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Weekly Word

Entries in Promise (5)

Tuesday
Apr232019

Empty Promises

Mark 12:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 21, 2019.

Today is Easter Sunday and therefore we are going to look at another passage further ahead in Mark than we currently are in our exposition of this Gospel.  Next Sunday we will be back on course.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, celebrates the day that our Lord Jesus conquered sin and death.  It is easy to scoff at such things.  However, the amount of evidence regarding both his death (he did not merely swoon) and his resurrection is overwhelming (over 500 people testified to multiple accounts with many people at the same event).

We can hide behind the sophistication of modern man.  Yet, we still find ourselves in the same place as those in the first century or even two millennia before that.  We are still fallen people who are extremely broken inside and who need a savior.

Today we celebrate the reality that God has a plan to save us, and Jesus Christ is the man He has given to us to lead us to salvation.

The parable that we are going to look at this morning is one that Jesus told in the temple compound during the last week of his life.  This parable gives us a metaphor to help us understand just what was going on when Jesus was crucified and yet later raised from the dead.

Understanding the Parable

In verses 1-8, Jesus tells a parable that presses the issue of his coming execution.  The public is not aware that the leaders have decided to execute Jesus when they can, but Jesus does.  In this parable the metaphor has a biblical precedent from Isaiah 5.  There Isaiah tells a parable in which he states that Israel is the vineyard of God.  He even speaks of a tower for defense and a winepress.  This sets up an easy identification for the hearers, but also for us.

Let’s walk through the parable and identify each element.  First, we see that the man who owns the vineyard clearly represents God and, as we stated earlier, the vineyard represents Israel.  It would be better to use the phrase, the people of God, because this puts a better image in our mind.  It is not about a nation, but about a people who belong to God and are in relationship with Him.   The next element is the vinedressers, which are also translated as farmers or tenant farmers.  The Greek word that is used literally means worker of the earth and is where we get the name George.  The are the leaders of Israel who are supposed to ensure that the people of God are fruitful in their lives.  Technically, this means both the political and religious leaders, but it is told during his last week while he is in the temple.  So, it seems that the religious leaders are taking the brunt of the teaching- this is most likely due to the fact that the political leadership had long been separated from Israel with Herod (not from the tribe of Judah) receiving his position as king from Caesar.  I would quibble with the word tenant farmer, not because it ruins the parable, but because the emphasis is not on the fact that they are getting paid.  It is on the fact that their job is to oversee the vineyard and make sure it is fruitful for God.  They had taken their offices under the guise of performing the purposes of the Lord, and yet, too often these became empty promises that were not fulfilled.  They superficially performed the purposes of the Lord while all along serving their own interests.

Next, in our parable we see that the man sends servants at the appropriate time to get evidence of how fruitful the vineyard is.  These servants have been with the man and are the special or extra-ordinary teachers that God sent from time to time known as the prophets.  The leaders of Israel were also servants of God, but they represent those who spend their time in the vineyard all the time.  They are the day to day servants of God.  The prophets would come at special times with a special mission.  They would give direction and corrective instructions from the Lord so that Israel could be fruitful.  In light of the spiritual nature of the parable, the fruit that God is looking for is evidence that the people are growing in their trust of God and living according to His Word.  The very Scripture that the religious leaders took care to copy and memorize testified that the prophets were generally abused and often put to death by the political and religious leaders of Israel.  Thus, as God sent his prophets to help make Israel fruitful, they would abuse them and kill them.  Yet, later they would give lip-service to them.

This leads to the man deciding to send his beloved son.  Of course, this represents Jesus.  The parable presents it as a hopeful attempt to turn things around.  However, in many other places we are told that Jesus was sent knowing that he would be abused, executed, and excommunicated (i.e. thrown out of the vineyard).  Thus, the leaders would kill the Son and leave their promise to tend to the people of God for God’s purposes unfulfilled.

As the parable ends, we are left asking if it was really as bad as the parable shows.  Somewhere along the line, the leaders had lost sight that this nation belonged to God literally.  They existed for His purposes, not theirs.  They had edged God out by pushing Him high into the heavens, but using the system for their own ends.  When Jesus arrived on the scene, they could only see that Jesus would inflame the hopes of the people that He was Messiah.  Rome would then come in and quash it, while holding the religious leaders responsible for letting it happen.  They would lose their authority and that couldn’t happen in their minds.

Lest we seem too hard on the Israelite people, let’s use the parable as a set of glasses for our times.  If we look at our times religiously, we must confess that the leaders of the Church of Jesus have often fallen into the same mentality as those of Israel did.  We give lip service to God and His purposes, but we abuse and kill those prophetic voices that He sends from time to time.  O sure, there are real heretics that must be faced and rejected, but not everyone labeled a heretic throughout the Church’s history were so.  Our leaders have too often hijacked the people of God and their devotion to Him for their own ends and purposes. 

What if we look at our times nationally (the United States of America, or insert your nation here)?  Are not our leaders leading us in a way that serves their own purposes and do they not lack any care for what the God of heaven thinks?  Sure, there are anomalies, but the majority give God lip service at the best.  Was it not God who supernaturally enabled us to break free from the political tyranny of King George III.  Side note, it is interesting that George’s name has the root used in our parable.  He was King Vinedresser, but had come to think the vines were all for him and his pleasure.  The testimony of our forefathers is that we succeeded by God’s help, period.  Has not the Lord of America come looking, from time to time, for godly fruit by sending special, prophetic voices, only to be cast aside and ignored?  Are we not, as a society, killing the Word of God as we cast it aside and live for our own purposes?  Also, this begs the question.  Do you not know that your own life is itself a vineyard of which God has put you in charge in order that it be fruitful for His purposes?  His ways lead to life, but ours continually lead to ever more creative expressions of death.

God still has a plan that cannot be thwarted

The parable does get rather dark and foreboding.  Jesus in verse 9 asks the question.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  They are going to be removed and destroyed.  Ultimately, they will not succeed in their attempt to use God’s people for their own ends.  They will be removed and God’s purposes will continue unthwarted. 

The religious and political leaders would do exactly what this parable says.  They would reject Jesus, abuse him, execute him, and then excommunicate him.  This is why the book of Hebrews makes such a big deal about Jesus being crucified outside of the city gates.  This ancient sign of extreme banishment (extreme in that they also killed the person) was the ultimate rejection.  Hebrews 13:12-14 says, “Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  We are in danger of losing the eternal for the sake of holding on to the temporary at all times.  Is it not better to surrender that which you cannot keep in order to receive that which you cannot lose?  You can and should trust God.  His plan is not thwarted, and cannot be thwarted, whether by man or spiritual powers in the heavenlies.

Jesus would be rejected and killed, but this would not extinguish the fact that He is the key component to God’s plan.  In verses 10-11, Jesus reminds the leaders of Psalm 118:22-23.  There the psalmist uses the imagery of building the temple of God.  In such building projects, the stones would be fashioned at a remote quarry and then arrive at the building site with some mark explaining its place in the structure.  The builders are the leaders of God’s people who are supposed to have the skill and knowledge to take the stone and put it in the proper place.  The psalmist speaks of a stone that arrives, but the builders reject it and cast it aside.  However, the God of heaven overrules them and uses it as the most important stone of all, the key foundation stone.  These leaders were rejecting the most important part of God’s plan, and He would intervene so that Christ would indeed be what He was sent to be.

Though our parable is challenging the earthly human leaders, there is another layer to this whole thing.  We forget that Jesus is very aware of the evil, spiritual forces around him.  Just as many of his sayings slighted the religious leaders who overheard them, so too they also slight the spiritual powers in rebellion to God.  This parable is no different.  There were spiritual powers who had been put in charge of the nations after the Tower of Babel incident.  These powers had abused their delegated authority and twisted the peoples’ hearts with false religion that lifted the rebellious spiritual powers up as gods.  They too were complicit in the execution of the Son of God and therefore fall under the same judgment given here.  In fact, the spiritual component makes even more sense than the human.  The religious leaders never looked at Jesus as the Son of God who must be killed so that they can inherit those who belong to God.  However, this makes perfect sense of the spiritual powers.  They knew exactly who Jesus was and apparently believed that they could kill Jesus and seize mankind for themselves.

Nearly 40 years after the death of Jesus, after a time of his disciples warning the nation of Israel of the coming destruction and God’s plan of escape, the Roman legions destroyed the city and dismantled the temple stone by stone.  The people of God, who clung to Christ, went to the world with this rejected stone that had now become the chief stone, not just of Israel, but of the whole world.  If you wonder what in the world God is doing then I would put it this way.  He is offering anyone who will an opportunity to be a part of His people, and to participate in a kingdom that will come into existence at the Second Coming of Jesus.  He is not as enamored with our buildings, institutions, and plans, as much as we are.  He is more interested in you, that you are bearing the fruit of faith, the fruit of trusting His Word and living for Jesus in this dark world.

This brings us to the reality that the promises of God are counterbalanced with the promises of the world and those spiritual powers behind it.  This world promises us better things if we will cast Jesus aside and pursue pleasure, or wealth, or fame and accomplishment.  All of these things still leave you feeling empty in the end.  Why?  They do so because we were not created to be satisfied with temporary and material things.  We are trying to stuff small temporary things into an enormous eternal space that is as vast as the universe.  You cannot fill it with the temporary.  Only God can fill that space.  Only a relationship with Him can fulfill the promise of peace and joy.

Over time the philosophies of the world have turned away from God and religion, and towards man.  We must do it.  No God will do it for us.  These are the mantras of humanistic materialism.  Sadly, too many Christians practically do the same thing by pushing God as far up into the heavens as they can.  He doesn’t intervene.  He expects us to do it for ourselves.  Such philosophies have no real basis for upholding good values.  We can pretend that love is a good value, but if we have a philosophy that states humanity is an accident and there is no absolute truth, then why is love good?  Is life precious?  Without God, we only find the precious nature of life ground out of us on every side.  Hopelessness and despair continue to reign from shore to shore and we have no peace because we have rejected the Prince of Peace.

You may feel like God has not kept His promises to humanity, but remember.  He is the God of the resurrection.  Jesus did not back away from the last step to the cross out of fear and lack of faith in His Father.  He showed us that if we would live for God all the way through our death, without turning back, then He will exalt us in due time.  There is a day when the people of God from every generation will be resurrected in the same way that Jesus was, almost 2,000 years ago.  I hope that you have made the choice to be apart of that day because the promises of God will never fail!

God will keep His promises to us.  If you have waffled on trusting Christ then do it today.  If you have been partially trusting Christ, yet basically floating aimlessly, then choose to fully trust Him today.  If you have been trusting Jesus, then don’t let this world rob you of your victory.  Jesus overcame this world by His faith in the Father, and therefore, He is given a place above every other name.  Through Him, you too can overcome and take your place at His side as the Father brings a fulfillment to every word that He ever gave us.  Jesus rose up from the g rave because He is greater than death.  Those who trust Him cannot be destroyed by death, but only made stronger!

Empty Promises Audio

Tuesday
May232017

The Promise of the Father

Isaiah 59:19-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 21, 2017.

In Acts 1:4 it says of Jesus and his disciples, “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”  We are going to take some time to answer the question, “What promise from the Father is He talking about?”  There are many promises throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, some of them promise blessing, and some of them promise judgment.  But Jesus is clearly referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Old Testament we see at first hints of this promised giving of the Holy Spirit.  However several places in the prophets make a clear promise from God that this day was coming.  Just as people were baptized in water by John to point to a spiritual inward act of repentance, so at a higher level would be the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Repentance is good.  But, if the Holy Spirit does not take up residence in our heart and then also fill us with His enabling power, moment by moment, then the repentance will fall short and our faith will wither.  This baptism takes that initial connection to the Spirit of God and makes it a continual, empowering presence.

Now it is easy in this world to lose sight of the reality that God promises to place His Spirit upon us, and within us.  If we try merely to be righteous without a real, abiding presence of the Lord, we will find ourselves drained of any spiritual strength, and without a sustaining hope.  So let’s beware the trap of only living righteously in the natural.  But, let us live out that righteousness with the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

He promises to deliver

It would be good to read the whole chapter in order to get the context of these verses.  You will find two things in this passage.  First, you will see that Israel had turned from God and towards unrighteousness.  They had become such a wicked society that those who tried to follow the Lord made “themselves a prey” (vs. 15).  It was a dangerous time to be a person who followed the ways of the Lord.  The situation is so dire that the Lord is pictured in vs. 16 amazed that they had been taken captive by sin and there was no one who could step in and deliver them.  We could think that surely Isaiah could be the answer.  But, it takes more than a prophet to speak on behalf of God to save people from their sins.  Even Isaiah himself testified that, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”  Thus it transitions by saying that the Lord would bring forth salvation and deliverance by His own right arm.

This deliverance is described in verses 16-18.  There we see a dual deliverance.  Israel would be delivered from the wicked of the nations that surrounded them.  However, God would also judge Israel and deliver the righteous from the unrighteous within the land.  God recognized that not all Israel was righteous.  In fact, though it is true that the nations persecuted and oppressed Israel, the righteous of the land were even more oppressed by the wicked that rose up from within the nation.  This was not a national problem that could be fixed with a war to end all wars.  It was a problem that started in the heart of every man, woman, boy, and girl.  So what is a person who wants to serve God supposed to do?  They need to recognize the reality that we can easily see the sins of others and blame them for our struggle.  But, we rarely recognize the truth that our greatest persecution comes from with our own sinful nature.  Our hearts betray us and long for paths that lead to pain and destruction.  Ultimately the Bible makes it clear that God is giving people a choice.  You can either let God deliver you from your own sins, or you can reject him and join ranks with the rebels, both the heavenly ones (the devil and his angels) and the earthly ones (wicked humans).  This promise to deliver from our external enemies and our internal threat, both foreign and domestic threats, brings us to verse 19 where the whole earth will fear the Lord when He accomplishes this deliverance.  In some ways our Lord accomplished this deliverance at the cross.  He made provision for our own sins to be forgiven, and He secured for us an eternal inheritance that overcomes anything the wicked of this world could do to us (including kill us).  However, at our Lord’s Second Coming, the Scriptures are clear that he will remove the heavenly and earthly rebels and hand the administration of the earth over to the righteous.  So in a sense we are still waiting for this to be fulfilled, all the while enjoying the benefits of our Lord’s deliverance begun at the cross.

The second part of verse 19 has a grammar issue.  It is not clear just what is coming like a flood.  If it is the enemy then the clause states this, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will raise up against it.”  However, it is possible that it is the Spirit of the Lord itself that comes like a flood.  And thus it would read, “The Spirit will come like a violent river against it.”  In the end both options leave us with the sense that no matter what the enemy does, God has a day in which He will judge them and remove them out of the way.  That day will leave the whole earth trembling in fear at His great power.  We must not forget, in these days when it seems that wickedness reigns in every nation on earth, and holds the reins of power in every aspect of our societies, that God has not forsaken us.  Through Jesus, He has taken up the task of delivering us as our representative champion.

However, verse 20, uses the title of this champion, The Redeemer.  The word could be translated “Kinsman Redeemer,” like it is used in the book of Ruth.  The idea of the Kinsman redeemer was that close relatives were to safeguard the person, property, and posterity of their extended family.  Thus if someone was murdered then a close relative was to take up the role of Kinsman Redeemer.  They would take on the duty of seeking out who did it and getting justice.  In Ruth the issue is more about property and posterity.  Ruth had married an Israelite who had sold his land and moved to Moab because of famine.  When she comes to Israel, she is technically heir to his property, but doesn’t have the money to redeem it (buy it back).  Not only this but, they had no children before her husband died.  Thus his name or lineage was in danger of dying out.  Thus the story is about Ruth asking Boaz to be a Kinsman Redeemer to her.  He does this by marrying Ruth and restoring both her property and her posterity.  This gives us background to why Jesus becomes a human.  It is so that he can be our Kinsman redeemer.  He is one of us.  We are all under the threat of death due to our sins.  We have been plundered of all our inheritance that God has intended for us and are spiritually childless.  However, Jesus steps in and takes those who turn from transgression (vs. 20) as a bride.  In Him we now have eternal life, an eternal inheritance and an eternal posterity.  The deliverance is not just from external enemies, but also from a plight of powerlessness that have brought upon our self through sin.  In Jesus, all that the devil has done to spoil God’s kingdom is overturned for those who “turn from transgression.”  So the promise of deliverance is not to the wicked, but to those who are like Ruth.  They long to take their place in God’s kingdom but are powerless to do so.  These he buys back from their sin and its consequence of death.  These He redeems.

He promises a covenant with the redeemed

Verse 21 states that the Lord will make a covenant with those who are being redeemed.  This is clearly a covenant that is different from the covenant that God made through Moses.  This is why the Bible is divided into the Old Testament (or Covenant) and a New Testament (or Covenant).  The promise/covenant is basically God’s Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit, that was upon Isaiah in order to reveal to Israel the Word of God, would be upon all those who are spiritually descended from him, or have the same faith as him.  I say this because Jesus points out this line of argument in John 8, where the crowd in Jerusalem thought they were protected because they were Abraham’s children.  Jesus challenges this assertion and points out that they are nothing like Abraham.  If they were truly Abraham’s children then they would have rejoiced to see Jesus and embraced him.  But, they were nothing like Abraham.  They were like their true father the devil.  The point is not that Jesus thinks that they are biologically from the devil.  Rather, they may be biologically children of Abraham, but they are spiritually children of the devil.  They have turned their back on their earthly and heavenly father, and chosen to identify with an evil, fallen father.  So too in this passage, the descendants are not just biological descendants.  Yes, parents must endeavor to raise up their biological children to also become their spiritual children.  But, what is God’s promise to these descendants?  The Spirit of God will be upon them and fill their mouths with God’s Word.

It is important to recognize both aspects.  We are intended to walk daily with the Holy Spirit upon our life and filling our mouth with God’s Word.  This daily communion with the Spirit and this daily filling of our heart and mind with God’s thoughts and decrees is a promise that God has made available for us.  So the question is, “Are you spiritually a descendant of those who believed on Jesus, and if so, are you walking in harmony with God’s Spirit?”  May God help us to reject this world’s encouragement to pursue the things of the flesh and thereby losing the precious communion and empowering that He has for us.

Not only would the Spirit be in their life, but it would not be a momentary thing.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit only came upon certain individuals and only at certain times.  Thus the Holy Spirit’s presence was an uncommon event that came upon uncommon people at uncommon times.  This promise is that the Holy Spirit would become the common experience of the common, righteous person, without end.  It is this promise that enables us to live in a world surrounded by the unrighteous (both spiritual and natural), wrestle with our internal, fleshly nature, and be victorious.  Jesus not only overcame the world, but He enables us to overcome the world.  By the Holy Spirit we can go into our heart and mind and recognize the areas that need to be let go and the areas that need to be built up.  He can free us even from that inner unrighteousness that seeks to overcome us.  In Christ we are more than victorious over our own sin-problem.  We are enabled to be rescuers of others.  Let’s ask God for this promise each and every day.  Let’s seek the help of the Holy Spirit for our battles both internal and external.

Promise of the Father audio

Tuesday
May232017

The Promise of the Father

Isaiah 59:19-21.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 21, 2017.

In Acts 1:4 it says of Jesus and his disciples, “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”  We are going to take some time to answer the question, “What promise from the Father is He talking about?”  There are many promises throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, some of them promise blessing, and some of them promise judgment.  But Jesus is clearly referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Old Testament we see at first hints of this promised giving of the Holy Spirit.  However several places in the prophets make a clear promise from God that this day was coming.  Just as people were baptized in water by John to point to a spiritual inward act of repentance, so at a higher level would be the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Repentance is good.  But, if the Holy Spirit does not take up residence in our heart and then also fill us with His enabling power, moment by moment, then the repentance will fall short and our faith will wither.  This baptism takes that initial connection to the Spirit of God and makes it a continual, empowering presence.

Now it is easy in this world to lose sight of the reality that God promises to place His Spirit upon us, and within us.  If we try merely to be righteous without a real, abiding presence of the Lord, we will find ourselves drained of any spiritual strength, and without a sustaining hope.  So let’s beware the trap of only living righteously in the natural.  But, let us live out that righteousness with the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

He promises to deliver

It would be good to read the whole chapter in order to get the context of these verses.  You will find two things in this passage.  First, you will see that Israel had turned from God and towards unrighteousness.  They had become such a wicked society that those who tried to follow the Lord made “themselves a prey” (vs. 15).  It was a dangerous time to be a person who followed the ways of the Lord.  The situation is so dire that the Lord is pictured in vs. 16 amazed that they had been taken captive by sin and there was no one who could step in and deliver them.  We could think that surely Isaiah could be the answer.  But, it takes more than a prophet to speak on behalf of God to save people from their sins.  Even Isaiah himself testified that, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”  Thus it transitions by saying that the Lord would bring forth salvation and deliverance by His own right arm.

This deliverance is described in verses 16-18.  There we see a dual deliverance.  Israel would be delivered from the wicked of the nations that surrounded them.  However, God would also judge Israel and deliver the righteous from the unrighteous within the land.  God recognized that not all Israel was righteous.  In fact, though it is true that the nations persecuted and oppressed Israel, the righteous of the land were even more oppressed by the wicked that rose up from within the nation.  This was not a national problem that could be fixed with a war to end all wars.  It was a problem that started in the heart of every man, woman, boy, and girl.  So what is a person who wants to serve God supposed to do?  They need to recognize the reality that we can easily see the sins of others and blame them for our struggle.  But, we rarely recognize the truth that our greatest persecution comes from with our own sinful nature.  Our hearts betray us and long for paths that lead to pain and destruction.  Ultimately the Bible makes it clear that God is giving people a choice.  You can either let God deliver you from your own sins, or you can reject him and join ranks with the rebels, both the heavenly ones (the devil and his angels) and the earthly ones (wicked humans).  This promise to deliver from our external enemies and our internal threat, both foreign and domestic threats, brings us to verse 19 where the whole earth will fear the Lord when He accomplishes this deliverance.  In some ways our Lord accomplished this deliverance at the cross.  He made provision for our own sins to be forgiven, and He secured for us an eternal inheritance that overcomes anything the wicked of this world could do to us (including kill us).  However, at our Lord’s Second Coming, the Scriptures are clear that he will remove the heavenly and earthly rebels and hand the administration of the earth over to the righteous.  So in a sense we are still waiting for this to be fulfilled, all the while enjoying the benefits of our Lord’s deliverance begun at the cross.

The second part of verse 19 has a grammar issue.  It is not clear just what is coming like a flood.  If it is the enemy then the clause states this, “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will raise up against it.”  However, it is possible that it is the Spirit of the Lord itself that comes like a flood.  And thus it would read, “The Spirit will come like a violent river against it.”  In the end both options leave us with the sense that no matter what the enemy does, God has a day in which He will judge them and remove them out of the way.  That day will leave the whole earth trembling in fear at His great power.  We must not forget, in these days when it seems that wickedness reigns in every nation on earth, and holds the reins of power in every aspect of our societies, that God has not forsaken us.  Through Jesus, He has taken up the task of delivering us as our representative champion.

However, verse 20, uses the title of this champion, The Redeemer.  The word could be translated “Kinsman Redeemer,” like it is used in the book of Ruth.  The idea of the Kinsman redeemer was that close relatives were to safeguard the person, property, and posterity of their extended family.  Thus if someone was murdered then a close relative was to take up the role of Kinsman Redeemer.  They would take on the duty of seeking out who did it and getting justice.  In Ruth the issue is more about property and posterity.  Ruth had married an Israelite who had sold his land and moved to Moab because of famine.  When she comes to Israel, she is technically heir to his property, but doesn’t have the money to redeem it (buy it back).  Not only this but, they had no children before her husband died.  Thus his name or lineage was in danger of dying out.  Thus the story is about Ruth asking Boaz to be a Kinsman Redeemer to her.  He does this by marrying Ruth and restoring both her property and her posterity.  This gives us background to why Jesus becomes a human.  It is so that he can be our Kinsman redeemer.  He is one of us.  We are all under the threat of death due to our sins.  We have been plundered of all our inheritance that God has intended for us and are spiritually childless.  However, Jesus steps in and takes those who turn from transgression (vs. 20) as a bride.  In Him we now have eternal life, an eternal inheritance and an eternal posterity.  The deliverance is not just from external enemies, but also from a plight of powerlessness that have brought upon our self through sin.  In Jesus, all that the devil has done to spoil God’s kingdom is overturned for those who “turn from transgression.”  So the promise of deliverance is not to the wicked, but to those who are like Ruth.  They long to take their place in God’s kingdom but are powerless to do so.  These he buys back from their sin and its consequence of death.  These He redeems.

He promises a covenant with the redeemed

Verse 21 states that the Lord will make a covenant with those who are being redeemed.  This is clearly a covenant that is different from the covenant that God made through Moses.  This is why the Bible is divided into the Old Testament (or Covenant) and a New Testament (or Covenant).  The promise/covenant is basically God’s Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit, that was upon Isaiah in order to reveal to Israel the Word of God, would be upon all those who are spiritually descended from him, or have the same faith as him.  I say this because Jesus points out this line of argument in John 8, where the crowd in Jerusalem thought they were protected because they were Abraham’s children.  Jesus challenges this assertion and points out that they are nothing like Abraham.  If they were truly Abraham’s children then they would have rejoiced to see Jesus and embraced him.  But, they were nothing like Abraham.  They were like their true father the devil.  The point is not that Jesus thinks that they are biologically from the devil.  Rather, they may be biologically children of Abraham, but they are spiritually children of the devil.  They have turned their back on their earthly and heavenly father, and chosen to identify with an evil, fallen father.  So too in this passage, the descendants are not just biological descendants.  Yes, parents must endeavor to raise up their biological children to also become their spiritual children.  But, what is God’s promise to these descendants?  The Spirit of God will be upon them and fill their mouths with God’s Word.

It is important to recognize both aspects.  We are intended to walk daily with the Holy Spirit upon our life and filling our mouth with God’s Word.  This daily communion with the Spirit and this daily filling of our heart and mind with God’s thoughts and decrees is a promise that God has made available for us.  So the question is, “Are you spiritually a descendant of those who believed on Jesus, and if so, are you walking in harmony with God’s Spirit?”  May God help us to reject this world’s encouragement to pursue the things of the flesh and thereby losing the precious communion and empowering that He has for us.

Not only would the Spirit be in their life, but it would not be a momentary thing.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit only came upon certain individuals and only at certain times.  Thus the Holy Spirit’s presence was an uncommon event that came upon uncommon people at uncommon times.  This promise is that the Holy Spirit would become the common experience of the common, righteous person, without end.  It is this promise that enables us to live in a world surrounded by the unrighteous (both spiritual and natural), wrestle with our internal, fleshly nature, and be victorious.  Jesus not only overcame the world, but He enables us to overcome the world.  By the Holy Spirit we can go into our heart and mind and recognize the areas that need to be let go and the areas that need to be built up.  He can free us even from that inner unrighteousness that seeks to overcome us.  In Christ we are more than victorious over our own sin-problem.  We are enabled to be rescuers of others.  Let’s ask God for this promise each and every day.  Let’s seek the help of the Holy Spirit for our battles both internal and external.

Tuesday
Dec292015

Believe for Greater Things - Sarah

Genesis 18:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 27, 2015.  This series is an adaptation of a sermon preached by Dr. George O. Wood at the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Orlando, Florida on August 6, 2013.  He deserves full credit for the framework and many points of this sermon.

The theme for our week of prayer next week is “Believe for Greater Things!”  As such we will spend the following weeks looking at 4 different women who were instrumental in God’s plan of salvation.  Each of them had similar experiences and yet with interesting and challenging differences.  They all were challenged to trust and believe God for the things that were being promised to them and to Israel.

When we look at faith it should be recognized that there are several aspects to it.  First there is the past aspect, in which faith looks back to what God has done.  It is that which informs the content of our faith and affirms its existence.  We believe what we do because of what God has said and done in the past.  Another aspect of faith is how it looks forward to the thing or things for which we believe.  Thus when we put our faith in Jesus we do so not just because of what happened 2,000 years ago, but also because of what is promised in our future.  Lastly there is the present aspect of faith that lives within moment by moment tension of the other two aspects.  How we live our life today has everything to do with the strength of our faith regarding the past and the future.  We must know what we believe, but we also must know the thing for which we believe, whether that is in our personal life, our family, ministry, and even our nation.

These four women: Sarah, Naomi, Hannah, and Mary helped change history.  We want to see how their faith in God was not easy and was not what most had who were around them.  However, we will also see how God used their faith to bring forth His plan of salvation to mankind.

The Faith of Sarah

Now God had already promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation in Genesis 12:2.  Later God added to this revelation that it would be done through one who came from his own body and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, and sands of the seashore (Genesis 15:4, 5).  These promises began when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 as best we can tell.  It is important to recognize the tension that exists between what God promises and what we experience day by day.  Thus God promises children to a couple who had been physically unable to have children.  On top of this He waits until she is past the age of child bearing to give the promise.  For you see, up until Genesis 18, God has not revealed that the children would also come from the body of Sarah.  Thus our story of three strangers visiting Abraham and promising that Sarah will have a child within the next year is a revelation that catches her off-guard.

Thus we are told Sarah laughs when she first hears God’s promise.  Clearly she had come to accept her lot in life.  She would never have children.  Without a word from heaven, God had made it abundantly clear to her that she would never be pregnant and give birth.  She has also had to come to terms with the reality that the great promises to Abraham would clearly not happen through her.  Most likely she struggled with guilt for not giving Abraham children, and self-esteem for being a hindrance to such great promises.  Her love for Abraham is such that she had given her servant Hagar to Abraham as a wife to raise up a child in her stead.  Thus Sarah is in the odd position of one who believes that God’s promise is true, but that His plan does not have much of a part for her.  Perhaps she sometimes thought, “Yes, God loves some people, but not me.”  I say that not because we might know how Sarah felt.  But we can know how we might have felt.  Such situations can be very trying for a woman and for a man.  Yet, here in the last years of her life she is told that she is going to give birth.  You would laugh too if promised such a ridiculous sounding thing.

Yes, Sarah was not quick to believe this new development to the promise.  Yet, God knows our frailty.  Faith is not just about an exchange of information.  It is an experience of walking day by day with a God who is far greater than we can imagine.  At scales far beyond, we are children walking with an amazing Father who does things hard for us to believe and imagine.  Thus faith is not about instantaneously believing and never having a doubt.  It is about learning to trust God as we walk with Him. 

Do you believe that God loves you and has a portion for you in the midst of what He is doing?  Don’t let the sin of bitterness and self-hatred eat you up from the inside.   Continually lay these things on God’s altar and wait upon Him.  Let Him reveal to you what He is doing.  Also, don’t let your lack of ability become the reason why you don’t trust God.  If He promises something it will not depend upon our ability to do anything but trust Him.

Another thing we see here is that God is with us when it looks like nothing is happening.   After the promise of Genesis 12, Sarah waited 10 years and yet she still couldn’t have children.  It was at that time she offered Hagar to Abraham.  Yet when Hagar had a child, God made it clear that Ishmael would not be the promised child.  Now we are 24 years after the initial promise and still nothing is happening.  It often appears in life like nothing is happening and that God’s promise was just an imagination.  Most of this is because we do not see what we expect to see, when we expect to see it.  God’s way and timing is different than ours.  Why would he wait until Sarah is 89 to give her a child?  In the walk of faith with God we may be asked to do ridiculous things, like having Abraham be circumcised at 99 years of age. 

Times of waiting are an important part of what God is doing in your life.  It may look like He is doing nothing.  But it is precisely the wait that is shaping us into the image of our Lord Jesus.

This leads to the next thing.  God is always up to something regardless of how well we believe in the moment.  Over the years a teaching has developed that promotes a kind of faith in our own ability to believe.  It simply states that if you believe enough and have no doubt, you will get what you ask for.  The problem is that God should always be the object of our faith.  His plan is not dependent upon us to the degree that it cannot happen without us.  However, our place within His plan can be impacted by our ability to learn to trust Him.  Thus we sometimes cause people to feel like the burden is on them to conjure up a mystical ability that will make something happen.  Whereas the truth is that faith grows and deepens in that moment of brokenness when we throw ourselves upon the Lord and say, “Lord, I can’t do it.  Help me!”  Yes, you are going to have to believe God.  But, it is not all dependent upon you.  God is aware of your frailties and weakness.  He is the one who is teaching you to trust Him.  He will carry you through if you will cast yourself upon Him over and over again.  Even in your times of doubt, God is bringing things to the exact place that He said He would.  Will you trust Him?

Lastly, the amazing story of Abraham and Sarah teaches us that nothing is too difficult for the Lord.  I have dealt more with the situation than I have with the story.  However, the Bible tells us that the Lord asks Abraham, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”  That is a question that tests us all.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus answered this over and over again.  In Matthew 19:26 he said, “… with God all things are possible.”  We have to stop looking at ourselves and our inabilities and start looking to the Lord.  Whether God is going to make an 89 year old, barren woman conceive, or simply change the hard heart of a wayward loved-one, nothing is too difficult for God.

What are you believing for?  God has given us general promises that are amazing and impossible.  If we remain in Him to the end we will have a part in the Glory of Jesus, resurrection of our mortal bodies into immortal ones, and a restoration of the heavens and the earth.  These things do not look probable, but we must learn to trust the Lord for them.  Yet, God has a particular plan for you as well.  Take time over these next weeks to pray for your life, your work, your relationships, and ministry.  Ask God to fill your mind and heart with the plans that He has for you.  I guarantee you it is greater than you think that you do.  And, you would be right.  It is not what God wants you to do, but what God is going to do in you and through you.  Let’s believe for greater things this year.

Believe-Sarah Audio