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Entries in Repentance (19)

Tuesday
Aug202019

So Send I You

Mark 6:7-13.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, August 18, 2019.

Today, our passage involves Jesus sending his twelve disciples out on a mission.  If his words before his ascension in Matthew 28:18-20 are to be called The Great Commission then our story today should be called the Small Commission.  It involves them going out only to the towns of Israel and preaching to them.  Perhaps Jesus saw this as a trial run for the greater mission that he would give them later.

Our title for this sermon comes from John 20:21. There Jesus tells his disciples, “Peace to you!  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (NKJV)  Everything that Jesus is doing with them throughout Israel is leading up to that point when he will go back to Heaven and the Apostles will need to take the Gospel to the nations of the world.  This would not be an easy task and it would be filled with many difficulties and trials.  Yet, it would also be filled with many joys.

There is a hymn that was published in 1954 and written by a Canadian woman named E. Margaret Clarkson.  She grew up in Toronto in the 1920’s.  In the 1930’s when she came of age, jobs were hard to come by in Toronto.  This led to her going into the far north of Ontario to become a teacher in the logging and mining camps.  Here are some quotes from her concerning her time there. 

“I experienced deep loneliness of every kind-mental, cultural, and particularly, spiritual- I found no Bible-teaching church fellowship, and only one or two isolated Christians, in those years.  Studying the Word one night and thinking of the loneliness of my situation, I came to John 20, and the words, ‘So send I you.’  Because of a physical disability, I could never go to the mission field, and this was where He had sent me.  I had written verse all my life, so it was natural for me to express my thoughts in poem.  Some years later [in 1963-after more life-experience and contact with real missionaries] I realized that the poem was really, very one-sided; it told only of the sorrows and privations of the missionary call and none of its triumphs.  I wrote another song in the same rhythm, so that verses could be used interchangeably, setting forth the glory and the hope of the missionary calling.”    (from https://propempo.com/story-behind-so-send-i-you-margaret-clarkson/)

This second version was published in 1963 as Margaret felt, if choosing between the two, the second one was the more biblical.  Here are the first stanzas of each version.

So send I you to labor unrewarded, to serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown, to bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing, to send I you, to toil for Me alone.

So send I you, by grace made strong to triumph, o’er hosts of hell, o’er darkness, death and sin, My name to bear and in that name to conquer, so send I you, My Victory to win.

Of course, singing nine verses (the first version has 5 and the second has 4) would not fly in very many churches today.  However, the words of this hymn are of great value and worth looking up.  It teaches us to count the cost and also the rewards of going forth for Jesus.

The greatest rewards for taking up the task that Jesus gives to his Church are yet to be had.  In this life, these things are bitter sweet, but once our work is done, and we have reached the end of our race, we shall enter into the full rewards of our labors on this earth.

Jesus sends The Twelve on a mission

Mark’s version of this passage, again, is very short on details.  If you read Matthew 10:1-15, you will see that Jesus limits them to going only to the towns and cities of what he calls “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  This did not include Samaria, which was an area of Israel that had mixed with Gentiles in marriage and in religion.

We are told that Jesus sends them out in pairs.  Thus, we would have 6 pairs of two disciples heading out to different parts of Israel.  This was not to keep an eye on each other, but rather because, “Two are better than one.”  Like Adam in life, it was not good for them to be alone in ministry.  They could keep each other encouraged in the difficult times and supply gifts where the other fell short.

It is interesting that this same phrase, two by two, occurs in the Noah’s Ark passage.  There the animals are brought into the ark in pairs, two by two.  That passage is unclear as to whether Noah is rounding them up, or if God’s Spirit is drawing them into the ark.  Regardless, in our passage the disciples are going out in pairs to call people to enter the ark of God, Jesus.  If comparing the ark to Jesus is a foreign concept to you then think of it in this way.  Just as Noah’s family were protected from the judgment of the ancient world by getting into the ark, so those who come inside of Jesus by putting their faith in him will be protected from the coming judgment of fire that has been promised to the whole earth.

We are also told that Jesus gives them authority over unclean spirits.  The word “authority” is sometimes translated as power.  However, the word properly means authority, and of course authority always has an involvement with power.  Regarding the unclean spirits, we have touched on this earlier.  This phrase is more of a description than a title.  Verse 13 helps us to see that the phrase is synonymous with “demons.”

It is sad to think that God’s people had become spiritually captured and plundered.  Everywhere Jesus and his disciples went in Israel, they encountered demon-possessed people.  I will remind us that people are not easily possessed.  It occurs when people dabble with false religions and the occult arts.  By listening to the teachings of demons, people give permission to those unclean, defiling spirits in their life.  You cannot surrender authority in your life without becoming a slave, and such was the case of many in Israel. 

No doubt, America has not seen as much activity in this area because of our Gospel foundation in Christ.  However, today it is becoming more and more prevalent for people to pursue the occult arts, and spiritual teachings of all sorts, which opens them up to such possession.  We will see more and more of this in our society, even though secular society will never call it demon-possession.

As a Christian, we need to recognize that such things are very real.  We must learn to stand on our own two spiritual-feet, and in the same authority that Jesus gave to his disciples then, proclaim the gospel and command unclean spirits to leave.  We need not fear any evil when we are on the side of Christ.  However, no one should approach these matters lightly and proudly.

Jesus also limits what provisions they can take with them on the journey.  They were to take only a staff, sandals, and one tunic (no bag, no food, no money, and no extra clothing).  Clearly, Jesus is putting them in a position that is more dire than it really was.  They had these things, but could not take them along.  Why?  The most logical reason homes in on the reality that Jesus is their teacher and they are the students, master and disciples.  So, at its foundation it is about them learning something by taking no extra provisions.  In such a situation, they will need to trust God to provide for them.  If God sends you on a mission then he will provide for you.  This is not just true in ministry, but in life as well.  All Christians are on a mission from God and he promises to take care of our needs, if we will put his kingdom first.  Of course, faith in God’s provision is easier said than done.  This will prepare them for times in the future when they will not be in their current state of being full of provisions. 

It is worth noting that Jesus does reverse these limitations later and allows them to take provisions.  The point is not that we should purposefully test God in this matter, but that we can trust him to help us in whatever we lack.  They are not testing God. They are responding to a command of the Lord.  Perhaps in this country of plenty our level of needing to trust in God for our provisions is very anemic.  However, Christians all around the world, both today and throughout history, have had to trust that God would provide for them.  Instead of falling into the habit of complaining and grumbling against God, they learned to pray, work hard, and trust God to provide.

The last part of the instructions of Jesus have to do with how they should conduct themselves among the towns of Israel.  This part will make more sense if you read the Matthew 10 passage.  Basically, they were to go to a town and publicly proclaim the Gospel.  If no one received them then they were to leave the town and go to the next.  Jesus tells them to shake the dust off of their feet in such a case.  This is interesting because it was the common practice of religious Jews to shake the dust off of their feet when leaving a Gentile city.  It was a symbolic way of saying that you are not going to take any part of that city with you because it is defiled.  Here they receive a bit of their own medicine.  If you are going to reject the Gospel and its ministers then the very dust of your city will become a witness, or evidence that they came and offered you grace.  In fact, Jesus says that those cities that reject his disciples with the Gospel message will have a more difficult judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah because they had a far less powerful and enlightening ministry from Lot.

If they are received positively and someone welcomes them into their home then they are to stay with them and let them care for their physical needs.  We don’t know if they were instructed to stay for a certain period, or if they had a certain amount of time to reach a particular list of cities.  Regardless, they would go from one town to the next proclaiming the Gospel.

The Twelve perform their task

In verse 12, the disciples take off to do what Jesus has instructed.  They leave Jesus behind and go in pairs to different parts of Israel.  In our passage, we are told that they preached, or proclaimed, that people should repent.  In Matthew they are told to proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  This reminds us of the message that the Bible says Jesus preached from the beginning, “Repent because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  The kingdom did not fully arrive in the first century.  It came in spiritually, but awaits the judgment in order to come in physically and politically.  Thus, the whole world is in the same position as the first century, and we need to preach the same message. 

The word for repentance here means to “change one’s mind.”  The people of Israel were supposed to be a people who lived for God and his purposes, but they had become a people living for themselves and for their own purposes.  Their mindset led to lifestyles and bondages that were never God’s intention for them or humanity.  The biggest leverage to getting them to change their mind is the warning that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

God’s prophets had promised a time when God would send his anointed king who would heal Israel and rule over all the earth.  If Messiah (from the Hebrew word for “anointed”) the king was to be in Israel in their days then they would want to change their lives and get ready for his presence.  If I truly change my mind on a matter then it will truly change how I live.  Another term in the Bible that is used for repentance is the concept of turning.  When I am driving in the wrong direction, I need a change of mind before I am ever going to turn around and go in the right direction.  Let’s be clear.  Most people in America, and in this world, are going in the wrong direction.  Even many who claim to be Christians are simply placing a label on their life, but not really living for Christ and his purposes.  May God help us to daily change our minds and turn towards his path, rather than our own.  May he help us to turn from our tendency for the self-led life, and to embrace the Holy Spirit-led life.

As the disciples went into the cities, we are told that they cast out many demons.  The delegated authority that Jesus gave to them was recognized by these unclean spirits.  The key here is not a mantra or ritual for casting them out.  The key is that they had an authentic relationship with Jesus and he has authorized them to have authority over these spirits.  Yet, it is not just The Twelve.  Luke 10:19 is a place where Jesus talks to a larger group of disciples called The Seventy, who also are told they will have power over these unclean spirits (serpents and scorpions are metaphors for these unclean spirits).  Also, in Romans 16:20, Paul expected that God would soon crush Satan (and his operators) underneath the Christians in Rome.  Yet, we cannot merely declare authority over such spirits if we are not in true relationship with Jesus.  It is his power they fear and obey, not mine.

We are also told that the disciples anointed the sick with oil and healed them just as Jesus did.  It must have been something for Israel, who was still reeling from Jesus going everywhere healing and casting out spirits, to see his disciples doing the same all by themselves.  O, how God loves to take the weak and lowly, and lift them up to take the place of the great and mighty.

So, why did they use oil?  The purpose of the oil is to be a symbol of God’s Spirit and also an aid to faith.  In the end, people were being restored by Galilean fishermen, or a tax collector, or a zealot, etc.

You and I are not called to become Apostles of Jesus in order to lay down the faith once and for all for Christ’s Church.  However, we carry the same Gospel into whatever scope of ministry that he gives us.  Whatever sphere he gives us, as a friend, co-worker, spouse, relative, parent etc., we must be faithful to share Christ in words and deed, so that people can believe on him and have a place in his kingdom, both now and in the future.  All believers are called to be proclaimers of the Gospel, and may God help us to warn people to change their minds because the next phase of the Kingdom of God is at hand!

So Send Audio

Tuesday
Feb192019

Jesus Begins to Minister

Mark 1:14-20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 17, 2019.

Last week, we saw Jesus preparing to minister to the people of Israel.  In the passage before us today, he begins. 

The preaching of Jesus

The first thing that we see is not miracles and wondrous signs.  Rather, we see Jesus proclaiming or preaching to the people.  Mark focuses on the natural transition point of John the Baptist being imprisoned as when Jesus entered Galilee to minister.

It is important to recognize that throughout the Bible we see that people generally resist a true prophet of the Lord who comes speaking the truth of God.  This general resistance can be overcome.  However, we should recognize its prevalence.  An underlying theme throughout all of this is that God’s Word/Voice cannot be silenced.  If one is imprisoned then another will speak forth.  If one is killed then another will take their place.  It is not just a secular thing.  This world, both secular and religious, often operates in a way to try and silence what the Spirit of God is doing through those who listen to Him.  It hates the fact that they march to the beat of a different drummer.  It hates the message that there is something wrong with it.  It hates the message that people need to turn back to the ways of God because they already feel that they have the truth.  This silencing is sometimes with brute force, imprisonments, and violence.  However, it is sometimes with propaganda, narrative-control, disinformation, and manipulative and seductive memes.

In whatever way this world tries to marginalize the true work of the Spirit of God, it cannot stop what the Spirit is doing.  Those imprisoned just preach to their captives and demonstrate the value of God.  Those who are killed are replaced by others who may be even more powerful than they.  God’s Word cannot be silenced because it is empowered by God Himself.  In another way we can say that it cannot be silenced because it represents real reality, which no one can run from very long without running smack into its stubborn existence.

We must understand this about Christianity.  It is not the institutional trappings that Christ is promoting.  Though it may look like the world is winning, we must understand that we are on the side of the God of the universe.  He will not fail, and I must do my part, whatever it may come to be.  John the Baptist probably did not envision imprisonment and later death (Mark 6), but that is what was asked of Him by the Lord.

Thus the preaching of Jesus comes on the heels of one of the greatest preachers/prophets that Israel had seen in a long time.  Now let’s look at what this preaching proclaimed.

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.  All of the Gospels emphasize several things about the teaching of Jesus.  At its core, He was proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God was drawing close.  This had been the hope of Israel for over 1400 years, obtaining more and more information from God’s prophets regarding what that would look like along the way.  For the previous 500 years they had specifically suffered under the imperial rule of the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, which still ruled over them in the days of Jesus.  The faithful still waited and hoped for God’s Anointed man (Messiah is the Hebrew word for Anointed One) who would judge the nations and rule over the world from Jerusalem.  When would this wait ever end?  John the Baptist had shocked the nation with his insistence that he was a forerunner to the Messiah.  He told them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.  Thus Jesus tells them the good news that the Kingdom was drawing close.  The long wait was coming to an end!

In fact, Jesus uses a phrase that the time was fulfilled or completed.  God had determined a particular time in history for the Anointed One to come forth.  Their long wait was done and the transition time was upon them.  Of course, things did not go the direction they all hoped it would go.  We now know that there are two phases to this Kingdom’s arrival on earth.  The first phase focused on spiritually changing those who would be its citizens.  It is a time of invitation and grace.  In this phase Christ rules from heaven over the hearts of those who believe in Him as the number of believers/citizens increases.  The second phase, which will occur at the Second Coming of Christ, is taking up of political control of the earth and removing the wicked leadership of the nations (which will only grow worse and worse).  This is often referred to as the Day of the Lord and as the Judgment of the Nations by the God of heaven.

Believers today live in this strange period where the Kingdom of God is now, but also not yet.  Though we may long for the coming of Christ and His rule upon the earth, we are still in the day of God’s invitation and grace to the people of this world.  Anyone, who so desires, can become a part of God’s Kingdom.  Thus it is important for current believers to keep their hands on the plow and keep working to share the invitation while there is still time.

Like any kingdom, the king has rules as to how one becomes a citizen.  Yes, any who so desired could come forward, but they were called upon to repent and believe in the gospel.  The need for a person to repent literally means to change your mind, or your way of thinking.  In so many personal ways, each person of that day was following the dictates of their own heart and mind.  Some in complete rejection of God’s Word and others with a partial rejection (sound familiar?).  The Spirit of God calls us to change the way that we are thinking, but also in a specific way.  Another metaphor that is used of repentance is turning.  We, who have turned away from God’s Ways into other ways of our own choosing, need to turn back to God in our hearts and minds, and follow His ways.

Repentance is always needed in our lives because we live in a world and a body that continually questions and rejects the ways of the Lord. Christians are not those who repented long ago, but are those who continue to be a repentant people.

So it begins with repentance, but then it moves to faith.  They needed to believe what Jesus was telling them.  Even though Mark emphasizes believing in the good news, Jesus Himself is the good news!  To believe in the Gospel is to believe in Jesus.  God had joined mankind in order to lift us up out of the horrible fate we were plunging towards.  Thus to believe in the Gospel is to believe that God has not abandoned us, and instead He has stepped into the muck and mire with us in order to save us.  This is good news indeed, for who can stop the Lord Almighty!

The disciples of Jesus

In verse 16 Jesus begins to call certain people to follow Him everywhere.  The term disciple is not used here, but they were called to learn from, be students of, Jesus.  In the New Testament, Jesus called 12 disciples to a special task.  They would become his apostles, sent-ones, who would go to the nations and lay the foundation for His Church.  They actually lived and ate with Jesus as they helped Him in His ministry.  Many other people were students and believers of Jesus.  However, they did not live with Jesus day to day.  So we should recognize that even though the outward form may be somewhat different, all of these disciples had one thing in common.  They were now following and listening to Jesus as their master and teacher.

Let’s explore the passage.  Notice that Jesus stands on the shore and calls 2 fishermen to follow him here, and then 2 more fishermen to follow Him there.  These would be the core of the 12 disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John.  Though Jesus is no longer physically on the earth, he still approaches people through his disciples and calls people to believe upon Him and to follow Him.  None of us today pack up our bags and follow a physical Jesus to Jesus-ville.  However, we do these things spiritually.  To follow Jesus is to quit listening to those things you did before and to start listening to His Words and those of His Apostles.  It is to follow them.  It is to reject the mindset of this world that marginalizes Christ and His teachings, or even hijacks His teachings and twists them to other ends.  To follow Jesus is to have a spiritual journey every day where the Spirit of God leads us, much as Jesus led The Twelve 2,000 years ago.  We must ask ourselves this question each day.  Who am I following?  Am I following a favorite religious leader or philosopher?  Or am I following Jesus and the Spirit of God?

 The second thing about being a disciple of Jesus is that they were called to draw others to Christ.  These men had lived their lives catching fish and thus Jesus uses their life experience as a metaphor for what He was calling them to do.  They would fish for people.  Ultimately their lives would become about drawing people to Christ.

As in any analogy, fishing is a crude one.  God does not use tricks to hook people and drag them to shore in order to eat them.  Thus the metaphor is intended only so far.  God will work with people to live with and speak into the lives of others in order to draw them to Christ, to join His Kingdom.  Part of God’s call on your life is to be a light to the world around you.  You are to be a drawing influence through your life and the worlds you speak.  However, we are not to be drawing people to ourselves, but rather to Christ.

We are told that they dropped their nets and left their father in order to follow Jesus.  This recognizes the sacrifice that is made by all who follow Jesus.  Not every disciple was called to physically leave their families behind in order to follow Jesus.  However, we are all called to spiritually leave our old life behind and the attachments it has made upon us.  If I was a business man before I met Christ, He may call me to become a missionary or a pastor and I would literally leave that life behind.  However, He may simply call me to quit being the old business man that I was and to become a new creation in Christ who runs a business in a whole new way.  Regardless, the point is that if we are truly listening to and following the leadership of Christ, we will leave the old life behind.  I cannot hold on to the old way of living and survive.  I will either be pulled in two, or I will let go of one and cling to the other.  What am I clinging to today?

Let me close by recognizing just who Jesus chose to follow Him.  He was not in Jerusalem picking the top rabbis of the day.  He wasn’t even picking those Pharisees who would even one day believe on Him.  He was in the rural back country of Israel.  He was picking from among the lowly of society.  I do not mean they were lowly in a moral way, though we are all sinners.  1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says it this way, “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

We must quit looking at ourselves and our lives, becoming discouraged, and letting the enemy draw us away from Christ.  Rather we must rejoice that God loves to use the weak and lowly because then it is clear that it is His power working in us and not our own!  Yes, a rich man can be saved and even a powerful politician.  However, they will have to die to their riches and to their power before they can become a disciple of Christ.  Drop your nets (that which hold you back) and follow Jesus today!

Jesus Ministers 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
Feb062018

Speaking the Truth to Power

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

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

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

God confronts Ahab through the prophet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A summary of Ahab’s life

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

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

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

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

Truth to Power audio