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

Ready to Die

Please read John 12:1-11.

maryanoints080316_01

Do I love Jesus as much as Mary did?

          The subject of the Sunday School lesson was missions.  The class of eager eight year-olds had just met their first missionary and they were excited to hear about life in far-away Africa.  The teacher wanted to capitalize on their enthusiasm, so she asked the class if they’d like to give the missionary $1,000.

“YES!” the kids replied enthusiastically.

“How about $100?”

“YES!” they shouted.

“Would you give a dollar to help this missionary?”

All the boys responded with another loud “YES!” except for Johnnie.  The teacher noticed this and asked him, “Johnnie, why didn’t you say ‘yes’ this time?”

“Well,” he said clutching his pocket, “I HAVE a dollar!”

That’s human nature, isn’t it?  As long as sacrifice is merely theoretical or in principle, we’re all for it.  When it becomes actual or personal, we suddenly have reservations.

In our passage, we see Mary making a huge sacrifice to honor Jesus.  While we obviously don’t measure love with dollar signs, we do measure a sacrifice by what it costs us.  The more precious the thing we sacrifice, the more love that indicates.

John referred to Mary’s action before he gave us any details of it.  In 11:2, he explained who Mary was; THIS MARY, WHOSE BROTHER LAZARUS NOW LAY SICK, WAS THE SAME ONE WHO POURED PERFUME ON THE LORD AND WIPED HIS FEET WITH HER HAIR.  This detail is out of chronological order.  If John had been written for the Internet, 11:2 would be preceded by the words “Spoiler Alert!”  He’s teasing what will appear in the next chapter.

  1. Mary’s sacrifice. (12:1-3)

Verse one provides us with the context for this event.  The time was SIX DAYS BEFORE PASSOVER, the last week of Jesus’ life.  The place was the village of Bethany; the home town of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

John does not record the incident in Luke 10:38-42 but story is in keeping with Luke’s characterization of the sisters.  In Luke, Martha worked in the kitchen and complained that Mary wasn’t helping her.  Here in John, Martha served the meal.  In Luke, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to His teaching.  Here in John she is at His feet again, but this time to perform a lavish sacrifice.  John goes into some detail to assure us Mary’s sacrifice was great.

She poured out A PINT OF NARD, AN EXPENSIVE PERFUME.  This was a fragrant oil make from the nard plant which grows in the mountains of northern India.  Pure NARD was diluted or combined with other ingredients to make incense, cosmetics, perfume, or medicines.

As Jesus would refer to it in verse seven, dead bodies were also covered with the stuff.  This not only masked the smell of decay, but it made the linen cloths covering the body stick to it.

The fact that Mary POURED IT ON JESUS’ FEET is a detail that is hard to explain.  Normally, a person’s head was anointed, not the feet.

That she WIPED HIS FEET WITH HER HAIR is another striking and out-of-the ordinary detail.  In Jesus’ culture it was inappropriate for a woman to bare her head.  In Luke’s account the woman had LIVED A SINFUL LIFE, so she might be willing to flaunt cultural norms.  In that culture as well as ours, this was an intimate act, an extreme show of emotion.

Set aside the cultural norms for a moment: it was illogical to apply perfume and then wipe it off with anything, especially one’s hair.  Mary’s action here is impossible to explain.

John noted THE HOUSE WAS FILLED WITH THE FRAGRANCE OF THE PERFUME.  This is a wonderful poetic description.  This is the first of two clues that Mary poured the whole thing out on Jesus’ feet, an extravagant use of an expensive possession.

  1. Judas’ objection. (12:4-6)

Judas objected to Mary’s action (vs. 4-5).  I imagine Judas’ rebuke coming after a moment of stunned silence after Mary surprised them all.  Mary’s action was not at all practical; a little bit of that concentrated perfume would have been sufficient to be hospitable.  It was an intimate and expensive way to demonstrate her love for Jesus.

“IT WAS WORTH A YEAR’S WAGES” Judas protested.  Turns out, his assessment was quite accurate.  An alternative reading in the Greek texts provides an amount: three hundred denarii.  As a one of these coins was the typical day’s wage for a laborer, 300 would be about a year’s worth.

His objection masked his real motive: greed.  Judas had never before demonstrated any great concern for the poor.  As treasurer, Judas had been trusted with the group’s purse; a trust he violated to add to his own purse or buy things for himself.  People have tried to understand what motivated Judas to betray Jesus, but the only personal motive the gospels offer is greed.

This situation will come up again in 13:29-30, where Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer.  When Jesus sent Judas away, the others assumed Jesus had sent their treasurer to get provisions for the Passover or to make a donation to help the poor.

The other explanation of Judas’ betrayal is a spiritual one: he was a tool in the Devil’s hands (Luke 22:3; John 6:70; 13:2+27).  It’s likely greed was the door Judas opened and the devil walked right in through it.

  1. Jesus’ explanation. (12:7-8)

John doesn’t explain Mary’s motive, an omission which stands out because of the extremity of Mary’s act.  He does, however, explain why this pint of nard was available in the first place.  It seems Mary and Jesus originally had planned another use of the nard.  Jesus said, “IT WAS INTENDED THAT SHE SHOULD SAVE THIS PERFUME FOR THE DAY OF MY BURIAL.”

Instead of following that plan, she poured it all out – she did not dilute it or reserve it for Jesus’ burial.  This is the second of two clues that point to this (the first is in verse three).

Jesus’ statement about the poor (v. 8) has been misused to justify any less-than-compassionate attitude toward poor folks.  We should moderate our urge to personalize or make a rule out of everything.  The first question we should always ask of the Bible is, “What did this mean at that time?”  In this case Jesus warned them that He would not be around much longer, so now was the perfect time for Mary to anoint Him.

Jesus knew human nature and the sinful condition of the world.  Those two facts insure there will always be poor folk.  He also affirmed what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 15:11 = THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR PEOPLE IN THE LAND.  THEREFORE I COMMAND YOU TO BE OPEN-HANDED TOWARD YOUR BROTHERS AND TOWARD THE POOR AND NEEDY IN YOUR LAND.

  1. Meanwhile, back at the Sanhedrin. (12:9-11)

Jesus attracted a LARGE CROWD even while doing nothing more than eating dinner (v. 9).  John 11:19 tells us MANY JEWS were in Bethany to comfort Mary and Martha on the occasion of their brother Lazarus’ death.  It’s reasonable to believe part of the LARGE CROWD had witnessed Lazarus’ death and hung around to see what would happen next.

This scene is a dinner given to honor Jesus, with Lazarus invited.  Verse nine reports the CROWD had also gathered to see Lazarus.

The Pharisees’ fear of the CROWD surfaces in vs. 10 and 19, “LOOK HOW THE WHOLE WORLD HAS GONE AFTER HIM!”  The crowds following Him intimidated THE CHIEF PRIESTS so much that they planned to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.  Only John reports this detail. We have no evidence they ever murdered Lazarus.  This information explains why the Jewish leaders were determined to kill Jesus.

Two factors combined to put pressure on the Jewish leadership.  The raising of Lazarus caused Jesus’ popularity to skyrocket just as people were travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover.  I presume they wanted to kill Lazarus to eliminate this important evidence of Jesus’ power and to end his “celebrity status.”

Do I love Jesus as much as Mary did?

          The question gets at the heart of our faith – what am I willing to sacrifice as a demonstration of my love for Jesus?  Mary sacrificed a great deal of money and humiliated herself to make an extravagant gift.  Do I love Jesus enough to sacrifice my pride?

As we conclude, allow me one more example of sacrifice.  Of the 56 men who signed our Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British and tortured until they died.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost sons in the Revolutionary War.  One signer had two sons captured.  Nine fought and died in the war.  One saw his ships sunk by the British navy and died in poverty.  More than thirty of the fifty-six signers made great sacrifices to advance the cause of liberty.  We would honor their sacrifice by taking our involvement more seriously.

Those signers who endured heart-breaking loss made great sacrifices in the name of securing freedom for succeeding generations of Americans.  While we may never be called upon to make such deadly sacrifices, we are all called upon to demonstrate our love for Jesus in daily sacrifices of self.  We must surrender all to the one who gave His all for our salvation.  We gather around this table to remember Jesus, who laid down his life for us, the most unselfish act in all human history.  In light of all He did, how much do we love Him for doing it?

 

Resource:

The Anchor Bible, Raymond C. Brown.

The Savior You Need

jesus

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.

If you were asked, “What kind of savior do you want?”  How would you reply?  Some would question whether they need a savior at all.  Many people assume they’re good enough to deserve a place in heaven or deny that heaven exists at all.

Biblically, we know that is nonsense.  No one is good enough, because God’s standard is perfection and none of us can live up to that.  We all need a savior as human nature alone keeps us out of heaven.

In an article entitled, “Why do I need a Savior?” Eric Segalini compared human nature with the famous literary character Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde.  After a disturbing dream, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote feverishly for days to complete the book.  Segalini sees the dual nature of the title character as illustrating the dual nature of every human being.

Dr. Jekyll is a symbol of the polite, public side of most people while Mr. Hyde is the private side that we want to “hide” from others.  You recall that the story revolves around the good doctor’s experiments leading to a formula that split his personality and transformed him physically.

Eventually, the brutal Mr. Hyde committed murder.  His evil alter ego showed up at bad times and fought Dr. Jekyll for dominance.  It was Hyde that murdered, but Jekyll was no less guilty.  The two personalities shared the guilt, and that’s how we can show everyone needs a Savior without having to open our Bible.  Every person with enough sense to be honest must concede to having their own Mr. Hyde.

Segalini concludes: “Instead of leaving us to the harsh demands of justice, Jesus stepped in on our behalf. He extended both justice and mercy. He offered to be our Savior.

“If we come to Jesus in surrender, sick by our sin and certain of justice’s demands, He will take our place.

“In exchange for our sin, Jesus gives us love, gives us hope, gives us Himself.

“Things didn’t end well for Jekyll, by the way. He kept thinking he had Hyde under control, but they both wound up dead.

“The good Dr. Jekyll disappeared first.

“Jekyll and Hyde’s case is not as strange as the novel’s title suggests. The problem isn’t out there; the problem is me.

“I know what I need, like it or not. I need a Savior.

“Because my dark side lurks. And so does yours.”

(https://www.cru.org/us/en/how-to-know-god/why-i-need-a-savior.html)

We learned Wednesday night at our Study of Proverbs that the “foolish” or ungodly person is self-deceived.  They have rejected God on the basis of the mistaken belief that they are OK all on their own.  This is a difficult deception to dislodge.  Once the problem of sin becomes personal, the search for the Savior can rightly begin.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

REVIEW

Vs. 4 + 8 = HIM WHO IS, WHO WAS, WHO IS TO COME.

V. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.

V. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.

V. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.

V. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.

V. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.

V. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!

V. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

V. 7 = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM = Self-condemned people will lost.

V. 8 = ALPHA AND OMEGA, FIRST AND LAST (v. 17)

V. 8 = THE ALMIGHTY = Jesus has all power.

V. 13 = “LIKE A SON OF MAN” = Jesus is divinely empowered.

V. 13 = DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.

V. 13 = WITH A GOLDEN SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.

V. 14 = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW = Jesus has a purity of spirit.

V. 14 = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE = He judges fairly.

V. 15 = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.

V. 15 = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.

V. 16 = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.

NEW

V. 16 = OUT OF HIS MOUTH CAME A SHARP DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD.

A SHARP DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD is a biblical symbol of judgment. Hebrews 4:12 is the example of how the word of God cuts through the externals and reveals a person’s true self: FOR THE WORD OF GOD IS LIVING AND ACTIVE. SHARPER THAN ANY DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, IT PENETRATES EVEN TO DIVIDING SOUL AND SPIRIT, JOINTS AND MARROW; IT JUDGES THE THOUGHTS AND ATTITUDES OF THE HEART.  As words come out of a person’s MOUTH, this is an obvious symbol of Jesus’ pronouncing judgment.

V. 16 = HIS FACE WAS LIKE THE SUN SHINING IN ALL ITS BRILLIANCE.

This reminds us of the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (see Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9), where we read THERE HE WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE THEM.  HIS FACE SHONE LIKE THE SUN, AND HIS CLOTHES BECAME AS WHITE AS THE LIGHT.  In the Bible, the presence of God is often described as a brilliant light and is called the “glory” of God.  Artists have illustrated this brilliance by painting a halo around the head of Jesus.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a Savior.

V. 5 = HIM WHO LOVES US AND HAS FREED US FROM OUR SINS BY HIS BLOOD.

LOVE is something easily claimed; it is proven by sacrifice for the beloved.  That’s why John’s claim Jesus loves us is paired with the greatest evidence; His self-sacrifice for us.  Jesus demonstrated His love by freeing us from slavery to our sin nature and from the penalty for our sins.  His death on the cross did it.

In the Old Testament, blood sacrifice was the God-given means to forgive sin. As Paul explained in HBS 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of there is no forgiveness.”  When Jesus came, God did not just drop that system.  He accepted Jesus’ blood as the final and perfect sacrifice, satisfying forever the demand for blood. In 1 John 1:7 it is written, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

V. 7 = EVERY EYE WILL SEE HIM, EVEN THOSE WHO PIERCED HIM.

This is borrowed from Zechariah 12:10: THEY WILL LOOK ON ME, THE ONE THEY HAVE PIERCED.  This verse tells us two things about the Second Coming.  One, everyone will see Jesus at the same time.  This is possible because He is God and is present everywhere at once.  Two, to people who reject Him, it will be a sudden reversal of what they expected.  This will be as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:37-38 and Luke 17:27; “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.”

It’s natural to expect things to continue in the way we’re used to – some people can be quite insistent on it – but people of faith are supposed to know better.  Jesus’ Second Coming will bring about the completed work of God and with it, a complete change to life and the world as we know it.

V. 18 = THE LIVING ONE: “I WAS DEAD AND BEHOLD I AM ALIVE FOR EVER AND EVER!”

His death on the cross is not the end of Jesus’ story.  He does not remain dead, but is alive; THE LIVING ONE.  This expression is used of God the Father, enthroned in Revelation 4:10 and 10:6.  We have identical descriptions of God the Father and God the Son, showing they are as one.  Jesus was not defeated by death; He lives and defeated death: THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IS DEATH. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

V. 18 = “I HOLD T KEYS OF DEATH & HADES.”

Biblically, KEYS are a symbol of authority.  In Matthew 16:19 Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus holds two keys.  One is the key to DEATH.  The One who has authority over DEATH has the authority to give life.  The other is the key to HADES.  This Greek word refers to a place where the spirits of the dead reside until the Second Coming.  It is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol; it is not a place of torment; it is just a kind of residence or holding area.  This is consistent between Jewish beliefs and Greek mythology.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

          Another way to approach the self-reliant person is to invite them to think about what they have based their self-view on.  A person’s self-worth is likely based on these five areas:

  1. Approval from others.
  2. Appearance.
  3. Achievement.
  4. Your character.
  5. Your faith.

The first three items on that list are material, worldly, and temporary.  Character takes some time to form and good character takes the Holy Spirit and some effort on our part to achieve, but can still be subject to compromise and change.  It’s only the fifth   item that is unchanging and reliable.

Here’s a new thought: what we believe about Jesus Christ is the only good basis for what we believe about ourselves.  It is ironic, but a faithful focus on Jesus is the surest foundation for our self-image.

Here in Revelation 1, we have seen the divine side of Jesus emphasized.  We have had our hope in Him renewed by focusing on the Second Coming.  When we center our life on the person of Jesus, we will be less invested in what others think of us, how we appear to them, what worldly achievements we have piled up, and even our own personal growth.  What should be most determinative of who we are is who Jesus is.  When we seek to duplicate Jesus in what we say and do, one of the beneficial effects is that we find freedom from worries about anything this world says about us.  The truth sets us free!

 

Resources:

The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leon Morris

Advent Attitude:Obedience

Advent 3

Please read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

            If you haven’t discovered it yet, please take a look at the website Bible Gateway.  It is a handy way to do research on the Bible and you can read from many different Bible translations without requiring loads of Bibles in book cases.

Bible Gateway reported last week the most often-searched Bible verse of 2018: “Out of more than 2 billion page views conducted by visitors to Bible Gateway during 2018, the most popular verse for the year was Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2018/12/this-is-the-most-popular-verse-in-2-billion-pageviews-during-2018-on-bible-gateway/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=58037004&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1541969998&spReportId=MTU0MTk2OTk5OAS2

You would not want to read too much into this one factoid, but 2 billion is a big number, except in comparison to the federal debt.  So it may be safe to infer from this choice of Jeremiah 29:11 that people are looking for some reassurance.  We who believe need to be reminded from time to time that the trust we put in God is well-placed.  We need to be encouraged to continue to be faithful that our obedience to God is making a difference.  We need to hold fast when trials discourage us.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

  1. Joseph obeyed God (Matthew 1:18-25).

He was the type of man who you’d expect to obey God.  Matthew lists five obedient qualities Joseph evidenced.

He was a RIGHTEOUS MAN (v. 19).  Normally, we think of RIGHTEOUS as obeying God’s law.  However, in this situation the “righteous” thing for Joseph to do was to divorce Mary.  Jewish custom required divorce to break an engagement where adultery had been committed.  The little word AND figures large in this verse.  Joseph was RIGHTEOUS and yet, he did not want to make a public issue of Mary’s pregnancy which was assumed to be the result of adultery.  So there’s something deeper at work in Joseph’s heart than legalism.  Love is there, too, and it tempered the legal response.

He did not want to EXPOSE Mary to PUBLIC DISGRACE (v. 19).  The Greek word for PUBLIC DISGRACE is fourteen characters long.  It meant to punish someone by exposing them to the contempt of the community.  The punishment was shunning; making the person an object of scorn and ridicule.

Adultery was supposed to be punished with death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and John 8:3-5), so there’s a greater danger to Mary than that of a broken heart.  The point is that Joseph was looking for a way to obey God, keep his honor, and not punish Mary.  He was merciful instead of being vengeful.

In the original language, the phrase AFTER HE HAD CONSIDERED THIS (v. 20) means that Joseph came to this decision after a lot of thinking about it.  He did not act rashly.

But when it came to being obedient, Joseph did not take his time; he obeyed immediately (v. 24).  The text plainly points out that when Joseph awoke from the dream, he brought Mary into his home as his wife.  He brought her under his protection.  He accepted her shame as his own and defied the customary response to cases of adultery.

Joseph obeyed the angel’s instructions and, on his own initiative, went beyond them (v. 25).  Matthew points out that Joseph gave up his  conjugal relations with Mary.  He was not instructed to do this, so it may have been something he felt honor-bound to do.  He may have had the foresight to know that any relations between them might cause some to say Jesus was his son.  This way, it is historically clear Joseph was not the birth-father of Jesus.

Obedience in this matter would cost him.  Matthew identified two costs Joseph paid for His faithfulness to the angel’s message.

To accept PUBLIC DISGRACE with Mary.  As far as anyone else knew, Joseph was the injured party here.  Mary had wronged him; she had been unfaithful to him.  As a man and as the innocent party, Joseph held all the cards and Mary’s life in his hands.  He chose mercy before God explained the real reason for Mary’s pregnancy.  After that, Joseph changed his mind about the marriage and proceeded with it.

It cost him what most people would consider a “normal” marital relationship, the customary way to consecrate a marriage.  The Bible confirms the marital rights of husband and wife.  It is an important aspect of the relationship.  Their marital relationship began under a cloud of suspicion.  Instead of the week-long celebration most Jewish couples enjoyed, Joseph simply set aside custom and took Mary into his home immediately.  And, as Luke tells us, one of the first things they did as a couple was to pack up and make the long journey to Bethlehem.

  1. Mary obeyed God (Luke 1:26-38).

She was the type of person you’d expect to be obedient to God.  Luke details five virtuous aspects of Mary’s character.

As the text tells us several times, Mary was A VIRGIN.  Mary had been moral and observed God’s command to have sex only in the marriage relationship.

She was HIGHLY FAVORED by the LORD (v. 28).  This Greek word (charitoo) literally means “full of grace.”  It is used of all believers in Ephesians 1:6 and indicates we are recipients of God’s grace, not dispensers of it.  The use of this word shows that Mary is on the same gracious status as the rest of us; she should not be made semi-divine.

THE LORD was WITH her (v. 28).  This explains the grace we just mentioned.  God is gracious by being present with us and by working His will in us.

She identified herself as THE LORD’S SERVANT (v. 29).  Mary’s faith was mature enough to make her humble.  She knew her place in relationship to her Creator.

Though the angel’s message GREATLY TROUBLED Mary (29), she was obedient.  The appearance of the angel and the greeting alone prompted this reaction and caused her to WONDER what this was all about.  Gabriel’s response was to answer her questions and try to calm her fear.  (In the previous section, Zechariah questioned the angel that appeared to him and was disciplined by being rendered mute.  Mary does the same thing and is not disciplined.  There is no obvious difference between the questions, so the difference my lay in the people.  Zechariah must have disbelieved the angel but Mary believed him.  She asked a question out of curiosity, not out of disbelief.)

Her obedience in this matter would cost Mary.  Luke’s Gospel and a little reasoning reveal four ways in which agreeing to carry God’s Son would require sacrifice on Mary’s part.

We go back to the PUBLIC DISGRACE we mentioned in regard to Joseph.  As the apparently offending party, and as the woman, Mary would have suffered a greater share of the DISGRACE.  Contrast the DISGRACE the people of Nazareth threatened with the grace God offered Mary in v. 28.  Remember our comment on the phrase HIGHLY FAVORED?

As we noted with Joseph, there is the problem of starting a marriage under these adverse conditions.  This initial awkwardness was expertly portrayed in the film “The Nativity Story.”  I recommend it.  (Incidentally, the two leads would also appear in Star Wars films.  From the Star of Bethlehem to Star Wars – it’s a fun bit of trivia – look it up!)

Mary would have to face the physical and emotional conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth.  We can’t assume that just because she was carrying the Savior that she was spared morning sickness, getting kicked, labor pains, etc.  The conception was supernatural, but we can assume the rest of it was natural and typical.

This is not affirmed in Scripture, but I think we can assume that both Joseph and Mary were concerned how Jesus might be treated by their family and the people in Nazareth.  In that culture, an illegitimate child would probably have to bear that stigma and be treated cruelly.

This happened once when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His public ministry.  In Mark 6:3 someone referred to Him as “Mary’s son.”  This might be taken as an insult, that Jesus was no son of Joseph.  While we know that was biologically true, it’s unlikely this remark referred to His divine father.

Thankfully, this was not always the case.  Luke 2:52 reports, the boy JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MEN.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

Obedience that costs us nothing is not going to be worth much.  Being faithful while trying to take control isn’t a great act of faith at all.  Obedience to God is risky, difficult, and in some places in the world, downright dangerous.

Mary and Joseph are examples of obedience that was costly.  Mary’s obedience took her all the way to the cross.  That was a sword that cleaved her heart in half.

In a December, 2012 article for Relevant magazine, Nick Price wrote, “As we approach Christmas, let us not forget the faithfulness of Mary and what she was willing to risk. In her story, we are reminded that following Christ often leads to persecution and rejection by the world. Sometimes the price we pay for obedience is rejection. We must ask ourselves, What are we willing to surrender to God? Are we willing to be used for His purposes in the world? Are we willing to trust Him to provide for us when the rest of the world may turn its back? Mary models for us what obedience in the face of rejection looks like.”

There is a place where you have not really said “yes” to God.  There is something He’s called you to do and you haven’t yet obeyed.  Advent is an especially good time to begin a life-long habit of obedience.

 

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon

What’s God Done for You Lately?

Please take a moment to read Ephesians 1:1-14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

God has done everything for us to inherit eternal life in heaven and abundant life on Earth.

I’d like you to take the message title as a question to you personally.  Ask yourself, “What has God done for me lately?”  How quickly can you come up with an answer?  When good things happen to you, do you tend to think of yourself as “lucky” or would you say you are “blessed?”  The difference between those two words is essential because “luck” is a concept associated with a God-less world view.  To be “blessed” is to have faith and acknowledge that God is in charge.  There is no such thing as luck.

Rev. Michael Cartwright posed this question and here’s how he answered it: “I will mention a few blessings from the last few days:

(May 11, 2007) One of the Managers for the Target stores in Southern California named Jeremy just gave me a free brand new Casio G Shock wrist watch. I did nothing but bring my old Casio watch in to get a new battery and the lady did not know how to put it back together. God blessed me with a new watch.

The same day I went to pick up a mechanic named Larry to work on a car that belonged to my employer named Bob, I explained to him about my Internet Ministry and how I am going to pick up a computer router over the weekend so that I can have high bandwidth. Larry reached over behind a table and under a pile of stuff he handed me a free router.

May 12, 2007, an air conditioner technician named Clarence came over to my home and he handed me a reasonable bill for $150.00 for parts and labor which I paid in cash. We were talking about our faith and what a blessing we are to each other and he gave me back $50.00.

(May 14, 2007) As I stepped out of my vehicle this evening, I was just outside of my home thanking my next door neighbor who lives on the left side of my home for helping me with his remote control to open the gate since my remote control needed batteries.

At the same time my other next door neighbor Walter who lives on the right side of my home who has a wonderful wife and family approached me and asked me to not go anywhere as he went back into his garage. He came right back out and handed me a $20.00 bill and told me that he found it in my front yard yesterday and wanted to give it to me.”

How would you like to have a week like that?  Here’s how Rev. Cartwright summed it up: “To some people these may not seem to be big blessings, but to me and God every blessing is a big deal because it shows how God keeps His promises to bless you in everything.”

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I once listened to a lengthy testimony from a guy who was convinced God helped him find morel mushrooms, leading him step by step through the woods.  The testimony was rather like following a treasure map!  These men are to be commended for the attitude of gratitude they are showing, but I wonder about one thing: do they see the big picture too?

I wonder if we have faith enough to see God at work in the more important matters of eternal life?  Do we have faith to see God is in charge when disease strikes, when we’re flat broke, when we feel lonely, when adversities pile up?  Do we sense God’s leading in all these circumstances of life?

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, a city where he’d made new disciples and founded churches.  He wrote to encourage them that God is in charge of all life’s events, ups and downs included.  He wanted them to have faith to see that God’s eye is on both the details and the big picture; that He is actively working to bring all of it into conformity with His master plan for humanity.

CONTEXT: Ephesians 1:1+2 sets the stage for what is to come in the letter.  We can note some themes in the first two verses:

One, Paul established his authority to write them not on his having founded the church, but on a higher level: the commission of CHRIST JESUS BY THE WILL OF GOD.

Two, Paul identified his target audience: TO THE SAINTS IN EPHESUS, THE FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS.  This looks like two ways of saying the same thing, but I take it to be a two-fold greeting.  It’s as if Paul wrote, “To the church in Ephesus and believers in the Ephesus metro area.”

The city of Ephesus was an important city in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  It was a junction for land and sea trade routes for what we call Asia Minor, in modern Turkey.

God’s strategy in spreading the Church in Asia Minor was to start at Ephesus and fan out to other cities along the roads built by local governors to improve trade and impress their Roman rulers.

Three; using his typical greeting of GRACE and PEACE, Paul set forth two of the major themes of the letter.  He used the word GRACE 95 times in his letters, twelve of them in Ephesians.  PEACE is one of the great blessings of faith; Paul used the word eight times in Ephesians.

Paul wrote this letter six or seven years after he last visited the city.  In this letter he is doing everything he can to reassure the former pagans that their fate is not determined by the impersonal, unfeeling stars or any whimsy of false gods.  Instead, their hope is safe in the hands of the one true God.

  1. God has blessed you with every blessing (3).

In the Jewish culture of that time, the matter of blessing someone was very important.  A blessing directed to God was called a berakah.  Paul’s blessing of God is unusually long – it was written as one sentence 202 words long!  In it, He blesses the Lord for the way He’s blessed us with a plan of salvation.  He began with two general statements:

First, God has BLESSED US IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  Rather than referring to a place you can find on a map, Paul’s reference to HEAVENLY REALMS is similar to Jesus’ use of the phrase, Kingdom of God.  It is more a state of being and a sphere of authority than a place.

Two, God has BLESSED us WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.  Some may prefer earthly kinds of blessings, but the best things in life are not discerned by the five senses.

  1. God chose you (4 + 11).

He CHOSE you early – BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  God chooses individuals to do particular parts of His plan.  People like Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter are examples of God’s choosing.  This term is also used in a broader sense, that God chose the nation of Israel and the Church to be His covenant partners.  The fact that He made His choices BEFORE T CREATION OF THE WORLD indicates that God – in His wisdom and power – formed a plan of salvation long before it was needed!

He CHOSE you for a reason – TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.  To be chosen is an undeserved honor.  (As we will see, the word GRACE figures prominently in this passage and in the letter overall.)  God has His reasons for choosing some people, but none of them have to do with our worthiness or His need: neither of those things really exists.

Instead, God chooses us in order that we might become HOLY and BLAMELESS. (See also 5:27.)  God, by calling us into service, makes us HOLY.  The word HOLY means set apart from everyday, worldly, and especially from sinful purposes to be used by God.  God, by forgiving our sins, makes BLAMELESS.  This is a moral perfection made possible by the complete forgiveness.  God does these things because He is creating for Himself a people all His own.  He is qualifying us to be part of His Church.

The key phrase is IN HIS SIGHT.  No matter how you or I may feel about ourselves; no matter what lies the devil may feed us to discourage us into thinking we are unholy and full of blame, what’s true in the mind of God is absolutely true.  You can rely on that!

The word CHOSEN in v. 11 can also be translated as “made heirs,” referring to our adoption into the divine family.  More on that next.

  1. God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

Because He loves you, God PREDESTINED you to be adopted into His family.  The word PREDESTINED is used to explain how God CHOSE us even before the world was created.  He set our destiny before the events that brought us into being!  PREDESTINED is a popular word among theologians, but occurs only six times in the Bible (see Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Corinthians 2:7).  For the benefit of theological readers, let me offer this statement: in thinking about how God saves us, we can emphasize free will and suffer the loss of eternal security or emphasize sovereignty and enjoy the security of eternal life based on grace, not works.

Adoption into God’s family is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors for salvation, which is a little surprising.  Adoption was a common custom in Greek and Roman law, but there are no laws or teaching regarding it in the Old Testament, only a passing mention in Esther 2:15.  His use of this metaphor says something positive about Paul’s use of the Gentile culture to communicate the Gospel.

This is an image of affection and deep relationship that illustrates God’s choosing.  After all, adopted children are chosen, and then welcomed into the family.

This is also a forward-looking image because according to Roman & Greek law, adopted sons become legal HEIRS of the father (v. 11).  This is meant to reassure us that we have a future and it is a very good one.

Your predestination gives Him PLEASURE because it fulfills His WILL and because He loves you.  That’s a feeling we can all understand: how it pleases us when things go acc. to plan.  Although in God’s case, I suspect it is a PLEASURE that is less self-centered.  Because He loves us, God is pleased to think about us as spending eternity with Him.

As an aside, it bothers me when we downgrade the joy that the Bible says is supposed to accompany a genuine faith.  Paul teaches that the whole process is effused with joy: he wrote that God took PLEASURE in choosing us and we enjoy the blessings His choosing imparts to us.

He predestined you by means of HIS GLORIOUS GRACE, which He FREELY gave us by means of Jesus (the ONE HE LOVES).  What this implies about Jesus is that He was present with God the Father before creation and that He was a party to our being chosen.  Jesus is God the Son.

GRACE is undeserved favor.  It is God giving us what we don’t deserve, because death is the only outcome sinners deserve.  The word FREELY helps us under-stand the word GRACE.  There is no way we can earn God’s choosing us.  We don’t deserve to be part of the family, but we are.  God’s GRACE is GLORIOUS in the sense that it directs our attention to God.  As the highest good, God deserves our attention and has earned our PRAISE.  All this was according to God’s PLAN, the one that works all things to conform to His WILL.

  1. God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

God accomplished redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross: His shed BLOOD.  In a culture where slavery was widely practiced, REDEMPTION is a commonly understood term.  In our culture, less so.

A person became a slave if they were captured during a war, or more commonly, as an item to be sold to pay off one’s debts.  (Instead of holding a rummage sale or going to a pawn shop, an indebted person avoided prison by selling one’s self or children into slavery.)  Death brought an end to one’s servitude, but it could be accomplished sooner by financial means.  If someone paid off the debt, the slave was set free.  That payment is the “redemption price.”

The Bible lists several “owners” to which we were in slavery:

The devil.

Our own sin nature and human nature hold us in bondage to sin.

The “darkness” of sin and willful ignorance of God.

God redeemed us from these three “masters” through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our lives by giving His own.  He is our saving substitute, sacrificing Himself that we might live.  Thanks to Him, we do not have to face God’s wrath onf Judgment Day.

This redemption was an act of GRACE.  It is so good, His salvation is “rich.”  There is nothing lacking in God’s GRACE.  He is completely able to save.  You can trust God’s power.  It is so generous, God LAVISHED it on us.  God is not stingy with His grace, He loves to a degree beyond our ability to understand.  You can trust God’s generous character.  God’s GRACE is evidence of His WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING and/or part of GRACE is bestowing WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING on us.  In either case, GRACE is not at all like our overly-permissive, child-centered parenting; it produces change and growth.  You can trust God to challenge you to mature as He provides all you need to achieve it.

  1. God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

The MYSTERY is revealed; it was there all the time.  The phrase “hidden in plain sight” comes to mind.  From before creation on to our own time, God is graciously making His will known to His people.  One means of His self-revelation is the Bible.  We understand that the Bible is God’s “progressive revelation;” that means that God did not reveal all of His plan to save humanity in the first chapters of Genesis.  As time progressed and throughout the pages of the Bible, more of his plan was revealed.  Paul understood Jesus Christ as being the important piece to the puzzle, the key to understanding the Old Testament and preparing for the future.

Here’s that word PLEASURE again (vs. 5+9).  This word measures the joy God has in loving and saving people.

We are informed again, God the Father accomplished His will through God the Son. Paul clarified this in three verses.

In verse seven, the phrase THROUGH HIS BLOOD refers to the sacrifice, the physical means that makes salvation, the fulfillment of God’s plan, possible.  In verse nine, the phrase WHICH HE PURPOSED IN CHRIST identifies Jesus as the “linchpin” or “keystone” of God the Father’s redemptive plan. To emphasize this point, Paul used three different words which can be translated as PLAN.

In verse ten, the phrase TO BRING ALL THINGS…UNDER ONE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST looks ahead to the Second Coming, the event that will bring history to a close and complete the plan of God.  On that day, all rebellion and sin will come to an end, this current version of reality being replaced.  The paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will be regained and established for all eternity.

That is such a big promise, a universe-sized vision, that it can be difficult to believe.  But this passage is about HOPE (12) and about describing all that God has done for us.  We are being informed that God’s plan looks forward to complete fulfillment; we live in a time when we are God’s partners in bringing it to pass.

Verse eleven seems to serve as a restatement of Paul’s points in this section; here he repeats vs. 4-6+10, emphasizing that all these promises are what God intended to do all along, even before creation (4).  Notice the word EVERYTHING.  Our hope is that all things will be made new in Jesus Christ.

  1. God sealed His promises with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

God’s plan fulfills the promises He made to His people Israel, to the Jews: WE WHO WERE THE FIRST TO HOPE IN CHRIST (12).  Here Paul simply notes the historical events coming to pass in his own lifetime: Jesus was a Jew and considered His mission to be to His own people.  When the Church was formed, it was primarily made up of Jewish people, centered in Jerusalem, and continued to support temple worship and other Jewish traditions.

However, God’s plan always included the non-Jews (Gentiles); He always intended to save all people: AND YOU ALSO WERE INCLUDED IN CHRIST (13).  The means of the Gentiles’ inclusion: YOU HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH and BELIEVED.

God the Father’s plan features the God the Holy Spirit (14).  The HOLY SPIRIT is a SEAL.  In Paul’s world, a SEAL was a mark of ownership.  Seals were often made of stone or precious metal that had some kind of image engraved in them.  When pressed in hot wax, the seal left an impression that identified the owner.  In our time, a brand on cattle, a trademark, copyright, signature, or fingerprint are ways we record identity and/or ownership.  When we truly believe, the Holy Spirit is given to us and His presence is indicated by Spiritual Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit, along with a change of character.  This is God the Father’s SEAL on us.

The HOLY SPIRIT is a DEPOSIT, GUARANTEEING OUR INHERITANCE.  Think of a “downpayment” or “earnest money” in modern financial transactions.  These are ways of validating a commitment to keep a promise.

Think of it!  God has no need to make a DEPOSIT; by faith we should take Him at His word.  And yet, He offers part of Himself; God the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that all He has promised will come to pass.  This also means God has not left us alone to sweat out the time between promise and fulfillment; He is with us.

The ultimate end of all of this is THE PRAISE OF [God’s] GLORY (v. 14; also vs. 6+12).  God’s GLORY is another way of referring to His presence among His people.  When the Bible talks about giving GLORY TO GOD, it means making Him known, sensing His presence, and responding to Him appropriately.

In the Bible, God’s presence is referred to in various ways:

As THUNDER (Psalms 29:3; 33:22).

As bright radiance (Ezekiel 1:28).

As a bright cloud (Exodus 40:34-35).

As unapproachable and invisible LIGHT (1 Timothy 6:16).

To PRAISE God is to sense His presence, recognize Him for who He is, and to make Him known to others.  It is worship.

Let’s review the four truths we’ve learned:

One, God is in charge; His plan is unfolding as He directs and will one day result in the salvation of all creation.

Two, God is at work; His plan was set into motion even before the world was created.  He took full inititiative and chose us for salvation.

Three, God will succeed; His plan to restore the paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will completely come to pass, with universal effect.

Four, Jesus Christ is God.  God the Son helped God the Father formulate the plan and is central in its success.  God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity is the worldly evidence that identifies those whom God has chosen and encourage them to trust that all promises will be kept.

“The story is told of Dr. Christianson, Professor of Religion at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required course in Christianity.

“He found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery.  Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.

“One year, Dr. Christianson made a special arrangement with a popular student named Steve who was studying with the intent of going on to seminary for the ministry.  When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts: the extra fancy big kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it because was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get some delicious donuts.

“Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, ‘Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?’

“Cynthia said, “Yes.”

“Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?’

“’Sure.’ Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

“Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, ‘Joe, do you want a donut?’

“Joe said, ‘Yes.’ Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”

“Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.

“Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott, who wanted a donut, but asked, ‘Can I do my own pushups?’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘No, Steve has to do them.’

“Scott said, ‘Well, I don’t want one then.’

“Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?’

“With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.

“Scott said, ‘Hey! I said I didn’t want one!’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘Look!, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.’ And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

“Steve had begun to slow down and the students were beginning to get a little angry.

“Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, ‘Jenny, do you want a donut?’

“Sternly, Jenny said, ‘No.’

“Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, ‘Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?’

Steve did ten….Jenny got a donut.

“A growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were a lot of uneaten donuts on the desks.

“As Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, Steve’s arms were shaking with each push-up, sweat was profusely dropping off of his face.  There was no sound except his heavy breathing and there was not a dry eye in the room.

At last, the professor explained, “’When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.’

“’And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave His gift on the desk, uneaten.’

“’My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?’”

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RESOURCE:

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

Faithfulness or Unfaithful Mess? Your Choice. (Part Two)

(Please read Joshua 24:14-27 in your Bible.  I have prepared these remarks with the NIV.)

Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit and is the only appropriate response to all God has done for us.

A politician said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”  The politician’s name was Abraham Lincoln and he made these comments in a speech in 1863.

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jeff-simms-quotes-wear-judgment-privilege-13886.asp on 7/8/16.>

It sounds like the more things change, the more they stay the same.  For too long we’ve been operating under the mistaken notion that the human race is evolving, progressing, and improving our world.  I would say the violence we see reported anew almost daily argues against that notion.

We have changed many things but human nature is not one of them.  We have solved many problems, but sin is not one of them.  We have met some needs, but our need for God is one that we will never meet any way other than by faith.

As individuals, we are the sum total of the choices we have made and the choices others have made for us.  As we age, the effects of our own choices take on greater prominence than the choices of others.  In other words, we become increasingly responsible for the kind of person we’ve become.

What is true on an individual scale is also true on a national one: national identity is the sum total of the choices of its citizens.  It’s true that the choices of those in leadership positions have a greater effect on a nation’s character, but all of us contribute.

I mention all of this because we’re talking today about faithfulness.  Faithfulness is repeatedly making the right choices.  It is consistently choosing to obey God.

The Bible passage that most familiarly sets forth this matter of choice is Joshua 24:15, the centerpiece of the passage we’ve studied these two weeks.  Just as Joshua called the nation of Israel to faithfully obey God, this Scripture challenges us today to choose God.

PART ONE (See previous post.)

  1. The LORD has been faithful to you (1-13).

PART TWO

  1. You must choose to be faithful to the LORD (14-27).

Joshua called them to commitment in vs. 14-15.  Faithfulness features fear and service.

Some people are uncomfortable seeing FEAR of the LORD as a virtue.  They have such a benign view of God that they can’t see anything “negative.”  The Bible is clear that “respect” or “reverence” isn’t enough; a full understanding of God includes fear.  As Donald H. Madvig put it, “If we fear God, we need not fear his judgment,” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 368).

Motivated by fear and love, we are to serve God.  We must make sacrifices as necessary to do His will as soon as it becomes apparent to us.  ALL FAITHFULNESS is the objective. Being faithful requires us to keep our focus on God.

You can safeguard your faithfulness by trashing your idols.  In this situation, Joshua commanded them to dispose of the idols, the household gods that were taken from Egyptian households as plunder.

As previously stated with regard to the word FEAR, some people have trouble accepting that God is JEALOUS, but He makes it clear that He does not want to share us with false gods.  It’s for our own good to get rid of everything in our lives that will distract us from God, everything that threatens to take His place.

After all these people have been through and all the miracles they have seen, we think this ought to be a “no-brainer.”  It’s also strange that slaves would worship the gods of their oppressors, but it has happened throughout history.

Commitment is follow-through.  Human nature has not changed since that day at Shechem: true commitment still requires undivided loyalty.  Joshua called upon them to CHOOSE; did not make up their minds for them or even attempt to persuade them, other than sharing his choice.  Verse 15 is one of the most familiar Scripture and is often quoted because it is the essential commitment of faith: Choose your god.

The people committed themselves to serve God in vs. 16-18.  They realized God saved them from slavery. In gratitude they said some pretty impressive words:

– “FAR BE IT FROM US TO FORSAKE THE LORD TO SERVE OTHER GODS!”

– “IT WAS THE LORD OUR GOD HIMSELF WHO BROUGHT US AND OUR FATHERS OUT OF EGYPT.”

– “WE TOO WILL SERVE THE LORD, BECAUSE HE IS OUR GOD.”

However, these declarations of faith ring hollow in our ears because we’ve read the rest of the story and know that there were periods in their history when Israel served idols and not God.

Let’s be honest.  Are we any different?  Only if we choose to be.  We have to commit ourselves to the LORD & keep choosing Him to maintain our faith.

Joshua challenged their commitment and cautioned them about the wrath of God (vs. 19-20).  Joshua got in their faces!  He challenged them because he knew that a superficial commitment did no one any good and that he needed to move them beyond momentary emotion.

About Joshua’s theology: God is not only HOLY and JEALOUS and full of wrath against sin, but Joshua emphasized even exaggerated these parts of His character so that the people would stop to count the cost.  A spurious commitment that is superficial and ultimately results in backsliding and turning against God is as bad as an initial rejection of Him.

The people recommitted themselves in v. 21.  The people’s response is the more deliberate decision Joshua was working toward: they protested that they were serious and fully committed.

He made a covenant between God and the people (vs. 22-27).  The people served as their own witnesses. As they had agreed with this statement, their words were a vow to the LORD and would condemn them if they ever rejected God.

Joshua repeated himself in v. 23, demanding the casting away of all idols they carried out of Egypt.  This act was to be a demonstration of their sincerity.

I don’t know of any text that confirms that they did this, but they reaffirmed that they would serve the LORD only.

Joshua copied the Law that God gave them through Moses.  He made the rules clear to them.  Though v. 25 at first sounds like this COVENANT was something new with Joshua, we have no reason to think this was anything more than a reminder of what God had already revealed to Moses.

The stipulations of the agreement were recorded in a scroll called THE BOOK OF THE LAW.  That was one reminder of their oath.  Joshua set a LARGE STONE against an OAK TREE that stood near the place that was HOLY because God had met their forefathers there.  This was a second reminder of that oath.

Joshua knew the importance of memorials and visual reminders.  He’d made an altar on the Promised Land side of the Jordan (4:8-9).  He had already written the words of the Law on the stones of an altar erected on Mt. Ebal (8:32).

It is human nature to forget or be tempted to backtrack on the oaths we have made.  The intensity of emotions fade, so we need reminders.  The memorials were also important for future generations.  People who did not stand at that spot, who did not say those words would come along later and wonder how would they know these things were so?  Why should they fulfill oaths that others made?  These visual reminders would help.

Let’s conclude with the end of the story.  Several things happened after this pivotal event in the history of Israel.

First, Joshua sent them home – TO THEIR INHERITANCE.  It is, of course, a fantastic feeling to have these emotional, life-changing, “mountaintop” experiences.  The challenging part is taking it on into daily life.  To change the way we think, react, and interact with the little things of our world.

Second, both Joshua and Eleazar died.  These two leaders, representing the overlapping circles of civil and religious authority, were no longer available to lead Israel.  It was a rough and abrupt transition, no doubt, but new leadership was taking the people of God into a new day.

Third, the bones of the patriarch Joseph, which they had carried all the way from Egypt, were finally laid to rest in the exact spot where this meeting had been held.  This act of respect brought to a ceremonial end one era of the history of God’s people.  The past had literally been buried and the future lay ahead of them.

The last word of the book of Joshua is not the last verse.  Look at v. 31.  This verse summarizes the long term effect of the decisions made and oaths taken on that day.  What we see is that the generation who stood with Joshua at Shechem remained faithful to the LORD.  That is good news.

However, as we turn the page and get into the book of Judges, we see the following generations turning to idol-worship and sinning against the Lord.  Indeed, the history of Israel as preserved in the OT is very cyclical:

The people commit themselves to God.

=>

The people compromise & slowly turn to idols.

=>

Pagan nations take over & make them suffer.

=>

The people cry out to God & He delivers them.

=>

The people repent & commit themselves to God.

Good thing none of us are like that, right?  To me, this passage is about personal choice.  But it is also about helping others – particularly the next generation – make the same choice.  It’s not enough to keep the doors open and set the table, we must invite them to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).  Then, having tasted of the joy that is in Christ, we must help one another to fully commit to Him as Lord.

We must break the cycle of generations lost to the enemy by choosing to serve God and leading others to do the same!  If you will commit yourself to following God, please stand.

Mother of the Year

I believe this is a real, historical account.  However, in the interests of dividing the narrative in a way that increases understanding, we will take a look at it as if it were a play unfolding on a stage right before our eyes.

Message: The size of Hannah’s sacrifice helped determine the size of Samuel’s contribution to the history of God’s people.

  1. Setting the stage (vs. 1-3).

Dramatis Personae:

Elkhanah – the husband – apparently a wealthy man, as he could afford two wives.  He is the only commoner mentioned in the books of Samuel and the Kings as having more than one wife.  Men of that time put a lot of emphasis on having sons to perpetuate the family name and receive their estate.

Peninnah – the other wife – the antagonist.  She had birthed several children but was jealous of the extra attention Elkhanah gave his barren bride.

Hannah – the first wife – the protagonist.  Having had no children felt to her like a curse so she sought to create favor with God.  But her name meant “grace,” so we know God is not far from her.

Eli – the priest – hopefully a better priest than father…

The Place: The family lived in the central part of Israel, in the tribal territory of Ephraim, just south of where the tabernacle (the tent-sanctuary in which Israel worshiped) was set up in Shiloh.

The Scene: the family’s annual pilgrimage to the tabernacle to offer their sacrifice for sin.

  1. Act One – Hannah’s Vow (vs. 4-18).

The annual pilgrimage was a big event because of its spiritual content and ritual, but it was also one of the few meals of the year when a big quantity of meat was served.  This is why vs. 4-8 go into such detail about dinner.

As the scene is acted out, it is a typical experience in the family.

– Peninnah and her children would all receive their portions of the roast.

– Elkhanah would attempt to console his barren wife with a double portion of meat.  This is a great man gift!!  MORE MEAT!  This is like giving the little woman a chain saw for Mother’s Day.

– Peninnah saw this as an act of favoritism and jealousy provoked her to irritate Hannah to distraction.  It’s possible that Elkhanah took Peninnah as a second wife because Hannah was infertile.  Peninnah meant “ruby,” but this gal was no gem.

– It may seem like Hannah had no sense of humor or tolerance for teasing on this subject, as Peninnah always provoked her to the point of tears and loss of appetite.

We need to remember that childlessness in that culture was commonly – if superstitiously – understood to be a sign of God’s disfavor.  It carried a big social stigma as well as the disappointment that couples in all cultures can feel when they have difficulties having children.  In this case, however, vs. 5-6 make it clear that Hannah’s childless condition was the will of the LORD.  This painful circumstance had greater consequence than the difficult emotions and relational strains it caused in the family.

Elkhanah again shows a man’s subtle touch when he asks, “DON’T I MEAN MORE TO YOU THAN TEN SONS?”  My guess is that Elkhanah is expressing a pretty inflated opinion of himself at this moment.

One commentator said this passage is the Bible’s best argument against polygamy!

Doing this scene over and over each year had a cumulative effect on Hannah.  So after the latest feast was over, she got up and excused herself and went to the tabernacle.  Of course, as a woman, she was not allowed to enter the sacred grounds, and knelt in prayer at the doorpost instead.

Hannah’s emotional state was no different on this day than it had been any of the previous years: she was full of BITTERNESS & WEPT MUCH.  BUT – the thing that was different was she prayed to the Lord and made a vow to Him (11).  She promised to give the child to the LORD.  She may have been trying to make peace with God, believing that she had done something to deserve this cursed status as barren.  Her vow was not a selfish one, but an unselfish one, since it involved giving her child back to the LORD.

The mention of uncut hair referred to the consecration of an individual to the LORD – they were especially dedicated to His service.  It was part of the Nazirite vow, for example.  Samson’s parents had done exactly the same thing in exactly the same situation.  This is how Samson ended up with long hair.  (Actually, these two accounts are very similar.  Samson ended up tragically, Samuel triumphantly.)  Maybe that’s where Hannah got the idea.

Numbers 6 allowed for such a vow to be made by an individual for himself.  Numbers 13 allowed for this kind of a vow to be made FOR an individual before birth; just as Hannah had done.

Eli is taking a breather from a busy day of animal sacrifices – imagine having to go to seminary AND butcher’s school to train for the priesthood – keeping an eye on Hannah.  He has reason to be suspicious: it was customary to pray aloud, not silently.  So when Eli saw Hannah’s lips moving but heard no words, he assumed the worst – that she had abused the feast day in a typical way – too much strong wine – and was drunk.  Of course, it was grief and not wine that caused her anguish and Hannah told Eli so.  To his credit, Eli saw Hannah’s earnestness and realized the error he had made.  His condemnation turned to blessing (17).  Note especially the words, “MAY THE GOD OF ISRAEL GRANT YOU WHAT YOU HAVE ASKED OF HIM.”

This next bit is to Hannah’s credit: Eli’s blessing had an immediate effect (18); Hannah was comforted.  She rejoined her family and joined them in the feast AND HER FACE WAS NO LONGER DOWNCAST.  This is an indicator of Hannah’s faith; the priest’s words she took as God’s and took it as an answer to her prayers.  Also, she was finally able to eat something.

  1. Act Two – Hannah’s Vindication (vs. 19-28).

The LORD vindicated Hannah’s faith by giving her kids!

See 1:19-21 = He gave her Samuel. He REMEMBERED her.  This does not mean God had ever forgotten Hannah, only that her own words are being used.  Samuel means “heard by God” and is her explanation of the child’s birth.  Hannah’s choice of words in vs. 27-28 give away her understanding of the situation.  Since Samuel was born as a result of her vow, she understood Samuel was “on loan” to her.  Therefore, as the original language makes clear, her bringing Samuel to the tabernacle and leaving him there is simply returning to God what truly belongs to Him.

It took two books of the Bible to relate the influence Samuel had on the history of Israel.

– He was a transitional figure from the rule of the judges to the rule of kings.  He was the last of the Judges.  When Samuel began his leadership, the twelve tribes were only loosely affiliated and scarcely able to keep enemy nations at bay.  By the end of his days, Israel was organized under King David, their borders secured by a powerful army and the greater power of the true God.

– Raised by a priest at the tabernacle, Samuel could not serve as a priest because he was not born into the priestly tribe of Levi.  Still, he lead Israel in worship and reformed the priesthood that had become corrupt under Eli’s mismanagement and his sons’ outright blasphemy.

– He also acted as a prophet and is regarded as the first of the OT prophets.

– Samuel was a great man whom God used mightily at a pivotal time in the history of His people.  Part of the explanation for that is this account of the unusual and divine aspects of his birth.

See 2:1-10 = God gave Hannah a song of prophecy.  The passage we read previous to the message is one of three songs God gave to special women – Miriam (Moses’ sister), Hannah, and Mary (mother of Jesus).  All of them are prophetic in the sense that they praise God for miraculous works He has done in the history of His people and the works He will do in the future to bring human destiny in line with His will.

See 2:21 = God gave Hannah three more sons and two daughters.  The text identifies this as an act of grace on God’s part, a sign of His blessing, the vindication of Hannah’s faith, the LORD’s “seal of approval.”  It is the “happily ever after” ending to Hannah’s story.  Biblically, having children is usually seen as a blessing:

– PSS 113:9 = HE SETTLES THE BARREN WOMAN IN HER HOME AS A HAPPY MOTHER OF CHILDREN.  PRAISE THE LORD.

– PSS 127:3 = SONS ARE A HERITAGE FROM THE LORD, CHILDREN A REWARD FROM HIM.

Additionally, Hannah vindicated her own faith by keeping her vow.

See 1:21-22 = It was customary for a mother to abstain from ceremonial worship until the child was weaned.  But notice that even here, from the beginning, Hannah’s intent was to follow through on her vow.  In that culture, it was customary to nurse a child for 2-3 years after birth, but it was acceptable to continue to nurse until he was 12 years old!  Hannah could have really cheated on this vow, but v. 24 tells us that the boy Samuel was YOUNG when she left him with Eli. Its not hard to imagine that there were moments when Hannah held her son and regretted her vow.  That she wanted to change her mind and keep him.  Part of the reason this account has been recorded in Scripture is to testify to the great faith Hannah had.

See 1:26-28 = Hannah’s testimony, in her own words, to the extreme devotion and obedience she showed by committing her firstborn son to the LORD’s service.

In my study Bible’s list of “Notable Women,” Hannah is listed as “The Ideal Mother.”  It’s quite a paradox to accept that the woman who gave up her son, who left him to be raised by a priest, is the “Ideal Mother.”

Hannah’s story is an example of Jesus’ teaching; “ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME” (MTW 10:37).  This is a difficult teaching.  Out of selfishness and sentimentality, we’ve come to accept the notion that service to family is the highest form of service.

That is clearly contradictory to Jesus’ teaching.  Our first love must always be our love for God.  We do our family no good service if we forget that and mix up our priorities.  Truth be told, love for God and love for our brothers and sisters in the church both take priority over love for family.  Think about it; our relationship with God and relationships among His people are the only ones that will survive into eternity.  Marriage and family are interim institutions that abide only until death.

I realize this is an especially “hard sell” on Mother’s Day, but the point is that Hannah is primarily an example of godly priorities.  She is the “Ideal Mother” not because she doted on her children but because she counted her vow to God more important than her motherly instincts and her love for her child.  The size of Hannah’s sacrifice helped determine the size of Samuel’s contribution to the history of God’s people.  That is the message we need as much on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day as we do every other day of the year.

This does not in any way reduce the status of family as a blessing from God, as the relationships in which we must strive to invest as much love as we possibly can.  The Bible sets a very high standard for family relationships.  It has a high place, not first place.

What this means is that God must always be first priority.  If anything – or anyone – else takes first place, that is idolatry.  The very best thing we can do for our families is to keep God first.  We do that by obeying His commands to love our families, following the great example Hannah has set for us.