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Entries in The Law (2)

Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

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

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

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

The enemies of God’s work are executed

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

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

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

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

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

A contrast of character

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Victory audio

Tuesday
Feb052013

Serving For God’s Glory

Today we continue in 1 Peter chapter 4 and deal with verses 7-11.  This section does not speak about suffering per se.  However, it does answer the question.  What should we be doing?  Peter does so by first reminding them of where they are in relation to God’s plan and gives them some practical things upon which to focus.

The End Of All Things Is At Hand

Verse 7 begins with an ominous statement that the end of all things is at hand.  Thus we need to deal with what Peter meant by “The End.”  There are some that believe the apostles taught that Jesus was returning within a matter of months maybe years and thus Peter’s statement reflects his mistaken belief that the coming of Jesus was going to happen shortly.  However this flies in the face of what the Bible says.  Jesus himself had told the apostles in Acts 1:7 that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons which the Father had kept to himself.  Also, many of the parables of Jesus emphasized a long departure of the King which would lead to many of his “managers” abusing their positions.  It is inconsistent to read into this statement that Peter means the Judgment of the nations was going to happen within years.

Others believe that “the end” refers to Israel under the Law of Moses.  In fact they take most if not all of the end times language of the New Testament to refer to the Judgment of Israel.  It is true that the judgment of Israel, which had already begun, would soon receive a “nail in the coffin,” as the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD.  The problem is that this doesn’t fit the context.  Peter is writing to Christians who have already left Israel behind. They were a remnant sent out into the world as a judgment to Israel.  They were scattered throughout the area of modern Turkey.  The final point would be the use of the phrase “all things.”  It would really be stretching the context to make “all things” only mean all things pertaining to Israel.  They live in Gentile lands and their need to be sober and watchful in prayer is because of the coming judgment upon the nations.

The apostles taught that Jesus could come at any time and was ready to bring judgment, but that they did not know the time.  Believers were to simply live a life of readiness for the Lord’s coming.  Thus the Church age or the time of Grace to the Gentiles is characterized by a people who are warning of looming judgment and are ready at all times for it to come.  Israel’s judgment is a warning that emphasizes the message of the Church. 

When we look at history from God’s perspective we will recognize that it has a clear purpose and a distinct destiny.  A football field does not go on forever.  It has a goal or end point that enables a team to place.  God has not put mankind on an infinite field.  The history of mankind is headed somewhere and is revealed in God’s Word.  God is reasoning with man and the angels regarding his nature and the nature of good and evil.  We went from Innocence in the Garden to Rebellion and then Judgment at the Flood.  However, in Noah we see the Grace of God who then furthers that grace by creating a nation Israel who would teach mankind regarding Legalism.  At the cross all mankind, whether rebellious heathens or sanctimonious “followers of God,” are judged as wicked and in need of God’s grace.  We now live in a period of Grace in which God allows that reasoning or message to go out to the world and save whosoever will receive it.  Thus mankind has a purpose that gives it a specific limit or end.

Lastly, regarding the end we need to deal with the phrase “at hand.”  This phrase is more a phrase of process than it is of chronology.  In other words it does not necessarily mean it is about to happen in a matter of months or years.  It means that the plan of God that has reasoned with mankind throughout history had reached its final point.  Now Judgment was looming and a time of grace was given for men to make up their mind.  Jesus is ready to judge, but God refrains from sending him because he is making room for more to be saved.  From a standpoint of the plan of God nothing new needs to happen.  God’s witness of himself is completed and the Church gives it to all those who it can.  Judgment of this world system is the next thing on the agenda.  In that sense it is at hand and ready for the Father’s directive.

How Then Should Believers Live?

This important point of where we are in God’s economy is to let those who are suffering know that not only does their suffering have purpose, but it also has an end.  So what do we do in the mean time?  Simply they need to do what Jesus told them to do. 

First they need to be sober-minded and self controlled.  The two words used here speak to the same idea, but one focuses on the mind whereas the other includes actions.  The world is pursuing the desires of the flesh in an ever maddening rush.  Like a drunken person who has lost all inhibitions and awareness, the world plunges forward into its judgment.  Believers are not to be a part of this.  We are to have “right thinking” and calm purposeful actions that are informed by God himself and thus, reality.  This world threatens to spiritually inebriate Christians, but we must refuse its intoxication.  Temptations can cause us to throw off inhibitions and make dangerous choices, which lead to dangerous actions.  Jesus is coming to judge the world.  Will he find you being faithful when he comes?

We should also be people of prayer.  We don’t just pray soberly.  Rather it is our sobriety that leads us into prayer.  The more we live for the flesh the less we will pray for the right things and eventually the less we will pray at all.  Whether worship and praise, or intercession and petition, the believer who lives in a world that rejects God will find themselves turning to God more and more often.  Between the goodness of God and the heaviness of the world we should not lack motivation to come to God in prayer.

In verse 8 he calls us to be people who love each other.  This is to be above all things.  That does not necessarily mean more important.  But rather our love for one another is the overall atmosphere in which we do all that we do.  We are to love fervently.  The word translated fervently literally means to stretch out.  Much like a football player who wants to make a touchdown stretches out and leaps for the catch, so too must believers stretch themselves out in love.  You may think to yourself, “But I don’t want to get hurt.”  The real question is this: How badly do you want to catch the ball?  Jesus calls us to want to love each other so strongly that we are willing to stretch ourselves out and risk a broken rib here and there.  In fact because each of us are sinners saved by grace, we need love to cover our own sins.  Cover here does not mean to cover up by pretending it doesn’t exist.  Rather, love overlooks those minor faults that we all have and yet confronts those major faults that we all need to change.  Love enables us to remain in community even though our sins would tear us all apart. 

In verse 9 he brings up the issue of hospitality.  This word means to be a friend to strangers.  Though it is hospitable to have your friends over for dinner, true hospitality is when you invite someone you don’t know over for dinner.  Not only that, but we need to do so without that inner complaining that can ruin our spirit.

Lastly, Peter tells us to minister God’s gifts to each other.  Though this can be seen as still a part of love, Peter spends 2 verses fleshing this out in particular.  God has blessed you with certain gifts and abilities.  But they are not for you to spend on yourself.  Rather we are to manage them and administer them to one another.  You are a manager of God’s stuff in your life.  Are you a stingy manager?  Lazy? Lavish? Diligent?  What kind of manager am I of God’s things?  Just as the prophets of old had a serious calling, so we must see ourselves called to bless others through the gifts and abilities that he has and is supplying.  Do not merely trust in yourself, but lean upon God’s supply.  Yes, you may not be able to do it.  But God can through you if you will trust him.

When we minister his gifts to each other we will bring glory to God because we have properly reflected the heart of Jesus.  This really is our ultimate purpose.  So do we really need to do something different as we see the end times come closer and closer?  Not really. The instructions remain the same, because they have always been the instructions of what to do under the looming threat of the end.

Final Thoughts

In these last days we see, on the one hand, how God has lengthened the day of grace in order to save more people.  Peter speaks to this in 2 Peter 3:9 when he says, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise.”  On the other hand, as we approach the end God will need to shorten it.  Due to the wickedness of mankind and the wrath of God being poured out, no flesh would survive.  This is seen in Matthew 24:22.  We can trust God’s perfect supervision of these end times.  Whether we are suffering or persecuted, God is in control.  He is bringing us to something good.  Instead of fear let us pray for boldness to be sober-minded and self controlled as we love one another.  Maranatha!

Serving God's Glory Audio