The Only Lamb to Celebrate Passover

Please read Mark 14:12-26 in your Bible.

Starting Over_Jesus (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

       “Aatami Kuortti, a Lutheran pastor in Russia, was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a concentration camp because of his refusal to become a spy for the government. A fellow prisoner received a package from home, a little bread and a few apples. He thought that it would be possible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He proposed this to Pastor Kuortti.

“‘I have already crushed the apple juice in a mug and the crusts will serve as communion bread. We can have the holy ordinance in the corner where my brother and I have our place, and the Russians, if they see us, will think we are drinking tea.’

Pastor Kuortti wrote, “‘I gladly fell in with the proposal of the brethren. After repetition of Scripture, I blessed the bread and the mug of apple juice, and we ate the Lord’s Holy Communion. The altar was but a dirty plank, and the pastor, as well as his flock, was in rags, yet we realized the presence of Christ.’”  (Sunday School Times, as found at moreillustrations.com.)

The Lord’s Supper is one of the times of worship that is a special remembrance of Jesus.  We honor Jesus’ sacrifice and demonstrate our gratitude.  This morning we’ll look at the event at which Jesus instituted this practice.

Communion also addresses a problem we all share: sin.  Jesus’ last Passover was the occasion that led into the days of Jesus’ passion and the solution to that problem.

The question is what to do about sin.  The answer is Jesus.

  1. Passover preparations. (12-16)

The situation in Jesus time was unlike any we’ve known.  The Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed it were considered to be one thing.  So the FIRST DAY refers to the Passover.  The population of Jerusalem swelled to something like 3 million people at Passover.  Based on verse twelve, it appears Jesus and His disciples have procrastinated!  Who would wait until the last minute to try to find accommodations in an over-crowded city?

The preparations: were they miraculous or premeditated?  Let me be plain: the reason they had a Passover meal was Jesus made arrangements in advance.

There are 3 good reasons for Jesus making arrangements in secret and in advance.  One, He was in control of the events leading up to His crucifixion.  Jesus’ life was not taken from Him, He surrendered it (John 10:17-18).

Two, he acted in secrecy to avoid His arrest happening in front of a large group of His followers.  Jesus did not want to cause a mob scene that would result in violence.

Three, Jesus made these secret arrangements to keep Judas from knowing them.  Jesus wanted to control the time and place of Judas’ betrayal.

  1. Asking the right question. (17-21)

WHEN EVENING CAME: the meal was to be eaten between sunset and midnight (Exodus 12:8-14).  In this account, there is a keeping of tradition and a redeeming of traditions to give them new values.

Jesus broke tradition with a stunning announcement: “ONE OF YOU WILL BETRAY ME.”  It is hard to imagine how such a statement would have felt.  The phrase ONE WHO IS EATING WITH ME increased the emotional impact of Jesus’ words because to betray a friend after having shared a meal with him was the worst kind of treachery.  As this meal was the Passover, the betrayal would be the worst of all!

The stunned disciples, in their response, asked the right question: “SURELY NOT I?”  Eleven of these men had no plans to betray Jesus; they had never even considered such a thing; but ONE BY ONE, they asked Jesus the same question.  What’s clear in the Greek is that the question is asked with an expectation that the answer will be “No.”

Judas also said “SURELY NOT I?”  He was guilty of gross hypocrisy, history’s worst traitor.

Jesus didn’t answer directly, but offered a clue and a warning.  The clue came in this statement: “ONE OF THE TWELVE…WHO DIPS BREAD INTO THE BOWL WITH ME.”  This is in two parts; His betrayer was one of the Twelve and one who was very near to him.  Their customary way of eating  was to use a piece of bread to scoop food from shared bowls.

The warning was expressed as, “WOE TO THAT MAN [Jesus’ betrayer]!  IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR HIM IF HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN.”  These words were for Judas’ benefit.  Jesus gave him a warning and a last chance to repent.

  1. Receiving the right answer. (22-26)

A measure of the love of Jesus is that He included His betrayer in the Last Supper.  He could’ve easily called Judas out in public or in private and told him to shove off.  Instead, he kept him part of the group for the moment.

Jesus took parts of the Passover meal and gave them new meaning.  Jesus altered the Passover to become a new ritual centered on his death & resurrection.

For example, the Bread had been used to symbolize Israel’s hasty transition to freedom, but Jesus used it to symbolize His body, given as a sacrifice for our sins.

Also, the four Passover cups had been used to symbolize the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6-7, but Jesus used it to symbolize His blood, the basis for the new covenant between God and people.

The supper concluded on a solemn but hopeful note.  It was solemn because Jesus declared He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day God’s kingdom came.  It was hopeful because there was a kingdom coming.

Singing is the traditional ending of a Passover meal. After that, they left the upper room and made their way to Gethsemane (32), the scene of Jesus’ arrest.

The question is what to do about

sin.  The answer is Jesus.

“Three times a month, Jermaine Washington and Michelle Stevens get together for what they call a ‘gratitude lunch.’ They met at work where they used to have lunch together. One day Michelle wept as she spoke about waiting on a kidney donor list for 11 months. She was being sustained by kidney dialysis, but suffered chronic fatigue and blackouts and was plagued by joint pain. Because Jermaine couldn’t stand the thought of watching his friend die, he gave her one of his kidneys.  He said, ‘When you’ve got something great to be thankful for, having a ‘gratitude lunch’ is a great way to celebrate.’”

(Today in the Word, November 14, 1993, found at bible.org.)

It’s good for us to think of the Lord’s Supper as a “gratitude lunch.”  In those moments we remember the great sacrifice of our Passover Lamb and celebrate the hopeful news that He is coming again.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #565

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, The Gospels, Mark, Joel F. Williams

One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus, John MacArthur

http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/lord’s%20supper%201.html

https://bible.org/illustration/gratitude-lunch

 

Starting the Passover Over

Please read 2 Chronicles 30:1-31:1 in your Bible.

Starting Over (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

“A story surfaced from Operation Desert Storm about a soldier who got a ‘Dear John’ letter from his girl; she wrote that they were through. Worse than that, she was getting married to someone else! Adding insult to injury, she wrote, ‘Will you please return my favorite photograph of myself? I need it for my engagement picture in the paper.’

“The poor guy was devastated but not defeated. From every corner of the camp, soldiers handed over extra photos of their girlfriends. There were hundreds of photos. The jilted soldier put all the photos in a shoe box and mailed it home with a note. ‘Please find your picture,’ he wrote, ‘For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly which one you were!!’”

How’s that for making the best of a bad situation?  When we think about the Passover, that’s a time when God turned evil into good. And as we’ve seen, at the center of the Passover is the lamb.  In the centuries that would follow the first Passover, lambs had died for the sins of the nation.

“Inside the walls of the Temple, two lambs died every day (Exodus 28:29-31), one at 9 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m. It had been a sacrifice marked by blood, for the literal meaning of ‘sacrifice’ in Hebrew is, ‘to slit the throat.’

In addition to the twice-a-day sacrifice of lambs, there would have been countless lambs dying on the major Jewish holidays.”  (Andy Cook, Lifeway.com)

So our identification of Jesus as the Passover Lamb is an important, even essential biblical image.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

  1. A quick history lesson.

Hezekiah served as king over Judah from 715-686 BC.  His reign ended 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Judah.  2 Chronicles 29:1-2 tells us he took the throne at age 20 and ruled for 29 years.  He had not been on the throne for a month when he reopened the temple (29:3).  He brought back the priests and their assistants, the Levites, whom he commanded to purify the temple.

The temple was closed because King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, was an idolater and a very bad king.  He had ordered the temple’s furnishings removed and its doors shuttered (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).

Finally, after purifications, consecrations, and preparations, worship in the temple was restored (29:35).  The Passover would be the first sacred day to be observed in the reopened temple

  1. What we can learn from it.

Worship is supposed to be a unifying act. (30:1, 5-11)  Hezekiah invited all the tribes of Israel, even though the northern 10 tribes had already been conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed. Hezekiah may have hoped the unification of the tribes in worship would have political benefits too.  Having a secondary motive in no way diminishes Hezekiah’s loyalty to God or what was accomplished in this Passover observance.

We should be eager to worship. (30:2-4)  God commanded the Passover be observed on the 14th day of the first month. However, they did not have things ready at that time (the priests were not ready and not enough people had returned to Jerusalem).  Rather than wait until next year, they agreed to hold the Passover in the second month.

God directed them to worship. (30:12)  THE HAND OF GOD gave them UNITY OF MIND, FOLLOWING THE WORD OF GOD.  Unity of mind is something to which all church folk should aspire, and it will only come as we jointly follow Jesus, the Word of God.

Worship required them to purify themselves according to the will of God. (30:13-17)  Offerings were made in accordance with the Law and almost everyone complied with ritual purity.  The response of the people was so enthusiastic, it made the priests and Levites feel ASHAMED at their relative apathy.

Worship brought healing. (30:18-20)  Not everyone kept the Law as they should.  Some of the Israelites from the north (30:11) came late and did not undergo the ritual purification. Hezekiah offered a wonderful prayer for their forgiveness and God HEALED THE PEOPLE.  This shows us that sometimes ritual needs to be set aside to meet people where they are.  After all, the ritual was made for the people, not the other way around.  A sincere heart is a more important qualification for worship than ritual purity.

Worship requires follow-through into daily living. (30:21-22, 31:1)  Those who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover followed up with the week-long observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread too.  They worshiped the Lord every day of that week. When the time of worship ended and they returned home, they continued the program to get rid of idolatry.

Worship ought to be something we enjoy and want to do. (30:23-27)  THE WHOLE ASSEMBLY (23), THE ENTIRE ASSEMBLY (25) found such joy in their worship they wanted to continue it another week!  There was nothing in the Law to require or even advise this; their decision to stay together was entirely voluntary.  Part of their joy was the knowledge that God was pleased with their worship (27).  King Solomon is mentioned here, the builder of the temple.  Hezekiah, the temple rebuilder, is compared with Solomon.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

In 1998 Ray Boltz recorded a song entitled “Watch the Lamb.”  It recounts the story of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha.  Here are the lyrics of the latter half of the song:

At first I tried to resist him then his hand reached for his sword.

So I knelt and took the cross from the Lord

I placed it on my shoulder and started down the street

The blood that he’d been shedding was running down my cheek.

 

They led us to Golgotha.  They drove nails deep in His feet and hands.

And yet upon the cross I heard Him pray, “Father, forgive them.”

Oh, never had I seen such love in any other eyes.

“Into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” He prayed, and then He died.

 

I stood for what seemed like years.  I’d lost all sense of time

Until I felt two tiny hands holding tight to mine.

My children stood there weeping.  I heard the oldest say

“Father, please forgive us.  The lamb ran away.”

 

“Daddy, Daddy, what did we see here?

There’s so much that we don’t understand.”

So I took them in my arms, and we turned and faced the cross

And then I said, “Dear children, Watch The Lamb.”

(Ray Boltz, 1998, Gaither Music)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary,

1 & 2 Chronicles, J. Kier Howard

The Daily Study Bible Series,

I & II Chronicles, J. G. McConville.

Andy Cook at https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-easter-passover-lamb-jesus

http://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics/superduper/b/ray_boltz/watch_the_lamb.html

Honest Loafers

Please read 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 in your Bible.

Honest Loafers (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      As I prepared this week’s message, I was determined to avoid mentioning COVID-19 entirely.  I want our worship time to give all of us a respite from the wearying anxiety caused by talking heads intent on making it an apocalypse for some form of personal gain.

Obviously in the world in which the Apostle Paul lived there was no knowledge of viruses and how they spread.  He used a familiar symbol – yeast – to describe how sin can work its way through a church.  So rather that mention COVID-19 even once, we’re going to make use of Paul’s symbolism instead!

CONTEXT – Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth dealt with a number of issues on which the church members had been divided.  Ironically, chapter five focuses on an issue in which they were united, but in the wrong.  There was an act of gross immorality among members of the church (v. 1).  Instead of confronting and condemning those involved, they were inexplicably PROUD of the sin (v. 2).  Paul promised he would deal correctly with this problem when he arrived if they did not get to it themselves (v. 3).  In our passage, Paul explained why it was disastrous for the church to condone sin and coddle sinners.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

  1. Dishonest loaves are corrupted by yeast.

The prohibition of yeast goes back to the original Passover.  In Exodus 12:14-20 we read God’s instructions for an annual Feast of Unleavened Bread, to be held on the week following the Passover.  This was a commemorative event.

However, the prohibition of yeast began as a practical consideration, unique to the historical moment that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt.  In Exodus 12:33-34 it is written, THE EGYPTIANS URGED THE PEOPLE TO HURRY AND LEAVE THE COUNTRY, “FOR OTHERWISE,” THE SAID, “WE WILL ALL DIE!”  SO THE PEOPLE TOOK THEIR DOUGH BEFORE THE YEAST WAS ADDED, AND CARRIED IT ON THEIR SHOULDERS IN KNEADING TROUGHS WRAPPED IN CLOTHING. All of this happened DURING THE NIGHT (31).  None of the slaves wanted to wait until morning for the dough to rise, so they didn’t add any yeast, but left Egypt as soon as possible.  The Egyptians didn’t want the Hebrews to wait around either – they were afraid for their lives!

The Apostle Paul, like Jesus, used yeast as a symbol of unresolved sin.  Jesus used it in Matthew 16:1-12, where He warned His disciples to be wary of the influence of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Every baker knows that when mixing dough, the amount of yeast is a lot smaller than the amount of flour and other ingredients, yet that yeast multiplies and has an effect on the whole loaf.  Similarly, the falsehoods of these hypocrites seemed very religious but would had a corrupting influence on one’s spiritual life.

In our passage,Paul used the same symbolism in regard to their ill-advised pride over a conspicuous sin. He wrote, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT A LITTLE YEAST WORKS THROUGH THE WHOLE BATCH OF DOUGH? and GET RID OF THE OLD YEAST THAT YOU MAY BE A NEW BATCH WITHOUT YEAST – AS YOU REALLY ARE.

The OLD YEAST is a symbol of sin and worldliness, vices like MALICE and WICKEDNESS.  Bread made without the OLD YEAST is characterized as having SINCERITY and TRUTH.

  1. Honest loaves are saved by sacrifice.

The practice of sacrificing a lamb goes back to the original Passover.  God commanded a year-old male sheep or goat be sacrificed at TWILIGHT, the beginning of the feast day He called the PASSOVER (Exodus 12:3-6).

Only on the very first occasion, the original Passover, the blood of the sacrifice was to be collected and painted on the door frames of the houses (Exodus 12:7).  The blood was a SIGN for those within the house that they would be spared the plague of the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:12-3).  On that night, the angel of death passed over the houses where the door frames were marked with blood.

Under the New Covenant, sin is resolved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb.  Several New Testament passages, identify Jesus as a “lamb.”

In John 1:29, John the Baptist used this symbolism:

THE NEXT DAY JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM AND SAID, “LOOK, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!”  In 1 Peter 1:9 Peter wrote about THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST, A LAMB WITHOUT BLEMISH OR DEFECT.  In Revelation, John used a LAMB as a symbol for Christ 31 times.

The New Testament confirms Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, but only Paul specifically identifies Him as the “Passover Lamb.”  Paul’s purpose was to use the Feast of Unleavened Bread in a symbolic way to explain what Jesus has done for us.  The symbolism is fitting as there are similarities between the Passover lamb and Jesus.

The first is purity.  The lamb had to be WITHOUT BLEMISH – that is, having no physical defect.  Jesus was sinless, the human equivalent of being WITHOUT BLEMISH.

The second is function as a blood sacrifice.  Being under the lamb’s blood saved the firstborn of Israel.  By faith, we place ourselves under the blood of Jesus and are saved.

The third is having bones unbroken.  In His commands regarding the Passover meal, God made it clear that the bones of the lamb should not be broken.  In the John’s Gospel, it is clear Jesus’ bones were not broken after His death on the cross (John 19:33-36).  The significance of unbroken bones is not clear to me at the moment, but an educated guess would be respect for the sacrifice.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

When Paul wrote, LET US KEEP THE FESTIVAL he wasn’t thinking only of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Continuing his use of that FESTIVAL as a symbol, he referred to the entirety of our life in Christ.  The way we do that is having a similar attitude toward sin that the Israelites were to have toward yeast.  In Exodus, they were commanded to get the yeast entirely out of the house; to have a “zero tolerance policy” toward it.  That’s what our attitude toward sin should be.

Unfortunately, our first instinct is to look around for someone on whom this policy can be enforced.  This policy starts with self first.  Jesus made it clear we don’t complain about the speck in someone else’s eye while we look cross-eyed around the log in our own eye.  He used that silly image to put His followers on notice: clean the yeast out of your own house first.  Help others to do the same only as the Holy Spirit directs you and only in loving, positive ways.

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #10, W. Harold Mare

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Pfeiffer and Harrison

 

Traveling Light

Pleas read Exodus 12:1-30 in your Bible.

Meals on Wheels (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

Study people at an airport or bus terminal and you can quickly recognize overpackers.  They have multiple bags, all of which are bulging.  We all have stories to tell about ourselves and family.

I learned this week the psychology behind overpacking.  The emotion that drives it is fear.  The overpacker is generally not an experienced traveler, so they have an understandable fear of being in an unfamiliar place and not having access to something they need.

Overpacking is a coping mechanism that attempts to deal with fear by over-preparing.   There are all kinds of people on the internet with packing advice, but it seems to me the place to start is managing that fear.

One way to pack appropriately is to deal with the facts and keep them at the forefront.  How long will you be gone?  Where are you going?  What will the weather be?

Then make a list of items that are absolutely necessary.  Set them out on your bed around your bag, and eliminate everything that is not obviously needed.  If it’s there because there’s a remote possibility it’ll be needed, you’re packing out of fear.

Have your bags packed the day before leaving.  Packing at the last minute increases your fear and makes you more likely to overpack.

As we make our way through life, we are confronted by similar decisions.  Fear will counsel us to take matters into our own hands, to trust to our own resources instead of trusting in God. Faith makes room for God in our plans, trusting Him to provide our needs.

The Passover teaches us to be ready to promptly follow God.

  1. God commanded them to observe the Passover (1-13).

The ritual was to have a hurried feeling to it.  Verse eleven  describes how it was to be eaten.

“THIS IS HOW YOU ARE TO EAT IT: WITH YOUR CLOAK TUCKED INTO YOUR BELT, YOUR SANDALS ON YOUR FEET AND YOUR STAFF IN YOUR HAND.  EAT IT IN HASTE; IT IS THE LORD’S PASSOVER.”

Why did God command this?  I can speculate two reasons.  First, to accurately re-create the Passover event.  As it happened in Exodus 12, the people of Israel were to be ready to leave Egypt.

Second, to create a feeling of urgency about our response to God.  Other Scripture support this interpretation.

Psalm 95:7-8 = TODAY, IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS…

2 Corinthians 6:2 = I TELL YOU, NOW IS THE TIME OF GOD’S FAVOR.  NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.

An important symbol in the thing was the lamb.  From Genesis to Revelation, a lamb is a symbol of sacrifice that is necessary to make peace with God.  The Law of God states that sin causes death.  The only way to be restored to life is through the shedding of blood, the pouring out of a life given in exchange for ours.  In the Old Testament, a lamb served that substitutionary function, but the sacrifice had to be repeated year after year.  In the New Testament, Jesus death saved us – one act of sacrifice, effective for all time.

When Jesus comes again, a “pass-over” of greater magnitude will take place.  Those who have received Him by faith will pass over from death to life.

  1. God carried out the plague on the Firstborn (29-30).

This plague demonstrated God’s justice. The Egyptians tried to kill the sons of Israel (see Exodus 1:15-22).  Justice was served when they lost their firstborn and in Pharaoh’s case, a son (11:5).  The punishment matched the crime.

God acted justly in a second aspect: Egypt’s sins against God’s people were committed by their exercise of free will choosing sin.  With each of the preceding plagues, Pharaoh was given the choice of setting Israel free.  (As we read in Exodus 7:14-11:10, the preceding plagues included blood in the Nile, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness.

God Himself explained the purpose of the plagues: to bring glory to God.  In Exodus 11:9-10 we read, THE LORD HAD SAID TO MOSES, “Pharaoh WILL REFUSE TO LISTEN TO YOU – SO THAT MY WONDERS MAY BE MULTIPLIED IN EGYPT.”  MOSES AND AARON PERFORMED ALL THESE WONDERS BEFORE PHARAOH, BUT THE LORD HARDENED PHARAOH’S HEART, AND HE WOULD NOT LET GO OF HIS COUNTRY.  In Exodus  14:4 it is written, “AND I WILL HARDEN PHARAOH’S HEART, AND HE WILL PURSUE THEM.  BUT I WILL GAIN GLORY FOR MYSELF THROUGH PARAOH AND ALL HIS ARMY, AND THE EGYPTIANS WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD.”

On the first Passover, only those under the lamb’s blood were saved.  Otherwise, all the firstborn children died, from the household of mighty Pharaoh to the child of the lowliest prisoner.  Even the firstborn among the livestock died.  This was a blow against Egypt’s livelihood. This plague finally broke the pride and arrogant disbelief of Pharaoh, and, as predicted, God’s people were free at last.

This account of the Passover is a warning against ignoring God until it is too late.  We have all seen people reject God until their life is broken down by adversity until nothing remains standing between them and God.

This is precisely what happened to Pharaoh through the whole process of these plagues.  Each new plague was designed to wear down his resistance, to strike down the false gods and the excuses he’d made.

We’re told repeatedly that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart.  Why was this necessary?

One, as we noted earlier, God’s purpose is, as always, to make Himself known to people – for their good.  If the thing is over too quickly – people will not experience God’s power in a convincing way.

Two, as a demonstration of the lengths to which God is will go in order to save His people.

Three, at no time did God violate Pharaoh’s free will.  He chose stubbornness, pride and disbelief at the beginning and remained committed to them until the end.

The Passover teaches us to be ready to promptly follow God.

      One way to deal with an over-packer is to buy them a suitcase that is shaped like two slices of bread.  Then it will be OK if it is “jam-packed.”

A man stormed into his lawyer’s office with a suitcase.  “I want to sue!” he told his lawyer.

“What seems to be the problem?” the attorney asked.

“I bought this suitcase for my wife and even though she may have overpacked it, this wheel broke off!  The thing has got a lifetime guarantee, the company refuses to replace it!  I will sue!”

The lawyer looked the baggage over and shook his head and said, “I don’t think your case will stand up in court.”

There are important lessons to be learned here.  In both Old and New Testaments, the Passover Lamb is God’s way of bringing life out of death.  It was the cure for the penalty for sin, which is death.  Today is always God’s day.  Now is the time to be saved.  The present opportunity may be our last, so act NOW.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #934

Idol Smashers Number Thirteen

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

tabernacle

(Previously in “Idol Smashers:” Judge Deborah’s operatives were rescued from imprisonment in the Philistine city of Joppa and race to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle, the meeting-place with God was erected.)

Day Seven – Shiloh

            The remainder of the journey went quickly enough, but when they arrived, the sun hung low in the sky.  The Sabbath was nearly over.  A sliver of doubt lodged in Caleb’s resolve.  Had they misunderstood the portents?  Had they misinterpreted the signs?  Had the Philistines lied or changed their plans?

They were met on the road by the captain of the guard, known to Jethro as Gershon.  He looked wearied.

“The day is nearly closed,” Gershon said.  The last day had apparently allowed him no rest and he was ready for the threat to be over.  “We’ve seen no Moabites, no cart as was reported to us.”  He gestured to the tailings of worshipers who were lined up on the road to the tabernacle hill.  At the close of the Sabbath, the evening sacrifices were beginning and the last of the day’s worshipers served.  All around the hillside, encampments were set up as the worshipers planned to spend the night before journeying home at dawn.  The familiar smells of the sacrifices burning on the altar offered some reassurance, a smell of normalcy.

In all, it was a scene that belied their panicked escape from Joppa and hurried journey here.  Ammihud looked around anxiously, concerned that all may have been for naught.

“Has there been no trouble at all, none coming to the tent that look suspicious?” Maaz asked Gershon.

“None,” came the wearied reply.  “It has been a Sabbath as all others.”

Members of the group reluctantly dismounted.  They looked at one another with puzzlement.  Perhaps their concern had been misplaced.  Could the enemy have been alerted somehow that their plans had been betrayed?

“I don’t…” Micah started to say but was interrupted by a disturbance in the line of worshipers near the tabernacle.  A donkey attached to a small wagon was braying loudly.  It made hoarse cries, as if in pain.  A man tried vainly to calm the animal, but somehow it broke free of its tack and began to jump and kick.  All around, people hurried to either get out of its way or help corral it.  The path was suddenly thick with people shouting and some cursing.  A fistfight broke out, and then others were shouting angrily at one another.  The ruckus seemed to spread like a sudden fire.

Gershon called to his men, “Come!  Let us put an end to this!  Call out the guard!”  He and the four tabernacle guardsmen ran from the adventurers and toward the growing melee.

“This must be the distraction they planned!” Samuel said excitedly, remounting and drawing the short sword he’d been given by Deborah.

A horn sounded.  Gershon had blown on it as he ran toward the sudden riot.

“Look!  The guards and Levites are pouring out of their tents!” Ruth yelled, pointing to the structures next to the Tabernacle.  In her excitement, she forgot to use her “man voice.”

Maaz squinted, following her gaze.  “Guards.  Guards?  They are not coming from within the tents, but from behind it!” he shouted.  “There is the enemy!”

“We ride!” Micah ordered.  He scrambled back on his horse and the rest quickly followed suit.  Spurring their mounts on, they left the road and skirted the melee, riding around the riot to the opposite side of the Tent of Meeting.  There they saw men dressed like tabernacle guardians slashing at the outer curtain of the tabernacle with curved swords in one hand and attempting to set it ablaze with torches in the other hand!

Caleb dismounted on the run as he distrusted his skill to shoot effectively from horseback.  Nocking an arrow, he prepared to fire.

At a corner of the tabernacle one of the false guardians set his torch at the bottom of one of the posts supporting the rods from which hung the curtains that boundaried the court of the Tent of Meeting.  Clearly, he hoped to set it on fire.

But Samuel attacked the nearest enemy.  From his mounted position he held the advantage.  The sword flashed true, striking the man’s left arm and the torch he carried.  The torch went flying and the man cried out as blood blossomed from the wound Samuel inflicted.

One of the would-be saboteurs swerved to go around to the north side of the tabernacle, out of sight from the oncoming horsemen who had suddenly appeared.  Jezreel rode north following the man, but he did not dismount.  Instead, to inspire and assist his mates, he raised himself as much as possible on the horse’s back and started to sing a psalm of victory.  Exerting himself to be heard about the din of the distraction and the battle, the psalmist’s voice nevertheless rang clear.

The north side of the tabernacle was opposite the opening at the other end of the rectangle.  There other treacherous enemies were already wielding their torches to set the curtain on fire.

Having had to resort to thievery on more than one occasion, Ruth preferred to meet an opponent from behind, or at least sideways.  Head-on combat was for persons more powerful and experienced than her.  Therefore, she rode to the west side of the tent to attack the enemies that she had seen turn to the north side of the sacred Tent.

Riding around to the west side of the Tent, Ruth surprised a pair of enemy combatants who were about to slash holes in the curtain of the Tabernacle.  They looked up at her, eyes wide with maniacal intent.  “HOLD!” she cried out in her most commanding voice.  The man closest to her advanced, holding sword and torch out before him.  His companion returned his attention to the curtain and used his torch to set it afire!

“How I wish I had a man’s voice!” Ruth muttered as she drew the sickle from her belt.  She pointed her horse at the oncoming attacker and slipped off the side of the animal opposite her opponent.  She let the beast come between them briefly, then struck out with the sickle as soon as the horse had passed her.  The sickle blow struck the distracted man on his helmeted head.  The blade did him no harm, but the impact stunned him a bit.  Ruth gave no quarter and followed her slash with a kick Joseph had taught her; he’d called it a “roundhouse.”  Her heel caught him in the neck and temporarily took his wind.  The man staggered backward and dropped his torch to clutch at his throat.

While he recovered from her kick to his throat, Ruth had her best chance to vanquish her opponent. She slashed hurriedly at him with her sickle just as soon as both her feet were under her.  The edge of her weapon caught his right forearm with sufficient force to create a deep and long wound, flinging his arm and his weapon away.  Out the corner of her eye, Ruth saw the other man go through the curtain and set it afire from within.  She stepped around her opponent to run after the other man, the one who was, for the moment, the greater threat to the Tabernacle.

Barek, Maaz and Micah spurred their mounts and rode around to confront the biggest group of the enemy, saboteurs in disguise who flowed between the barracks.  They were quick to put the false guards on the defensive.  Maaz rode straight at an enemy and the iron tip of the goad flashed, striking the enemy’s left hand.  A shout of surprise escaped the man’s lips as the torch he’d held there flew away from him.

Barek dipped low in his saddle to swing the two-handed axe with his powerful right hand only.  The blade turned a bit upon impact, but the handle still hit solidly on a man’s leg, staggering him.  His momentum carried him into Balek’s horse’s flank and the false guard bounced off the large animal and was thrown to the ground.

Riding around the melee involving his brothers, Micah achieved the north end of the tabernacle in time to see an enemy slash a hole in the curtain from the rod to the ground.  He disappeared through the slit, entering the sacred space inside.  Micah drew the horse in to a sudden stop and quickly dismounted, drawing his sword.  Without regard for his own safety, Micah stepped through the hole in the curtain created by his enemy, who was sprinting south, presumably to go to the open end of the Tent of Meeting.  Every footfall of this pagan infuriated Micah more and he ran after the man.  Upon reaching the corner, the man hesitated enough to turn.  That was the instant Micah overtook him.  Bull-rushing his hated enemy, Micah eschewed the weapon in his hand and slammed bodily into the man, driving him into the ground and knocking the air out of him.

Scarcely aware that he held a sword, not a club in his hand, Micah instinctively sought to bash his opponent’s head in with it, but the short stroke had too little power or leverage behind it, and the blow merely glanced off the man’s helmet, the blade burying angling off to bury itself in the turf.  For his part, the would-be destroyer of the Tabernacle pushed and turned to try to get Micah off him, to no avail.  Micah had an advantage of strength and mass to match his fury and he used it to keep his opponent pinned.

Letting go of his sword, Micah grabbed both sides of his opponent’s head with his hands and slammed it into the ground.  He did this repeatedly until his enemy was dazed.  When he felt his adversary’s strength slacken just a bit, Micah jerked the man’s head around suddenly until he heard his enemy’s neck snap.  It was a sickening noise, but Maaz had it heard before; when his brother-in-law had done something similar to dispatch a dying animal.

After taking a moment to catch his breath, Micah shambled to his feet and tugged his sword from the earth.  He carefully put the point underneath the layers of the prone man’s armor, just over his heart, and leaned on it to thrust it into the man’s chest.  Every remaining sign of life pooled with the blood collecting under the body.

Micah sighed as he pulled his sword from the body of his enemy.  He looked around and saw Ulla standing not too far off.

“That was disgusting,” the high priest commented, using both hands to hold up what was left of his ephod.

Letting out a long breath Micah replied, “There’s gratitude.”

Having wounded his opponent, Samuel chose to dismount and swung at him again.  This time, his momentum took him a bit too far away and the slash missed.  Though wounded, the man was a soldier and he kept his wits about him enough to lunge and strike at Samuel.  His aim was better than Samuel’s but the blow glanced off Samuel’s shield.

Caleb chose as his target an enemy who ran forward to flank Samuel.  His bow ready, Caleb let the arrow fly.  It flew true, an unseen hand directing its flight.  The arrow suddenly appeared in the middle of the running man’s chest.  He broke stride and fell forward, bowling over his mate who had been entirely occupied with Samuel.  The young fighter snapped off a kind of salute to Caleb in thanks for his timely assistance.   Samuel delivered a coup de grace, nearly separated the man’s head from his body.

Ammihud huffed as Caleb had shot the very man he’d intended to shoot.  Switching targets, his arrow also found its mark in the right shoulder another opponent.  The man cried out and dropped his sword.  Ammihud dropped his bow and drew a knife from his belt.  He intended to finish the man he’d shot, but as he stabbed at him, the enemy managed to roll away and Ammihud’s blade only grazed his right side.

Sensing the battle going the way of his Israelite companions, Jezreel sang more loudly and passionately.  He sang to the LORD, but fervently hoped the words of his psalm were inspiring his countrymen.

For his part, Caleb nocked another arrow and cautiously moved from the melee which Samuel and Ammihud seemed to have in hand.  His bowstring as taut as his nerves, he moved cautiously toward the south end of the Tabernacle.  There he saw men engaged in deadly battle, swinging weapons and limbs, grappling, fighting to attack or defend Israel’s most sacred object.  From within, he heard a cry of “NO!” that sounded like Ulla’s voice.  When he’d rounded the corner and saw into courtyard, Caleb beheld the high priest and an enemy fighting for possession of the ephod Ulla wore, the ceremonial breastplate that held twelve stones that symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel.  He raised his bow but had no shot that safely took the enemy and spared the priest.  Caleb hesitated.

Jumping off his horse looked deceptively slow because of the big man’s size, but Barek quickly crossed to his prone foe and with an overhead strike, buried the axe blade in his enemy’s chest.  In spite of the man’s armor, the blade went deep.  Blood gurgled out the man’s mouth instead of a scream.  Putting a foot on his foe’s chest, Barek tugged his axe free from the body of his mortally wounded enemy and looked around for other opponents.  To the north, he saw a youth holding a horse’s reins.

“Hold!” Balek roared, pointing his axe at the young man.  The youth was understandably startled by  the giant before him.  So much so, his eyes grew wide with fright and he turned to leap atop the horse!

“I wish I could command people like Sara,” Balek complained.  He whistled at his horse, with only a vain hope it would respond.  Balek reasoned that the youth might be a messenger, charged with delivering a report of the battle to someone.  The giant man of God resolved to capture the youth and find out what he knew.  The horse did not exactly come to Balek, but it came near enough he could gather up the reins and throw his long legs over its sides.  He heard someone call his name and wheeled the horse around to face them.

Ammihud and Samuel stood astride one another over a fallen enemy.  “Where do you think you’re going?” Samuel called.  “Yes,” Ammihud added, “there’s plenty of fight right here.”

Balek nodded in the direction of the young man who’d fled on horseback.  “One got away,” he said, and spurred his horse in that direction.

Maaz brought his horse around and adroitly leapt off its back, pointing the iron-shod tip of his goad at his opponent.  “You shall now die, defiler!” he said as he advanced on the enemy soldier.  The man looked from Maaz to the tabernacle and swinging his sword, pierced the veil and tumbled through it.  A sigh escaped Maaz’s lips then he shouted, “YOU CANNOT THAT EASILY ESCAPE JUSTICE!”

Stepping through the breach created by his enemy, Maaz saw his opponent desperately hacking at the hide-covered wall of the Holy Place.  AS the herdsman stepped through, the man turned suddenly and swung at Maaz instead!  The hurried attack missed Maaz but caused him to smash the iron tip of his short staff into the ground instead of his opponent.  The two men circled each other for a moment, then the saboteur swung his sword over his head and attempted to cleave Maaz in two, but the herdsman dodged the blow as easily as he might’ve avoided a butting ram.  Side-steppeding his adversary’s slash, Maaz brought the goad down hard, smashing both the swordsman’s arms.

A surprised look crossed the man’s face just before Maaz’s goad slammed into his abdomen on the upswing of a second blow.  He fell to his hands and knees, vomited, and fell face forward into it, groaning piteously.  Maaz had no pity for him however, and he brought his weapon down on the man’s head with a fury, splitting both helmet and skull.  Pausing for a moment to collect himself, Maaz smelled smoke and looked up to see a spit of flame atop the Tent itself!

As he could see no opponents at hand, Maaz’s lust for battle suddenly left him and the survival of the Tent took precedence.  Dropping his goad. he leapt to find purchase for both hands and hauled himself atop the tent, which swayed precariously under his weight.  He saw a torch in the midst of a section of the hide roof that was smoldering and threatening to burst into flame.  Heedless of any danger except to the Holy of Holies beneath his feet, Maaz snatched at the torch and threw it over his shoulder and far away from the Tabernacle.  With his own hands he beat at the coverings to the sacred space, putting out the embers by swatting away glowing embers.  In his single-minded devotion to the task of saving the structure, the big man did not see the place where the skins had parted until he fell through it.  With a thud, Maaz landed in the middle of the Most Holy Place!

Having made quick work of dispatching the two men at his feet, Samuel looked up in time to see another enemy hacking off the rods attached to the corner post of the Tabernacle enclosure.  One panel of curtain fluttered to the ground.  Samuel’s feet found purchase as he raced to prevent further blasphemous damage.

Somehow Samuel’s enemy sensed his coming and turned to throw his torch at the young Israelite.  Samuel swatted the flaming projectile aside and rushed his opponent.  Samuel’s sword stabbed out from behind his shield, but his enemy was ready and side-stepped the attack.  He delivered a blow of his own but the strike was not strong enough to part the hardened leather of the wristband Samuel wore on his sword hand; it merely parted some of the strings holding it on, and the wristband flopped about on Samuel’s sword arm.

Several more thrusts were made but parried or dodged.  Samuel had the advantage having both shield and sword, but the advantage of arms was negated by the youth’s comparative inexperience in martial arts.

The two stood apart a moment to catch their breath.  Seeing his opportunity, Ammihud, standing some paces away and with his bow readied, let the arrow fly.  The shaft buried itself in the swordsman’s middle, finding a mark just underneath his leather cuirass.  He dropped his sword, then dropped to his knees, attempting to break the shaft.  A heartbeat later, Samuel relieved him of all worldly concerns by plunging his blade through the stricken man’s neck.

Caleb made his decision.  He carefully aimed and shot his arrow.  The shaft struck with lethal effect, piercing his enemy’s chest.  His grip on the high priest relaxed instantly and he turned to face Caleb.  When he bent over to retrieve his sword and attack the archer, he fell to his knees, then to his face, where he laid still as breath and life abandoned him.

Ulla was furious.  He advanced on Caleb even as he held the damaged ephod to his chest.  “You FOOL!” he cried.  “How could you take such a shot?!  You might’ve hit ME!!”

Startled out of watching the man die, Caleb replied off-handedly, “Oh, I had that all figured out,” he said.  “I aimed at his legs.”  A confused, angry look crossed Ulla’s face.  “I figured if I missed, neither of you would be badly hurt.”

While his companion dealt with Ruth, a pagan soldier slashed through the outside curtain of the Tabernacle.  He paused only a moment to set the breach on fire and then turned to hurl his torch atop the Tent itself.  Steeling himself to stop anyone from extinguishing the fire he sought to start, he gripped his sword all the tighter and looked around, waiting for an Israelite to come.

He would not wait long.  Ruth launched her slight form through the slash in the curtain that formed the court around the Tabernacle.  She stumbled a bit as her foot caught on the torn curtain and she fell to one knee.  Ahead of her was the infidel who dared step through the veil.  He was a big man.  Too big, for Ruth’s taste.

With a sneer, he set the torch down where the flame licked at the fabric wall of the Tabernacle.  “Come save your sacred tent,” the dog growled.  “Sacrifice yourself, man of Israel!”

Inspired, Ruth stood slowly and removed her helmet, dropping it to the turf.  She loosed her hair and let the long tresses fall around her neck.  “In Israel, we sacrifice animals, not people” she said, taunting her enemy.  She shouted, “Know that today the LORD has strengthened a woman’s arm to spill your blood and defend His holy tent!!”

As she’d hoped, the enemy soldier was temporarily stunned by the sight of a combatant suddenly becoming a beautiful woman.  She charged the big man, swinging her sickle with both hands, throwing her entire person at him.  It was an attack of faith, what to an experienced soldier might seem a fool’s hope.  Her slashing scythe found it’s mark as the big man’s left arm came up too late to intercept blow.  The blade bit deeply into the base of his neck, the curve of the scythe completely disappearing in the place where throat and shoulder met.

Behind the blade was Ruth’s flying body; she had to leave her feet to even strike the blow.  The impact sent them both sprawling.  Scrambling to her feet, Ruth reached for the torch, the flames threatening to set the curtain afire.

Before she could reach it, a powerful hand grasped her ankle and hauled her away from the torch.  Though blood spouted from the wound Ruth had inflicted, the pagan’s massive hand held her ankle like an iron manacle.  Struggling to his knees, the man drug Ruth toward him as easily as anyone might tug a child.  Breath was knocked from Ruth’s lungs when she’d landed bodily on the ground, her feet yanked from beneath her.  Ruth’s attempts to get away seemed especially pitiful and she felt his hands virtually climb up her body.  He hauled her close and clasped her throat in one of his incredibly large hands.

Her airway closed, Ruth struggled vainly, failing with hands and feet.  Terror made her blows even less effective.  Every thought was focused on dying at this monster’s hands.

His breath reeked of some food or spice Ruth did not know.  “Molech take your soul!” the man rasped.  “I will not be killed by any mere woman!”  His blood flowed over Ruth as he muttered what must have been curses in a pagan tongue.

A long dark tunnel appeared before Ruth.  A wan light illuminated its end.  She wondered how this might be, what the vision might mean, but she was not prepared to die.

Suddenly, his eyes fluttered and his last breath escaped his lips.

Somebody shouted, “LET HER GO!”

The man’s hands went slack and with a violent twist, Ruth pushed herself away, falling down and gasping for air.

When she was able to get her wits about her again, Ruth looked to see Caleb running to get the torch away from the veil.  He quickly slashed at the curtain, cutting away the part that had caught fire during the melee.

Ruth’s body shook uncontrollably and part of her mind wondered why men loved war so much when it was so vile and brutal a thing.  After a bit, her vision cleared and so did her mind.  She looked up and saw Caleb above her.  He held her head on his lap, kneeling beside her.  Something nearby smelled like vomit and smoke.

He stroked the hair from her face tenderly, and said, “Here now.  We can’t have you running about with your hair down, can we?”

Samuel turned to Ammihud.  “Let’s go check the tents,” he said.  “In case there are reinforcements.”  Ammihud took a moment to ready his bow and said, “After you.”

Day Eight – Mount Gerazim

            The next day the heroes stood at the summit of Mount Gerazim.  A man of Israel had discovered that an Asherah pole had been recently erected and there were signs of a recent encampment.  He’d reported this offense against the land to the high priest.  He had passed the information along to the group.

“They made prayers and sacrifices here,” Maaz said, poking the remains of a fire pit with his goad.

Caleb’s eyes darted over the scene, an angry look upon his face.  “They no doubt sought a boon from their gods before infiltrating the camp and setting their scheme into motion.”

The youthful Samuel threw himself against the idolatrous pole, exclaiming, “This cannot be allowed to stand a moment longer.”  Righteous anger was not enough to augment his slight frame and he was unable to pull it out of the ground.

Balek made a theatrical sigh.  “You cannot use a twig to remove a log,” he said, and pushed Samuel aside.  Contrary to his verbal objections, Samuel stood aside.  The giant knelt and wrapped his big hands around the base of the Asherah.  Using his shoulders and legs to lift, he drew it out of the hole and dropped it to the ground.

Ruth, once again in her masculine garb, cleared her throat and spit on the carved pole.  Her friends watched for a moment, mild surprise on their faces.

Micah broke the silence when he clapped Ruth on the back, nearly knocking her off her feet.  “Well done, Joseph,” he said mirthfully.

“Here is the same craftsman’s mark we discovered under the idols of Heshonib,” Ammihud observed.  “It is the mark of Kanab, the Philistine idol-maker whose shop we visited in Joppa.”

The captain of the temple guard scratched a curse sign in the loose soil.  “It is an appalling desecration of the sacred site of Mount Gerazim,” he opined, “the place where the division of the Promised Land between the twelve tribes was accomplished by Joshua by casting lots.”

“We must destroy it with fire” Jezreel said slowly, his voice conveying a solemnity they had not heard from the young psalmist before.  “We must scatter the ashes and bury all the bones.  This mountain must be made holy again.”

“Yes,” Samuel agreed.  “As he said.”

A feast was arranged to celebrate the victory of the Lord and His people, with Deborah’s Eight (as the heroes of Shiloh had come to be known) the guests of honor.  A tent had been erected and savory smells infused the camp as several ovens were set to work.

Ruth had to be persuaded to remain.  On the road, she had learned attention and scrutiny were unwelcome as they threatened to expose her.  Her dread of being drug back to be stuck in a loveless marriage was so strong, she wanted to forsake her new companions and return to her vagabond ways.

Everyone was shocked when Micah offered an alternative.  “You could be my daughter.  For a night,” he suggested, his usual gruff appearance gone and a tender countenance in its place.  “Joseph may leave to reappear elsewhere.  Tonight you could be Dinah.”  As the gathering was a feast and not a “holy convocation” even Maaz gave his approval to this deception.

Some appropriately feminine festal robes were obtained and Ruth shed her disguise in private.  When she appeared again in clothes appropriate to her heaven-bestowed gender, Micah explained, “You look like a Dinah!”

Their tent fairly roared with laughter as “Dinah” was welcomed to their fellowship.  They roared again when Samuel offered to act as her husband.  Their laughter had barely died off when the tent flap was thrown aside and the high priest Ulla stormed inside.

“It’s Deborah” he cried in genuine panic, “she’s gone!”

Why Lefty Killed Hefty

Please read Judges 3:12-30 in your Bible.

Why Lefty Killed Hefty (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

I owe the outline and very clever title to Alan Carr’s sermon, retrieved from the internet address listed in the resource section below.

We need a Deliverer and we need to deliver ourselves from slavery to sin.

      In 2006, a Methodist church in the city of Dudley, England, was charged a fee to put a cross on their new building.  The law required a fee for all outside advertisements.  It was decided that the cross was not merely decorative, but that it was an advertisement for Christianity.

When you think about it, the fee was appropriate.  The cross has a distinctive message; we need to be delivered.  That is why Jesus gave Himself on the cross to be our Passover Lamb.

During the 400 years covered in the book of Judges, the nation of Israel followed a predictable pattern. They would serve God faithfully while they followed the strong leadership of a judge. When the judge died, they turned to the worship of pagan gods. The Lord sent His judgment upon them by allowing Israel to be oppressed by their enemies. After a time of suffering, Israel would repent and God would raise up a deliverer to set them free.

We see this pattern of disobedience, discipline, and deliverance in the account before us and in our own lives. Our problem is not enemy nations, but our own nature, aka, “the flesh.”  We are our own worst enemy.

  1. ISRAEL’S DISTRESS (v. 12-14)

Their foes (vs. 12-13) were the Moabites, Ammonites & Amalekites.  These peoples were “cousins” of a sort, peoples descended from relatives of the Patriarchs.  They were the previous occupants of the land God promised to Israel.  They were supposed to have been driven from the land, but Israel did not finish the job.

Their Fights (v. 13) = These nations worshiped false gods and were constantly attacking, hindering and seeking to enslave the Israelites.

Their Failures (v. 13) = King Eglon established his headquarters in Jericho, the first city conquered by Israel when they entered the Promised Land, Joshua 6. To see their oppressors set up shop in a place where they once had enjoyed great military and spiritual victory must’ve been hard.

Their Foolishness (v. 14) = Because Israel failed to honor the will of God, they became the servants of Eglon.  This condition lasted 18 years!

  1. ISRAEL’S DELIVERER (v. 15-26).

Ehud’s Problem (v. 15) = Ehud was from the tribe of Benjamin, whose land included the area around Jericho. They would’ve suffered the most under Eglon’s reign.  Eglon was “a left-handed man.”  This may simply mean that he favored his left hand (40% of people do).  But Hebrew word literally means that he was “bound in the right hand,” which may imply Ehud’s right hand/arm was crippled.  Now you know who “Lefty” is!  This would seem like a disqualification for a would-be deliverer, but God used it as an asset.

Ehud’s Plan is laid out in verses fifteen through nineteen.  The people of Israel had to pay tribute to Eglon.  On this day, they sent their tribute with Ehud.

Ehud made for himself a double-edged dagger some 14 inches long. He strapped this dagger to his right thigh, under his cloak, and went to take the tribute money to the king.  If his right hand was obviously crippled (as it is depicted in our illustration), the guards wouldn’t have expected trouble and didn’t search him

In v. 17, Eglon is described as A VERY FAT MAN, which may symbolize his material prosperity, achieved by exacting tribute from the nearby tribes. Now you know who “Hefty” is!

Ehud’s performance or his execution of the plan is described in v. 20-26.  After delivering the money, the delegation departed, but Ehud came back and told Eglon that he had a secret message for him. The king was eager to hear some great secret, dismissed his servants.

Ehud told the king that he had a message from God. Ehud drew his dagger and thrust it into Eglon’s body. The blade sunk so deep into that the fat closed around the handle and Ehud could not retrieve it.  You could say King Eglon “got the point” of the message God empowered Ehud to deliver.

Ehud locked the doors to the rooftop room and made his escape. By the time Eglon’s servants overcame their embarrassment and found a key, the king was dead and Ehud was long gone.

Some of you read this story and think, “TMI!”  (Really – I left out the bathroom part!)  The gory details illustrate the nature of our battle against sin: we are going to have to deal it a death blow to enjoy victory.

III. ISRAEL’S DELIVRANCE (v. 27-30).

Israel’s deliverance required follow-through (v. 27-28).  Ehud knew that just killing the king would not be enough to free his people.  However, it would create disorder and an opportunity to strike.

Ehud had taken the first step toward victory. The second step was for the people to follow Ehud’s leadership. When Ehud returned, he sounded a ram’s horn. Trumpets were sounded for several reasons in Israel, but in this case it was to call the people to war.  They did follow Ehud and they achieved a great victory.

Israel’s deliverance involved fighting (v. 28b-29).  First, they utilized good military strategy.  In blockading the crossing of the Jordan, Israel cut off the avenues of escape and reinforcement.  They killed about 10,000 men. These were VIGOROUS AND STRONG MEN – real soldiers. God gave them victory!

Second, they did the whole job – no half-measures.  NOT A MAN ESCAPED = Israel did not back off until they had dealt with all the enemy soldiers in their country.

Israel’s deliverance resulted in peace (v. 30).  Unlike other judges, this text does not tell us the Spirit came upon Ehud or that he became a judge over Israel.  This may imply Ehud acted on his own and God used his initiative.  On the other hand (the left one?) Ehud’s actions resulted in the longest period of peace in the book of Judges (80 years).

We need a Deliverer and we need to deliver ourselves from slavery to sin.

      By way of illustration, Israel’s victory teaches us about our own battles with sin and the flesh.  God has given us everything we need to walk in victory. He has given us His Word, His Spirit, prayer and His presence in our lives.

We are lot like Ehud. We are all unlikely conquerors. Also like Ehud, we can have victory. We need a deliverer, but we also need to act ruthlessly to kill the sin in us.

SOURCES:

the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Madvig.

https://www.sermonnotebook.org/judges/Judges%2002%20-%20Judges%203_12-30.htm

Message #1450

Who is ‘Us?’

Please read 1 John 2:18-27 in your Bible.

Mirror Image_v07 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      Today we celebrate our voluntary association with churches across our nation in a denomination called “American Baptists.”  Next Sunday we’ll do the same for our association with other American Baptist churches across the Dakotas.

The key word there is “voluntary.”  Baptists historically emphasize the freedom of each local church while at the same time recognize the practicality of working together to get more done.  Put another way, we value independence but practice interdependence.

Occasionally, the tension between those competing themes makes problems.  But as families are supposed to do, we solve our problems and remain in relationship.  Issues are rarely solved neatly or easily, but we work at resolution so we can remain in communion with each other.

We ask ourselves, “Is it worth the effort?”  One clue to an answer: over the last couple generations of American church life, the other six major Protestant denominations have lost followers at a horrific rate.  Alone among the “Seven Sisters” of the American Protestant churches, American Baptists have grown slightly over that time.  I would explain that as being the result of the evangelical and conservative churches like our own remaining in biblical truth and insisting the denomination do the same.  The boundary of any group is a definition of who they are and who they are not.  Today we’ll examine what John taught about the identity of true believers and the necessity of remaining in fellowship.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

  1. Who we are not.

We are not ANTICHRISTS (18).  The term “antichrist” appears only in John’s letters.  In this verse He used it in both plural and singular forms. This tells me that “antichrist” is a movement of opposition, not just a single notorious individual.

According to verse nineteen the ANTICHRISTS were at one time in the church, but at no time did they really belong there.  The church is for Jesus’ followers, not Jesus’ detractors.  They are “against Christ” in the sense that they denied the truth about Jesus and taught falsehood instead.  In the Greek, the prefix translated “anti” also meant “in place of, against, and opposed to.”  The false teachers were not neutral on the subject of Jesus being the Christ; they were strong deniers of it.

John warned the fact that such individuals were present indicated they were in the LAST HOUR.  Jesus taught that prior to His Second Coming there will be an increase of persecution, of opposition to the truth.  The LAST DAYS precede the end of history and the world as we know it.  God will replace this sin-stained creation with a new heaven and earth.  This is the culmination of His plan, established before the creation of the universe.  Though two thousand years of history makes the LAST HOUR sound less immediate, the phrase refers to the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming.  We are still in the LAST HOUR.

We are not quitters (19).  John’s reasoning seems rather circular: “We know we they were never Jesus people because they left us.  If they had belonged to Christ, they would never have left.”  However, his point is simply that “actions speak louder than words.”  No matter how pious they may have sounded or seemed their real intentions were betrayed when they walked out on the church.

By way of contrast, John used the word REMAIN five times in this passage.  Instead of leaving the church as the ANTICHRISTS had done, the true followers distinguished themselves by remaining.  The same Greek word is used extensively in John 15, in Jesus’ illustration of the VINE and the BRANCHES.  There He taught every good thing is possible to those who REMAIN in relationship with Jesus.  No good thing is possible apart from that close relationship.

We don’t lie about Jesus (22-23).  A specific falsehood these false teachers were purveying was the denial that JESUS IS THE CHRIST.  They tried to convince people that Jesus was not the Messiah; not God the Son.  True faith affirms the dual nature of Jesus Christ; He is both God and man.  To deny one or the other is an incomplete and false teaching.

This is a fundamental truth is implied in His name.  “Jesus” is our Savior’s given name and symbolizes the human side of His nature.  He was born a human being and existed in history, interacting with other human beings.  “Christ” is not His last name, it is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “messiah.”  This title symbolizes His divine nature.

We will not be lead astray (26). The two main subjects of John’s letters are truth and love.  In relationships, it is difficult to preserve both, but that is what God calls us to do.  John revealed that a purpose for his writing was to warn the people about false teachers in their midst.  They operated in neither truth nor love.  Instead, their purpose was to lead the people ASTRAY; away from the truth.  Whatever their motive, the false teachers knew the church folk would be easier to manipulate if they didn’t know the truth.

We don’t need to know how to argue with persons trying to persuade us to a contrary view, but we do need to keep our focus on Christ and simply refuse to be moved away from the faith we have received (JUST AS IT HAS TAUGHT YOU, REMAIN IN HIM).

  1. Who we are.

We are anointed (20+27).  “Anointing” is the biblical-era practice of applying oil to the body.  It was commonly done as an act of hospitality and for healing.  Less commonly, anointing had the purpose of ceremonially setting a person or object apart for God’s purpose.  For example, kings and priests were anointed for service; temple furnishings were anointed before being used.

John used anointing as a symbol of the “set-apart” status of Jesus followers.  We have received an ANOINTING FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT (20). Because they had received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, true followers are set apart to a divine purpose; to uphold truth and love. This is only possible because the Holy Spirit resides in us.

We know the truth (20-21, 27).  An important outcome of this anointing is knowledge of the truth.  The Holy Spirit grants every believer two important things: first, the illumination of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit enables every follower of Jesus the ability to read the word of God with understanding.  The Spirit enables us to apply what we’ve read and will bring it to mind when we need to recall what it said.

Second, Holy Spirit gives discernment.  As we live the life, the Holy Spirit enables believers to know the difference between good and evil.  When we can’t put a finger on how we know, we know because the Spirit told us.  God does not require us to have “blind faith” – just the opposite – we are to study the word, test it, learn what it says, and stay steady in the faith we have received (27).

The truth remains in us (24-25). God promises that His word and the Holy Spirit will REMAIN in the ones who REMAIN in Him.  Contrary to what our culture teaches, truth is not dependent on each person’s viewpoint.  It is not for us to make up a faith that suits us.  It is our job to receive the truth as defined by the Bible and the church, and make it our own by increasing our understanding of it.  By doing this, we receive the reward promised to those who REMAIN: ETERNAL LIFE.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

There is a late-night talk show host whose name I won’t mention because I don’t like Jimmy Fallon’s politics.  One thing he does almost weekly is get the American public to do his work for him by tweeting responses to a topic he has chosen.  Here are some funny replies to #dumbestfamilyfights.

#1 = “My sister once screamed at me for an entire car ride because I was looking out her window.  To this day my whole family will randomly yell, ‘DON’T LOOK OUT MY WINDOW!’ at each other.”

#2 = “The day the clocks turned back for daylight savings time.  Members of my family kept arguing about what time we should feed the cat so she wouldn’t be confused.”

#3 – “My brothers often argue with each other on who is the ugly one between them both… They’re identical twins.”

#4 = “I jokingly asked my family: ‘How many of each type of animal did Moses take aboard the Ark?’  My Grandma says; 2.

“When I tried to tell her it was Noah, not Moses, she said I was wrong and stormed out of the room!  Dad says, ‘We don’t talk religion at the dinner table!’”

#5 = “For years, my dad has sworn he needs glasses, but my mom says he’s just ‘not trying hard enough.’”

RESOURCES:

Message #545

https://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/photos/hashtag-gallery-dumbestfamilyfight/3420957