No One Truly Knows the Sorrow I’m In

SorrowYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we saw the shocking truth that liars lie. Lying is not part of the makeup of an authentic believer. Scoffers continue their scoffing and they wouldn’t recognize wisdom if it came up and slapped them in the face. The other side is that knowledge is easy for a person that understands that God is the source of wisdom. Fools have no standard of truth and therefore make fun of absolutes and those that hold to them. This morning, we’re going to look at a troubling concept.

In Pro. 14:10-12 Solomon says, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy. The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

So what about the heart? There are lots of things we say about the heart. Your heart knows best. It’s what’s in your heart that matters. He has a heart of gold or he has a bleeding heart. We’ve had a change of heart, we’ve eaten our hearts out, and we’ve crossed our hearts. We set our heart on something and we also lose heart. We need to be careful with the heart.

Bruce Springsteen had a, “Hungry Heart.” Rod Stewart counted, “Every Beat of My Heart.” Bryan Adams spoke, “Straight from the Heart.” Madonna said, “Open Your Heart.” Janis Joplin gave him, “A Piece of My Heart.” Elton John and Kiki Dee said, “Don’t go breakin’ My Heart.” The Backstreet Boys promised, “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.” The Eagles declared there would be, “Heartache Tonight.” Patsy Cline sang about, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” which led to Dionne Warwick singing about, “Heartbreaker.” Billy Ray Cyrus developed an, “Achy Breaky Heart.” Bonnie Tyler had, “A Total Eclipse of the Heart” which caused the Bee Gees to ask the question, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?”  Tina Turner answered that question when she sang, “When the Heartache Is Over” and Yes became an, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” The Beatles decided to form a club and called it, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” All this occurred at Elvis Presley’s, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Jeremiah tells us, The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” (Jer. 17:9) Solomon says, “The heart knows its own bitterness.” So can you trust your heart or not? This seems to be a contrary statement to Jeremiah’s, but we have to let scripture interpret Scripture and read the Bible on more than a casual level. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (Matt. 15:19) What’s really interesting is that very few times in the Bible does the word heart actually deal with the organ that pumps blood throughout the body. The heart is the center of emotion and is often used metaphorically to describe personality, will, intellect, and memory.

When Solomon talks about the heart knowing its own bitterness, he means that no one can truly know how you feel. It’s true that we can have an idea or we empathize with someone going through a tough time. We can celebrate with others when they celebrate, but this is never the context of empathy. Even when we have experienced the same thing as another, we cannot know exactly how that person feels. No two people are alike. People have various backgrounds, come from different places, were raised with different values and ideals, have different life experiences, and are at different places in the walk of faith with Christ. There is an old Italian proverbs that says, “To everyone his own cross seems heaviest.” We are incapable of truly knowing what’s going on in someone’s heart. But there is someone that knows you better than you know yourself. There is someone that does understand all your idiosyncrasies, your background, your values, understands how all of that has shaped your personality, and loves you with an eternal love. “And a stranger does not share its joy.” How can he? He doesn’t know you from Adam. The idea is that you can and should share feelings with another, but no one can truly know how you feel and they don’t need to in order to effectively minister the love, grace, mercy, and hope found in Christ.

Here’s a familiar theme. Verse 11 reminds us, “The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.” We saw this principle in 3:33 and 12:7. We’ll also see it when we get to 21:12. Remember that wickedness will never win out. There may seem to be short term wins, but eternity is where it matters.

The proverb I want to sit on for a while is found next. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” During the time of the judges, “There was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jud. 17:6, 21:25) This was not a good time in Israel’s history. Idolatry and apostasy abounded. The people forgot the fundamental principles that brought them there. It became a land of situational ethics and individual morality. There were no standards. All of the things I’ve been saying in recent weeks comes full circle. When a person’s heart becomes the center of right and wrong, we’re in for a world of hurt. When society follows its own desires, chaos typically results. Even though we live in a culture with rules and laws, we still tend to determine what we want to do regardless of the rules. That’s why our jails are full and our courts are backed up. That’s why we have trouble in the home and trouble in the workplace. The natural man or woman, and the natural boy or girl tends to do what they think is right even when given clear instructions. When questioned on why they didn’t do as instructed, you get the answer, “I didn’t feel like it.” “I knew that, but . . .” or “I thought it best to . . .” or “I wanted to. . .” There are ways that seem right, but death results. It seems right to someone that doesn’t have a biblical worldview, that doesn’t have a relationship with the Creator, that hasn’t spent time knowing God, that doesn’t walk in wisdom. That’s one of the reasons that professing believers also tend to do what comes naturally. It stems from the same sin that led to Satan’s demise. It’s the sin of pride. It is the declaration that the creation knows more than the Creator. I can offer the guarantee that if you fail to follow Christ, you will die. That death is an eternal death. Jesus said in Matt. 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

It’s very challenging to upset the apple cart; to speak things that are so contrary to the way people think and act. It can be difficult to expose yourself to ridicule and hatred and persecution, but I wonder what would happen if people of faith would quit. People can ignore the complexity and beauty of nature, can dismiss the intricacies and diversity of the human being, and can ignore absolute truth. But how can people discount the transformation that takes place in the heart of an authentic believer? How can people dismiss God’s ultimate work of creation? Because we fail to live up to the expectations Christ has for us. Make today the day that you begin living for Christ. Let us be a people that demonstrate the transforming power of Christ so that everyone can see what Jesus is capable of.

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Creative Genius

CreateYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned some leadership lessons from wisdom herself. We learned of the wisdom triad that includes prudence, knowledge, and discretion. Since we have incredible reverence for the Lord, we hate evil because He does. We saw the value wisdom plays in effective leadership whether you’re a king, ruler, prince, or noble. It applies to leaders today as well. We learned that wisdom provides tangible and intangible results. She is still better than gold and silver. This morning, not only is wisdom essential in our walk of faith, wisdom played an instrumental part in the creation of the world.

Take a moment and read Pro. 8:22-31.

When was the birth of wisdom? We come to the focus of the chapter and learn that wisdom has been around for years. The first verse in this section points out the fact that the Lord possessed wisdom, “at the beginning of His way, before His works of old.” This points to creation. A real work that God accomplished. It will probably come as no surprise to you that I believe in a literal six day creation account. I have come to this realization by faith through my study of the Scriptures. It is totally implausible that all that we know in this physical world simply happened by chance. The earth and solar system being created through an explosion is like throwing all the individual parts for a space ship in a room and expecting it to manufacturer itself into that complex piece of machinery. Maybe you’re in the camp that says, I just can’t believe it the way the Bible describes, I need to understand it. I submit to you that you may not understand the inner workings of the internal combustion engine yet that does not prevent you from putting the key in the ignition, cranking it up and driving down the road.

There are numerous passages throughout Scripture that refer directly or indirectly to God’s hands on approach to creation. The idea of a big bang came about in the first to the middle part of the 20th century. The short version of the theory states that all space, time, and energy came into being from a minuscule particle of something that appeared somewhere for reasons no one can explain and then for some reason exploded causing the creation of all the universes, galaxies, stars and so on that we have now including earth and animals which led somehow, to the evolving of humanity. That is quite the leap of faith. Gen. 1:1 states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That seems to be a very clear statement. One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is found in John’s gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1) The culmination of that passage is found in v. 14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  When we line that up with what Solomon is telling us, it stating the same thing. Wisdom was there from everlasting. “From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.”

Before you jump to conclusions, I do not believe Solomon is telling us that wisdom and Jesus Christ are one in the same. It is true that Paul said in Col. 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Jesus wasn’t just there as a bystander, He was an active participant. I have gone through all of this to establish that wisdom is an inherent characteristic of God that was essential in creation and is essential to our walk of faith. When you look at vs. 22-26, you’ll see wisdom was present before those things happened. In v. 26 we learn that wisdom is literally older than dirt. Solomon tells us that wisdom never had a birth, wisdom is. As long as there was God, there was wisdom. You cannot separate the two.

Wisdom’s involvement with creation is seen in vs. 27-29 where we see that wisdom played an important role in creation. Could God have created all that we know apart from wisdom? That is an incomprehensible question because we’ve already established that you cannot separate one from the other. Wisdom is as much an attribute of God as His presence in eternity. There is incredible complexity in our universe, in our animal world, and in us. That couldn’t have happened by chance and it could not have happened without wisdom’s influence.

I want you to think of the things we take for granted. Maybe you’re thinking what do I take for granted? Exactly my point. The necessary things in our life that if allowed by God to stop, we would cease to exist. From the rotation of the earth on its axis that gives us night and day to the rotation of earth around the sun that gives us seasons, and the marking of time. From the blinking of the eye to the beating of your heart, God is involved. Our bodies are designed to respond in ways few people think about. If it’s bright out, the pupil closes to prevent the retina from being blinded with light. The opposite happens when it’s dark allowing more light in so you can see. When you get cold, the hair on your body stands on end trapping air to provide a layer of air for insulation. No one ever thinks of blinking or breathing and you certainly don’t think to send platelets to a repair a cut on your finger. Wisdom was essential in creating our bodies to function properly and efficiently.

These last two verses indicate the joy that wisdom demonstrates at the creation. Wisdom was with God the entire time of creation and now stands beside Him as an artisan. Wisdom is a master craftsman in God’s design. There is an intimacy between God and wisdom, but wisdom did not design all that we know; God is the designer. Let’s bring it all home. If God felt it needful to include wisdom in what He did, don’t you think it is reasonable for us to make wisdom a part of our lives? As God the Father and His one and only Son Jesus Christ looked at what they had created, there was rejoicing. Following the work of His creation each day God said, “It is good.” (Gen. 1) Imagine the joy. You think about when you make something and you look at it with joy. That’s the feeling God had. “Rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men” Delight means great pleasure. Even though God knew that we would sin, that we would choose ourselves over Him, He still has great pleasure in us. That great pleasure was manifested in the redemption plan that was in place before the foundations of the earth were laid out.

It’s hard for us to comprehend the complexity of God and how He could create all things knowing that we would quickly turn what God defined as very good into what we know. His delight in you and me means that in His wisdom, He would need to send Jesus to die for us. Just when we begin to think we’ve got it figured out, the enormity that is God pushes us to realize that without Him, there is nothing. How does that impact how you live? Do you live with wisdom to guide you, or do you choose to go it alone? Solomon closes this section out by saying, Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways. Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. But he who sins against me injures himself; all those who hate me love death.” (Pro. 8:32-36.)

The Savior’s Sign

Virgin BirthYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

He is considered one of the greatest men of God from the olden days. He was a counselor to kings and a writer whose O.T. book is quoted more often in the New Testament than any other except the book of Psalms. When Jesus preached His first sermon, He preached out of a passage from this man’s writings. His calling from God is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Is. 6:1-4) This man would be inspired to say things about the Lord so incredible that it boggles our mind. is name is Isaiah and he is a prophet.

Isaiah 7:10-17 is a familiar passage to people in and out of the church and I encourage you to get your Bible and read this incredible passage for yourself.

You’ve heard the saying, desperate times call for desperate measures? This passage comes just after Isaiah answers the call of God in 6:1-4. Isaiah finds himself right in the middle of some pretty intense political action. Isaiah 7:1-2 sets the stage for us. At some point in our lives, every one of us will face desperate times. Circumstances present themselves that may bring us to the edge of despair where there seem to be few options and time is running out. In this passage I want you so see some things that put Judah’s king Ahaz on the edge of despair. Ahaz was an unstable man. He had a godly father and grandfather, but he did not follow in their footsteps. Having godly relatives is no guarantee of godly children. Unless a child personally chooses to enter into a biblical relationship with God through Christ, he will leave that home one day without the tools necessary to face the world.

I don’t know everything about Ahaz, but this much is clear. His life can be summed up as recorded in 2 Kings 16:2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done.” He is not in a wilderness period and he is not sowing his wild oats. He did not do what is right in God’s eyes. Ahaz is probably in his early twenties and he is confronted with a very serious national crisis, but he doesn’t possess the life experience or spiritual resources necessary to effectively handle it. To make a really long story short, Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Against the guidance of God’s prophets, Israel formed an alliance with Assyria in an effort to defend against what they knew was coming from Assyria. It was a, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em scenario. It was Assyria’s practice to invade and conquer neighboring countries and take the people prisoner. Assyria’s  goal was to invade Judah and get rid of king Ahaz. Verse 2 tells us “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” So what’s a king to do? Godly kings seek wise counsel from God and then there is Ahaz. Ahaz was foolish. 2 Kings 17 indicate that Ahaz is going to try and form his own alliance independent of Assyria and Israel only his alliance won’t be against Assyria, it would be with Assyria. Ahaz is planning to buy off Assyria to save himself. You can feel the desperation in Ahaz’s reasoning. So it is with this information that we find the prophet Isaiah called to go talk to king Ahaz in 7:3. Let’s see how this is set up in 7:3-9.

The actual reality is that God always comes through. How many times has God used seemingly incidental things to remind us that He is right there? He is involved in our lives even if we can’t see exactly what He is doing. Here is Ahaz looking over the water supply lines of Judah. Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub walk up to Ahaz. Hebrew names carried a lot of significance. Isaiah means Jehovah has saved. Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return. Standing right in front of Ahaz are reminders of who God is and that He will preserve His people. Remember that Ahaz’s father and grandfather were godly men. God is always bigger than your problems and your fears. In the face of certain defeat, look at what God says through Isaiah in v. 4, “Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted.” God is saying don’t look for a way out, but look for a way through your difficult situation. 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Do you believe that no situation is too hard for God? For Ahaz, God was trying to show him that his trust must be placed in the One that can handle the problem. V. 9 says, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Faith, that strong conviction in what you cannot see often stands in the way of God accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. If you do not stand firm, you will fall. God was trying to get Ahaz to believe. To walk by faith, not by sight. To be a follower of God first, then a king.

This is a good time for a miracle. It is at this moment that something incredible takes place. Vs. 10-11 says, “Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’” Isaiah was there to speak to the king on behalf of God and Ahaz doesn’t want to listen; all he can think about is the Assyrian army. Ask whatever you want – no limit. “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” Now Ahaz gets all spiritual on Isaiah. He is conveniently forgetting what is going on in Judah: idolatry, human sacrifices, asheroth pole worship, Baal worship. The reality is that Ahaz had already made up his mind and nothing Isaiah said or did would convince him to trust God. Are we like that? Do we seek guidance and counsel from the Scriptures, or do we avoid it because we’ve already made up our minds as to what we will do.

Here is the moment set apart for Isaiah. He turns from the king and begins to speak to the crowd that had gathered. The story continues in vs. 13-14, “Then he said, “Listen now O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” It is God that gives the sign. He doesn’t send an angel or a prophet – God Himself sees to it.

What is the meaning of the sign? This sign is meant to get our attention. V. 13 starts with “Listen now.” Pay attention to what is coming. This sign proves that God can do whatever He wants to do. Sign means a signal or a distinguishing mark. It is something that is obvious, something that will stand out. This sign involves the birth of a son after an impossible pregnancy. A virgin will conceive. Isaiah tells everyone that at some point a woman will conceive a child that simply cannot be explained.  When you see that, that is God’s handiwork. This sign means that God is coming in the flesh. His name is Immanuel meaning God with us. God will be with us in the flesh. He will dwell among us. We will see and experience His glory. 700 hundred years later, that sign was realized. A young woman named Mary was engaged to a guy named Joseph. An angel appeared and told her what to expect. Luke 1:31 records the words of the prophet, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

If God can cause a woman to conceive in a miraculous manner, why do you doubt that He can take care of you? The birth of Immanuel, God with us, served as a sign for people desperate to see God working. When all seems hopeless to us, God already has a plan in place, has already set the process in motion. Before you even realized you need Him, He is already there. Sometimes it takes being in the pit of despair to see the hope of a Savior. Immanuel means God with us, not God might be here one day if you’re really good.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

Thinking You can listen to the podcast here.

Last time we looked at week Peter’s second letter, he established that he didn’t come at his readers with fairy tales about the second coming of Christ. He was an eyewitness of Jesus’ power and of God’s affirmation and approval of Christ on the holy mountain. This morning Peter tells us that no matter what you think, you’re not the inventor of prophecy.

2 Pet. 1:19-21 says, So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

What’s the Word? Peter begins with the collective, “we.” The “we” is the apostles that Peter includes himself in from vs. 16-18. This is critical to the church. “We have the prophetic word made more sure.” Sure means completely confident. Peter says they are more sure. They are even more completely sure about the prophetic word. Why? Because Peter was an eyewitness or ear witness to God’s utterance that declared Jesus to be the beloved Son of God in v. 17. They were sure about the prophetic word of Jesus’ coming, but they are even more convinced of this truth. This is really important and I want you to grasp what Peter is saying. Here’s what Peter did. He heard the words of God confirming Jesus Christ and he used Scripture to verify his experience. Never ever use your experiences to validate Scripture. Use Scripture to validate your experience. We’ve got a huge experience movement growing in the church where God “leads” us to do things that are not consistent with Scripture and we dismiss that contradiction. The root cause is many people in the church today no longer hold the Bible as the standard.

Peter says, “You do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” Light gives us guidance and helps keep us from stumbling in the darkness. Peter is emphatic is saying the Word of God is a light and it would be awesome if you’d pay attention. Ps. 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Pro. 6:23, “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” Peter and the apostles have followed the call of God. They have devoted their lives to Him and he’s telling the church, pay attention! I’m going to make an application leap here. Please don’t dismiss the things I say. I have devoted my life to studying His Word and living out my faith as consistent as I can with Scripture. Line up what I say with Scripture and then do it. In your job, you probably would never argue with your boss about the expectations or way you conduct yourself at work. But I talk to people on a regular basis that completely ignore what I say. They’re okay with living a life that is void of anything Christ-like, but get upset or defensive when you try to encourage them, or love them, or challenge them.

There can be just one interpretation of Scripture. Peter is talking about the future coming of Christ. The transfiguration confirms what the apostles taught from the Old Testament. I encourage you to check out Matt. 17:1-8. It is an explanation about the transfiguration. The false teachers that Peter talks about in Chapter 2 denied the second coming of Christ. “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation for, no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but by men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Prophecy is important and so is the interpretation. The O.T. prophecies are not for personal interpretation, they stand on the authoritative interpretation of the apostles. Did you notice the subtlety? Peter’s words cannot be limited to oral prophecy, but must include scriptural prophecy too. So when you hear someone speak a prophecy, it must line up with Scripture. Jesus is coming back when God tells him to regardless of when anyone says He’s returning.

Why all the fuss? There are those that try to deceive, those that attempt to twist the Scriptures to say what they want. 2 Tim. 2:15 is clear that an approved workman of God rightly divides the Word. There can be only one correct interpretation of prophecy and Scripture. Peter is arguing that there are false prophets and false teachers that interpret the Scriptures for their own benefit. Authentic interpretation doesn’t come from a human source just like the actual words of Scripture do not come from a human source (2 Tim. 3:16) Peter’s talking about the second coming, but there is an application for us in this moment. The Scriptures cannot mean one thing to you and one thing to me. They can only mean one thing. One correct interpretation, but many different applications.

When it comes to biblical matters, it doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what the Bible says. In most cases there are no hidden meanings in Scripture, the Bible means what it says. God told me will never trump, the Bible says.

Is There Eternal Life?

You can listen to the podcast here.

Today is Easter. This day is of great significance in the life of every Christian. With all the Easter sales around, non-Christians often ask the question, “Is there life after death?” Job asked the question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” It’s a question most people ask themselves at some point. There are people that seek to prolong their lives here on earth as long as they can. Jesus asked the question, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) The longer you live, the more you realize that life is short. Today we’ll answer the question, “Is there eternal life?”

Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:1-2, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”

Paul begins this passage with what Jesus did. The word gospel here comes from the word that means good news. The resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ provides proof positive that there is life after death. Verses 3-5 contain the foundation of our Christian faith. It says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Prophecy in the Old Testament predicted that Messiah was going to die. It said that Jesus would be led like a sheep to the slaughter. His death was not the accidental death of a martyr. It was the deliberate death of a person who offered His life as a sacrifice. On that first Easter morning Jesus Christ walked out of that tomb as a living being. Later when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb to anoint His body, they discovered the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. In Luke 24:6-7 the angel said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?”

Paul goes on to say, “And that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Cor. 15:5-7) After the resurrected Christ appeared to all those people, in v. 8 Paul says, “I know that Jesus lives because I saw Him myself.” Before Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ, he was known as Saul. When Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Saul was not the great man of God that wrote 13 books of the N. T. He was on his way to Damascus with letters in his hand from the high priest giving him permission to bind anyone that believed in the truth of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem. Acts 9 tells us how God intervened in his life and radically transformed him into the man that we have come to know and love named Paul. I encourage you to read this incredible transformation. And now Paul is confused as to why people would deny the reality of life after death. He says, “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say, there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12) Jesus is not standing here and I would guess that no one in here would say they’ve ever seen Jesus physically, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. We’ve got plenty of Scriptural evidence as well as non-biblical evidence to support this fact. Maybe you discount the Bible as the true Word of God. What I know is what Christ has done and continues to do in my life so if you tried to tell me that Jesus did not rise again, I would take exception with you. It’s not just me though, Jesus has radically transformed millions of people. Each person has the choice to believe or not. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Jesus proved there is life after death in His own life and He’ll prove it in your life too.

If there is life after death, what is it like? Great question. In 1 Cor. 15:20 Jesus demonstrated this life after death. Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20) First fruits refers to the O.T. practice of giving the first part of the harvest to the Lord as an offering. Since this is the first part of the harvest, more is to come. In other words, Paul is saying that the resurrection of Christ is not the one and only resurrection, it is the first of what is to come. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 Jo. 3:2) If you want to know what it’s like for a Christian to die and live again, look at Jesus. There are two things we need to know about this life after death. First, there was a separation of the body. Jesus’ last words before He died were, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” (Lu. 23:46) His body died and was subsequently buried, but His Spirit went to be with the Father. To the thief hanging next to Him, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Lu. 23:43) When our bodies die, our spirits live on in eternity. Paul was emphatic in 1 Cor. 5:8, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Second, there is a resurrection of the body. We don’t come back to earth to take over some random person’s body, and we don’t spend a period of time in an undisclosed location to have our sins purged so we can go to heaven. Jesus left behind the cloth that His body was wrapped in. After three days He came back into the tomb to re-inhabit the body He left behind, but it had been changed. He showed people the nail scars in His hands and feet. But it’s not only Jesus that will be resurrected. “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (Jo. 5:28-29) What about those that have been cremated or blown up in a war? Remember that it was God that spoke the universe and all that it contains into existence. He made man from the dust of the ground; putting together a body is no big challenge for Him. Following the death of Lazarus, Jesus told Martha that He would take care of it. Martha protested, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.  Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Jo. 11:39-40) At the place where Lazarus was buried, Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.” (Jo. 11:43-44) Four days, four weeks, four months, four years, 4000 years is all the same. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thes. 4:16-17) Some might not be able to wrap their brain around that; perhaps it’s too strange. How a baby comes into being is pretty strange, yet no one would deny it. One egg, one sperm coming together – invisible to the naked eye. They form a cell that divides, and divides, and divides. 18 days later a tiny heartbeat begins. Some nine months later and out comes a little human being completely furnished with little hands and feet. Every life that is conceived is miraculous; but it happens so often that we dismiss it.

After Jesus was resurrected, He appeared to the disciples in the upper room. Read Luke 24:37-48. Jesus ate after He rose from the dead. I’m thinking we’ll be able to do the same. We’ll not be floating around playing a harp wearing a halo. We’ll have bodies like Christ’s resurrected body. 1 Cor 15:35  says, “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” Paul responds to this question. Take a look at 1 Cor. 15:36-42. Fish were created with scales so they can live in the water. Birds were created with hollow bones and with feathers so they could fly. God is certainly able to create us with an immortal body that will never perish, spoil, or fade. So if you’re old and decrepit, you’ll be renewed. If you’re blind, you’ll be able to see; the deaf shall hear again. Paul finishes by saying, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55) Just as the disciples recognized Jesus, we’ll recognize one another and the people that have gone before us. There are numerous Old and New Testament examples that confirm this.

So just one question remains. How can we attain eternal life? If life after death could be purchased, what would you pay for it? If I told you all the glorious things of heaven, what you would experience there, who you would meet, what kind of house you would live in: how much would it be worth to you? If I could guarantee that your life after death would be better than the life you now enjoy, how much would you be willing to spend on it? Fortunately, heaven can be purchased: unfortunately we can’t pay the price. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, a place of perfection, and we forfeited our right to be there because of our sin. The price for entry is the blood of a perfect person, and we just don’t measure up. We can’t earn heaven and we don’t deserve heaven, but the good news is that Jesus Christ stepped in to pay the debt for us. 1 Cor. 15:56-57 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The victory comes from believing in what Jesus did on the cross. So why would you refuse this great offer? We have a deep love for sin. On one hand, eternal life doesn’t cost anything. On the other hand, it costs everything. God’s desire is for us to turn from sin to Him. We leave our past behind us and become new. A new life, new goals, new desires, new passions all put in our hearts by a loving, holy, and perfect God. Being a follower of Christ is not in what you have to give up; that’s the wrong perspective. Personal pride gets in the way of this great offer. There are plenty of smart people in this room and maybe you’re too smart for your own good. There is lots of evidence to verify the resurrection of Jesus, but you weren’t there so maybe you doubt. You weren’t at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but you believe it happened. It takes faith.

Eph. 2:8-9 reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith is a simple yet difficult thing. It is a choice.

Jonah’s Disorder

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Last week we learned that Jonah was not overjoyed at the repentance of a whole city which led to God relenting of the calamity He had planned. Yet Jonah was thrilled that God provided a plant to shade him from the hot Assyrian sun. God has a lesson for Jonah to learn. Let’s see what it is.

Jonah 4:7-8 says, “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, ‘Death is better to me than life.’”

God is always working and isn’t always this fast. Today, Jonah would probably be defined a bipolar. His moods change quickly. God tells him to go to Nineveh, he runs away. A storm of epic proportions comes up on the Med and he wants to die. He’s swallowed by a fish and begs to be delivered. He’s given another opportunity and he reluctantly submits. Everything in the city happens just as he believed would happen and he falls into a pit of despair. What should cause joy causes sorrow. Lives are saved and he’s disgusted. A plant grows and he is beside himself with joy. Jonah has serious issues. Sometimes God seems to move with glacier like slowness. When you look directly at a glacier, it doesn’t seem to be moving at all. But if you plot the course of a glacier over days, weeks, and months, you can see the progress it makes. The speed that God moves in this book of Jonah seems incredibly fast. Jonah is sitting in his little shelter with the plant God provided enjoying some shade.

The first word in our passage today sets us up for a contrast. The word “but” in Scripture always prepares us to see that. “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.” God first appointed a fish, then a plant, now a worm. God used each to teach Jonah a lesson and He’s still in control of nature. Jonah’s happiness over the plant is short lived as the worm destroys the plant removing the relief Jonah enjoyed from it. Destruction is a common theme throughout this book. The ship and the sailors faced it on the sea. Jonah faced it in the sea. Nineveh faced it as a result of wickedness. What’s curious is that even with the potential for destruction in this book, the only thing that actually is destroyed is the plant. Destruction came upon something that brought Jonah great joy.

And Jonah’s mood changes again. It’s unlikely that Jonah noticed the worm that God appointed. He was too busy convincing himself that he was right to want Nineveh destroyed. We can probably identify with Jonah when we consider the atrocities done against us from organizations like Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah operating in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but I would hope that the life changing results of Jesus Christ residing in our hearts would change our hatred to love just as Jesus commanded. We have no excuse not to demonstrate the love to others that was demonstrated to us on Calvary. Jonah was not justified in wanting Nineveh destroyed and we’re not justified in wanting the annihilation of what we consider our enemies. No I haven’t gone soft, I believe we have a right to defend our nation and hold people responsible that inflict terror on the United States, but I also recognize that they need someone to preach the truth that is found in Christ to them. That was Jonah’s problem. He didn’t think Nineveh deserved the grace or mercy that was shown to him looking ahead to Jesus. Even as Nineveh repented, his heart didn’t change.

The plant withers as the day began and v. 8 says, When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Jonah was deliriously happy yesterday and now the plant withers and he wants to die. Here again God uses His control over nature to appoint a scorching wind. It’s the fourth time God demonstrates His power over nature. For Jonah, it goes from bad to worse. The loss of the plant was significant. The plant provided shade and now that the sun is fully up, it is blisteringly hot. Then the wind comes. It’s not just any wind. This one comes from the east. When the east wind blows, the temperature goes up significantly and the humidity drops. The wind carries fine bits of sand. The sun is beating down on his head and he’s being sand blasted by the wind. One commentator on Jonah said this: “Constant hot air [is] so full of positive ions that it affects the levels of serotonin and other brain neurotransmitters, causing exhaustion, depression, feelings of unreality, and occasionally, bizarre behavior.” I think that describes Jonah. As a result of the sun and the wind, Jonah once again concludes that he was better off dead. To his bi-polar disorder, add drama queen. I have no doubt that he was miserable and the heat and the wind took an incredible toll on his mental faculties, but let’s face it, God is doing all He can to get Jonah’s attention and Jonah continues to ignore it. “Became faint” is nearly identical to how Jonah was feeling back in 2:7 in the belly of the fish.

Jonah was at the end of his rope, ready, and willing to die. Is this the end for Jonah? Will God answer his prayers for death? How desperate do you have to be to give up hope? Jonah, “Begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” Exhaustion can do strange things to your brain. Add to that exhaustion heat, dehydration, and probably hunger and you get a sense of how bad it must have been for Jonah. Jonah pleaded with God to let him die. In Rev. 1:18, Jesus said that He has, “The keys of death and of Hades.” Heb. 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” You can’t die unless God approves it. It’s not time for Jonah. God has not finished His lesson; God’s not through teaching. Jonah felt that he was at his wit’s end. We see from this entire account of his mission, that he is not a proactive prayer. He is a reactive prayer, praying only when he is in crisis. We’re no different. When all else fails, when there is nothing left to do, when we can no longer control our circumstances we turn to God. Prayer must be something that we regularly engage in. No one is too busy to pray. 1 Thes. 5:17 tells us to, “Pray without ceasing.” If this was our practice, we would be able to face life’s issues from a godly perspective. Too often we only pray when we feel it necessary. Someone asks us to pray for them. We’re asked to take on some duty or responsibility and we need to pray about it. We spend days or weeks praying about something. Truth be told, I think many times we say that just because we don’t want to make a decision. Or maybe God is telling us to do what we have just been asked and we simply don’t want to do it. Yes, we should pray out of necessity, but we should pray out of love. As Christians we say we love God and we love Jesus yet we do little to cultivate that relationship except coming to church. When you think of the relationships you have with your spouse or your friends, or your family; the common denominator of why that relationship flourishes or dies is based on the time you spend communicating. You’ll never have the relationship God wants with you if you don’t spend any time with Him. When you consider what you spend the majority of your time on, you find out what’s important to you. Jonah didn’t pray for his attitude to change, he prayed to die. He didn’t thank God for the privilege to be a part of eternity’s plan. He didn’t thank God for preparing the way for him. Jonah was focused completely on himself. We can sit here and pass judgment on Jonah. It’s easy to armchair quarterback what he did, his attitude, and his obvious lack of willingness to conform to God’s plan. Why is it so easy to clearly see other’s shortcomings and be blind to our own? Jonah was in total despair and needed an attitude adjustment.

If you are at the point of despair, there is hope. If you’re tired, there is rest. If you’re discouraged, there is encouragement. If you’re focused more on yourself than you are on God, it’s easy to fall into the same trap Jonah fell into. Let’s focus on God, do what He has instructed us to do in His Word, do what He has called us to do, and leave the results to Him.

Better Off Dead

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Last week we saw that God changed the course for Nineveh because they responded to Jonah’s message. Because of their response, Jonah became angry with God for not destroying Nineveh. Jonah knew all along that would happen and now he believes he’s better off dead. God’s not through with Jonah though. Let’s see what God does.

Jonah 4:4-6 says, “The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”

God is always at work. Jonah blamed God for Nineveh’s salvation and instead of being overjoyed, he was angry. God uses every opportunity He can to get us to the point He wants us to be. He’s not going to violate His character, and He often chooses to exercise patience. God asks Jonah the question we would probably ask too. “Do you have reason to be angry?” No immediate judgment. No stoning or death. Just a simple question. Even though Jonah is angry at God and tells Him as much, God lovingly and patiently engages Jonah. Don’t lose this image. We’re quick to demand judgment for others, but we want patience and mercy for ourselves. Why not give Jonah a chance to repent? Why not give Jonah the opportunity to recognize the error of his ways and turn to God? It’s hard to comprehend how God could still be so loving and patient with Jonah. God’s question should cause Jonah to reflect on what just happened in Nineveh. In other words, “Jonah, do have justification for being angry?” Is there some compelling argument for your actions, for the way you feel? Police officers often give us this opportunity. Parents give opportunities to children. Bosses give opportunities to their workers. This was Jonah’s moment to explain himself.

God’s question remains, “Do you have reason to be angry?” Anger in this verse means to burn or be kindled. Are you justified Jonah? Remember the reason Jonah is angry. Jonah’s anger was not the justifiable anger Paul mentions in Eph. 4:26 when he says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Jonah’s anger was wrong – it was sinful and God wanted Jonah to see and understand this. God’s desire was for Nineveh to recognize its wickedness and respond to His offer of redemption and that happened. Jonah would rather be dead than see Nineveh repent and be saved. He hated the Assyrians, even after they repented. Paul asks the question in Rom. 3:29, “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also.” God loves Nineveh just like He loves Jerusalem, but Jonah hates Nineveh. Jesus provides the solution to this type of intense hatred. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.’” (Matt. 5:43-44) If you love your enemies, they are no longer your enemies. God thinks on a grander scale than we do. The command in Matt. 28:19 is clear. “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” All the nations are included in God’s plan. We cannot leave out a single nation regardless of our justification. There is just one plan, one hope, one message. God commissioned His followers to carry that message to the world and that includes nations like North Korea Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Iran. There is no plan b. If we ignore any nation, they’ll turn to false gods and false religions.

God asks Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah has no right to be angry. He only has the right to obey. In our lives we lack faith because we ignore the clear commands of God. We complain when God doesn’t answer our prayers, but we’re unwilling to be obedient. We have no record of Jonah praying for Nineveh; not one single utterance for God to prepare their hearts to receive the life changing message of hope. Imagine the joy if Jonah had only prayed. Our job is obedience; leave everything else to God. “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah does not respond to God’s question. It’s not just rude. It reveals Jonah’s unchanged heart even at the miracle of Nineveh’s repentance.

In our results driven world, we would be over the moon as the results of preaching Jonah’s simple message of repentance. It wasn’t that one or two people or even one or two families that responded to the message. It was the entire city. Total success in God’s eyes, total failure in Jonah’s. Verse 5 says, Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.” We don’t know how much time passed if any between vs. 4 and 5. It’s interesting that Jonah chose to head east of the city and not west. Some suggest he wanted to see the sun set on Nineveh. Had he gone out the west gate of Nineveh, he could see the sun rise on a new Nineveh, a city that is no longer an enemy of Jonah or his homeland of Israel. The threat of military invasion erased, the threat of terrorism eliminated. This was the dawn of a new day in history. Jonah didn’t want God’s solution, he wanted destruction, he wanted Nineveh and Assyria wiped off the face of the earth. God’s solution results in changed lives; today’s solution? Tolerance. Compromise. Indifference.

Jonah exits the city and makes himself a shelter to get out of the hot Assyrian sun. What is going through Jonah’s mind is not known. He’s going to sit back, watch, and wait. He’s going to wait a long time because God had already decided that Nineveh would not be overthrown because the people responded to the condition that God set forth. So what’s he waiting for? Was he watching the city to see if their repentance was real? We have many professing Christians that look, act, and talk the same as they did prior to their confession of repentance. We sit back and watch if their repentance is real, maybe even waiting until they mess up so we can say, “I told it wasn’t real.” Jonah still hated these people; nothing had changed except that he preached what God told him to and the people responded. God is delighted; Jonah is disgusted. Jonah could have taken an active role in Nineveh’s spiritual growth. He could have stayed there and discipled the people. He could have been like Paul to the city of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, Philippi, and Thessalonica just to name a few. But Jonah was content to watch and wait leaving discipleship to someone else, but who? Nineveh was a city known for its wickedness and now they have responded to the message of truth and as a result are all new believers. Who can disciple the people? Who is there to teach them? Who is there to say, “Here’s what God says?” To be fair, nothing is recorded about God saying stay there to teach the people, but wouldn’t that be appropriate? Isn’t that a part of making disciples? This further reveals Jonah’s heart.

God does something that seems strange given Jonah’s attitude of disgust toward Nineveh. Jonah did finally go to Nineveh, but it was only after some divine convincing. Remember, our job is to obey, everything else is in God’s hands. Jonah exits the city and builds a shelter to wait and see what’s going to happen. He’s sitting in his little shelter and God shows up again. Verse 6 says, So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”        In the Hebrew language, Lord God is Yahweh Elohim. This is interesting because in v. 4, it’s Lord – Yahweh. In v. 7 that we’ll look at next week it’s God – Elohim. Yahweh is the proper name for God in Israel. Elohim indicates God’s divine creative power. So it was God the divine Creator that appointed the plant. Appointed is the same word used back in 1:17 describing how God used the fish. It’s interesting that the word plant, translated in some versions as vine, has been the subject of a lot of controversy. What kind of plant was it? Some argue that it is the castor oil tree, a shrub with large leaves that was common to the region. Others say it was a bottle or gourd plant. There was such disagreement about this that when Jerome changed the translation from gourd to castor oil tree in his Vulgate, a riot broke out in Carthage, in what is modern day Tunisia. What’s really messed up is that it doesn’t matter what type of plant it was, God was the One that appointed it.

It’s easy for us to determine what Jonah may or may not deserve. We might say that Jonah doesn’t deserve God’s provision. Jonah was clearly not in right in spirit; he didn’t like his mission to Nineveh or the results that occurred. God’s not through with Jonah. He provides some shade, to deliver him from his discomfort.” That’s kind of an understatement. It literally reads, “To deliver hi m from his evil.” Jonah is a disgruntled malcontent. It’s hot – temperatures are probably hovering around 110 F. Maybe he can hear the people from the city crying out to God. It must have been awful for Jonah to hear the joy of salvation knowing that he is completely out of the will of God. He is miserable. What’s the worst part? He played a major role in the repentance of Nineveh and was disgusted and yet when God provided him a plant to shade him, he was extremely happy about the plant.” Jonah rejoiced with great rejoicing. He was deliriously happy. In fact, for the first time in this book, Jonah is happy. He didn’t express this emotion when he was delivered from certain death in the sea by the fish God sent; he didn’t express this emotion at the total and complete deliverance of Nineveh. He was happy because the plant provided relief from the heat, and maybe he’s thinking that God’s provision is an indication that all is well between him and God. As we’ll see next week, all is not well.

Even in the depths of our despair, God is there with us. Even when the despair is of our own making, God will never leave us. He wants us to get to the point of complete trust in Him. Jonah has some learning to do and God is not through. For us, we must be willing to learn life’s lessons the way God intends for us to learn. There are no short cuts or bypasses.