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Entries in Truth (22)

Tuesday
May012018

Our Needs as Followers of Christ

Colossians 1:1-14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 29, 2018.

The book of the Bible that we call Colossians was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to believers in the city of Colosse (sometimes spelled Colossae).  Like all new believers, the Colossians were in danger of listening to false teachers who would take advantage of their new faith in order to manipulate it towards a mixture of Christian beliefs with those of the Greeks or Jews.  The word that we use for such a mixture is “syncretism.”

In many ways this word describes much of the world today, who treat religion like a buffet table.  When we “cherry-pick” from different religions all the things that make sense to us, several things happen.  First, we have set ourselves up as the judge of what is truth, and yet by searching we confess that we do not know what is true.  So how could we be the best judge?  What guarantee is there that I will somehow choose wisely?  There is none.  Second, we end up with a number of ideas and lifestyle choices that are not coherent, or do not logically tie together (in fact they are often downright contradictions).  We end up with a philosophy of life that is inconsistent and even hypocritical.

Take for instance the reality that modern philosophy promotes a humanistic materialism.  The evolutionary theory that comes from such a view has no true basis for ethic or morality.  There is no such thing as absolute truth.  Who am I to tell a serial killer that what they do is wrong?  We are all just accidents that do not have true thoughts, but only a neuro-electrical version of the old Plinko game.  Yet, we cannot escape the fact that people find it impossible to live out such philosophies with consistency.  The first time someone steals something of yours, a deep inner compulsion pushes you to declare it as wrong.  To remain true to our philosophy we would have to recognize it is just a trick of our bodies and that it has no true validity.  Thus modern man finds himself clinging to a humanistic, evolutionary view of the world, while inconsistently absconding with views from Christianity or any other religion, hoping that know one notices (usually not even noticing ourselves).  Some sense of morality is helpful to a society regardless of whether or not we can make a logical case for the necessity of it without God.

As we look into this letter, we will find that God has spoken into the world and Jesus is that Word that He has spoken to us.  Man's attempts to find meaning outside God are barren.

Paul writes to the believers in Colosse.

Before we get into chapter 1 verse 1, it would be helpful to know exactly where Colosse was.  This city was in what we call Turkey today.  Here is a link to a map that will give you an idea (Thank you BibleAtlas.org).  It was very close to another city mentioned in the book of Revelation, Laodicea.

From what little information that we have in the Bible, it appears that this was not a city that Paul had evangelized.  A convert named Epaphras, who was from Colosse, seems to have brought the gospel to them and a church developed.

We also know that Paul wrote the letter from one of his imprisonments.  He later tells them to remember his chains (4:18).  It is believed the letter was written around AD 63 +/- several years.  While in prison, word had come to Paul about this community in Colosse and some of the doctrinal issues that had cropped up among them.  Thus Paul writes a letter concerning those issues, so that the believers of Colosse could have confidence in what they should believe and how they should live.

We also see that Paul instructs the Colossians to share this letter with the believers of Laodicea, and to read the letter that was written to the believers of Laodicea (4:16).  This helps us to see how the word of God was spread throughout these early churches.  It wasn’t until later that large groups of the Gospels and letters were put together and circulated more widely.

Paul gives thanks for these new believers.

In verses 3-8 Paul mentions several things for which he is thankful.  First, he is thankful for their faith in Jesus.  The reports of how they had embraced the truth about Christ, and the larger body of believers that they were joining, had come to Paul.  Their faith had expressed itself in a love for the saints.  Now remember that “saints” here does not mean an elite group of believers.  It is a term used of all believers that emphasized that each one had been set apart by God for His own purposes, a holy purpose. 

He also reminds them that this faith in Jesus gives them a hope that was laid up in heaven.  Peter uses the phrase, “reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4).”  Our inheritance is for us to be transformed into glorified bodies and to inherit the world with Jesus at His Second Coming.  We can see a familiar theme of Paul’s here with the three great virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

He is also thankful that the word of truth was bringing forth fruit.  It is not enough to hear the word of the Lord, it must bear fruit to be of any value to us and to the world.  Part of that transforming fruit is their “Love in the Spirit” mentioned at the end of verse 8.

Love is an important principle among any people who are going to accomplish something together.  However, without the Holy Spirit, human love continually falls short.  It is here today and gone tomorrow.  For the believer, it is the presence of the Spirit of God that stirs us up to love one another.  When we refuse to listen to the Spirit, then dissension and divisions break out.  Such Spirit-led love has a strength that overcomes all adversity and human frailty that we may find within each other.  our love for one another is not based upon each other, but upon the Spirit of God that is teaching us how to love one another.  Thus the fruit of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  This affects our relationship with other believers and with the world.  Paul is welcoming these new believers and rejoicing for their presence within the greater body of Christ.

As we look over this list, we may notice that Paul placed an emphasis on things that are not possessions and wealth.  It is good for believers to be thankful for the material blessings that they have in Christ.  But may we also learn to be even more thankful for the things that Paul listed.  Are you thankful for the people that God used to bring the gospel into your life?  Are you thankful for other believers?  Are you thankful for the grace to believe in Christ and become part of his family?  Are you thankful for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in your life?  These are the things that we need most and for which we ought to give thanks to God most.

Paul prays for these new believers.

In verses 9-14, Paul lets them know the things he was praying for them.  It is good for us to hear this list because our prayers can become only a list of the material things that we are seeking from God.  Here Paul lists things that are far more important than new cars, houses, business deals, money, etc.

Paul prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.  Of course the will of God is to embrace Jesus as our Lord, but it is clear that Paul is thinking more than just our initial acceptance of Jesus.  The phrases, “all wisdom” and “spiritual understanding” speak to living out our lives as believers in Jesus.  We run into all kinds of situations and temptations, in which we need the wisdom and understanding of the Spirit of God in order to do what God wants us to do.  In a nutshell the letters that Paul and the other apostles wrote were doing just that.  Paul was helping them to understand what God’s will was in every situation. Yes, God wants us to embrace Jesus and to be a person in which His Spirit can dwell.  But, then, through a dynamic relationship, He wants to transform our minds and our lives into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul also prays that they would walk worthy of the Lord.  Paul is using the phrase to emphasize that we are capable of not listening to the Spirit from time to time.  The believer should never be comfortable with this.  The works of the flesh are obvious and believers need to recognize that the Lord Jesus is so glorious that we do not want to tarnish Him before the world.  Many might fear that this will tend towards legalism.  But, Paul’s point is not to create a legalism, but rather, to inspire us to proper actions.  Like a coach reminding students that they represent their school, Paul reminds us that we represent Jesus and our actions reflect upon Him.  

So is it possible to be fully pleasing to the Lord?  We are fully pleasing to the Lord when we listen to the Holy Spirit in regards to how we should live.  Of course this also involves those times when we fail.  Too often people forget that the Holy Spirit also leads us to repentance and forgiveness for those times when we fail.  It is not a phrase that seeks to disqualify and kick us out.  Rather, it is intended to motivate us.

Paul also prays that they would be fruitful in every good work.  This is another way of looking at the concept of walking worthy of the Lord.  A person who follows the Spirit of God will be fruitful in their life.  They will also be beneficial to others much like a fruit tree is beneficial to those who come upon it.  We will be a tree of life and a fresh water spring to the people around us because the Life of the Spirit will flow into us and through us.

Paul also prays that they will be strengthened with all might.  All of this talk about being like Christ and following the Holy Spirit requires much inner strength.  Intestinal fortitude, or “guts” for short, cannot come from our flesh.  It must have a spiritual source.  The closer we get to following Jesus the more our flesh gets queasy and weak.  We need the strength of Christ's glorious power working in us in order to put the desires of the flesh to death.  This daily dying to self and living in Christ is empowered by the Holy Spirit, if we yield to Him.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul was reminded by the Lord that “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  In that passage the weakness is that which we have in our flesh.  When our flesh is weak, the powerful strength of the Lord will shine through and do its perfect work.  People will recognize that the power is of God and not of me.

Lastly, Paul prays that they will be thankful to God with Him.  We should be thankful that God has qualified us to be partakers in the inheritance of the saints.  This is what Daniel saw in chapter 7 verses 21-22.  “I was watching and the same horn was making war against the saints and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.”

We are also to be thankful that God has delivered us from the power of darkness (spiritual darkness and spiritual powers) and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.  Wow! Talk about a new immigration status.  Without Christ we are stuck under the powers of darkness that rule over this world.  Their kingdom will never bring peace and joy to the earth.  Yet, mankind continues to operate in league with them.  Through Christ we are able to break out of that spiritual matrix that enslaves the whole world.  We are then enabled to participate in the kingdom of Jesus.  That kingdom exists in part already.  But the fullness of it will be known when He returns to earth to set up an earthly kingdom.

We should also give thanks to the Father that we have been redeemed and have had our sins forgiven.  Jesus paid the price with his blood that purchased us back from the auction block and slavery of sin.  His death made it possible that our sins might be removed from us as far as the east is from the west.

Now as I close, be honest.  Are these the things in which you are most thankful and most likely to be praying for?  May the word of God instruct us in the things that truly make for our joy and that we truly need.  Of course we are instructed to pray for our daily bread.  But let’s pray for the things that Paul is praying, both for yourself and for fellow believers.  We all need these things even more than we need the material.

Our Needs audio

Tuesday
Apr242018

When the Truth is Made Known

Matthew 10:24-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 22, 2018.

Is it possible to have joy when difficult things are happening to you?  According to Jesus in his “beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed when people revile us, persecute us, and say all manner of evil things against us falsely for Christ’s sake.  Then he goes further and tells us to rejoice and be glad for great is our reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-11).  These are not the words of a man who was protected by privilege and position in this world.  He had grown up labeled as an illegitimate child, and then rejected and mistreated by entrenched religious leaders.  Ultimately he was headed to a cross and yet he tells us we are blessed in such cases and should rejoice and be glad.  How is such an incredible response possible?

It may be easy to dismiss this by saying that it was easy for Jesus because He was God.  But such arguments are themselves a cop-out.  How are we to know that it wasn’t actually harder for Him because He was God?  We can’t because we can only know for sure what it is like to be human.  Jesus was fully human and yet fully God.  So we should dispense with such intellectual dishonesty and recognize that Jesus expects this to be our experience in times of persecution or suffering.  How could he expect this of us?

As we look at the words of Jesus in our passage today, we will find that it is the knowledge that there will be a day when all that is hidden will be brought to light.  This is a scary thing for those who have ulterior motives.  But, for the believer, the day of revelation will be a joyous moment in which all that has been slandered against us will be cast down by Christ Himself.  Let’s look at the passage.

In this world Christians will be persecuted.

Jesus never promised us a rose garden in this life and this passage is one of many that prove it.  The apostle tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” They had been warned by Jesus.  A pernicious mentality has developed among some Christians today.  It is the idea that if we were more like Jesus in faith and power, that we could fix the ills of the world and save everybody.  As wonderful as that idea is, it is not a biblical one, nor is it particularly Christian.  It is not a Christian idea because it purports to put us and the power of our faith above the Lord who bought us with His blood.  Here Jesus makes it clear that those who follow Him are going to encounter persecution in this world.

This will happen precisely because we are not greater than Him.   Jesus uses three different relationships to help us see why we will be persecuted as well.  There is the relationship of the teacher to the student, the lord to a servant, and the master of a house to the members of that household.  The student learns from the teacher in order to be like his master.  If a servant’s master is hated by the world, then so too will the servant.  Ultimately, Jesus is pointing out that if we are in relationship with him then we will experience whatever it is that he receives.  Whatever lot comes to Jesus also comes to us.  The only way to avoid it is to reject Him, or at least to minimize his lordship in your life.

In the end it was the lot of Jesus to be persecuted in this world.  Thus those who follow Him will also encounter persecution.  Sure, it will vary depending on the place and time that you live.  Jesus points out that just as they accused Him of being in league with the prince of demons, so they will accuse His disciples of being evil.    They also called him a heretic that was causing dissension.  He was labeled an insurrectionist and revolutionary.  All of these were false accusations.  

Herein lies the problem.  The above mentioned relationships between us and Jesus, and the Scriptures themselves, teach that the Spirit of God is laboring to make us more like Jesus.  Romans 8:29 says, “For those He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  So how can it be that Christianity can convert the whole world and create a Utopia by having the power and faith that Jesus had?  Such power and faith led to Jesus being persecuted and killed.  How can it lead us to anything new?  Yes, if Jesus so determines, it could be so.  But here he promises the opposite.  Perhaps the only way it can be is if I am not operating in the same faith and power that He did.

Regardless, notice how verse 25 is worded, “It is enough...”. Jesus puts it in a statement form.  But we should ask it as a question.  Is it enough for me to simply be like Jesus?  Clearly it is enough from God’s perspective because Jesus states it so.  But is it enough for me?  Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher, said, “God was slandered in paradise, and Christ on Calvary.  How can we expect to escape?”

It is each thing that Jesus was not that draw our hearts away from Him and towards the world; away from the relationships of Teacher-student, Lord-servant, Master of the house-household member.  We are drawn either completely away from Christ, or we are deluded with the fanciful notion that we can have Christ and the world as our teachers.  Friend, recognize today that Jesus really is enough for you.  However, your flesh will not think so, and the world around you will not tell you so.  When the Christian Corrie Ten Boom came out of the German concentration camp of WWII, she had a message for the world.  “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”  He is enough.

In some ways modern society has become “more righteous” than God Himself.  It makes accusations of conspiracy, and rejects biblical ethics and morality.  Don’t listen to those voices that seduce you with becoming greater than Jesus, whether from within Christian circles or from the world.  When Jesus is enough for us, then we will know the peace and rest that God has for our souls and the joy of His Holy Spirit in times of difficulty.

There is a day in which all will be revealed.

In verse 26 Jesus reminds us of a principle that is as sure as any law of physics.  The hidden things will come to light.  This is both a warning and an encouragement.  It is a warning for those who would conceal evil, and an encouragement to those who are falsely accused of such.  All things that are done leave evidence behind.  Even when a person is framed by planted evidence, there will always be some evidence that it was planted, whether we are able to recapture it or not (God can recapture it).  Truth has a way of coming out in the end, precisely because it is real.  So it will be in eternity as all that has truly happened comes to the surface and God gives His judgments based upon reality, truth.

Jesus was not like the secret societies of our days.  He did not teach one thing in public and another to his top 3 disciples.  Sure they received more than the crowds, but Jesus was not publicly worshipping Yahweh, while privately promoting Beelzebub.  The false slander of the religious authorities came from an attempt to hold to two irreconcilable positions: Jesus was doing incontrovertible miracles, and yet He cannot be the Messiah.  Jesus was silent at His trial precisely because He had said and done everything out in the open.  If they were still going to pretend He was evil, what could he say to overturn their minds?  Christians reject those who use secret society techniques, who promote one thing to the masses and another to the inner elite.  This is the way of Satan, not Jesus.  The longer you are with Christ the more you recognize that His teachings do not become different as you draw closer to Him.  Rather, it is you who becomes different, and the teachings of Christ become deeper than we ever imagined.  This is what Corrie Ten Boom found in the depths of an earthly hell:  Jesus was still with her and His love had not abandoned her, even though she was in a place destitute of love and faithfulness.  So as the disciples of Jesus, we have nothing to hide, even though the world accuses us of hypocrisy, conspiracy, and idiocy (granted such do exist under the tent of Christianity).

Jesus tells his disciples not to fear those who make such unfounded accusations because the truth will come to light in some way.  It might not come soon enough to keep me from being nailed to a tree, but it will come nonetheless.  

There is a strength that can be derived from trusting the vindication of God Himself in your life.  Think of it.  God is your defense attorney and therefore you can’t lose.  But when I am my own defense attorney and I am constantly fearful at what others think about me, then I will become trapped by my own double-mindedness.  Draw strength from God’s promised rectification and wait for His timing.  

In fact, worry and fear of what others think or say sidetracks us from the mission of Christ.  Instead we pick up a futile mission of our own.  We will never please all of the people all of the time, in fact not even a majority.  Think of it.  If I am working at “reforming my public image,” it puts me at odds with the Holy Spirit’s work of making me to look like Jesus.  How proud we must be to remake our image so as to avoid what Jesus marched purposefully towards.  The only choices that God gives to us is to embrace the image of Jesus and the persecution that goes along with it, or choose an image that the world will accept and avoid it.  It is not our job to reform our image, but rather, in every way to yield to the Spirit’s call to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes God does bring the truth to light in the present.  We will taste some vindication in this life in various ways.  However, our hope goes beyond this.  Few are ever completely vindicated in this life.  Even Jesus has billions who reject His words.  But a day of vindication is coming.  God’s defense of Jesus and those who are following Him never rests.  He will have the final word.

This final vindication will be brought to light when the Lord Jesus comes to reign upon the earth.  As it was in the days of Jesus, so it is today.  Often those who paint the devil on others are most manipulated by the devil themselves.  Jesus and His apostles warned us against judging too quickly, and at the wrong time.  Thus some things, like the hidden motivations of a person’s heart, have to be left up to God.

Humility is a part of following Jesus, and it teaches us to trust in the judgments of God that will be revealed at Christ’s Second Coming.  Romans 8:18-21 says, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the Sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willfully, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  So just who are the children of God and what is their revealing?  He is speaking of Christians and the day of resurrection when we will stand beside Christ in glorified bodies.  It will be clear on that day just who chose wickedness and who chose truth.  It won’t matter what any person thinks, or even if billions of followers shout your praises.  What matters is the judgment of God Himself.  Thus in 1 Corinthians 4:5 we are told, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  Then each one’s praise will come from God.”  Instead of fearing what people think, we can rejoice in knowing already what God thinks.  In fact the life of a believer, is constantly having fellowship with God by His Spirit.  Instead of worrying about what others think, we only worry about what God thinks.  Thus the adage is true, “You don’t want the wrong people to like you.”

Let’s put our trust in the Lord and grow in living out His righteousness.  This is enough for us, regardless of what the world around us might falsely say about us.  We are in good company, for such they did to the prophets of old and especially our Lord Jesus.  If we suffer with Him then we shall be glorified with Him!

Truth Made Known Audio

Tuesday
Feb272018

Folly or Wisdom? Part II

1 Kings 22:19-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 25, 2018.

Last week we talked about choices in life.  Foolish choices lead to folly and wise choices lead to life.  As we continue the story today, we should remember that there are three different types of people in this story.  Ahab, and thus the false prophets who are inclined to bless his every desire, is bent on serving Baal of rather than the God of Israel.  He is a wicked king and they are wicked prophets because they have no concern about rejecting God’s word and commands.  Jehoshaphat is different.  He represents a righteous person who has a heart after God.  Yet, his idealistic desires for unity override the repeated warnings that God gave him.  He is a righteous person who is making a foolish choice.  Lastly we have Micaiah.  He is the righteous person who is making a wise choice (to speak only what God tells him to say) even though the fact that he lands in prison could cause one to judge him as foolish.

In this life we are not always the best judge of who is who.  It is easy to point the finger at every leader and label them a wicked Ahab or wicked Jezebel.  It is also easy to see ourselves as pure and clean as Micaiah or Elijah.  But, let us remember that every choice that comes before us is laden with an opportunity for folly or wisdom.  Only God can help us to choose wisely.

The spirit realm affects the material world.

In verses 19-22 Micaiah reveals a vision that God had previously given him.  It is a vision of God’s heavenly throne in the spirit realm.  We must understand that the Bible promotes a world view that incorporates both a material realm (that which we can see and test) and a spiritual realm (that which we cannot generally see and test).  Thus Christians who follow Jesus must not skirt around this issue.  To be a faithful follower of Jesus is to believe that there is a spiritual realm.  It is also to believe that the spirit realm has a direct impact upon the material world that is unseen to natural eyes.  We can worry about a North Korean leader, an Iranian leader, or The Russians.  But, we often forget that these earthly beings are affected by spiritual forces (to the good or to the bad) that they generally do not understand, and generally do not recognize.

Micaiah reveals a principle or message that is emphasized throughout the Bible: God rules over the heavens and the earth.  The book of Daniel is a great example of this.  It reiterates five times that “The Most High God rules over the kingdom of men.”  On top of this the whole book demonstrates the truth of that statement among the world powers of Daniel’s day.  No matter how great the human powers of this world become, they are always under the rule of God and the spirit realm.  He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. 

So Micaiah sets the scene with God on His throne and the hosts of heaven, which are spirit beings, all before Him.  A fascinating thing about this story is that it pulls back the curtain of God’s decision process and allows us to see how heavenly decrees are made.  It would be important to also notice that this scene is reminiscent of the scene in Job chapter one and two, where God is on his throne and the sons of God, spiritual beings, are surrounding Him.  In that story we see Satan instigating God to decree that he could “touch” Job with suffering.  Thus God gives Satan permission to try Job.  In this story, however, God has initiated the issue on the table.

It is important to recognize that though God is sovereign He does incorporate the input of spirit beings in His decisions.  In Job God permits a suggestion of Satan.  In this passage God puts the decree that Ahab is to die at Ramoth Gilead on the table, so to speak, and seeks input on how to make that happen.  Some scholars refer to this setting as a divine assembly or divine council.  Regardless of what we call it, we see this dynamic also in the book of Revelation and its heavenly vision scenes.  This is an important understanding about how God runs the universe.  Even though He is omniscient and sovereign, He does not operate in complete whimsical fiat.  There are some things that He decrees outright and cannot be changed, but He also leaves some things to the input of spiritual beings.  We could also notice that God does something similar on earth.  He has decreed that the Gospel should go to the ends of the earth, but He allows humans to have a say in how that will happen, how quickly, and who will go.  Thus God is always partnering with both spiritual and earthly beings to accomplish His will.

He doesn’t do this because He lacks ideas or will get a better response from those He works with.  Rather, He chooses not to micromanage the affairs of heaven and earth (or His nature is such that He will not).  He works through those authorities and agencies that He has raised up for that very purpose, both in the spirit realm and on earth.  Think about the family unit as an example.  It is God’s decree that children are to be brought up into this world by a loving commitment between a man and a woman.  It is also His decree that those parents raise that child to know Him and take their place in His kingdom.  How that is done is a partnership between parents and God.  He will not overpower them in order to “perfect” the process.  God allows parents to make choices about what their authority will look like and how well they accomplish the decrees that God has given.  Of course, parents always fall short of absolute perfection.  Even though God has left room for our choices, He is ultimately still in control.  Thus we write the story together with God.  He is not a despot that tyrannically controls everything.

There is a part of this story that leads some people to declare that there is an ethical problem.  In the story a spirit comes forward and provides a solution for how to get Ahab to Ramoth Gilead so he can die.  The answer is that this spirit will be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets.  God states that this plan will work and authorizes the spirit to do what it suggested.  So is this an evil spirit or a good spirit asking to do something evil?  With the precedent of Job’s story- notice Satan is allowed to interact with God and permitted to do what he wanted, although with limitations- it seems clear that this is an evil spirit.  To many this seems odd or even wrong.  How could the Holy God of the heavens allow an evil spirit in His presence and then authorize false prophecy in order to deceive Ahab?  If we focus only on the actions of the spirit then of course it is generally wrong to mislead someone through deception and lies.  Is God being hypocritical here?  I do not believe that this is a true ethical dilemma.  Ahab has continually rejected the word of God, and also rejected the repeated grace of God as reason to turn back.  He has continually rejected the God of Israel and served Baal, the god of the Canaanites.  He is now under a death decree by God because of his willful insurrection (remember God created the nation of Israel to serve Him and they agreed to only serve Him).  Though murder is morally reprehensible, it is not the same as executing a criminal for capital crimes.  Thus here, Ahab is under the death penalty for capital crimes.  Part of the judgment is to use the same false prophets of Baal that he has been listening to in order to lead him to his death.  When we look at it this way, we see that the way the punishment is carried out is particularly fitting.  Ahab has only survived by the grace of God to this point.  So now God removes His grace and allows Ahab to suffer the results of listening to false prophets.  He is letting Ahab experience the full fruit of the path that He has chosen. 

I will close this point by reminding us of a similar situation in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.  In it we are told that humanity in the last days will come under the judgment of God.  God will quit restraining the evil that the world is pressing towards (remove His grace).  The world will be enamored with a being that will use lying wonders and unrighteous deception.  Why would God allow this strong delusion that is called The Lie?  We are told that it is because they would not receive the love of the truth.  For 2,000 years God has sent His people into the world to not only speak His Truth, but to also be used of the Spirit of God to help convince people of the truth.  How can someone imagine Jesus on the cross dying for their sins and not receive a love of the truth of it all?  God is not the Agent of this evil deception and lies.  However, when we continually reject His endeavors to help us see the truth, we can come under His judgment, or at the least, His discipline.  For Ahab this story is judgment, but for Jehoshaphat it is discipline.  This understanding should sink in.  These 400 prophets were not complete phonies in the sense that they were making this up.  They were actually in contact with a spirit, but it wasn’t the Holy Spirit.  Rather, it was an evil spirit that their years of worshipping Baal had not prepared them to recognize.  They too were under a judgment of deception because they had rejected the truth that Elijah had revealed at Mt. Carmel: The God of Israel is the true God and Baal is nothing.

Foolish decisions are made despite hearing the truth.

In the tradition of a tragedy verses 24-29 show the different parties of this story making a critical choice for different reasons and thus headed on an inescapable course for disaster.  All of this is over the top of God’s repeated attempts to turn them back to the truth.

After Micaiah’s statement that all the prophets of Ahab were being led by an evil spirit, one false prophet named Zedekiah (probably their leader) takes offense and confronts Micaiah.  He does so by first slapping Micaiah on the cheek.  If you do a search of the word “cheek” in the Bible you will find that there are four places in the Old Testament that speak of this act of striking the cheek.  This story is the first of them.  It is always a public shaming of the person struck.  In Matthew 5:39 Jesus said, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.  But, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  The point Jesus is making is that it won’t do any good to slap an evil person back, or even to reason with them about truth.  The truth generally makes an evil person more enraged (note the experience of Jesus).  So what can a righteous person do?  The only thing you can do is let them pursue their course of wickedness and come to disaster, even if that course involves crucifying you.  Jesus let Israel crucify Him, partially to shock their conscience back to life.  Perhaps somewhere along the course of insanity and wickedness, as a person begins to reap the crop of destruction, the Holy Spirit’s conviction just might break through and lead them to repentance.

Zedekiah also asks the question, “Where did the Spirit of the Lord go between speaking to me and to you?”  This is a way of highlighting that the place the Holy Spirit went clearly makes no difference.  It strongly implies that the error is with Micaiah not Zedekiah.  Think of it as a way of saying, “I know I heard from the Holy Spirit.  So what happened to the Holy Spirit for Him to give you a different word?  Nothing!”  Either Zedekiah is truly deluded, which makes sense in light of the deceiving spirit, or he is keeping up the act.  I think it is the former.  He chooses folly over life.  Micaiah’s answer is to simply say that Zedekiah will figure it out when he flees to an inner room to hide.  Presumably this means that there will be great disaster and Zedekiah’s words will prove so false that he will run and hide himself.  All prophetic words must bear their weight or fall to the ground based upon what actually happens down the road.  Thus the truth will become clear in the end.

Ahab is another man who makes a foolish decision in this story.  Once again he has no desire to heed the counsel of Micaiah.  Thus he has the prophet of the Lord taken back to the city and put in prison with only bread and water of affliction.  This simply means the minimum quantity and quality to keep one alive.  The tyrants of this world, who are bent on pursuing their own selfish desires over the top of the God of heaven, love to put the righteous in prison and mistreat them.  Ahab should be honoring Micaiah and instead he orders his abuse.  Definitely, Ahab proved that he was not worthy of the immense amount of grace that God had sent to him.  Micaiah did not deserve what he was given.  But it was the duty that God was asking him to endure.  It isn’t easy to live for the truth of God in a world that does not love truth, nor wants to receive it.  Thus Ahab signs his own death decree by rejecting this last warning of God.  By putting Micaiah in prison, he is really putting God in prison.  He wants God to stay in the little box of his control.  But God will never stay in our little boxes.

The foolish decisions that we have looked at up to this point are the kind where we would say that it serves them right.  But, Jehoshaphat’s choice to still go to war with Ahab (verse 29) leaves us shouting at the Bible (ex. TV)  “What are you doing?  Don’t go with him!  You dummy, you’re gonna get yourself killed!”   Before we get too hard on Jehoshaphat, we need to see that there is some Jehoshaphat in all of us.  It is that part which is capable of making a foolish choice for all the “good reasons.”  My curiosity would like to know exactly what Jehoshaphat was thinking.  He must not have been convinced by Micaiah.  But then again the clear contradiction of the message of the false prophets, which Jehoshaphat obviously distrusted, should have warranted caution.  Maybe he trusts the assurances of Ahab, whom he knows, over the top of Micaiah, whom he doesn’t know.  Maybe Ahab’s complaint that Micaiah is prejudiced against him leads Jehoshaphat to disregard him as not objective.  Regardless, Ahab is going to his death and Jehoshaphat is going to be disciplined by the Lord.  He will lose the battle and many troops.  Only by the grace of God does he not lose his life.  But we will look at that next week.

Let us take our lives seriously enough that we take time to pray and seek out the counsel of God’s word regarding our decisions of life.  There are times that decisions are not critical.  However, if we have neglected to develop the habit of taking decisions before the Lord then we will be unprepared and easily tripped up when the critical decisions do come along.  Don’t make decisions in order to please people, but rather to please the Lord.  Neither should we confuse pleasing the Lord with doing exactly what we wanted to do.  May we be humble before God and our fellow man.

Folly Wisdom II 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