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Entries in Holy Spirit (24)

Wednesday
Apr182018

Joy in the Holy Spirit

There is a song that has been taught to young children in church called “Jesus and Others and You.”  Here are the Lyrics:

"Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.

Jesus and others and you, it’s the life for each girl and each boy.

J- is for Jesus for He has first place,

O- is for others we meet face to face, and

Y- is for you, in whatever you do put yourself last and spell joy."

Of course, when we are not teaching children, it is easy as adults to toss this idea out the window as a simplistic platitude.  It seems to be a foolish recipe for disaster.  “I don’t want to be a doormat,” exclaims our smarter self.  However, when we are honest it is the way of Jesus.  Part of our problem is that we think we know what this song is talking about and yet we generally get the acronym mixed up.

Some think they have tried this, but in all actuality they were spelling JYO.  The Pharisees during the life of Jesus were of this sort (I know they didn’t believe in Jesus, so they were spelling God, You, Others).  Unless we learn the lesson, which we talked about last week, in Matthew 11:28-30, God is not really in first place.  In reality we are in first place with God as our flag or banner.  We make all the decisions and call all the shots, all in the name of God.  Such is a recipe for disaster, for us and others.  When Christ removes the yokes of obligation to others off of our neck and we submit to serving only Him, then we will find a place of joy that others and self cannot steal.  In a word, even when we try to put others second for the sake of Christ, our self often hijacks the attempts and we fail to recognize it.  Thus we walk away cynical and jaded to the path of joy that comes from Christ.  Let’s look at our passage.

Trouble in Paradise

Verses 17 and 18 are part of an important issue in this chapter.  The apostle Paul is dealing with Christians who are arguing over whether Christians should eat meat.  There were several reasons and issues that could lead to such ideas.  For some this had to do with the requirements of the Law of Moses to refrain from certain meats.  Thus the early Christian community had many people who grew up in a society that strictly avoided certain meats.  This created friction in the early community over whether or not a person should eat these meats, and how people who practically disagreed could get along.  Another issue (detailed in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10) is meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.  It was common in the Greco-Roman world to have meat in the marketplace that had been consecrated to the gods in general or to specific ones.  Thus issues developed over whether or not Christians could eat such meat in different circumstances.  In this chapter, Paul does not get into answering questions in this area.  Rather the strongly held beliefs of Christians on either side of this issue were causing them to mistreat one another.  Thus Paul states in verse 3 that those who didn’t eat were “despising” those who did and those who did eat were judging those who didn’t.  I know, I know, it is shocking that Christians had trouble with despising and judging one another back then (sarx).  So we have one group looking down upon another as if they are of no account and to be avoided (despise) and the other group judging them back (perhaps not associating with them).  Both of these words are really two sides of the same coin.

The Bible does not hide the fact that Christians do not always see eye to eye on every matter and we know that this is still true today.  It was the apostles’ job to lay down a firm foundation of what the teachings and “good news or Gospel” of Jesus were.  Here Paul is teaching that what Christians eat or drink should not cause division among them.  In verse 5 he also adds what days we hold special observances. 

Do any of these issues sound a little more familiar?  Our issues today may not be the same as those of the first century, but the overarching principles that the apostle Paul laid down are still necessary for us to listen to because Paul is speaking as a representative of Christ.  We should not let our opinions about food, drink, and special observances, draw us into actively despising and judging one another.  If we want to debate issues that is fine to a degree, but it is secondary to how we treat one another.

In serving the Lord we can lose sight of what He wants and how He wants it done.  The secondary issues, or even lower, can supplant what we are primarily supposed to be accomplishing.  Thus in verse 1 Paul says that we should receive one who is “weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.”  The phrase “weak in the faith” is not intended as a pejorative.  It is intended to make it clear that theologically it did not matter for Christians whether they ate meat or not.  The teachings of Christ, the vision of Peter, and Christ’s words to Paul had settled the issue.  Christians did not need to follow the Mosaic food laws, nor did they need to fear that meat could be spiritually contaminated.   Some people knew these teachings, but still it bothered their consciences.  Thus their faith in these teachings was not very strong in the practice of their life, which is fine because our salvation is not based on whether we eat pork or not.  Neither Jesus nor the apostles created a litmus test for people to join the community that involved eating pork or observing certain days.  Thus we should receive each other as brothers and sisters even if we have some matters of conscience that are different.  Yet, we should not receive them to arguments about such doubtful matters.

This is exactly where Christians have failed throughout the years.  In trying to serve Jesus and the Truth, we often- without even knowing it- confuse our thinking and rationale with what Jesus wants.  We end up sacrificing our brothers and sisters on the altar of our own opinions, instead of remembering what the Kingdom of God is all about.  Is this what God wants?  Is Jesus so concerned about what meat you eat that a person should be despised and shunned as an unbeliever or heretic?  Is Jesus so concerned about what day you worship on or whether or not you celebrate Christmas?  Paul is saying, “No way!”  So what does Christ want and how should it be done?

There are matters that Jesus and His apostles made clear were essential in order to be a Christian.  One must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins on the cross, and gives us peace with the Father.  Also, Jesus made many other strong statements that make it clear that He must be our Lord and Master, if we are to truly be His disciple.  We must believe that he truly came in human flesh.  Thus there are essentials and this is not what Paul is talking about.  He is dealing with doubtful matters, or matters of personal opinion (no matter how biblically based our reasoning is).  A famous phrase on these matters says it this way.  “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things charity.”  Thus Paul is concerned that they are attempting to make doubtful matters essential, and in the process, losing all charity with one another. This is why verses 17 and 18 are so critical to this passage.  Here Paul reminds them just what Jesus is trying to accomplish with this Kingdom of God we have now joined.

The True Purpose of the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God has a dual aspect to it.  On one hand we are already a part of the God’s kingdom.  Jesus is our King; the New Jerusalem is our heavenly capital; the commands of Jesus are our law; we are its citizens; and all of us are joined by one blood (that of Jesus) and one Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.  The Bible promises a day when Christ will come to earth and create an earthly throne, and these things that are now in the spirit realm will be manifest in this world.  Just as Jesus was incarnated into the world, so these things will also come into material existence.  So the Kingdom of God has both now and not yet aspects to it.  This is important to keep in mind as Paul describes what the Kingdom of God is all about.

Having reminded them that the Kingdom of God is not about what you eat, drink, or what days you specially observe, Paul lists three things that the Kingdom of God is actually trying to accomplish.

The first is righteousness.  The Kingdom of God is about creating true righteousness.  Though Paul is not likely listing these in matter of importance, this is primarily where the Roman believers were failing.  They were not dealing with one another righteously.  Notice that the people on either side of this debate likely believe that they are on the side of righteousness, but they are not dealing righteously with one another.  Doesn’t this say volumes to the things that go on today in our society as a whole and even within the Church?  We should not be despising anyone, and our judgments of one another should be tempered with the truth that we are not the final judge, Jesus is.  Also, our judgments should be tempered with humility and the awareness that the same measure of strictness we judge others will be given to us by the Lord.

Now when it comes to Righteousness, our entry into the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with our own righteousness.  We are brought into the Kingdom of God by the righteousness of Christ.  Thus the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and all people approach God as beggars seeking help.  Once we are in the Kingdom of God, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit within us to hear the Lord’s commands, through His written Word and by the Spirit in our hearts, and to do that which is truly righteous.  The Spirit leads us into all that is righteous, if we will follow Him.  Christians can lose sight of where the Holy Spirit is truly leading.  He is not leading to conformity on what we eat and the days we hold special.  He is leading to us living in true righteousness with one another.  In fact when you contemplate the matter, you will find that it is hard to talk about righteousness without assuming our interactions with other people.  Righteousness is all about how we treat one another, and the only way it can be truly righteous, is to die to ourselves, listen to and follow Jesus.

The second purpose is peace.  The Kingdom of God is about giving us peace, and Jesus wants you to have peace.  That is an amazing statement.  We first receive peace with God through the work that Jesus did on the cross.  Before I put my faith in Him, I was an enemy of God.  I was on the side of the rebellion and under His looming wrath.  However, He is not willing that any should perish and thus sent His Son to make terms of peace between us and Him.  The terms of peace are this.  We put the Son of God to death and therefore are guilty.  But, if we will repent and through faith serve Him as our Lord, then we can be absolved of our crimes. 

This peace with God is intended to then give us peace in our hearts and our minds.  Jesus rises up as the new Lord over that seething cauldron and foaming ocean of thoughts and desires we have within.  He declares, “Peace, be still!”  My thoughts and desires no longer take preeminence.  His is the Lord and it is His desires and commands that take first place.  Part of the problem with doubtful matters or matters of opinion is that instead of trusting the words of Christ and His apostles, we let storms, of logic and desire, rob us of our peace.  We must step aside and daily, moment by moment, allow the Lord to once again speak peace over us.

When we are at peace on the inside, then we can live peacefully among others (at least for our part).  Yes, sometimes others need corrected in the areas of essentials, but it can be done in a peaceful way that follows the Spirit of God rather than our own spirit.

The last purpose is joy in the Holy Spirit.  Jesus wants us to have joy in our hearts, but not just any joy.  It is particularly a joy that is found in the Holy Spirit.  Living in the Spirit is a way of saying that we are hearing Him and following Him.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 the imagery is different, “Joy of the Holy Spirit.” Thus we can think about being in the Holy Spirit (like a sphere of relationship), or we can think about the Holy Spirit being within us (like a constant presence and influence).  Either way the joy Jesus has for us does not come from certain people or things of this life.  It comes from God Himself by His Holy Spirit.  When we find ourselves losing our joy, we must let that be a red flag to us.  We then need to get back to seeking the Lord and listening to His Spirit.

Just as Jesus told us that His yoke is easy and his burden is light, so today we should recognize that the way of the Lord is not intended to grind the joy out of our life.  Rather it should cause it to grow in joy and other fruit.  This is what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Now don’t confuse being happy with having joy.  Being happy has more to do with the surface reactions of our heart to the moment.  This will go up and down as we seek to control our heart and minds before the Lord.  Yet, in the midst of deep and troubling times, we can have a place of joy that the world didn’t give and the world can’t take away.  When we start following ourselves then we start to lose connection to the source of joy that Jesus has for us.    We need to listen to the Holy Spirit each day in order to keep experiencing that joy.

It is interesting that the New Testament talks a lot about joy in circumstances that are contradictory.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was in prison, and yet it focuses on the joy of the believer.  Acts 13:52, after explaining that Paul and Barnabas had been kicked out of a particular province in Asia Minor, immediately states “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  Listen, this would be like saying that a person lost their job…and they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t follow in the natural.  The only way that it works is because they were keeping their eyes on the Lord and listening to the Holy Spirit.  They took joy in the fact that they were experiencing the same things that their Lord had experienced and countless saints down through the ages.  When Jesus is truly Lord in our life, then we will have a proper priority.  Instead of tearing each other down we will work to build each other up in the most, holy faith.

Thus the phrase “Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell joy” is not off the mark.  It is exactly what Paul is telling us.  When we see ourselves as “on the side of Jesus” and others as farther away, then we enter into a territory that robs us of our joy.  But when we serve Christ by helping and loving others in a way that pleases Him, by speaking the truth yet in love, then we can know true joy, even in the middle of trials and persecution.  Let’s live for Jesus this week and know His righteousness, His peace, and His joy!

Tuesday
Mar272018

The Flesh Profits Nothing

Mark 11:7-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 25, 2018.

Today we remember the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the week before he was crucified.  In some ways it looks like a victorious thing we should be excited about, yet in other ways, it represents a clear defeat of mankind’s ability to follow God in truth.  Yes, many people publicly embraced Jesus as the Messiah that day.  But over the course of the following days they were unable to follow the Spirit of God because they were operating according to the desires of their flesh, rather than the desires of the Spirit of God.  Of course, God knew this was the case and therefore had worked it into His plan to use the fleshly desires of mankind (and even fallen cherubim) in accomplishing His plan.  This doesn’t make these things good or acceptable.  The crucifixion of Jesus still stands as the most reprehensible action of mankind and the devil and his angels.  There is no absolving ourselves by claiming it was the will of God because those who participated in the crucifixion of Jesus did so in answer to their flesh, not the Spirit of God.

Jesus made it clear that he was doing a spiritual work that was directed by the Spirit of God.  He said in John 6:63,

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”  

I want to highlight this concept.  Following the flesh will not benefit you in any way.  It is only in hearing and following the Spirit that we can benefit.  I do not say this to exclude physical things.  We can grow up, marry, raise children and work as a person who follows the Spirit of God, rather than one who follows the desires of their flesh.

On this amazing day, Jesus finally quits beating around the bush (from the perspective of the average person in Israel) and presents himself as God’s Anointed One, the King of Israel.  However, we must take note that Jesus does not present himself in a way that would satisfy the flesh of those who were celebrating that day.

The same is true today.  We declare that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords to the people of this nation and world.  However, we must follow the Spirit of God and not the desires of our flesh (i.e. be born again) if we are to enter the Kingdom of God.

He appears to do nothing.

We are picking up the story mid-stream.  Each day more and more people are swelling the population of Jerusalem, and the surrounding area, in preparation for the coming Feast of Passover.  On top of this is the growing anticipation of this man Jesus.  Will he show up?  Is this the year Messiah appears and delivers us from the Romans?  When Jesus comes down the Mt. of Olives, opposite the temple, riding on the back of a donkey, it was an unmistakable signal to the people that Jesus was presenting Himself as their king.  The prophecies of Zechariah spoke about the Messiah and His work.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off.  He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, and from The River to the ends of the earth.’ “  Zechariah 9:9-10.

Yes the stories of all that Jesus did around the country had stirred up an anticipation that he would step into the role of Israel’s messianic king.  He has avoided this up to this point.  But, now he clearly accepts the role that the prophets had declared and publicly offers himself to Israel.

Yet, what we will see in the following events, both that day and in the days to follow, is that there is an anticlimactic feel.  This is the high point, but everything continues to unravel over the next days and culminates with the crowds crying, “Crucify him,” and then the death of Jesus on the cross.  Mark seems to highlight this anticlimactic feel.  Everything builds up in the story.  Jesus enters Jerusalem and goes directly to the temple.  He then looks around at everything (with everyone watching him with bated breath).  Yet, Jesus simply leaves, “as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.”  Why the grand entrance into Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecy, only to look around and leave?  Why did he come so late in the day?

This should be a clue to us that Jesus is doing something more than offering himself to Israel as the Messiah.  This timing issue ought to catch our attention.  Is it not true that God often seems to come “too late” for our tastes?  Are not we tempted to just give up and walk away because He appears to do nothing?  Yet, when we think God is doing nothing, we are wrong.  We have to learn to see with the eyes of the Spirit, rather than the eyes of our flesh.  We need the eyes of faith in God rather than faith in the flesh and what we see.  God is always working by His Spirit.  If He comes late in the day, it is because that is precisely the best time to come for the things of the Spirit, but not for the desires of our flesh.

Mark emphasizes that Jesus looked around at everything.  In light of the fact that he will come back the next day and “clean house,” we must see this as a kind of inspection.  Rather than doing nothing, Jesus is inspecting the temple that belongs to Him, the temple that he had commanded Israel to build along with the instructions of what to do there.  Were they focused on the purposes and plan of God in what they did there?  The irony of the situation is that as they are being inspected by The Lord of Glory, they presume to be “inspecting him.”  Be careful that you are not so critical of Jesus and the Christians who follow him that you miss the fact that you too are being inspected by God.  If He uses the same criteria of fleshly judgment against you that you use against him, will you survive? 

Jesus leaves exactly when you would expect something big to happen.  Our flesh does not like that sort of thing.  If we don’t get the “bang for our buck” then we feel like we are cheated.  God will never allow us to turn Him into our personal “God machine.”  You know; where you put in a certain amount of effort or money and get what you ordered by 3 PM the next day (or with Amazon Air within 30 minutes).  Not only does our flesh profit nothing, it cannot recognize a spiritual profit when it is staring it in the face.  We must recognize this critical point about ourselves as humans.  We have to learn to recognize that God often operates in a way that is a rebuke to our flesh, and simultaneously a call of the Spirit to follow Him.

He rejects the empty, religious practices of the day.

Now look at verses 12-19.  I ask you to put the verses about the fig tree on hold so that we can deal with them later.  However, after spending the night in a neighboring village called Bethany, Jesus and his disciples come back to Jerusalem and go to the temple the next day.  When Jesus gets there, he tosses the money changers out, and forces those selling sheep and doves to get everything out of the temple grounds.  Why does Jesus do this?  He is confronting the empty, religious practices of his day.

The temple had turned into a convenience store for religious people.  They could come from anywhere in the world, purchase a sacrifice in the temple, and not have to bother themselves with any of that nasty work of touching them (except for a ceremonial touch).  The problem was not that they purchased the sheep.  This was acceptable.  But that this was being done in a place that was not meant to be a commercial place that focused on the comfort of the “worshipper.”  This conflation of the sacred and the common (commerce is not evil, but neither does it have place in the sacred), has forever been a bane to humanity.  Today, we can be in jeopardy of turning churches into a means of making money off of those who are in our niche market, all by satisfying the desires of the religious people who gather, which are superficially spiritual desires, but at their depths are only fleshly desires dressed up as spiritual desires).  It becomes a type of “spiritual transaction” in which those in the pew pay in order to have their conscience assuaged.  This is a dangerous undermining of the true purpose of the place of worship.

The true purpose of the temple was to be a place where people could approach God in order to deal with their sin, but also, to fellowship with Him.  It was a place to celebrate His appointed feasts and to rejoice in His kingship over them.  The flesh turns religion into a marketplace of hyperactivity that loses sight of what the Spirit of God is trying to accomplish.  The flesh is hostile to the purposes of God and will always choose one of two paths: active rejection or passive repurposing.  Jesus is reminding them that the true purpose of the temple was to be a place of prayer (i.e. interaction between people and God) for all nations.

He does not confront the Romans.

We won’t spend a lot of time on this.  But, it is worth noting that Jesus did not even lift a finger towards removing this occupying force.  He did not raise an army, or connect with the zealots of the day in order to raise up a rebellion.  There was no great battle of Messiah vs. the Romans that week.  This was an added consternation to those whose flesh badly wanted free of the Romans, but not necessarily their sins.

The lesson of The Withered Fig Tree

Verses 20-26 bring us back to the fig tree that was mentioned earlier.  It is important to recognize that these two interactions with this fig tree are like bookends to the actions of Jesus in the temple.  So what about this?

When Jesus and his disciples were traveling into Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree in the distance that had leaves on it.  It was common for travelers to eat from food that was found along the road.  As long as it wasn’t in an enclosure, it was considered common fare.  The fig tree is different from some fruit trees in that it will fruit first and then grow leaves.  Thus the leaves on this tree give the appearance that there is fruit to be had.  It represents something that promises fruit from a distance.  It is clear that this interaction with the fig tree is intended to be a parable for something.  So we must dig deeper to discern the spiritual truth that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and us.  As I said earlier, it is obvious that Mark understood the events of the fig tree to be connected to the cleansing of the temple.

The fig tree that promises fruit from afar has none upon closer inspection.  Jesus draws near, but finds no dates on the fig tree.  The inspection of the fig tree is parallel to the inspection of the temple that Jesus had done the night before.  The shouting crowds surrounding Jerusalem and the temple activity all gave the appearance of a people who were obedient to the Lord and were righteously awaiting his coming.  Like the fig tree, it would appear that Israel was faithfully serving the Lord and waiting for His deliverance, but it was superficial.  In truth, most of their hearts were following fleshly desires.  Only a remnant of the people would follow the Spirit of God over the course of the next 40 years.  And, only a remnant would escape the destruction that was coming upon this fig tree that God had planted in the land.

Now we can focus on the fact that it wasn’t prime fig season, yet.  However, this plant put forth the outward appearances that it was fruitful, when all the other fig trees were not.  This signifies all who are easily drawn into religion by their flesh.  We can fall into the trap of thinking that we are fruitful because we gather at a particular place, at a particular time, and do a particular set of rituals.  But the real thing that prepares us for God comes from listening to the Holy Spirit and following Him.  There were some who had fruit in those days, just as there are some who have fruit today.  But, God is not looking for an outward show that has lost the true inner purpose of His Spirit.  If you lack the fruit of the Spirit of God then humble yourself and cry out to Him for His presence and salvation in your life.  But under no circumstances should you pretend that you are okay with God, when you are not.  Those who do so have nothing to expect from God, but a curse and His judgment that they are unacceptable.  Jesus does not curse the fig tree because his flesh is angered that it won’t get food.  He does so to teach us a spiritual lesson that the outward show of religion that lacks the fruit of the Spirit of God is ripe for judgment from God.

It is easy to think that Jesus simply takes time to teach on prayer all of the sudden.  But, his comments about prayer are directly tied to the fig tree.  We need to understand the role of faith in our spiritual life as a follower of God.  That which is by faith will live, but that which is by the flesh will die and benefit us nothing.  The flesh tells us that the path of faith won’t work, but the Spirit faithfully calls us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  When we cling to our sins over the top of the call of the Holy Spirit, our flesh becomes blind and calloused to what the Spirit of God is saying.  The Pharisees could only see that Jesus was trespassing upon their authority.  Who did He think He was?  They were so offended in the flesh that they could not hear the Spirit saying, “Israel, behold your king!”  In truth it was the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were the true trespassers.  Their right to represent God before the people was only authoritative as long as they actually represented Him, and not the desires of their flesh.  We must learn to let go of what others have done to us, and follow the Spirit of God, rather than the spirit of fear and offense.  Only then can we escape becoming a fig tree that offers false hope to God and ends up withered and dead.

Flesh Profits Nothing audio

Tuesday
Feb062018

Speaking the Truth to Power

1 Kings 21:17-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 4, 2018.

Speaking the truth to power is a catch phrase that has come into use from the 1940’s to the 1950’s.  However, it is a concept that has been around since the dawn of governance itself.  Historically, it has been understood that speaking truth to power is a very, dangerous business.  Yet, it is also historically true that many attempts to “speak truth to power” have had other powers working behind the scenes and pushing the events. 

In the Bible, we find a group of individuals called prophets.  Though there are false prophets, the true prophets are not being manipulated by other powers who want to seize power through them, and neither are they being funded and given ideas by them.  Instead, they receive their marching orders from God. Of course throughout history many have used the pretense of a word from God to manipulate individuals and governments.  The biblical prophet was one who proved themselves to be true, by their life actions, and by the things they revealed (did they prove to be true of come to past at some point).  Sometimes they would do miracles or give amazing signs, but often the only sign they gave was that they spoke the truth.  That’s the thing about truth.  No matter how long it is lied about and manipulated, it is a stubborn thing that no amount of curtains, smoke and mirrors can hide it forever.  The truth will eventually come forth.

God confronts Ahab through the prophet

Several times in this book of Scripture, 1 Kings, we have seen Ahab confronted by Elijah, or other prophets, about his failure to follow the God of Israel.  But this event follows on the heels of a great abuse of power.  On one hand kings and rulers make decisions that can mean life or death for thousands of their subjects, like when they decide to go to war.  Now war can be for a good cause, such as defense of your nation, or an ally that is threatened.  But just as wicked as going to war for greedy purposes, is using your power to have an innocent man who is one of your citizens framed and killed, and then to take his property as the spoils of war.

Now we can recognize government as necessary, only so far as it protects us from tyranny.  In fact this is the true origins of government.  Anarchy theoretically means all are completely free.  You have 100% freedom.  Yet, there are people who use their freedom to forcefully take your stuff, or make you their slave.  So groups will cede a portion of their freedom in order to create a coalition, government, which can ensure that the rest will be protected as they go about their business.  Thus you may not have 100% freedom, but you are safer.  This is all theoretically fine.  However, governments sometimes become the source of tyranny to their own citizens.  In such cases there must be those who are bold enough to stand up and call it to account.  Similarly, in ancient Israel, God spoke through prophets to rebuke kings and call them back to a proper authority.  Of course, those kings generally ignored the true prophets and followed the false ones.

In verses 17-19, we find God’s displeasure with the way Ahab and his wife Jezebel had framed Naboth, and then had him killed, just to take a vineyard that Ahab wanted.  As Ahab travels down to Jezereel in order to take possession, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah.  Yes, God could have spoken directly to Ahab if He wanted.  But recognize that Ahab has proven to particularly resistant to God’s word.  Also, the way God does it here (i.e. through another person) Ahab is forced to face the message in a very outward and accountable way.  On top of this the message will live on regardless of Ahab’s choice.  It is done out in the open so that all of Israel and we who read it today can understand God’s displeasure with the abuse of power and with wickedness in general.

God tells Elijah exactly where he can find Ahab and then tells him to ask Ahab this question.  Have you murdered and taken possession?  The question is rhetorical.  It emphasizes the boldness of Ahab and Jezebel’s actions.  It is a risky thing to draw attention to yourself by taking possession of the property of the very man that you had murdered.  Yet, Ahab is fine with doing both.  It is a sign of the degree to which Ahab and Jezebel’s use of power has become immoral and malicious.  Really the question is this.  How dare you be so brazen in your sin?  Sin has a way of making people bolder and bolder in their sinful actions.  It may not lead to murder, as it did in this case.  The person who lives selfishly and for their own flesh will find themselves becoming worse and worse, and ever harder towards repentance.

Lastly, a death sentence is given to Ahab from God.  Just as Naboth was taken outside the city, killed, and dogs licked his blood from the ground, so too Ahab will have a similar fate.  Even more than that, it will happen in the same place Naboth was killed.  We call this poetic justice.  It is not always given in life, but there are times win the punishment fits the crime perfectly.  What Ahab gave to others, he will receive back.  Ahab has crossed a line.  Though God could have struck Ahab dead at that moment, He doesn’t do that.  Ahab is given a warning so that he can repent and adjust his life.  Yes, God knows that Ahab will not repent.  Yet, God is still gracious to give him warning and time to change.  Ahab has no excuse in eternity.

In verse 20 the scene jumps.  Apparently Elijah has left his place and found Ahab at Naboth’s vineyard or close to there.  Ahab refers to Elijah as his enemy.  A person should always take care whom we label as enemy.  We can make the mistake of treating someone as an enemy when they don’t deserve it.  Elijah was not Ahab’s enemy, as if he was trying to usurp the throne or get him killed.  The only thing Elijah is guilty of is obeying God.  Can you imagine how many times Elijah must have thought to himself, “Why doesn’t God just remove Ahab somehow?  Why does God keep giving him grace?  He doesn’t deserve it.”  Yet, each time God told Elijah to go speak to Ahab, Elijah did so faithfully.  Some people you call your enemy could be better friends then you know.  In fact the opposite is true as well.  Some people you call your friends are actually your enemy.  Ahab’s problem is not his inability to discern those who mean him harm versus good.  Ahab’s problem is that he has “sold himself to do evil.”  We will come back to this phrase since it is used again in verse 25.

At this point Elijah continues to share more judgments from God that are coming.  It seems the writer is using a literary device where God’s word to Elijah and Elijah’s word to Ahab are to be understood as the whole conversation of God to Elijah, as well as Elijah to Ahab.  So Ahab knows that God has decreed his death, but there is more.

Elijah tells Ahab that calamity (a generic terms for something bad) will cause the death of every male descendant of Ahab.  This would be the end of his dynasty, which had started with his father, Omri.  In some pretty choice words, Elijah describes that when this calamity strikes every male descendant will be executed whether free or slave, and whether in the city or in the field.  The reference to the house of Jeroboam and Baasha is a term that was understood as dynasty in this context.  These were the two previous dynasties that had been destroyed for similar reasons.  So Ahab is put on notice, your dynasty is next.  In all of these cases God had warned the kings that their kingdoms were in jeopardy and would end in the death of all of their descendants who could lay claim to the throne.

Lastly, Elijah reveals that Jezebel is also going to die.  Here fate is similar, but with one twist.  Jezebel is going to be eaten by the dogs.  Such a humiliating death basically means that either no one cares to bury her or they are commanded not to.  Jezebel will die in the territory of Jezreel and be eaten by dogs.  These prophecies will prove true down the road.

A summary of Ahab’s life

In verses 25 through 26, the writer gives a summary of Ahab’s life.  He hasn’t died yet (that will take place in the next chapter). However, we are given the phrase again that no one sold themselves to do evil like Ahab (at least up to that point).  It is a curious phrase because Ahab is king and therefore the freest person in Israel.  To whom or to what did he sell himself?  We could say that he sold himself to Baal.  Ahab clearly served Baal with much of his life even though he should have served the God of Israel.  This would be true.  However, in light of the New Testament, I think there is a more precise answer.  Ahab had sold himself to sin.  In Romans 6:16 Paul says, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”  Sin tempts us with pleasure or some other form of payment by which we sell our souls into slavery.  We are left in bondage to sin, living a life of trying to please the desires of our flesh.  This is similar to the story of God confronting Cain before he killed his brother Abel.  There God told Cain that sin crouched at the door and sought to master him.  God’s advice was for Cain to master sin, in the sense of bringing it under control.  When we serve our own fleshly desires, we become slaves to sin, and as our master, it drives us to destruction.  However when we know the truth about sin and its awful destruction, we can turn to God and repent.  Believers recognize that they have been purchased with the blood of Jesus off of the auction block of sin.  Even though God has purchased us, He is a good master who leads us to freedom, sonship, and eternal life.

The summary of Ahab’s life is also marked by the fact that he was stirred up or instigated by his wife, Jezebel.  This is not meant to justify Ahab in any way.  He is guilty.  Neither should we see this as a female or male thing.  Men are just as capable at instigating women towards evil as Jezebel was.  However, her boldness enabled him to do far worse than he would have done on his own.  This can be true of a spouse or any one that we become close friends with.  Our choices of companionship are extremely critical to our life.  Friends you can walk away from.  But, if you marry someone who stirs you towards evil, what can you do?  You can keep your eyes on Christ and serve him over the top of those instigations and the passions of your own flesh.

This summary ends with the recognition that he worshiped idols in the way that the Amorites did, whom God had cast out before Israel.  The Amorites practiced idolatry, human sacrifices and sexual perversion.  Ahab did not understand or take seriously the inheritance that he had received.  Others were removed so that I could have this place.  That should make me wonder if I could be removed.  Ahab didn’t think about what God thought.  He only thought about what he wanted, as if all of Israel belonged to him by his own power. 

We will all be held accountable for our actions and choices in this life.  What will the summary of my life, or your life, be?  We are not talking about accomplishments, but rather a spiritual summary.  What am I serving, and by what or by whom and I stirred up?  To what am I being stirred?  May God help us to be stirred up by the Holy Spirit to serve the God of heaven and earth.  May we also do our part to stir each other up towards the things of God rather than the things of the flesh.  In this we find that the most critical power that I must speak truth to is my own flesh.  May God help us to be bold.

Truth to Power audio

Friday
Nov102017

Elijah, the Prophet of the Lord

1 Kings 17:1-7.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 05, 2017.

Today we are beginning a series looking at the Old Testament prophet, Elijah.  Prophets in the Bible always appeared when God’s people needed instruction, or when they needed correction.  Always, they prophets would declare to the people what God was saying, whether about past, present, or future events.  That said, the prophets are most concerned about the present.  Knowing what God says about the past, present, and future, will you not walk in faith now, in the present?  We should never lose sight of this prophetic imperative.  It comes to us in the now in order to encourage or change our present activity.

Historically, this idea that God does speak through individuals to the greater body of believers has led to lots of abuse by false prophets who had not been sent by God.  Instead they are enamored with the idea of having power and wielding it over those around them.  Their inflated egos lead them to do what no normal person would do, pretend that they have a word from the Lord for other people.  That said, it would be easy to reject the idea of prophets altogether.  Some do this completely by rejecting the idea that any person has ever really had a “word from the Lord.”  Thus they view the Bible as a man-made document that is only worthy of respect as a specimen of literature.  Others will say that God no longer uses prophets.  Thus they accept the Bible as the proven Word of God, but reject the idea that God speaks through others today.  I would challenge you to recognize the spiritual maturity that we are called to.  The spiritually immature easily accept everyone who comes along with a “Word from the Lord.”  But to reject the idea of prophets out of hand is no great maturity itself.  It refuses to deal with the hard issues of spiritually mature individuals recognizing the Holy Spirit (or lack thereof) in another person’s words.  False prophets always have red flags that the spiritually mature will pick up on.  More than this, the words of a prophet of the Lord will always prove true in the end.  Otherwise they have not spoken from the Lord, but in presumption have made up words from their own mind and heart.

Elijah is one of the true prophets whose declarations of God’s Word proved to be true in the end.  As we will see throughout this character study, the prophets were rarely well received and respected by the people during their life time.  Instead we find them harassed and threatened, rejected by the powerful of their day, and often by the average person too.

As we walk through the ministry of Elijah, we want to focus on what God is telling us and not what our flesh wants to focus on.  In this way we will be led by the Spirit of God and not by our flesh.  Let’s look at our passage today.

Elijah confronts King Ahab

In verse 1 we find two characters, Elijah and Ahab.  Although we are jumping into a running account of the Kings of Judah and Israel, this is the first point that we see the prophet Elijah.  So let’s remind ourselves of the setting of this meeting between Elijah and Ahab.  Israel had existed as 12 (13 counting Levi) tribes under the help of judges whom God raised up for their help.  Until King Saul, Israel did not have a king.  Eventually, though, God allows them to have a king, but warns them that it will not lead to good things in the end.  So Saul became the first King of Israel, followed by David and then his son Solomon.  After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam took the throne.  Through poor counsel and poor character, Rehoboam threatened to raise the heavy taxes that Solomon had levied, which led to the 10 northern tribes breaking off from the tribe of Judah (only the tribe of Benjamin remained with the tribe of Judah).  This split in Israel wasn’t healed over time.  Thus the two Kingdoms were referred to as Judah and Israel.  It is important in the Bible to pay attention to what is meant by Israel in the context.  Sometimes it refers to all 13 tribes and sometimes only to the northern 10 tribes that broke off from Judah.  This split happened roughly around 930/925 B.C.  Ahab is a king of Israel, as in the northern 10 tribes, about 70 years after this split.  Due to wickedness and power plots there have already been 6 kings and thus Ahab is the 7th king of northern Israel.  We are told in 1 Kings 16:31-33 that King Ahab was very wicked.  “And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat [the idolatry of the first Northern King], that [Ahab] took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him.  Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.  And Ahab made a wooden image.  Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”  Under Ahab, the northern tribes had not only mixed the worship of God with idols, but had now completely gone away from God; and had begun worshiping a foreign God called Baal (typically pronounced in English as the word “bail”).  It is in this context of a King of Israel who is leading the nation away from God and towards a false God that prophets like Elijah stepped forward on the scene.  God was not going to just lay down without confronting such betrayal.  However, we don’t see these prophets in league with each other like some kind of ancient “Occupy Samaria.” The prophets were not a human, conspiratorial group, but rather, a group of divinely instigated individuals who remained true to God as the One to whom all allegiance should be held.

Elijah does not rebuke Ahab for his idolatry at first, at least not as we see him in the Bible.  Rather he first establishes that he is a prophet of God by giving Ahab a powerful sign.  Elijah tells Ahab that the country will not have rain or dew until Elijah commands it to come.  Now this would be an incredibly arrogant statement to make, but it is also the type of thing that a false prophet would be very cautious about saying.  Who can control the weather?  Definitely, a person can’t do so.  Notice that Elijah warns him in advance and not after the fact.  So there is nothing right off the bat to make Ahab think there is anything to this.  However, over the years to follow (the famine would last over 3 years) Ahab would have to face the fact that Elijah claims to be able to make it stop.

Now we don’t typically think of famine as a miracle.  We tend to think of miracles as good things.  In this case the lack of rain would be a powerful sign to Ahab that God was backing up what Elijah was saying.  All this time their prayers for Baal to help them would be impotent.  Thus it is a miraculous work of grace to get Ahab’s attention and draw him back to repentance towards God.  Not every prophet of the Lord did powerful miracles, other than speak the truth and have it prove true.  There are no such stories of signs and wonders surrounding Jeremiah.  However, the Word of the Lord that he proclaimed proved very true and this is what is most important.  Elijah is what God has called him to be and Jeremiah was precisely what God called him to be.  In this case God gives a powerful witness of who is on the right side through a time of famine in the land that starts and stops at the command of his prophet Elijah.

 Now in case it looks to you like Elijah is just saying this and hoping God will back him up, notice the words, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand.”  To stand before the Lord was a clear term that is synonymous to being summoned before the king.  Elijah had been brought into the throne room of God surrounded by powerful spirit-beings.  This heavenly or divine council of God is what we see in places like Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4.  Most likely this would be in a dream or vision.    So was Elijah really entering into the divine council of God and hearing God’s words and decrees, or was this all in his head?  Though it sounds like the perfect con (anyone can claim to have been in God’s council chamber and have a word from him), it would also seem to be a dangerous thing to say that you speak on behalf of God.  Throughout the Scriptures the prophets would sometimes do something miraculous to prove that God was with them.  But always, the things they said that God said would always prove true.  It wasn’t enough to be right part of the time, or at least better than 50/50.  It wasn’t enough to be right over 75% of the time.  If God really spoke the words then they would be right 100% of the time.  Though a prophet can mature in how to be a better prophet, there is no maturing of how accurate the words will be.  You either are hearing from God, a deceiving spirit, or your own imagination.  You don’t mature in that.  When someone is actually led by God, the things they say will prove to be true.  Sure they might make a mistake like getting angry at the resistance of those you speak to and strike out in anger.  But the words themselves will prove 100% accurate.  Elijah didn’t just arrogantly assume God would back him up.  He is a man who has stood in the presence of the Lord, and is now confronting King Ahab with a powerful sign that only God could decree.  Now at first Ahab has no reason to fear Elijah.  Who does this guy think he is?  Don’t you know who you are talking to?  At this point in the story Elijah has only made a bold claim. 

Now regardless of whether you are a great prophet of the Lord or not, this is a thing that God is doing.  If He calls a prophet or many of them, it is for His purposes not ours.  We must recognize that the United States of America is not Israel and God is not giving us more Scripture in the present.  However, it is important to learn how to spend time in God’s presence and to be led by His Spirit and His counsel.  It is irrelevant whether we have had a dream or a vision of the throne room.  What is important is that by the Spirit of God we have entered into His presence and have received His word to us.  This isn’t just something intended for men like Elijah who are doing powerful things.  It is also for people like you and me who are just trying to raise our family for the Lord and be a witness to our friends and neighbors.  We must be led by God’s Spirit and not our own fleshly desires.

Now in verses 2-7 we see again the leading of the Spirit of God.  As the famine begins, Elijah is to go out into a wilderness place where God will take care of his physical needs.  Also, he will be out of touch of Ahab’s power and control.  When God makes things tough, He always has a plan for His people.  It may not be the plan you were hoping for and at the level that you were hoping, but it is His plan nonetheless.  He leads Elijah to a small brook that keeps running during the first part of the drought.  He is also miraculously fed by ravens that bring him bread and meat two times a day.  We are not told where they are getting this food, but I keep having this image of ravens descending on the table of Ahab and plucking food for Elijah.  However, where they got the food is immaterial.  This humbling means of being fed seems to be contradictory to the powerful prophet of God.  But Elijah knew that he had no power but what God gave him.  Elijah was not a superman.  He was a normal man who was called by God and also believed God.  It was God who was doing the heavy lifting of blocking the rain and dew for over three years.  Remember that no matter how greatly God works through you, in the end you are simply a servant.  It is God who is doing the hard work.  You are simply trusting and obeying.  That is nothing to get all high and mighty over.  A lack of humility is a red flag that a person is not as close to God as they are putting on.  Can I give thanks for God’s provision no matter how it comes?  All throughout the Bible God keeps trying to teach us that those who belong to the Lord will be fed though they are surrounded by a desert, and they will drink though there is no water in sight.  Yet, there is a spiritual lesson here as well.  Lack of water and dew is a symbol throughout the Bible for a lack of the word of God.  Amos 8:11 says, “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD.’”  Perhaps this is why Elijah doesn’t say anything other than announcing the famine.  It would be symbolic of God’s anger with Ahab and northern Israel.  God was pulling away from them as a discipline upon the people.  Even when a nation and its leaders are going the absolute opposite direction away from God, those who trust God will always find a place of grace in which He speaks to them and cares for them.  This is the place we need to be.

Yet, even with all that said, we find in verse 7 that the brook eventually dries up.  God does not always care for us the same way all the time.  We can get so used to God caring for us in a particular way that we freak out when that particular source of grace dries up.  God hasn’t forgotten about you and your needs.  You do not need to fret.  If one source dries up, God will provide another.  Just trust Him and listen to His Spirit. 

There are times when I wish we had such a prophet in our land.  However, as Christians we are called to something similar and yet different.  It is different in that we aren’t commanding it to quit raining or splitting red seas.  But it is similar in that our lives become the thing that the world around us can’t just ignore.  As much as the world plunges away from God and His Word and worships everything under the sun and in the heavens besides Him, God uses those who are in relationship with Him and receiving His word to be the stumbling block that brings the unbeliever up short.  God in His mercy always sends a person who speaks and lives out the word of God as a mercy to those who have either tossed it aside, or never knew it in the first place.  Let’s be a people who are standing before the Lord in prayer and meditation.  Let’s be a people who are being directed by the Spirit of God and not the spirit of this age.  The lives of others depend upon us.

Prophet of the Lord audio