Tag Archives: Israel

A Sinful Trifecta

28 Oct

CreepYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Jude gave us more proof that God is a God of His word. We saw the sin of Israel when they were released from bondage in Egypt, the sin of the angels, and those of Sodom and Gomorrah as Jude completed his trifecta of examples. The three examples of judgment serve as a reminder for us. We saw from v. 4 that the creepers turned the grace of God into license. This morning Jude talks about three specific sins of the creepers that will be judged by God.

Jude 8 says, “Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.”

So what’s the connection? Jude is not haphazard in his writing. He connects this verse with the previous by the phrase, “In the same way.” That phrase connects the Israelites in the wilderness, the angels that left their domain, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember Jude is arguing that God will judge sin and the creepers are no different than the people in history. Jude is not saying the sin of the creepers is the same as the three examples: he is using an analogy. Jude goes on to say, “These men, also by dreaming.” Before we look at the three sins, we need to understand this phrase. Dreams play an important part in God’s plan. We saw the importance of dreams from Jacob and his 12 sons that included Joseph’s ability to accurately interpret dreams. Joel 2:28 says, “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Acts 2:17 quotes the passage from Joel. In Matt 1:20, we see an angel of the Lord coming to Joseph the carpenter in a dream regarding the pregnancy of Mary.

Dreams are a part of Scripture, but like all good things, Satan provides a counterfeit to truth. If you can, I encourage you to read Deut. 13:1-5 and Jer. 23:25-32. Both passages provide some insight into biblical dreams. Just because someone may say I had a dream doesn’t mean that dream is from the Lord. Just like anyone who says, the Lord is leading me to_______ doesn’t make it true. We need to line it up with Scripture. “By dreaming,” Jude says. In other words, they make up things in their imagination. Their way of thinking; their doctrine is purely imaginary. So these men by dreaming do three things. Let’s find out what Jude says specifically.

Jude lists three sins of the creepers. First they, “defile the flesh.” Defile means to desecrate or profane. In the Old Testament, defile typically indicates sexual type sin. This certainly fits with what Jude said about the angels that left their own domain. It fits with what he said happened in Sodom and Gomorrah. The phrase is also found in early Christian writings describing sexual sin. The creepers pollute their own flesh. In 1 Cor. 3:16 Paul said, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Our bodies are supposed to be holy.

Second they, “reject authority.” We need to keep it in context here and not go all crazy saying things that are not accurate. This phrase can only mean one thing – numerous applications, but it can’t mean more than it means. It would be easy to say this means human authority – the government, church leadership, parents, teachers, etc. The word translated authority never has that meaning in Scripture so it would be wrong to say that’s what it means. If that were to be accurate, authority would be plural, but here it’s singular. Most likely is that Jude means the authority of Jesus Christ especially given that v. 4 tells us the creepers, “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The creepers reject or dismiss the authority of Christ. Of course, this isn’t new and we still see it today. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “I know what the Bible says, but,” they are dismissing the authority of Christ.

Finally they, “revile angelic majesties.” Of the three, this phrase is the most difficult to understand. We know revile comes from the same word where get blaspheme. Angelic refers to angels and majesties mean glories. So are these angels good angels or bad angels? Messengers of God or are they demons? I can emphatically say . . . I’m not sure. I have poured over the text and cross references and I am just not sure. So what do we do with this phrase? Let’s see what we do know for sure. These creepers are like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, they are like the angels that left their appointed place of authority, and they are like the grumblers that left Egypt. They are disobedient, rebellious, and doctrinally flawed. They are sinners that have not accepted the gift of God through His one and only Son Jesus Christ. They were marked out for judgment because they reject the authority of Jesus Christ.        If that weren’t bad enough, they are in the church and no one noticed.

Perhaps this will clear up when we look at v. 9 next week. The message for us is clear. We need to know the Scriptures so that we can recognize when people teach things that are not consistent with the Bible. If they do it out of ignorance, we can help correct it. But if they intentionally teach things that are not consistent, we need to deal with that in a different way. Always in love, but not compromising on the truth.

More Proof

14 Oct

ProofYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Jude reminded his readers that they need to remember the disobedience of the generation of Israelites that were delivered out of Egypt. Even after the miracles God performed, He subsequently destroyed them because they did not believe. That was Jude’s first example of God’s judgment; now let’s check out the second and third examples in Jude’s exemplarific trifecta.

Jude 6-7 says, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

We saw Jude’s first example last week, now let’s check out his second example of God’s judgment. We covered this same event when we were in Peter’s second letter, but Jude attacks it from a different angle. Interest in angels has grown over the years. From movies like Angels in the Outfield and Heaven Can Wait to TV shows like Touched by an Angel and Highway to Heaven. We have the city of Los Angeles which is Spanish for the angels and is home to the baseball team called the Angels. We have girls named Angel, Angela, Angelia, Angelica, Angelina, and Angeline. We have angel tattoos and Curtis Sliwa’s Guardian Angels. The stereotypical angel has rosy cheeks, is somewhat plump, wears a white flowing robe, carries a harp, has white feathered wings, and of course the real identifier is the golden halo. Angels are hugely popular, but Jude talks about some angels that did something they should not have done. Jude presents a parallel verse to the one we looked at in 2 Pet. 2:4 and says there are, “angels that did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode.” These angels were supposed to keep their own domain, but did not. They were supposed to stay in their proper abode, but did not. Remember Jude is explaining and reminding his readers by way of example why God’s judgment will occur to the creepers because they, “Were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation.” Jude and Peter came to the same conclusion about Gen. 6:1-4.  Let’s review what happened in Genesis. Here’s the condensed version. Sons of God refer to angels and daughters of men refer to women. These angels looked at the daughters of men and saw that they were beautiful. Beautiful literally means good. Sound familiar? It’s the same word used to describe how Eve felt about the fruit of the tree that led her to take it. So these angelic beings took humans as their wives and engaged in activity reserved for husband and wife. They crossed over the boundaries established by God. Just prior to this event in Genesis, we see a new character introduced by the name of Noah. So if you keep reading, you have the flood account; a story of worldwide judgment.

Back in Jude 6, the word “domain” is used. It means a sphere of influence or authority. The angels Jude refers to did not stay within the authority or sphere of influence God established for them. The angels, “abandoned their proper abode.” They left where they were supposed to be as ordered by God. As a result of their disobedience God, “kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” There’s more here than meets the eye. Don’t think of these angels as sitting in a dungeon somewhere waiting until the judgment comes. God created these angels to enjoy His presence. These angels were able to freely move about in the shining light of God’s presence. Now they are in darkness. While they have been judged for leaving their domain and abandoning their proper abode, this is not the final judgment. They have been stripped of the power and authority they once had. Are you ready for Jude’s third example? Many people have heard of Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter talked about the preservation of Lot who lived in Sodom. But Peter’s focus was on Lot’s salvation and not necessarily the judgment for Sodom’s sin although we did see that. Let’s quickly review. We saw from 2 Peter that these cities were reduced to ashes because of the ungodliness of the people living there. The details are found in Genesis 18-19. While this is a story of salvation for Lot, it is a tragic story of wickedness, ungodliness, and death for the rest. Gen. 13:13 tells us that the, “Men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.” If you go back to Genesis, you’ll see Abraham bargaining with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of the righteous. First for 50 righteous men, then 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. It is important to mention that Abraham was Lot’s uncle. For all the ungodliness and sin that was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah, God still made a way to deliver people committed to Him. Abraham prayed the city would be spared for the sake of 10 righteous and yet the city was destroyed. There weren’t 10 righteous people there.

Jude gives us a detail not included in Peter’s second letter. Look at v. 7. The clause, “just as” links the activities of the angels and the activities of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Notice that the cities around Sodom and Gomorrah were engaging in the same activities that brought destruction upon them. Deut. 29:23 tells us those cities were Admah and Zeboiim. They, “indulged in gross immorality.” Sexual sin was rampant but was not their only issue. Ez. 16:49 tells us that Sodom was arrogant and had abundant food, yet they showed no concern for the poor or needy. Jewish historian Josephus criticized Sodom for its pride and hatred of foreigners. Not only did they indulge themselves in gross immorality, Jude says they, “went after strange flesh.” This refers to the same sin that dominated Sodom. So why does Jude talk about Sodom and Gomorrah? Peter wanted his readers to know that God will always deliver His children. Jude wanted his readers to know that sin will always be judged. He concluded Sodom and Gomorrah are, “An example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” The people of those cities stood in opposition to the things that are right and godly and holy and pure and moral. Because of their behavior, judgment occurs. They behave in a certain way because they have no relationship with Christ. Not only do Sodom and Gomorrah serve as a historic example, they also serve as a prophecy of what will occur on that day. Jude is not saying that the creepers engaged in the exact same sin as that of Sodom, but we’ll see in coming verses that they did engage in activities reserved for husband and wife within the confines of marriage. Jude’s point is that sin will be judged. Just because the evidence of judgment may not be apparent to our eyes, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care. We’ve seen from John’s first letter that we should not choose to sin.

We’ve heard Jesus say that the proof our relationship with Him is in obedience to His commands. Jude is providing concrete examples where God does exactly as He says He will do. He judged sin then and He will judge sin today.

Israel’s Rebellion

7 Oct

RememberYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that certain people crept into the church – the creepers. Jude gave us three reasons why their judgment was right and just and told us the judgment for sin was determined long ago. They were ungodly, used grace as license, and denied Jesus Christ. Jude now provides three examples – remember he likes trifectas – of past judgment to his readers.

Jude 5 says, “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.”

Here’s Jude’s preface. The first phrase of v. 5 is a transition. His examples serve as a review of what they know. In Ec. 1:9 Solomon that said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  It’s always good to review what we know and Jude is no different. He set up this letter by telling his readers what’s going on in the church because they failed to recognize it. People got into the church and were teaching things that were not consistent with the Bible. They taught things that were not consistent with the traditions of the apostles, were not consistent with what the people knew to be correct, and still no one in the church noticed these things. He starts off by saying, “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all.” Did you catch that phrase? Jude said his readers, “Know all things once for all,”  This makes a connection with, “The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Jude reminded them of the gospel message they already knew because it was preached to them and they made a decision to follow Christ. He’s not saying they know everything. In contrast to the creepers, Jude’s readers knew the Gospel and the creepers did not because they were turning the Gospel into something it was not. On one hand, his readers knew what they were talking about. On the other hand, just because they do know the truth doesn’t mean reminders aren’t helpful. It’s good to be reminded of the power of the Gospel. It is that power that affects change within us in such a transformative way that only God could get the credit. Jude reminded them because his readers, like us, are sometimes susceptible to forgetting the truth.

Remember Egypt! Jude gives his readers the first example of God’s judgment. This was an event of such significance that it was likely talked about around dinner tables like we talk about Pearl Harbor, or the Challenger disaster, or 9/11. What began as an incredible miracle of God turned into a judgment from God for many Israelites. Jude reminds them, “The Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.” Why was Israel in Egypt? Let’s set Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine to around 1898 B.C. to find out why. Here’s the Cliff Note version. Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had father Abraham. Isaac was one of them and he had twin sons named Jacob and Esau. Jacob was one of Israel’s patriarchs because first born Esau sold his birth right for a pot of stew. Jacob and his mother Rebekah subsequently tricked Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of the first born Esau. Jacob has a dream in which a ladder is set atop earth reaching to heaven and God tells him, I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 28:13-14) True to the dream, Jacob has 12 sons and the last of them he names Joseph. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Gen. 37:3 tells us that, “Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons.” Gen. 37:4 says Joseph’s brothers, “hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.”  It didn’t help that Jacob made Joseph a, “varicolored tunic” or what we call a coat of many colors. Adding to the hatred of the brothers was the fact that Joseph had two dreams in which he was placed in authority over his brothers. The brothers conspire to kill Joseph, but his brother Reuben steps in and says, “Let us not take his life. Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness.” (Gen. 37:21-22) Reuben planned to rescue Joseph later, but some Midianite traders were passing by and the brothers decide to sell Joseph for 20 shekels of silver and Gen. 37:28 tells us, “Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.” Exodus tells us a slave is worth 30 shekels of silver and Joseph was sold for less. It gives you the sense of just how poorly they thought of Joseph. By my calculations, that’s a price of about $152 in today’s money. The conspiracy deepens as the brothers take Joseph’s stylish coat, kill a goat, and dip the coat in the blood and show it to their father Jacob who concludes that Joseph was, “torn to bits” by a wild beast. (Gen. 37:33) So Joseph arrives in Egypt courtesy of his brothers and the Midianite traders and is then sold to one of Pharaoh’s officers that was captain of the bodyguard and the Bible tells us the Lord was with Joseph. (Gen. 37:36) Joseph became overseer of Potiphar’s house and managed it well right up until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and Joseph literally ran out of his coat leaving it in her hands. She accuses Joseph of rape; he’s thrown in jail where he rises to a position where he’s in charge of the other prisoners such that the chief jailer didn’t even supervise him. (Gen. 39:23) Joseph has the opportunity to interpret a dream for Pharaoh in which there would be seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. Joseph develops a plan to store up grain for seven years and then distribute that food during the famine. Because of his great planning skills and dream interpretation, at the age of 30, he’s elevated to a position just below Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. As the famine spreads throughout the world, Egypt had plenty of food so people were flocking there to get grain that they were allowed to buy with cash, goats, horse, livestock, and whatever people could find to sell – even selling their lives as they willingly entered servitude to Pharaoh. So who shows up in Egypt but Joseph’s eleven brothers seeking food. After some back and forth exchanges with his brothers, the family is reunited. Joseph gets the last word to his brothers when he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20)

In order to get back to Jude, we need to look at Ex. 1:5-14. If you continue studying Exodus, you’ll see Moses raised up to go against Pharaoh in order to let God’s people go. Israel flees Egypt and is led to the Promised Land in Israel where milk and honey flow. God leads them by a pillar of clouds by day and fire by night. All the while, the people are complaining against Moses and Aaron saying they’d rather be in Egypt as slaves than be in the wilderness.

Now Jude brings it home. The Israelites saw the miracles of God with their own eyes and still rebelled. These weren’t your typical the sun’ll come up tomorrow things. These were incredible and numerous miracles. From the plagues that hammered Pharaoh, to the Red Sea, to the manna from heaven, to the quail to the Israelites clothes not wearing out on their journey. Jude reminds them that God’s judgment came from their disobedience. Of the twelve spies that were sent into the Promised Land, only two came back saying let’s go! With God on our side, we can take them! “The Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.” Believe is the verb form of faith. Jude conveys the principle that a faith that is not in action, a faith that is not moving is dead. Our faith is not passive. There cannot be a profession of faith without a life of obedience. The disobedience of the people demonstrated their unbelief. That is why God judged them.

Jude’s point, like Peter, is that continued faithfulness is the primary way to demonstrate that we are children of God. Perseverance is one of the distinguishing marks of an authentic believer according to 2 Pet. 1:6. Christian belief – faith – means action. That’s why Jude is reminding the people. When we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

The Donkey Said What?

24 Jun

DonkeyYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week it went from bad to worse as Peter told us that these false teachers had eyes full of adultery that evaluated every woman they saw as a potential participant in their ungodly ways. They turned their backs on the right way and followed after the greed loving Balaam. This morning, a rebuke comes from the unlikeliest of places. This should have been included in last week’s message, but there wasn’t enough time.

2 Pet. 2:16-17 says, “But he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.”

A funny thing happened on the way to Israel. Peter picks up the story of Balaam from Numbers 22 as he was making his way to meet Balak to discuss this cursing of God’s people. Please remember that Balaam is not a true prophet of God. He’s in it for the money. He’s in it to maintain his soft, cushy lifestyle. So Balaam is on his way to meet up with Balak under the pretense of godliness, but is really driven by greed. “But he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with the voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.” (2 Pet. 2:16) Balaam is supposed to be a prophet of God, but doesn’t recognize the Angel of the Lord standing in front of him. You’ve got to go back and read Num. 22:21-35 to get the full picture. Balaam is arguing with a donkey. If the donkey didn’t see the Angel of the Lord, v. 33 says that He would have killed Balaam and let the donkey live. Balaam admitted to sinning against God after he was told.

Even though Balaam appears godly, the contrast from v. 35 tells us the real story: “But you shall speak only the word which I tell you.” It gives the indication that he had his own agenda. Balaam listened because the donkey spoke with the voice of the man. We would call this a miracle – a sign that so many people look for. The rebuke from the donkey was because Balaam was going to meet with Balak. The donkey, “restrained the madness of the prophet.” The donkey had to get involved. It’s pretty bad when someone that calls himself a prophet of God doesn’t know the way of God and doesn’t recognize God when He’s standing in front of him. Balaam was not literally crazy. Peter is saying that any way that is contrary to the right way, the straightway, the pure way, the holy way, the Jesus way is utter madness. If the donkey didn’t get involved, Balaam would have been killed right there instead of dying while fighting against Israel. Unrighteousness always leads to judgment.

Peter has talked about the character of the false teachers. They intentionally lead Christians astray. They malign the way of the truth. They indulge the flesh. They’re daring and self willed. They’re not scared when they revile angelic majesties. They’re unreasoning animals. They lure or entice unstable souls. They revile where they have no knowledge. He has clearly established the character of the false teachers is less than what is expected of a vibrant relationship with Christ. Peter now illustrates the affect they have on other people. It’s always nice to illustrate what you mean so Peter compares things that would be understood by his readers. He says the false teachers are like, “Springs without water.” When you go to a spring, you expect water. Think about traveling in the Middle East. There is a lot of wilderness and rugged terrain and it’s hot. A spring would be a welcome opportunity to rest and recharge. A spring without water is useless. This is a comparison to the deception of the false teachers. Teachers of God’s Word should provide clarity, should provide water for thirsty souls, but in the end people expecting help were left parched, frustrated, and confused. There is a parallel from Jeremiah: For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  (Jer. 2:13) They promised solid Bible teaching, but their teaching led people away from the straight way. Pro. 13:14, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death.” The false teachers are, “Mists driven by a storm.” Again, thinking of Israel as that dry and parched land in desperate need of rain, the mists that could bring relief are blown away. The results of both comparisons are the same. When you need to satisfy a deep thirst, you need water. It’s like giving someone an empty glass to quench their thirst.

These false teachers did not deliver what they promised. They promised no judgment, but God always judges sin. The wages of sin is death. “Black darkness has been reserved” for the false teachers. Once again, Peter hammers coming judgment for these people. Don’t be seduced into thinking that what we do doesn’t matter.

How to be Useful

14 Jan

Peter's BoatYou can listen to the podcast here.

Most people want to find purpose for their lives. Few people intentionally squander their life on foolish and trivial pursuits. Most Christians would say that they want to make investments that will make an eternal difference. Most would say they want to be involved, make a difference, but what steps are we taking to bring that dream into reality? If you want to make a difference, you need to allow change to come about in your life before you can move on.

Take a look at Luke 5:1-11.

This is a story of obedience. Simon was no different than us. He was trying to make a living. Trying to do what he thought he should. He had been out on the Sea of Galilee all night fishing. He returned from his fishing trip with nothing more than a dirty net. It is hard work being a fisherman, and Simon returned empty handed. He and the other fisherman stretched out their nets on the beach to clean out the sea weed, shells, barnacles, and all the other stuff that was picked up during the night. Simon was probably thinking about the next trip hoping that it would be more profitable.

This area of the Sea of Galilee is a beautiful place. The white sandy beach slopes up from the cool blue water into a hill around the cove that forms a natural amphitheater. Plants and wildlife flourish there. People in the area can grow anything because of the temperate climate. As Simon and the other fishermen were putting their freshly cleaned nets onto their boats, they heard what must have been a dull roar coming from the west. A crowd of people was coming toward him being led by a man that Simon recognized as Jesus. This was not their first meeting. In Luke 4:39, Jesus was at Simon’s house healing his mother-in-law’s high fever. Verse 1 says, “ . . . the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the Word of God.” They got close to hear the Word preached. It wasn’t a concert, but the Word of God. It wasn’t the latest, new, and improved fancy, shmancy program. Remember that at age 12, Christ was able to teach the teachers. He was able to captivate people with His words. He brought the Scriptures to life. His message was articulate and relevant. The people were inspired and moved by His message so much that He was pushed to the water’s edge.

Where was Simon? He and his buddies were in their boats watching. Jesus looks at the crowd and at the boats, and gets on Simon’s boat and asks him to “put out a little way from the land.”  Why had Jesus come to this cove at this time of the morning? Jesus wanted to see Simon. Jesus wanted Simon to hear this message. As Simon sat there, Jesus finishes His teaching and tells Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  This was instruction to Simon alone. Notice that Jesus is not suggesting obedience; He is demanding it. Simon says, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” Notice what Simon didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Jesus, don’t tell me how to fish.  I’m a professional.” He didn’t say, “Jesus, stick to preaching and let me do the fishing.  I know the best fishing holes on this pond.” He didn’t say, “Everybody knows that nighttime is the best time for catching fish on the Sea of Galilee.  And the best fishing is in the shallow water along the Sea’s edge, not in the deep water.” Simon didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t listen to his feelings. I’m sure he was dog-tired after fishing all night. Simon simply obeyed. Jesus was still teaching, but I don’t know if Simon caught on. It was a lesson on obedience; a lesson of purpose. This lesson was to test Simon’s usefulness; to see if he had what it took to make a difference. What was the result of Simon’s obedience? The catch was so large that Simon had to call his partners for help because the amount of fish in the nests was causing the boat to sink. Simon throws himself Jesus’ feet and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Notice Simon uses the word Lord. In v. 5 Simon used Master, but now uses Lord. Master simply means superintendent, but Lord is from the word that means Messiah. Simon knew.

So how do we move past uselessness to get to usefulness? There are truths and insights in this account that will help us to move to a place of usefulness; to make a difference in our world; to find purpose. The ticket to freedom is obedience. We think we know all there is to know about freedom. We want to believe that we are a liberated people. We think freedom means making our own decisions, avoiding the rules, changing the rules, even breaking the rules. People tell us, “Think for yourself, do what is right for you.” For the Christian, freedom comes through yielding our will to God and obeying His rules. Jesus summed this up by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jo. 14:15) Obedience to Christ and His words is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. For Simon, Jesus is not suggesting obedience; He demands it. You cannot be a follower of Christ without being obedient.

Obedience demands action. Listening never substitutes for action. Simon heard the message of Jesus.  He was a captive audience. But Jesus wanted Simon to do more than simply listen. He wanted him to act. James says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Ja. 1:22) Simon sat in the boat with Jesus and listened to His words. Simon believed in Him and it was time to act. Obedience is faith in action. It is taking the promises and provisions of Christ’s words into obedient behavior that manifests itself in service. Jesus didn’t say, “Believe in Me,” and leave it at that. He said over and over again, “Follow Me.”  In essence Jesus is saying, “Don’t just say you believe me, don’t just say you know me, don’t just say ‘I love you,’ follow me.” Peter Lord former pastor of the Park Avenue Baptist church in Titusville, FL said, “What I believe I do and the rest is just religious talk.”

Obedience calls for doing things that may not make sense. Simon was comfortable fishing at night along the shore line.  To launch out into the deep during the day is another story – that took a step of faith. Most people live in the shallow waters. They simply exist on a superficial level. There’s little depth to their lives because they’re content to just play around the edge, never going out into deeper water. Why?  Because it’s safer in shallow water. Out in the deep water there might be waves, ships, sea monsters. They might get in trouble so they’ll just stay back where it’s safe and comfortable. God’s call to obedience involves risks, involves potential failure in the eyes of others; involves faith. Only those people who are willing to follow the Lord’s lead ever really make a difference.

There was nothing logical to Simon about going out in the open sea and fishing again. It didn’t make sense. Some would say it’s dumb, but Jesus told Simon to go and the key to the whole story is when Simon says, “ . . . but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” (Lu. 5:5) The most powerful test of obedience is to do those things that don’t make sense simply because Jesus says so. Obedience in the little things leads to opportunities in the big things. The fact is that Simon obeyed Jesus. Simon obeyed when Jesus asked to use his boat for a pulpit. Simon obeyed when Jesus asked him to launch out into the deep. Because Simon obeyed, he was in a position to be used by God. Many people want to do something really big for God, to find their “ministry calling” but aren’t obeying God where they are. I think this is where most people are. We’re doing what people consider the menial and behind-the-scene tasks. If we won’t be obedient in the little things, why would God use us in the big things of life. The reality is that if we’re not finding purpose in where we are, what we’re doing now, then we’re not going to make a difference for God anywhere.

What’s keeping you from obeying? There is one object that is present throughout this story. It was the boat. The boat was at the water’s edge. Jesus preached from the boat. The miraculous catch of fish happened on the boat. Simon recognized Jesus as Messiah on the boat. Yet in the end, Simon pulls the boat to the shore and leaves it behind to follow Jesus. The boat represents Simon’s livelihood, his business, his security, his peace of mind, his future. Simon made his boat available to Jesus, and Jesus used Simon’s business as a platform for ministry. We tend to separate the secular from the spiritual. We try to partition off our Christianity from our career. But, Simon’s boat was what was keeping him from a life of total and complete obedience. His boat and what it represents was preventing him from living a fully devoted life of obedience. What about you? What’s your boat? What’s keeping you from a life of usefulness? What is standing between you and a life of obedience? What’s preventing you from making a difference for eternity sake?

The Realization

6 Feb

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week the sailors found out the whole reason for the storm was because of Jonah. They found out Jonah was running from God. They needed relief from the storm so they reluctantly obeyed Jonah and threw him into the sea to face certain drowning. That’s where we left Jonah, so let’s see what happens next.

Look at Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 1:17-2:9.

Now we come to the misplaced focus of the story. Too often in our telling of the story of Jonah, the emphasis is placed on the fish. Call it a whale, a fish, a sea monster – it doesn’t matter. Some argue that if this verse and 2:10 were removed from the book, the story would be more realistic. The fish is not the star of the story, but the God that appointed the fish. People over the years have attempted to prove this is possible by telling us that a whale is air breathing so Jonah could really live inside. There is no need to explain the fish in any other way except that it is a miracle of God.  A miracle is defined as an act of God beyond human explanation or replication. We don’t need to waste time trying to explain how this is possible – it’s a miracle. Just like the parting of the Red Sea. Just like the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years with neither their shoes nor clothing wearing out. Just like Elijah raising the boy from the dead and Elisha raising the Shulamite’s son. Just like the cruse of oil never running out. Like the talking donkey. Like Joshua and the sun standing still. Just like Jesus turning water into wine, feeding the 5000, and most incredible of all? Jesus defying death!

Don’t worry about how implausible the fish may be – it’s a miracle and it really happened. The fish is definitely miraculous, but so is the fact that God sent the fish to save Jonah. Even with Jonah’s disobedience, his running, his turning his back on God’s call, his refusal to preach Christ to a lost and dying Nineveh, God did not turn His back on Jonah. Jonah had another opportunity. The word appointed in v. 17 means designated, it means equipped or furnished in a special way. Was this fish set aside in eternities past just for this reason? Did God have this fish in mind, or did He come up with the plan based on Jonah’s actions? Does it matter? What we know is God did not allow Jonah to die, but instead provided him with some alone time to reflect. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be. Jonah finds himself flying through the air and hits the water. As he floats down in the water, I think the fish came along immediately and swallowed him up. I don’t think Jonah’s head ever came up out of the water. Did he even try to swim or tread water? I believe in Jonah’s mind, he was dead as soon as the sailors picked him up. God’s mission for Jonah was so contrary to what Jonah wanted to do, he’d rather be dead than obey. The fish was designated to swallow Jonah. The fish knew its purpose and obeyed. Jonah knew his purpose and disobeyed. The vehicle for Jonah’s salvation was the fish. The vehicle for Nineveh’s salvation was Jonah.

Jonah uses his time effectively. Verse 17 tells us that Jonah, “Was in the stomach of the fish for three days and three nights.” Jonah had no reference point so the passing of time would only become apparent after he got out of the fish. What I’m sure was surprising for Jonah was that he was alive. Death did not come to him as he hoped for. We don’t know how much time passed between Jonah realizing he wasn’t dead until he began his prayer in 2:1. I wonder if he was disappointed? I’m sure he expected to wake up in heaven and he wakes up in hell. Remember the captain of the ship waking up Jonah encouraging him to pray? There is no account of Jonah’s willingness to pray earlier. To this point in the book, Jonah is a man of few words speaking only two sentences so far.

Now Jonah prays and it’s interesting to note that Jonah, “prays to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish.” Not just to the Lord as the sailors did earlier. Jonah is acknowledging that God is his Lord. Jonah was desperate. He cried out in his distress. Distress means extreme anxiety. Jesus was so distressed in the garden at His impending death that His sweat became drops of blood. Jonah’s desperation turned to prayer. Too often we’re just like Jonah. We run from God and get ourselves into situations and we wonder why is God allowing this? If only Jonah had prayed for a godly attitude, had prayed for strength, for commitment. If only Jonah had prayed for God’s love to fully encompass him to the point that he would love his enemies and tell them how they could know Jesus. If only had prayed these things when God gave him the mission to preach to Nineveh. Jonah prayed, “from the depth of Sheol.” Jonah was not dead, although he probably felt like it. You’ve heard the expression, “hell on earth?” That’s what Jonah was feeling like. He is overwhelmed by his circumstances.

Jonah ran from God and discovered you can run, but you can’t hide. Ps. 139:7-10 remind us, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” No matter where you go, God is there. Jonah ran from God, and God ran after Jonah. Even though Jonah is in complete and utter despair, God heard and answered him and that is extraordinarily significant. Don’t ever think there is a time when God turns His back on you. If you cry out to Him, He’ll hear and answer you.

Jonah knows what is going on. He recognizes God’s sovereignty in v. 3. It was God that prepared the ship. It was God that prepared the storm and the waves. It was God that prepared the fish. It was God that prepared deliverance for Jonah and for Nineveh. Jonah makes what looks like a really disheartening conclusion. He says, “I have been expelled from Your sight.” We know that God is everywhere so what Jonah is saying is, “I have fallen out of favor with God.” That’s how it is with us. Our own actions cause us to fall out of favor with God, but our relationship does not change. Sin does that. God cannot and will not look favorably on sin nor will He ignore it. In many cases, we don’t see any immediate consequences for our sin, so we wrongly conclude that it doesn’t matter. In Jonah’s case, he could have avoided the consequences for sin if he’d simply obeyed. But all hope is not lost. Even though he is in the belly of the fish, Jonah says, “Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.”  It’s never too late to turn from our sin to God.

Even though it looks pretty bleak for Jonah, he continues to pray knowing that his God will hear him. It was bad. Imagine yourself in this situation. Swirling around in the stomach juices of the fish, it’s slimy, smelly, disgusting, and dark. The fish is still swimming, taking turns, changing depths. Jonah is probably seasick. You can hear the despair in his voice as he continues to cry out to God, Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever.” And now the big turning point for Jonah. The big but. Look at Jonah’s prayer in 6b-9. You cannot acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of your life and not do what He tells you. In Acts 10, Peter was given a vision to kill and eat all kinds of animals and birds that were unclean. Peter protested so God told him again. Peter got the message – God speaks, we obey. “Salvation is from the Lord.” That is the unchanging message of hope. That is the message our friends, family, co-workers, and Muslims need to hear.

Jonah struggles to surrender to the Lordship of God. I struggle with that too. Are we going to run away? Or are we going to submit? With our mouths we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Are we serious when we pray those words? Are we willing to be part of God’s answer to that prayer? I can’t help but notice that it if it ever occurred to Jonah to pray for Nineveh, he didn’t do it. Jonah looked to the Temple. Today as part of the new covenant, our bodies are the dwelling place of God. Our bodies are the temple of Christ. Do we see Muslims as potential temples of the Holy Spirit?

The Finger Pointing

23 Jan

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we left the captain of this Phoenician ship begging Jonah to wake up and pray so they wouldn’t die. The storm is still raging and the expert sailors are scared to death. The one person on the ship that had the answers had to be woken up to take action.

Jonah 1:7-10 says, “Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.”

So what’s the next step? Remember the sailors sent out some ineffective prayers in v. 5. So much like us when we don’t hear from God in the timeframe we want, the sailors decided they still needed to do something. They threw out some prayers and then talked among themselves. I wonder what their conversations sounded like. Hey Captain, you’re in charge, what are we going to do? Do you have any ideas? Anybody ever see a storm like this? We do the same things. What do you think we should do? I read on the internet that this works. My friend was in the same situation, and here’s what they did. Let’s put the question out there on Facebook and Twitter. We seek answers from anyone that offers. There is nothing wrong with getting guidance from others. Pro. 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” Be careful who you ask. This was a storm unlike any these experienced sailors had ever seen. Perhaps they suspected a storm of this magnitude could only come from divine influence. Maybe because the storm came up with such  suddenness that it could only be attributed to divine influence.

They decided to cast lots. At this point, Jonah is on deck, and he’s looking at the severity of the storm. Did he know that he was the reason for the storm? Did he think, “What have I done?” Casting lots was a common practice back in that time in the Middle East. It normally involved two stones or pebbles that were painted or colored on each side. When the stones were thrown, if two dark sides landed up the usual interpretation was no. If two light sides landed up, that meant yes. A light and a dark side meant throw again. This would be done for each person. This isn’t some sort of voodoo magic. Lots were cast to determine the guilt of Achan in Josh. 7. They were used to distribute land to the 12 tribes in Josh. 18. Lots selected Saul as king in 1 Sam.10.

Can you imagine the drama of the moment? Waves crashing all around them. The howling of the wind. Things being thrown all over the ship and we find the sailors casting lots. Did Jonah have a sick feeling in his stomach knowing that the truth would soon be found out? One by one, people are eliminated as being the cause for their current situation. The time comes for the lot to be cast for Jonah. The stones are rolled and they come up two light sides. V. 7 tells us, “The lot fell on Jonah.” This was not a game of chance. Pro. 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” All eyes turned to Jonah.

Once it was determined that Jonah was the cause, the sailors peppered him with questions. Look at v. 8. Can you feel their intensity? “Tell us now!” No delay, time is running out, we’ve got to hurry . . . the storm is still raging. Put yourself in the sailor’s position. When you find out that the problems you are experiencing is because of a single person, what would you say? We can assume from the context that Jonah was a mystery to them at this point. I’m sure they knew he had booked passage in Joppa. Aside from that, they didn’t know him from Adam and now they want some answers.

What looks like similar questions in vs. 7 and 8 are really quite different. V. 7: “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” V. 8: On whose account has this calamity struck us?” The first is a general question. The second literally reads, “It is because of you that this calamity has struck us.” The first is let’s find out who is causing this. The second is an indictment on Jonah – it’s your fault. The sailors ask four very pointed questions in v. 8. “What is your occupation?” “Where do you come from?” “What is your country?” “From what people are you?”  Jonah speaks for the first time in this book and it’s in response to their questions. He doesn’t really answer the questions though. The real answers are: Prophet. Gath-hepher. Israel. Hebrew. Instead of giving those four answers, Jonah simply responds, I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” He doesn’t answer the questions the sailors asked . . . or does he? Let’s break it down. “I am a Hebrew.” These Phoenician sailors would understand what a Hebrew  Egyptians knew about the Hebrew people. So did the Moabites, the Philistines, the Edomites as well as a host of other nationalities. It’s Jonah’s next statement that would floor them. “I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” There’s more here than meets the eye. Fear in this verse is a participle and in the Hebrew language it normally indicates an occupation. Fear can also be translated worship so in essence Jonah is answering the sailor’s first question. Jonah’s job was to worship, “The Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” In the middle of the raging sea, I’m sure the sailors were wishing Jonah would do something about the storm. Neh. 9:6 says, “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You.” Jonah knows firsthand the God of the sea and acknowledges His hand in controlling what is currently going on.

These expert sailors have spent their lives on the sea and at Jonah’s admission, they “Became extremely frightened.” They were already afraid in v. 5. Now they are extremely afraid. They feared with great fear. They were scared that they were going to die, now on top of that, Jonah’s God was the One that was in control. Add holy fear on top of being scared to death. The sailors ask the same question we ask of our friends and family when they do something we consider particularly bad. “How could you do this?” We’ll normally add something loving like, “And you call yourself a Christian.” What is the “this” here? Is God against taking a cruise? A vacation? Hanging out with people that clearly do not worship God? The “this” is the last part of the verse. “For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.” There are some details left out somewhere between vs. 9 and 10.  We don’t know when Jonah told them, but it had to be some time after the lot fell on him.  I wonder if the sailors caught the irony of Jonah’s statement. Who are you? I’m a prophet of God. And I’m fleeing from the Lord. Runaway prophet – it’s an oxymoron. It’s like a shepherd with no sheep. It’s like a teacher with no class. It’s like a king with no subjects. People called to serve God do not run away.

Now we have a dilemma. God knows Jonah is running, Jonah knows he’s running; the captain knows he’s running, and the sailors know he’s running. The first course of action should be to run back to God. When you and everyone around you know that you are in open rebellion with God, it doesn’t matter what words you use, no one will hear you. If no one will hear you, you are ineffective. I’m not talking about preaching, teaching, and telling the truth and the people says, “Yea, whatever.” Is. 55:11 says, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” I’m talking about trying to tell someone the truth, and they won’t even let you talk because of your testimony. The Great Commission to make disciples is not being fulfilled because there are too many professing Christians running from the mission. Is anyone grabbing you by the shoulders demanding that you tell them why you have hope? As we’ll see next week, Jonah answered the sailors honestly when they asked him the questions in v. 8, but he didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity

Does your family see a difference in you? Friends? If the message you proclaim hasn’t done anything in your life, others won’t listen to you. Nineveh’s problem was they were lost and there was no one to show them the way. Jonah’s problem was that he knew the Way and could not run far enough. Brother Andrew says, “We’re too Christian to enjoy sin, and too sinful to enjoy God. That’s why we’re so miserable. The only cure: radical preaching and radical response.”

How Bethlehem Missed Christmas

12 Dec

You can catch the podcast here.

It’s possible to miss Christmas even as it happens all around you. The stress of finding the right gifts, wrapping them, and paying for them can mask Christmas so well it might just disappear altogether. It happened to a lot of people that very first Christmas and nowhere was it more obvious than in the little town of Bethlehem that slept right through the most important birth in history. Christmas came to Bethlehem, but almost everyone there missed it. Bethlehem, however, had a good excuse. The people there were overwhelmed with life. An unexpected census caused that little village to be packed with people. The town was not prepared for the extra people. The demands for food, water, and lodging must have stretched the townspeople to the max. To make it worse, many of the people there probably had to be somewhere else to be counted for the census. It looked like a golden financial opportunity, but before it was all over, Bethlehem was overwhelmed with grief.

Take a look at Matthew 2:13-18.

The loss of a child is particularly painful.  In America when a child is abducted, an Amber Alert is posted.  Signs across highways light up to let people know that a child is missing. The truth is that a lot of things can keep you from Christmas, a lot of really normal life-things. Just as it did in Bethlehem, grief can steal the joy of Christmas faster than any other enemy.

God is always at work so we worship Him. The angels’ song was worship at its finest. It considered nothing of the circumstances of earth, but only considered the majesty of God. The angels had a view of God that completely blocked their view of anything on earth, and they sang as if God alone was worthy of praise. They sang as if the glory of God was making a difference in the lives of those who lived on earth. But people on earth were so focused on their circumstances; few of them caught so much as a glimpse of what the angels saw on that first Christmas night. In Luke 2:14 the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” In other words, this is the best day the world has ever known. Mary and Joseph probably didn’t get the full impact of the angels’ message. Joseph was more stressed than he’d ever been, and when his young wife needed him the most, the best he could do was find a smelly stable in Bethlehem. Mary had just given birth and was certainly exhausted. The labor and delivery must have been difficult. No meds. No modern child birthing techniques. Loneliness – Mary’s mom wasn’t there to support her.  The shepherds were physically and emotionally tired – they had been watching over their flocks at night. The people of the village were packed into tight quarters, exhausted from a census and all the trouble the census had caused. For everyone involved, life was hard. If their circumstances were the reason they would give glory to God in the highest, then this probably wouldn’t have been the night for a song.

Your circumstances are probably very different from any of those in Bethlehem. Maybe it’s your job that applies the daily pressure. Maybe it’s a relationship challenge that dominates your thoughts. It could be that December’s schedule is packed too tightly with things to do, things to buy, things to wrap, things to cook, things to decorate, things to eat, or things to attend. Maybe your circumstances are more painful. Maybe there is some loss, some illness, some point of grief that has taken away any desire to celebrate Christmas, or even life. Perhaps financial pressures have taken the joy right out of life. When life is difficult, or even too busy, it’s possible to miss the truth of the angels’ song that broke into the night skies over troubled Bethlehem. Regardless of your circumstances, God is worthy of your praise. He never changes even as your circumstances change constantly. God is worthy of your best song, your best love right now. Whether you can see it or not, God is always at work.

Not only is God is always at work and we should worship Him, but God is always in control so we should trust Him. Mary and Joseph were facing some big changes in their lives and probably wondered if they were on the right track. Mary’s instructions had come in a vision. Joseph’s instructions had come in a dream. As time passed after they were given their instructions, it seems that there was silence from God. How many times had Mary wondered if she heard the Lord correctly? How many times had Joseph second-guessed his decision to stay with Mary? It must have surprised Mary and Joseph when the shepherds arrived full of excitement and filled with the wonder of a miraculous message. From the shepherd’s point of view, Mary and Joseph confirmed their own encounter with the Lord. Eight days later, Mary and Joseph met Simeon at the temple. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before seeing the Christ child. In the temple on Jesus’ eighth day, Simeon said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32) “At that very moment [Anna, an 84 year old widow] came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38) Those events solidified what the Lord had told Mary and Joseph. By the time Joseph had a second dream, a few nights later, there was no hesitation in his willingness to believe, or obey. He and Mary took the child and ran toward Egypt, trusting that God was in control at that moment, just as God had been in control in the events leading up to that moment.

Trusting God is probably the greatest challenge in our lives. It is the essence of faith. The Bible is woven around this principle. Moses had to trust that God was in control, even as Pharaoh turned the people against him. Noah had to trust God even though he’d never seen rain let alone a flood. Ruth trusted as she walked toward Bethlehem with bitter Naomi. David had to trust as he waited to become king. Daniel had to trust as he was thrown into the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to trust as they were thrown into the fiery furnace. Jeremiah had to trust as he followed a trail of tears out of Jerusalem. When Mary and Joseph were asked to trust God in Bethlehem, they weren’t the first. They were simply two more people in a long line of God’s people who had been asked to believe that God was in control. Even if they couldn’t see the evidence of that control right at that moment. You’re in that line, too. God will ask you to trust Him, to believe that He is in control. We need to understand a fundamental principle. Not everyone can make the leap of faith that is required here. The shepherds managed to make it to the birthplace, but no one else in Bethlehem did. The old-timers in Bethlehem surely knew that one of the prophets had promised that Messiah would be born there and were probably able to quote Micah’s prophecy. But when the big moment came and went, the meaning of Christmas slipped past them just as it sometimes slips past us. Trusting God is a decision that you must make daily.

God is always at work and we should worship Him, and we know that God is always in control and we should trust Him, but we must also realize that God loves us more than we’ll ever know: this is the gift of Christmas. As we have seen in past weeks, in our culture, Christmas is all about the gifts. We spend billions on the gift exchanges every holiday season. Christmas was God’s ultimate gift. It was God’s love for us that served as the motivation of Christmas Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:16? It was a personal encounter with Christmas. Meeting Jesus impacts everyone in a different way.  Some accept His free gift and some don’t. The shepherds heard the song of Christmas and returned to their fields with a different outlook on life. The magi were impacted with the child they found, literally changing their path home as a result. Mary and Joseph – already convinced that God had led them to Bethlehem – left there with a deeper conviction than ever that God could be trusted and that the child they carried with them was the greatest gift the world had ever known. Through the ages, millions have found the gift, realizing that the God who is so worthy of worship, the God who demands that we trust Him, is also the God who first of all gave us a gift, motivated by unspeakable love, so that we could know Him personally. God is always at work and we should worship Him, God is always in control and we should trust Him, and God loves us more than we’ll ever know and that is the real gift of Christmas.

It turns out the song of Christmas is a beautiful one if people will only hear it. Most in Bethlehem missed the song. Pain and grief and tragedy and busyness got in the way. But for those who were listening, and for those who responded, the gift the received was nothing short of life-changing. Every Christmas, the song plays again, with God’s constant invitation for us to hear, to believe, and to respond.

The King that Missed Christmas

5 Dec

You can listen to the podcast here.

The first Grinch wasn’t the one Dr. Seuss created.  The first Grinch that tried to destroy Christmas was Herod the Great.  This is the The King that Missed Christmas. The fictional Grinch stood on a mountain overlooking the small village of Whoville where Christmas still happened no matter what he did. There really was a king who stood on his own mountain over the original Christmas village. Just like the Grinch, the king missed Christmas despite his best effort to kill it.  Let me give you some background on Herod and of the times in which he lived. When Jesus was born Herod had reigned thirty-four years. He was called Herod the Great because he had distinguished himself in the wars with Antigonus and other enemies, and because he had demonstrated great talents, as well as great cruelties and crimes, in governing and defending his country; in repairing the temple; and in building the cities of his kingdom. Herod built a palace three miles from Bethlehem known as the Herodium. It was huge.  It was built to house 1,000 soldiers and the royal family for a full year. It had huge storage bins for food and plenty of fresh water brought in by aqueducts from Jerusalem 8 miles away. There was a giant swimming pool, twice as big as an Olympic-sized pool that had gardens around and in the middle of it. It had beautiful artwork, mosaic floors, steam baths, and cold baths. The palace bedrooms were open to the breezes coming from the Mediterranean; as close as you can come to air conditioning. You can still see the ruins of the Herodium from Bethlehem of Judea. At this time Augustus was emperor of Rome. The world was at peace. All the known nations of the earth were united under the Roman emperor. What a perfect time to introduce the gospel.

Matthew gives us some insight into Herod’s Christmas. I hope you have you Bible and will read Matthew 2:1-23.

Verse 1 tells us that magi came from the east, probably Persia or Arabia. These magi were not sorcerers or diviners, they were wise men in medicine, astronomy, and philosophy and they had access to the king. They were smart enough to recognize the sign and to seek out Who had come. They asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” They’ve been anticipating His birth for some time. Dan. 9:25 says, “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.” This expectation of a Messiah was well known. Jews were living in Rome, Egypt, and Greece and wherever they were, they had the Scriptures that told them of the coming Messiah. They would have told others about His coming as well. Josephus and Philo both record the anticipation of the people that a person was coming. The magi saw His star. The magi wanted to worship the King of the Jews, but Herod was troubled. Herod grew his kingdom by cruelty.  He committed great crimes and shed a lot of blood. He knew of the coming Messiah just like everyone else and he feared his reign would come to an end.

So what did Herod do?  Look at v. 4. Herod gathered all the learned men he could. The lawyers, the priests, the religious men of the day who knew the Scriptures, who knew of the prophecies, who knew of the coming Messiah. Herod, “Inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.” Herod knew Jesus was coming, but he wanted a location. They knew where Messiah would be born and responded without hesitation in vs. 56 quoting the prophecy of Micah 5:2. “Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.” (Matt. 2:7) He asked the magi secretly.  He wanted to know how old the Messiah would be at that time. He sent them to Bethlehem. This tells you that Herod believed the prophecy, believed that Messiah was born, and was born in Bethlehem. Herod instructs them, “When you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” (Matt. 2:8) It all sounds so good and right.

Let me leave Herod’s problem there and tell you about some other people that weren’t so great.

Luke 2 is probably the most read Scripture during this time of year and I want to talk about the shepherds. Take a look at Luke 2:8-15. Linus read this passage in. “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” When the shepherds heard that Messiah was born, they immediately went to the manger. The shepherds worshipped the child. They left the child radically changed. When you have a real encounter with Jesus, you can’t stay the same. What a contrast; Herod and the shepherds. Herod had more power and more money than anyone around. The shepherds spent their time watching over the flocks at night; Herod spent his time lounging around in the Herodium or one of his other three palaces. Herod lived in luxury; they lived in the fields. Herod feasted on a bounty of food; the shepherds lived day to day. Herod had a council of smart guys that told him Messiah was born; the shepherds were frightened when the Angel of the Lord appeared to them. It wasn’t Herod who was excited about the news; it was the shepherds. For most people, Christmas is defined by what you get. We are consumed with parties, get togethers, shopping, traveling, go, go, go. There is precious little time to sit back and remember the Christ child.

(This is where the podcast picks up)

Many people think they know the Christmas story. They’ve watched, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” all of the “Santa Claus” movies, and even “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” In all there are 309 Christmas themed movies and TV specials – none of which include the Christ child. In research conducted last year by Lifeway, nearly 70% of people said that many of the things they enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Few people know the Christ of Christmas. It can happen to us. Committed believers who get so wrapped up in the season that we forget the reason.

The only way to find Christmas is to find the Christ child. Of all the gifts that you can give this Christmas, give the only gift that make an eternal difference. According to November research, Americans will spend about $700 this year on Christmas for every man, woman, boy, and girl in America. That equates to $218,878,322,600. Now that’s a hard number to visualize so let me help you. In America, we’re spending $5,066,627 spent – per minute from Black Friday to Christmas day. Somewhere we got the idea that if we spend a lot of money, we must really be celebrating Christmas and be filled with Christmas spirit. Herod missed Christmas. The shepherds found it. Set aside the time this year to find Christmas. The shepherds worked around the clock, but they found Christmas. God went to considerable effort to make sure Herod got the word of His arrival on earth.         Wise men told him. Herod’s advisors told him where the Lord was born. Even with all the guidance necessary to find Christmas, Herod missed it. The king missed Christmas. He had no faith, no trust, no need for a Savior. He was immersed in his own greatness.

If you visit the Herodium today, you’ll find it in ruins. Everything Herod ever owned lies in the broken ruins and dust of the Middle East. What was once a place of extreme opulence is now just a rock-covered hill. It was once covered with fresh, cool water, a jungle of plants, right in the middle of the Judean wilderness. Occasionally a new discovery is made about the man history calls “Herod the Great.” To put Herod’s greatness in perspective, there are no hospitals built in Herod’s name.  No colleges or universities.  No charities that inspire people to give. If it weren’t for the Christmas story, most of us would have never heard of Herod the Great. On the other hand, there is Jesus; born in a manger to simple parents.  Homeless. But in the end, Herod was dead and Jesus lived. Even after He died, Jesus rose again. Today, the world is a changed place not because of Herod “the Great,” but because Jesus lives. Don’t let the materialism of this world hide the real reason we have Christmas. Don’t miss Christmas like Herod did.

The Leaders who Missed Christmas

28 Nov

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Here we are in the Christmas season again. I wonder how many will miss the reason we celebrate Christmas? Even Christians who are pressed to the max with school parties, work parties, church parties, neighborhood parties, decorating, baking, and shopping for presents are prone to miss Christmas. In the classic movie A Christmas Carol, we find the tyrannical and unlovable business owner Scrooge complaining every step of the way because poor Bob Cratchet wants half a day off on Christmas. If the story was written toady, the roles would likely be reversed. We would see Scrooge looking forward to Christmas because as a business owner, he would see profits rise. He’d begin advertising before Halloween and offer ridiculous store hours on Black Friday maybe even opening at midnight. Maybe the story would follow how Bob Cratchet developed his complex shopping plan camped out hoping to find those trendy, state of the art gifts for his kids. He probably scanned the 102 million results found on Google by searching Black Friday 2011. Bob would come to despise the Christmas music that begins just after Halloween. Scrooge would love Christmas, Bob Cratchet? Not so much. In the ever increasing commercialism and materialism that is Christmas, can we change the pattern? Do you want to?

Missing Christmas is nothing new. Since the very first Christmas 2000 years ago, people looking for the real meaning of Christmas missed it. In the first century, the Temple was one of the busiest religious centers on the planet. Sacrifices were constantly being offered on behalf of people’s sin. Priests, worshipers, and the religious crowd were ever present. The religious crowd sat around and “discussed” the finer points of the Law. They evaluated the 613 rules they supposed people ought to follow as they interpreted the Law. Somewhat different form the 10 that came down with Moses from Mt. Sinai. They read from and memorized the Torah, they talked about the prophets. They looked for the Messiah. Messiah is born just about 5 miles from where all these religious leaders were. He was born in Bethlehem and not a single Jewish leader made it to the manger. Jesus was laying in the manger for just over a week and probably no one came to see this little boy.

So let’s look at the story that occurs eight days after Jesus was born. Grab your Bible and read Luke 2:21-38. According to Jewish law, male babies are taken to the Temple on the 8th day and circumcised because He was born under the law according to Gal. 4:4. Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the Temple. The reason for Christmas is taken to the Temple, the very place you’d expect to find Messiah. Christmas nearly comes and goes from the Temple just like it comes and goes for many people today. There were two people at the Temple that day however, that were eagerly anticipating Christmas. The religious leaders at the time who earnestly searched for Messiah did not find Him. Even as Messiah hung on the cross 33 years later, the leaders looking for mankind’s deliverer missed Him. How could anything good come out of Nazareth after all? (Jo. 1:46) How can people miss something so obvious? How could they miss something that is apparently so obvious to us? If we were in Jerusalem that day, we would see the hustle and bustle of Temple life. We’d see the steady stream of religious people doing religious things. We’d smell the smells of the sacrifices, hear the animals, hear people laughing and crying – we’d see all the activity. We’d see people so consumed with life and they’d miss Christmas because they were just too busy. These leaders would remain busy for the next 33 years. They missed the miracles, the teaching, the love, the authenticity, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. The religious leaders were so busy doing God’s work that they missed the most important work God ever did for mankind. They had the Law, the prophets, the very Word of God and yet they missed what all of these things pointed to.

It’s not a stretch when we consider what the holiday season has become. Children so excited about what they will receive that they can barely get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Sleep doesn’t last long as many families are awakened by their children in the wee hours of the morning to open presents giving little to no thoughts as to why they’re getting gifts. Christmas has been replaced with consumerism and materialism, with the rush to find a bargain on an item we don’t really need. It shouldn’t shock you to know that few people know the real reason for Christmas. We’ve lost the simplicity of the manger, of the shepherds that were watching their flocks by night. I wonder if we should spend some time in the Temple looking for Christmas.

Did everyone miss Christmas? If we were flies on the wall in the Temple mount, we’d notice two people. The first is a man named Simeon. The second is a woman named Anna. The Pharisees and the Sadducees and most of the religious leaders of the day missed Christmas. I want to focus on these two people that give us some clues on how to avoid missing Christmas. If you want to find Christmas, you must be willing to wait. Simeon is described as, “righteous and devout.” He was upright, just, and God-fearing. He was, “looking for the consolation Israel.” The Messiah was born of very humble beginnings. He didn’t come as the religious leaders thought He would come. The Christ child did not come as royalty, he didn’t come as a major league political figure. He came as a baby, born of a virgin.

Look at Luke 1:68-75. Simeon waited. Luke 2:26 tells us that, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon was apparently an old man that had been looking for that consolation of Israel for a long time. He waited because the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw Christmas. Luke 2:28-32 says, “Then he [Simeon] took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.’” Can you imagine waiting for something for so long and then holding Salvation in your arms? Simeon offers a blessing to Mary and Joseph and then disappears from the pages of Scripture.

Then we come to Anna. 84 years old and she spent all of her time in the Temple area. She served, “Night and day with fastings and prayers.” Compare her to the religious leaders who argued the finer points of the Law, offered a life time of sacrifices and yet still missed the sacrifice for all life. The priests were engaged in continual sacrifices for the people. When you look at God’s design for the Temple, you’ll find the lamp stand, the table of showbread, the basin, the alter – all the materials needed to make sacrifices to God. Did you ever notice that there aren’t any chairs? There was always sacrifices to make; never time to sit. Heb. 10:11-12 tells us, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.” The priests were so busy making sacrifices for the people that they missed the sacrifice made for them. Many people in today’s church have bought the same lie that the priests of old did. Busyness equates to spiritual maturity and that is just not true. Simeon and Anna were purposed to find Christmas – to find Messiah, the Christ Child, the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Israel. They waited – they were patient. What part of Christmas today is patient? Is it the packed shopping centers and the traffic jams? Is it the pushing and the shoving in the lines to get into the stores at midnight on Thanksgiving Day? Is it the after Christmas sales that now begin before Christmas?

What will you do to avoid missing Christmas? How will you reconnect with the original Christmas? You’ve heard of the still, small voice of God? I wonder how well you can hear that in a crowded mall? I encourage you at some point very soon, get alone with God and listen to Him – and wait until you hear Him. If you want to embrace what that first Christmas was like, you’re going to have to wait like Simeon and Anna did. And it doesn’t matter if everyone around you misses it.

You must trust that God will keep His promises. Simeon waited a lifetime to see God’s promise. When he saw Jesus, Simeon knew the promise had been kept. Anna waited decades. It’s significant to note that she was a prophetess. That means as she waited for the redemption of Israel, she told others about the Christ. I’m sure that included telling people of the promises of God. The promises that include telling people that God will never leave you nor forsake you. That is comforting considering that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. Maybe this holiday season will be filled with new normals. A new marriage. New babies. Maybe your children were married this past year. Maybe this is the first year without that loved one. We can stand on the promises that God will not leave you; He will be with you to help you as you go through this time of year. Contrary to popular opinion, this time of year produces 40% fewer suicides than at other times. He will be there with you, will you trust Him?

You must be willing to proclaim what God has done. Simeon and Anna never considered keeping the good news to themselves. Simeon tells Mary and Joseph what Jesus’ future holds. As soon as she saw the child Anna, “Came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Don’t neglect to tell people what God has done in you.

At the center of Christmas is this gift that has been prepared for you. Don’t miss the gift of God among the gifts of men. Don’t miss the center of Christmas and that is the Christ child that was sent to save mankind from themselves. God willingly sent Jesus just for you. He came as the King of kings and the leaders of His days missed Him. Don’t miss Christmas this year.