Jesus and not worry about what the world may say.  Amen.

Faith for Life audio

Saturday
Nov242018

Faith in the Lord Jesus for Salvation

Ephesians 2:1-10.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 18, 2018.

Today we are going to begin a new series that focuses on our need for faith in this life.  Faith is an interesting thing because it is not essentially a religious thing.  I know that statement sounds sacrilegious.  To have faith is to put your trust in something or someone.  Thus everybody lives in some way by faith, but the question is this.  What do you trust in?  What do you have faith in?  We sometimes call this the object of our faith.  Even an atheist put their faith in the material things of this world and the ability of science to understand everything eventually.  However, God’s Word calls all people everywhere to put their faith in the Lord Jesus that they may be saved from this wicked and adulterous generation.

Once we were spiritually dead

In Ephesians Paul is writing to people who were not always followers of the One True God.  There are many metaphors used for people in this condition: to be blind, to be a slave, to be sick, to be lost, and here to be dead.  It is clear that we are dealing with a spiritual death in which that most vital part of us, our spirit, is separated and unable to connect with the most vital being of the universe, God.  Even though we are physically alive, even somewhat morally and ethically alive, we are not animated by God and His Word.  Rather, we are animated by the things of this world that are not of God.

Now, as an analogy, we should not put more weight upon this statement then it can biblically bear.  How can a person who is dead to God and His Word, quit being dead and start being alive?  How can a dead man believe?  The analogy does not tell us everything about the thing it analogizes.  It only gives us a glimpse.  Somehow the truth of God’s Word can put a dead man in a position to come to live again if they believe.  Similarly a blind man can see, a slave can be set free, a sick person healed, and a lost person found because of the grace of God.

Verse 1 describes this spiritual death as being “in trespasses and sins.”  The life of a person who is spiritually dead becomes filled with things that can be described by these words.  “Trespasses” refers to the many ways in which our actions and life cross the line of what is acceptable to God. The word “sins” refers to the fact that our actions, thoughts, and desires are in error, or miss the mark in regard to the things that God would have us do.  A life that crosses the boundaries of God’s will and falls short of the good that God has for us to do begins at a very young age within ourselves.  Even when kids are taught right and wrong, they naturally gravitate towards all manner of selfish desires and actions.  By the time a child becomes an adult their life is increasingly filled with these things.  This is the natural effect in those who are spiritually dead.  In this sense we are our own worst enemy.

Verse 2 says that we were walking according to, or following, the course of this world.  The course of this world could be translated as the system of this world and gives the picture of a herd mentality of the spiritually dead society.  When a child is born they drop into a system that pulls them along by the sheer force of its magnitude and the reality that the child knows nothing else.  It is as if you are plunged into a river that is following a course.  This becomes the second part of our problem.  Yes, we are our own worst enemy, but we are also caught up in a world that is leading us away from God.  This world has a great pull on our hearts and minds, pulling us away from Jesus and towards something else.

Verse 2 also says that we and the world we are in were being led by the prince of the power of the air.  The phrase that is used here refers to malevolent, spiritual powers.  Jesus referred to them as “the devil and his angels,” as well as “demons.”  These spiritual powers operate as a single force because they have a ruler over them whom Scriptures generally name as the devil or Satan.  1 John 5:19 says, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”  Also 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4 says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  The “god of this world” is referring to the one who is acting like a god over the lives of mankind.  He is not truly a god.  The dark sinister forces that he oversees are the enemies of all humanity.  Thus we have the final list of all our enemies: self, the world, and the devil (and his evil spirits).  Many people don’t understand that there is a malevolent, spiritual force behind all the junk that is going on in the world.  This does not absolve mankind, but it does impact how we respond to the problem.

Verse 4 starts with the phrase “but God.”  In this condition of lostness and deadness, God still loves us.  Despite the error that we embrace in our lives His great love richly offers mercy to us.  This does not mean we are okay.  Yes, God loves us and is rich in mercy; however, He will not overlook our sin as if it is okay.  Paul speaks to the Ephesians in a way that it is a done deal, but he knows that they have done what they need to do in order to receive that mercy.  While they were in a spiritually dead state, God sent His grace to them and they responded in faith, which made them spiritually alive!

When the Word of God is spoken into people’s lives today, it brings with it the hope and power to make them spiritually alive.  The Word of God is by definition the Word of Life, and where the Word of Life is there can be life, even life so powerful that it brings the dead back to life.

In all of this we should be careful not to confuse God’s love and mercy with a lack of judgment.  If God is truly good then He must deal with the trespasses and sin that is going on in this world.  In His goodness God has set a date in which all will be judged.  Until then His rich mercy pleads with all people, through the words of the Bible and those who share it who have been made spiritually alive, to believe in Jesus and put their faith in Christ.

Now we are spiritually alive

Let’s begin to focus on the spiritually alive part.  A person who is spiritually alive is no longer animated by their flesh, or the world around them, or any evil spiritual forces.  They are connected to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is His Word and His Holy Spirit that motivates and leads us.  Of course this involves remaining vigilant against those three enemies and exercising self discipline by the help of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 5 states that our spiritual resurrection is connected to the physical resurrection of Christ.  Jesus was always spiritually alive.  There was never a point that he was spiritually dead.  He did not figure the way out of sin and show us the way.  Rather, He is the source of Life and He is the way to the Father.  This spiritual life that we enjoy today could not exist without Him and His resurrection.  Our connection to Him will eventually lead to our physical resurrection, but for now it has created a spiritual life in us that could not exist without Him.  As we put our trust and faith in Jesus, His life lives in us.  He is the object of our faith, not just an example of it.  We do not just believe things about Jesus, but we are even more trusting His Words, commands, and the way that He shows us to live.  If we reject these things then we reject the life that He wants to give to us.  To separate from Christ is to separate from life itself.

In verse 6 Paul reminds us that we are not only made alive, but that we also are enabled to sit with Christ in the heavenly places.  Right now Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  When we die we will go to be with Christ there, but while we are alive we are already spiritually seated with Him.  His Spirit within us is the guarantee of our right to sit with Christ.  It is the place that has been reserved for those who put their faith in Christ.  It is our destiny to reign with Christ in eternity, but that identity belongs to us already.  We have already been raised up from a dead position of lying under the power of the wicked one, and we are enabled to walk in this first stage of being seated with Christ.

Verse 7 tells us that we are the recipients of God’s kindness in Jesus.  The first coming of Christ was a kindness of God.  He did not owe us salvation.  However, in His kindness, He makes a way.  We can receive this kindness and walk in it today.  That said, the full measure of God’s kindness will not be seen until this age comes to an end and the return of Christ occurs.  Today the world will mock the idea that we are kings and priests of God, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies, and that we are spiritually alive.  At times we may even have our own doubts.  However, in the ages to come (verse 7) the full kindness of God will be made evident.  There will be no question as God demonstrates it before the whole universe.

Now verses 8 and 9 are the classic salvation verses for all evangelicals.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  The two-point qualification is important.  We need the grace of God.  Without it no amount of faith could save us.  It is only the grace of God that accepts anything, even our faith in Jesus.  This gift from God is freely given.  Yet, we must employ faith or trust in Jesus to accept this gift.  Grace has been given, but it is within Jesus.  There is no other means of grace and there is no other way to take hold of Christ but through faith in Him.  Even this faith isn’t from us.  If it wasn’t for the revelation of God in the Bible opening our eyes to the reality around us, and the help of the Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t have a clue regarding how we can be saved.  When we trust Jesus for salvation, it becomes the channel by which God’s grace of salvation comes into our life, making us alive.

As we close, let’s look at verse 10.  Here we see that we have been saved for the purpose of doing those good works that God has for us.    No amount of good works can save a person.  Instead we were saved in order to do good works, even more than that, to become the righteousness of God.  Thus we are God’s workmanship.  We are the good work that He has done in this day and in this generation.  May God encourage us in our faith in Christ, and may that faith lead to many good works out of thanks for the salvation of God and out of joy for the life of God that we now have!

Faith for Salvation audio

Tuesday
Aug212018

Our Prayer Life and Personal Witness

Colossians 4:2-6.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 12, 2018.

Our world today has convinced itself that there is no eternity for us to face.  And so, people live lives that are focused on the fleeting thoughts and wants of this life, going here and there.  Today we need to hear Christ calling us to lift our eyes and see that there is a harvest all around us.  It is a harvest of people who have been made hungry for the Gospel because they haven’t found something that can satisfy their soul.

In our passage today, Paul is drawing near to the end of his letter to the Colossians, and encourages believers to be active in two different areas of life.  The first part is centered on our internal life and the second is focused on our external life.  When believers recognize the value that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has for us and the people around us, we give prayer and witnessing the proper vigilance that eternal matters deserve.

In our passage today, Paul turns from the relationship between slaves and their masters, and speaks to the group of believers as a whole.

Continue earnestly in prayer

If I were to summarize the book of Colossians I would say this.  Paul is concerned that believers understand the mystery of the Gospel of Christ enough in order to avoid deceptions and to be transformed into the image of Jesus.  It takes prayer to withstand spiritual deception, and it takes prayer to put off the old man and to put on the new man.  Thus in verse 2 Paul uses a verb that has the idea of continuing with strength.  Prayer is not just a passionless duty.  It is not enough to pray when you first get saved and then quit.  It is not enough to pray only in times of disaster and great need.  Believers must also continue strongly in prayer during all the times in between.

Paul emphasizes being “watchful” in prayer.  What are we watching?  We are being watchful of our lives, both external deceptions and our own internal deceptions.  We are watchful for those temptations that would seek to take us by surprise and by storm.  We are also to be watchful over one another, as spiritual brothers and sisters.  Jesus himself used the world “watch” in his last hours with his disciples.  He asked Peter, James, and John to watch with Him as He prayed.  Later, when He found them sleeping, He warned them to “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Matthew 26:41 (NKJV).  They were going through a time of severe testing and strong temptation.  It was Jesus who not only made them aware of it, but also told them that they would only overcome those temptations through prayer.  Satan is often successful because we are not paying attention to spiritual matters.  When our flesh is strong then we are prone to take the bait that he is using for us.

Of course it is easy to let ourselves fall into a dire, and even hopeless, attitude.  Yet, Paul tells them to pray with thanksgiving.  If we only treat prayer as a Christmas list that we take to God, then we can get discouraged pretty quick.  God is not in the business of spoiling His children and turning us into entitled brats.  We would be no good to anybody, even ourselves, at that point.  However, when we learn to pray with other kinds of prayer, we become stronger spiritually.  In Scripture we not only see prayers of petition, in which we ask for things for ourselves, but also prayers of Adoration.  This is where we praise God for who He is.  We should also give up prayers of thanksgiving in which we thank God for what He has done and how He has blessed us.  There are also prayers of confession in which we repent before God concerning any areas of sin in our life.

Prayer may have a novelty feel to it at first.  In fact, we can do different things to try and maintain a feeling of novelty (turn down lights, play instrumental music, light candles, etc.).    However, none of these things will ever be able to overcome the reality that our flesh will quickly grow tired of prayer.  When our flesh realizes that God is not going to satisfy our every whim and desire, it either falls asleep or walks away.  So take time to be thankful in your prayers, but not just for the things He has given you.  Also be thankful for who He is and His character, His faithfulness and grace.  We are on the winning side.  So we need not be dire and glum, though the world around us is given over to darkness.  Rather we can pray with joy and thanksgiving in our heart.

Paul also asks that they would pray for him and his companions, especially that they would have an open door to share the Gospel.  Just as they needed doors, so we too need the Lord to open doors for us to share the Gospel.  We should not take it for granted, but labor for it in prayer.  Paul also asks that they would pray that he would have clarity in explaining the Gospel to others.  Many people have a superficial understanding of Jesus, if anything at all.  They need a clear presentation of the Gospel.  So wouldn’t God just open doors for us, why should we pray?  It is true that if you do not pray, God will still be busy working.  And, God will use others.  However, those others cannot take the place that God has given to me and you.  Without prayer, I will miss those opportunities and those opportunities will be missing in the lives of those I was supposed to impact.  Prayer puts us in the harness with the Holy Spirit to do the work that needs done to prepare people’s hearts, plant the seed of truth, water it, and harvest at the appropriate time.  Even though he was in chains, under house arrest, Paul knew that prayer could open up opportunities to share the Gospel.

Walk wisely around unbelievers

In verse 5 Paul reminds them to walk wisely among “the outsiders.”  This phrase is a reference to people who are outside the Church because they are not believers in Jesus.  Have you ever thought about how your actions can affect unbelievers?  We can be unwise and act foolishly around unbelievers and negatively impact how they view Christ.

Paul also connects to this the phrase “redeeming the time.”  This was a phrase that was used of a person who purchases an item at the perfect time, whether to get a deal in the marketplace, or to take possession of a desired item.  If we walk foolishly then we will lose time in drawing others to Christ.  That can be done by neglecting to look like Christ enough to be attractive to them or even neglecting to share when they are open.  But even worse, we can be offensive to them and drive them away from Christ.  Now, it is true that Christ is offensive to our flesh because He is spiritual.  However, we cannot walk foolishly, AKA unspiritually, and then say they weren’t ready.  We should always have our eyes open and be praying for opportune moments in the lives of people.  Wisdom understands what is important in life and takes care of eternal matters at the expense of the temporal ones.  However, folly takes care of temporal matters at the expense of the eternal.  We redeem the time when we walk in harmony with what God is trying to do in the lives of people around us.

Paul also instructs believers to always speak with grace.  In that sense grace means to speak in a way that is favorable to those who listen to us.  How easy it is to let our speech rush on leaving grace behind.  Even worse, we may pick up unfavorable companions such as: anger, pride, greed, etc.  Part of wisdom is to temper our speech, so as not to offend unnecessarily.  We must remove the obstacles of our flesh as much as we can.  Yes, none of us are perfect, and people can always find some reason to reject us.  But that is between them and God.  My focus needs to be on me.  Lord, help me to walk wisely before those who do not know you.  This connects to the last chapter’s focus on putting off the old man and putting on the new.

Paul also uses a phrase, “seasoned with salt.”  It is a reference to the fact that food is made tastier when it is salted.  Our speech can be plain food without any spice, or we can speak with creative flavor of a life lived in relationship with God.  In fact, Christ uses salt as a reference to believers.  He says that we are the salt of the earth.  Thus our speech should be such that it causes people to want to hear it, at least until they make a decision to either embrace Christ or not.

The combination of prayer, walking wisely, and speaking with grace, will put us in the proper place that we will learn how to answer each person we come in contact with (vs. 6)k  We must truly have a relationship with Jesus before we will learn how to answer those who ask us why we believe in Him.

May God help us to take time this week to pray.  May we pray for the wisdom to redeem the time in the lives of unbelievers.  The “New Man” takes time to pray and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost around them.  May God help us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, by the help of His Holy Spirit.

Prayer Life Audio

Tuesday
Jan232018

God’s Grace towards the Undeserving

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

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

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

God’s grace is given to Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is Elijah and Elisha?

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

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

God's Grace audio