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

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

Worthy Worker (Part Two)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Pastor at the Construction Site_v03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      I want to start by asking you to put on your thinking caps.  I’m going to read a variation of the classic “Trolley Problem” and ask you to record your response on your bulletin.

You are part of a seven man crew working on a section of railroad track.  You happen to be standing at a switch and notice that a out of control train barreling down the track. Directly ahead on the tracks are five of your coworkers who do not see the train that is headed straight for them. On a side track is one of your crewmates who has his back to the oncoming train.  There is no time to warn them as they’re all wearing noise-cancelling headphones.  If you pull the lever right next to you, the trolley will switch to the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the train to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the train onto the side track where it will kill one person.

You have to decide in a split second what to do.  What is the right thing to do?  Write a one or two on a piece of paper.  We will come back to this situation later.

For now, we’ll complete our look at being a Worthy Worker by observing that discerning right from wrong and choosing to do right is very much at heart of our worthiness.  God finds people of true faith to be useful to Him in the work of expanding His Kingdom.  This passage tells us how.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. Two examples of unworthy workers. (16-19)

Be alert: evil can grow in a church just as it can anywhere.  In v. 16, Paul warned THOSE WHO INDULGE IN [GODLESS CHATTER] GROW MORE AND MORE UNGODLY.  GODLESS CHATTER feeds negativity and encourages divisive sins of the tongue like gossip, complaining, and back-biting.  As we said in part one, CHATTER may sound harmless, but it is not.  It results in greater ungodliness.

In v. 17, Paul wrote that UNGODLY TEACHING WILL SPREAD LIKE GANGRENE.  GANGRENE is a flesh-rotting disease (one form of which is fatal in 48 hours), so Paul could hardly have chosen a more repulsive image to describe the effect of UNGODLY TEACHING.  He identified two people who were among the UNGODLY in Timothy’s church: HYMANAEUS and PHILETUS.  Who were these people?

In 1 Timothy 1:20 Hymaneus was one of two people whom Paul HANDED OVER TO SATAN TO BE TAUGHT NOT TO BLASPHEME (Alexander was the other).  This probably meant they were put out of the church in Ephesus for serious errors in their teaching.  PHILETUS is not named in 1 Timothy 1:20, nor anywhere else in the Bible.   He apparently joined Hymaneus and Alexander in their error and suffered the same penalty.  Putting them out of the church is somewhat similar to the treatment for GANGRENE; surgical removal of the bad tissue, usually in the form of amputation.  For the survival of the body, the bad parts have to be cut off.

Their sin was to HAVE WANDERED AWAY FROM THE TRUTH.  The word WANDERED is an unfortunate choice for translation of the Greek word that means “missed the mark, deviated, or went astray.”  “Wandered” allows for an accidental deviation when Hymaneus and Philetus chose to believe an error, and worse, talked others into believing the same error.

Specifically, their false teaching was stating THAT THE RESURRECTION HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE.  Paul does not explain their false teaching, merely noting that it attacked the most central teaching of the Christian faith: resurrection.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, where Paul vigorously defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our personal resurrection, and the importance of these doctrines.)  What they did with this false teaching and how many people were taken in by it are details we are not meant to know.  It is sufficient for us to know that it was false and that it had a negative effect on the church in Ephesus.

The effect of their falsehood was to DESTROY THE FAITH OF SOME.  The word DESTROY can also be translated as “overturn.”  It meant that the false teaching had so affected some people that they ceased to believe the truth.  The health of the entire church was threatened, even though only SOME of the members fell in with Hymaneus and Philetus.

The good news is, though evil people and other circumstances can challenge our faith, the FOUNDATION God has set remains SOLID.  This FOUNDATION is the undeniable facts of God’s existence and His reward of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

There are two promises of God’s protection of His people.  These promises are etched in the foundation like a cornerstone.

The first promise: THE LORD KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS (Numbers 16:5).  God knows false teachers like Hymanaeus, Alexander, and Philetus.  While they may fool SOME of the people some of the time, they never fool God. God also knows everyone whose faith is real and based on the truth.  Remain faithful, and He will help you overcome and reward you when you do.

EVERYONE WHO CONFESSES THE NAME OF THE LORD MUST TURN FROM ALL WICKEDNESS. Here Paul paraphrased Numbers 16:26.  Though we do not do good in order to be saved, we do good in order to demonstrate our salvation, the change Jesus has made in our lives. A commitment to discipleship is part of the faith that saves.  As we learned again last week, turning away from wickedness is half of being a worthy worker.  The other half is pursuing good. Sometimes TURNING FROM ALL WICKEDNESS involves separating ourselves from people and sometimes it requires us to avoid places or circumstances that tempt us to do wrong.

  1. An illustration with household items. (20-21)

Paul contrasted two kinds of household items.  In order to understand the illustration, we must first see the LARGE HOUSE is as a symbol of the world in which we live.  In this world, people are either living for the Lord or not.  God made all of them, but not all of the people in the world are useful for God’s purposes. In many of our homes, we have one set of dishes for special occasions and another set for everyday use.  All the dishes are useful for serving food, but some of them are reserved for special uses.  The contrast between noble and ignoble ARTICLES (pots, bottles, pans, etc.) is a contrast of spiritual status and resulting usefulness to God.

The ones used for NOBLE PURPOSES are made of GOLD AND SILVER.  They are less numerous but more valuable in the sight of the Lord.  In the world, some people are “gold and silver” because they have faith and are obedient to God’s will.  Timothy is an example of a “noble article.”

The ones used for IGNOBLE purposes are made of WOOD AND CLAY.  These are common, worldly, and less valuable pieces.  They are not useful to God because they refuse faith and practice disobedience.  Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are examples of “ignoble articles.”

Paul used similar imagery in Romans 9:21 = DOES NOT THE POTTER HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE OUT OF THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY SOME POTTERY FOR NOBLE PURPOSES AND SOME FOR COMMON USE?  The phrase THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY indicates that we share a common humanity.  Tragically, we do not share a common destiny.  As Jesus observed in Matthew 7:13-14, there will always be more people who do not refuse faith and service to the Lord.

Like a handy kitchen gadget, a follower of Jesus becomes a fit INSTRUMENT FOR NOBLE PURPOSES when he has, with God, cleansed himself from IGNOBLE PURPOSES.  NOBLE refers to doing what God has called you to do.  It is NOBLE to be obedient to God.  IGNOBLE refers to doing what you selfishly want to do, or what the world wants you to do; all kinds of disobedience.  Moreover, IGNOBLE refers to sinful acts because Paul wrote that the worthy worker must be CLEANSED of it before he is useful to the MASTER.

Having been cleansed, the worker is MADE HOLY and is thereby USEFUL TO THE MASTER AND PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  In this world household items never CLEANSE themselves (wouldn’t it be great to have dishes that washed themselves?!) and neither do people – not on their own, anyway.  God cleanses us from sin and its effects, but He waits for us to repent and ask His forgiveness.

This cleansing is part of what Paul means when he says we are to be MADE HOLY.  Moral purity is part of holiness and the other part is being set apart from worldly and ungodly things to spiritual maturity and godliness.

People who are MADE HOLY are then USEFUL to God, just as clean pots & pans are useful to a cook.  People who are MADE HOLY are PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  Truly good works begin with holiness.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Let’s return to the train problem.  You may be interested to know that this is not merely an intellectual exercise, In 2003 Union Pacific dispatchers in Los Angeles, CA had to make a decision very much like this one.

Did you choose #1?  Five people are dead.

Did you choose #2?  Only one person is dead and you are among the 90% of people who made this choice when presented with this problem.

Did you make no choice or want to know more about the six people on the tracks before deciding?  Then five people are dead because you hesitated too long at the switch.  Not deciding is making a decision.

My point here is that everything you’ve done, every choice you’ve made, everything you believe goes into making that decision about the switch.  Life doesn’t always conveniently present us with choices that include a lot of time for research and weighing out values and deciding on priorities.

Spiritually maturing people will know God’s leading before the train starts barreling down the tracks.  They will have studied the word, been faithful in prayer, and experienced in good deeds.  In so doing, they will have replaced sinful instincts with godly ones and are better equipped to do, as Paul promised, every good work.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem