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Weekly Word

Entries in Prophecy (22)

Tuesday
Mar202018

The Fire of God's Judgment II

2 Kings 2:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 18, 2018.

Last week we saw how the fire of God was a symbol of the judgment of the wicked, that is, when they are found to be lacking before God.  This week we will see that the fire of God can also be seen as a judgment of the righteous, in that they are found to be acceptable to God.

This amazing story of Elijah’s ascension into heaven may raise the hackles of all cynics and skeptics.  However, it is in the Scripture for a reason.  It challenges our understanding of what is possible, but it also teaches us the ultimate purpose of God.  Though mankind knew that each person would one day die and go into the grave, in the persons of Enoch and Elijah, the righteous are given the hope, even the understanding, that the grave is not their final destiny.  God is able to take whom He will into the heavens with Him.  It is in the examples of Enoch and Elijah that we see that God does not intend the righteous to share the same fate as the wicked, even though our experience tells us that they all end up in the same place.  God will do what is necessary in order to lift the righteous into His presence.  

Let me encourage you today.  Even though our Heavenly Father is a consuming fire, we need not fear Him if we are walking in faith in His Son, Jesus.  The same power that takes the wicked down in judgment is the power that will lift you up into the presence of God, according to His judgment.

Elijah’s last mission

We are told right off the bat that Elijah is going to be taken into heaven in a whirlwind.  So if you pictured Elijah riding in the fiery chariot, you will see later that this is not the case.  This is to be Elijah’s last mission and as he follows the instructions of the Lord, he is led to the place where he will leave this world.

It is clear that it has become common knowledge that Elijah is to be taken by God, at least among the prophets and those who served them.  Either Elijah has made God’s plan known to the other prophets or it was another prophet who public ally prophesied that Elijah would be taken on a particular day.  Nevertheless, we see the “sons of the prophets” warning Elisha of what is about to occur.

Who are these “sons of the prophets?”  This is metaphorical language, which speaks of a person (like Elisha was to Elijah) who serves a prophet.  In some cases this would function much like we see with Jesus and his disciples.  They followed him around, lived with him, and learned from him.  It was often done in the hopes that eventually they would become like their masters, i.e. prophets.  The proven, elder prophet would be training those who came to them.  In Elijah’s case there is only one servant, but it is clear from this passage that some of these groups were quite large with 50 people mentioned at Jericho.  Now we do see a resurgence of the idea of a “school of prophets” today.  People will take classes and learn how to be a prophet.  We do need to be careful with this idea.  Not everyone who served the prophets became prophets themselves.  A person could not call themselves to be a prophet by just showing up.  To be a prophet was made clear by the fact that God was clearly speaking to them and through them.  Thus it might seem cool to be a prophet, but going to a school or hanging out with a prophet does not necessarily make you one.  This is up to God.  Even then, even those with the calling of becoming a prophet, and who will become people of great faith, need to learn and grow in the area of hearing God and representing Him.  

Now we see Elijah going from town to town.  In each town he tries to get Elisha to stay there while he goes on.  Now this could be seen as Elijah wanting privacy in this intimate time of his life.  However, it is more than likely that Elijah is testing Elisha, in order to see if he will stay the course.  It is important in life to do more than just want to do something.  We must also learn to follow through.  Of course, it is important what your target is, and Elisha desires a good thing: to be with Elijah when he is taken by the Lord.  Sometimes God does not give us what we want immediately to see if we will persist.

When Elijah and Elisha get to the Jordan River, we are told that 50 sons of the prophets are watching in the distance.  At this point, Elijah performs an amazing miracle, he strikes the river with his rolled up mantle and it parts in two that he and Elisha can walk through on the ground.  Why would God instruct Elijah to do this?  It is not like they couldn’t cross at the fords.  One thing to see here is that it will give credence to the fantastic story that Elisha will tell when he gets back.  Second of all, it will demonstrate that the power of God that was with Elijah has not left.  It is now with Elisha.  But more on that later.  

Suffice it to say that this miracle of parting the waters is a signature act of God.  The Jordan River was parted three times: by Joshua, by Elijah here, and as we will soon read by Elisha.  We also see in the Bible that Moses parted the Red Sea so that all of Israel could escape from the armies of Pharaoh.  Why all this parting of water?  It harkens back to the creation account where we are told that God separates the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.  It is a way of God saying, “I’m here!”

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what last thing he can do for him before he leaves.  Here Elisha asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Many teachers have made a big deal about Elisha performing exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah.  That may be true.  However, Elisha is not asking to do twice as many miracles or to be twice as powerful as Elijah.  A double-portion is terminology that goes with matters of inheritance.  Elijah is about to be taken from the earth.  Typically one would put their affairs in order and have a will to bequeath all their effects to their inheritors.  In Israel the estate would be divided between the sons in a way where the eldest would receive two portions compared to the other brothers.  For example, if there were three sons then the estate would be divided into 4 parts.  The eldest would get two (50%) and each of the other brothers would get 1 part (25%).  This was a picture of the blessing of God upon the eldest who would now be taking the place of the family patriarch.  Elisha is not worried about getting a material inheritance because Elijah did not amass any estate in this life.  What Elisha wants is a spiritual inheritance, and is essentially asking to take Elijah’s place, or to be used by God in the same way.  IT is interesting that God has given His Spirit to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  As Elisha looked to Elijah, the man of God, and hoped to have the same Spirit, so we must learn to look to Jesus and ask the Father that the Spirit of Christ would rest upon us and empower us for what we need in order to face this life.  May we become the spiritual inheritors of Christ.  In fact, in Christ we can all inherit a “double-portion” of His Spirit.

At some point as they are talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses speeds between the two, separating them.  Then Elijah is caught up by a whirlwind that supposedly is in the wake of the chariot.  What Elisha actually saw is not told to us, we simply have his description of what it looked like.  Regardless, we see Elijah ascending into heaven in a fiery whirlwind.  This is not quite as grand and majestic as the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1.  But it is amazing, nonetheless.

I mentioned in the opening that Elijah and Enoch are unique in the Old Testament in that it is not said that they died, and that they do not go into the grave, but up towards heaven.  In fact Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Enoch did not see death.  This raises all sorts of questions.  Is it possible for a material being to be in heaven?  Isn’t it supposed to be a place for spirits only?  Well, Jesus has a material body and He is seated at the right hand of God.  I know that his is a glorified body, but I want us to see that there is much we do not understand about the physics of the material world and the spiritual world.  Because these two men of the Old Testament do not see death, and Malachi prophesies that Elijah will return before the coming of the Messiah, some have speculated that perhaps they are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.  We don’t have time to go into this today.  However, I would just say that it is clear that we are leaving the strong foundation of biblical witness and crawling out on the thin limb of speculation or opinion, at this point.  Regardless, of the full extent of its implications, the ascension of Elijah gives the righteous the hope that we too shall dwell with God by His mighty power.

Elisha begins his new ministry

As Elijah is taken up into heaven, we see the shock and amazement of Elisha as he cries out, “My father, my father, the chariot and the horsemen of Israel.”  Father here is a metaphorical term of endearment that is the complement to “son of the prophet.”  This spiritual chariot and horsemen convinced Elisha that the real defenses and protection of Israel came from God Himself.  In 2 Kings 2:6, Elisha and his servant Gehazi will be surrounded by the king of Syria.  We are told that Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servants eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  We must never look to the things of this world as our true defenses and help.  It is God’s spiritual defense and help that is our true source.

Elijah’s mantle had fallen to the ground as he was snatched up.  A mantle was often designed in such a way that was indicative of both the profession a person had, and the individual themselves.  Thus Elisha taking up the mantle of Elijah is symbolic of him stepping into the shoes of Elijah.  God would now work powerfully through Elisha as He had with Elijah.  This is how it has always been in God’s kingdom.  Those who have gone before must train and disciple those who are coming behind.  At some point the older generation passes on and the younger generation must step into their shoes, and carry on the work of the Lord.  Not all are called to be prophets as Elijah and Elisha were.  However, there is a calling on our life which asks us to pick up a mantle that has been left behind.  We must learn to bravely pick up the mantle of what God calls us to do, not because we are confident in ourselves, but because we trust the God who is calling us.

As Elisha comes back to the Jordan River, he cries out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”  In the mouth of a foreign warlord, this would be seen as a mocking question.  But in Elisha’s mouth it is simply asking, “God are you still with us and in particular me?”  It is also important for the sons of the prophets who see Elisha coming back.  The question, and God’s response will highlight in their mind that God is with Elisha like He was with Elijah.  Did they ever get a show that day.  When Elisha strikes the river, it parts again (twice in one day).  They witness that the spirit of Elijah was on Elisha.  That spirit is the Holy Spirit of God.  May God help us to see what He is calling us to do.  In a way we are all prophets.  We have been given a message from God to share with all those around us who do not know it.  We must learn to trust Him to give us direction and empower us to do it.  Thus each day is a new day to rise up and ask, “God are you still with me?  Help me to walk with you today as long as I have time left on this earth.”

God's Judgement II audio

Monday
Feb192018

Folly or Wisdom? Part I

1 Kings 22:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 18, 2018.

The book of proverbs in the bible is famous for its sayings which warn people to avoid folly and choose wisdom.  Of course the Way of the Lord is always presented as the path of wisdom, and all the ways invented by mankind besides it are presented as the paths of folly.  So, how does wisdom fit in with the New Testament’s emphasis on love?  We will find in this chapter a help in this matter.  Here we find that a person can love God and their fellow man, and yet, make foolish choices.  Foolish choices lead to folly and folly eventually leads to destruction in one form or another.

It can be easy to think that because one has put their faith in Jesus, and have whole-heartedly pursued a love of God and your neighbor, that somehow we would be insulated from making foolish choices.  However, this is not true.  To choose to believe in Jesus and follow Him as your master is the wisest thing you will ever do.  Yet, every choice we face is a test, even if we have strung together a long streak of wise choices.  That said, if love for God and our neighbor is the foundation on which we build, then wisdom is how and what we build on top of that foundation.  May God help us all to be wise followers of Jesus.

A righteous person can act foolishly

As we open this chapter we will find three main characters and three cities that are important in our understanding.  Jehoshaphat is the King of Judah who reigns in Jerusalem.  He has gone north to visit with King Ahab of Northern Israel who reigns in Samaria.  These two kings couldn’t be more different.  Jehoshaphat is described as a righteous king who led his people to worship the God of Israel, and the God of Israel was with him. However, Ahab is described as a wicked king who led his people to worship the Canaanite god Baal, and God was against him.  In fact Ahab has been told by Elijah the prophet that he is under a decree of death from the God of Israel.  Thus, during Jehoshaphat’s visit with Ahab in Samaria, Ahab brings up a city called Ramoth in the Gilead region.  This was on the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley and up on the plains above it.  This city had served as one of Israel’s cities of refuge that belonged to the Levites.  Ben Hadad of Syria had captured it at some point and had not returned it, even though he had been twice defeated by Israel (see 1 Kings 20).  Ahab wants Jehoshaphat to join forces with him and take it back.  Now our last character is the prophet of the Lord, Micaiah.  We know very little of this individual except what is revealed in this chapter.  Though it is not specifically stated, it seems that Ahab may have had him imprisoned within Samaria before this event because of his command in verse 26 to have Micaiah “taken back” to the governor of Samaria in order to be imprisoned.  Regardless, Micaiah is a righteous follower of the God of Israel and will prove to be wise.

Ultimately this chapter is about the folly of people in the face of God’s continued gracious appeal to turn from it.  Ahab’s folly is that of a wicked person who has chosen to be an enemy of God.  All his false prophets can be lumped into that category along with him.  Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, is a righteous person who wants so badly to fix things that he makes foolish choices, instead of trusting in the Lord’s wisdom in regard to actions and timing.  Lastly we see all the soldiers who go along with the folly of their leaders for varying reasons.  Some agree with the king, some are ambivalent, and some no doubt only do so out of fear.  Citizens generally suffer from the folly of their leaders decisions and are blessed by their wisdom.

For our purposes we will focus on Jehoshaphat.  When propositioned by Ahab to join forces, he is quick to agree.  This speedy agreement, no doubt, comes from a good heart.  He hates to see the once united nation of Israel divided and fighting each other.  He thinks his good will and alliance with Ahab will make unity and heal the breach.  In fact, in later chapters we find that Jehoshaphat had strengthened this alliance by having his son Jehoram marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah.  This is the same Athaliah who nearly killed the whole royal line of David.  If not for God’s mercy to have the infant Joash hidden from her, she would have succeeded in usurping the Davidic throne and God’s promises to David.  I am sure that Jehoshaphat also hates to see the enemies of God ruling over a city of Israel.  Though he has righteous intentions, Jehoshaphat does not recognize that he is allying with a wicked man whom God is planning to have killed.  To join together with such a person is to put yourself in the crosshairs.  You do not want to be in league with a wicked person when God decides to bring them down.

It may be good to stop and think about how we can be guilty of this today.  Many in the Church of God who want to see unity among the denominations and acceptance within the culture will make love and unity their rally cry.  There is nothing wrong with having these things at the heart of our actions and speech.  However, as we see in this story, it is never good to ally ourselves with people who are at odds with God and His Anointed, Jesus.  There is a proper timing and a proper way to healing the breaches that have happened in our nation and society.  In our zeal to “fix things” we can make foolish choices that lead to further harm.  May God help us to lean only upon His wisdom and wait for His timing, rather than rushing ahead with people who are under the judgment of God.

To his credit, Jehoshaphat asks Ahab to inquire of the God of Israel in verse 5.  At the end of the day this is a wise thing to do and could have been the very thing that saved him from his own naiveté.  But we will deal with that later.  Ahab calls forward 400 prophets who begin prophesying that if they go to battle they will win.  These prophets are clearly not prophets of the God of Israel because Jehoshaphat immediately asks if there isn’t a prophet of the God of Israel.  These are either prophets of Baal or Asherah or both.  It is difficult to tell if Ahab was trying to present them as prophets of the God of Israel, but this is highly probable.  Ahab knows that Jehoshaphat only serves the God of Israel.  Regardless of how Jehoshaphat knows (most likely their demeanor smacked of paganism), he has a big “red flag” moment in his heart.  He knows that these 400 prophets do not represent the message of the God of Israel.  So why not tell Ahab you are not interested in going to battle?  Perhaps he is in too deep and doesn’t want to mess up the good-will that he has obtained with Ahab.  Thus Jehoshaphat disregards a huge red flag and pushes on trying to find a justification to help Ahab.

When Jehoshaphat asks Ahab if there isn’t still a prophet of the God of Israel available, Ahab answers that there is one (notice he doesn’t bring up Elijah).  However, Ahab says that he hates the prophet because he never has anything good to say about Ahab.  Now, a prophet’s job is not to make the king feel good about himself, but rather to tell him the truth.  The prophets of the God of Israel were not enemies of Ahab.  They only told him the truth.  It was his obstinate insistence to reject their words that had led to his death decree.  Jehoshaphat recognizes how dangerous Ahab’s statement is.  To say that you hate a true prophet of God is to hate God.    Though he softly rebukes Ahab, he disregards another huge red flag telling him that he is on the wrong path.

A righteous person can act wisely

As Jehoshaphat and Ahab wait for Micaiah to be summoned, we are told that the false prophets continue to do their prophesying.  One particular false prophet named Zedekiah has fashioned some iron horns for himself as a prophetic prop.  He proclaims that with these two iron horns Israel will gore the Syrians.  In Israel horns were used symbolically of a king and his kingdom.  Thus the two horns are Ahab and Jehoshaphat.

Meanwhile some officer is bringing Micaiah to the Kings and clearly applies some social pressure to him.  He tells Micaiah that 400 prophets are telling the kings that they will be successful and that he should agree with them.   Such social pressure to support the public policy of the king, or the current leaders, is the folly of many a government.  Yes-men never help a leader, but rather fail their duty to fully inform and counsel them.  We see this same dynamic within our own politics and within the culture of our society.  Often believers in Jesus are pressured to speak and act in a socially acceptable way because so many are already going along with it.  Yet, Micaiah is a righteous man who wisely refuses to bow to such pressures.  He states that he will only speak what the Lord tells him to speak.  This sounds familiar with the words of Jesus in John 12:49 (and in many other places), “For I [Jesus] have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”  He also mentions that He only does what He has been told by His Father.  Is this my resolve?  Imagine how different the response of the churches in our land would be if they all followed the path of Micaiah, and ultimately that of Jesus.  Is my resolve to only speak and do what God wants me to speak and do? 

When Micaiah is finally brought before the kings, it may seem strange that he actually does tell Ahab that he will be successful.  But, it is clear in the context that he is being sarcastic.  Ahab immediately adjures him to tell the truth.  I do not believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm presents any ethical problem.  It is clear that he and Ahab have a history wherein Ahab has continually disregarded the word of the Lord from Micaiah.  Thus when Ahab asks for the truth, he is not really asking for truth so that he can obey the Lord.  Ahab will go to war regardless of what Micaiah has to say.  Instead Ahab sees Micaiah as a source of “spiritual chatter.”  He wants to know what the prophets of Yahweh have to say.  Perhaps he can glean enough information to prevent what they are predicting.  All of this is happening in front of Jehoshaphat and should be even another red flag to him.    I believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm actually highlights the hypocrisy of Ahab.  He has never really wanted the truth because he has always embraced the lie of Baal and his religion.

Of course Micaiah then tells the kings what he saw in a vision.  His words are worth noting.  “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd.”  These are similar of the words Matthew used in Matthew 9:36.  “But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”  This metaphor of sheep without a shepherd is used throughout the Bible.  Moses used this metaphor when God told him it was time for him to die.  In Numbers 21:17 Moses asks God to appoint another leader so that Israel would not be like sheep without a shepherd.  In other words they would be vulnerable to the world around them without strong, godly leadership.  David used it in Psalm 23 to declare, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Of course Jesus used description of the good shepherd for himself.  In Ezekiel 34:12 the Lord says, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”  Lastly, in Zechariah 10:2 God says, “The idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain.  Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd.”

Even with Ahab as their king, Israel has been without a true shepherd for years because Ahab is a false shepherd who only cares about himself.  His actions are only leading to a scattering of the sheep both physically and spiritually.  Yet, God has promised to regather His sheep who have been scattered.  Today, Christians are a part of God’s work of regathering the sheep.  However, it is not just the lost sheep of Israel, but of the whole world.  In the midst of God’s regathering process we must be wise and lean upon the wisdom of the Lord rather than our own.  Yes, God so loves the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.  However, no amount of false unity and pretending that the wicked are not in danger will save them.  Only the truth sets us free.  Let’s be righteous people who choose wisely rather than being led into folly.

Folly or Wisdom audio

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
Dec262017

He Shall Be Called Emmanuel

Matthew 1:18-25.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 24, 2017.

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

Today we are going to look at a passage in Matthew regarding the birth of Jesus.  His name tells us something about him through its meaning- the salvation of God.  Christians look to Jesus as God’s answer to their problems and those of the world.  No matter what is ailing you today, or bothering you about the world, God’s word tells us that Jesus has an answer for it. 

Yet, as we will see today, He is also called Immanuel, which means God with us.  Thus, no matter how alone we may feel today, whether Christian or not, God is as close as the mention of His name.  When we read the Scriptures about Jesus, we are being introduced to the one who is God’s presence with us, both personally and as a world.  I encourage you to not see just a story of peace and good times.  We must also recognize that it is a story of an answer from God that involves His presence with us in the midst of our difficulties and even our own failures.  Jesus is God with us, even when we don’t recognize him, or even when we think he is absent, or even when we may think that we have failed him completely.  Today we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World, who is still with us, even though we may feel abandoned.

The Birth of Jesus

Jesus was born at a particular point in time.  His life was so monumental that much of the world has used his birth in their system of dating time.  Thus B.C. came to mean “before Christ” and A.D. is from a Latin phrase that is short for “in the year of our Lord.”  Lately it has become vogue and even proper within the sciences to use B.C.E. for “Before the Common Era” and C.E. for the “Common Era.”  Of course they still switch at a date that is roughly the birth of Jesus. [Note: There has been much study on exactly what year Jesus was born and many believing that Jesus may have been several years old at 1 A.D.  Regardless, for our purposes it is still pertinent to the point.]  Think of it, it is a blatant fact that the Jewish man named Jesus from the first century C.E./A.D. has impossibly affected this world.

So our story picks up with a crisis that has to do with two people who have been betrothed to each other, but not yet married.  Mary has become pregnant and her only explanation to Joseph is that an angel appeared to her and told her that she would become pregnant with a child by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.  Now it is easy to scoff at such a story.  Joseph did not immediately believe her, and neither did the society around her.  The Gospels record some harsh digs made towards Jesus by the Pharisees.  They saw him as an illegitimate child.  So this is not a problem that those backwards ancient people were easily duped because they didn’t understand science.  Everyone knew that if a girl is pregnant then there has been sperm inserted in her by a man.  Now if Jesus had grown up to be just a normal Jewish man then nothing more would have been said.  However, Jesus did not grow up to be a normal man.  Instead he became such an amazing figure that the whole world is marked by his life today.  So we can’t just toss this aside as mythology or propaganda.

Chastity has been a big issue in most cultures throughout history.  It appears that Mary has been unfaithful and Joseph is struggling over how to break off the marriage without doing too much harm to Mary.  Now our culture has gone from being one that prized chastity before marriage and fidelity during it, to tossing both into the garbage bin.  This culture encourages our sons and daughters to be promiscuous and faithful only to themselves and their own desire for pleasure.  If Mary were in our day, our society would tell her to go to the nearest Planned Parenthood Clinic and get an abortion.  This child will ruin your life if you have it.  But Mary is not a modern woman who is pregnant because of some guy she met in the market.  She was a virgin who had abstained from sex and was saving herself for her husband to be, Joseph.  Her pregnancy creates a problem for her, people will see her as unfaithful, but it also creates a problem for Joseph.  If he doesn’t break off the marriage people will see it as an admission of guilt, i.e. Mary and he had been sexually active before the wedding.  In such a situation you can imagine Mary telling God that it wasn’t fair.  However, previously Mary had stated to the angel, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be unto me as you have said.”  No difficulty is too great if it is done for the Lord’s purposes.   As I said, in our culture this used to be a big thing.  However, it is probably hard for us to understand just how difficult a crisis this was.  Joseph doesn’t want to publicly humiliate Mary, but for his own honor, he must break off the marriage. 

Just as God had a job for Mary, so God has a job for Joseph.   An Angel appears to him in a dream, verifies Mary’s story, tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife, and to name the baby, Jesus.  The term angel is used in the bible in several ways.  It basically means messenger, whether human or heavenly.  So the context will determine which is intended.  It is easy to read the Bible and to think that angels were showing up all the time.  However, the truth is that they were few and far between.  But, at special times their activity would increase.  This was one of those special times.

Sometimes people make a big deal out of how the name Jesus should be printed and said.  Some say it must be the original version in Aramaic or a Hebrew equivalent, such as Yeshua.  Some will even claim that to use any name but some ancient form of Yeshua is the same as calling on a false God.  However, this just doesn’t make sense.  It is common throughout history and even today to recognize that names change from language to language.  Sometimes names are simply transliterated.  This is where you go sound by sound and choose which target-language letter mimics it closest.  However, this sometimes creates a name that is weird or strange sounding in the new language.  So it can also be translated.  The meaning in the first language is brought over into the new language and a new name is created.  The name Jesus in English has been transliterated from the Hebrew to Greek and then into English.  It is basically a transliteration with a modified ending to make it more Greek (and then eventually English).  Even the Hebrews in the Scriptures would use Hebraicized forms of the names from other countries.  It seems an overly dogmatic point to try and state that if you pray in the name of Jesus, that God will reject you.  He knows all along that who you are praying to and who you mean when you use that name.  Jesus is the one who is God’s salvation/solution for the world.  As Mary was a righteous girl asked to do something that would cause tongues to wag all over town, so too, Joseph is a righteous man who is asked to come alongside of her in this endeavor.  This is all because God needed to send a savior into the world.

In verses 22-25 we drop out of the story and Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus, explains the critical importance of all of this.  The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy and it becomes an important teaching or doctrine of all of his followers.  The prophets of the Old Testament had often pointed forward to a coming savior or Messiah, who would be God’s solution to the crisis of mankind’s rebellion against Him.  Our outline today speaks of Mary and Joseph’s crisis and God’s solution.  But it is parallel to a greater crisis of mankind’s rebellion and God’s solution.  We were created in perfect relationship with God until the crisis of sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).  God initially tells them that He has a plan to solve this crisis, and slowly over the course of many years He reveals more and more what that solution will be.  Some have counted as many as 353 different prophecies regarding the first coming of Jesus.  Of course it comes down to how you count a prophecy.  Here is a link to a website that breaks it up by each individual new fact that is prophesied in the Old Testament and then gives the fulfillment in the New Testament.  Now the statistical chances of one person fulfilling 353 different prophecies are so close to zero that we can say it is nigh impossible.   Yet, Jesus did.  But here Matthew only points to one prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  This prophecy says that a virgin would give birth to a son as a sign that God was going to help those who would trust Him.  In that prophecy, however, the baby is to be called Emmanuel.  Now the Old Testament spells it Immanuel.  This is the difference in the Hebrew spelling versus the Greek spelling.  So it refers to the same name.  The meaning of Emmanuel is “God is with us.”

Such a name brings to attention the ancient problem of the nearness of God.  In the technical sense God is omnipresent and thus always near even the worst of sinners.  He is everywhere at once because He is not a part of this material creation.  But don’t think that means He can’t interact with the universe.  Yet, when mankind rebelled against God, it created a relational separation.  The fractured relationship is what causes us to feel that He is so far away that He might as well not exist.  The name Emmanuel is intended to give the hope that God is fixing this separation in our relationship through Jesus.   On one hand Jesus is divine and thus “God with us.”  He came down from heaven and entered a human body that was especially made for Him to inhabit.  I won’t get into the complexities of what that could have looked like.  So in Jesus, God has come down to Earth in order to help us.  Now, most religions, whether false religions or Christian cults, are man’s attempt to be good enough.  Somehow they teach men how to climb up Mt. Olympus and take their place among the gods.  Like some kind of spiritual Hercules we hope to make it.  However, true Christianity recognizes that no one is good enough to climb into the heavens.  God’s solution is not to save the greatest of mankind, who can climb into His presence.  His plan is to come down to us, into the muck and the mire of the trenches in which we live.  He comes down into the ugliness of sin and lifts us up out of it one day at a time.  This emphasizes the other hand.  Yes, Jesus is divine, but He has come down to our level, “God with us.”  God wants to dwell with mankind, but in our rebellious condition He can’t.  So isn’t it ironic that Jesus, who is called Emmanuel, has ascended into heaven and we wait for Him again?  You have to see God as an artist to appreciate this touch.  Yes, Jesus is no longer physically near us.  But, He is near us through the Holy Spirit.  Just as the prophecy of His first coming was fulfilled, so the prophecies of His second coming will be fulfilled.  However, now we have the reality of Emmanuel and the countless thousands who saw his life and death.  Then we also see the reality of over 500 witnesses to His resurrection.  The testimony that has been given to us is that, regardless of how much it feels that God has abandoned us, or is far, far away, God is with us!  The birth of Jesus forever vanquishes the horrible thought that we might have been abandoned, and replaces it with the awe inspiring Truth that God will see us through.  This is the amazing gift of Jesus to mankind.  He is proof that God is with us and He is the One who has taken away the sins that have separated us from God.  Amen!