Fitted for Hard Times (2 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:16-25 & 34-39 in your Bible.

Fitted for Hard Times_v02 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW: Part One was the Conditions of Discipleship

There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that cannot be proven he either said or wrote.  Nonetheless, it is amusing and has a good truth, especially in these times of overreaching governments: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

In our passage today Jesus is still preparing to send out the Twelve Apostles on their short-term missions project.  He is completely honest, even brutally honest, in warning them what it will cost them to follow Him.  They will be the lambs contesting the wolves of the world around them.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

NEW: Part Two is the Cost of Discipleship

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your innocence but not your virtue (vs. 16-18)

By “innocence” I mean naiveté; you will see the world as it truly is.  For the sake of our own comfort and sanity we tend to assume people are most often have good intentions and that the world is safe.  Jesus shattered any false sense of safety by saying He was sending the disciples out LIKE SHEEP AMONG WOLVES. WOLVES is an oft-used image for persecutors of the Church (for example, Matthew 7:15; John 10:12; Acts 20:29).  SHEEP is an even more frequent biblical symbol of God’s people (for example, Psalm 23).  Even though He sent them to THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL (v. 6), the disciple were not assume everyone they meet will accept or even tolerate their message of repentance.  In v. 14 He warned them some people would not WELCOME or LISTEN to them.

By “virtue” I mean a refusal to hold a grudge, get revenge or in any way compromise God’s standards.  SNAKES were an Eastern symbol for prudence.  Though DOVES are used otherwise in the Bible, Jesus used used it as a symbol of innocence.  Disciples are not to close their eyes to evil, but are to deal with it directly and even assertively.  We keep our virtue after our innocence is lost by being smart, which is exactly what Jesus is teaching here.

The effect of this transformation is for you to BE ON YOUR GUARD.  Be prepared; as sure as sparks fly upward, so will disciples suffer persecution.  Jesus’ teaching about His Second Coming required His disciples to be on their GUARD.  You do this by never giving up.  They were warned to be ON GUARD AGAINST MEN (v. 17) because men are prone to prioritize self-interest.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you your freedom (vs. 18-19).

Persecution can come from the top down as well as the bottom up.  V. 18 is a contrast with v. 17.  In. v. 17 Jesus warned them against local level persecution: city government (COUNCILS) and Jewish SYNAGOGUES.  In v. 18 Jesus warned them against persecution brought by GOVERNORS AND KINGS. In v. 21 Jesus warned a third group – family members – may be among a disciple’s persecutors.  God’s purpose in their being persecuted is to give them an opportunity to be WITNESSES to the Jews and eventually to the GENTILES too.

Is your freedom – your rights – more precious than your salvation?  Is your search for personal comfort more important to you than your duty as a disciple?  If the priority is on salvation and discipleship, you’ll be encouraged by Jesus’ promises and commands.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause you to suffer persecution and rejection (vs. 22-25).

Persecution comes to Jesus’ people because evil people hate Jesus.  I wonder how much persecution the Apostles actually faced when they went out?

It’s clear He prepared them to face opposition in vs. 17-20 just as He did in vs. 11-16.  But vs. 17-20 have a feeling of looking further into the future; that Jesus is speaking here about circumstances long after His death, things the Twelve will have to face as they represent Jesus in other parts of the world.

This interpretation is based on more than intuition; in v. 18 Jesus promised they’d be WITNESSES to the GENTILES as well.  But at this moment their mission is to the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL exclusively (v.6), the GENTILES are not included.  This warning is more appropriate to the decades after Jesus’ Ascension than this immediate situation.

To the degree that it helps to know your persecutors are not making it a personal issue, Jesus warned, ALL MEN WILL HATE YOU BECAUSE OF ME.  These words also take a broader view than just this short-term mission.  This is their future.  ALL MEN should not be understood as “everyone.”  It can be translated as “all kinds of men,” which takes in the locals mentioned in v. 17, the VIPs in v. 18, and family members in v. 21.

Jesus said, “A STUDENT IS NOT ABOVE HIS TEACHER, NOR A SERVANT ABOVE HIS MASTER,” explaining why hatred for Him automatically becomes hatred for His disciples.  Jesus did not die on the cross to make us happy or feel fulfilled, or to improve our self-esteem.  Jesus suffered and died to save us.  As His disciples we must share in His sufferings if we want to also share in his glory (Romans 8:17).  Our attitude toward suffering should be the kind expressed by the apostles in Acts 5:21 who were overjoyed to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name.

Jesus has provided us with recourse to persecution: a promise, path, and a finish line.

His promise: v. 22 promises those who remain ON GUARD and STAND FIRM TO THE END they will be saved.  This command is similarly expressed in…

– Philippians 3:16 = ONLY LET US LIVE UP TO WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED.

– Revelation 2:25 = ONLY HOLD ON TO WHAT YOU HAVE UNTIL I COME.

Disciples experience seasons of growth and seasons which threaten us and/or tempt us to give up.  In those seasons, it is perfectly acceptable to dig in and prevent losing any ground, to cling fiercely to the measure of faith we have, and refuse to be moved.  To be faithful TO THE END means to the end of one’s life or to the Second Coming, whichever comes first.

Jesus’ path = In v. 23 Jesus advised the Twelve, “WHEN YOU ARE PERSECUTED IN ONE PLACE, FLEE TO ANOTHER.”  In other words, “You don’t have to stand there and take it.”  In this teaching and in others, Jesus authorized the use of passive resistance and non-violent protest as responses to persecution.  He did not call His disciples to be door mats: He commanded us to be as SHREWD AS SNAKES but as INNOCENT AS DOVES.

For example, a SHREWD alternative to just standing there and allowing yourself to be persecuted is to get out of the way of your persecutors.  We have an example of this happening in the history of the Church: Acts 8:1 says the members of the church in Jerusalem scattered into neighboring provinces in the face of persecution in the city.

Jesus’ finish line = YOU WILL NOT FINISH GOING THROUGH THE CITIES OF ISRAEL BEFORE THE SON OF MAN COMES.  This is Jesus’ promise that He would not leave any of His disciples to suffer their fate.  He did the opposite: He promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).  This is an occasion where it’s especially important to be aware of the context of the verse.  Jesus has just instructed them to flee persecution.  What is he saying here is that there will always be a fall-back position, until Jesus comes again, and fall-back positions will no longer be needed.  We’ve already observed that Jesus’ instructions look beyond the time in which they were given.  This statement looks forward to the end of time.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause a loss of false peace (vs. 34).

Jesus didn’t come to be “nice,” if that word means being completely benign, inoffensive, no trouble, no confrontations, or no harsh words of any kind.  Jesus said it plainly, but people don’t want to hear it, so they start off a comment with “Well…” and proceed to make excuses to water down Jesus’ radical statements.  To them I say, “Grow up.”

Jesus said “DO NOT SUPPOSE THAT I HAVE COME TO BRING PEACE TO THE EARTH.  I DID NOT COME TO BRING PEACE, BUT A SWORD.”  Similarly, in Luke 12:49-51 He said, “I HAVE COME TO BRING FIRE ON THE EARTH AND HOW I WISH IT WERE ALREADY KINDLED.  BUT I HAVE A BAPTISM TO UNDERGO, AND OW DISTRESSED I AM UNTIL IT IS COMPLETED! DO YOU THINK I CAME TO BRING PEACE ON EARTH?  NO, I TELL YOU, BUT DIVISION.”  This is not Jesus’ desire to be a troublemaker nor is he authorizing us to merely be troublemakers.  Instead, He is offering another explanation of why people hate Him.

Telling the truth has a polarizing effect on people.  People who are living a lie hate the truth because it exposes them as liars and thereby feels like an accusation.  People who live in the truth love the truth because it encourages and affirms what they’re doing.  Jesus told the truth, but more than that, He IS the truth (John 14:6).

Discipleship is following Jesus’ example in seeking the truth, which will produce both peace and judgment in a single circumstance.  Jesus is called the PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6-7) because He brings inner peace to His disciples (Philippians 4:7).  At the same time, He is a galvanizing figure whom people will love or hate.  Hear this: the most faithless reaction to Jesus is apathy (Revelation 3:14-16).  Just as history has been divided by Jesus (A.D. versus B.C.), so are people divided into for or against.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you some family relationships (vs. 21, 35-37).

Our first family is our church family.  We’ve observed Jesus’ warning in v. 21: “BROTHER WILL BETRAY BROTHER…A FATHER HIS CHILD…CHILDREN AGAINST THEIR PARENTS.”  This is such an important point, it is essentially repeated in vs. 35-37.  Note the deadly consequence of these betrayals: TO DEATH.  Jesus is offering families as an example of people we would normally expect to trust, but as we know family members are not any more likely to agree or be agreeable than complete strangers.

Jesus’ attitude toward family may surprise you.  In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8, Jesus responded to a call to join His family by saying, “MY MOTHER AND BROTHERS ARE THOSE WHO HEAR GOD’S WORD AND PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.”  Verse 37 is a similarly provocative statement: “ANYBODY 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.”  The Bible does place a high value on family relationships, but in terms of priorities, it is clear our church family comes before our birth family.

Even in families, some people will react to your discipleship with division.  Discipleship demands extreme devotion to Jesus, a situation that will not sit well with all the members of one’s family.  The polarizing effect of Jesus and the followers who imitate Him can be deep enough to part close but superficial relationships.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your life (vs. 38-39).

Salvation is free and it costs you everything.  Salvation is FREE in the sense that it cannot be earned.  It is available to us only because of God’s grace.  Salvation COSTS us everything in the sense that following Jesus must be our first priority.  Anything that is more important than loving God is actually an idol: including family.  We can claim anything we want, but we can’t actually be a disciple of Jesus if we prioritize anything else above Him.

There are three aspects of discipleship Jesus mentioned in this passage.

Take up your cross.  In Jesus’ culture, the cross was a symbol of shame.  Jesus transformed it into a sign of victory, but He did so only by means of sacrifice.  Taking up our own cross means to do a similar thing, to sacrifice self on the altar of devotion to God.  In our culture, this will involve the sacrifice of choice, convenience and comfort, things we insist upon.

Follow Jesus.  Finding something to die for is, in some ways, easier than having something to life for, because living requires the hard work of being faithful in the mundane details of everyday life.  Following means letting Jesus lead.  Whenever we want to dictate the terms of discipleship or tell Jesus what we’re willing to do, that’s where falsehood enters in.

Lose your life for His sake.  This is obviously a figure of speech but it describes the radical depth of commitment a disciple shows.  Disciples are mostly unconcerned about their own rights.  They give evidence of humility and a servant’s heart in word and deed.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

In this second of three installments, we have observed Jesus preparing His disciples by frankly telling them what it will cost them to follow Him.  In all the years since, the cost of discipleship has not changed.  The rewards are literally out of this world but they are realized only by faith and sacrifice.

One place where discipleship can become difficult is when the faith collides with the world.  Jesus did not want to send His people into the world naively expecting to be appreciated.

I read recently that expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are “good” is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.  The bull simply does not care.  In all walks of life, in all situations and experiences, you will encounter resistance against your faith.  People will not care.

In those moments, Jesus does not expect us to be a witty debater, a fiery preacher, or anything other than our selves, clinging resolutely to what we know to be true.  We do not require the world’s agreement or approval to be disciples; with the Holy Spirit in us, we operate under a greater authority.  Quiet confidence and a ready reply is what’s needed when the world starts knocking our faith down.

PREVIEW: Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

RESOURCES:

Message #1322

As If in a Dream

Please read Psalm 126 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I prefer the NIV (1984) and used it to prepare these remarks.

Joy comes with God’s renewal of His people.

 Joy

       I hear concerns raised about how the Church in America is losing its influence on popular culture.  There are lots of reasons offered but I think it’s our impaired sense of humor that is a reason I don’t hear being discussed much.  We excel at “mourning with those who mourn,” but are morose about “laughing with those who laugh.”

          Realize two things: One, among all the beliefs on the face of the Earth, the Christian faith gives the greatest reasons for joy.  Two, the Bible is a book that is full of life and a great deal of what it has to say is couched in humor.

I could go on and on with examples and explanations, but it’s such a chore and time is limited, so let me offer just one example.  The humor of the Bible is situated in a time and culture that is very distant from our own.  Humor is something that is very dependent on the moment.  Have you ever related something funny that happened to you and got a deadpan reaction?  What do we say in response but, “I guess you had to be there?”

William Shakespeare wrote a number of comedies.  But to modern audiences, it’s hard to get the joke, especially when reading it.  Sir Richard Eyre, former head of the National Theatre and one of Britain’s most celebrated Shakespearean directors, said topical comedy dates “very quickly”, leaving the meaning lost to history.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/11694297/William-Shakespeares-jokes-are-just-not-funny-Sir-Richard-Eyre-admits.html

More recently, here are some 19th century American jokes, tell me what you think:
“If conceit were consumption, he’d be dead a long time ago!”
“They say that too many minors have enlisted in the army, however I think that some of the minors are doing better than some of the Majors.”

“What’s the difference between a drunkard and a condemned man? One takes a drop to live and the other takes a drop to die.”

https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-old-jokes-that-were-considered-hilarious-in-their-time-but-would-fall-flat-before-most-modern-early-21st-century-audiences

Not exactly side splitting stuff, right?  So we need Bible scholars to tell us why Bible humor was humorous, how Jesus’ reference to a plank in your eye was probably LOL to His peeps.  After all, we don’t have a “laugh track” to tell us which are the funny parts.

But let there be no mistake that the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of JOY and its perfectly obvious.  Let’s start with today’s text.

  1. Praise God for a dream fulfilled. (126:1-3)

The text offers four very descriptive signs of joy.

Joy Sign #1: WE WERE LIKE MEN WHO DREAMED.  We think of “dreams” as visions we receive while sleeping and as visions we realize while awake.

Normally, dreams are simply ways our subconscious ways our minds try to work out waking problems while we sleep.  God created dreams as a psychological “safety valve.”  Biblically, God has used dreams to reveal His will.  There is no indication in the Bible that God has ceased to do this.

On the other hand, we express our aspirations in order to give inspiration to others.  We need to be cautious here to not mix up our will with God’s.  Self-deception comes so easily we must submit these aspirations to the scrutiny of the church for affirmation.  Especially when we envision ways to do God’s will, the fulfillment of our DREAMS brings a special and abiding kind of JOY.  What we have here is a JOY so intense it feels dream-like, “too good to be true.”

Joy Sign #2: OUR MOUTHS WERE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER.  This phrase describes people who were giddy with joy, a happiness that demanded expression, one that could not be denied.  Laughter is not a sign of immaturity nor is it unspiritual if it flows out of godly joy.  The morality depends on what inspires a person to laugh: what’s in their heart at that moment.

Joy Sign #3: OUR TONGUES WITH SONGS OF JOY.  Like laughter, singing is a way we spontaneously express our JOY.  Wouldn’t it be great if life were more like a musical comedy?  We could express our JOY with singing and dancing, backed by a full orchestra!

Joy Sign #4: WE ARE FILLED WITH JOY.  They were FILLED, even to the point of overflowing, with JOY!  Anyone who doesn’t desire this level of JOY in their life is missing a vital part of a living, maturing faith.   To me there is a parallel between being FILLED WITH JOY and being Filled with the Spirit.

As verse two testifies even the pagan NATIONS noticed what God had done.  They offer the testimony of a “hostile witness” which carries extra weight because they have nothing to gain by misstatement or exaggeration.

We also need to understand the times.  People of this age were superstitious and tied their gods to their national identity.  For example, when your nation won a war, it was thought to be proof that your god was more powerful than your enemy’s.  In this instance, when the Babylonians conquered the people of Judah, the NATIONS concluded that the Babylonian gods were more powerful than the Jew’s God, Yahweh.

This means God allowed His name to be slandered among the nations in order to discipline His people.  On the other hand, later, when the people of Judah were allowed to come home, that was seen as their God’s triumph over the gods of Babylon.

Here’s what the NATIONS concluded: “THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR THEM.” (2)

Here’s the people of God agreeing with the pagan NATIONS; THE LORD HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US. (2)

Here’s the result: WE ARE FILLED WITH JOY. (2)

This joy was not from the pampered and comfortable, but from those who were CAPTIVES in Babylon.  There is a spontaneous kind of JOY that comes like a clap of thunder.  It is often undeserved or at least unexpected, and it departs as suddenly as it disappears.  There is also the kind of JOY that abides with you.  It comes as a sense of satisfaction after a good work well done.  It settles on your heart and warms it.  It stays with you, to some degree, and recurs when you recall the circumstances.  The first kind is exciting, the second kind, encouraging.

Those persons who, after 70 years of captivity, endured and then returned to their homeland experienced the first kind of joy when the news was announced and the second kind when the returned home and rebuilt Jerusalem.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who remained faithful in spite of what it cost them.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who stood against the seemingly impossible odds, travelling hundreds of miles on foot to a set of ruins.

The ones who experienced this divine JOY were the ones who persevered against the elements and their enemies to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

This is how life works for all of us, folks.  The worldly culture around us offers flashes of happiness in return to submitting to the captivity of their “groupthink” and the slavery to sinful appetites that is called “consumerism.” Not content to only offer distractions, the world also actively opposes faith; it belittles and battles genuine devotion to God.

We will know divine JOY when we ignore the distractions and remain faithful when we face persecutions.  This is a depth of JOY as described in this passage that the world will NEVER be able to give.

  1. A prayer for dreamers. (126:4-6)

When dreams come true, there is still work to be done.  When the initial joy of hearing that they COULD return to Jerusalem, then the realization of what that would take set in.  That’s why the passage makes the sudden jump from JOY to pleading with God.

RESTORE OUR FORTUNES, O LORD, sounds to me like a plea, a heartbroken prayer spoken when the ruins of Jerusalem were finally in sight.  Imagine how those returning from exile must have felt when they saw all the work and struggle that lay before them.  As people of faith, they cried out to God to help them do what, to worldly eyes, must’ve looked impossible.  Don’t let the word FORTUNES throw you; this is not a plea for prosperity as much as it is a desperate prayer for survival!

Historically, we know the returning exiles had to overcome a great deal of adversity to rebuild their land: lack of shelter, opposition from neighboring nations; the insecurity of the lack of suitable defenses; raiders; locusts; bad harvests; an extended drought; mountainous problems inflicted by both man and nature.  They had no idea what they’d got themselves into when they arrived, but they knew enough to prompt this crying out to God.

LIKE THE STREAMS OF THE NEGEV refers to a common experience of the people.   In that climate, streams and rivers can dry up completely.  One might not even recognize a riverbed when walking on it.  However, when the rainy season arrived, flash floods were common and the streams would be restored, full of water.

This would have been a common experience in the NEGEV, a desert area in the southeast part of modern-day Israel.  The people felt like a desert-dry stream bed, so they prayed that God would RESTORE them and fill them with life, just as He did with the dry streams in the desert.

In spite of the intimidating task before them, the returnees had hope.  They trusted in God, and from that trust came this promise expressed twice in vs. 5+6.

THOSE WHO SOW IN TEARS WILL REAP WITH SONGS OF JOY.

HE WHO GOES OUT WEEPING, CARRYING SEED TO SOW, WILL RETURN WITH SONGS OF JOY, CARRYING SHEAVES WITH HIM.

The TEARS and WEEPING are the physical signs of great sorrow.  They are the trails of trials that track down our face when we have to face opposition and obstacles.

If we think of them as “seeds” we can be assured these sorrows are designed to ensure a fruitful future.  We’d prefer a gentler, kinder, experience, but that’s not the way the world works.

In ancient cultures, sowing a seed was a symbol of burial and came to be associated with grief over a death.  Both Jesus (John 12:24) and Paul (1CT 15:36) used this imagery to teach about life overcoming death.  Trust that the seed will grow; that with the harvest, there will be SONGS OF JOY.

I read a provocative statement in an article entitled “Three Absolute Truths that Determine the Harvest,” by Dr. George Bannister.  He wrote, “It has been said that the problem with Southern Baptists is that we are ‘A harvest oriented denomination in a unseeded generation.’”

His point was that there can be no harvest without sowing.  It is not enough for churches to keep their doors open and expect people to seek us out and step through them.

Ken Ham made a similar point in his new book Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant.  We are living in a culture that is ignorant of the basic truths of Scripture.  The culture has dismissed the Bible as irrelevant and disregarded sin as a relative to the situation.  The Church in America is stuck in a mode where we’re answering questions no one is asking, using language they don’t understand, referencing things that have largely disappeared from our culture, except as objects of ridicule.

We want the joy of salvation.  There is no joy in this life that is sweeter than helping someone find Jesus as their Savior.  If we are to know this joy, we must plant those seeds.  There is an unmistakable connection between joyful reaping and passionate seed-sowing.

God announced this principle in Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: a man reaps whatever he sows.”  We can resist this cultural trend in media and politics, but the forces allied against us have the advantage in those areas.  Our advantage is the power of God and the truth.  These advantages are most influential in personal relationships.  Rather than assault the culture directly, it makes more sense for us to put the majority of our effort into establishing relationships and making friends with those outside our faith.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, George A.F. Knight

Bible Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown

The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, Lawrence E. Toombs

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce

https://sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/110191-three-absolute-truths-that-determine-the-harvest

Planting Tears, Harvesting Joy

advent three(From http://www.lifeway.com/Article/devotions-christmas-advent-week-three-joy.)

Please read Psalm 126 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare this article.

Jesus is our joy.  Our joy is our strength.

          From an anonymous author and for your Advent enjoyment, I present a “Theology of Christmas Toys.”   This humorous article answers the question, “If adults were as concerned about toys as kids are, how would different faiths think about toys?”

  • Atheism: There is no toymaker.
  • Polytheism: There are many toymakers.
  • Darwinism: The toys made themselves.
  • Capitalism: Sell your toys.
  • Communism: Everyone gets the same number of toys.
  • Islam: You can only play with my toy. Get rid of yours or else.
  • Buddhism: The world would be a better place if we all stopped asking for toys.
  • Presbyterian: These toys were chosen for you to play with and these toys were chosen for me.
  • Methodist: Consult the “Book of Discipline” for the right method of playing with toys.
  • Episcopalian: We don’t care where the toys come from, we just play with them.
  • Baptist: We have played with this toy this way for years and we’re not about to change.
  • Unitarian: There are no bad toys or bad players.
  • Pentecostal: Real toys can speak in tongues.
  • Assembly of God: Name the toy and claim it.
  • Seventh Day Adventist: Eat your vegetables and play with your toys on Saturday only.
  • Christian Scientist: Broken toys are a figment of your imagination.
  • Amish: No toys with batteries.
  • Orthodox: There is only one toy and it is in our church. It was our toy first.
  • Catholic: No, it’s our toy.
  • Televangelist: Send me $100 and I’ll tell you how to get more toys.

(Adapted from the Joyful Noiseletter, Dec. 2010.)

It turns out that the real joy of this season was wrapped in “swaddling clothes,” not in wrapping paper.  Do you want to have a joyous Christmas?  Focus on Christ.                2

  1. The LORD’s restoration is the peoples’ joy.

Restoration brings joy.  The word “restoration” is one of two key words in this passage.   It is described as A SONG OF ASCENTS; a hymn sung as people walked up the hill to the temple.

The historical occasion is the return of God’s people from their exile in Babylon. RESTORE OUR FORTUNES…LIKE STREAMS IN THE NEGEV (4).  Traditionally, this psalm is believed to have been written by Ezra, the priest who helped lead God’s people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the temple.  The joy of returning home was no doubt tempered when they saw the ruins of the city and fully realized the work that lay before them.  That’s why verse four feels a bit out of place – a downbeat among all the excitement.  In the Hebrew, the word RESTORE is in the imperative voice, so it’s pleading with God (use an “!”).

In the region of the NEGEV, the STREAMS have dry up over the summer.   When winter rains fall, even just an inch results in rushing waters & flash floods.  Ultimately the water revives the land: there are blossoms in the desert.  To the first readers of the song this would have been a dramatic illustration as they would have experienced this personally.

Spiritually, this image means we are restored from slavery to sin with its deadly effects.  We are restored to fellowship with God and one another.

“Joy” is the other key word.  Their joy upon returning home was so deep, it was beyond understanding: WE WERE LIKE THOSE WHO DREAMED (1).  Have you ever said to someone, “Pinch me; I must be dreaming” and regretted it later?  Deep joy is one of those rare moments when life feels too good to be true and we are overwhelmed by joy.  It’s a more common experience to anticipate something but still be overwhelmed when it actually happens.  This passage reads like the eyewitness account of someone who’s experienced this kind of joy personally.

In verse two their joy found expression.   OUR MOUTHS WERE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER, OUR TONGUES WITH SOUNDS OF JOY.  The repetition of MOUTHS and TONGUES is for emphasis.  The point: joy is sometimes so powerful we can’t hold it in.

LAUGHTER and SOUNDS OF JOY may be the same thing, but they certainly come from the same thing: profound joy.  Whether we celebrate with laughter or song, God wants us to worship Him with joyous hearts.

This is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: LEAVE BABYLON, FLEE FROM THE BABYLONIANS!  ANNOUNCE THIS WITH SHOUTS OF JOY AND PROCLAIM IT.  SEND IT OUT TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH; SAY “THE LORD HAS REDEEMED HIS SERVANT JACOB.” (Isaiah 48:20)

The phrase IT WAS SAID AMONG THE NATIONS means the message of God’s restoring His people was spoken so widely and with such intensity of joy even pagan nations knew God had acted on their behalf.

The deepest joy flows from remembering all the GREAT THINGS God has done for us (v. 3).  God so worked on the heart of Cyrus, the Babylonian king, that he allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland without paying any ransom.  He allowed them to take back temple treasures and even aided their return and reconstruction with generous gifts.  When enemies tried to undermine the Jew’s efforts, Cyrus took their side.

The rebuilding of the city, its walls, and the temple within was no small feat.  The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the obstacles overcome to achieve this.

Tears are “joy seeds,” as affirmed in verses five and six.  THOSE WHO SOW WITH TEARS WILL REAP WITH SONGS OF JOY (5). Obviously we don’t weep seeds, so this is a poetic, symbolic statement.  It is a promise that our sorrows are not wasted.  The tears we cry are like seeds in the sense that they will bring better days ahead.

THOSE WHO GO OUT WEEPING, CARRYING SEED TO SOW, WILL RETURN WITH SONGS OF JOY, CARRYING SHEAVES WITH THEM (6).

The Jews struggled to emerge from their captivity.  The promise is overcoming.  It will make a difference.  Tears of grief and frustration will become tears and songs of joy as God rewards faithfulness with fruitfulness.

The Bible is clear on this point: our TEARS are important to God; He sees them.  As a psalmist wrote: Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll— are they not in your record? (Psalm 56:8)  Other versions translate this verse as saying God collects our tears in a bottle.

From Egyptian times to the American Civil War and even to today, people have used small bottles to collect their tears as a sign of grief at death or parting.  These bottles are called “lachrymatories.”  (You can order them online, spending from $7 to $70.)

The agricultural metaphor implies that restoration is a gift that demands effort on our part.  As we’ve learned recently, our part is to be faithful and trust that God will make us fruitful.  For them, this involved risk; seed was buried in the ground and if it didn’t produce a crop, there would NOT be any for next year’s planting.  Faithfulness requires risk.

  1. Jesus’ birth was a joyous occasion.

The MAGI/wise men rejoiced (Matthew 2:9-10).  AFTER THEY HAD HEARD THE KING, THEY WENT ON THEIR WAY, AND THE STAR THEY HAD SEEN WHEN IT ROSE WENT AHEAD OF THEM UNTIL IT STOPPED OVER THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS.  WHEN THEY SAW THE STAR, THEY WERE OVERJOYED.

Elizabeth and unborn John the Baptist rejoiced (LKE 1:44).  “AS SOON AS THE SOUND OF YOUR GREETING REACHED MY EARS, THE BABY IN MY WOMB LEAPED FOR JOY.”

Mary rejoiced (LKE 1:46).  “MY SOUL GLORIFIES THE LORD AND REJOICES IN GOD MY SAVIOR.”

In Luke 2, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna gave glory to God when they saw the baby Jesus, which is exactly the right thing to do when we experience godly joy.

It has been suggested that we proclaim 2018 to be a Year of Joy here at Emmanuel.  Sounds good.  But proclaiming requires doing or we’ve only succeeded in exchanging words.  We’d all like a 52 week break from negativity and worldly concerns.

Theologian Huston Smith is quoted, “At the center of the religious life is a peculiar kind of joy, the prospect of a happy ending that blossoms from necessarily painful ordeals, the promise of human difficulties embraced and overcome.”
(Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/huston_smith_613775)

 

Worth the Wait

patience

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

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

Wait for it – God will dispense perfect justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ “Genius is patience.”  – Sir Isaac Newton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a warning, based on fallen human nature:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Wouldn’t Want Delivery?

(Please read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

God delivers us from death to Himself.

An actual Twitter exchange between an angry customer and Domino’s Pizza:

Customer: Yoooo I ordered a Pizza & Came with no Toppings on it or anything, It’s Just Bread

Domino’s: We’re sorry to hear about this!

Customer (minutes later): Never mind, I opened the pizza upside down :/

A company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hired a new CEO with a reputation for ridding his companies of all slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning on a wall. He saw a chance to show everyone he means business! The CEO walked up the guy and asked “How much money do you make a week?”

Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $ 200.00 a week. Why?” The CEO then handed him $200 in cash and screamed “Here’s a week’s pay, now GET OUT and don’t come back!” Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asked “Anyone know what that slacker did here?”

With a wry grin, one of the other workers muttered “Pizza delivery guy”.
source: http://www.jokes4us.com/miscellaneousjokes/foodjokes/pizzajokes.html

It is believed that Paul actually wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, but only two of them were preserved and made part of our New Testament.  One of the reasons Paul kept writing to them was to defend his ministry from critics.  The false teachers in the church kept trying to elevate themselves by tearing Paul down.

In our section this morning, Paul is attempting to defend the authority of his ministry in an unusual way.  He effectively wrote, “No one has suffered more for the cause of Christ than I have.  What I know about Jesus and what I have taught you I learned at the ‘school of hard knocks’.”

To his credit, Paul never turned to his sufferings as reasons to complain or any other kind of sin.  Instead, he always turned them to good, brought glory to God, and directed people’s attention to Jesus as the One who delivers us from our troubles.

  1. We are delivered again and again (8-11).

This is obviously a personal section of this letter.  Paul did not want the church to be unaware of the difficulties encountered while ministering on their behalf.  It is unusual for Paul to begin a letter this way.  Usually he emphasized the concerns of the church and not his own struggles.

His TROUBLES were personal.  This is obvious in the repeated use of “WE.”  Our TROUBLES aren’t to be only troubling; they serve the divine purpose of drawing us closer to God.  Imagine how more depressing TROUBLES become when we lack faith.

His TROUBLES were profound.  People of faith don’t pretend to be chipper or strong when they face troubles; they don’t make light of them to impress others.  People of faith are just as deeply affected by grief as anyone else; we have God as a greater resource in overcoming pain.

Paul’s choices of words in vs. 8+9 convey a deep emotional impact from his difficult circumstances.

UNDER GREAT PRESSURE (8) may refer to a persecution Paul suffered in Ephesus (ACS 19:23-41).

DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF (8) indicates a deep sense of grief.

SENTENCE OF DEATH (9) means Paul felt that even God was against him.  Later in life, Paul would receive an actual death sentence and died a martyr’s death.

The point was not to arouse sympathy or to boast, but to do two other things.  Primarily, to glorify God as the Deliverer:

THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, WHO RAISES FROM THE DEAD.

HE HAS DELIVERED US AND HE WILL DELIVER US AGAIN.

WE HAVE SET OUR HOPE THAT HE WILL CONTINUE TO DELIVER US.

Secondarily, to thank the churches for their prayer support.  We tend to reflect on the personal effects of our sufferings.  Paul showed a broader vision by looking at how the church supported him in his TROUBLES by means of prayer.

AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS.

MANY WILL GIVE THANKS ON OUR BEHALF FOR THE GRACIOUS FAVOR GRANTED US IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF MANY.  The result of God’s deliverance should always result in prayers of thanksgiving.

The greater the sufferings we face, the more we feel loved and the closer we draw to God and one another as we overcome them.  This fact should encourage us, especially in moments of greatest sorrow.

  1. We are delivered to be comforters (3-7).

Giving comfort is what God is all about.

THE FATHER OF COMPASSION (3). (“Merciful Father.”)

THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT (3). (“Encouragement” and “consolation.”)

WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES (4).  The Greek word for “comfort” here is the same one used in John 14 as a name for the Holy Spirit – the source of our comfort.  It means “one who stands alongside to help.”

JUST AS WE SHARE…IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, SO ALSO OUR COMFORT ABOUNDS THROUGH CHRIST (5).  (See also Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Colossians 1:24.)  THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST does not refer to the passion of Jesus, but to the things His followers suffer that are similar, and to His identification with us.  As Jesus is the source of our COMFORT, it makes sense that we, by faith, identify our sufferings with Him as well.

Giving and receiving comfort is what God’s people are all about.  Paul saw His suffering as contributing positively to spiritual maturing of the Corinthian believers.

We are also familiar with human nature and repeatedly observe that the most naturally sympathetic counselors are people who have suffered the same things.  Paul affirms both the spiritual and emotional benefits of suffering in five expressions found in vs. 4-7:

SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES RECEIVE FROM GOD (4).

IF WE ARE DISTRESSED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT AND SALVATION (6).

IF WE ARE COMFORTED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT (6).

YOUR COMFORT…PRODUCES IN YOU PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE SAME SUFFERINGS WE SUFFER (6).

OUR HOPE IN YOU IS FIRM BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT JUST AS YOU SHARE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, SO ALSO YOU SHARE IN OUR COMFORT (7).

The question raised as the title of this message seems easy enough to answer: When you’re sick with real problems or worries, when you’re hedged about with difficulties, when you’re down and grieving, why wouldn’t you want to be delivered from those things?  I’ve been ill for a couple weeks now and have prayed repeatedly for deliverance.  Did I want to be delivered from the flu?  You betcha!

But it is human nature to complicate things, so even deliverance is not as obvious as it first seems.  Do people who hold a grudge pray to be delivered from their anger?

Do drama queens pray to be delivered from conflicts?

Do people who feel empowered by their status as a victim pray to be delivered from that circumstance?

Do people who oppose change pray to be delivered to something new?

Let’s be honest.  The person who stands most securely in the way of deliverance is the person in the mirror.  Sympathy is often a good thing, but good intentions can also impede growth if it merely maintains our affections that oppose God’s will.

God has promised to either deliver us or use our trials to change us more into the image of His son.  People of faith do not waste perfectly good suffering.  They struggle, not only with the trial, but with everything inside them that impedes the work of God on their heart.

Why’d He Do It? Joy!

(Please read Hebrews 12:1-3.  I have used the NIV for my study.)

Jesus endured the cross because He knew JOY awaited Him on the other side of suffering.

In the verse immediately following our passage, Paul helped his readers put their suffering in perspective: In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (HBS 12:4, NIV)  Wow!  That’s some perspective.

In other words, “You think you’ve got it bad?  What have you got to complain about?”

Let’s consider an historical perspective.  From Illustrations Unlimited, “THE PRICE THEY PAID.”

“Have you ever wondered what happened to those fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

  • Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.
  • Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.
  • Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.

“They signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

  • Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.
  • Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
  • At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis, had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General George Washington to open fire, which was done. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
  • Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife and she died within a few months.
  • John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home after the war to find his wife dead, his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

“Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged: ‘For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’    They made these sacrifices to give us an independent America.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-michael-mccartney-quotes-price-62259.asp on 2/19/16.>

Jesus gave His life on the cross to give us salvation.  Are our love and obedience too much to ask in return?

  1. Jesus is our example of endurance.

Paul offers three reasons why we should take Jesus as our example.

First, our focus needs to shift: LET US FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS (v. 2).  Life’s difficulties tend to seem or actually become worse the more attention we pay to ourselves.  On the other hand, solutions present themselves, strength returns, and courage is renewed when we pay more attention to Jesus.  We need to “fix” our eyes on Jesus so we can “fix” the problems we’re facing.

Second, we need to remember Jesus’ role.  He is THE AUTHOR & PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH (v. 2).  Jesus is the AUTHOR of our faith in the sense that our life of faith begins with Him.  If He hadn’t loved us first and best, we’d have nothing of eternity in us.

However, Jesus doesn’t get us started and abandon us to our own devices.  He is also the PERFECTER of our faith.  That means He continues with us throughout the journey of life, working to perfect us, making us more like Himself.

Third, when we think about it, following Jesus makes the most sense; that’s why we must CONSIDER HIM (v. 3).  CONSIDER is one of three Greek words that are found only in this passage.  This is something special.

This whole passage is an athletic scene, so Jesus is our coach.  We respond positively to our coach’s training and duplicate the things he has demonstrated for us.  We follow his example.

Additionally, the best athletes do not rely on their physical talents alone.  They also play smart, learning the game, accepting the coach’s training; they are strategizing their way to victory, using their mental as well as their physical assets.

One of the many noteworthy aspects of Jesus’ character is His joy.  In this passage is juxtaposed next to the horrific suffering He endured before and during crucifixion.  The phrase, FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM, is  key to our study. It seems incredible to think that JOY was enough of motive to endure all that pain & shame.  Jesus did more than survive the cross; he triumphed over it.  In Colossians 2:15 the Apostle Paul also wrote, HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS.

We’ve answered why Jesus endured the cross; JOY.  But how did He do it?  Paul offers two partial answers.

One, He ENDURED THE CROSS.  Like an athlete who endures enormous pain and exertion, Jesus outlasted the cross.  Willpower is power a power we can access through our human nature, augmented by the Holy Spirit.  A purpose of the Gethsemane scenes in the Gospels is to show that He was determined to be obedient, to follow through and do the entire will of God.  The temptation to quit is always strongest when we are at our weakest.  But Jesus never quit on the Father’s plan.  He “gutted it out.”

Two, He scorned ITS SHAME.  An oft-quoted proverb says, “pride comes before a fall.”  But pride can also cut short your effort and cause you to quit before you’re far enough in to fall.  Pride and fear and keep a person from starting at all!  I mention pride here because the cross was, in the culture of the Jews, the most disgraceful way to die.  As if dying wasn’t bad enough, dying disgracefully is worse.  But Jesus scorned all that.  He didn’t care.  Pride was swept away by the flood of obedience.

What source of JOY was so great that it motivated all this?  Glory.  Not in the usual sense of that term, nothing like receiving an “Oscar,” but in a far greater, more true and spiritual sense of glory as being the presence of God.  The cross was the threshold that Jesus crossed for the JOY of being restored to heaven.  It was reunion with the Father and the Spirit in relationship that had not fully existed since the moment of becoming enfleshed more than 33 years ago.

After the cross, Jesus got to sit down AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD (v. 2).  The greatest sacrifice merited the greatest honor. (See Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul described the same thing.)

We’ve all experienced the kind of joy that comes when your hard work and sacrifice are appreciated and honored.  That sensation of joyous satisfaction is a tiny scale sample of the JOY that motivated Jesus.

Another amazing thing is that Jesus shares His JOY with all of His people.  We too will experience – in our much smaller scale – the suffering Jesus experienced.  If we remain faithful as He was faithful, we will be glorified by eternal life in the presence of God.  WOW!  If that doesn’t motivate you to patiently endure suffering, trusting in God, then something’s wrong.

  1. Following His example enables us to endure.

JOY is not easily obtained or maintained.  There are  challenges we face that can rob us of our joy, or, if we overcome them, can become sources of joy.  Jesus’ threshold to joy was the cross.  Our crosses can be very typical experiences.  Paul provides four examples.

The first is EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS (v. 1).  This is the only time this Greek word is used in the New Testament; it refers to any kind of encumbrance that slows our progress in faith.  I would say that HINDERS is a symbol of self-inflicted wounds:

– Distractions we allow when we should be praying.

– Worldly things that seem more interesting to read than the Bible.

– Placing ourselves in circumstances that tempt us to sin.

– Discouragements that come with false guilt.

– Clogging our schedule with over-commitment.

– Stuff we chose but don’t need and is detrimental.

The second is THE SIN THAT ENTANGLES (v. 1).  This Greek word is also unique in the New Testament, which may indicate Paul is working hard to describe these truths.  In this case, I picture a runner who’s got tangled up with a hurdle.  That usually ends poorly!

The third is OPPOSITION FROM SINFUL MEN (v. 3).  We learn that bullies do not disappear the moment we outgrow the schoolyard.  The truth is that there are just mean, evil people in the world.  They may be motivated to oppose us out of spite or to persecute us for our faith.  Whatever their motive, our response to all who declare themselves our enemy is to refuse to retaliate.  We will have a more joyful life is we will strive to consider others our friends and treat them accordingly.

The fourth is growing WEARY and then losing HEART (v. 3).  The word WEARY is another word picture in the Greek; it is the exhausted athlete who does not give up. The word for losing heart literally means the unstringing of a bow.   There’s not much use for an unstrung bow, is there? It’s hard to be useful or even feel useful when you’ve given up.

But there are very good reasons to endure; Paul wrote about three.

One, WE ARE SURROUNDED BY A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES (v. 1).  Suffering can be hard to endure at all; having to endure it alone is harder.   Good news!  You are not alone.  Most importantly, God is with you.  Secondly, your brothers and sisters are with you.  Thirdly, our brothers and sisters who have preceded us in death witness to us by the examples they have set.  Continuing the sports analogies in these verses, the CLOUD OF WITNESSES is like the cheering fans in the stands.

Two, we have Jesus’ example to follow (v. 2).  We don’t have to make this stuff up.  We have an example to follow, a template to use to guide us in living this life on God’s path.

Three, we have hope to strengthen our weary hearts (v. 3).  When we are discouraged and feel disheartened, we should CONSIDER all Jesus endured to give us this life.  It’s certain that whatever you and I face, it will not rise to the level of what Jesus overcame.

More importantly, hope motivates us to overcome.  As we’ve seen, the substance of our hope is that we will we find glory on the other side of misery, just as Jesus did.

Finally, let’s note what we must do.  Note the verbs:

We must THROW OFF hindrances and entanglements (v. 1).  It may sound goofy, but one measure of a person’s character is what they throw away.  Those are clearly the items they found they could live without.  I’m talking to spiritual and physical hoarders here: If we haven’t used it for God’s Kingdom in the last three months, GET RID OF IT!

We must RUN WITH PERSEVERENCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (v. 1).  To RUN WITH PERSEVERENCE simply means we don’t stop running.  Finish the race.  Keep moving.  Don’t worry about how far away the finish line is, just concern yourself with finishing the race.  Perseverance and patience are some of the hardest things to learn in life because we can only learn them the hard way.  Only by experience.

We’re all running in a RACE.  We often describe life as a race, even a “rat race.”  God did not use the metaphor of a RACE to discourage us, but to encourage us.  How is thinking about life as a “race” encouraging?

– We have a crowd in the stands encouraging us, urging us on to the finish line.

– It’s not a competitive race. All those who finish get the ultimate prize.

– There is a finish line. Every problem we face, no matter how long we have to face it, is temporary.  It will not join you on the other side of the finish line!

Obedience and holiness are running THE RACE MARKED OUT BEFORE US.  In the ultimate sense, this is not our race.  It is God’s.  He is the one who MARKED it OUT.  We follow His will, His path through life, not our own.  That also means we run for His sake, not our own.  Our life is not our own any more, it is His.  These facts ought to motivate us to keep running.

We must FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS (v. 2).  This is like setting your sight on the horizon while driving.  Your hands follow your eyes; it’s just human nature.  There’s a spiritual corollary as well.  Our heart follows where are eyes are fixed.  We fix our eyes on what’s really important to us, and our heart follows.

We must CONSIDER the example He set for us (v. 3).  In order to be able to follow Jesus’ example, we have to know what Jesus said and taught.  The Bible is our source of information about Jesus, so we must study it.

Of course, studying the life of Jesus isn’t the complete thing.  Knowledge alone isn’t enough.  We must live the life of Jesus, being transformed into a reflection of Jesus Christ.  We must be Jesus in word and deed.

“The story is told of a farmhand who had worked for a married couple for several years. As time went on, the couple grew older and older and they couldn’t do as much they had and the farm was beginning to look a little shabby. The paint on the barn was peeling. The fences had holes in them and slats were loose. The gravel road had potholes in it. Shingles on top of the farmhouse were beaten and weathered and needed replacing. But as the farmhand made his way to milk the cows each day, he thought: ‘What is that to me? It’s not my farm.’

“Then, one day the farmer and his wife asked him to come for dinner. They told him how much he had meant to them.  They told him that they had no children to inherit the farm, so they wanted to give it to HIM when they died.

“The next day, the farmhand was walking to the nursing barn, he noticed the paint on the barn. In a few days he’d painted the barn and fixed the fence, and in the next few weeks he was putting a new roof on the farmhouse and putting new gravel on the road.

“Why would he do that? What made the difference in his attitude? He was now an heir. And as a Son he began to treat the old farm different than he ever had before.

“And so it is with us. We are heirs to the Kingdom of God. And because we are heirs we have the joy of knowing that what we do, we do because of the fabulous gift of salvation our Father has given us. (From a sermon by Jeff Strite, entitled, “Beyond Servanthood” 8/26/2012)

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-co-heirswithchrist-heirsofgod-servanthood-83733.asp on 2/19/16.>

Joseph: Prisoner (Part One)

(Please read Genesis 39 in your Bible.)

The following may be one of the more interesting stories of recycling you’ll ever hear about.  The Bible Walk museum is a bizarre biblical museum made up of discarded waxworks of celebrities and other unwanted wax figures from across the globe. The BibleWalk museum in Mansfield in Ohio, USA, was founded in 1983. The museum features over 300 figures rescued from closed or failing waxwork museums.

The museum is split into four exhibitions as visitors take in the Life of Christ, the Miracles of the Old Testament, the Museum of Christian Martyrs and the Heart of the Reformation. It started over 30 years ago with some fiberglass figures purchased from an outdoor museum in Pittsburgh that was closing, and the collection has been added to ever since. The origins of the figures are a closely-guarded secret, but celebrity-watchers have spotted some of the repurposed figures.

* A young-looking Prince Philip is dressed in an all-white gown, playing an angel in a scene depicting Judgment Day. While some burn in the fires of hell, the now 94-year-old cuts a clean figure surrounded by other angels.

* Prince Charles is also a star attraction at the museum which gets up to 40,000 visitors a year. He has been transformed into Abel – the son of Adam and Eve – complete with ‘bowl’ haircut.

* Tom Cruise, the Scientologist, has been repurposed as Jesus.

* John Travolta appears in a scene with King Solomon as does the late Elizabeth Taylor.

* Action hero Steve McQueen plays a mere bystander in one of the scenes.

* Other stars from the world of entertainment include

The Beatles’ George Harrison, and legendary actors Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster.

Director of the museum, Julia Mott-Hardin, 62 is reluctant to widely publicize the museum’s re-purposed famous figures. Julia, who has worked at the museum since its founding, even refuses to give tours to those who want to see the celebrities. She said: “I’ve had calls from people who wanted to take the tour, but only if I accompanied them pointing out the celebrities. I refused. The museum is about glorifying God and his works. That’s what we want to achieve. I just don’t want to take any of the glory away from God. That’s the most important aspect of BibleWalk; God’s glory.”

(Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/howaboutthat/11800739/Discarded-celebrity-waxworks-given-new-life-at-BibleWalk-museum-in-Ohio.html on 8/14/15.)

I loved the director’s comments because that’s the attitude we want to bring to the entire Bible.  The hero of every Bible story is God, no one else.  While we are examining and celebrating the life of Joseph, we need to keep in mind that the important things are the things we learn about God.  Some, like Andrew Lloyd-Weber and Tim Rice, want to glorify Joseph as some paragon of perseverance and hope and merely human attributes.

Our purpose, instead, is to show God’s hand at work in Joseph’s life.  In good times in bad, when his circumstances rose and fell, God was always at work getting Joseph where He wanted him and prepared to do the work God wanted him to do.  HE WILL DO THE SAME WITH US, IF WE ARE FAITHFUL.

Message: Evil has it’s say, but God provides a way.

  1. Joseph landed on his feet (vs. 1-6a).

V. 1 is a repeat of 37:36, a reminder of what happened before the digression that is the account of Judah and Tamar (ch. 38). This is a recurring theme in the account of Joseph’s life: circumstances that cause us suffering can be a forge God uses to accomplish His purposes.  In this part, we see God used Joseph’s brothers’ misdeed to put Joseph where He wanted him: in Egypt.

Joseph’s feet landed in the household of Potiphar.  Potiphar (“devoted to the sun”) served in Pharaoh’s court as CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD.  Based on this we might assume:

– He was happy to have someone like Joseph, with whom he could entrust the boring details of running a courtly house.

– He was away from home a lot.  His absences may’ve been part of the reason his wife’s attention turned to Joseph.

THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH AND HE PROSPERED (2) is an apt summary of Joseph’s life.  Part of his prosperity was indicated by the trust his master put in him (3-4, 6). Potiphar recognized THE LORD WAS WITH [Joseph] AND GAVE HIM SUCCESS IN EVERYTHING HE DID; a good reason to trust Joseph with authority in the first place.  Verse six describes the depth of Potiphar’s trust in Joseph in an amusing way: HE [Potiphar] DID NOT HAVE TO CONCERN HIMSELF WITH ANYTHING EXCEPT T FOOD HE ATE!

Another indicator of God’s blessing was the prosperity that came to his master’s household while Joseph served him (v. 5).  The author expresses the same thing two ways in this verse.  However, this is not a story of Joseph’s success, but an account of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises.

  1. Mrs. Potiphar tried to sweep him off his feet (vs. 6b-18).

Verses 6b-7 explain Mrs. Potiphar’s attraction to Joseph as simple lust of the eyes.

Joseph has learned from his initial misfortunes; he is a pious young man and he refused her advances (8-10).  His moral maturity is evident in his:

– Unwillingness to violate his master’s trust (8).

– Refusal to abuse the authority he’s been given (9a).

– Recognition that adultery is a sin; a WICKED offense against God (9b).

Joseph wisely tried to avoid her.  But in this world, doing the right thing does not guarantee a righteous result (11-18).  Case in point: Joseph remained faithful, but Potiphar’s unfaithful wife brought a lot of trouble on Joseph’s undeserving head.  In fact, Joseph’s moral maturity is greater than his forbearers:

– Of all t Patriarchs, it is written of Joseph alone, T LORD WAS W HIM(3)

– Of all the patriarchs, only Joseph was recognized as gifted with the SPIRIT OF GOD (41:38).

Joseph was one of the most undeserving sufferers in the Bible.  We need to understand that suffering isn’t always about what a person deserves.  However, it is always about God accomplishing His purposes in us and through us.

Mrs. Potiphar finally caught Joseph alone.  This became one of those “he said/she said” situations with no way out!

Joseph panicked.  The only thing he could think to do was run.  The problem was that he left behind his CLOAK, which the vengeful Mrs. Potiphar used as “evidence” against him.

  1. Joseph’s feet were chained (19-20a).

After having placed such trust in Joseph, it’s hard for me to understand why Potiphar would turn on him so suddenly and fully: HE BURNED WITH ANGER (v. 19).  I guess that he was under the influence of his wife.  The text clearly wants us to blame her:  Mrs. Potiphar is the villainess and Mr. Potiphar is a dupe.

Another reason may be implied in v. 14, where Mrs. Potiphar calls in HER HOUSEHOLD SERVANTS and tells them the outrageous lie she will repeat to her husband in vs. 17-18.  I can think of no good reason for her to do this other than to enlist their support as false witnesses.  She’s making sure all of them have their story straight before the boss comes home.

Why would the other servants support Mrs. Potiphar’s story? They may have been jealous of Joseph’s rise to authority (she emphasized he was a HEBREW and said Potiphar used Joseph TO MAKE SPORT OF US).  They may have been used to bowing to their mistress’ strong, vindictive personality.  Who would want to get on this woman’s blacklist?

While he might not have believed Mrs. Potiphar’s story on her word alone, the additional weight of the other servants’ testimonies and the CLOAK in her hand helped to convince Potiphar of Joseph’s guilt in the matter.  Also, Joseph was not there to defend himself.  It’s easier to get angry at someone when they’re not right in front of you.

However we understand the details of the plot and the motivations of the characters, Joseph was cast into the king’s prison, which may have been a worse situation than others.

  1. Joseph landed on his feet again (20b-23).

By outward appearances, being thrown into prison may have indicated Joseph was an evildoer and God had abandoned him.  The author of Genesis allowed no such misinterpretation and promptly informs the reader of the truth; BUT WHILE JOSEPH WAS THERE IN PRISON, THE LORD WAS WITH HIM (20b-21, 23).

This time the LORD’s presence took the form of favor in the eyes of the WARDEN (21-23).  It’s amazing how the attitude of the WARDEN parallels that of Potiphar and how Joseph earned the Warden’s complete trust even as he’d earned Potiphar’s.

Joseph suffered another setback, but God would use this to raise him higher still: The LORD GAVE HIM SUCCESS AT ALL HE DID.

William Congreve (1670–1729), a playwright, penned these familiar words in The Mourning Bride. Act iii. Sc. 8. “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

Joseph was the unhappy victim of that maxim.  But, in spite of his setbacks, the important thing was that the LORD was always with him.  Joseph prospered because of that fact, not because of his cleverness.

It would be good for us to remind ourselves that what was true of Joseph could be true of us as well.   We can trust that the LORD is with us and despite the way things go – or how we feel about them – He is working for our ultimate good.  As Rev. Randy Rassmussen put it to me this week; The LORD uses adversity to prepare us for authority.  Ministry, maturity, and other good things come as a result of what we have suffered faithfully.