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Weekly Word

Entries in Preparation (2)

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
Sep242013

The True Jesus: Our Preparation

During this Autumn we will be looking at the character and work of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is easy to let the stories become just that, stories with a sort of unreal sense to them.  However, we want to not just have a general sense of who Jesus is, but rather truly let God’s Word challenge us through the words and actions of this man we call the Christ, the Anointed One of God who would come to save mankind.  It may look to you today that he failed.  But that is how you feel about the statement.  We must let God’s Word challenge those suppositions and feelings that we have built up over time and see that God is calling us to Him in Trust, Faith, and Love.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this problem in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 when he wrote, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you” have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!”  With all the conspiracy theories swirling around these days regarding this man Jesus, it is imperative that we return to the simplicity of what the Gospel tells us about Jesus and ourselves.  There are many who have a vested interest in co-opting the message of Christ for their own ends and have invested much time in effort in doing just that.  Some of them are “Christian” people, some of them are merely religious, and some of them are secular.  But all of them twist the person of Jesus and His message to their own purposes.

Mainly I will be using the Gospel of Luke as our path this Fall and we will skip over the birth narratives for now and revisit them later in December.  So let’ begin in Luke 3:3-4.

The Need For Repentance

The book of Malachi ends with a reference to the prophet Elijah coming before the messiah to turn the hearts of people back to each other.  So we are going to start with the ministry of John the Baptist.  Jesus himself said that John ministered in the power and the spirit of Elijah.  In verses 3-4 of Luke 3, John is pictured as a man out in the desert crying out for people to repent.  Now in the natural there were large crowds listening to John and many people responding, but the spiritual truth of the matter is that he was in a desert place and precious few had enough spiritual life within them to even hear him.  They were as dead as the desert sand in many cases.   Why would a ministry, which was telling people the Messiah was coming, fall on deaf ears?  It wasn’t just because they no longer believed the prophecy.  It was because John defined preparation as repentance.

Now the word “remission” in verse 3 is not just our sins going into a silent period only to break out later.  But, rather it points to the removing of our sins from us.  Apparently this was something that could not be done without us first repenting.  You see, our sins are so intricately linked with our fleshly desires that even when we like the message of the coming messiah, we are not really ready for Him.  First we need the desire to be set free from our sins and then we can receive the messiah into our lives.

There is a sort of inner coalition that happens between our hearts and our minds.  The heart desires certain sinful things and then the mind employs its powers to justify, and acquire those pleasures.  This stronghold of sin within our mind is challenged by the Word of the prophet.  John warned the people that Messiah was coming.  He was coming to clean house and rescue his faithful.  Most were not being faithful.  Thus our need for repentance is the need to change how the messiah sees us when he comes.  Is it possible for a change of mind and a change of heart to happen?  Typically when people see the hold that sin has on them and the destructive paths it has led them down, they are open for change.  John comes after a long silent period from God’s prophets.  People were at the end of themselves and looking for hope.  John comes to them saying, “Repent!  The Messiah is coming!”  This starts in the mind.  The mind is able to see the captivity of the heart and see the need to turn to something better.  The heart will not like it, but it is possible to turn from a path of destruction and walk a different way, even as our heart begs to go back.  However, there is a side of this that we must note.  Without the help of God’s Spirit we would neither hear the Message of Repentance nor see the Truth to its warning.  Thus we can repent but only with the Spirit’s help.

Lastly, John challenged those following him on what real repentance was.  In Luke 3:7-14, he lists out the ways in which we demonstrate true repentance.  He uses the picture of a fruit tree and says that if we are truly repentant inside (i.e. we are a Repentance Tree) then we will grow repentance fruit, which are actions that show repentance.  The first example of repentance “fruit” is for everyone in general: If you have extra share it with those who have none.  For tax collectors, collect only what you have been appointed to collect.  For soldiers, do not abuse your power and be content with your wages.  Is John preaching salvation by works?  No.  He is talking about the preparation of our heart to receive Jesus, i.e. repentance.  If repentance is real within us then it will be demonstrated in our actions.  If we really believe that Jesus is coming then our lives will begin to reflect that belief.  If we really see that our sins are separating us from God then we will truly begin to hate the hold they have on us and begin turning from them.  Yet, without Jesus actually coming into our lives and freeing us from our sins, even repentance would end in futility.  Even when we are saved by Jesus we will still need repentance as 1 John 1:9 reminds us.  If we are faithful to confess our sins then Jesus will be faithful to cleanse us from all our sins, internally and externally.

The Need For The Holy Spirit

In verse 16 John tells them that his water baptism is lesser than the baptism Jesus will bring: a baptism of the Holy Spirit.  John’s ministry had impressed the people and they felt that he must be the messiah.  This verse speaks to the greater work of Christ.  He not only helps us repent and clean our lives, but he also places the Spirit of God within us in order to empower us in it.  Thus our preparation is in order to receive the Spirit of God from Jesus.  John’s water baptism was a symbol of the cleansing of repentance.  But it also was a symbol of what Jesus was coming to do.  He would immerse them in the Spirit of God.  This was something that even John the Baptist himself would have needed.  He definitely was moved upon by the Spirit, but immersion within the Spirit was an unthinkable thought, till now.

Now God’s Word tells us that those who believe on Jesus are given the right to be called the Sons of God and that the Spirit of God takes up residence within them so that they might cry out to God as His children.  Like the temple in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit would move into them and make a totally different atmosphere in the place.  Yet, as we open ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Bible speaks of a further need of being filled with the Spirit.  This is a continual process of us surrendering and the Spirit filling.  We are to keep being filled with the Spirit.  Don’t be content to just believe Jesus can deal with your sins.  Move on to surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s direction through the Word and counsel, that He might fill your life with power to be a witness of His loving salvation.

 John had said that the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit and Fire.  Now some refer to this as a feeling of fire within our heart when we are baptized.  However, the context rather points to a choice we have.  God Himself is a consuming fire.  If we are not repentant that fire is a fire of judgment.  If we are repentant then it is a fire of cleansing.  So this is more a warning of judgment than anything else.

The Need For Perseverance

Lastly, I would point us to Luke 3:20.  Here we see that John’s message of repentance was not received well by those who had great earthly power.  Jesus promised his disciples in John 16:33 that they would experience tribulation in this world.  He clearly expected this to continue throughout the Church Age.  Because we live in the West, it is easy for us to believe that persecution is rare or that it is a sign that we don’t have enough faith.  John the Baptist clearly didn’t expect to die in prison.  The Messiah was coming!  Yet, we see him later in prison asking his disciples to double check with Jesus and see if he truly was the Messiah (i.e. was I wrong?). 

No one likes to be told their actions are sinful.  Thus if we are going to be faithful to Jesus and warn the world to repent because the Messiah is coming, then we had better expect some flak coming back at us.  Herod the Tetrarch had basically seduced his half-brother’s wife, and divorced his own wife so that he could marry her.  He eventually has John beheaded for daring to call him to repentance.  How tragic for Herod and how hard for John this was.  Yet John was soon comforted and Herod continued down to destruction.  We also need perseverance if we are the one who needs to repent.  Our heart and mind will revolt against such treasonous ideas.  If we are not truly in need of help then the “Good News” of Jesus ceases to be good news.  Somewhere somehow, no matter where you live, if you tell people that they actually NEED Jesus because of a sin problem you will face negative responses.

Perseverance or patience is actually the choice to remain under the heavy load that we want to drop.  Perseverance doesn’t demand anything of God.  It only says, “I won’t quit, even if it crushes me.”  Perhaps John felt like he was being crushed.  But He went on to His reward.  If we demand anything of God before obedience then we will eventually throw in the towel and quit.  And in our minds will be the words, He asks too much, He abandoned me, He doesn’t care.  Which, of course, we know these things are not true.

The True Jesus audio