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Weekly Word

Entries in Humility (12)

Tuesday
Feb132018

A Proper Response to Judgment

1 Kings 21:27-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 11, 2018.

In the 1970’s a program was developed to try and help juvenile delinquents, or those in jeopardy of becoming such.  It was called Scared Straight!  It involved giving the teens a tour through a prison facility and then having inmates speak to the kids about avoiding the path that they had taken.  Over the years there has been investigation into how well programs like this really work.  Typically it is found that they typically do not work over the long haul of a person’s life.

When we look at what the Bible has to say about the concept of being scared straight, we find that when people are scared they will draw close to God, but then very quickly go their own way again.  The fear of punishment is not enough to completely change the heart of an individual.

Some people who read the Old Testament declare that they see a God who is vindictive and mean.  They don’t like the judgments that are always talked about in its pages.  Yet, they will often notice a stark difference with “the God of the New Testament,” as if He is someone different.  In the New Testament God seems so nice and non-judgmental.  The problem with this idea is that it is a gross mischaracterization of the Bible and specifically God.  Clearly such people have not read the Bible closely enough, neither have they read it with the proper intellectual honesty.  The truth is that the Old Testament is full of the grace of God (we have been studying how gracious God had been to Ahab though he deserved none).  Also, the New Testament is full of the judgment of God.  The famous John 3:16 verse about the love of God and His grace is followed up by verse 19 which states, “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  The book of Revelation is all about the just judgments of God.  The Second Coming of Jesus is part of God’s judgments upon the kings of the earth and their armies.

Believers have a difficult job.  Many people are not convinced that there is a God, much less that they are in danger of His judgments.  If a person is not convinced that they are in danger, how then can they truly believe in Jesus as their Savior?  What would He be saving them from?

Our passage today explores some of these events as we see King Ahab being scared straight (at least for a little while).

Ahab humbles himself after God’s decree

Last week we looked at verses 19-24 of this chapter and saw that the prophet Elijah was confronting Ahab with the decrees or judgments of God.  Remember, at its core the word judgment isn’t necessarily good or bad.  It simply means that a person or situation comes before God’s attention and He makes a decision about whether it is good or bad.  Thus, judgment can be good if it is in your favor and it can be bad if it is not in your favor.  Of course that is viewing it personally.  From an objective point of view, it is the justice of the judgment that makes it bad or good.  A bad person will not like a good judgment because it will find him or her guilty.

When God had viewed Ahab’s actions, He decreed that His wicked deeds should be punished.  There were three aspects to the judgment:  

  1. Ahab will die and dogs will lick up his blood in the same place that Naboth’s blood was licked up by the dogs (see the first part of this chapter). 
  2. Jezebel, the queen and his wife, would die and be eaten by dogs outside of the city of Jezreel. 
  3. Lastly, Ahab’s dynasty would come to an end with the death of all the male descendants of his biological line.  When Ahab hears these decrees, he is scared by what he hears and responds by humbling himself.

We are told that he tore his clothes, which would have been good clothes as a king, and he put on sackcloth.  Sackcloth is basically what we would call a gunny sack or burlap bag.  Even though he has more clothes, he wears the sackcloth as an outward symbol of his low place or poverty of his heart.  He also fasted (went without food and drink to some degree) and mourned over the judgment from God.  He carries out the traditional actions of one whose close loved one has died.  However, the news he has gotten is far more devastating than that.

Clearly Ahab believes Elijah and he should.  Elijah has a perfect track record.  Even though Ahab doesn’t like it, he is sure though that he is in trouble.  Now the outward signs are not the most important thing.  They only help us to see that the decree bothered Ahab and also that he was outwardly humbling himself.  But what was going on inside?  Repentance always begins with humbling ourselves before the word of God.  But then it must go on to do the actions that are indicative of true inner repentance.  It is not enough to feel sorrow over our judgment.  We must also see the true wickedness of our sin that brought that judgment.  I must sorrow over my decision to reject God’s way and choose my own, but also sorrow over the foolishness of my way.  Thus we must turn away from those sins.  Though Ahab believed the judgment spoken by Elijah, we do not see any later statements of him turning from his sins.  There is no, “Then Ahab got rid of all the prophets of Baal.”  There is no, “Then Ahab called all Israel together and instructed them to worship the God of Israel alone.”  There is no, “Then Ahab sought out the nearest relative of Naboth, gave the stolen vineyard back to him, and publicly exonerated Naboth’s reputation.”  These would have been the actions that were worthy of true repentance.  Regardless of the reality of this, in the moment Ahab is humbling his prideful self before the God of Israel and there is always hope when a person does this.  God met him where he was even though it wouldn’t last.  This is the grace of God.

God’s response to Ahab’s humility

It is most likely that this is the first positive word that Elijah ever received regarding Ahab.  God still gives Ahab one last measure of grace, even though He knows that Ahab will not follow through with his humility.  The grace comes in the form of a modification to the original judgment.  Now the death of Ahab is not modified and neither is the death of Jezebel.  However, the calamity that was to come and wipe out all of his male descendants will no longer happen during his life.  It will happen in the next generation.  Now that might not sound like much grace to you, but then you are in the safety of your house and do not have your whole family under the decree of death by God.  Such grace is really a test of our heart.  Will Ahab take God’s grace and run with it?  Will he change his wicked ways and live for the God of Israel alone?  Sadly we will find in the next chapter that this is not how the rest of the story goes.  Yet, God works with people in the moment.  He works with the sinner’s present heart, regardless of what it will be in the future.  Thus we should be careful with the grace that we are receiving today.  It is not an indication that we are now “bullet-proof” and into the future.  It is simply God’s grace.  What we do with it is incredibly important.

This modification of the original prophecy or decree of God begs a question.  Must all true prophecy come to pass?  Our knee jerk response is to quote Deuteronomy 18:22 and declare that a true prophecy must always come to pass and without any variations from the original prophecy.  It is true that passage I just mentioned lays down a principle that if God says something will happen, then it will happen.  Yet, this is not the only verse in the Bible on prophecy and it is not the only principle we should bear in mind when thinking about this question.

Think for a bit about the story of Jonah and Ninevah.  Yes, there was all that whale business (technically the Bible calls it a big fish).  But the crux of the story is God’s judgment on Ninevah.  Jonah finally walks into Ninevah and prophesies “In 40 days Ninevah will be overthrown!”  Wow, pretty specific and clearly a true prophecy representing the actual judgment or decree of God in heaven.  But when the king of Ninevah hears the words of God from Jonah, he is struck with fear and humbles himself in exactly the same way King Ahab does in this story.  He even commands the whole city to humble themselves before God.  Jonah 3:10 says, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”  In a particular moment in time the Ninevites humbled themselves before the word of the God of Israel.  Thus God relented from or overturned His original decree completely.  Think about it.  On day 40, nothing happened.  I’m sure there may have been a few extra guards posted on the walls that day, but God had relented.  We know the story, but what would stop a person on the ground during those days of accusing him of being a false prophet?  Mustn’t the words of a true prophecy always come true?

This brings us to another principle when dealing with prophecies.  In prophecies of judgment, which decree punishments and even death, it is sometimes stated, but always implicitly understood that the judgments are spoken so that those who are under it will repent and turn from their sin.  In other words, the reason God warns us of punishments is so that we will repent, and be spared from them.  He isn’t going on record so that He will get the glory when people are destroyed.    Rather, it is to melt the hard heart of wicked people and induce repentance.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

If you want a chapter and verse on this principle then we need to go to Jeremiah 18:5-12.  We can call this principle the Mercy Clause.  However it is true towards the good and the bad.  Thus we probably should call it the Mercy/Justice Clause.  In this passage God has told Jeremiah that he can refashion Israel like a potter punches down the clay and remakes it when it isn’t shaping correctly.  Thus he tells Jeremiah to tell Judah that God intends to bring disaster upon them.  However, He also wants him to tell them to return from their evil way, and make their ways and actions good.  God then goes on to explain the Mercy/Justice Clause.  In verses 7-8 God posits a hypothetical kingdom that He has decreed judgment and destruction upon.  However, if that nation turns from its wicked ways, then God will relent from sending the disaster that He had already decreed to bring upon it.  Clearly, God’s purpose in declaring disaster is so that we can avoid it.  Notice that Ahab’s decree is only partially averted.  Most likely that is due to the fact that his repentance would not be complete.

In verses 9-10 of Jeremiah 18 we see that the opposite is true as well.  Here God posits a hypothetical nation that He has decreed to bless.  However, if that nation does not obey God’s voice (i.e. His words) then God will relent concerning the good with which He had already decreed upon it.  Of course this would eventually lead to God speaking a word of disaster over that nation in hopes that it would repent.

It is not God who is wavering in this principle.  It is us.  God is always true to His nature, and it is His nature to be gracious, but just.  He gives justice, but leaves room for repentance.  He gives people and nations far more time than they deserve to change their ways. 

Thus we must keep this principle in mind when we are judging whether someone is a true prophet of God or not.  I am not saying that this will make it an easy determination.  Sometimes we have to let things grow until they show their true colors.  Just like God we should give it time, but not for the same reasons.  We should give time out of the humility that we cannot see people’s hearts.  Whereas God gives time for people to repent if they are wrong, or grow if they are right.

Isn’t this the very heart of the Gospel that we are to take to the people around us?  It may not be “40 days” away.  But, all who have not put their faith in Jesus by coming into obedience to the word of God are under a judgment of being guilty.  The decree has already been given.  Its punishments hang over us even now.  Yet, Christians share the good news with people that there is a mercy clause in God’s judgments.  Yes, the soul who sins will die.  But those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.  These are not contradictory decrees.  One supersedes the other.

Friend, let us not bank on past righteousness and blessing of God.  Even the present blessings of God are not proof positive that we are okay.  Instead, let us walk continually with a heart of humility and the actions of a heart that is turning towards God and not away.  Thus, we need not live in fear, but we must not live in false pride either.  For those who hear this, don’t let the fact that God judges your life as sinful and deserving of judgment cause you to turn from Him.  To do so is to only seal your fate.  But if you will humble yourself, pray, and turn from those wicked ways, He will hear from heaven, relent, and even heal you.

Response to Judgment audio

Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

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

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

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

The enemies of God’s work are executed

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

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

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

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

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

A contrast of character

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Victory audio

Monday
Dec112017

Confrontation of a False God-II

1 Kings 18:30-39.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 10, 2017.

Last week we saw how the prophets of Baal, a false god of the Canaanites, were unable to get an answer of fire from the heavens.  Today we will look at Elijah’s turn, but in truth it is the One, True God’s turn to prove who He is.  As the day is well past, Elijah steps forward and starts the process of setting up the sacrifice, so that he can call upon the God of Israel to show Himself to the people watching.

Israel is drawn back to God

Several phrases throughout this passage make it clear that God does not want to “wow” the crowd.  Rather, He desires to draw Israel back to Him.  We see this in Elijah’s initial address for them to “come near” and also in Elijah’s prayer that Israel would understand that God is turning their hearts back to Him.  This is an important theme throughout the Bible.  Sin has separated man from God, but God calls out to mankind to draw near to Him through His sacrifice, Jesus the Christ.  Every time a person turns to the Lord in repentance, or a group of people turn back to Him in revival, it always begins with the grace of God turning our hearts and calling us to Him.  Of course people must respond.  God will not force people to come back to Him.  But it always starts with His grace to make it possible.  This call comes through the prophet of Elijah.  Come near, and see what God will do.  They deserved judgment for abandoning God and worshipping Baal.  But, instead, God is going to give a great demonstration of His power to them, while calling them back to Him.  Elijah is not the only prophet whom God did this through.

This same theme is highlighted by Jesus and His Apostles after Him.  Let us draw near to the throne of God for mercy.  In John 7:37-38 we see, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Also, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  The Spirit of God is continually calling us to draw near to Him.  He wants to satiate our thirst and give us relief from the burden of our sins.  But do we hear him?  And, better yet, do we respond to Him?  He calls us near so that we can experience the goodness of who He is.

Before Elijah can set up the sacrifice, he has to repair an altar of the Lord that already existed on that site.  It had fallen apart and was in disrepair because of the abandonment of worshipping Him.  The people had grown weary of sacrificing and praying to Yahweh, and so had left off for more popular altars.  Never forget that when we abandon the things of God, their disrepair is a symbol of our lives spiritually.  Think about the abandonment of God’s exclusive institution of marriage for life.  All across this land are the tattered remnants of broken marriages left in the dust, which give us a picture of the hearts that have abandoned it.  We see the same thing with the raising of children.  Broken homes and children raised by single parents and grandparents have become the norm.  The broken kids who come out of dysfunction help us see our hearts.  Of course, we should encourage and help those who step up and care in a situation that is not optimal.    But that does not counter the point I am making.  How about the many churches around the country that are empty and in disrepair?  Sure, some of it is the fault of the churches and those who lead them, but not all of it.  There are many good churches around the country that are preaching the truth of God, but people don’t want to hear it and have abandoned being connected to a church.  The disrepair of such places becomes a prophetic symbol of our hearts and lives.  So Elijah repairs the altar because the altar is the place where an individual or a people gather to meet with God.  How is your altar today?  Is it in disrepair?  I am not talking about a literal altar.  We no longer sacrifice animals as they did in those days.  Our altar is a spiritual thing.  Wherever we draw near to God in prayer becomes our place of altar.  But the altar is about more than prayer.

First it is a place of preparation.  Yes, Elijah repairs the altar.   But then he has to put the wood upon it and then prepare the animal and lay its parts out.  Elijah also adds a strange aspect to this sacrifice.  He has a trench dug around the altar and has water poured out over the sacrifice and filling the trench.  Notice that the altar is not a speedy quick-order place.  It is a place where we spend time preparing ourselves to hear from God.  Don’t be so quick to walk away from the altar when it seems like God isn’t listening.

Of course, the altar is also a place where a sacrifice is made.  The secret is not the animal used, but the heart that prepares it, and the God to whom it is sacrificed.  God had told people to approach Him in that way.  It seems strange to us, but it is highly instructive.  First, it highlighted for them and for us the coming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as the Lamb provided by God.  It is also instructive because it always costs us something to approach God.  When our hearts are willing to give to God that which is valuable to us, He sees it from heaven and smiles upon us.  Elijah sacrifices a bull, but it is not the only thing being sacrificed.  The water is very precious on the heels of a 3.5 year drought.  I don’t know if it came from King Ahab’s personal stash, but everyone watching could not help but think of this as a tragic waste.  So what do we sacrifice today?  We no longer sacrifice animals because Jesus is the “once for all” sacrifice for our sins.  We put on the altar of our heart those things that would separate us from God.  Some of those things are sinful.  We should put them on the altar so that God’s fire can burn them out of our lives.  However, some of those things are not sinful in and of themselves.  We still put them on the altar and let them go because we would rather have God than those things.  Some of those things that we put on the altar, that are not sinful, will be given back to us.  We see this with Abraham and the near s sacrifice of Isaac.   When God saw that Abraham would rather have God than the son whom God had promised him for so long, then God told Abraham to stop and gave him a substitute sacrifice.  This is an amazing picture of Christ.  But it also shows that God is not interested in taking things from us.  But rather, He wants our heart to be in right relationship to those good things in our life.  They are not God and they are not our source.  Only God deserves that highest place in our heart.

The altar is also a place of humility.  Elijah publicly risks himself.  Ahab can now put him to death or in prison.  What if this public demonstration fails?  Elijah does not have the ability to bring fire down from heaven.  He hasn’t been practicing in the desert and is now ready.  It took great trust, faith, and humility for Elijah to stand up in the face of a whole nation and declare that the God of Israel is greater than the false god Baal.  The altar is never about our great ability to approach God.  It is about our desperate desire to know God and His great grace to respond to our faithful obedience.

Lastly the altar is a place of prayer.  Once Elijah has everything in place, He calls out upon the Lord.  His prayer is in verses 36-37.  He makes it clear that this is about raising the honor of God and the truth about what has been going on in Israel.  He also makes it clear that this is about God turning the nation’s hearts back to Him again.  Oh that our hearts would be turned towards the Lord in the country, rather than to the world and what we want to do.  There is no shortcut to these things.  There is only a continual going back to the Lord, preparing ourselves in humility and speaking to God about those things in our life.  What is your will Lord?  I trust that You will answer, even when I go long periods of silence.  In fact, when we are waiting for a word from the Lord, it is easy to forget to be faithful to His last set of instructions.  God has told us to live lives that are faithfully following Jesus, not our imaginations of Jesus.  We are to be faithful to Jesus and to share the Gospel with the world around us.  You no longer have to climb up into the heavens to reach Him; He has come down to us in our worst hour.  Instead of running from Him, draw near!

At the end of Elijah’s prayer God responds in great power as fire falls from heaven upon the sacrifice and burns up everything even the water in the trench.  This causes all the people watching to break out in shocked praise of God.  The Lord, He is God!  This phrase is shouted by the people several times.  There was no question on that day just who was God.  It is indeed an amazing time when God demonstrates His great power.  But this demonstration is leading somewhere.  God is about to allow the rains to come back to Israel.  Men love to give credit to everything but the One True God.  In those days they would have accredited it to Baal the storm god, this was precisely his area of strength, water and fire the elements of storms.  Yet it wasn’t Baal who answered by fire that day, and thus the people would know later when the rains begin, that it was Yahweh, not Baal, who had done it.  In our day we would be giving the credit to nature, or to our scientist’s ability to manipulate it.  But, we should remember that God is the God of nature.  As the creator, He is the One who is ultimately in charge.  Nature is following the laws that He put in place from the beginning.  Now we cannot just run out and try to force God to show up in power.  Elijah states clearly that he is following the instructions that God has given him.  So what are our orders?  Though this is a real event that literally happened, there are also spiritual lessons here.  We can use this event as a metaphor for ourselves.  God needs faithful believers who will risk their lives on the altar and publically stand up for Him, whether He promises a powerful sign or not.  When we sacrifice our lives publically before the world and through prayer call upon the God of heaven, the fire from heaven will come down upon us.  This is the Holy Spirit of God.  Instead of destroying us, we are filled with the power to live godly lives and speak powerfully to the world around us.  This is the way that God has determined to turn hearts back to Him.  May we take time to repair the altar in our lives and begin walking with the Lord, rather than telling Him how He should be running things.

Confrontation II audio

Tuesday
Jul262016

They That Wait upon the Lord

Isaiah 25:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 24, 2016.

It is hard to fathom the joy we will experience at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Yes, it is true that he will bring judgment upon the nations of the world.  However, at the same time He is restoring things to rightness.  He will be removing oppression and tyranny and replacing it with healing and deliverance.   This is an important point because the United States of America has become a prime example of how even good government can be corrupted over time.  Thus the decree of God is that no national leadership will be found to be righteous in that day.  Even in the name of liberty, our true, God-given liberties are taken away.  The average person then finds themselves living in an oppressive and tyrannical environment, whether it be the hard form found in nations like North Korea, or the soft form found here in my own country. 

Thus Isaiah describes a people who have waited for God’s deliverance from wicked leaders and powerful men.  They have endured long trials and weariness to the point of giving up.  However, when Jesus comes their joy will be immense.  Waiting for the Lord to act is a theme throughout Isaiah.  The well known passage in Isaiah 40 says, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Regardless of what your situation requires, be it flying, running or walking, the Lord will give strength to those who trust in Him.  Those who trust in Him will not be put to shame in the end.  They will have the final joy because God is for them.  Thus the coming judgment of God begs the question for each of us.  Will that day be a day of rejoicing because I trusted in Jesus, or will that day be a day of grief because I put my trust in my own pride and the pride of mankind?

Joy Will Fill The People

Isaiah depicts a joyous time of jubilation similar to some of the statements made in the book of Revelation.  Though God’s judgment is a sobering thing, it will be for the joy of mankind.  In verse 1 we notice several things about the exclamations that Isaiah makes.  First, is the rejoicing in the fact that God is “my God.”  It will be a day when joy will not just be a general thing, but a very particular and personal thing.  Those who have trusted in God will marvel in the realization that God was not just the God of Adam, Noah, and Abraham et. al.  They will have personally witnessed the amazing fulfillment of God’s Word to His people.  God will have proven Himself in our time and not just  in the ancient past.

It will also be a wonder-filled joy.  The “wonderful things” of verse 1 are a reference to the miraculous, supernatural work of God.  The omnipotence of God has a way of removing the most impossible problems and delivering from the most powerful enemy in only a moment.  Thus the powerful acts of God demonstrated in Egypt before Pharaoh (who by the way was considered the son of the Gods) are a picture of how His great work in the face of Antichrist and the “gods” that back Him up (i.e. Satan and his fallen cohorts).  They will be impotent as God delivers His people from under their oppression.

The last part of verse 1 mentions God’s “counsels of old.”  These are the directives that God has given to His people in the past.  Of course Isaiah would be looking back to Scriptures and mainly the first 5 books of the Bible (Torah).  Yet, we can add to that today the counsels that were given through Jesus and His apostles 2,000 years ago.  It is easy to grow weary of counsels that stretch over thousands of years.  Our humanity wants to have deliverance now.  Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (NKJV).  God’s way doesn’t always make an immediate change, especially if we are waiting for Him to deal with the wicked of the earth.  Yet, these counsels will prove out to be faithful and true.  Those who continue to trust the ancient counsel of God will find themselves in exactly the right place.  But those who have cast off the ancient counsel of God will find themselves in the wrong place, and caught up in the judgment of God.  Thus the warning of Psalm 1 is very appropriate.  We must remain in the way of the Lord while we wait for Him.  Yet, the ungodly, the sinners, and the scornful tempt us to join their way, to walk upon their paths, and to sit with them in a seat of judgment against God and His people.  Thus the object of the trust and faith of the sinner will prove to be a delusion and impotent.  But, those who wait upon the Lord will find that it is true and will prove faithful in the end.

In verses 2-5 we see the “terrible nations” and the “terrible ones.”  These are those who are following the path of their own wisdom and of Satan.  They use their power to dominate others and to rule over them.  Such cities have always existed and in fact, the history of the world can be seen as a history of the nations which clamor to be “king of the mountain.”  These empires had become proud and arrogant oppressors of the peoples of the earth.  The days before Christ’s coming will be no less.  In fact the greatest empire and thus the greatest tyranny this world has ever seen is still in the future.  We are cruising at an ever increasing speed towards this reality.  Freedom is being stamped out upon the earth and absolute tyranny is taking its place.  This is the judgment of the “City of Confusion” in Isaiah 24 and the Kings of the earth and their armies.  Whatever survivors that may be left from the nations will no longer walk in pride, but they will have a reverent fear and awe of the Lord and His powerful reality.  They will recognize that the ways of God that they had rejected for so long were the true paths.

Another reason why there will be so much joy is because God will have defended the helpless.  Isaiah uses two words, the poor and the needy.  God will be their refuge.  Now, not all the poor and the needy will turn to God for refuge.  In fact, though the poor and needy are often crushed under this world system, for the sake of survival and “getting mine,” many fight for the scraps beneath the table.  They basically trust the way of this world and trust in their own ability to make it.  Like the Olympic trials they fight and clamor to see if they can climb up into that ultra society of “winners.”  Of course most do not make it, however, there are levels of honor and perks all the way up.  This “dog-eat-dog” mentality that uses others as rungs on the ladder of progress belongs to sinful man and fallen angels.  There is coming a day when God will rise up in defense of all those that have been and are being taken advantage of.

Thus Isaiah gives two images.  The first is a storm that blasts and howls against a wall.  The poor and the needy are often torn apart and destroyed by the powerful blasts.  They are unable to survive it.  The second image is that of an oppressive heat wave.  In fact this week the Middle East had several places recording a temperature of 129 degrees F.  The oppressive heat makes even the shade of no relief.  This oppression sucks the life out of people and leaves them with little ability or desire to do anything, but die.  Yet, no matter how loud the terrible ones howl (the storm), nor how powerful their oppression (the heat), when God intervenes there will be immediate relief.  Like a cloud that comes between the sun and the ground, the change will take place that quickly.  It is easy when you live in the land of comforts and ease to hear this and scoff.  However, even in America there are people who hear what I am saying and recognize that it is exactly how they feel.  Friend, don’t let the oppression of this world’s system suck the life out of you.  Turn to Jesus today and put your faith in Him.  That is the only thing that will ever prove faithful and true to you in the end.

The Lord Will Make A Feast

Starting in verse 6 we see that this will be a time of celebration.  The old tyrants have been thrown down.  Peace and freedom lies ahead.  Thus the Lord prepares a feast for the peoples of the earth that have survived without taking the mark, and His people who have returned with Him.  This feast will take place upon Mt. Zion, which is in Jerusalem, because this is the mountain referenced at the end of the last chapter.  All the “mountains” of the earth, that is the kingdoms, will be flattened.  But the “mountain” of the Lord will be raised up.  This pictures a gathering of people in the land of Israel.  Of course this deliverance is not just for Israel, but for all the peoples of the earth.  And, all will join in the celebration.

God supplies for each one choice food and drink.  Under this world system the elite at the top are the ones who get the choice food.  But here God brings forth the best food and drink for all those who had endured oppression to enjoy.  Instead of being the means of provision for the oppressors, God will provide for the “common person” uncommon food.

Verse 7 speaks of a covering that will be destroyed.  I believe that it is connected to the statement in verse 8 that death will be swallowed up forever.  Thus the veil here is most likely a reference to The Curse of Genesis 3.    The Curse has hung over mankind like a veil or shroud for most of its existence.  Yet, God will remove and destroy it.  Another aspect of this covering is that Satan has used the fear of death as a means to manipulate mankind.  He has used the threat of the shroud to create a veil over the minds and hearts of mankind.  This veil of ignorance and manipulation by spiritual powers will have also been destroyed by God.

Those Who Wait For The Lord Will Be Vindicated

In verse 9 Isaiah brings us back to the celebration.  Vindication is that moment in which faith is proven true.  Yet, all people are putting their faith in something.  Thus those who put their trust in something other than the Lord will not find vindication, but rather humiliation.  What they put their trust in will ultimately fail.  But the righteous will recognize that their wait for the Lord was not in vain.  Thus the declaration “He will save us.”  The verb here is a form that means God has done it but isn’t done doing it.  Thus it means that in light of what He has done, we know He will complete our salvation.  God is our savior in every way.  He cannot and will not fail.  He is able to deliver and defend you from every enemy.  It may not be in the way at the time that you desire.  But if you will wait on Him instead of going the way of your own heart and mind, you will find that He will be true to you in the end.

Isaiah ends the chapter with a reminder that just as the humble will be raised up, so the pride of the wicked will be pulled down.  No matter how great and powerful the position and place of the world may be, it will not stand before God’s judgment.  Though the world be as powerful as a mighty ocean, God is the swimmer who will pull the waves down beneath Himself and us.  He will bear us out from the crushing depths and rescue us out of the waters.  No matter how strong the walls of their city God will pull down all their defenses.  The powerful of this world, whether in business or in government, are not leading us down the right path.  Reject the way of the proud and walk in the way of humility that Jesus has shown us.  His counsels will be proven true and faithful.

Wait upon the Lord audio