Be Reasonable!

Please read Isaiah 1:15-20 in your Bible.

Be Reasonable_final (1)Author Gordon MacDonald provided some insight into the term repentance: “’Repentance’ is not basically a religious word. It comes from a culture where people were essentially nomadic and lived in a world with no maps or street signs. It’s easy to get lost walking through the desert. You become aware that the country side is strange. You finally say to yourself, I’m going in the wrong direction. That’s the first act of repentance. The second act of repentance is to go in an alternate direction. It implies that you not only do this but you admit it to your companions.” https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Repentance/200130/

My family will tell you I have a real dislike for turning around and going back the way I came.  This comes up especially on family trips where we’ve ended up going in an unintended direction.  I prefer moving forward so thoroughly that I will go out of my way and/or figure out an alternate route rather than go backwards.

That kind of stubbornness is deadly when it is manifest in one’s spiritual life.  Sin turns us around; it puts us on a course away from God.  When that happens we need to be quick to repent which involves doing an about-face and returning to God.

CONTEXT: God spoke through Isaiah to address the sin of His people Judah.  Verse four of this chapter sets the stage by utterly condemning the people of Judah for having turned their backs to God.  Isaiah has been empowered to tell them to turn to Him.

True repentance is required for godly living.  It is a paradox of faith that godly living is both something you do for God and something God does for you.

  1. Godly living is something you do for God. (vs. 15-17)

Be warned: God does not acknowledge the prayers of hypocrites. (v. 15)  It is human nature to want to be in control.  One place this desire is evidenced is in religion.  We hope to exercise control of God by putting in our time and expecting His blessing in return.  We fall into hypocrisy, legalism, and merely external religious acts.  Though we would never say so, we believe God ought to be grateful for what we give Him.

Historically, we see this cycle: the Lord gives humanity a revelation/does a new thing.  Then, over the centuries, we paint layers of formality over it until the original becomes difficult to recognize.

Even the Old Testament system of formal religion was not given to be observed merely outwardly.  The sacrifices were to be a means of approaching God to receive inner cleansing from sin.  But according to Isaiah, the people of Judah – if they made the sacrifices at all – did it outwardly without any inner commitment to God.  The sacrificed without repenting.

Their hands were FULL OF BLOOD in two ways identified in this chapter.  There is a reference to THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND LAMBS AND GOATS in verse eleven.  These were the animals they sacrificed in their legalistic/hypocritical pretense of worship.  Religion that is not spiritual as well as material is powerless to save anyone.

In verse eighteen it is written their SINS were LIKE SCARLET, RED AS CRIMSON, the colors of freshly-spilled blood.

In their practice of prayer, hands were raised to God, palms up, not folded as is our practice.  This, then, is a graphic image of blood-red palms being uplifted in prayer, an obvious act of gross hypocrisy.

As “bloody hands” need washing, we must sincerely repent. Verses fifteen to seventeen tell us to WASH AND MAKE YOURSELVES CLEAN.  This expression represents regret over our sins.  What have we done for which we ought to feel regret?  If nothing else, we ought to regret the consequences of our sins, which distance us from God, from one another, and have toxic effects on our health and circumstances.  Washing was required in the Law of Moses as a means of preparation for worship and for meals.  It was a big deal in their faith; the Pharisees faulted Jesus and His disciples for not washing in Mark 7:1 ff.

After regret, repentance requires us to turn away from sin and toward God.  As is often the case in the prophets (i.e., Hosea 6:6-10, Amos 5:1-5; Micah 3:9 ff), turning toward God is revealed more in acts of justice than in conformity to the Law of Moses. Isaiah gives three examples of God-ward directions in life.

TAKE YOUR EVIL DEEDS OUT OF MY SIGHT!  The most complete repentance involves a hatred of the sin that we had committed.

STOP DOING WRONG, LEARN TO DO RIGHT!  We study the Bible to learn God’s moral code so we know what is right and what is wrong.

SEEK JUSTICE, ENCOURAGE THE OPPRESSED…

FATHERLESS… WIDOW.  Seeking JUSTICE requires actively looking for opportunities to come to the assistance of disadvantaged persons.

It takes humility to admit you are wrong and moral courage to ask for forgiveness: this is no less true in our relationship with God than in our relationships with one another.

Notice this section of Isaiah is full of verbs: WASH… TAKE… STOP… LEARN… SEEK… ENCOURAGE) so we need a reminder that we do these things as we are repenting.  We do not do these things in an attempt to earn God’s favor, but out of love and gratitude.

  1. Godly living is also something God does for you. (vs. 18-20)

Use your head – reason is a path to godliness. (18)  There are several court room expressions used in this passage.  The word picture is that of Judah being on trial for her sins.  REASON is supposed to be the means of reaching just decisions in court.

Rely on God to forgive your sin and cleanse you completely.  (18)  Don’t make the mistake of allowing regret to lead you into attempting to make amends.

The contrast of colors conveys the completeness of God’s forgiveness.  SCARLET to WHITE AS SNOW is the same language used in Psalm 51:7.  CRIMSON to WOOL (white).  The red dye used at that time was absolutely colorfast, so the prophet is saying that God can make white what is humanly impossible.

Obedience is required on our end of partnership with God. (19-20)  This passage holds each person responsible for their outcome.  We cannot blame God for our sins or their consequences.  If we, by faith, choose obedience, a full and abundant life is the outcome.  If we choose any way other than God’s, death is the outcome.

Blessings are promised to those who obey God. (19)  In this case, the blessing takes the form of a promise of a full belly: YOU WILL EAT THE BEST FROM THE LAND.  This has a symbolic side to it: it is not only materialistic, but is symbolic of spiritual and material prosperity.

Curses are threatened on those who RESIST God and REBEL against Him. (20)  In this case, the curse is the threat of a violent death: YOU WILL BE DEVOURED BY THE SWORD.  As with the blessing, this should be taken generally and symbolically but also seriously.  As Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH.

This combination of blessings and curses are found frequently in Proverbs (2:21) and elsewhere in the OT.  They are positive and negative incentives to seek God and do right by Him.

These truths did not come from Isaiah; the LORD HAS SPOKEN. (20)  This assurance is one final incentive to obey, as the Lord’s warning is not to be taken lightly, nor are His promises.  He will do as He says.

2) Historically, we know that these curses did come to pass because the people of Judah refused to repent.

True repentance is required for godly living.

I’ve been reading a book entitled Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid.  It’s a summary of the teaching of John Newton – the pastor who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  Newton believed that a maturing believer took responsibility for his or her own sins, but was never paralyzed by guilt.  We can be encouraged to know that God’s grace is so powerful he can use even our sins to bring about increased spiritual maturity.  Specifically, he identified three virtues typical to a maturing believer’s life.

Humility – True humility is an accurate view of self.  People who ignore their guilt and people who obsess over it are both being self-centered & mistaken.

Tenderness – Seeing one’s self honestly allows one to see others in a true light and show mercy on their human weakness.  As Jesus taught in Matthew 7:3-4, tenderness is seeing the speck one’s own eye before fussing over the log in another’s.  In a word, not legalistic.

Spirituality – This virtue can be confused with being religious, but it is actually not putting one’s affections or trust in anything or anyone in this world.  Spirituality is a matter of focus.  Our focus should be on Jesus.

To the degree that these three things are true of any of us, we are receiving the spiritual maturity God wants of us.  Duguid’s point is that God’s grace is not going to be thwarted by our sin.  As Isaiah made plain, sin has serious consequences, but frustrating God’s plan is not among them.  This truth should cause us to both relax and be more vigilant at the same time.  In this life we continue to struggle against sin.  We can relax in the sense that there is no sin a believer can commit that will cause a loss of salvation.  We want to be more vigilant because we love the Lord and one another as we love ourselves and sin does cause a separation from those we love.  So we prefer the virtues of humility, kindness, and spirituality to all the vices the world has to offer.  Find happiness in being virtuous.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, Isaiah, Vol. 1, John F. A. Sawyer

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, G. W. Grogan

Zondervan Bible Commentary, David F. Payne

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Gleason L. Archer

Extravagant Grace by Barbara R. Duguid

TruLuv

Please read Hosea 14 in your Bible.  Full disclosure: I used the NIV (1984) for this article.

REPENTANCE

God truly loves those who repent.

          I saw a video recently of a lady who entered a kennel to attempt to win the trust of a pup who had been abused all his life and consequently growled at and cowered before any people who came near.  This lady approached the dog cautiously, with a treat in one hand, reaching out with the other, open-palmed.  Somehow with a combination of her voice and touch, she got the dog to respond to her positively, taking the treat.  Very soon after that, the dog was able to be let out of the kennel.  Its demeanor was completely transformed; it played with other dogs and acted like a pup should.

The video was offered as a metaphor on human behavior; sometimes people, like this pup, have known little other than abuse.  They don’t know how to receive love because they have been shown so little love.  However, once they take a chance and experience true love, a switch is flipped and they are somehow enabled to be loved and can even learn how to love others.  True love is a redemptive force.

(You can see the video for yourself at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:ugcPost:6450598322699927552.)

  1. TruLuv for God begins w/ repentance (1-3, 9)

In this passage, RETURN is the word for repentance.  In Hebrew, the word is sub.  It has a variety of meanings, all along the lines of turning back, returning, restoring.  We can visualize it as a turning away from sin, turning back to God.  Walking toward sin (giving into temptation) is walking away from God; there is a 180 degree difference.

We read two specific parts to repentance.  The first is that repentance is a change of direction. As verse one states, RETURN TO THE LORD YOUR GOD.

Second, realizing words DO count, repentance is asking God to forgive you. Verses two and three make this truth plain; TAKE WORDS WITH YOU…SAY TO HIM.  What are we to say to God?  Hosea reveals five statements we must sincerely make to God:

One: “I admit I am guilty of sin.  We are to plead, as Hosea did, FORGIVE ALL OUR SINS.  Redemption comes to those who admit to having a problem called sin, one we can’t fix it on our own.  Redemption is an act of God’s grace, not our merit.

Two: “Lord, please forgive me.”  As the prophet did, pray God will RECEIVE US GRACIOUSLY.  Through Jesus Christ, God has fixed the problem of sin; He can save you.

Three: “I reject worldly ways and self-reliance.”  This is what is meant by the phrase ASSYRIA CANNOT SAVE US; WE WILL NOT MOUNT WAR-HORSES.

Four: “I reject false gods.”  Idolatry takes on more subtle forms in our time; self-made religion is the more common form of our modern idolatry.  It is no less deadly, however, than fashioning a false god image and worshiping it.  We see the rejection of idols in verses three and eight; WE WILL NEVER AGAIN SAY ‘OUR GODS’ TO WHAT OUR OWN HANDS HAVE MADE and WHAT MORE HAS EPHRAIM TO DO WITH IDOLS?

Five: “God, I accept your forgiveness and offer praise to You.”  Verse two uses language of sacrifice, though in the NIV it reads, WE…OFFER THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS.  This literally says, “we offer our lips (bulls) as sacrifice.”  The author of Hebrews would use similar language in 13:15; OFFER A SACRIFICE OF PRAISE.

Why should we repent?  To be forgiven, of course, but also because it is the right thing to do.  As verse nine says, THE WAYS OF THE LORD ARE RIGHT.

Verse nine also tells us about the repentant person.  These qualities are similar to what is written in Psalm 107:43; Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD.

He is wise.  WHO IS WISE? HE WILL REALIZE THESE THINGS.

He has discernment (the ability to distinguish between good and evil).  WHO IS DISCERNING? HE WILL UNDERSTAND THEM.

He is headed in the right direction THE RIGHTEOUS WALK IN THE WAYS OF THE LORD.

Verse nine also tells us something about the unrepentant person: THE REBELLIOUS STUMBLE.  A refusal to obey God causes a person to STUMBLE; they reject the truth and refuse to repent.

  1. TruLuv from God restores His beloved (3-8).

God loves you too much to leave you an orphan.  As verse three declares; IN YOU THE FATHERLESS FIND COMPASSION. This is a recurring promise in the Bible (for example, see Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18).  God puts us in families and in church families so we can serve Him, serve each other, and serve our communities.

God’s love is expressed in three promises made in v. 4.

First, I WILL HEAL THEIR WAYWARDNESS.  Ironically, the word WAYWARDNESS has the same root as the word RETURN, but describes turning away from God, not to Him.

Second, I WILL…LOVE THEM FREELY.  This is the unconditional love of God.

Third, MY ANGER HAS TURNED AWAY FROM THEM.  Forgiveness turns away wrath.

God’s love will cause you to thrive, not just survive: I WILL BE LIKE DEW TO ISRAEL (5). This blessed state is expressed in ten promises made in verses five to eight.

HE WILL BLOSSOM LIKE A LILY (5).

HE WILL SEND DOWN HIS ROOTS (5).

HIS YOUNG SHOOTS WILL GROW (6).

HIS SPLENDOR WILL BE LIKE AN OLIVE TREE (6).

HIS FRAGRANCE LIKE A CEDAR OF LEBANON (6).

MEN WILL DWELL AGAIN IN HIS SHADE (7).

HE WILL FLOURISH LIKE THE GRAIN (7).

HE WILL BLOSSOM LIKE A VINE (7).

HIS FAME WILL BE LIKE THE WINE FROM LEBANON (7).

I WILL ANSWER HIM AND CARE FOR HIM (8).

Verse eight shows all good things come from God: I AM LIKE A GREEN PINE TREE; YOUR FRUITFULNESS COMES FROM ME.

God truly loves those who repent.

          Pastor Bledar Valca told this story: “Some years ago a murderer was sentenced to death. The murderer’s brother, to whom the State was deeply indebted for former services, besought the governor of the State for his brother’s pardon. The pardon was granted, and the man visited his brother with the pardon in his pocket. “What would you do,” he said to him, “if you received a pardon?” “The first thing I would do,” he answered, “is to track down the judge who sentenced me, and murder him; and the next thing I would do is to track down the chief witness, and murder him.” The brother rose, and left the prison with the pardon in his pocket.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/repentance-bledar-valca-sermon-on-repentance-104293?ref=SermonSerps

This tale is intended to teach us that if there is no repentance, there can be no pardon.  Sin cannot be forgiven without the offender asking for repentance.

The good news is God loves every sinner who repents.  His forgiveness is total, cleansing the worst sinner from every last bit of guilt and shame.  He fully restores those who He forgives, recreating their moral perfection with a perfectly clean slate.

God acted to save us from our sins, just as He acted in history to restore His people after their exile.  Much of the news the prophet Hosea delivered was bad news, condemning sin and warning them of God’s coming wrath.  However, the book ends with this stirring call to repentance in order to have God’s forgiveness, the blessing of His grace.

Make this your personal experience.  Admit your sin; confess it to God.  Ask His forgiveness and receive His love.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance (2nd Edition)

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Ed.

Evil Spirits, Good Results

Please read Acts 19:13-20 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my own research.evil vs Jesus

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

In our house lately we’ve been enjoying TV specials titled “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed,” originally broadcast in the 90s.  (Yes, we’re behind in watching our TV programs.)  In each show, the “Masked Magician” performed magic tricks and then showed how the illusion was made.

This show was an example of “reality TV,” two words that don’t belong together in a sentence.  Part of the gag is that this magician was masked to protect his identity from vengeful fellow magicians.  In the last of the specials, he removed the mask to reveal himself to be Val Valentino, a man who’d been a stage magician all his adult life.

This is an example of magic being simply deception and illusion.  Whether for fun or profit, to entertain or deceive, there have always been people who used the hand to trick the eye and the person.

In our passage today, we read about some con artists who attempted to incorporate the name of Jesus into their act.  They were as surprised as anyone when a genuine evil spirit exposed them as false.

God used this extraordinary event to reach the people of Ephesus and Asia Minor in a very unique way.  It’s not only a great story, but an event that reveals several things we need to learn and practice.

  1. Sceva’s sons learned the hard way. (13-16)

We learn that they were just name-droppers (13-14).  Before we go there, let’s take a brief look at “Jewish Mysticism.”  As many cultures do, Jewish people have myths and superstitions.  These have varying degrees of relatedness to Scripture.

In Paul’s day, some Jews made a living going from town to town performing magical services based on these superstitions.  (I suspect you’d have to be ITINERANT just to stay ahead of being found out!)  The Ephesians were especially superstitious.  For example, they believed if you knew the name of a spirit you could control it.  To, as the text says, EVOKE THE NAME refers to an incantation or magic formula using “power names” to make spells effective.  Though this may sound strange or our ears, there is some NT mention of this activity:

-Jesus referred to Jewish exorcists sent out by the Pharisees in Luke 11:19 (Matthew 12:27).

– In Luke 10 He sent out 72 of His disciples to cast out demons & do other kinds of ministry.

– In Acts 16:18, Paul cast a demon out of a woman in Philippi while invoking the name of Jesus.

What’s happening in our passage is some of these people heard the name of Jesus had been powerfully used by Paul (the healings in vs. 11+12), so they gave it a try.  They didn’t possess the faith that made the miracles possible, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

The text tells us all we need to know about Sceva and sons.  The name “Sceva” is neither Hebrew nor Greek; it is a misspelled Latin word that meant “left-handed” or “a good omen.”  If their father was a JEWISH CHIEF PRIEST they would be members of one of the families from whom the Romans chose to be the Jews’ chief priests.  (The Romans had politicized the office, making it no longer hereditary.  Their theory was that shuffling the high priest job would keep any one man from becoming too influential.)  The combination of a claimed Jewish nobility and a Latinate name is unlikely to have been genuine; it implies these were con men.  They probably weren’t really related!

The seven sons of Sceva failed spectacularly: ONE DAY, an evil spirit exposed their falsehood (15-16).  Evil beings that exist as spiritual beings are also called demons.  The Bible attests to the existence of these beings.  No one can deny the reality of demons and claim to believe everything else the Bible teaches.

THE EVIL SPIRIT spoke through its human host and verified the identities of Jesus and Paul but didn’t have any idea who these frauds were; “WHO ARE YOU?” it asked.  The power, then, was not in the names of Jesus and Paul.  The power to cast out demons came from Jesus’ identity as God the Son and His delegating authority to Paul as His servant.

It exposed them as frauds.  Adding injury to insult, the seven suffered public humiliation and a whuppin’.  Though outnumbered seven to one, the demon-possessed man OVERPOWERED the sons of Sceva and sent them running out of the house, embarrassed and injured.  This can hardly be accounted for by normal means, so a supernatural force is implied.  The demon gave the possessed man unusual physical strength and/or overwhelming savagery.

  1. As a result, the word grew in influence & power. (17-20)

As you would expect, news of an incident like this got around very quickly = THIS BECAME KNOWN TO THE JEWS AND GREEKS LIVING IN EPHESUS.  THEY WERE ALL SIEZED WITH FEAR = It was taken very seriously.  Our text list four effects.

The first effect is that this cured the “magic-using community” of name-dropping (17).  Instead, THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR.  People respected the name of Jesus, no longer attempting to use it merely as a “magic word.”  (Too bad that didn’t happen for Mr. Al Akazam!)  People realized that the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS held power, but it was neither the kind of power they could manipulate, nor the kind to be trifled with!  The phrase HELD IN HIGH HONOR means “glorified.”  This implies worship of Jesus by people who converted to the Christian faith; as befits verse eighteen.

The second effect: confession of EVIL DEEDS (18).  The new converts confessed to having committed EVIL DEEDS.  Our text describes conversions in general terms in verse eighteen while verse nineteen offers an example of a specific act of repentance that put a value on the depth of their repentance.

The third effect was their voluntary decision to burn “magic” scrolls  that had great material value but were spiritually worthless (19).  The Lord does not require a set procedure for repentance.  That’s a good thing, as we are saved by GRACE, not by GOOD WORKS.  We are not operating under a legal system that requires specific actions to qualify as “true repentance.”  It is also good because it shows the collection and burning of these SCROLLS was spontaneous and voluntary, which makes the act a more effective demonstration of repentance.

The actions of the converts in verse nineteen set a good example for us to follow when repenting.  Repentance is turning our back on our sin and turning our face to God.  We regret and reject our sins to seek God instead.  Getting rid of the things that tempt us to return to sin and/or things that represent affections for worldly things is a good idea, and it accomplishes three things:

– First, it removes a source of temptation.  Jesus spoke of removing one’s right eye or hand if they cause you to sin (Matthew 5:27-30).  This is a graphic way of describing a grave degree of sacrifice in order to gain separation from temptations.

– Second, when a person makes voluntary sacrifices like this, it says a lot about the depth of their commitment to Jesus.

– Third, making it public makes you accountable to everyone who sees what you are doing and will be watching in the future to see you don’t fall into that sin again.

Luke estimated the value of the destroyed texts to be 50,000 drachmas, or the wealth accumulated by a year’s work (no days off) of 137 men.  This was a sacrifice!

The long-term effect was that the word prospered (20).  People travelling out of Ephesus carried along the account of the demoniac beating the tar out of seven con artists and other testimonies to the POWER of the WORD OF THE LORD.  That’s how it SPREAD WIDELY.

As the number of new converts continued to grow and their faith deepened, the WORD also GREW IN POWER.  This also means there were more events of this type.

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

It’s a fact that things aren’t always as they appear.  Consider what happened when two magicians went into a bakery.

One of the magicians palmed 3 donuts with one hand and put them in his pocket without anyone noticing. He whispered to his companion, “Do you see how masterful I am? I make donuts disappear at will!”

“Not bad,” the second magician said.  “I can do you one better.”  He went to the baker and asked if he wanted to see a magic trick.

The curious owner answered, “Of course!” The second magician asked him for a donut then ate it. He asked him for another one, and ate it as well. When asked for a third donut, the owner was reluctant to give it up.  “So what’s the magic trick?” he said with suspicion; “I gave you 2 donuts already!”

“Just one more,” he replied.  After eating the third donut, the magician pointed to his companion and said, “Now check his pockets.”

Our Bible passage this morning gives us a memorable example of how God turned what was intended for deception into a victory for His Church.  When we live as the people of faith we are supposed to be, God works in us and with us to turn all things into good.

While we may not do the miraculous things done in Ephesus, God will use our faith and service to draw people to salvation.  It starts with our decision to be entirely faithful, willing to trust Him in this promise.

 

RESOURCES:

More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Lent is for You

repentance

Please read Luke 3:7-14 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV 1984 to prepare these remarks.

          USA Today called it “Date confusion;” as this year Ash Wednesday falls on St. Valentine’s Day and worse, Easter on April Fools’ Day.  Writer Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press sagely predicted, “Christian couples might celebrate their love next month with smudges of ash on their foreheads.  And a prank or two could infiltrate Easter Egg hunts.”

This quirky calendar coincidence hasn’t happened since 1945 and will not occur again until 2024.  Ned McGrath, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit commented, “For the record, the last time there was a confluence of these dates — 1945 — the Detroit Tigers won a World Series. No joke. I’m just saying.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/06/ash-wednesday-valentines-day-easter-april-fools-day/1004317001/

Leaders in Chicago’s Roman Catholic Church are offered this guidance: “Solemnly mark the start of Lent, a day the faithful are asked to abstain from meat and to fast, on Wednesday. Celebrate love over a steak dinner and candles another day.”

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-ash-wednesday-valentines-day-20180207-story.html

It seems to me that we’re missing the point here.  We have an opportunity to observe, just once every eighty years – give or take – that LOVE was expressed on the cross of Jesus Christ.  LOVE motivates us to repent and do better.  Rather than just the cheapened version of love, we’ve been given a rather obvious opportunity to LOVE.

At Easter I’ll show how God made a fool of the devil with the empty tomb!!

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” was the heart (pun intended) of Jesus’ message (LKE 5:31-32; 19:10) and the message He commanded His disciples carry to the world (LKE 24:43-47).  Ash Wednesday is the day in the traditional year devoted to repentance.  Today we’ll look at JTB’s take:

Repentance is a single act and a way of life.

  1. Context: John’s ministry was to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (3:1-6)
  2. John preached that repentance requires bearing FRUIT in KEEPING with a changed life. (3:7-14)

His sermon included a stern warning (3:7-9).

Verse seven has some tough talk: VIPERS and WRATH.  These people are coming out to him; treating potential converts this was counter-intuitive, to say the least.

Matthew’s version clarifies John’s sternness – these remarks were probably directed at the PHARISEES and SADUCEES – religious leaders who’d probably come out to spy on and maybe oppose John.

Because of the Gospels, the name PHARISEE has become a byword for hypocrite.  That is certainly one reason they were always at odds with Jesus.  Worse, they turned their inflated legalism on others, creating burdens impossible to bear (see Luke 11:46).  The SADDUCEES were a larger party of Jewish religious leaders who collaborated with the Romans, often to line their pockets.  Whenever the Gospels say these two parties were working together, we should know that was a rare occasion and happened only when they saw a worse threat.

What was threatening about John?  First, in Jewish practice, baptism was reserved for people not born Jews who converted to Judaism or Jews undergoing an extreme rededication of faith.  John was using baptism in a new way; baptism for repentance for all people.  John’s baptism created a doctrinal stir and that’s probably what caught the interest of the Pharisees.

Second, John was preaching about the Christ, the promised Messiah, as foretold in Scripture.  This kind of talk got people wound up.  The CROWDS gathering were an occasion for a riot.  That would’ve made the Sadducees feel defensive.

The word VIPERS refers to poisonous snakes, which most of us would consider a physical and emotional threat.  When there is a fire in the desert, snakes will come out their holes in the ground to flee the flames, which leads to the other provocative word, WRATH.  This is a warning of God’s just punishment of all non-believers which will occur on the Day of the Lord (see Isaiah 13:9; 30:23; Ezekiel 7:19; Zephaniah 1:18; Malachi 3:2; Romans 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 10:27).

Real repentance requires righteous FRUIT.  Repentance itself is not a work; it’s a change of direction based on sorrow over sin and a decision to discontinue it.  However, a genuine change of mind leads to good fruit; actions that are godly in character.

In verse eight we find another warning: don’t rely on being Abraham’s kids.  John tells them their ancestry dating back to Abraham is worthless toward salvation: “OUT OF THESE STONES GOD CAN RAISE UP CHILDREN TO ABRAHAM.”

John warned them that God is so powerful He can come by CHILDREN TO ABRAHAM pretty cheaply.  It’s nothing special and will NOT save them from God’s wrath.

At His Triumphal Entry Jesus was told to quiet His disciples.  Jesus’ reply was that if the people kept quiet, the stones beneath their feet would “cry out.” (see Luke 19:40).  In addition to Abraham’s physical descendants, all who believe are spiritual descendants (see Romans 4:11-16; 9:8; Galatians 3:7+29).

And in verse nine, John warned them God’s wrath is on fruitlessness and it was imminent: “THE AX IS ALREADY A/T ROOT OF THE TREES” = irreversible judgment.  Individuals are like trees in that they produce either GOOD FRUIT by godly living or bad fruit by godless living, sin.  The call to repentance is to turning away from evil and toward God.  Our new orientation will bear FRUIT.

In verses ten through fourteen John refined what he meant by FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE.  The word repentance literally means “turning.”  It is a change of mind, direction.

What’s exciting about this passage is that each of these three groups of people had the insight to ask John “What must I do?”  They got John’s warnings and more deeply understood repentance is manifest in actions.

John did not use or set up a legalism.  Instead, he personalized what repentance would be for each of the groups.

To the general population (the CROWD), he used the example of TWO TUNICS and FOOD.  A TUNIC was a shirt-like garment, the main clothing worn by a person of the time.  A robe was worn over this.  At that time, most people had only ONE TUNIC and everyone wore only one at a time.

John’s principle was to share your surplus.  His example of FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE was to suggest that whatever you have in surplus – beyond what it takes to satisfy your immediate needs – you should provide for those who have none.  We Americans typically have closets full of clothes, pantries and freezers full of food, more than we need.  We can demonstrate we are God’s people is by turning our surplus into support.

Addressing the tax collectors (12-13), John’s example was to meet your need, not your greed.  Tax collectors were locals who contracted with the Romans to charge taxes.  They realized a profit by charging more than what was required and pocketed the difference.

John’s repentance principle was “Save, don’t shave the sheep.” There’s a difference between making a living and making a killing.

To the soldiers (14) John gave three commands, but one example: don’t be abusive of your authority. These were likely King Herod’s soldiers and/or temple guards who accompanied the Pharisees and Sadducees.  It took guts for them to admit to considering John’s baptism right in front of their bosses.

Command number one: “DON’T EXTORT MONEY.”  It was common for soldiers to intimidate people and take bribes.  The word EXTORT means “to shake violently,” hence our slang term, “shake down.”

Command number two: “DON’T ACCUSE PEOPLE FALSELY.” The word of a soldier was always taken over a citizen’s, which is an obvious occasion for abuse.

Command number three: “BE CONTENT WITH YOUR PAY” is asking a lot.  Soldiers were underpaid, relying on bribes to make more money.

This is also John’s repentance principle: be content.  John is not just teaching a moral principle; he is also giving sound financial advice.  Repentant people are content with what they have; they don’t cheat or get themselves into debt simply to have better things.

  1. Context: John made it clear he was not the Christ, only His precursor. (3:15-20)

Repentance is a single act and a way of life.

Regardless of our individuality and circumstances, repentance is something we all must practice and it brings forth a character that is generous and refuses to abuse authority.  This Wednesday night we enter into the traditional season of Lent.  Lent is a period of preparation for Easter.  A particular focus of Lent is repentance.  We need to give additional time, thought, and prayer to turning away from sin AND turning to God.

Starting Wednesday night, here’s your homework.  Keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed.  Before you lay your head down at night, list three sins you committed that day – either by omission or commission.  Ask God to forgive you those sins.  Cross them off to indicate they are forgiven. Next to each, write the opposite kind of action.  This would be something godly you can do instead.  Then, in the morning, circle those three things and go out and do them the next day.  Imagine what great things can be accomplished if we would commit to this kind of discipline over the 40 days of Lent!

Worth the Wait

patience

<Image retrieved from http://bookboon.com/blog/2017/02/patience-important-soft-skill/.>

Please use your favorite Bible to read Isaiah 30:18-26.  In a momentary departure from the usual, I’ve used the NRSV to prepare my remarks.

Wait for it – God will dispense perfect justice.

Today we’re going to talk about patience.  I am always grateful for the opportunity to TALK about patience but aren’t always as appreciative of the opportunity to practice it.  Patience is a virtue, but not everyone understands it in the same way, as illustrated by the following quotes on the subject of patience.

+ “At my age, patience is not a virtue… it’s a luxury.”  – Erma Bombeck, humorist

+ “You can learn many things from children… how much patience you have for instance.”- Franklin Jones, businessman & humorist

+ “Patience and diligence, like faith, can move mountains. – William Penn

+ “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.” – Mac McCleary

+ “I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.” – Edith Sitwell English biographer, critic, novelist & poet

+ “Opportunity knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter, educator & writer

+ “Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses.” – Anonymous

+ “Genius is patience.”  – Sir Isaac Newton

+ “Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to maintain a good attitude while waiting.”  – Anonymous

An even better understanding of patience can be found in Isaiah 30:18.  It is an unusual verse in that it explains the patience of God and commands His people to follow His example.  There are texts aplenty to be cited to support either of those propositions, but to find both in one verse is, to my knowledge unique.

  1. The general principle: God graciously waits for our repentance; we must patiently wait for His justice (v. 18).

God waits for us to repent; He graciously gives us a lifetime of opportunities because He wants to be merciful.  Mercy tempers JUSTICE.  God is just, but He waits for people to repent and be saved. Justice delayed is not justice denied.  God’s justice will be perfect and universal and complete when it happens.  Peter also explains what seems like a delay in God completing his plan.  (See 2 Peter 2:8-9.) God’s holiness demands justice be completed, so this is a limited time offer.

This prophecy has an immediate and ultimate fulfillment.  The immediate recipients were the people of Judah.   They were to be faithful until He delivered them from Babylon.  The ultimate recipients of this promise are all those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  Judgment Day comes at the end of human history and is the day of ultimate justice.

  1. A specific example: God’s promises to His people (vs. 19-26).

This section explains and expands on the promises of vs. 15-18 by applying the principle to the situation in which the Judahites found themselves.  The people of Judah were captives in a foreign land and they would be for 70 years. It was a situation so far outside our own experience we can’t imagine how lonely and forsaken what that must’ve felt.

But – and this is the important part – God had not forsaken his people.   He made promises to them to motivate their faithful endurance.  We will examine each of them, noting the immediate and ultimate fulfillments we see.

Promise #1 = No more tears (19).  Restored to their homeland, the Jews would have no more reason to WEEP.  This promise fits perfectly with Revelation 21: 4, where God promises to wipe every tear from their eyes.

Promise #2 = God hears and answers prayer (19).  We should never use the expression “unanswered prayer.”  Verses like this assure us God hears and answers them all.  His answer may be “yes,” “no,” or “hold, please,” but those are all answers.  Seventy years is a lifetime to most of us, but even if you have to wait a lifetime, the point is that God responds at just the right time to the cries of His people.

Promise #3 = He sends ADVERSITY and AFFLICTION only for a limited time (20).  BREAD and WATER are the usual fare of prisoners of war.  Isaiah uses them as metaphors of the trials we face in life. The end of the Jews’ Babyloninan trial would be the appearance of their TEACHER (the Messiah).  This was fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming.  For us, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is that our trials will end at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Promise #4 = He will guide you (21).  The emphasis here is not on the fact that God would be willing to guide them for that had always been the case.  The emphasis is on the degree of their repentance; they will at last listen and heed God’s guidance.  They will no longer ignore God and thereby wander off the path.

Promise #5 = He will meet your needs (23-25).  The references to RAIN, SEED, GROUND, GRAIN, CATTLE, PASTURES, OXEN, DONKEYS, SILAGE, and RUNNING WATER all sound worldly, like God is offering prosperity in return for loyalty.  It is a mistake to see these verses in such materialistic terms.  Instead, this promise has two less obvious meanings.

One, it is a promise to the Jews that they will be restored to their land.  In Judaism, the land is of central importance.  It was the Promised Land and to be out of it – even for just 70 years – was the worst sign of God’s having forsaken them.  To return to it was a sign of forgiveness.

Two, it is a promise that God would provide all they needed to survive.  Everything from SEED to GRAIN comes from God.  If we think our brains and strength are the means by which we provide for ourselves, we had better stop and remember who gave us brains and strength in the first place.

Promise #6 = In fact, God’s care will be so complete that even the DAY OF SLAUGHTER will not be a thing to be feared (25).  Referring to something like a DAY OF SLAUGHTER and the falling of TOWERS seems out of place, a downbeat in a passage packed with positivity.  Instead, its realism.  In this world there will never be a time of ONLY good news.  Everything is a mix of pleasant and unpleasant, gain and loss, good and bad.

It is a warning, based on fallen human nature:

– Do not take God for granted during the days of prosperity.

– Do not turn to idols and give them the credit for days of ease.

– Do not repeat the sins of the generations that resulted in your current exile, for you will suffer a similarly disastrous outcome.

Promise #7 = Enlightenment (26).  The repeated use of the number seven is not an accidental one; it is a significant number in the Bible, starting with the seven days of creation.  It is a divine number.  Scientifically, I’m not sure that the sun shining with seven-fold intensity would be a good thing.  However, most of us would be happy to have the sun shine seven times more often than it seems to shine.  I think the point is that – along with everything else from SEED to GRAIN – God will provide abundant sunshine to make the crops grow.  This factor is singled out because sunshine is one part of the ag process over which we exercise no control.

Promise #8 = Healing (26).  The LORD is clearly the power behind the throne of Babylon.  Though it was Babylonian soldiers that overran Jerusalem, they achieved victory only because God allowed them to do so.  Just as God allowed his people to be injured and wounded, He will be the means of their healing.  He will personally bind up the hurts of His people.

Look verse twenty-two, for here we find the application of these truths, the human half of this promise-keeping: repentance. Verser twenty-two is clear that repentance involves throwing away your idols.  THEN YOU WILL DEFILE YOUR SILVER-COVERED IDOLS AND YOUR GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER THEM LIKE FILTHY RAGS; YOU WILL SAY TO THEM, “AWAY WITH YOU.”

The references to the idols being plated with precious metals is meant to remind us that idols are things that look precious and important on the outside but are worthless and woody underneath.  Idols are always superficial things that have no lasting value.

Repentance involves rejection of idols.  This is not a casual attitude.  The word RAGS describes the most foul, defiled thing of which the writer could think.  Repentance involves an 1800 turn, hating and casting aside the sinful things we used to worship and adore.

Since most of us do not have silver or gold-covered statues set up on little altars at home, we have to think of “idols” in a more symbolic sense.  We need to think about the things in this life that we love but cause us to sin and worse, occupy the place in our life that God is supposed to take: first place.  Those are the things we have to cast out.

What are the gold-plated idols in your life?  Even good things like Family, friends, church, business, can all be idols.  When you pray, ask God to reveal them to you and be prepared to act on His response.