The Only Lamb to Celebrate Passover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Passover preparations. (12-16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is what to do about

sin.  The answer is Jesus.

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

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

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

 

RESOURCES:

Message #565

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

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

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

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

 

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

Living Light, not Lite

Follow the Light(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 4:17-32.

          In our time, “lite” is am advertising term that connotes a food item with fewer calories or reduced fat.  It has a broader meaning of something that is a less serious or substantial than other (generally original) versions of the same thing.  The word was first coined in 1962 to sell beer.

I’m using “lite” as a symbol of a worldly lifestyle in contrast with the godly lifestyle that Paul described to the Ephesians 1900 years earlier.  It’s a play on words to accentuate the difference between the ways of thinking and behaving that Paul contrasted as “light” and “darkness.”

CONTEXT = In v. 17 Paul began to apply the teachings on UNITY and MATURITY he’d set forth in the previous sixteen verses.  This application was so important he began by asserting his authority; I…INSIST ON IT IN THE LORD.

Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.

  1. Characteristics of life in the darkness.

Living as the GENTILES lived (17).  Most of the members of the church in Ephesus were Gentiles; this comment might have been offensive to them.  “GENTILES” refers to the prevailing culture.  Paul urges them to achieve maximum contrast against their culture in the way they lived.  We would do well to assume the same goal.

They were futile in their THINKING (17).  When it was used, reason was used to deny God and/or make excuses for their immoral living.

Persons on the shadowy path are DARKENED IN THEIR UNDERSTANDING (18).  Sin obscures the truth.

Before they came to Christ, they were SEPARATED FROM THE LIFE OF GOD (18).  Sin is an offense against God.  In His moral perfection, God does not tolerate sin to be in His presence.  A person’s choice to sin leads to deadly separation from God, the Source of life.

Whether innocently or purposely, they were ignorant of the truth (18).  Those who choose the darkness ignore God, choosing to disbelieve He exists, that He is loving, and/or that He is powerful.

Without Jesus, people become hard-hearted (18).  “Psychosclerosis” is the made-up word used at last Thursday’s seminar.  It is a hardening of the attitudes that comes with repeated choices.

Walking on the darksome path makes a person insensitive (19) or “callous.”  They are dull to the pain of others or any feeling that might motivate them to love or believe.

The phrase GIVEN OVER TO SENSUALITY (19) refers to a lifestyle where self-satisfaction is the most important thing: it has become an idol.  When “getting mine” becomes a top priority or pursuing every kind of experience without question is typical, self is worshiped instead of God.  This person is easily identified by their dread of boredom.

Indulging EVERY KIND OF IMPURITY (19) pictures a person who has a passion for everything that is indecent and immoral.  Worse, they have a special lust for everything against God.

Lovers of the darkness are marked as being FULL OF GREED (19).  Greedy people do not care how their selfish ambitions harm others.  They are insatiable consumers.

A FORMER WAY OF LIFE (22) sums up much of this list; it is the way we live before we accept Jesus as Savior.  Characteristic of that way of life is devotion to our OLD SELF.  There is a supposed to be a sharp distinction between our OLD SELF (the way we lived before being saved) and our NEW SELF (24); the way we live after being saved.  Before Christ, we were CORRUPTED BY DECEITFUL DESIRES.  In our FORMER, worldly lifestyle, we were ignorant and easy prey for the charms of the world to convince us to choose selfishness and sin.

Persons on the dark path are given to UNWHOLESOME (“rotten” or “putrid”) TALK (29).  These words betray a rotten interior and have evil effects on those who hear them.

In the church or outside, this kind of person is known by sins that work against UNITY (31).  We are to GET RID of these sins.

– BITTERNESS is grudge-holding, resentment, refusal to forgive.

– RAGE flows from bitterness.  It is a sudden outburst of hurtful frustration.

– ANGER literally means “shouting.”  It is giving full throat to one’s negative emotions.

– BRAWLING is all forms of physical abuse, even those that seem less violent.

– SLANDER is all forms of verbal abuse.  Whether what you say is true or not is not as important as why you say it.

– EVERY FORM OF MALICE includes all manifestations of toxic attitudes, every word and deed coming from a hate-filled heart.

  1. Characteristics of life in the light.

Light-path living is appropriate to the WAY OF LIFE they had been taught by Paul (20-21).  This reminds us that our faith is a heritage.  We begin with a shared tradition born in our history.  This is the starting-point of true faith; we are not welcome to just make it up as we go.  The phrase WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT CHRIST looks back at t moment they were saved.  A change of life began at that time.  The Apostle affirmed THE TRUTH is THAT which IS IN JESUS.  In accepting Jesus, we also accept all that He reveals, the entire truth of who God is and who we are to be in Him.

A renewed ATTITUDE of mind (23) will be present in those who prefer the light.  In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote about a personal transformation that occurred from the inside out: new attitudes lead to new actions.

People walking in the light behave in ways characteristic of our NEW SELF (24).  This is not as simple as a change of clothes (though that is one way Paul symbolized it); it is a total makeover of a person, from sinful to Christ-like.

Recognizing we are CREATED TO BE LIKE GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS (24).  The NEW SELF is our true self; it is becoming the kind of person God created us to be in the first place.  It is life based on God’s standard of good behavior and being set apart from the world.

To be in the light of Christ, you are to PUT OFF FALSEHOOD AND SPEAK TRUTHFULLY TO YOUR NEIGHBOR (25).  Having TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS will cause us to speak the truth and stop misleading others.  This is a call to avoid all hypocrisy and lying.   Telling the TRUTH IN LOVE (16) builds up our fellowship.  Doing anything else tears it down.

Behaving as we are ALL MEMBERS OF ONE BODY (25) requires us to put effort into getting along.  God gives us UNITY; we must exercise MATURITY in order to preserve it.

We are to not allow anger to turn into sin (26). Anger itself is not always a sin; what makes it a sin is dealing with it in ungodly ways.  Paul offers two examples of sinful responses to an angry impulse.  First, we are to not allow anger to fester, but should resolve situations without holding a grudge (26).  Sunset is not offered as a legalistic time limit, but a reasonable one.  Remember, the Jewish day began at sunset, so Paul is actually saying, “Don’t start today with yesterday’s anger still unresolved.”

Don’t GIVE THE DEVIL A FOOTHOLD by having unrighteous anger (27). Think of unresolved anger as the edge of a wedge.  Given this tool, our mutual enemy (THE DEVIL) uses anger to split us apart.

Light-living people have a good work ethic (28).  Paul offered three aspects of a good work ethic.

– No STEALING.  Hard work unites people; stealing drives them apart.

– Stop being useless/lazy.  Laziness drives people apart, creating dependency.

– SHARE WITH THOSE IN NEED.  Work enables us to provide for ourselves AND for those who cannot work.

Those who walk in the light will speak ONLY WHAT IS HELPFUL FOR BUILDING OTHERS UP (29).  Truthfulness is not the only virtue for godly speech.  What encourages and edifies is another necessary quality of good speech.  Godly speech is choosing words ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS, not your own.  Say what the other person needs to hear in a way they are most likely to receive and understand it.  Godly speech also benefits THOSE WHO LISTEN.  Words are not to be used as a way to get even or achieve any other selfish goal.  Instead, our motive is to benefit others.

God’s people DO NOT GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT (30).  All sin causes God sorrow because He knows how we are hurting ourselves.  There is a wealth of theology here we don’t have space to explore, but let us observe that the motive of respect for God is a great reason to walk in the LIGHT.

Remember Paul’s earlier assertion that the Holy Spirit is a SEAL and DEPOSIT guaranteeing our redemption (1:13-14).  The phrase YOU WERE SEALED FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION (30) teaches the same truth.  One of the many purposes of the Holy Spirit is to reassure us of our salvation.

Let us be known by virtues that build UNITY (32).  Paul offered three of them.

– Kindness is a sweet, generous disposition.  It is be others-oriented.

– The Gk word for “compassion” literally refers to healthy functioning internal organs – “good guts.”  Here it is the virtual of a godly internal life.

– Forgiveness JUST AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU.  Here is the highest possible standard for one of the most essential virtues in good relationships.

Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.

          A life lived in the light will bear an obvious difference from life lived in the darkness and life lived in our surrounding culture.  Life is constant transformation into the image of Jesus or it is not life at all, but death.

Considering the qualities of “darkness dwellers” and “light lifers” the Apostle Paul set forth, where do you see yourself?  Chances are, your characteristic attitudes and actions appear on both lists, as we are imperfect beings always in process.  However, what is the general trend?  Is there enough of a difference between the way you live and our prevailing culture?  Or are you doing a good job of “blending in?”

 

RESOURCES:

Message #764

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

Lively Former Corpses

no-zombies

(This image saved from http://www.allposters.com.br/-sp/No-Zombies-Allowed-Sign-Plastic-Sign-posters_i9896033_.htm.)

Please read Ephesians 2:1-10 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

It’s a free country (at least at the moment) where everyone’s entitled to indulge their interests as they see fit.  However, speaking solely for myself, I don’t understand the popularity of zombies.  What had been for decade a minor sub-genre of horror, zombies have grown in popularity and become big business. For example, in 2011, NBC news estimated Americans spent $5 million on zombie entertainment products.

Money is one numerical way to gauge popularity.  In our time, another way to assess trends and objectively gauge popularity is to track internet searches.  I found some data that is seven years old – a eternity in pop culture – but I found the popularity of the undead has been growing since 2010.  By this measure, West Virginia was the state most interested in zombies, with South Dakota being tenth most interested.

When something becomes this popular, people want to explain why it has become so big.  The most obvious reason for the popularity of zombies is people’s fascination with things that are horrible, gross, and evil.  It’s like going to a hockey game hoping for a fight or a race hoping for a spectacular wreck.

A less obvious reason is that zombies don’t require a lot of thinking or feeling.  Their motivations are simple and the response of the living is simple.  We all want life to be less complicated.  Watching this stuff may require a stout gag reflex, but it won’t challenge your brains too much.

Some internet commentators want to dive more deeply into the zombie phenomenon and see zombies as being symbols of what’s wrong with modern American culture.  Or modern Americans.

Which interests me because today’s Scripture passage employs a symbol not unlike zombies.  Please read that correctly.  I am not attempting to legitimize “zombie culture” or say that it is in any way biblical.  I’m simply pointing out that Paul depicts life without Jesus Christ as dead people walking.

“BC” (Before Christ) persons have a form of life, but have no real life.  They are in bondage to forces beyond their control.  In the real world, people can be saved from zombie-like living, but only God can do it.  In this zombie-like state, they are insensitive to God, blindly pursuing just about any else instead.

  1. We were dead in our sin. (1-5)

We were “dead men walking” in ungodliness. (1+5)  Literally and metaphorically, DEAD means separated from life, which is found only in God (see Colossians 2:13).  In this passage, Paul uses death as a metaphor for a spiritual condition; a person as unconscious and unresponsive to the word and will of God as a dead person is unresponsive to everything.

The words TRANSGRESSIONS and SINS are two words for the same thing: the cause of our spiritual death.  In Romans 5:17 Paul explained this spiritual death is part of the curse of being Adam’s children but in Romans 6:23 he wrote that it’s our own fault because of the sins we chose to commit.  Adam’s sin brought death into the world, but we have condemned ourselves by our own choices to bring it into our personal experience.

We were “under the influence” of three masters.

#1 – We were following the WAYS O/T WORLD (1).  We were under the influence of the culture around us; bowing to peer pressure, fashion, and media without questioning whether the popular thing was the right thing.  The WAYS OF THIS AGE (2) is an equivalent expression.  Both refer to this present time; between the creation of this world and the world to come.  Both terms refer to a culture that has aligned itself against God (see John 15:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 3:19) and antagonizes those who truly want to love and serve Him.

#2 – We were serving Satan. (2)  We were under the influence of our Enemy, Satan, the RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR.  He was tempting us and sending trials our way to distract and discourage us.

Paul is in agreement with John’s Gospel that Satan is the RULER of the worldly systems that oppose God (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  THE AIR describes the sphere of Satan’s influence; it covers the earth but falls short of heaven.  This language reflects Jewish belief that demons flew in the air and the pagan belief that evil spirits flew around.  In both Hebrew and Greek the word for SPIRIT can also be translated as “wind”.  The influence of the spiritual evil ruled by Satan is expressed in NOW AT WORK IN THOSE WHO ARE DISOBEDIENT.

#3 – We were serving selfishness. (3)  We were under the influence of self-centeredness; an orientation typical to humans.  When we are very immature, a certain amount of self-centeredness helps us survive and grow.  But as we mature, we must become God-centered, discarding childish and selfish ways.

Paul used the term SINFUL NATURE (“flesh”) to denote the part of our inner nature that has an appetite for doing wrong.  It is one way self-centredness manifests itself.  It is like a separate entity within a person that constantly tempts and misdirects us away from God and toward sin.

My belief is that the SINFUL NATURE is the part of our inner life that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST (GLS 2:20) and no longer lives.  This extreme selfishness that seeks satisfaction through sin no longer affects the believer because it is dead.  We still struggle with sin because our human nature is with us in the form of our bodies.  Human nature is more oriented to self-centeredness than sin; it is not always encouraging evil actions.  Human nature is more the weakness and limitations imposed by our physical frame than a frequent source of sin.

The result of the influence of the “Three S’s”: we were OBJECTS OF WRATH. (3)  WRATH means two things.

In the short term, it means alienation from God.  Until forgiveness is obtained by repentance, prayer is useless.  God will not tolerate sin and will distance Himself from sinners.

In the long term, God’s WRATH will be poured out on the wicked and unbelieving on Judgment Day.  Their choices will land them in hell.

The phrase LIKE THE REST is meant to take in the entirety of humanity.  All of us are born under a death penalty because we inherited a sin nature from Adam.  God’s unique solution to the problem of sin is Jesus substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and it alone is effective to solve the problem of sin.

  1. We live because God gave us grace. (4-10)

Grace is the answer to the problem of sin.  We can approach our need for grace by asking three questions Paul answered for us.  The first is this, “What did God do for us?”

God the Father MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST. (5)  This is the key thought of the passage. This one verb (the Greek word is 14 letters long) supplies the main action for the passage: resurrection.  The change wrought in us by salvation is so dramatic and so complete that it feels like a dead person being raised to life again.  On the one hand, death is an apt symbol for life without Jesus.  Before Christ, we are as lifeless and hopeless as a pile of bones.  On the other hand, with Jesus, we are saved; the bones come to life again: we have hope and a future.

GOD also RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST. (6)  Paul saw the believer as having participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, to the effect of his/her sin nature being killed.  This phrase takes things a step further to say each believer has participated personally in the resurrection of Jesus too.

GOD…SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS. (6)  Here Paul makes it sound as if we’ve already been taken to heaven.  We have to learn not to get too wound up about verb tenses in the Bible.  Instead, we can be excited to know that the benefits of God’s GRACE are not just for the future, but have also redeemed our past and give us a confident future.  We can have experiences of heaven in this earthly life (see 1 Corinthians 15:47-49; 2 Corinthians 12:2-3; Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20).

In 1:20 we learned that Jesus was exalted to sit in the place of authority and access; at the RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.   Paul repeated that language here to give the faithful further encouragement; “Heaven?  You are there already, dudes!”  Especially in Ephesus, he wanted the believers to know they were not subject to spiritual evil of any kind; they already enjoyed heavenly authority being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lastly, Paul reminded them of their origins; WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP. (10)  This word could just as easily serve as part of the answer to the next question.  God acted to save us because we are His.  But it is also part of the list of things God has done for us – He created us.  The word WORKMANSHIP could just as easily be translated “creation.”  However, the word also conveys skill, intelligence and achievement in execution, like “masterpiece,” “handiwork,” or “work of art.”

Verse ten is a counterpoint to verse nine: verse nine says we are saved by GRACE, not by WORKS, which would seem to render WORKS unimportant.  Verse ten reveals that WORKS do play an important role in life after salvation.  In fact, they are the very reason God created us.  We were CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, so a well-spent life was part of God’s plan before the universe was created.  This interpretation is supported by a second phrase that means exactly the same thing: WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.

When we consider all of Paul’s teaching, we realize two things about GOOD WORKS.  One, GOOD WORKS is not the same as fulfilling the Law.  Instead, Paul meant for us to do things fulfilling the Law of Love and demonstrating the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in everyday words and deeds (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  Two, God chose both His people and how His people would behave.  This is what Paul wrote in 1:4; HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.

Paul’s second answer is to this question, “Why would God save such creatures?”  When you take notice the descriptive words in v. 4, GREAT love…RICH mercy…INCOMPARABLE RICHES of grace, it is clear God is generous with His people!

God showed us grace BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE. (4)  LOVE is the word that best summarizes the character of God in BOTH Old and New Testaments.

His LOVE is unconditional, positive, and always moves us toward greater good and maturity.

We have been offered GRACE because GOD…IS RICH IN MERCY. (4)  The merciful side of God’s nature is explained in Exodus 34:6-7, where we read that God only holds the sinner guilty, not his family.   He forgives sin.

This word was understood by Bible writers to mean “covenant love;” that God is faithful to keep His promise to love us, even when we are unfaithful to our promise to love Him.  GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE have a lot of overlap in Paul’s writings.  There’s no need to create strong differentiations between the three words.  As we saw in chapter one, this passage also underscores the fact that God took the initiative to save us even though we are completely unworthy (see Titus 3:5).

God showered us with GRACE that HE MIGHT SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE…IN CHRIST JESUS. (7)  God’s purpose is always to draw us to Him.  When the Bible talks about God’s “glory,” that’s what it means.  God’s GRACE brings glory to Him because He is so generous with forgiveness.  His act of creating t human race and then saving us from ourselves is to resound throughout eternity as the greatest deed ever.

God offers GRACE to complete our original purpose: we were CREATED TO DO GOOD WORKS. (10)  GOOD WORKS are not a means to salvation, but a product of salvation, a means of deepening our spiritual maturity, and a proof that our claims to salvation are genuine.  When we do the GOOD WORKS we were created to do, it is for God’s glory and our pleasure.  GOOD WORKS bless everyone!

The third and final question Paul answered in this passage is “How did God do this for us?” Paul’s answer was two-fold.

First, God saved us by His gracious offer of salvation: BY GRACE YOU’VE BEEN SAVED. (5+8)  God deserves to be the focus of our lives, the object of our gratitude because He saved us by His grace, not our merit.  Paul wrote this twice (in verses five and eight) to make sure we don’t miss this essential truth.  GRACE means we are spared the WRATH of God (3) because God has guaranteed our salvation.  Neither this day nor Judgment Day holds any fear for us.

In verse eight Paul provided a little more explanation; God’s GRACE is ours BY FAITH.  Having FAITH does not make us any more deserving; it is the sole means by which we can be saved.  By FAITH we believe GRACE is available and receive it ourselves.  IT IS NOT OF YOURSELVES; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD can refer either to GRACE or FAITH or both.  Which is interesting; we can’t really even have faith on our own; God supplies that too!

Second, GRACE is God doing for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves (8-9).  Saving ourselves is not even a possibility: that’s what the phrases THIS IS NOT FROM YOURSELVES…NOT BY WORKS mean.

– Good WORKS won’t save us.

– Keeping God’s law won’t earn eternal life for us.

– Attempting to manipulate spirits by practicing magic (as the pagans of Ephesus did) won’t accomplish a single thing.

– Positive thinking and impulse control have value in this life, but are powerless to save us.

Why is it important for us to recognize that salvation is purely God’s action?  SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST means that no one should think they’ve earned or somehow deserve God’s grace or are in any way deserving.  That would be a fatal error, the worst kind of self-deception possible.  To think we can gain heaven on our own two feet would be to deny our need for a Savior and thereby cheat ourselves out of salvation by not seeking and finding true faith.  FAITH gives credit where it’s due and relies on God’s power, not ours.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

God saves us from enslavement to the “Killer S’s” of sin, Satan, and self.  He does this in order to grant us true freedom to live in love; this is true life.  We must acknowledge the truth in order to live and to help others find life.  Part of that truth is that we were in a trap and had no way out that we could employ as an exit.  Jesus is God’s means of leaving the trap and living.

Paul’s message must’ve seemed strange to the people of Ephesus.  They were used to thinking of gods and spirits as beings whom you appeased to avoid their wrath or bribed with sacrifices to manipulate them into giving blessing.  As Paul presented Him, God did not operate in either of those ways.  People today are still surprised to find that God is not what they expected.  Too many reject a caricature of God without having any experience of Him or even of His Church.

Paul taught that sacrifice and praise were grateful responses to God’s prior acts of love and gracious gift of salvation.  His faith is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of exercise, but the humble acceptance of a generous gift.  Once accepted, that gift makes all the difference in the way we want to live.

God offers life.  Choose to accept it and celebrate it by doing good.  Let’s be the lively people of God, not the “walking dead.”

 

RESOURCES:

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

Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Part Two)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

Legalism is an attempt to hide behind the law or manipulate its details to force your will on others.  There are some peculiar laws on the books around the country, so pick your hiding spot carefully.  Here are a few humorous examples.

In Huntington, West Virginia, firemen may not whistle or flirt at any woman passing a firehouse.

In the entire state of Georgia it is illegal to use profanity in front of a corpse lying in a funeral home or in a coroner’s office.

In Boston, Massachusetts, no one may take a bath without a prescription.  I wonder who polices that law?

In Norco, CA, all persons wishing to keep a rhinoceros as a pet must first obtain a $100 license.

This one is true too: in Wichita, Kansas, before proceeding through the intersection of Douglas and Broadway, a motorist is to get out of their vehicle and fire three shotgun rounds into the air.  I’m looking for a volunteer to try that one out!

Owners of flamingos in Juneau, Alaska, may not let their pet into barber shops.  How does anybody in Juneau GET a flamingo?

In San Francisco, California, it is illegal to pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner.  Based on what little I know about San Francisco, I’d guess politicians are allowed to stack it as high as they want.

I’m sure there is an interesting story behind all these laws, explaining how they got on the books.  But the point simply is this: man-made laws are vulnerable to misuse.  They are not the ultimate authority in the life of believers.  Our allegiance is primarily to the laws of love that were instituted in the Old Covenant and affirmed by Jesus in the New.

REVIEW from Part One

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (lawyers) were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abused the Law to further their own ends and in the unusual sense that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

As per the usual meaning of this expression, the Pharisees and lawyers were attempting to convince Jesus and everyone within earshot they were handling a serious problem.  Jesus exposed their hypocrisy instead of accepting their definition of “serious.”

NEW for Part Two

  1. Prodding the People (10+11).

Sometime in this brief conversation a CROWD had formed. What Jesus intended to be a private rebuke became a “teachable moment” when He turned to address the CROWD as well as the disciples and the religious leaders.

He used the religious professionals’ complaint about hand-washing to teach the people about true discipleship.  For our sake, here’s what the Law of Moses taught.

One, “defilement” was a condition of spiritual and moral impurity (aka “uncleanliness”).  The word literally meant “to make something common.”  That means that something that had previously been sacred (devoted exclusively to God; special), was now just “ordinary.”

Two, the Law penalized the unclean/ defiled sinner by putting the offender out of the temple and sometimes outside the community too.  In the most serious situation, the Law required the offender put out of LIFE.  (Jesus’ quote of Leviticus 21:17 in verse four is an example of the ultimate penalty.)

Three, there were detailed laws about how an unclean/defiled person could become clean again.

The Law made an abstract concept like “sin” concrete & costly by requiring an animal sacrifice to cleanse the guilty party.  This is one appeal of legalism; it’s easier to think concretely than abstractly.

In contrast, here’s what Jesus said: “Food eaten with unwashed hands does not make the eater a sinner.  Instead, the things that come out of the mouth (i.e., our words) are things that make us sinners.”

  1. The Parable (12-14).

The scene changes again between vs. 11+12.  Jesus and His disciples went into a private home where they could question Jesus.

We forget that the Jews of Jesus’ time had a begrudging respect for the Pharisees: they were seen as “super religious” in a culture where religion was still seen as a good thing.  Even so, people didn’t to follow their example: it was just too demanding.

This explains the deference of the disciples in verse twelve, where they asked, “Do you realize what you’re saying is making these guys mad?”  They were also curious about this new, more assertive attitude Jesus showed.  Otherwise, who cares?  After all, you can’t live your life worrying about all the opinions of all the people.  Making decisions to avoid offense is one of the worst bases for making decisions.

Jesus needed to relieve them of the assumption that these people were reliable spiritual guides.  That’s why His reply in vs. 13+14 is so unequivocal.  It is as if Jesus replied, “You think that was offensive?  Check THIS out!”  What followed was a two-part parable (as Peter identified it in verse fifteen).

The PARABLE promised that God will set things right.  In this world, hypocrites may be allowed to prosper, but sooner or later, God Himself will uproot them.  Two chapters earlier, Jesus gave an extended parable about a wheat field where that was later sown with weed seed.  He explained that the wheat represents the true children of God and the weeds the false and evil people who reject God.  Making a point very similar to v. 13, Jesus promised God Himself will separate the wheat from the weeds and make everything right.  As God did not write their TRADITION, anyone guided by it was NOT His planting.

Jesus commanded, “LEAVE THEM.”  He meant, “Don’t be fooled by their legalism.”  Those who followed their teaching were “the blind being lead by the blind.”  This is irony with a sharp point, folks.  These religious authorities would puff themselves up by putting others down, calling themselves “leaders of the blind.”  Jesus turns their egotism against them and says that they blinded themselves to the truth.

  1. Peter in a Pickle (15-20).

He was often the first to ask questions everyone wondered about but didn’t dare ask (as happened in verse fifteen).  Peter wondered how God would “uproot” them and/or how they would fall into a pit.

The problem with being the first to ask is that he bore the brunt of Jesus’ rebuke (16): “ARE YOU [also] STILL SO DULL?”  This sounds harsh, but this kind of language fit Jesus’ role as a rabbi: bringing rebuke/correction was part of their job.

But these statements contradict our watered-down, wimpy version of Jesus.  The Gentle Shepherd is just one side of His character.  We need to also see Jesus as a radical man who was dangerous, dragging His disciples into all kinds of troubling situations.

In vs. 17-19 Jesus drew an analogy from the obvious function of the human body in regard to eating.  Food and water are introduced to the body by the mouth, are used by the body, and then disposed of by the body.  It was ridiculous to assert this process resulted in an immoral state.

The things that DO have a moral effect are a person’s words and deeds.  For example, MURDER, ADULTERY, SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and THEFT are all sinful acts.  FALSE TESTIMONY and SLANDER are examples of sinful words.

These are the BAD FRUIT of which Jesus spoke in chapter seven.  They identify a “bad tree,” regardless of mere appearances may say.

Jesus’ teaching was that hand-washing is not a moral act.   Anyone who attempts to make their self look good by observing a legalism like hand-washing rituals is a hypocrite.  What makes and marks a person as godly or ungodly is what’s in their heart, not what’s under their fingernails.  Real faith changes us to the core; it does not settle on the skin and it does not allow evil and selfishness to be excused or exercised by something as petty as legalism.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

It would be a shame to let this opportunity go by without telling a lawyer joke or two.  Here’s some gleaned from the Reader’s Digest.

First, a bit of actual courtroom dialogue: Attorney: “Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?”
Witness: “All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.”

Next, a favorite diversion of ours: jury duty.  When an 88-year-old mother was called for jury duty, she had to submit to questioning by the opposing lawyers.

“Have you ever dealt with an attorney?” asked the plaintiff’s lawyer.

“Yes. I had an attorney write my living trust,” she responded.

“And how did that turn out?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Ask me when I’m dead.”

Finally, do you know who invented copper wire?  Two attorneys fighting over a penny.

<Retrieved from http://www.rd.com/jokes/lawyer/ on 6/29/17.>

We can laugh about these things and should.  Quality of life is diminished when we allow petty people to wind our crank.  Its safer to just laugh at them.

But we need to be deadly serious about legalism.  Legalism is a sin.  It is a disguise that hypocrites wear to mask their true identity.  It is a means to abuse others and/or benefit self.  It is false.  It is not of God.

Let us be done with legalism.  Let us take seriously the condemnation Jesus leveled at hypocrites and avoid being one.  Have this Scripture in mind and take an honest look in the mirror.  It begins there.

 

 

 

Samson Didn’t Know How to Pick ‘Em

(Please read Judges 16:1-22 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

Samson did not have success choosing the women in his life; he did NOT know how to pick ‘em.  Remember the Philistine bride he left at the altar in ch. 14?

Speaking of picking them, I read recently of similar relationship issues: a daughter texted her dad the following: “Daddy: I am coming home to get married soon, so get out your check book.  I am in love with a man who is lives far away, in Scotland.  We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, and had long chats on Whatsapp.  He proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two wonderful months of relationship on Viber.

“My beloved and favorite Dad, I need your blessing, good wishes, and a really big wedding.  Lots of love and thanks, Lilly.”

The father replied with a text which read: “My dear Lilly.  Like wow!  Cool!!  I’d suggest you get married on Twitter, have fun on Tango, buy your kids on Amazon, and pay for all of it with Paypal.  Oh, and when you get fed up with this new husband, you can sell him on Ebay.  No need to thank me.  Lots of love, Dad.”

Today we’ll begin the final chapter of Samson’s story.  We’ll add two more sins to add to the tally, including the one that brought Samson to his end.

The story of Samson has had its humorous moments and we’ve had some fun pointing them out along the way.  But Samson’s life is also tragic; a tale of wasted time and potential.  He was gifted beyond most people in history, but taking his gifts for granted, Samson wasted time working for himself and disobeying God.

Let’s face a sobering fact: God is going to do what He has promised He will do.  We have the choice to join God in what He is doing or waste our lives on sin and selfish pursuits.  The choice is – as always – ours.

  1. Samson Sin #6 = Patronizing a Prostitute.

Samson made a bad decision and put himself in danger (1-2). Patronizing prostitutes is condemned in Scripture; it is morally dangerous.  For example, Proverbs 9:13-18 used a prostitute as a symbol of FOLLY and pointed out the foolishness of trusting one.  In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, Paul singled out uniting with a prostitute as a particularly bad sin.  We have not seen in Samson much wisdom about relationships.  But this choice of partners is a new low in foolishness.

Samson put himself in physical danger by going all the way to Gaza, which was one of the capital cities of the Philistines.  It was surrounded by fortifications that worked to trap enemies INSIDE as well as to keep enemies OUTSIDE.  (That’s why the bit about the CITY GATE is important.)  Gaza was located 45 MILES from Samson’s home.  He really went out of his way to find trouble.

Verse two says THE PEOPLE OF GAZA WERE TOLD that Samson was within their walls.  Who told them?  Presumably, the prostitute or someone connected with her.  Or maybe Samson was so reckless as to make his presence public knowledge.  In either case, Samson’s enemies prepared to trap Samson in their city and kill him.  They surrounded the house and staked out the CITY GATE.

Having made these preparations, they then MADE NO MOVE DURING THE NIGHT, intending to kill him by day.  This seems like poor strategy to me, but they may have been so overconfident they believed they could afford to wait.  Or, more likely, they waited until the entire city was out and about; more people would see and applaud their vengeance against “public enemy #1.”

Samson relied on his strength to get out of danger and mock his enemies (3).  Samson was not surprised to find the enemy gathered outside the brothel.  He waited until the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, when sleep and boredom would distract the soldiers watching the house.

Demonstrating he was as stealthy as he was strong, Samson got out of the house and to the gates of the city.  There he yanked the massive gates out of the wall and carried them off to the top of a hill facing Hebron.

This is obviously a feat of supernatural strength.  Those gates, with all the connected woodwork, have been calculated to weigh between five and ten TONS.  Besides which, Samson carried them 36 miles and up 3,200 feet in elevation!

Why go to all that trouble?  Samson did this to rub the Philistines’ noses in their defeat.  They thought they had Samson dead to rights, but he made escape look easy.  Of course, we know this is another case of God bailing Samson out of trouble he’d created for himself.

  1. Samson Sin #7 = Sleeping with the Enemy.

What does the text tell us about Delilah (4+5)?  She lived in the Valley of Sorek, the same place Samson and his parents lived.  Delilah meant “amorous, temptress, delight, and devotee” in Hebrew.  This clue may suggest she was a temple prostitute.  Functioning as a priestess, Delilah may have used sex as a means of worshiping their false gods.  Just in case you thought Samson’s choice of the Gaza prostitute was the worst ever.

Samson FELL IN LOVE with her.  While this sounds different from vs. 1-3 and his engagement in ch. 14, it is clear that Delilah was still a bad choice for love interest.  Samson had “relationship issues.”

Samson paid no attention to his past (ch. 14) or present, and was thereby duped by Delilah (6-20).

The RULERS OF THE PHILISTINES have learned a lesson.  In chapter fourteen they threatened Samson’s fiancé.  Here, the made Delilah an attractive offer for her cooperation in capturing Samson. They each offered her 28 POUNDS of silver.  That translates into $7,804.16 in today’s market.  (That’s 28 lbs. X 16 oz. = 448.  448 oz. X $17.42/oz. = $7804.16.)  3:3 said there were 5 leaders of the Philistines, so that’s a grand total of $39,020.80!

Their aim is betrayed in the word SUBDUE.  In the original language that refers to subjecting someone to hard labor.  In my opinion, this is why the Philistines decided to capture Samson, not kill him.  Killing him would make a martyr of him and might cause the Israelites to revolt, but humiliating him might discourage resistance.

Samson’s first game of wits is recorded in verses six through nine.  Samson must’ve really been blinded by love; otherwise you’d think a question like Delilah’s in v. 6 would make a fella pretty suspicious.  Maybe Samson was suspicious, and that’s why he lied to her.

And what a lie.  What’s up with the BOW STRINGS?  Nothing.  My guess is he settled on the first thing he could think of that Delilah wouldn’t have in her closet.  We’ve already seen how clever Samson was with riddles and poems, so we know he can think on his feet.  Of course, the bowstrings weren’t at all effective in restraining Samson.

Later on, Delilah worked while Samson slept, but in this first game he is awake and allows her to bind him.  Why would he allow such a thing?

In the first three verses we saw Samson’s recklessness and arrogance.  It’s no stretch of imagination to see him as amused by Delilah’s actions.  That’s why I call these incidents “games of wits;” he was playing her.

Notice that when the trap is sprung (8-9), the Philistines are HIDDEN IN THE ROOM.  Though he might suspect the Philistines are using Delilah, Samson has no visual evidence.  (You’d think the feet sticking out the bottom of the curtains would be a dead give-away wouldn’t you?)

Samson’s second game of wits (10-12).  Though the text does not tell us any time passed between these events (just between the third and final game of wits – see verse sixteen), I have to believe that we’re looking at a set of events that happened over several days.  After all, what kind of lady has unused bow strings and new rope just lying about?

Just as Samson’s previous love interest had done (14:16), Delilah went into pout and nag mode (11); complaining, “YOU HAVE MADE A FOOL OF ME.”  Samson offered another lame lie.  NEW ROPE had already failed to incapacitate him (15:13-14), but Delilah apparently didn’t know that and fell for this second deceit of Samson’s (12).

Samson’s third game of wits (13-14).  Delilah makes it clear she doesn’t like being made a fool (13) but she makes it so easy for Samson.  He uses the number seven for a second time but gets closer to the truth by mentioning his hair.  This time Delilah waited until Samson slept to fall for the third lie.  When awakened, he jumped up and pulled his hair out and the loom apart.

Samson loses his wits (15-20).  Vs. 15+16 sound like 14:16; why didn’t Samson learn?  “YOU WON”T CONFIDE IN ME” is literally, “Your heart is not with me.”  That was true.  What he would not do for love, Samson finally did for relief from Delilah’s nagging; he told her the truth (17).  My guess is he tired of the game.  He was SICK TO DEATH OF IT.

Somehow Delilah was convinced that at last Samson told her the truth and she arranged her final betrayal (18).  The Philistines came back later (the fact that they’d left may imply they’d lost patience with her), with their bribe in hand and a barber in tow.  Why Samson trusted this woman enough to sleep around her is hard to explain, but he did it twice at least.  The barber came in and sheared Samson as he slept (19).

When she woke him, Samson, in his arrogance, believed that he was still invulnerable and would shake off the latest set of bonds.  Here’s a sad statement: BUT HE DID NOT KNOW THAT THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM (20).

Why did the Lord take His Spirit from Samson?  The better question is, “Why didn’t the Lord take His Spirit sooner?”  Samson’s character doesn’t bespeak someone worthy of all this divine assistance.  But rather than see this as a punishment, we have the benefit of hindsight and can see God had a higher purpose here: to get Samson in the middle of the Philistine leadership where he could do the most damage.  Once again, we’re seeing how God overcame the disobedience of Samson but still used him to fulfill the purpose He’d stated before Samson’s birth (13:5); to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Later in Israel’s history, this same fate would befall King Saul for the same reason: arrogant defiance of God and taking His Spirit for granted (1 Samuel 16:14).  Both ended tragically.

The vengeance of the Philistines is terrible but short-sighted (21-22).  It was terrible to gouge out his eyes, chain him, imprison him, and set him to work grinding grain, which was humiliating because women and donkeys were used to run small and large grain mills (21). They literally added injury to insult by gouging out his eyes.  The Israelites counted blind people among lepers and others who were “walking dead,” not really people any more.

But they were short-sighted in that they didn’t have the barber come back to the prison; Samson’s hair started growing back again (22).  There was nothing magical about the hair.  The hair is not the point.  The point is obedience to the Nazirite vows that Samson had observed since birth.  The growing back of his hair is more like a symbol of Samson’s repentance.  At his lowest moment, Samson finally saw that cooperation with God was a lot easier than defying Him all the time.  It’s too bad he had to suffer blindness, imprisonment and the rest.  His life would’ve been so much better if he’d kept God as his focus instead of himself.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

In a way, Samson is a symbol of what we men typically go through – we lose our hair and our strength at about the same time!

The irony of Samson’s life is that his great physical strength stood in contrast to his great moral weakness. The bottom line: don’t repeat Samson’s mistakes.

Samson was a Slow Learner

(Please take a moment to read Judges 15 in your Bible.  The whole thing will make more sense if you read the Scripture, then my blog, I promise you.  Myself, I use the NIV to prepare my messages.)

My Minnesota Twins are off to a good start this season, so I feel safe in starting with a baseball story that illustrates what I hope we learn from Samson this morning.

It was the bottom of the ninth inning and the game was on the line.  The home team was down one run with two outs, but the bases were loaded.  Any safe hit would guarantee at least survival for extra innings, maybe win the game.  He home crowd was on its feet, cheering the batter who stepped into the box.

Over the season, he’d been a good batter, but was long overdue in this game.  In fact, he’d struck out in all three of his at-bats, the bat on his shoulder each time.  (For those of you who don’t follow baseball, this is the most embarrassing outcome for a batter.)

On this trip to home plate, he was determined not to be struck out again.  He presented his best game face to the pitcher, an air of determination bordering on arrogance.  He posed aggressively, leaning out over the plate.

He did not strike out with the bat on his shoulder.  He did strike out, however, swinging at the next three pitches, missing the ball every time!  His fourth strike out ended the game, the home team losing.

Utterly disappointed with himself and suffering the stinging boos of the fans, the batter unwisely decided to toss his bat high in the air.  He also jerked off his batting helmet and slammed it into the ground.

You can guess what happened next.  The bat came down and hit him squarely on his now-unprotected head and knocked him out cold!

The next day a reporter asked which was worse, striking out four times, losing the game, or knocking himself out with his own bat.  He answered, “That’s easy.  The bat deal was one of those freaky things that could happen to anybody.  But striking out was much worse because I’d already done it three times.  How many times does a guy have to screw up before he learns his lesson?”

That’s the question we will put to Samson today.  It’s the same question each of us must ask ourselves.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but it’s easier for us if we learn from our mistakes.

  1. Samson Sin #1+4 (Pt. 2) = Marrying a Pagan.

Sin #1 repeated = lusting after a Philistine woman.  Let’s start with a reminder of where we left off in Judges 14, where Samson got mad at losing his bet with his 30 “groomsmen” and left the whole wedding party in a huff, including his bride.  Samson did not know his fiancé had been given in marriage to one of the 30 guys (does this remind anybody of “The Bachelorette?”)

In the days(?) following his bad temper, Samson thought about her again.  Being an incurably romantic macho man, Samson resolved to kiss and make up (1).  So he brought her A YOUNG GOAT.  That sounds strange to us, but was customary in their culture.  Personally, I think he was lead by his stomach and brought dinner along on its own four legs.  In effect, He was saying, “Look honey!  I’m back and I brought supper!  Hurry up and get it butchered and started so you can take off my sandals and rub my feet while its cooking.”

A couple clues in the text give us reason to think that Samson had more than a meal on his mind.  One, the phrase VISIT HIS WIFE reflects an ancient institution called a “visit marriage;” we might call it a “long-distance relationship.”  Two, his declaration, “I’M GOING TO VISIT MY WIFE’S ROOM” is a euphemism for consummating the marriage; like a “conjugal visit.”  So Samson’s behavior wasn’t ONLY dictated by his stomach.

I can’t imagine how Samson’s behavior could be any more stereotypically male.  “Honey, I brought you a gift.  Can we forget about the fact that I abandoned you at the altar and go back to being lovers?  Right now?”

The still unnamed Philistine woman’s dad couldn’t be in a more awkward spot (2).  On the one hand, his muscle-bound, intimidating, murderous, former potential son-in-law is at the door.  On the other hand, his daughter has been married to another guy.  So what does a dad with a surplus of daughters and a deficit of bravery do?  Offer Samson a different daughter!!  He even tries to sell Samson on the idea of younger sis being more beautiful – what a catch!!  The guy may have been a used camel salesman.

Samson Sin #4 was repeated: his quick & violent temper.  Samson’s temper is first revealed in his indiscretion in verse three. SAMSON SAID TO THEM: who is he talking to?  His former fiancé’s parents.  Is he announcing his plans to get even with THE PHILISTINES to these Philistine people?

“THIS TIME” as opposed to the last time.  Is he conceding it was wrong to kill 30 men of Ashkelon and steal their clothes?

“I HAVE A RIGHT:” All vengeful people think they have “A RIGHT” to be as mean and vengeful as they want.  Not so.

Second, Samson’s violence is revealed in his revenge in verses four and five.  Burning an entire harvest is overkill for a little disappointment and humiliation, let’s face it.  Let’s not even get started about the foxes; the animal death toll approaches the human deaths he inflicted.

For a guy remembered for his strength, Samson showed some cleverness in his poetry, riddles, and even in the way he went about getting revenge.  In many ancient cultures, the red fox was considered to be a symbol of fire.  (The text does not specify Samson’s use of red foxes, but this would be clever symbolism if true.)  Tying two foxes together at the tail and attaching a torch would cause them to panic and run around randomly, carrying the torches around everywhere in a matter of moments.  He carried out this “guerilla attack” in the harvest season when crops were harvested or waiting to be harvested.  The crops would be at their driest and most vulnerable to flame.

It was an act of cruelty and vengeance that was way out of proportion to any “right” Samson may have had.  This is clearly not “getting even;” it is getting ahead of the Philistines.  As we shall see, it is an escalation of the conflict between Samson and the Philistines.

  1. Samson Sin #5 = Violence leads to more violence.

The first victims of the violence were Samson’s former fiancé and family (6-8).  Just as they had threatened to do in 14:15, the Philistines burned the woman and her father to death, even though they had no part in Samson’s fiery vengeance.

Of course, Samson’s reaction to their deaths was to raise the ante and swear an oath of vengeance and then enact it.  It’s a tad hypocritical for Samson to retaliate for the death of the wife he’d abandoned at the altar (14:19).  To me, he acts like a man spoiling for a fight.

Samson attacked the men who’d committed the arson.  Verse eight uses the words VICIOUSLY and SLAUGHTERED to describe Samson’s attack.  These are not approving words.  Indeed, there is no sense in this passage that Samson is doing these things at God’s direction.  Instead, he is overreacting to the deeds of others.

The Philistines attempted to bully the people of Judah by bringing an army around (9-12).  LEHI meant “jawbone.”  This kind of irony either shows God’s sense of humor or the town took on that name after the events of this passage.

After suffering 40 years of abuse at the hands of the Philistines, the PEOPLE OF JUDAH were already thoroughly intimidated.  This shows up in four clues given in these three verses.  First, in verse ten, when the Philistine army shows up, they rush to get the white flag out and send a delegation to ask, “WHY HAVE YOU COME TO FIGHT US?”  Second, in verse eleven, they chastised Samson, “DON’T YOU REALIZE THE PHILISTINES ARE RULING OVER US?”  Third, in verse twelve, when they’ve found out what the problem is, they are happy to throw Samson under the bus to try to placate their Philistine overlords.  Fourth, verse eleven tells us there were 3000 men from Judah to capture Samson, but only 1000 Philistines killed by Samson.  If Samson killed all the Philistine force, then his countrymen had the enemy outnumbered 3-1.  How buffaloed do you have to be to refuse to fight with a 3-1 advantage?  These details give us insight into how desperate the situation had become and why God would use someone like Samson to begin to lead the Israelites to resist and overthrow the Philistines (13:5).

Why did Samson allow himself to be taken prisoner (12-13)?  It was clever strategy; it was the easiest way to get in the middle of the Philistine army.  Samson intended to launch his attack from there.  The guy did have his brilliant, if reckless, moments.  So he appeared to be surrendering, which put a whole Philistine army in harm’s way.

Samson’s strategy worked.  At the end of the day a thousand enemy combatants lay dead.

The LORD bailed out Samson AGAIN in verses fourteen and fifteen.   For the FOURTH time in these three chapter we read of Samson, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME POWERFULLY UPON HIM (18).  This Spirit was manifest in two ways.  One, the NEW ROPES (13) binding Samson suddenly became weak and loose and dropped away from him.  Two, armed only with the FRESH JAWBONE OF A DONKEY, Samson became an invincible warrior, taking down A THOUSAND MEN.  (The word FRESH literally meant “moist.”  A new jawbone would not be dry and brittle as a weathered one would be.)  In his book, The Samson Syndrome, Mark Attebury wrote, “With nothing but a donkey’s dentures, Samson slaughtered one thousand Philistines.”

Flush with victory, Samson composed a poem to himself (16)!  I respect the pun in the first part of the poem: I’ve been known to indulge on occasion myself.  However, the object of praise in this poem is Samson, not the Holy Spirit who empowered him and gave him victory.

  1. Samson got Something Right (sorta).

After the self-glorifying poem, Samson comes around a bit and credits the LORD, but he did that while bellyaching.  The LORD delivered Samson again: this time from thirst (18-19).  It seems Samson was “too big to fail.”  Samson complained about dying of thirst right on the spot and falling into the hands of the UNCIRCUMCISED.  It’s sad this is the first recorded prayer of Samson’s; it reminds me of the complaints of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, dissatisfied with the manna, quail, and water the LORD provided them.

Miraculously – as He had done for the Israelites generations before – God opened a hole in the ground and water welled up out of it and revived Samson.  It’s not hard to imagine how killing 1000 enemy soldiers would leave a fella feeling a bit parched, so maybe we can excuse Samson’s complaining here…?

Verse twenty sounds like the end of Samson’s story, but we haven’t even got to the familiar part involving Delilah.  I imagine this implies the reaction of the 3000 men of Judah who were there to witness Samson’s victory (apparently without lending a hand to assist him); they recognized his leadership.  Samson became a “judge;” one of the people God raised up to lead His people out from under the oppressions of their enemies.  He had one of the lengthier terms of judgeship.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but it’s easier for us if we learn from our mistakes.

Some of us here today remember all the way back to 1975.  One of the news items that year was the beaching of 300 whales which died.  It also happened in Feb. of this year.

Why does that happen? Experts think they’re chasing sardines when the tide goes out from under them, leaving them beached.

“Chasing Sardines” is an apt image for Samson’s life.  God was with Samson in a way He has not blessed anyone before or after, but he fiddled around, wasting his life on foolish and selfish pursuits.  Don’t let it happen to you.  One of the reasons Samson is mentioned in the Bible is so we can avoid making the same mistakes he did.