Bible Text: James 1:19-27 | Preacher: Ray Galea | Series: James – Real Life Real Faith | Some never want to listen to God's word. Others only listen to God's word and nothing more. But James is calling us to listen and obey for that is true religion.
Brad Thorn tells us about his career as a professional league and union international player. Playing for Queensland, Australia and the All-Blacks. Most importantly he shares with us about his new life in Jesus.
Have you noticed that God seems to choose the wrong people to advance his kingdom, the worst being Jacob. Now the questions is, which of Jacobs 12 sons will provide the seed of Abraham, who will destroy the devil and bless the world.
It can’t be Rueben, Jacobs first born because he slept with his fathers wife, so he is out. The 2nd and 3rd sons were engaged in mass slaughter, so they are out. The next in line, son no 4, Judah, well he seems another unlikely candidate, he has already sold his own brother Joseph into slavery.
In fact, if you were putting a bet on who would carry the line for the saviour of the world it has to be Joseph, the only decent one in the family, but Joseph’s story is interrupted by todays tragic passage. Don’t get confused, Jacob is the father of Judah
At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah (NIV)
While Joseph was forced to leave his family, Judah chooses to leave his family. He then adds to his sin by marrying a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites worshipped other gods,
and encouraged child sacrifices. Judah is given 3 sons with 3 great names. The first is my favourite, you will call him…
• Er - that will do
• Shelah - he must have thought he was having an Aussie
Then Judah finds Canaanite women for his sons
Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. (NIV)
We are not told what Er's did but it was serious enough for God to put him to death. It was expected that the nearest relative would marry their dead brother's wife. Who is glad they live in the new covenant?
This would allow the name of the dead brother to pass on. So, the 2nd brother Onan reluctantly marries Tamar. He has sex with Tamar and then withdraws before he could make her pregnant. Rather than me explain - lets read it
Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. (NIV)
Its called Coitus interruptus, he got the sex without the responsibility. He failed to fulfil his duty to his dead brother.
So there was no doubt that he was sinning
What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. (NIV)
With two dead brothers who were both married to Tamar, Judah was afraid to give his 3rd Son for fear that he too would die. Did he fear that this woman was cursed? Did he not realise the husbands were the problem?
Elisabeth Elliott, a famous missionary, outlived her first two husbands and married to number 3, she joked that it was a dangerous thing to be married to her.
Judah withholds his son from Tamar and so abandoned her
Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household. (NIV)
Judah's fear stopped him from doing the right thing. Again fear fed by not trusting God promises.
• He failed to take care of Tamar
• He lied to Tamar, promising his 3rd son in marriage
• He shames her by sending her back to her family
• He abandons her by REFUSING to give his last son
Our focus is now on Tamar
The plans of an abandoned Woman - Tamar
She is forced to takes things into her own hands, so she disguises herself as a prostitute to get her father-in-law to provide her with a child. Desperate people do desperate things,
there is a difference between a poor person stealing and a rich person stealing, its why courts have extenuating circumstances.
Her plan had to assume that Judah had a custom of going to prostitutes and Judah does not realise that he has had sex with his daughter in law whom he abandoned. He didn’t want to give his 3rd Son to Tamar but he now ends up giving his semen and makes her pregnant. Judah didn’t have a goat to pay her for the sex so he gives his chord, seal and staff as a pledge. These are like his ID and credit cards. Tamar does not want the goat she wants JUSTICE and 3 months later, Judah finds out that Tamar, his daughter in law is pregnant.
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to
In a wave of self righteousness he orders that she put to death.
Its hard to know what is worse, that he wants her dead or the hypocrisy behind it. Bring her out and have her burned to death for doing the very thing he had just done. This is the ultimate version of take the log out of your own eye. Now Tamar doesn’t publicly shame her father in law, she returns his staff, cord and seal and she privately makes it clear to Judah that he is the father
As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” (NIV)
The seal, cord, and staff function like DNA testing, proving he is the DAD. At this point Judah could have still used his place of
power to deny it. Notice his response!
Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. (NIV)
Notice that its an immediate confession and its public confession, “She is more righteous than I, it’s a complete confession. It literally read “She is righteous rather than I”
It is a true repentance because we read that he did not sleep with her again.
We must never forget, whenever hypocrites and the sexual immoral humble themselves and repent they will receive mercy from God. The apostle Paul himself was the self confessed worst of sinners and he was an example to all of God patience
• I get cancel culture in its desire to face the injustice
• It is so right to not make heroes out of villains.
• But what is missing is a lack of grace
• No apology is good enough
• And justice without mercy drives sin underground.
• Everyone too afraid to own up to past failures
• We end up with a new brand of secular Phariseeism
• Where everyone is giving the right answers from
the wrong heart. Driven by fear not by love and service.
Training people to trust in their own righteousness and looking down on everybody else.
At this point you can’t but not think of sinless Jesus, when a woman caught in adultery was brought to him, she was about to be stoned, notice the MAN is not brought before Jesus. Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
And we are told that every male beginning with the older men left. Its hard for sinners to throws stones at other sinners. And yet adultery is a serious matter, and so Jesus is clear with her
“Go and sin no more.” God is the original feminist
Its worth saying that this passage doesn't teach on either contraception or masturbation, it doesn't teach that I should marry my sister in law if my brother dies BUT this story does anticipate a number of ISSUES, it serves as a warning
* How the tribe of Judah will follow the sin of Judah and flirt with Canaanite culture
* It anticipates how Israel will neglect the powerless
Your rulers are rebels, ….They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. (NIV)
It also anticipates how God will judge the ones who go to
prostitutes more severely than the prostitutes themselves
“I will NOT punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots
and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes—a people without understanding will come to ruin! (NIV)
We know that sex workers have higher rates of sexual abuse and higher rates of drug use to numb the pain. Never forget that most prostitutes are victims of male sin.
When I started MBM, I was on my way back from bible study when I turned down a street and nearly killed a drugged prostitute who was coming out of a car. I told my mum I nearly killed a prostitute. She said, “Ray you should have taken her in the car and told her about Jesus.” I said “Mum probably not a good look for a minister to be found with a prostitute in the car”
But I loved my mums heart, it was Jesus heart.
So when you see prostitutes either male or female, pray for them and remember they are only there because of those who pay for their service. There was a time we had some of women at MBM in a ministry to sex workers in the 14 brothels at St Marys. That was a good ministry, but again we are reminded
that God's purposes through Abraham’s line will reign
supreme whether God is working with the obedience of Joseph
or the disobedience of a Judah
But by the grace of God, we do see the beginnings of a transformed life in Judah. Judah will end up protecting his father from further grief by protecting his youngest brother Benjamin, he will do that in a Christ like way by offering to take blame and the place of his younger brother and paying whatever price is necessary.
We might have expected the line of promise to follow righteous Joseph but in God's kingdom the first will be last and last first.
Toward the end of Genesis Jacob makes this extraordinary prophecy over his 4th son - Judah
Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The sceptre will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. (NIV)
From the tribe of Judah will come the lion of Judah, the one who will come will receive the obedience of the nations, so the one who will defeat Satan will be the son of Eve – human. The son of Abraham - one nation – Jew. The son of Judah - one tribe. The son of Perez - King David. God is narrowing down our options as to who is the coming one.
Fast forward 2000years and this explains why Matthew's gospel begins the way it does. At first it seems like a boring way to start a brilliant gospel but lets look again
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, (NIV)
Jesus doesn’t turn up in a vacuum He is in the line of promise,
but its not just Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and Perez who are mentioned, Tamar is honoured in Jesus line. She is one of four women mentioned in Jesus ancestry, the surprising thing is that Sarah or Rachel or Rebekah are not.
The four women mentioned are tainted in some way
o Rahab and Tamar are connected with prostitution
o Bathsheba with adultery
o Ruth a foreigner
While the Saviour had to come from the Jews, He is the saviour for the world. This Jesus has come to invite Jew and non-Jew,
Male and Female, Sinner and Saint.
As Jesus said
’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV)
Judah may have abandoned Tamar, the Lion of Judah, Jesus, abandons no man and no woman, no sinner and no foreigner, who come to him.
Years ago a woman came up to me after the Youth Convention talks at Katoomba. She was in my friend's bible study and she was a former drug user and prostitute. She had gotten pregnant 8 times and 8 times she had aborted her children. But I knew I was talking to a daughter of Abraham and a child of God,
a woman that Jesus came to save, JUST LIKE ME, a woman who needed no more grace than I did, a woman forgiven in Christ with as much assurance.
That is why the gospel of our Lord Jesus is truly GOOD
NEWS. And that is why we call it Good Friday, take the opportunity to invite friends to our Easter services so that they too may hear of this saviour. Take hold of this good news yourself.
FRIENDS God ALWAYS chooses the wrong people to advance his kingdom THEN MAKES US RIGHT WITH HIM by trusting in the promises of God
From the beginning of Genesis we have seen you are
a good God and your first instinct is to bless
We thank you for not leaving humanity in its sin.
We thank you that you made promises to bless the world through Abraham.
We praise you Lord that you kept your word and gave us your dear Son
Thank you Jesus for bearing our sin and defeating Satan at the cross
May we now take your hand afresh and bow before you in worship
In Jesus name Amen
Have you ever felt like you’re a victim of your circumstances? Like things around you seem to be happening to you and God seems to be so distant from your experience?
Around the time Sally and I started dating she got hit with a lifelong fatigue illness called narcolepsy and everything was stripped away from her. She had to quit uni, she had to quit her job, she couldn’t serve at Church, she could hardly spend time with friends, or even her boyfriend. Narcolepsy affects your protein breakdown so your body doesn’t produce energy like a normal person and they describe it as irresistible sleepiness!
Her body would just go into shut down mode! Heavy eyes and lead body, at the time we didn’t know what it was and it was 3 years until she got a diagnosis.
In just a few months, everything was taken away! everything became a struggle! While she laid in bed most of the day for months on end the both of us were constantly wondering what life would look like and questioning God asking: Why? What are you doing? Why has this happened to Sal? To us?
God do you know what you’re doing? We want to serve you with our whole lives... “How is this going to help”?
I imagine you’ve asked those question before too… God why… Why is this happening? What are you doing? Do you know what you’re doing? Those are the questions hovering over the next 10 chapters of Genesis as we follow the life story and struggles of Joseph.
Joseph’s story is so different to his Father, Jacob’s. Jacob was a scum bag, deceiving people and paying the price for his dodgy actions, Joseph on the other hand doesn’t seem to do anything to deserve what he gets!
What Joseph’s story helps us see is that when life is turned upside down God is still in control and he’s still good. So, let’s meet Joseph. In Chapter 37 we meet a 17-year-old Joseph, he’s 1 of 12 brothers. He’s the great grandson of Abraham. He’s his Father’s favourite, born to his father’s favourite wife Rachel.
His brothers are jealous of him for being daddy’s favourite and they hate him! And even more so after he tells them he’s had a couple of dreams about them bowing down to him some time in the future. So the brothers sell him off to foreigners and he finds himself sold as a slave in Egypt to a guy named Potiphar who was the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Then in Chapter 39 we see that even though Joseph’s far from his family, God’s not far from him. In verse 2 we read that the Lord was with Joseph and He blesses everything he does!
When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned…with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. ~Genesis 37:3-4 & 5b (NIV)
Now having that kind of power and status usually results in people making bad moral decisions, right. Abusing their role and stomping all over others. Power messes with people’s morals, but not Joseph…
In verse 6b -12 His boss’ wife notices that Joseph is quite the handsome man and day after day she’s calling him to come to bed with her! Temptation is not only knocking at his door it’s tugging at his robe. But Joseph won’t do it! He stays faithful to God.
But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” ~Genesis 39:8-9 (NIV)
Someone else may have used that same argument to justify doing it, but he refuses! And this is such a great example of not letting our circumstances become excuses for us to justify sin or excuse it as if it was OK because of our situation! If anyone had an excuse it was poor Joseph! But no way! He recognises that sin is always sin no matter how rough the situation! and he cops the consequences for being faithful!
In verses13-20 she falsely accuses him of assaulting her and he gets thrown in prison by Potiphar. Not Fair!! Faithfulness has consequences and it can leave us feeling very alone & rejected. But Joseph’s not alone
…But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. ~Genesis 39:20-22 (NIV)
Then, in Chapter 40, while he’s in jail, God helps him interpret 2 other prisoners dreams and things happen just as he said, one rises back up into his former position as Pharaoh’s cupbearer, but sadly, the other one got impaled… yowch!
Joseph asks the cupbearer ‘when you get back out there, remember me and get me out of here! because I’m in here unfairly!’ And you start to think that things might look up for Joseph… wrong!!
The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. ~Genesis 40:23 (NIV)
Then the next verse tells us how long for…
When two full years had passed ~Genesis 41:1a (NIV)
2 whole years - 2 years later!!!! he finally remembers Joseph!!
What happens is, in Chapter 41, Pharaoh has a dream and can’t find anyone to interpret it, the cupbearer, feeling very guilty, finally remembers Joseph. So Pharaoh calls Joseph out and asks him about his dream and Joseph says to Pharaoh the same thing he said to the others.
“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” ~Genesis 41:16 (NIV)
Such a great recognition of God’s power to witness isn’t it! We declare the praises of God and the gospel but to God be the glory!
The interpretation is that there’s going to be 7 years of plenty and then 7 years of severe famine! In verse 31 He says the famine will be so bad that no one will even remember the years of plenty!!
Then Joseph gives Pharaoh some advice about it… Find a wise person to put in charge of the land, set leaders over the people to collect food while we’re in the time of plenty so that you can store it away for the years of famine. Pharaoh loves the idea! Turns to his guys and says where can we find someone like Joseph, who is wise and has the spirit of the living God? Oh, hang on - Joseph! You’re the guy!
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” ~Genesis 41:39-40 (NIV)
He sets him up as ruler over the whole land of Egypt! Talk about going from the bottom to the top!
I once represented NSW at a national athletics carnival! I felt quite important! My picture made the papers, I came dead last! There was no one else in the picture because they were so far in front of me! I let NSW down - sorry!
Becoming Pharaoh’s top man was massive!! Rameses II is known in the history books as the greatest Pharaoh, the wealthiest and the most powerful. Nine other Pharaoh’s after him named themselves Rameses. He had over 100 children of his own. For Joseph to become the ruler of all the land under him was to have more power than any king, queen, president or prime-minister you or I have ever known! It was ridiculous! And if you want to know you’ve made it in life - this is how you know.
He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” ~Genesis 41:43 (NIV)
So during the time of plenty, Joseph stored food, so much so it was uncountable! And when it all ran out in the famine, people came crying to Pharaoh who said: “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you…"
It’s been a journey of rejection, injustice, betrayal, suffering, now risen to the top. Then in Chapter 42 Joseph’s dreams come true! The famine is so bad, that it’s spread to where Joseph’s family are, and Jacob tells his sons, Joseph’s brothers, to go to Egypt for food. When they arrive there, Joseph’s dreams literally come true! They all bow down to Joseph! As The Lord of the land, but they don’t know it’s him…
Joseph recognises them, but they don’t recognise him! This is now 22 years later! After they sold him…
So, while He has them right in his hands… Oh the temptation for revenge… I mean - What would you want to do with them…
Of all the things he could do to them… with his power… he takes the opportunity to test them to see if they’ve repented for how they treated him. What he really wants to know is have they learned to value their family, more than their ego or their money. And so he puts them through a number of tests over the next few chapters… And through those tests, he gets to see that they actually have changed…
You see through all this seemingly random stuff, God has been working in all of them…The brothers changed from wanting to kill Joseph out of envy , to now being willing to offer their own life in place of one of their brothers’.
And Joseph has also grown - Here’s this little dibber dobber, younger sibling, father’s favourite being given responsibility time and time again, over masses of people to learn what it is to be responsible for the good of others! God has been actively working in all of their lives! Through all that evil and hardship.
All this brings Joseph to tears and he finally reveals himself to them! And after Joseph tells them who he is, of all the things he could have said to them. Look what he does say! As he reflects on the bigger picture of what God has been doing in all their lives.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. ~Genesis 45:4-5 (NIV)
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. ~ Genesis 45:8 (NIV)
Later on after his father Jacob dies, his brothers think Joseph might take the opportunity to repay them… he says to his brothers:
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. ~Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV)
Joseph recognised the hand of God in all that happened… that he was never far away… never out of control… it was all according to plan.
Get this, Joseph’s whole journey happened to ensure God’s people were preserved so that His promise would continue.
And Especially the life of Judah, who as we see in chapter 50, is the one through whom the promised saviour would come - the Lord Jesus…
Jesus would himself leave his father’s home in heaven to go through his own journey of suffering. He too would be rejected and plotted against by his fellow Israelites, them wanting to kill him out of jealousy. He too would be given over by them into the hands of foreigners to be unjustly trialed, falsely accused and horrifically crucified. And all the way through, in any moment, he could have stopped, he could have rejected God’s plan for him, he could have turned away. But just as Joseph remained faithful under trial - he too kept his heart set on God - as he prayed in the garden - father, not my will but yours be done!
And just like when our lives are turned upside-down we can feel like God doesn’t know what he’s doing… when Jesus was put up on that cross - the son of God - the one they called Lord and Messiah - as he hung there - it looked like God had failed! The disciples would have been crying out in their hearts - God why have you let this happen… what are you doing?? Do you know what you’re doing…?
But through that great event - At the hands of evil men - God was bringing about the ultimate good! The salvation of the world! Praise be to our God!!
What seemed like an absolute catastrophe, was God’s great wisdom and power displayed, that you and I would have the opportunity to be forgiven and come to God for eternal life, eternal blessing! Forgiveness and hope for a future. Jesus fulfilled God’s unbreakable promise by breaking the power of death. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for Good, to bring about what is now being accomplished, the saving of many lives!
And friends it’s that great event we continually look back to, to make sense of things when our lives are in turmoil. When life’s upside-down and we feel like we’re hitting rock-bottom, it’s the cross that enables us to see that God knows exactly what he’s doing! And he hasn’t forgotten us.
In Romans 8:28 God tells us!
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. ~Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)
He’s working all things so that we would become more and more like the Lord Jesus. More like God himself! And only God knows exactly what that takes! Is there any better thing to happen to us? Now WE may not have chosen the same path he chooses, but would you want to miss out on that outcome? No way!
God knows what it takes and he doesn’t make mistakes!
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once put it this way.
“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you, than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”
In every single moment God is working on and in your life! Right now!!!! And in every other moment! He’s not waiting until you get that promotion or until your kids grow up or until you’re “ready” he’s not waiting for your marriage to get better, or your struggle or suffering to disappear! He is working on you at every moment through your journey of life! How comforting is that!
The tricky thing is that in the moment when we don’t know exactly what he’s doing in a particular situation it can be very hard to trust him and stay faithful… Am I right?
What’s your usual response in suffering? In the midst of it I think for most of us our first response is - God is punishing me!
He doesn’t care… He’s left me… He’s against me… does He know what he’s doing..? How could he do this to me / Let this happen to me…?
We think God’s against us so we turn against him because we fail to see the bigger picture…that God is working behind the scenes to bring about good, to preserve our lives, to grow us in some way, to cause us to be a blessing to someone else in his good timing…
In the darkest moments of Joseph’s life Genesis tells us that God was with him! And friends in our darkest moments God is never far away, but very present!
In the moment though, it can feel the opposite and part of that is because we don’t know exactly what he IS doing! That’s because He doesn’t explicitly tell us! So, in the moment, it’s almost impossible to know or understand what God might be doing through any particular circumstance…
It’s impossible… you can guess, you can ask others.. but we often just can’t know.. Until later! That’s where the blessing of hindsight comes in. It’s only in hindsight… where we can look back on a situation and reflect on what God was doing that we can say with any clarity - that’s what God was doing… This is what God has done…
He was working something up I could never have imagined!
I may never have done it that way or asked him to do it that way, but the way He did it was the best way it could have happened to get me to where I am today! God knows best!! Even when it doesn’t feel that way… Amen?
So the question is - in the moment - how do we stay faithful!
Remember The Cross. Remember that God works through wickedness, darkness and suffering to bring about ultimate Good! Remember Joseph’s story. Remember Romans 8:28.
Remember who God is and how he works.
God hasn’t turned away from us, but is actively present with us
1 Peter 5:7 - cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)
God has given you a big family here, utilise them.
Think of the most beautiful painting, or sculpture or scenery you’ve ever seen… God, the master crafter is working to make you more beautiful than that!
Sally and I celebrated our 9 year anniversary this week. 9 years ago we had no idea what God was working on in us when narcolepsy came knocking on her door. There were times we were crying out to God why’s and what for’s… and ways we didn’t respond very well to what God was doing. But now as we look back we can see some of the beauty of what he was creating in us. Stripping away our pride. Forcing us to empathise with weakness. Showing us who’s God. Reminding us in such a real and ongoing way - You are not Jesus - you need Jesus! And we thank God each day for that reminder.
Narcolepsy doesn’t go away, it’s with Sally for life. But she’s come to the profound point of saying - I praise God for giving me narcolepsy.
Now I’m sure each and every one of you have your own struggles you’re working through, but friends let me encourage you not to make conclusions too early about what God is doing in you in the moment and let the master crafter do his work - he’s creating in you something far greater than you could ever make by fighting against His work!
Trust him! He’s never left you and he knows exactly what He’s doing.
If the Australian classification board was issuing ratings on Genesis then today's passage is clearly an 'R' rated passage. This is a story of rape and revenge and as the last two weeks has shown, that is nothing new. Repeated allegations of rape in Parliament and largescale sexual abuse in Private schools. The bible is a window into our broken world.
This awful story begins with a young girl Dinah, daughter of Jacob, who goes out to visit the women of the land. Dinah, probably 15 years old, would tragically pay a heavy price for her innocent curiosity.
Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. ~Genesis 34:1-2 (NIV)
The name of the rapist is Shechem, he is a prince from one of those nations. He sees vulnerable Dinah and takes advantage of his power, literally it reads
..the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. ~Genesis 34:2 (NASB)
This shameful and degrading rape is viewed as evil. We are told that such a thing should not be done, I know for a number of you this is a painful reminder of how you have been grossly sinned against. Our heart goes out to you and please take up the offer to call Kim or someone you can trust.
If you follow Jesus, any consensual sex outside of marriage violates God purposes, any attempt to arouse another, by touching, sexting, foreplay, oral or anal sex is off limits.
But how much worse when sexual advances are not consensual. No is No whether outside of marriage or inside of marriage. Remember, a drunk or drugged person is not able to give consent and the law will show no mercy.
Dinah was no ordinary women, a daughter of Jacob whom God promised to protect. The promise is that God will curse those who curse his people. But the strange twist is that Shechem falls in love with the woman he rapes
His heart was drawn to Dinah, daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. ~Genesis 34:3 (NIV)
This cruel man forces himself on this young woman and then tries to speak tenderly to her. It rings of the cycle of abuse which swings from rape to romance. Shechem is used to getting what he wants as the favoured son of the ruler, he is constantly indulged. We don’t love our kids if we don’t say No to them, everyone pays the price for bad parenting.
To be fair there is a law given later to Israel, (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) that if a man rapes a woman, he is to marry her. It sounds horrendous but the purpose was for men to assume full responsibility for their sexual sin, to take care of the women they have abused and to protect her from the shame he caused her.
Isn't it good we live in the New Testament.
Some think Shechem is trying to right a wrong but he is a spoilt brat, he doesn’t confess his sin and he still treats Dinah like she is an object
And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.” ~Genesis 34:4
Shechem does not know the God of Abraham, he has no sense that every person (male and female) is made in God's image.
But we do friends, the world unloads tons of porn and it objectifies humans, especially women, reducing them to objects.
If you drink from these stagnant pools long enough it feeds a spirit of demandingness. Pressure is put on loved one to engage in unwanted sexual experiences. When they refuse there are threats to withhold affection, they are manipulated by sulking until you get what you want and they even engage in spiritual abuse.
Disgraced evangelist Ravi Zacharius told his victims they should have sex with him because it’s a reward for him doing God's work.
Don’t let your sex life in marriage be driven by porn. We now run porn groups for men and women and it has helped so many be set free. Here is one lady’s story: "This small group of women allowed me to feel safe, and completely open on where I was and how I was struggling. I was no longer alone, and God had graciously provided me with a safe community to finally break down the root of my sins. For the first time in my life, I felt fully liberated to really embrace the beauty I was called for. To lean into the mercy found in Christ, and rid myself of all the guilt and shame the devil had deceived me to believe. Leading me into a more intimate relationship with the only person that should have had a throne in my heart, God."
Shechem's Dad asks Jacob and his Sons for his son to marry Dinah with not a hint of apology for raping Jacob’s daughter, just manipulative promises of land, trade, intermarriage and wealth.
With the promise that they could be ONE, WIN - WIN
Little did they know that God has repeatedly promised that Jacobs family will inherit the land and provide descendants and blessing without the help of one nations in that land. Then Shechem, who has no sense of self control raises the stakes.
Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.” ~Genesis 34:12 (NIV)
He can't even mention her name. Everyone is going to have to pay the price for his sin and greed. His lack of self control is driving this whole story. How often does it happen that one person's manipulation holds a whole community to ransom? If you feel taken advantage of by anyone at church, let us know.
I want to look at the response of Dinah's Father and then Dinah’s brothers. Dinah's father, Jacob, failed to act, his silence is deafening and he does nothing. I wonder, was it in part that Dinah was the daughter of the unloved wife, was Jacob prone to the ugly sin of favouritism.
His sons were furious because Jacob shows no emotion, why is he not angry? Remember: Dinah is held hostage by Shechem.
Jacob’s silence was certainly due to fear, he does not act like a man who has God on his side. First, he exposed his daughter to danger and now he is doing nothing to defend his daughter. I think Jacob was prepared to go ahead with the deal to give his daughter in marriage to her rapist.
Beware of old men who Pursue Peace without Justice. Right now Parliament has been exposed as having a culture that is complicit in sexual abuse. In response the government has come out guarding a very important principle “Innocent until proven guilty” but friends, it’s not the only principle. Power is given to leaders for them to make a way for the powerless to speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves. I'm not saying it’s always easy to know where to land but it must begin by giving a voice to the victims of sexual abuse.
Jacob’s backroom deals seek to cover up the rape of his daughter. Justice demands a response, with no Government to appeal to in the land of Canaan, Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, went to battle to protect his nephew Lot. Jacob does nothing because he was afraid, don’t let fear stop you from doing what is right. Make sure you speak up.
Jacob has created a vacuum of leadership for his sons to overreact to this sin. Remember: these are young men whose ages are 16-22 years. As someone put it like a cast from Hunger Games, Jacob’s sons take up where he failed to lead. The first reaction from the brothers was exactly right, both shock and anger.
Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done ~Genesis 34:7 (NIV)
With all the sins that are listed in Genesis and there have been many, it stands out as particularly evil. Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel as the brothers say to their Dad "he treated our sister like a prostitute".
Sometimes we are just not angry enough! Whether its abortion or racism.
But there is an offer on the table, tf the marriage goes ahead then these 2 clans can live together, trade, and intermarry. The sons of Jacob raise one objection, all the men of Shechem must be circumcised, the same organ that was used to rape Dinah will be cut back.
But his sons have another agenda, the real reason for circumcision is to revenge a rape, but Shechem and his Father don’t know that, they are just thrilled that they brokered a deal. But how do you persuade every man in your clan to go through the pain of circumcision?
We can’t get every Australian taking the COVID vaccine, so how do you persuade a whole town of men to get circumcised. Very simple greed, like any good politician, sweeten the deal, they make them an offer they can’t refuse. This marriage will bring wealth and women, proving that stupidity knows no limits.
And the plan seems to work, while the men of Shechem are in pain from the snip in the days before pain killers.
Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. ~Genesis 34:25 (NIV)
Apparently, the pain after circumcision is at its worst after 3 days.
It was then that Dinah's two blood brothers kill every male including the rapist and his father, they loot the City, they seize the flocks and herds, they carry off the women and children and they take back their sister, Dinah.
This was not justice, this was revenge, that is why the rule of law is so important. The sons of Jacob have way, way, way, over reacted. This is mass slaughter for one rape. I heard on the news how a woman's dog was killed by a burglar. Her response was “Life for Life” did she really want the burglar to die for killing her dog? No sense of proportion.
Robert Zimmerman once wrote It took a stranger to teach me to look into justice beautiful face and to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Proportional justice, an eye for an eye to stop matters from escalating.
I was talking to a single parent who just heard that her son was badly bullied that day at school. She said “if I get hold of that kid who did it I will kill him.” Its so easy to over react to injustice, I warned her to not over react or something worse will happen.
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” ~Genesis 34:30-31 (NIV)
Jacobs whole life was lived in fear and his fear fed his lies. He was terrified of his brother Esau for 20 years, his fear stopped him from protecting his daughter and now he lives in fear of pay back from other nations. Fear driven by a failure to trust in Gods promises
I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse ~Genesis 12:3 (NIV)
The people of Shechem found that out, you mess with God's people and you mess with God. This is not to justify what the brothers did and later Jacob issues a curse on his two sons.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers— their swords are weapons of violence.…Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! ~Genesis 49:7 (NIV)
These brothers turned an injustice as an excuse for wicked revenge and they became worse than the man who raped their sister.
I have come to understand that “My anger is worse than the thing I'm angry at.” I remember a counsellor asking me the question
‘What would happen if you said goodbye to angry Ray?’ I then shared that to a guy at church and he said ‘If I say goodbye to angry me (sinful anger) who will protect me in the face of injustice?’
We both knew the answer: The Lord Jesus Christ
One of those promises we trust is that “Vengeance is mine says the Lord I will repay”
It frees us up to not be afraid at home, at work, with friends or at school
In this passage the voice of God and of Dinah are silenced. When we stop listening to God’s word we will stop listening to the cries of those who can’t speak for themselves. Don't be part of the silent majority, act like God is on your side.
Growing up I had a very unique childhood. Unique not in the sense of growing up in the jungle, one of 12 kids, Mum was Beyonce, unique in the sense that at 3 years old, MBM was born and as I grew up so to did this church. We both went through various stages, growth spurts, awkward teen years, getting older, independence, it was a unique but precious upbringing I have had. Precious in seeing lives changed and transformed, story after story, people meeting Jesus and never being the same afterwards.
On this 30th anniversary of MBM we hear another transformation story, not from MBM but one of the first-ever. Jacob’s story and it’s a long story, Genesis 28-35. By the time we get through them all, we will be at the 31st anniversary.
God might be at work in transforming you, no matter where you are at.
1. Transformed by Grace
Quick bio: Jacob is the grandson of Abraham and Jacob is a man who you never feel you can trust. Jacob means deceiver and that is exactly what he does. He deceived his brother and Father by using his father’s disability against him and his brother's ego and love of food against him. He knows peoples weakness and preys on it.
After all this trickery and deception, hurt and pain and anger Jacob runs, he flees his family and heads into the wilderness.
He has nothing and exhausted he sleeps.
When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” ~Genesis 28:11-15 (NIV)
Now was Jacob searching for God? Running to him? Nope. Jacob was fleeing, from the consequences of his sin not seeking and yet God was seeking him.
I don’t know why you are here either onsite or online, this is not a chance encounter, it is not random, God is seeking you. The people that God is seeking are not those whose lives are together (Look at Jacob) but those who encounter him and know his undeserved love.
Did Jacob deserve this dream, was it part of God's promises? No! That’s called grace, undeserved kindness and love, the very thing God has shown you too.
There is no accident of the timing of this dream, in the wilderness where there is nothing, it's not a holiday location. Jacob physically had nothing. He grabs a rock for a pillow to sleep. Now I like a hard pillow, but there are limits. Jacob had hit Rock bottom. (Pun intended). Everything is taken away, and its Jacobs fault that he has nothing and then God gives him everything he needs, More!
Jacob could not say “Of course God loves me” when Jacob wakes up he asks why me? That’s Grace. It's no coincidence that people become Christians after they have hit rock bottom. When physically you have nothing to offer God and spiritually you have nothing to offer God.
John Gerstner said “If you want to become a Christian all you need is need. All you need is nothing and very few people have that.”
A young boy, who was handsome, strong and skilled at fighting. During a fierce battle the boy became frightened and hid in a cave. He was brought before Alexander The Great for judgement. Alexander asked, "Son, what is your name?" "Alexander" was his quiet reply. Alexander picked up a sword, raised it over the boys head and said, “Change your ways, or change your name!”
That is the way we expect people to change, just do it, fix yourself up and do better. Jesus comes to you if you are fleeing, running, in the cave, absolute worst, guilt and shame. Change your ways, but he knows you can’t, he raises the sword of judgment but turns the sword on himself. On that cross, Jesus condemned himself so that you free, the unlovable know they are loved and the sinners are forgiven.
God's love for you is not based on your performance, but on Gods character. Until you realise you are in need and have nothing to offer and accept the Grace given by God then your transformation will not begin, not last and will only be superficial at best.
Jacob gets it and is gobsmacked by it. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
But the road to transformation for Jacob had only just begun, the transformation of the Christian is slow and gradual and happens in ways we do not expect.
2. Transformed by others
God places people in your life to transform you and change you.
Enter Laban, it seemed like Jacob was stumbling along the dessert and just out to the blue, came along Laban. God was orchestrating it all for Jacob to meet his match. A deceiver for a deceiver, Jacob could trick everyone but not Laban. Laban wants Jacob to be paid for the work he was doing, enter his daughter, Rachel. It was love at first fight, meet round the old school water cooler (well). Jacob says ‘I will work for 7 years… and it felt like 7 days…”
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.” ~Genesis 29:21 (NIV)
You will notice Jacob does not say the word “Rachel.” But "wife". Laban uses this to his own advantage, he had an older daughter Leah, not beautiful and with a physical deformity, but he wanted her married off.
Now weddings are different then to how they are now, on the wedding night, no walking down the aisle, marriage happened at consummation. Jacob woke up shocked the next morning because when he awoke there was Leah!
What does Jacob say:
…So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” ~Genesis 29:25 (NIV)
Notice what Jacob does not say “Oh this is what it's like to be deceived, how horrible” How could I do this very thing to my Dad and brother. Jacob drank deeply of his own medicine and could not handle it.
Do you think that Jacob realises the hypocrisy? We often don’t.
God puts people into our lives, a mirror of ourselves. This is what life is like on the other side of you. Hurt and damage because of the sin you have caused. It's to expose our sin. An act of Grace to graciously show us, here is someone to show you, what you are like, eg People who are rude or arrogant or Gossipers who whinge about you. God put them in your life show you, you.
God is graciously putting mirrors in your life to show you the pain of your sin. Why? To prompt change, can you see it? can you feel it? It's okay for a week or two but you know Jacob dealt with Laban for 20 years. Jacob had 20 years to change his character.
But sometimes God places people in your life for even longer, enter Rachel and Leah, two sisters from birth.
Rachel who has everything going her way. She is hot, has a great figure: “Oh I am so annoyed, I lost 3 kgs” and Jacob loves her.
Leah has struggled all her life, guys looked at her but in disgust,
she struggles with weight and body image but Jacob puts up with her. Imagine how she felt on the 1st day of marriage.
But God placed them into one another’s lives, God placed Jacob in their life to expose who they truly worshipped. Where there is envy, bitterness, fighting and discontent, if you look underneath, they worship something other than God. They find their meaning, purpose, identity and longings in something other than God.
It's messy, they have babies to get the approval of their husband so that they can get the validation of their sister and be better. The law prohibits this
“Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living” ~Leviticus 18:18 (NIV)
God does not want them to stay like this. Transform his people but exposing our idols. God does it in different ways
Rachel had everything going for her, except she could not get pregnant. God withholds from her the very thing she wanted, and what she believes she was entitled to.
“Give me children, or I’ll die!” ~Genesis 30:1 (NIV)
Why? Rachel needed to be emptied of her pride and privilege before she would ever be filled. Gods decision that this is not her purpose, this is not her all and she is not in control. Was she listening? For Rachel when God stopped withholding and Naphtali her 2nd son was born
Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” ~Genesis 30:8 (NIV)
Do you think she really had won? Was she happy or satisfied?
Are you worshipping something that takes its toll, and the demands are great, are you sleepless, envious, annoyed, worried, empty, depressed. When you worship anyone other than God you never win.
God gives Leah a child, many in fact and the name of each of her children tells the journey she goes on, tells of her transformation.
...Reuben, for she said “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” ~Genesis 29:32 (NIV)
“Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. ~Genesis 29:33 (NIV)
“Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. ~Genesis 29:34 (NIV)
Just because God gives you something you want or answers prayers doesn’t always = good thing. God kept giving Leah son after son so this will make Jacob love me, appreciate me, notice me! This never fulfilled her deep longings.
Every idol, good things, relationships, children or approval of friends leaves you always wanting more. But you notice a change because God was working in her.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. ~Genesis 29:35 (NIV)
Change, even if my husband has not noticed me God has noticed me and that’s all that matters. Maybe not loved by him but loved by God, not seeking the praise of my husband but Praise the Lord. Satisfaction in God.
It was no accident that the son that changed her, Judah, it was from this son that would come the son of God and truly fill her.
The only one who will satisfy the longing that you have, like Leah, the son of Judah. Jesus Christ. The only one who never leaves, never forgets, never overlooks, always loves, always protects and always notices.
God is putting people in your life, FOR YOUR GOOD. GIVING AND WITHHOLDING….
Expose your own sins to yourself.
Expose the false idols we still cling on to.
Drawback to what you need and long for satisfaction, the never-ending, quenching love of Jesus Christ.
But God is not done with Jacob.
3. Transformed by Trials
20 years sees Jacob with Rachel and Leah, 12 boys, all livestock, head home, heading back to meet Esau. Expect a fighting match happens, but the fight we expect to happen between Jacob and Esau doesn’t happen, it happens with Jacob and God.
It’s the oddest and most unique moment in the Bible.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” ~Genesis 32:24-30 (NIV)
What is the point of this strange incident? Why did God deal with Jacob in that rough-and-tumble way? Wrestle? This was a trial, a physical trial, a test by God and with God. For his own good, to expose his faith.
Jacob had to learn an important lesson, he had always been fighting people, his Dad, his brother, Laban, causing fights between wives and his default was to trick and deceive his way to the top and behind him was a trail of broken relationships.
Gods goal in transforming Jacob was so that he knew that his ultimate struggle was NOT against others but against God. God was breaking down his strength, changing his character, exposing his need so that all that Jacob could do was cling to God.
Notice one thing, Jacob wanted to be left alone, but in this encounter, Jacob was seeking God. Jacob sought after God.
Old Jacob, 20 years before:
God had been working in his life and now it’s a different Jacob. Jacob is so different that we hardly recognise him. Trial exposes his faith and God had been radically working in this life. Jacob was given a completely new name (not a slight change like Abram to Abraham) but a complete transformation to Israel.
Now chances are you are not going to have this fight with God in this way, but trials will come for you to wrestle with God, and go on for a long time. These trials will push you to the limits, but God puts them in your life to show the change. It shows that you ARE BEING TRANSFORMED, your faith is stronger, you are more Christlike. The old you, reacted differently, the old you ran away, the old you relied on yourself. But that’s not you anymore.
Often, we don’t see the change in our spiritual life. This is not where I want to be, but by God's grace I am not what I use to be. God is in the business of transformation.
This is Jacobs story, what’s yours? I guarantee that the events in your story will be very different, I presume no dreams, no multiple wives and no wrestling matches with God. But that moments of transformation will be similar. God puts trials to expose your faith. The Holy Spirit is at work and you’re not who you use to be.
For 30 years, this church’s heartbeat has been on about Gods heartbeat, ‘To see lives transformed through Jesus to the glory of God.’ Story after story of men and women, young and old, born here or overseas, different nations, cultures and tribes, dysfunctional and messy lives, organised and lovely, meeting Jesus Christ, and never being the same afterwards.
By Gods grace, many more stories like Jacobs and yours transformed through Jesus to the glory of God.
There are two groups of people in this world, there are firstborns and there are later borns. That’s me, I’m a later born.
My brother is 6 years older than me and it certainly had its benefits when we were growing up. For instance, I had my very own Uber driver, only I didn’t have to pay. And back in the day when he bought the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Mega-Drive with his hard-earned cash, guess who got to play it for free? Mind you, he also got his pound of flesh from me, I didn’t stand a chance when it came to rumbling. He’d make me answer the phone (remember when there was just one landline home phone?) I’d be the one who’d have to go fetch the ball that went under the trees or climb under the bed, where it was all dusty. And of course, being the shorter one, he’d make me wipe the skirting boards when it came to the chores.
You know, there’s been a whole heap of studies done relating to birth order, with the common belief that birth order affects everything from IQ (sorry later borns, firstborns are higher) to personality to behaviour. So firstborns tend to be high achievers, perfectionists, rule keepers and responsible. Middle children are peacemakers, free spirits, competitive and flexible.
The youngest children are charmers, risk-takers, they challenge authority and are outgoing with a greater sense of independence.
Well, today we’re going to meet a family for whom birth order definitely mattered. In fact, there was a heck of a lot more at stake than personality. Romans 4:13 says that Abraham and his offspring after him received a promise to be - and I quote - “heir of the world” Whoa! The stakes don’t get any higher than that! And so it’s no surprise that there’ll be deceit, dysfunction and disobedience. We’re about to meet one messy family!
That’s one of the things I love about the Bible. If you’ve not read much of it then I invite you to take another look. It’s not full of squeaky-clean characters, who get it right all the time. No, it’s honest, it’s raw and it recognises that just like us, these guys stuffed up. Their world is our world, we’re all searching for hope and for forgiveness.
But first, before we see who’s going to claim the throne “heir of the world”, there needs to be a child and ideally at least two children. Abraham has died at the ripe old age of 175. Come Genesis 25:19, just as one chapter closes another one begins. Enter Isaac and his wife Rebekah, upfront we’re told, that just like Abraham and Sarah, this couple is also infertile.
If God’s going to come through on his promise that Abraham will have as many descendants as the stars in the sky then God himself will step in. This isn’t going to happen by sheer human guts and determination. And after Isaac prays, 20 years later, the Lord answers with twin boys! Hooray!
Now I’m sure the mums out there will all agree that any pregnancy is tough. It just dawned on me as I was writing this sermon that my wife, Teresa has spent 9 months x 4 kids. That’s 36 months, that’s 3 years of her life, carrying another life inside her body! And that’s not to mention the sleepless nights, sicknesses and stress that’s come with it! That’s at least another 3 years!
Rebekah’s pregnancy we’re told is particularly rough. Science tells us that twins in the womb start interacting from the age of 14 weeks. Let’s listen in to the sort of interaction Rebekah’s twins were having.
The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” ~Genesis 25:22 (NIV)
The original is more in-your-face, literally, it’s “the children smashed themselves inside her”. There’s a war going on in the womb to the point of Rebekah questioning why she’s even alive. God, you put these twins in my tummy what the heck’s going on? God answers
The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” ~Genesis 25:23 (NIV)
What Rebekah’s feeling is that it’s all God’s fault, you can’t blame bad genes from the parents, instead, God’s the one to blame.
God’s plan is this, both boys will make it out alive and they’ll grow up to be the fathers of nations. Which is true, Jacob was the father of Israel and from Esau came the Edomites. And what’s true in the womb, will continue out of the womb, division, disagreements and deception. The younger one will call the shots.
And sure enough, their entry into the world, even their names reflect this. Esau pops out first and he is one hairy dude. Usually, you see baby pictures and everyone says “Oh look, a full head of hair”. That was Esau, only the hair kept going!! hair all over his body.
No way was this kid Chinese! I could never grow a beard and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with back hair! This kid was definitely Middle Eastern. Then hot on his heels, literally, is Jacob, he pops out with a hand grasping Esau’s heel. His name means deceiver!
Each of my kids, more than once, have asked me, usually in a moment of weakness like when I’m about to doze off or when I’m distracted in the kitchen or driving along the M4. “Daddy am I your favourite child?” Any other parent here been asked that?
So far I’ve managed to cotton on to their ploy and my answer is always very diplomatic. To my only boy, I say: “You’re my favourite SON” and to the youngest girl, I say: “Absolutely, you’re my favourite 7-year-old in the whole wide world”
Well, there’s no diplomacy when it comes to Isaac and Rebekah, what you see is what you get.
The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. ~Genesis 25:27-28 (NIV)
Esau is daddy’s boy and Jacob is mummy’s boy.
The stage is set for one dysfunctional family. Here’s the gunpowder and there’s the matches. The fireworks are about to go off! Over a tussle between birthrights and blessing.
Now along the way, I’m going to point out two small lessons, but that’s nothing compared to the really big lesson which we’ll come to at the end.
Lesson 1: Satisfying your senses is not your highest priority.
Sure enough what was true IN the womb. The niggling, the jostling and the grabbing ends up being true OUTSIDE the womb too. Only with Jacob and Esau - this sibling rivalry is taken to a whole new level!
Take the things that my kids fight over, things like, why does one child get to have a sleepover? Why does my sister get more screentime? Why does he get a more expensive bubble tea?
Jacob has got bigger ambitions, he’s got his sights set on Esau’s birthright.
Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” ~Genesis 25:29-31 (NIV)
Now in the ancient world, if you were the first male out of the womb, and that meant special privileges: a larger inheritance, a bigger blessing, family leadership and an honoured place at mealtimes, this was your birthright. As you can imagine, it’d be PRETTY hard for someone to steal your birthright, either you popped out first or you didn’t. Well, that didn’t stop Jacob from trying!
And so here you’ve got Esau, not only is he the eldest but he’s the eldest in a family and hand-picked by God himself! No other person on the face of the earth could make this claim! Yet how does he treat this privilege? Two words: like rubbish. Esau’s more interested in having a full belly instead of treasuring the very thing that made him unique. Guaranteed the next day, he would have woken up hungry again!
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left… ~Genesis 25:34 (NIV)
Notice how matter of fact it’s described to us. Esau ate. Esau drank. Esau got up and left. Bang. Bang. Bang. The writer is deliberately trying to convey how flippant Esau was, how blasé he was about the whole thing, he couldn’t care less. Esau’s highest priority is feeling good right now.
Esau not only rejected his birthright.
...So Esau despised his birthright. ~Genesis 25:34 (NIV)
Esau had never heard of something called delayed gratification. He’d only heard of instant gratification. Right here. Right now. I want it now. I must have it now. Mind you, we can’t just point the finger at Esau, can we?
Look, there are times where I get it, we don’t deliberately do it, but we can so easily get fixated on the here and now because stuff and life just happens. Bills need to be paid, repairs need to get done, work deadlines pop up, relationships get messy or we get sick. And then when we’ve got a spare moment or two, we resort to temporary pleasures that kind of help us to escape all the mundane.
For me, I’ve realised that one of my weak spots is Facebook Marketplace. What often begins by just looking for one thing, like a kids bike escalates to, oh, gee - I’d like that home gym or how cool would it be to buy a motorhome! Facebook’s algorithm is so good at just luring me towards other things, other stuff I don’t need, other stuff I didn’t go looking for, but stuff that makes me think, oh yeah, it’d be cool to have that.
Or ‘Teresa, I think we really do need an Xbox, look it’ll even play DVDs!’
Lesson 2: Let God be God
Fast forward to Genesis 27, Isaac’s nearing the end, his eyesight’s starting to go and the time has now come to pass on God’s blessing to his son. Now Isaac’s known all along, right from the get-go, from when they were in the womb, that God had chosen Jacob instead of his preferred hairy, macho, game-hunting Esau. Jacob was already handpicked by God, announced while they were in the womb, to be next in line for God’s special blessing. But that didn’t stop his dad from having a crack.
Isaac goes against God’s plan. He wants to go his way rather than God’s way. Well, we know how that’s going to end... not a chance! And so what plays out in Chapter 27 is not so much twin versus twin but husband versus wife, mum versus dad with the kids caught in the middle.
It begins when Isaac pulls Esau aside.
Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” ~Genesis 27:4 (NIV)
What is it with Isaac and Esau? all they can do is think with their stomachs, like father, like son! Isaac is so desperate that his entire soul wants to pass his blessing onto Esau. But Rebekah catches wind of her husband’s plan.
Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ ~Genesis 27:6-7 (NIV)
Rebekah puts her favourite son, Jacob, to work. Fetch me some goats from out back and I’ll whip them up the way my hubby likes it. Rebekah’s smart, she knows the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It certainly is for me! I’ve always said forget words of affirmation, forget gifts; food is my love language.
But probably the most cunning thing Rebekah does is still to come but the plan hits a snag.
Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” ~Genesis 27:11-12 (NIV)
Take a listen to what mum says next.
His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” ~Genesis 27:13 (NIV)
Hang on - what did she say? We’ve already heard how Isaac - how with every fibre of his being - how he wanted to give Esau his blessing with his entire soul. That’s now matched by Rebekah. She’s willing to cop her son’s curse, to let it fall on her! Husband and wife are definitely not on the same page here! As they use their children as pawns in a chess game.
Rebekah will even go to the lengths of giving Esau’s clothes, his best clothes! to Jacob, not only will Jacob look like Esau but he’ll smell like him too! But the costume design still isn’t complete, to solve the smooth skin problem, Rebekah has saved some of the goatskin which she whacks on Jacob’s neck. She shoves a plate of stew in his hands and sends him off to feed his dad. Rebekah’s plan is nearly complete, there’s just one more hurdle. Actually selling it to her husband! For that to happen, Jacob has to lie, not once, not twice but three times.
To Isaac’s question, “Is it you Esau”, Jacob answers
…“I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” ~Genesis 27:19 (NIV)
To Isaac’s question, how did you get this food so quickly? Jacob’s response
“The LORD your God gave me success,” ~Genesis 27:20 (NIV)
Errrrrr…… Flat out lie. Jacob brings God into this when this was Rebekah’s conniving plan all along. Isaac asks one more time, the voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are hairy like Esau’s.
“Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “I am,” he replied. ~Genesis 27:24 (NIV)
And with that, Isaac is fooled into thinking he’s talking to Esau and poetically and passionately he hands over his blessing.
…“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. ~Genesis 27:27 (NIV)
And then thinking he’s managed to out-do God by overturning the earlier prophecy to Rebekah while the twins are in the womb. Isaac passionately blurts out:
May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. ~Genesis 27:29 (NIV)
Jacob has successfully managed to pull, not the wool, but the goatskin over his father's eyes! This sad episode of events points to one thing and one thing only. A failure to let God be God.
First, there’s the failure to let God work things out in His timing.
Jacob knows he’ll eventually receive God’s blessing but he just wants it on his terms.
Second, Rebekah just can’t help herself, she jumps in to do the work of the Holy Spirit!
Third, Rebekah somehow justifies that because she’s nudging God’s will along. Bringing it to fruition as if that somehow excuses her dodgy behaviour. And Isaac, he’s got the guts to take God on and try to reverse which son will get his blessing.
Main lesson: God will come good on his promises.
Sure he may not do it when WE want him to but he WILL do it.
No ifs, no buts. He’s not going to let poor eyesight or a love of venison or one chaotic family get in the way.
Is this not a rebuke for all the times we’ve tried to take matters into our own hands? Or when we’ve tried to force God’s hand to achieve an outcome instead of letting God be God.
Let me share with you two areas where I’m trying to let God be God. First with the launch of MBM Parramatta, as we’re making decisions, as we’re day-dreaming about what church might and could look like. As a launch team, we’ve got our hopes and dreams and it’s exciting! But in amongst that, I need to rest on the promise that Jesus is building his church not Dan Lee. He’s committed to building it more than I am!
And second, I need to let God be God when it comes to parenting! Oh man, as a parent, I can so identify with Rebekah. Rebekah was the first helicopter parent and she won’t be the last. She so hovers over one son, whilst totally neglecting the other. When it comes to my kids, I so often find myself protecting them and shielding them. Yes, it’s a natural thing to want what’s best for your kids but there’s a line you can cross in wanting it too much.
Dan - resist the urge to step in and play God to my kids! Where I think as long as they go to the right school, that I give them the best opportunities. Sport. Music. That I try to make sure they hang around the right kids. I’m facing it now as a parent of a high-schooler, she’s navigating her own new world of independence, catching the train to school, having a phone and making decisions for herself.
If you’re like me, prone to try to control everything, to micro-manage the inputs so that the right outputs come about then the word for you and I is this.
Trust that God’s got it sorted.
That he doesn’t need our help to bump things along. He’s come through on all his other promises.
I’m pretty sure, he’s capable of coming through on the remaining ones. It’s as clichéd as that. But it’s as difficult as that!
Well, there’s been plenty of incidental lessons we’ve picked up along the way as we’ve traced Isaac’s family but none of those things are the main point of the story. So what is the main point? It’s this, God commits to messy people to show that his purposes WILL not and CAN not be thwarted.
Is Isaac’s family not one messed up family?! Lies. Deceit. Stealing. Cheating. Rivalry. Jealousy. Favouritism. These are everyday norms in this household. And yet, despite all that messiness. All that ugliness. God’s still committed to NOT breaking his promise.
Whereas we might be tempted to give up and to stay away from a family like this. God’s got other plans, He doesn’t give up on the line of Abraham just because there’s some disobedience. Some deceit. Some dysfunctional characters. It’s messy. Our God loves to work in and through the mess. It doesn’t take him by surprise. In fact, he uses the mess. The messiness of one hand-picked family, to bring about his promises.
Take Isaac, not exactly the pin-up boy celebrity, that you’re going to ask for his autograph when you meet him in heaven.
Unlike a good red wine, it seems as if he gets worse with age and I don’t mean physically. His commitment to God’s promises seems to fade over time. Let that be a warning to us, we want our best days as Christians to be ahead of us, not behind us.
Take Rebekah, we love her proactiveness but she’s not exactly the model of trusting God wholeheartedly is she? There are no shortcuts when it comes to godliness.
Take Jacob, we wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him!
'Deceiver' isn’t his middle name it’s his first name and boy does he live up to it.
Take Esau, he shoves his God-given birthright down the toilet.
Gee, you put each person side by side, next to each other and it’s a wonder God even chose them in the first place.
Chatting with Teresa, she’s a firstborn, I asked her how she felt about Esau missing out. She said “typical, younger kids always get away with it. Jacob doesn’t get punished at all. He totally went about it the wrong way.
It got me thinking, we often sing of God’s amazing grace but very rarely do we speak of God’s offensive grace. God’s scandalous grace, which this story of Jacob and Esau is all about.
God chooses who he chooses. He has mercy on who he has mercy. Listen carefully to how Romans 9 quotes Genesis 25.23
Yet, before the twins (that’s Esau and Jacob) were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” ~Romans 9:11-12 (NIV)
Does that not affirm that God has the right to call the shots or what? While they were in the womb, before Jacob deceived and Esau was off hunting deer. God chose.
Look, every Christian believes that they choose God and God chooses them. It’s just that some people think that God chose them because He knew I was already going to choose him. It’s back to front because that makes God sound passive. Well, this verse knocks that on the head, God is entirely on the front foot, He makes the decision. And I for one, am so thankful that it’s not on the basis of what I’ve done outside the womb! Because if God only accepted me on the basis of what I’ve done outside of the womb than man I’d be in big trouble! And I suspect you would be too.
No - God only accepts you and I on the basis of what another, what someone else, in our place has done outside the womb, the Lord Jesus.
In the Lord Jesus, we have one who is like us, who breathes the same air as us, who faces the same issues as us. Without the mess, without the stuff-ups. And yet he willingly dies in our place to pay for every stupid and selfish action of Isaac. Every conniving and deceitful scheme of Jacob. Every manipulative move of Rebekah. Along with all the other messed up things you and I bring to the table.
So, come, firstborns, later borns. Come middle children. Come youngest children. Come all you perfectionists. Come all you competitive. Come all you free spirits. Come all you rebellious spirits. God wants you to be part of his forever family. A family that has been purchased by the blood of his one and only Son.
A family that out of love, was hand-picked before the creation of the world.
Does God ask the impossible? Has he put you in a situation that you can't be expected to obey? Is it true he won't let you be tempted beyond what you can bear? If anyone could make that claim it was Abraham.
Today's passage is the climax of the faith journey of Abraham, it began with promises made to 75-year-old Abraham. At age 100, Abraham saw the fulfilment of one of those promises, the birth of Isaac to Sarai.
It was a great way to end a story 25 years in making. But apart from the laughter by Sarah and the circumcision of Isaac, it’s a touch of an anticlimax. The real high point comes in Genesis 22, this is the single greatest expression of faith in the Old Testament. We might say of Abraham what Jesus said of the Centurion “Nowhere in the whole Old Testament have we seen faith like this”. Like us he is on a journey learning to trust in the promises of God.
Abraham had good reason to trust, with the miraculous birth of a son, he is assured of a nation, with the treaty with Abimelech he is assured of his place in the land, with the removal of Ishmael the line of Isaac is secure. No one could see what God had in mind for Abraham.
1. The Lord tests his friend Abraham
Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” ~Genesis 22:1-2 (NIV)
We have questioned the ethics of Abraham, Lot and Sodom and now we are tempted to question the ethics of God himself. It's tempting to take out the scissors and cut this out of the bible, but once you understand how it fits in the bible you want to bring the magnifying glass over this passage. Remember: Testing is not Tempting. The purpose of a Test is for us to grow our faith and deepen our dependence on God. The purpose of a Temptation is for our faith to fail, for us to give up and turn away from God. God tests and Satan tempts.
When my daughter Maddy was young, we would play French cricket, she said: “Dad when you hit the ball you want me to catch it when I hit the ball I want you to miss it.” That is right Maddy! That is why I'm like God and you’re like Satan” God wants to test our faith and grow it and Satan wants to tempt our faith and fail.
The shock of this test may not have been as great for Abraham. Abraham came from a world where people sacrificed humans. They did it in Ur and in the land of Canaan where he lives. In fact, human sacrifice has occurred in nearly every continent for anyone likely to be unhinged. Be assured, God will never ask anyone to do what Abraham was asked to do. There are 100 verses in the Bible against human sacrifice. All of which was written after Abraham.
They built high places …to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. ~Jeremiah 32:35 (NIV)
God never intended Abraham to go ahead with the sacrifice, He says human sacrifice is detestable, it never even entered his mind. But at this stage, Abraham does not know that and what is so heart wrenching is that the one about to be sacrificed is, your son, your only son, whom you love. It was not just a quick break of the neck, it was a whole burnt offering. Abraham’s first response is his willingness to listen, Here I am Lord. What is surprising is the lack of emotion, Abraham was distressed when Ishmael was sent away but there is no mention of distress in this passage.
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” ~Genesis 22:3-5 (NIV)
Abraham doesn’t procrastinate, he is up early the next morning He is distracted, he saddles the donkey which is work normally for a servant. He is confused, the donkeys are loaded before the wood is cut. It’s a 3-day journey to the place of sacrifice, 3 long days to carry this burden, 3 long days to change his mind.
What is going on in Abraham mind?
Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. ~Hebrews 11:19 (NIV)
Abraham approaches this test knowing 2 things, God promised to bless the world through his son Isaac and God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. The only way Abraham resolved the problem is by understanding that God would raise Isaac back to life. We know that because
…We (Isaac and I) will worship and then we will come back to you.” ~Genesis 22:5 (NIV)
The Isaac he goes up the mountain to sacrifice will be the Isaac who will come back down the mountain. It is no less an extraordinary act of faith. So Abraham obeys God but the tension is excruciating.
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. ~Genesis 22:6-8 (NIV)
2. Its the Lord who Provides
Isaac, now a teenager is strong enough to carry the wood, the tender language increases the tension “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. As Abraham carries a knife in one hand ready to plunge it into his son, and he carries fire in the other hand to burn up his son's body, Isaac is unaware of what is going down, just trusting his beloved Father. When Isaac asked the obvious he is told “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” He never dreamed it would be him.
Then the hour comes, they arrive at the God-appointed place. The altar is built. The wood arranged. Isaac is bound up and laid on the altar.
Then he [Abraham] reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. ~Genesis 22:10 (NIV)
Stop! He really was going to do it!!!! Abraham would not withhold even his son, his only son, from God. Abraham was saying to God “Everything I have and everything I am is yours Lord” At which point God steps in.
But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” ~Genesis 22:11-12 (NIV)
Imagine for a moment if God did not step in, what a different God we would worship. What a different world this would be. God would be no better than Satan himself.
This was a unique test and Abraham passed the test, he was found faithful. He was already justified by faith alone, but that faith that was justified is a true faith, marked out with a radical obedience. He withheld nothing from God. God knows that Abraham truly fears him. Abraham was right
So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” ~Genesis 22:14 (NIV)
Notice the future tense, On the mountain of the 'Lord will provide'. God's people waited 2000 years to see how God will provide. Until John the Baptist pointed to Jesus saying:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! ~John 1:29 (NIV)
This passage has all the co-ordinate to understand the cross of Christ
a) The God-appointed place
Mount Moriah is the same place where Solomon built the temple (2 Chronicles 3), 1000 years later. It's same place where Christ will be sacrificed, once for all at the cross 2000yrs later.
b) The God-appointed person
Isaac was Abraham's one and only son whom he loved. Ultimately it would be God himself who would offer his one and only Son,…whom the Father loves.
Can't help but think of John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
c) The God-appointed sacrifice
He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. ~Genesis 22:13 (NIV)
The Ram was offered “instead of his son” God's one and only Son would be offered instead of us.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. ~Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)
In the movie - the Doctor, a skilled surgeon is about to go into life-threatening surgery as a patient and he is scared. As he is laying on the table a fellow doctor comes alongside and says “Bill, do you want me to go with you” Bill says “I don't want you to go with me, I want you to go instead of me.” Isaac rejoiced to see the Ram take his place and we rejoice to see Christ take our place at the cross.
One Jewish Rabbah Midrash commentary on this passage says Isaac carried the “wood on his back like a condemned man carrying the cross.” This has Jesus fingerprints all over it. The big difference here though is Isaac was both ignorant and passive in his silent acceptance while Jesus fully understood and was actively obedient in his silent acceptance.
With Christ, we have the first consenting sacrifice in the bible. The cross is no act of child abuse. “I lay down my life and I take it up again”
3. The Lord who makes an oath
It’s the only time God makes an oath by himself.
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” ~Genesis 22:15-18 (NIV)
The promises of God are expanded again, descendants as like sand of the sea not just stars of the sky, blessings include victory over enemy cities, blessings which were grounded in promises of God are also grounded through the obedience of Abraham.
So now we see that
• Those promises to bless the world now turn on a God who makes an oath by himself to keep his word, locked in
• Promises turn on God the Father who will provide by not withholding his one and only son
• Promises turn on the willing sacrifice who is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
• There will be no blessing without the seed of Abraham bound on that wooden cross.
In view of those many mercies, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.
Here is the big idea: God will never ask of you what only He can do–Offer his one and only Son. But he calls you to offer your body as a living sacrifice and yes that means your faith will be tested. Not as a trip hazard to catch you out but as a Father shaping his children to become more like Christ.
I was talking to some friends about this passage, the wife shared how she didn’t like the idea of God testing us, as if God were some insecure lover trying to catch us out. Then she talked about how seriously unwell she has been for the last 6 weeks. She said “I have never felt more loved by my husband” Her husband's love was tested through the suffering and it exposed a deeper love for her. Testing is a good thing, friends.
If Augustine is right then sin is in part disordered loves. We love the wrong things or we love the right things the wrong order: we love our dog or car or sport more than people of God; we love our jobs more than our family; we love our family more than we love God; we love somethings too much and other things too little.
Times of testing clarify. Do I truly fear God more than others? Do I love him more than anything or anyone? If Comfort is your god, you will resent God testing you. I’m tempted to say: "I want a quiet life. Lord, leave me alone." If pleasure is your idol you will medicate or blame others through Gods sometimes painful providence.
For us to mature, God places us in situations like a broken heart, a lost dream, a failed project or a tragic loss, they challenge us to re-arrange priorities, to re-order our loves so we can say “Lord everything I have and everything I am is yours.” Can you pray to God, “Lord if anything bad happens to my kids and grandkids…may I never stop trusting that you are Good.”
There is nothing in your life off limits to God, He can ask you to change or remove or re-align an area of your life, but God moves at the pace we can manage. He did not ask Abraham to sacrifice his son at Genesis 12 that came 40 years later.
How is God using COVID to re-order your loves? Are you leaning into God or lounging back from him? Has COVID caused you to push toward God or to push God and his people away? Make these COVID days your best days as a Christian, but you can't face any test unless you know this promise.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? ~Romans 8:31-32 (NIV)
I must warn you that this passage covers graphic sins. God chose Abraham so that he and we will as Genesis 18:19 says:
…keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just… ~Genesis 18:19 (NIV)
The challenge is to know what is right and just in every aspect of life, from indigenous injustice, marital conflict, courtroom verdicts or work disputes. Of course, there is no justice if there is no judge or if the judge of all the earth does not do right.
Certainly, the God of Abraham keeps his promises.
1. Promise to bless
Three angels come in human form to Abraham, they let him know that Sarai will be with child within a year. Nothing new, its a promise repeated many times over 25 years, this time we have a timetable – 365 sleeps. It’s the difference between knowing Jesus is coming back and knowing Jesus is coming back in January 2022.
90-year-old Sarah burst out in doubt-filled laughter and when confronted about this, Sarah lied, reminding us that God does not need our faith to do miracles. In response the angel of the Lord said:
Is anything too hard for the Lord? ~Genesis 18:14 (NIV)
If that is hard then try promising a baby to a young virgin. Nothing is impossible for God, He can turn guilty sinners into forgiven saints, He can raise the dead and give life.
2. The Angel of the Lord also brings the promise of judgment.
God tells his friend Abraham of his plans to judge
Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. ~Genesis 18:20-22 (NIV)
God comes in response to the great cry of distress about the great sin of Sodom. But God is just and will not punish cities without all the facts, 2 of the 3 angels welcomed by Abraham now go to Sodom to find out firsthand the reports. One of the 3 - the angel of the Lord - remains with Abraham. God opens the door for his friend to plead for the city and Abraham takes up the opportunity. This is the first case of intercession, Abraham begins with a question
Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” ~Genesis 18:23 (NIV)
Will innocent victims get caught in the crossfire of God's Judgment? Can God be just and allow collateral damage? But as is often the case, our problem with Gods justice is tied to a person. We may have a problem with Hell, we may feel like punishment is greater than the crime, but what makes us feel the problem is because we loved people who don’t love Jesus and are facing a Christless eternity.
For Abraham his nephew Lot is in Sodom about to get nuked, if Sodom goes so will Lot. As important as Lot is, God's justice is even more important, Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing —to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” ~Genesis 18:24-25 (NIV)
I’m not sure whether Abraham is telling God he shouldn’t or asking God not to or declaring that he won't or a bit of all three.
Everything hangs on that the judge of all the earth does right, if he doesn’t then there is no hope for the rest of us. God allows Abraham to ask, question and probe because Abraham is pleading the case for the righteous
The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” ~Genesis 18:26 (NIV)
How many righteous people will it take before God will spare the city? 50, 45, 30, 20,10
What is clear is that God is just and merciful, God will not let the righteous be punished with the wicked and God will let the wicked be saved for the sake of the righteous.
What a day Abraham had: promised a son, meeting 3 angels and intercedes for a city. All in a day's work, being God's friend gives you access to his plans and with it comes responsibility. You know Jesus is coming to judge the earth - That at the name of Jesus every knee will bow.
Prayer is such a neglected privilege for Gods people. Abraham pleaded for Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous people, we plead to God for others because of the one righteous one who was obedient all the way to death on a cross.
I beg you to pray for your love ones, plead to God that you would be bold enough to invite them to Explaining Christianity this Tuesday. Pray to God that they would say 'Yes', ask God to open their hearts. Who knows how history could have been re-written if there were not Christians interceding in cities and nations around the world.
Oh, the privilege of intercession, I think of a family whose mother died, leaving behind 3 teenagers and the father who is not a believer but 5 years later all 3 teenagers came to Christ through MBM, only to find that their neighbour has been praying for each of those 3 kids.
I remember one testimony of a woman who along with her friend both came to Christ after leaving school. They contacted their old Maths teacher who they knew was a Christian who had witnessed to them. He told them he had a floor plan of the class with each student and would pray for them each day that they may be saved. Friends don’t neglect the privilege of intercession.
3. Judgment begins
The 2 angels meet Lot at the town gates of Sodom and Lot pleads with them to stay under his roof and not in the town square. We don’t know how big the city is but we know how bad it is. We are told that every male in every part of the city, both young and old demand to rape Lot's guests.
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” ~Genesis 19:4-5 (NIV)
So much for the good old days, this is not some invite to a consensual gay orgy, this is gang rape and they will not take “No” for an answer, no substitutes will do
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” ~Genesis 19:6-8 (NIV)
At this point we have just one question, why on earth did Lot offer his daughters, why didn’t Lot offer himself, unless they have already raped him. The bible does not justify Lot's act just as it did not approve of Abraham abandoning Sarah in Egypt. The bigger issue is that such wickedness has been going on for a very long time in this city, 20 years earlier we are told that the men of Sodom were sinning greatly against the LORD. God himself would not let Lots daughters pay the price, He will not let the righteous pay the penalty for the unrighteous. So the rapists were struck down with blindness and restrained. Notice the responses to the loving warning of judgment
a. Sons-in-law laugh in the face of warnings
Lot pleaded with the men of Sodom to not rape his guests and now he pleads with his sons-in-law to hurry and escape
But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. ~Genesis 19:14b (NIV)
The idea of a 2nd coming and the existence of hell is viewed as ridiculous. Our world lives in the moment and for the moment and warning people to escape hell is seen as manipulative but isn't that what every shark sign on beaches is doing.
Listen to what Jesus said:
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. ~Luke 12:5 (NIV)
The advantage of getting people to read the bible is that Jesus gets to say it.
b. Lot himself lingers
As the angels drag Lot into the house, now they drag Lot out of the city
With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. ~Genesis 19:15-16 (NIV)
Do you know the Urgent-Important matrix? This would be both important and urgent. The angels have one word, Hurry. My mum would tell me that when the sirens went on during the war in Malta you didn’t finish your cup of tea, once those bombs fell that was it.
The angels tell Lot to head for the hills and he, unbelievably, negotiates where to go
But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” ~Genesis 19:19a-20 (NIV)
What a fool, you would think the angels would know where was the safe place to go.
I remember a well-known doctor being asked on TV, what will it be like when he meets God? He said “I guess there will be a bit of negotiation taking place” That man died and has met the God who does not negotiate.
The sons-in-law laugh, Lot himself lingers and Lots wife longingly looks back.
c. Lots wife longingly looks back
They are explicitly told not to look back on the city of Sodom, but Lots wife looks back and places herself under the same judgment.
But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. ~Genesis 19:26 (NIV)
Her heart was still in the city of Sin and now her body was destroyed in the judgment of that city. She had become like the rest of Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t look back, don’t go back, don’t love the world, it is passing away and so will you if you love it.
d. Judgment day has come—this is a taste of hell itself.
… he [God] condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; ~2 Peter 2:6 (NIV)
This judgment is just, it is personally handed out from the Lord. This judgment is permanent. They rebuilt Hiroshima after WWII but they never rebuilt Sodom, the Judgment serves as an example to all, friends God don’t make promises he don’t keep. God commands all people everywhere to repent or else.
Just when you think it could not get worse for Lot he finally runs to the Mountains to live in a cave with his daughters. Lot's daughters realise there are no men to have children with and they panic and get their Dad drunk and have sex with him. We now move from gang rape to incest.
They clearly learnt from Sodom and not the judgment on Sodom. Lot has reaped what he had sown, he led his daughters into Sodom, he offered to hand them over to rapists and now he is himself raped by his own daughters. Each daughter gave birth to a son and each son fathered a nation, the Moabites and the Ammonites. It was the Moabites who lured Israel to idolatry and sexual immorality and the story goes on.
You sow a wind - you reap a whirlwind
Sin of one generation - passed on to the next
Flee from sexual immorality 1 Corinthians 6:18. Run don’t walk, for your sake, for the sake of your family/church and for the sake of the next generation. Brothers and sister its not just about you. If your hand causes you to sin, don’t get a manicure, cut it off.
Sexual sin thrives in the dark and dies in the light, come clean with others, let's be a community that does not pretend, we know grace enough to confess our sin to one another.
There is a sin greater than the sin of Sodom, Jesus said to a town of Capernaum who saw his miracles.
… you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you [Capernaum] had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” ~Matthew 11:23-24 (NIV)
Capernaum is guilty of a greater sin and a greater judgment than Sodom. What? Because rejecting Jesus is even more serious than gang rape. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But let me leave you there, Lot is such a flawed person, on the one hand he is atrocious, he exposes his family to sin, he abandons his daughters. On the other hand, he is described as a righteous man who pleads with others to be saved, he grieves over the sin of Sodom and he heeds the call to run. He is like you and me, by nature Gods enemy and by grace Gods friend.
Christians are at the same time both righteous and sinners. In verse 29, Lot is saved because God remembered his gracious promises to Abraham and we are saved because God remembers his gracious promises in Christ.
The good news, from Moab, birthed in incest eventually came a godly woman called Ruth who marries a son of Abraham from whom will come King David from whom came the greater David, the Lord Jesus.
We are saved not because of 10 righteous persons or 5 or 2. It will take one truly righteous person for God to spare the guilty
…through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous. ~Romans 5:19c (NIV)
Have you ever wondered how can God be right and make us right when we are so wrong? Because of God so willingly experiencing the full wrath of God for just judgment for our sins at the cross, that is how the judge of all the earth does right?
As Lot took the hand of the angel, we take the hand of Jesus that was stretched out on the cross seeking to do what is right and just.
What are you to God? – Irrelevant?
How does God view you? - a bit of a disappointment?
Or are you the apple of his eye, the focus of his blessing and the object of His goodness?
The first thing you notice in the Bible is that God's first inclination is to do good and to bless. God saw all that he made it is good, good, very good, He is forever blessing. Genesis 1-2, He’s blessing the animals, humans, and the sabbath 1:22, He blesses Adam and Noah and Abram, all to increase and be fruitful.
If you were to ask me "What was the one thing you learnt in 4 years at Bible College” I would say. “That God is Good! He is for us!”.
In this talk we are going to fly at 20,000 metres as we cover 3 big chapters so, get comfortable as we take off, moving from Ur to Haran to Canaan to Egypt.
In Genesis 12 God is beginning again. Here is a new word to an old man, Abram’s personal world reflects the mess of the broken world we need saving from.
God 's plan to bless the world will be through this man. So God tells Abram where to "Go."
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. ~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)
Abram is told to leave behind this world that is in ruins. Leave behind the sin of Adam the curse of Cain, leave the city of Babel that wanted to make a name for themselves. God is saying to Abram leave the safety of your land, your people and family and TRUST ME. Every relationship with God begins and ends here but God never commands without a promise.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)
God goes public and launches his mission to bless the world.
These specific promises to Abram will shape the rest of the Bible story. We must learn that “God don't make promises that he don’t keep.” Faith is trusting in the promises that come from God, they must have sounded so IMPOSSIBLE to Abram, to an old man who had no land and no kids.
God is emphatic, I will give you, Abram, the blessings of a nation, fame, protection, and he will be an agent of world blessing. At times we will see Abraham exhibit extraordinary faith
Abram left as the Lord had told him. ~Genesis 12:4 (NIV)
Stunning and Courageous - Notice that true faith always leads to obedience.
I remember taking year 8 kids abseiling, I would explain the principles of abseiling. "Do you believe me?" "Yes, Ray, let's go."
I would show them the equipment. "Do you believe it will hold you?" "Yes, Ray, let's go. But I knew when they believed, it was when they swung their bodies out over the cliff face. Abraham trusted in God and he went.
From North to South the land was in the hand of the Canaanites. Their time had not yet come. Then God adds to the promises and reassures Abraham
The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. ~Genesis 12:7 (NIV)
God now adds the promise of land with the promise of nation, fame, protection and world blessing. It’s a great start for Abram.
Faith leads to Obedience and obedience leads to Worship, but as we will see the promises of God are rock solid but Abraham’s faith was not. Like us, all Abram was on a journey of learning to trust.
Soon after there is a famine in this promised land, reminding Abraham to look to a better country - New creation and new earth. His first response to the famine is not faith but to leave the land God promised him. Now in Egypt Abram throws his wife under the bus to save himself.
“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” ~Genesis 12:13 (NIV)
This is both a half-truth and a lie at the same time, Abraham is no instant hero of faith, he abandons his wife to protect himself, and it won't be the last time. Worse, he financially benefits by his sin, this story ultimately rides on the back of God's promises. That is clear because it's God who protects Sarah and not Abraham.
Remember the promise to Abram:
“… and whoever curses you I will curse;” ~Genesis 12:3 (NIV)
When Pharaoh takes Sarai in his harem as a wife its God who inflicts him with sores, Pharaoh has his own personal pandemic. Abraham still needed to learn God don’t make promises he don’t keep.
We are now flying over Genesis 13, I hope you’re enjoying your flight. Remember the promise:
“Whoever blesses you will be blessed” ~Genesis 12:3 (NIV)
The promised blessing to Abram overflows to his nephew Lot:
Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. ~Genesis 13:5-6 (NIV)
Abram is so confident in God’s goodness that he offers his nephew Lot the freedom to take the best Land. “Whatever you want you can have.” You get first pick! It is not an easy thing to let go of so much...
The thing about knowing the promised blessings of God’s goodness is that it unleashed a generous heart.
Do you know when I am the most generous?
When I am at an "All You Can Eat" restaurant. You want food off my plate, sure no probs, take it all, I can always go back for more. If you don’t get that God is good and is for you then you will be left to grab, or panic. If you trust God, who is good and full of blessing, you will give generously and show grace. Blessed people bless others.
Lot has more cunning than faith, he saw with his eyes not the eyes of faith. He notices the "whole plain of Jordan were like the garden of Eden" and so he took it. He didn’t get, you cant enter paradise without trusting the promises of God. Lot is a man of this world, he moved away from Abram, on the edge of the promised land near the godless city of Sodom. Lot thinks that the secret of his success is himself instead of the promises of God tied to Abram.
Matt Olliffe has written an excellent Bible study on Genesis, he writes, “Lot's decision would leave him widowed, penniless, homeless, living in a cave with his traumatized daughters…”
All because he did not cleave to Abraham, the agent of blessing.
Abram knows the secret of his success, he returns to Bethel, where he received the promise and built an altar, he worships God
There Abram called on the name of the LORD. ~Genesis 13:4 (NIV)
Seek first his kingdom and all these things will be given to you.
Got your priorities right? then why are you who are healthy and not sick, still at home and refusing to fellowship with all of God's people at MBM?
At the very point that Lot takes advantage of Abrams generosity. God reissues the promises to Abraham for the 3rd time.
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” ~Genesis 13:14-17 (NIV)
The promises are not just repeated they are expanded.
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you ~Genesis 12:3b (NIV)
The apostle Paul tells us that the blessing to world means the nations are justified by faith, with the gift of the Spirit and adopted as children of Abraham.
Faith is trusting in the promises that come from God's mouth. Careful friends, by not trusting the promises you put in God's mouth. Don’t be like the guy who drove a Mercedes with the number plate “blessing” thinking this is what is meant by Abrahamic promises.
Grasp the promises of God and you will be liberated from
grabbing for blessings, knowing our sins are forgiven, that God is Father and Heaven is home. We can let go of the politics of sin, the Christian can refuse to see co-workers as threats to your next promotion. It frees us to rejoice in the success of others instead of bitching about the job you should have got.
If you believe your name is written in that lambs’ book of life, then be free to be generous with your time, talents, and treasures.
Abram was called to leave behind the world of sin, but sin has not left him behind. As we fly over Genesis 14 please put on your seat belts because we have entered a war zone. Five kings from the EAST make war on four kings of the West. Lot and all he has are taken captive, he has paid the price of moving away from Abram and near to godless Sodom. In fact, Lot is now living in Sodom, Lot who had it all now loses it all in one battle.
Calvin put it well
"Lot when fancied he was living in paradise, was nearly plunged into the depths of Hell (Calvin 1:373)
Remember God promised that Abram would be a channel of blessing, without Abraham, Lot loses it all in the twinkle of an eye. With God on his side, Abraham’s small private army is able to defeat the armies of four kings. If God is for us who can be against us?
He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. ~Genesis 14:16 (NIV)
Abram is victorious in battle and his success is given by God.
Why? God promised to curse those who curse him, Abraham is learning that God don’t make promises he don’t keep! But will God get the glory?
On the way from the war, Abraham comes across two very different Kings. Melchizedek, a Priest-King of Salem and the Godless King of Sodom. The first response of Melchizedek is to GIVE to Abram, bread and wine, the banquet for kings. The first response of the king of Sodom is to make a demand “Give me the people” Melchizedek blesses God for Abram’s success. The king of Sodom sees himself as blessing Abram by letting him keep the spoils
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was Priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. ~Genesis 14:18-20 (NIV)
Those who know the blessing of God, bless God and bless others. Abraham first response to Melchizedek was to give 10% of his spoils, so the principle of TITHING begins, not from law but from a blessed heart who has tasted that God is good.
Abraham first response to King Sodom is to refuse his offer to keep the spoils of war. He won't benefit from an unrighteous king, he won't have a bar of it, God alone will get the glory for my blessing. Blessed people bless God and bless others.
Let's land this plane!
Jesus is called a priest in the order or pattern of Melchizedek.
And as a risen Priest-King every moment of every day in the face of every sin Jesus stands to intercede between us and God. If Lot needed to stay close to Abraham then we need to stay close to Jesus our Priest. God is good and he is for us.
One brother at church had for the last 15 years been growing in his faith, consumed by his business, battled in his marriage. He felt like God was either angry or disappointed with him then one night he had a dream. Jesus walked with him and talked with him, he wasn’t angry and he wasn’t disappointed. It set him free.
Don’t wait for a dream to cleave to Jesus. The dream did what the Bible is saying, God is good and is for you in Christ Jesus.
In Christ, you have been blessed in heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. Go and make disciples of all nations.
The God of the bible is a marrying kind of God. He is not interested in just dating his people until a better offer comes his way, or turning up when it suits Him, or being a friend with benefits. Like every marriage, God first makes promises to his people in chapter 12. He then turns those promises into a formal Covenant chapter 15. This is followed by the sign chapter 17.
God made promises to Abraham when he 75 and Sarai 65 and infertile, God promised Abram he will be a father of a great nation, the nation would be given land and the nation would be blessed and a blessing to the world.
These Promises are repeated and expanded and they steer the plan of God in the bible. Years pass and still no child. Its only natural for fears and doubts to come to Abram but God’s love assures people
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” ~Genesis 15:1 (NIV)
Do not be afraid, I have your back, God will never stop saying those words to his people.
One fear was that Abram’s servant and not his son would be the heir to his inheritance. Abraham is not pretending with God, doubts need to be expressed to God and we must be open to letting the Word speak to your fears.
To reassure Abram God takes Abram outside to look at the stars of the sky and tells him, count them because that is as many descendants as you will have. Some over 70 Billion Trillion stars.
First, it was the dust of the earth and now it's the stars in the sky.
These promises were made to be trusted.
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. ~Genesis 15:6 (NIV)
That is one of the most important sentences in the bible, it tells us how we get right with God. God reckoned unrighteous Abraham as righteousness. Why? Because he took God at his word, God gave to Abraham a righteousness that was not his and he will do the same for you. Being right with God is a gift to be received not a wage to be earned.
Faith is an attitude of Trust, for us, we trust that Christ was handed over for our sins and raised for our forgiveness. This is how God's people are always put right with God. Whether you lived 2000 years before Jesus like Abraham or you live 2000 years after Jesus like us, if you’re not clear then book for the Explaining Christianity course on February 16 and this will become very clear. But remember friends its not the size of your faith that saves but who you trust in.
Two people get on a plane to Johannesburg, one is full of fear and the other is full of confidence. Which one ends up in Johannesburg? Both do. The difference is that one enjoyed the trip a whole lot more. There is no reason to doubt or live in fear. Christ has paid the price for the ticket to heaven, there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus.
God not only wants to save people he wants them to know they are saved. So God turns those promises into a formal covenant. This is like going from dating to marriage, this was how the covenant was made. Abraham was told to split into two 5 sacrificial animals and lay them on the ground, as the sunset Abraham falls into a deep sleep. This was going to be a one-sided contract, God in the form of a blazing fire passes between the dead animals. In effect, God is saying “If I don’t keep my promises to you then may I become like one of these animals” “If you Abraham break this covenant I will take your place and pay for your sin.”
The point is clear, God's salvation rides on the shoulders of the seed of Abram, who was cursed so that we could be blessed.
God wants Abram to know for certain that God don’t make promises that he don’t keep. Then God reissues and extends the promises
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, ~Genesis 15:18 (NIV)
By making a covenant, God was GIVING HIS ALL to his people.
I remember a woman who became a Christian at an Explaining Christianity course. She had been in a de facto relationship for 30 years, I wasn’t sure why she was so resistant to getting married and she finally admitted on the day of their wedding “Ray, I was holding back a part of me from my man by not marrying him.”
God is holding nothing back, He has fully committed himself to his promises to bless, you can trust him! and we have 2000 years of bible history to prove it.
But God is not in a hurry. Time marches on. The promises are getting bigger. Abraham and Sarai are getting older but still no kid. The tension is excruciating. Abram first gets the promise at 75, he is now 85 years old only to be told
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. ~Genesis 16:1 (NIV)
There is the normal painful grief of not having children, the cultural shame of not being able to have children, but here God raised their expectation by promising them a whole nation and they couldn’t even have just one baby, so Sarai take things into her own hands.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. ~Genesis 16:1-2 (NIV)
Sarai has subtlety blamed God. God is not acting and so I must. I will build a family through the young slave girl, Hagar.
Sarai’s longing overruled her loyalty to God, these were good longings but they failed to trust God’s goodness. Abram offers no resistance and no godly leadership
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. ~Gen 16:2c (NIV)
What a good husband Abrahams is! OK, babe, if you want me to marry and sleep with Hagar I'll do it , but I'm doing it because you told me. If Sarai was like Eve in taking control then Abraham was like Adam, silently passive. We men either don’t listen to our wives when we should or we do listen when it suites us. Being led rather than leading. Abram and Sarai needed to learn that God needs no help, God will build this family not Sarai.
When she [Hagar] knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.” ~Genesis 16:4-5 (NIV)
The second wife resents the first wife, the first wife resents the husband for doing what she told him to do. First Sarai blames God and then appeals to God. The husband fails to lead, the husband is blamed then the husband abandons his second wife. One sin compounded by another, it's everyone else's fault but mine. Again it does sound a little like Adam and Eve, the one exception is that Abraham is a man of faith, like you and me, ungodly Ab is justified by faith in the promises from God.
See what happens went we don’t trust God, we treat people like they are objects. Abraham uses Hagar, Hagar despises Sarai, Sarai abuses Hagar, Abraham abandons Hagar.
“Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. ~Genesis 16:6 (NIV)
Abraham might abandon Hagar but God will not, Sarai may mistreat Hagar but God's eye remains on Hagar as she flees to the desert. This is the only time someone gives God a name, she has seen God who has seen her in her misery.
My nephew flew reconnaissance planes in Iraq, one of the high powered camera lenses picked up Isis rebels decapitating the heads of children in front of their father before they killed him. He saw everything from a height of 10,000 metres but he could do nothing.
God saw this young powerless foreign slave woman and God protected her, the God who promised to save his people from slavery in Egypt is now saving an Egyptian slave from his people. We all need saving, God does what he does best, makes promises and blesses people.
The child born to Hagar is Ishmael, he too is a son of Abraham, not a child of the promise but a son nevertheless and he too will share in the blessing.
Now 86 Abraham is a Father, but not a Father through Sarai, so he waits as the years click past. Age 87,88, 89, 90 no child 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99 and still no child, nearly 25 years of waiting and nothing. Now Abram is nearly 100 years old and Sarai is 90 years old, God has made so many promises, repeats them, formalises them and expands those promises.
So that now where will Kings and Nations come from, it will be an everlasting covenant, but No land, No children, No Nothing and to make matters worse, God gives Abram a new name.
If he hasn’t looked like an idiot before, he went from Abram (which means Father) to Abraham which means (Father of many). From daddy to big daddy, you could only imagine the kind of questions Abraham was asked over 25 years.
Imagine, Abram meets up with Enoch at a well. “Hi, my name is Enoch what's yours?” “My name is Abram.” “Abram, 'Father', with a name like that God must have blessed you with many children, how many 3, 4, 5?” “Actually none.” “Oh sorry about that.” 25 years later they met again at the same well. Enoch says “Abram my friend it's been so long how are you?” Abraham says “actually Enoch I’ve changed my name” Enoch says “Wise decision since you had no children, it was awkward.” “Yes, it's now Abraham.” “Abraham, father of many, so God has blessed you my friend with many children, how many has Sarah given birth Big Daddy, Abraham 5,10,15?” “No, still none, but I am holding onto the promise of a child from whom will come a great nations and kings and land.”
Abraham was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what God said. God wants his promises to be remembered, so God gives the sign of circumcision. It’s a costly sign, Abraham was circumcised at age 99 at God’s command. Those who trust in God walk before him and are blameless, it was not like a rite of passage into manhood. It would be a sign for the whole of life for the whole of God's people. As a sign, it pointed to God’s promises to bless the world. A sign to re-assure his people that
God is for them and he can be trusted.
Circumcision grafted these promises onto the body and unlike my wedding rings which I keep losing in the ocean, circumcision is a permanent sign, you can remove a tattoo but you cant undo a circumcision. God's people were to never forget Gods commitment to bless the world. Circumcision would mark out God's people among the nations, they alone were birthed by the gracious promises of God. Salvation comes from the seed of Abraham.
But why circumcision? Why not a nose ring? Less painful. At the point where Abraham tried to make it happen by having sex with Hagar, that is the point where he is cut back. Each circumcision was a reminder to trust God and not force God's hand.
Warning is here!
It’s a sign that a person is justified by faith in God’s promises.
Tragically circumcision became just another good work to buy God's approval, forgetting that Abraham was justified by faith at least 15 years before he was ever circumcised. Was this all too good to be true? Abram thought so, he was found laughing at the thought that God would fulfill his promise of a child at age 100-year-old man through a wife of 90 to bear a child.
Friends, Obstetricians don’t get called out to nursing homes to deliver babies, except with God. Dead people don’t come back to life except with Christ.
What a crazy, crazy, awesome, wonderful, gracious God, too good to be true.
Like knowing that in Christ Jesus
So, walk before God and be blameless. give him your best for that is what he gave you.
I’m 60 and I still love presents. This is one of the best gifts I ever received; you have seen it before, my friend Archie gave it to me, half man-half pig.
For many people in the history of the world, this could qualify for a god you worship. The advantage of Idols is it allows you to visualise your god, but if you read the bible you quickly work out that God hates the worship of images and idols. The main reason is that it disrespects him, He is a living speaking, loving, God and He does not want a lifeless image to represent him. You can`t have a relationship with a lifeless image. That is why pigeons know exactly what to what do with statues.
The God of the Bible is the living and speaking God. In contrast nothing in all creation is hidden from God`s eyes, His ears are not deaf to the cry of his people, from his mouth come the live-giving words and His hands are long enough to save his people.
But God is Spirit, He doesn’t have an ear, eye or hand. No man sees God’s face and lives. Well not until that first Christmas day
when God personally came to earth. That is the greatest gift of all. God became one of us when God became one with us. To be specific, Jesus is one person with two natures. He is truly God and truly human. God became human not on Christmas day but 9 nine months earlier.
It's the Chinese who measure age from your conception, not from birth. Like all humans, Jesus was conceived 9 months before birth. Sure, it was different to your conception, you were conceived when your parents were intimate and out you popped 40 weeks later. When the angel informed a virgin that she was pregnant no one was more surprised than Mary.
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. ~Luke 1:34-35 (NIV)
This will be the first of many miracles that point to Jesus as the eternal Son of God.
From the first moment of conception, Jesus grew as every other human baby in the womb. He had 23 chromosomes and 50,000 odd genes and we are not talking levis. At 5 weeks he would be 1.5 cm long and by this stage, Jesus' heart was beating steadily. At 2 months his ears, noses, lips and tongue are clearly formed and he looks more human than alien. At 4.5 months Jesus' brain began to mature. He is able to give his mum a few strong kicks. At 6 months he was pulling faces in the womb but with no ultrasound, only his Father in heaven could enjoy it. At 7 months 4/5 senses are working: hearing, sight taste and touch. Jesus could hear his mother reciting the word of God. At 9 months baby Jesus goes public.
He [Joseph] went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. ~Luke 2:5-7 (NIV)
It was a unique conception and it was an unusual birth. I don’t know who turned out for your birth but Jesus was welcomed by thousands of angels and a crew of excited shepherds praising God. I don’t know if your name came from a baby name book, but Jesus name came from God the Father via the angel. You shall name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sin.
But in other ways it was a normal birth with no epidural insight, it came with its quota of pain. Its not any easier giving birth to the son of God than any other child. Jesus who is truly God became a human baby, toddler and teenager. The Son of God became fully human in every way except sin. Jesus had eyes, ears, mouth, hands. He had a real and frail body.
As a baby, He would feel hunger and cry for his mother milk. He would have had a pooey nappy, just like the one I saw in the car park. He would have learnt to be toilet trained. My job when the kids were babies was to clean nappies. No disposables then, I would think Joseph did the same thing. As we know: Real men change nappies!
Jesus was born not just as a human but as a male and a Jewish male. He was circumcised on 8th day marking him out as a child of Abraham. Salvation comes from the Jews.
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. ~Luke 2:40 (NIV)
As a baby, Jesus was carried, breastfed, burped and vomited. In that order.
He grew physically strong, He learnt to talk and walk as you did. He crawled, stumbled and fell before he walked. He grew in weight, climbed in height and built up in muscle tone. He experienced both physical and emotional pain. He would have wept when his father died, that is why, when it comes to suffering Jesus knows what you’re going through.
It’s been a crazy year, we are second-guessing everything as if the earth is shaking and we can’t get a foothold. If you know Christ, he knows you, he gets you, he has got you in his hand. God knows what it’s like to be one of us. He tasted suffering first hand in this broken world. You were never meant to do life on your own. Let his arms carry you.
His parents cared as much for his spiritual growth as for his physical health. They took Jesus to Jewish church each week and each year the family went to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. On one trip when Jesus was 12 His parents accidentally left Jesus behind in Jerusalem when they went back home to Nazareth. Even worse was they didn’t notice it for a whole day.
I remember a week after James, my firstborn son was born, we were having dinner with friends. We put James to sleep upstairs in my friend’s bedroom. We had a great time and then left at about 10.30pm. We went back to our home and realized we are missing something. Keys, wallet, oh yes sweet baby James.
It took Joseph and Mary 3 days of searching Jerusalem before they found Jesus. That is a long time, they needed to file a missing person report. They eventually found him in the temple the teachers were astonished at this 12-year-olds questions and answers. His parents were astonished that he was in the temple for so long and I`m astonished that his mum didn’t kill him. Dad says nothing and Mum is upset
…Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” ~Luke 2:48 (NIV)
Imagine your son is missing for 3 days and this is your response. Self-control, that is such an unMaltese way of handling things. Though fully God, Jesus was fully human learning the things of God. He was asking questions as well as giving answers in the temple.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. ~Luke 2:46-47 (NIV)
If you’re in school, you don’t have to be a grown-up to learn about God. Parents, your children have questions that schools can’t answer. Questions about Life after death, being forgiven by God, the meaning and purpose of life. I want to say, at MBM our children`s and youth ministry is first-rate. In January we will explore some of these big questions. Parents, you’re here with your kids because you want the very best for them. The research is consistent, those who attend church regularly have better mental health. Don’t hold yourself and your children back from learning about God and finding peace with him. Jesus was learning his bible and yet he clearly knew who he was. He says to his mum.
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. ~Luke 2:49-50 (NIV)
The temple was God`s house and he was God's eternal Son.
Why is it so important that Jesus is truly God and human?
Jesus had to be human, for only a human can take the place of another human at the cross. He had to be God, for only God could endure the punishment for our sins. He had to be sinless otherwise he would die for his own sins.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. ~Luke 2:51-52 (NIV)
Here is Jesus submitting to parents whom he created, Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, He would live the life we should have all lived and then he would die the death we all deserve to die. He will come back to judge the living and the dead.
His eyes saw that his people were harassed and helpless, His heart was filled with compassion, His ears heard the cries of so many for help. ‘Jesus save me’ His hands reached out and healed every person who came to him. As Spurgeon said “Those little arms in the manger will one day grapple with the monster “Death” and destroy it.”
With his mouth, Jesus spoke the truth you need to hear
Use those ears God gave you to hear that there is nothing Jesus can’t forgive, use that mouth God gave you to say YES to Jesus! Use those lips to confess that Jesus is alive!
Otherwise, we are no better than those DEAD images. Without Jesus we are dead to God and he to us, facing a Christless eternity. I think there is no better day to be born again than on the day Jesus was born.
Persecution speeds up evangelism. So far, the story of Acts has focused on Jerusalem and what is interesting is that mission to the nations is not the result of endless praying meetings, or strategic planning sessions, or setting smart goals, its good old fashion persecution. The pressure has been building and it now comes to boiling point where the lid has come off.
And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. ~Acts 8:1-3 (NIV)
The bold preaching has escalated the conflict and the apostles are first arrested, threatened and released. Then arrested again, imprisoned and escaped. Then arrested beaten and released.
In Chapter 7, Stephen is stoned to death with the approval of Saul. We have the first man to be killed for Jesus and the first man to kill Christians. Now its ratchetted up, the attack led by Saul is vicious and violent and the goal is clear: to destroy the church. This time it’s not just apostles but just ordinary men and women, mums and dads are dragged out of their homes and
thrown into jail. The result is that Jewish Christians are dispersed into other nations. Yet again, we see God using evil for good. Persecution becomes the gateway to evangelism.
Tertullian in the 3rd century speaking about the persecution of
Christians wrote “…as often as you mow us down, the more we grow in number. The blood of the Christians is the seed [of the church].” (Apology 50)
Instead of killing off Christianity persecution grows the gospel and builds the church.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. ~Acts 8:4-8 (NIV)
The apostles are now trying to catch up to what God is doing. The message is outrunning the apostles, one of the 7 chosen to wait on tables is Philip and like Stephen, he was full of the Holy Spirit and like Stephen, he was a Greek-speaking Jew. Persecution has taken Philip to a city in Samaria and this is the next stage in the plan of God. Remember what Jesus said
… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8b (NIV)
Jerusalem, done. Judea, done. Samaria, now in progress.
When the Communists kicked out the missionaries from China in 1949 everyone feared that it would be the end of Christianity in China but it gave birth to the house church movement, the number of Christians tripled over the next 30 years. In the last 30 years 80 million Chinese became Christians.
Philip is now breaking new ground for Jesus. Samaritans were the hated feral cousins of Jews and they were ethnically impure. They were the result of 10 tribes intermarrying with their Assyrian victors. The venom between a Samaritan and a Jew is like the venom between an Arab and a Jew. The worst thing the Jews could call Jesus
“… you are a Samaritan and demon possessed” ~John 8:48 (NIV)
They were spiritually impure, they opposed the building of the temple and they only held to the first 5 books of the bible. The real clue they were spiritually bankrupt was when they let Simon the sorcerer became so popular.
Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery ~Acts 8:9-11 (NIV)
He claimed to be great, he acted like he was great and they believed he was great. He was persuasive and all levels of society followed him. He practised in the dark arts, from sorcery to magic spells.
We had a former white witch come to Christ, she was into wicker, casting spells. I asked about her experiences and she said ‘I had a sense of peace when I did the chants, but the moment it was over the peace would leave me’. Coming to Christ gave her a permanent sense of peace.
God did not leave Samaria in the dark, He had a future for these people
… I will restore the fortunes … of Samaria and her daughters, ~Ezekiel 16:53 (NIV)
They had given up on the true God but God had not given up on them, He sent Philip to preach the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and with it came real signs and wonders, not your mickey mouse counterfeits.
But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women ~Acts 8:12 (NIV)
What Philip offered was not the works of men but works of God, not the words of men but the word of God, believing that Jesus is alive and Lord and King. The Samaritans went from “Simon says” to “Jesus says”. Simon himself repents and believes and is baptised. Simon who amazed others is himself now amazed
Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. ~Acts 8:13 (NIV)
Simon, this self-appointed great one bows before the greatest one - the Lord Jesus. But things are not quite right with his heart.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. ~Acts 8:14-17 (NIV)
Can you see the problem? I hope you can! We have a surprising delay between faith in Jesus and the baptism of Spirit. It did occur again in Acts 10 and 19. Why here and why now? For the first time the gospel has gone to the Samaritans. New barriers were broken down. Could Samaritans become Christian? Would they be equal with Jewish Christians?
In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Samaritan. For that reason, the Spirit is withheld until the Apostles lay hands and pray for them and only then does the Spirit come on them. It was absolutely crucial that the apostles could verify. The delay was not setting a pattern for all Christians. Be careful in turning a description into a prescription and confusing what is and what should be. The delay was to confirm once for all that Samaritans were in the kingdom. What happened to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem now happened to Samaritan Christians in Samaria. To prove it the section ends with Apostles preaching through the cities of Samaria.
This passage has been seriously misread and the real question is this: when and how does a person receive the Spirit of God?
Only then will you have victory over sin and Satan, and the only proof of that is speaking in tongues.
Can you see why it's appealing? Which Christians don’t want more power, more joy and more victory in their life? But the bible is clear, speaking in tongues is a gift given to some not all and there is no mention of tongues in this passage. For others, it’s an attempt to find words to describe wonderful experiences that are given by the Spirit.
So, it’s a real experience but the wrong language, God`s Spirit does many works and it may be tied to gifting or godliness or grasping Christ love, but the language of Baptism of Spirit is not the right language. The Bible language is filled with the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit. Lifelong work of the Spirit in the Christian life.
Traditional Pentecostals see two classes of Christians, those Christians who are baptised with the Spirit and those who are not. Its ironic that the reason why God delays in giving the Spirit to the Samaritan is to affirm that there are no 2 classes of
Christians. Peter already said it on the day of Pentecost ‘Repent and you receive forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit’
Paul is also clear
For we were all baptized by one Spirit …—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. ~1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)
No Christian has missed out, which is not to say that every person who claims to believe are genuine believers. Time sifts out those who are real and those who are not.
Simon the Sorcerer was one who believed and was baptised but there is something wrong with his faith.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” ~Acts 8:18-19 (NIV)
Simon saw the Spirit come when the Apostles laid hands on them and he thought it was a kind of magic. Simon wanted to have access to that power and be great again. You could say that he wanted a good thing, to give the Spirit to others but Peter is not so kind.
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” ~Acts 8:20-23 (NIV)
Peter calls on Simon to repent and for Simon to pray for himself. He does not say, you have an evil spirit which needs to be delivered, he wants Simon himself to pray for mercy. Why is Peter so tough? Simon claimed to be on the inside as a believer in Jesus, if unchecked, Simon would do more damage than Persecution.
Simon wanted to buy his way into ministry in a way that Schumacher bought his way into Formula 1. We already saw the clues, he was overly impressed by signs and wonders and he came from a world of power, and self-glory. It still ran deep in his soul that was full of bitterness because the apostles were the focus and not him.
Peter knows what it’s like to be on the end of a stiff rebuke, remember when Jesus rebuked Peter “God behind me Satan you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men”
How do you receive a rebuke? It will determine how your Christian life will go, so many get one small negative comment or correction and they leave church. Don’t judge me!!! not every correction is right and not every right rebuke is done well but its how we grow brothers and sisters.
Simon needed to learn that you can`t buy your blessings from God. If a second baptism of the Spirit is a serious error then those who moved into Prosperity doctrine have reached a new low.
Is it not evil when we are told we can buy blessings from God, you can`t manipulate God to bless because He doesn’t need your money and He knows your heart.
If you have pledged thinking God owes you then take your pledge back or Repent. Give because you’re thankful or don’t give at all, give for God`s glory or don’t give at all, give because you want the lost saved or don’t give it at all.
Today we saw the Samaritans believe, and they were baptised, next time we resume Acts we will see the first Africans come to faith.
“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow!” Those were the last words of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple before he died at the age of 56. This was from a man who described death as “very likely the single best invention of life”. Whereas most of us fear death and do anything to avoid thinking about it or talking about it, Steve wanted to capture the beauty of death.
Today, we’re going to look at the last words from another man named Steve, these were words that cost him his very own life.
And yet that didn’t stop him at all, he didn’t back down and he didn’t shy away from the truth.
Now before we look at the speech, let’s just remind ourselves of where we’ve been in Acts. Jesus has died. He’s risen. He’s ascended back to heaven. But one of Jesus’ last words which frames the whole of the book
But you [the apostles] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ~Acts 1:8 (NIV)
OK, so come to Chapter 6 and let’s do the status check. The Holy Spirit has well and truly been poured out. Last week we left things at Acts 6:7.
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. ~Acts 6:7 (NIV)
There’s plenty of witnessing going on in Jerusalem. Priests are turning to Jesus.
Judea? Not yet.
Samaria? Not yet.
Ends of the earth?
The mission’s got a long way to go, there’s work to be done and Stephen takes it upon himself to get the ball rolling.
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. ~Acts 6:8-9 (NIV)
We saw last week that Stephen was 1 of only 7 deacons who were chosen to serve food to the widows, but that’s not the reason why he’s copping some opposition in verse 9. You don’t offend anyone by doing good deeds or performing miracles, do you?
Christianity’s not called NICE-ianity. No - it’s called CHRIST-ianity because the main game is Jesus. It’s all about him!
And Stephen can’t stop talking about Jesus.
See, being a Christian, and if you’re here today and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, we are so glad you’re with us.
In fact, let me speak to you for a moment: to call yourself a Christian is more than being nice and friendly. Sure, that might be one of the things that’s attracted you to check out Christianity in the first place! Maybe you’ve had a friend or a family member, who just seems different, they don’t gossip, they don’t badmouth and they seem secure.
Christianity is that but it’s way more than that. Because to be a Christian it’s to look at the world in a totally different way. The things we chase after, how you spend your time, your money, your attitude to relationships, sex, work and sometimes (often) that kind of counter-cultural thinking results in butting heads. Because deep down what’s happened is there’s been a massive switch, a swap, a change of allegiance. No longer are you living for yourself. Instead, you’re living for the one who rescued you, Jesus, God’s one and only way out of the mess we’ve brought upon ourselves. This is more than doing good. This is good news! It’s this message coming out of Stephen’s mouth, that was landing him in hot water!
That’s why I thank God for those of you who’ve stuck your neck out for Jesus. Those who’ve opened your mouths for Jesus. Even if that’s meant opposition. I think of the grandparent who faithfully, sensitively, drops Jesus into the conversation even though her daughter and son-in-law doesn’t want a bar of Jesus. I think of the uni-student who gently disagrees when her classmate pays out on Jesus and then later has a personal conversation to hear how she came up with that view, because chances are there’s some previous hurt. I think of the guy who at a mate’s bucks party, calls it a night when everyone else is heading to the strip club.
You can see that following Jesus comes with a cost, it does today and it did back then. For Stephen in Acts 6, that opposition came in three stages. This was an all-out smear campaign against Stephen, what began with arguing quickly escalates to spreading lies.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” ~Acts 6:11 (NIV)
That then moves to stage 3: seizing Stephen and dragging him before the authorities and for good measure, let’s throw in some false witnesses as well. Come verse 13 we hear the accusation being levelled at Stephen is this.
“This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” ~Acts 6:13-14 (NIV)
You have to understand that for a Jew there’s nothing more sacred, nothing more precious, than the temple and their law. These were prized possessions in Jewish culture. The temple was where God had promised to ‘put his name’. It was the place where he would meet his people. The physical building represented security and God’s protection. The law, otherwise known as the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. These were the precious words given by God to Moses. It constituted, it defined Israel as God’s chosen people, it was their history and how they were to related to their God.
The law and the temple, these were cultural icons. It’s what made you Jewish. They were like, say the Aboriginal flag to Australians or the Statue of Liberty to Americans or what Nelson Mandela is to South Africa. Well Stephen, by attacking these Jewish fixtures, it’d almost be like him burning the national flag. That’s how serious it was.
Now before we dive into Stephen’s response it’s worth noting this verse:
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. ~Acts 6:15 (NIV)
Let’s just pause for a sec there. Can you imagine being there in the audience? Stephen’s in the dock and all eyes are on this prisoner, only you have to do a double-take, hang on a sec there’s a different Stephen and he looks like an angel!
This is a throwback to what happened to Moses as he walked down from Mount Sinai. That just as God caused the people back in that day to see that Moses had God’s tick of approval, so too He does the same with Stephen now. Stephen’s not an apostle, one of God’s appointed eyewitnesses. But he sure seems like he’s the total package, he’s full of God’s grace and power, he’s got Spirit-given wisdom and now he has the shining face to go with it. Stephen is without a doubt God’s anointed and appointed for what’s about to happen. God wants those listening to what Stephen’s about to say, to know that these words come with the authority of God himself.
Come Chapter 7. We now get Stephen’s speech! Its the longest speech recorded for us in the book of Acts. Some people joke it’s so long because that was Stephen’s way of buying time, so he could live longer! But more than self-defence in the face of death, more than being an outstanding summary of the entire Old Testament, which it is. More than Stephen just talking through the family tree, more than this being simply a history lesson, Acts 7 is a rousing wake up call!!!
Get with the Program. If you had to sum up what Stephen’s said then that’s what I’d say: get with the program; listen up! Don’t follow in the footsteps and don’t make the same mistakes your ancestors did. God has come good on the promises he’s made all along to our ancestors and Jesus is better! The old has gone and the new is here.
Now you break down the details of Stephen’s speech, and he really takes those two accusations that have been levelled at him, the temple and the law, and what he masterfully does is give the back story of what God intended with those two cultural icons.
So first the temple. Stephen’s point here is - you can’t box God in! The God of glory can’t be contained to one building or in one city. Stephen says to look at Abraham! God appeared to him in Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq and God blessed Joseph where? In Egypt! Second half of Verse 9:
....But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace. ~Acts 7:9-10 (NIV)
God’s always been a God on the move. Next stop, Midian in Saudi Arabia as Moses leads his people out of slavery.
In fact, you guys are here today living in the Promised Land but Abraham, Joseph and Moses didn’t even make it in alive! Their dead skeletons had to be carried in! and yet God was just as much with them, present with them, speaking to them, God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and He was no less committed to blessing them, temple or no temple.
In fact, the physical temple building itself that didn’t even turn up on the scene till WAY down the track, after David because it was Solomon who built it. Stephen says ‘you Jews, you’ve known this is the way God’s been working all along. In fact, don’t you remember Isaiah, one of our very own saying these words:
“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’ ~Acts 7:48-50 (NIV)
God can go wherever he pleases, He’s not tied down to one location! God is on the move and on the march, accompanying, directing, guiding, calling his people from here, there and everywhere!
And now, thanks to Jesus, the temple’s been upgraded to a person. We meet God in the person of Jesus, He’s the new temple. You and I, we don’t make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Why? Because we can meet God right here, here in the Scriptures. That’s why we, as a church, have been on about 1 thing and 1 thing only since the very beginning, introducing people to Jesus, from the Scriptures and in the context of loving relationships.
So in response to charge Number 1: That Jesus will destroy the temple. The verdict is in and Stephen is guilty as charged.
What about Charge number 2: Changing the customs of Moses. Well here the tables have turned, the accused becomes the accuser. Stephen points the finger at Israel’s track record of treating Moses. For me, verse 35 pretty much captures it, in the second half we read that:
…he (Moses) was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself’ ~Acts 7:35c (NIV)
But in the first half, Stephen says this:
“This is the same Moses they had rejected... ~Acts 7:35a (NIV)
And how did they reject Moses? by saying:
…‘Who made you ruler and judge?’… ~Acts 7:35b (NIV)
In verse 39 Stephen mentions again how Moses was treated:
“But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. ~Acts 7:39 (NIV)
Stephen says: You want to accuse me of getting Moses wrong? Well look yourselves in the eye, look at what our ancestors have done. When God sent Moses for our good, to make himself known, what did we do? We rejected him, we refused him, we would much rather worship a golden calf, some dead, worthless, pretend god who was puny and powerless. The history of the Jews again and again and again, it’s God moving towards his people and them pushing HIM away.
Essentially Stephen is saying, the problem isn’t God, it’s you! You’re the ones that are missing what’s there right in front of your eyeballs! you’re too busy being caught up in your traditions and customs. In a word, the problem is this: Idolatry. They turned good things, good, God-given things, like the temple. like the law of Moses and they turned those good things into God things.
What’s going on here is a refusal to let go, a refusal to see the bigger picture because all along the Jews have been fixated on pursuing their agenda rather than God’s, of keeping their customs and preserving their way of life instead of getting with God’s program.
Today, in church life, it’s no different. Rob helpfully alluded to some of these things last week. I was in one of those churches where it felt like we spent an excessive amount of time deciding what chairs we were going to buy. At another church, we were forever doing the delicate dance of being mindful of existing customs and traditions and not offending the original people who started the church and were still alive. Changes needed to be made for the sake of the gospel and there were cultural sensitivities involved. Both things were valid, but both, in my opinion, distracted us from getting on with the mission of Jesus.
Come verse 51. Stephen after putting the temple and the law in their proper context now gets stuck right into his audience. And I mean stuck in.
“You stiff-necked people… ~Acts 7:51 (NIV)
I remember a few years ago I woke up with a locked neck, I couldn’t turn and I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t check the blindspots. It carries that idea - you’re stuck in your ways, you’re stubborn, you won’t budge.
Stephen’s not done yet, he moves further down the body.
… with uncircumcised hearts and ears… ~Acts 7:51 (NIV)
Essentially Stephen’s saying this: The problem isn’t God, it’s you! Sure, you might be circumcised to mark you out as a Jew, but in terms of being circumcised where it matters, in your hearts and in your ears, the foreskin’s still on! It’s a graphic as that!!
Stephen’s not done yet, he’s still turning the screws.
…you are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him ~Acts 7:51-52 (NIV)
Instead of like father, like son, here it’s like ancestor, like you. Time and time again, they’ve failed to get with the program. The one thing Israel’s leaders have been good at is this, Rejecting God’s messengers, dragging them over the coals and they’ve even put some of them to death!
If you’re someone here today and you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, let me ask you, What’s stopping you? The thing about saying No to Jesus, again and again, is that you get very good at it. Perhaps the take-home for you today is what Peter was driving home: Get with the program.
Maybe you’ve been hanging around church for a while and you’re not happy with the way things are done, you want church to fit in around you. You know - why hasn’t church given me a best friend? Why hasn’t anyone from church reached while I’m doing it tough? Why is my kid not following Jesus? Well, the take-home for you is exactly the same: Get with the program.
See the bigger picture of what God has done, is doing and will do. He’s in the business of putting all things under the rule and authority of Jesus and that includes us!
Over the course of this week, I’ve developed a litmus test for myself. A self-check to see how on board with the program I really am. I’ve found myself asking again and again: Do I have that same fire in the belly as Stephen? What things do I get upset about? What things do make me want to speak up? To not back down. What things make my blood boil? What I’ve realised is this that for me, there’s been plenty of times when it’s been things other than the gospel.
Maybe like me, you need to ask God to put that burden on your heart, to make the mission of Jesus the forefront of your mind, your ambitions and your heart. To let that be at the centre and let everything else fall into place around that.
I want to be upset at the fact I spend more time pursuing small, tiny, limited dreams, things that revolve around me. Or limited to just this lifetime when God has given me a much bigger, a much better, a much bolder vision of the future. I want to feel the weight and the burden of the people around me, failing to treat Jesus rightly, the way he deserves.
That was the weight that Stephen felt. That’s what compelled him to do what he does in verse 54 when the heat is being turned up. When things are about to come to a head, Stephen looks up to heaven and what does he see?
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” ~Acts 7:55-56 (NIV)
The layers of heaven are peeled back as much for Stephen as it is for the Sandhedrin.
For the Sanhedrin it’s a sign, your authority is being stripped away, the Son of Man, God himself is calling the shots now. The Jesus you’ve rejected, that you’ve killed, He is the one standing in all authority. He will judge and deliver his verdict because he carries the authority of God himself. Your rejection of Jesus, that’s rejecting God.
For Stephen, it provides great comfort and great confidence. That what he’s been saying all along has got God’s tick of approval. He has well and truly got with God’s program. Whereas at the start of his speech, he had the face of an angel now he is able to set his gaze directly at the glory of God. He’s able to see God in all his splendour and majesty. You can understand how Stephen, having laid eyes on the glory of God, how he can face what happens next.
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. ~Acts 7:57-58 (NIV)
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. ~Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)
Notice here two very different responses, one use their position to kill, to silence and to engage in violence. The other uses their power to forgive.
For Stephen what a way to die! He’s seen the glory of God, he’s seen the bigger picture, there’s no fear in death at all for him. He can echo the words of the Lord Jesus himself who cried out to his Father on that cross: “Receive my spirit” and he can pray like Jesus too! Pray an other-person centred prayer, for his enemies, that they would be forgiven for the very thing they’re doing as they’re getting stuck into Stephen. Murdering another one of God’s messengers, just like their ancestors did. Following in the footsteps of their family.
Right to his dying breath Stephen is other person centred! Stephen speaks as one who knows what it’s like to not have his sin held against him.
I said at the start Steve Jobs’ last words were: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow." Well, I want to say about Stephen: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."
Stephen is the first martyr but he’s definitely not the last. In fact, Stephen is part of our story today because it’s the death of Stephen that blows things up. It’s this event that kickstarts the global expansion of Christianity. The disciples become scattered as we’ll see next week and God’s word will continue to spread. Things won’t be the same after today, what was once a localised affair, will go gangbusters, reaching all the way to you and I, here 2,000 years later.
Thanks to the boldness of Stephen, he is part of our story, he played a part in you and I being able to hear this wonderful news of Jesus. The challenge is this, who’s story are you seeking to be part of? Is that something that’s on your mind?
Is that something you’re asking God for?
For me, this past week, the person who God’s put me in regular contact is a lady who stands outside my house every weekday morning and every weekday afternoon, she’s the “School Crossing Supervisor”. It’s still very early days and I don’t even know her name but we’ve had a couple of conversations over the past few weeks. This week I got to say that I work at church and next week, the last week of school, I’m praying for an opportunity to invite her to Christmas.
Now what happens God only knows but we have a tremendous opportunity coming up to Christmas to be part of someone’s story don’t we. It’s why we’re committed to sending a launch team to Parramatta next year, so that they too can be part of someone’s story. A story that may involve them saying Yes to Jesus.
Let me ask you, the challenge is this, who’s story are you going to be part of?
In the history of the church, there have been some massive controversies that have split the church.
The divinity of Jesus. How is a person saved, by faith or by works. Baptism to the Lord’s supper. From Scripture to the Holy Spirit, there have been some serious church splits over these issues. And some were needed!
But there have also been some big fights over things that aren’t anywhere near as important... Some of these things still cause some of the biggest divisions in church today!
Here’s a few:
Well we see here in this passage one of the first church quarrels, up until now the heat’s been coming from the outside but now it’s getting heated on the inside and rather than being about trivial things, it’s a serious issue, let’s check it out. Presenting Issue:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. ~Acts 6:1 (NIV)
So, we have a problem! It’s important to note that it’s a good problem! The number of disciples was increasing, Praise God! after being heavily persecuted. But with more people comes more complexity and these widows are missing out on support.
Now, remember, back in chapter 4 people were sharing their stuff, selling fields, and bringing money to the Apostles to distribute to whoever was in need.
Up to this point, the Apostles have been overseeing everything, the teaching and the organising of the church and also the social needs of people in their community, that’s 12 guys for thousands of people! Seems like, they’ve got their hands full, they’ve got a load of work to do and something’s falling off the table. We’ve all been there before, too much to do and something’s got to fall, what or who will it be? How do we make the decision?
Something important to note here is that this ministry to the widows was a service to those inside the church. These widows are Christian and possibly relatives of other Christians who were a part of the new community of believers. This daily distribution is a ministry to those in need within the Christian community. It’s not an example of the early Church’s endeavour to relieve Jerusalem of poverty and hunger. These weren’t just hungry widows needing food. This isn’t your downtown food shelter where anyone can roll up and grab a warm meal. This ministry is not a wider social justice endeavour.
Now that’s not to say that that kind of thing isn’t important, needed, good and right. It has its place in the Christian life and the witness of the Church, it’s just not what was going on here. What’s going on here is a demonstration of the body of Christians, the community of Jesus believers serving and caring for one another in the church. It’s a continuation of the beautiful picture at the end of chapter 4. That is, doing the Christian life together well. But at this point, they weren’t doing it so well. So, what do they do?
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. ~Acts 6:2 (NIV)
What could they not let fall off the table? The ministry of the word! Why? Because the Church’s mission is accomplished through the ministry of the word. The Gospel is a message and if it stops going out, the Church ceases to exist. The Church is not merely a social club, it is a spirit-filled community, brought into existence by people putting their faith in the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church exists, grows and continues, by the ministry of the Word of God! And these Apostles have been specifically entrusted with that ministry by Jesus himself! If they let that slip then they’ve failed.
But, there’s a whole lot more that needs to happen within the community, and a commitment to the word doesn’t make everything else unimportant! The word must go out, but the church also needs to function. People need to be loved.
I think we can often create this unhelpful priority to the two things, and make them opposed to one another so that serving one another’s needs and organising church can be seen as an enemy of the word ministry. But that’s not the way the bible speaks about them. The bible holds them together much more tightly. This passage is saying, and this is the point here... Both things are extremely important but both accomplish different things.
The poor and struggling won’t be fed or cared for if no one helps feed and care for them. It doesn’t happen if we don’t do it. Likewise, the lost will not be saved, if no one preaches the gospel to them. Food won’t save someone from sin to eternal life. In the same way, the gospel doesn’t magically make clothes and food appear on a kitchen table. Both need to happen but both aren’t the same thing.
Let’s have a think about each of them. Jesus said the Church will be known by the way we love and care for one another. In the Old Testament law, God was always concerned for his people to be looking out for those in need. I’ve been reading Jeremiah and it’s striking how when God judges his people, it’s often because of their lack of care for widows, for orphans, for the poor and needy among them. They overlooked them.
The New Testament’s also flooded with calls to care for the weak, support the poor and practice hospitality, to share with one another. Use the things we have to ensure others are getting on ok to live sacrificial lives of love for one another in the church, that’s what Jesus calls us to do.
We are a body, and we function well together as we all care equally for one another, it's like trying to walk when you’ve got a sore toe. But God also says the Church is built on the foundation of the Scriptures; the prophets and Apostles. And the way it grows and functions well is by being fed with God’s word. So, we’re called to teach the word, guard the word, obey the word and be transformed by the word.
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. ~Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
A well-functioning Church makes sure both things are happening. So, what was their solution to keep both going?
Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” ~Acts 6:3 (NIV)
Now notice here what kind of people were raised up, not just people with the right skills but the right convictions and character. These men are well known among the community, tested and approved and they’re full of 2 things, The Spirit & Wisdom.
Now being full of the Holy Spirit means firstly that they’re believers! United but also they’re following the Spirit’s lead in all areas of life. To have the Spirit and not be filled by Him is to be at war with him as he seeks to work in you. These men are working to align their whole life with his will. They’re also full of wisdom and wisdom according to the bible is usually in regards to having a right view of God and being able to make good decisions about things in life because of that. These men are mature Christians, they listen to the word and do what it says.
There’s a challenge there for each of us, would you have been chosen as one of these people to take up this ministry? If not then why? What things in your Christian life are lacking or getting in the way of you giving yourself to God’s work in this way? This particular role of theirs is later described as being a Deacon a word you might have heard before, especially as we’ve been talking about pledging at this time of year.
In 1 Timothy 3 Paul describes the differing roles of Elders or pastors (overseers), and deacons. The word Deacon literally means a servant, it’s the Greek word that we get the word ministry from. It’s the act of doing a service of taking one thing and passing it on. This passage contrasts 2 ministries, serving/distributing food for the widows and serving/distributing the word. So, the Apostles call on the church here to gather a group of people to take up and oversee this ministry of serving the widows, so the word ministry doesn’t have to stop.
Our deacons here at MBM essentially do the same service for us pastors. They work at a higher level, overseeing things like the finances, building and property things, a lot of the behind the scenes managing. They do those things so that the pastors don’t get completely bogged down with those important things and then can’t continue to commit ourselves to teaching and praying, pastoring. And we thank God for them! and so should you.
I just want to publicly honour them now actually. If you didn’t know, our deacons are: Steve Pieri, Jono Anderson, Ed Johnson, Aron Calfas, you have to know that most of these guys have been growth group leaders or done other various word ministries in the past, some are still heavily involved in word stuff. I asked one of them this week what he loves about being a deacon at MBM: He said “The deacons meeting is honestly the one meeting I’ve never dreaded going to, it’s such a joy to work with some amazingly skilled guys to take care of a range of things so our pastors can focus on the main game - people and Jesus” and he said “it’s also good being able to be behind the scenes and not have to be upfront.”
I also need to mention Bruce Winters and Leanne Shepherd who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make so much ministry happen and function! There’s plenty more along with them!
It was beautiful to see on Monday, while we were having our staff meeting and had just spent time praying, to look outside and see our brother Warren Kuschert spraying weeds and fixing up the gardens and Frank Spiteri and his team working on the maintenance around the place.
It’s not only the official Deacons who are involved in organising and overseeing things to ensure the word isn’t neglected. Everyone who helps out in any way around the place to free-others up, who have been equipped for word ministries, (kids ministry and youth, and Growth Group leaders), you are ensuring that the ministry of the word continues! You’re ensuring Christian growth can happen, ensuring lives are saved, ensuring the mission of Lord Jesus doesn’t come to a screeching halt in our generation, in our Church. So thank you!
Keep praying for those who teach, that we’d stay faithful in our devotion to it.
OK, So how does the church respond?
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. ~Acts 6:5-6 (NIV)
If you know anything about the origin of names, you’ll notice the men they chose have Greek names. They choose Greek men to care for their own Greek widows, those who had the issue have become solutions to the issue. As you know those who know their culture serve their culture best.
And if you know anything about the next few chapters in Acts... 2 of these guys end up out there preaching the word in massive ways. Next week we’ll meet Stephen, who gives a powerful speech to the Sanhedrin and ends up stoned for testifying about Jesus, he’s the first Christian Martyr. Then Philip goes out evangelising a bunch of villages along with the Ethiopian Eunuch! It’s not about doing one or the other.
in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord, always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have. ~1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Whether you make coffee or set up seats, serve morning tea or help people into the car park, if you’re a Christian, we all play our part in the ministry of the word and the growth of the Church! Amen?
Honestly, those Christians who say talking about Jesus just isn’t my thing, I just stick to helping people, I know it feels safer but as someone once said: “How much do you have to hate someone to have the life-saving message of Jesus and not try to share it with them, knowing they’re on their way to hell” Love does both right, it helps them in their need and holds out the gospel.
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. ~Acts 6:7 (NIV)
A transformed community transforms communities! Remember in the chapter before this, the priests were the ones persecuting the Apostles and now with the Apostles freed up to focus on prayer and the word, they’re turning to Jesus.
Let me say a few things in reflection on MBM and this passage. At MBM we’re committed to the word and prayer that’s why we open the bible and preach every week. It's why we run kids church and youth group and why we have prayer meetings. Its why we pray together in our staff meetings all through the week. It’s why we’re also committed to seeing all our members gathering around the word in smaller communities in our growth groups, which is also where a lot of prayer happens.
We’re also committed to training leaders to handle the word better, so we can all grow. If you’re keen to grow in the word come and chat with us, we need Leaders. It’s also why we don’t load our church calendar with a bunch of really fun social events, but we do make sure we guard our church gatherings, our small groups meetings and our explaining Christianity courses. We’re committed to people hearing the word and we’re also committed to caring for one another. We see that happening mainly in those small groups through the week, where you can be known and know others so you can know better how to care for them.
But that’s not the only place care happens. I was so encouraged when COVID first hit to see people so willing to offer assistance to anyone in need. So, we set up our [email protected] email address for anyone needing assistance. If that is you at the moment, please don’t do what these Greek Jews did and just grumble, get in touch so we can help you. We’re also committed to seeing every member doing their part so we can all function better together. You have gifts that God has given to only you and what a blessing we can be to each other and the gospel as we put those gifts into practice.
If you haven’t found your place in a serving team or role yet, please come and speak to us. But mainly we want to keep asking the honest question about what we might be doing that’s getting in the way of the word continuing to go out. And I ask you all to keep helping us clear those blockages so we can see a western Sydney who know and love the Lord Jesus, who have a secure place in heaven, and who’s lives now are being transformed by His Spirit.
If you’re thinking about becoming a Christian, think again!
Jesus was very clear “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
In the 1960s we Christians were viewed as irrelevant, by the 1970s we were a joke and by the 1980s we were viewed as narrow-minded and stupid. In the last 5 years Christianity is viewed as dangerous and the bible as hate speech. Covid has taken some of the heat out the debate but it’s coming back and it will never stop! So friends, be prepared.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, ~2 Timothy 3:12 (NIV)
Today's passage is round 2 of persecution in the early church. God's message won't be stopped, God is behind the mission of the Lord Jesus. The apostles asked for signs and wonders and they got it
Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. ~Acts 5:16 (NIV)
All who came were healed, God was confirming that Jesus is the living Lord, by the sheer number of miracles, the extradentary nature of the miracles and now drawing from people outside Jerusalem. God is truly at work. They were giving the Jewish leaders every reason to repent.
Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. ~Acts 5:17-21 (NIV)
The Sadducees taught that there was no life after death and the apostles taught that Jesus is risen. You can see why people were shifting loyalties. If your worldview can't answer the problem of death then it’s time to change your worldview. Its everyone's felt need, there is lots of false hope.
You can now send a hologram of someone who has died to speak a message to a loved one from the grave. Kanye West did one for Kim Kardashian of her dead father. False hope!
My brother in law Greg was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer a week ago. It was his trust in the living Lord Jesus that made him face life threatening surgery with confidence.
If the Christians are filled with the Spirit then these Sadducees are now filled with jealousy. Out of jealousy they arrest the apostles for the 2nd time and put them in jail overnight. But when you oppose God it will come to nothing, so God sends an angel, which by the way the Sadducees don’t believe in. The angel opens the prison doors and directs the apostles to preach at the temple.
The next day the council convenes and everyone has turned up except the apostles and they are nowhere to be found. Then the leaders hear that the jail doors were locked tight, the prisons guards did not leave their post and the jail is as empty as Jesus tomb. And they are bemused, they go from jealousy to puzzled, people say “I will believe if I can see” well the evidence is mounting but they cannot see.
I remember asking an Atheist Relative “if Jesus were to appear today would you believe.?” “No!” it was never about the evidence. All the leaders can see is that their orders to be silent have been disobeyed, so they arrested the 12 now for the 3rd time.
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” ~Acts 5:28 (NIV)
They are upset at getting blamed for Jesus death, this is so ironic.
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” ~Matthew 27:25 (NIV)
They got exactly what they asked for and yet the message of the cross is that their guilt does not have to fall on them. Their guilt, your guilt can fall on Christ in our place. The apostles were not about to apologise for pointing people to the risen Jesus.
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! ~Acts 5:29 (NIV)
We are forever faced with this choice, God or human. Its not often obey God v obey humans, Jesus said the reason why people do not go public with their faith
for they loved human praise more than praise from God. ~John 12:43 (NIV)
I was talking to someone last week, a self-confessed people pleaser, they decided to draw different stick figures with the name of every significant person in their life. They then systematically crossed over each person, they were trying to live for the applause of one.
Notice the 12 apostles are so bold for Jesus, but Boldness is just Bravado when it’s not based on truth
The apostles make the same case as before:
God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. ~Acts 5:31 (NIV)
There is a way out - with repentance comes the promise of forgiveness. This was their chance to lead God's people into repentance. I often wonder, what stops them and us from taking up the call to repent.
Is it pride?
Is it shame?
Is it fear?
It has never been cool to come to Christ. Is it too good to be true? Sometimes people never get passed the bad news and
so miss out on the good news. Or is it the cost of commitment, for if Jesus is Prince then they would need to obey him. If Jesus is saviour then they would need to trust him. It means that I have to get out of the drivers seat and let Jesus take control.
So, which is holding you back and is it worth it? Fear, Shame, Pride, or Cost of commitment. That is why the Spirit has to witness to your Spirit that Jesus is Lord. But who is interrogating who? It may look like the apostles are on trial but it's the ruling council who are on trial
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. ~Acts 5:33 (NIV)
Watch the emotional words in this passage. Jealousy becomes Fear and Fear leads to Rage. Every instinct in me wants to say to the apostles tread lightly boys and don’t cause trouble. That is what I feel like saying to our Prime Minister when he talks tough on China on the inquiry into COVID. I'm thinking ScoMo tread lightly you’re going to ruin our trade and our farmers are going to pay a heavy price. Sometimes you say the right thing regardless of the cost.
There is a real place for being winsome, it’s never right to be rude and cruel but sometimes the truth needs to be said loud and clear.
They can’t be forgiven unless they repent, they can’t repent unless they confess their sin and they won’t confess their sin unless they confess Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. In the face of death threats God provides an unlikely rescue.
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. ~Acts 5:34-35 (NIV)
Gamaliel cites two cases to make his point. Two men, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, both led a rebellion and both were killed and their followers were scattered and both movements came to nothing.
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” ~Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)
Leave them alone and let them go, don’t kill them and he gives 2 reasons. If its just another human ideology then it won’t last.
That is why when I see Christians push another human ideology learnt at the university of Facebook or Google I think, friends remember the words of Jesus “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.” Only Jesus words stand the test of time and nothing else.
At one level success is not the only criteria if something is from God otherwise Macdonald's and Islam are from God. I put it this way “Not all success is from God but if it is God-given it will succeed”
Part of the reason why I believe in Jesus is that what Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 has taken place. The Good news as spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the world. “Christianity is believed by people from over 2000 different language groups in the world. More people pray and worship in more languages than in any other religion in the world.”
Its why we have a God-given optimism toward growth and that is why we seek to plant 5 congregations in 10 years and ask God for a 1000 new disciples and that is why I don’t apologise in calling for every person who makes MBM home to financially partner in Gods work.
But more than that you stand against the cause of Christ, you stand against God himself and that is not just Wrong its Dumb. Its why the Jewish leaders are so frustrated, you can’t take on God and win and it’s why some of you are so exhausted, you’re warring against God. The word is to surrender and let Jesus set you free! If God is for us who can be against us. If God is against you then heaven help you, because there is no hope.
But this is no Disneyland Christianity.
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. ~Acts 5:40 (NIV)
The God who raised Jesus from dead, who sent an angel to set the apostles free, the God who provided Gamaliel to protect the apostles from death. Still allowed them be flogged, 39 lashes to be exact on the back of each of the 12. So brutal it has caused some to bleed to death.
There is no force field protecting Christians, in fact, when the angel who set them free sent them back into the firing lines they asked for boldness that would get them into more trouble. Their boldness is escalating the conflict and its bringing further suffering on them. Eventually, the 12 apostles will be killed for their witness to risen Jesus.
Peter himself will be crucified in Rome upside down and none of it makes sense if they lied about seeing Jesus alive.
I love their response to the flogging.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)
They saw the 39 lashes on their backs opening up their skin as a privilege. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the shame of the cross-honour. The honour of suffering shame for his glorious Name, the only name by which we can be saved. A joy that refused to be silenced.
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah ~Acts 5:41 (NIV)
I've put on the top of my list of impossible prayer points, "Lord give me spiritual courage to speak boldly about the good news of the Lord Jesus". I invite you to do likewise.
At bible study this week we talked of what persecution looks like for them: accused of believing in fairy tales, of being left out and sidelined. One young man, who works on building sites, mentioned he was a Christian at work, the site manager made sure every person could hear him say “I have more hope in believing in werewolves and zombies” The rumour spread around the building site, opening up for more ridicule. I asked him what did he do “I prayed: Father forgive them for they know not what they do” Then I asked how did you feel? I wished he could have spoken better but so glad I could speak, the bible verse on his app that day was:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. ~Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
Don’t be rude but don’t be ashamed or intimidated brother and sister. We are the only ones who have the answer to death. We have a living faith because we have a living Lord who has made us alive.
So far it's been a great ride in the book of Acts. These new Spirit filled Christians are so grateful for being forgiven. There is bold preaching in the face of opposition.
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. ~Acts 4:33 (NIV)
The church keeps growing from 12-120 from 3,000-5000. How encouraging?!
Sometimes in life everything falls into place, there are moments in life where everything is just right. It's true in Church where everything is humming:
In Acts 4 we have a second picture of a beautifully transformed community
1. Radical unity
All the believers were one in heart and mind. ~Acts 4:32 (NIV)
When there is a deep unity to Christ there is a deep unity to each other. As John Piper said “When you become united to Jesus by faith, you become united to people by love.”
2. Radical view to their own possessions
Faith in Christ creates a love for people.
No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. ~Acts 4:32b (NIV)
A love for God cuts us loose from a love for things. They still had private ownership, they meet in their homes but no one claimed their possession as their own:
God has been so generous to us it is only right that we are generous to each other. If you sit tight with Jesus you will sit loose with your possessions.
3. Sacrificial generosity
It wasn’t just you can borrow my car and sleep in the spare room.
For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. ~Acts 4:34b-35 (NIV)
Remember this is on top of their normal giving, that is what makes it sacrificial. Some sold property and gave the money to the apostles to distribute it to the poor. It was sporadic, from time to time. It didn’t happen every day and not everyone owns land to sell. The land I am standing on is the result of one Mr. Lamb who gave it to the parish of Rooty Hill 130 years ago, its the gift that keeps giving.
The land on which Oakhurst Anglican and Richard Johnson is built on was given by a former member of this church. In fact, people leaving properties in wills has resulted in lots of churches being built.
As a rule, everything we have belongs to God and is to be used to bless others. Whatever your source of income we are called to give our first portion to God purposes, if you earn a wage or if you make a profit from a land sale or gain an inheritance. Don’t just keep it all for yourself and family, give the first portion for God`s work and the needs of others, there is no greater need than to be saved from sins. At present 40% has been pledged to cover our next budget. I call on you play your part and partner with us, fill out a pledge card and drop it in today.
4. Grace driven Generosity
And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ~Acts 4:33-34a (NIV)
Inspired not by the law of God but the grace of God, it was not forced but joyfully given from the heart. It was willing not under compulsion. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.
5. Distributed according to need
There were checks and balances in Old Testament law-making, sure, widows and orphans were taken care of. The goal was for there to be no poor person.
However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, ~Deuteronomy 15:4 (NIV)
Now that dream is realised in this Spirit-filled community.
In 1987 the then prime minister Bob Hawke said "By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty," He did admit to regret that promise.
And yet we have much to be thankful for in Australia, we may not appreciate the early church but we have an economy that is a delicate blend of free enterprise and a welfare state. We got here because of Christian introduced biblical principles into parliament. We have a free-market economy with a welfare net, free Education, and Medicare, Pensions and Benefits for pensioners, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled. We have Financial assistance for those in need. Most recently the job keeper and job starter allowance represents 36% of government expenditure. Not perfect but a lot to be thankful for.
Unlike the Australian welfare system, the early church did not feed its poor by taxes imposed by apostles. Unlike Communism
there was no bloody revolution in Jerusalem to make it happen.
Unlike legalistic religion, there were no guilt trips. Just the grace of God moving in the hearts of thankful, forgiven sinners.
The Spirit loosens our relationship to things and tightens our
relationship to people.
One case study was the man Barnabas.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”),sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. ~Acts 4:36-37 (NIV)
Barnabas is mentioned because he will play a big role in the book of Acts, he is the full package, generous with his money, he preaches Jesus, he loves God`s people, he is reaching the lost and he is a man to imitate.
We know him by his nickname, Barnabas means son of encouragement. What is your nickname? Growing up mine was Pitt Galea, I was a bottomless pit and I could eat anything and everything.
Barnabas, son of Encouragement was not attached to things which freed him to love people.
After 30 years I have so many stories to tell of acts of generosity, I remember one family giving me an envelope to pass on to a single parent who was doing it tough, it had a thousand dollars in it.
When you’re free from the love of things you will be free to love people. When I read this I`m both inspired to be more generous and I`m convicted by how much more I need to grow. One thing I know! Barnabas is not regretting selling that property. For all eternity he is enjoying the glory he gave God in this single act of generosity
In chapter 5 we read of a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, doing exactly what Barnabas did, they sold their property and they both gave the sale of the property to the Apostles.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” ~Acts 5:1-4 (NIV)
The problem was not that Barnabas gave all of the money and Ananias and Saphira gave part of it. Peter is so clear, the land and the money was theirs to do with what they liked, no one had a gun to their head making them sell it. The problem was the lie and the hypocrisy, they claimed to have given it all when in fact they only gave part of it.
At that point it became a form of theft, they wanted the applause from the leaders not from God, they wanted to feed the ego not the poor and they wanted a reputation for being sacrificial without the cost.
Why is this recorded?
Notice how the sin is understood by Peter.
Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit ~Acts 5:3 (NIV)
Not just lies and hypocrisy. A spirit was at work in Ananias but it was not the holy Spirit. It is viewed as an assault by Satan, lying to the church was nothing less than a lie to the Holy Spirit. It is a form of testing God.
Notice that the Spirit of God is not just a power but a person “He” not “it.” You can't lie to a power but you can lie to a person. The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Godhead, the long-awaited blessing of the new covenant.
And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. ~Ezekiel 36:27 (NIV)
To lie to church is to lie to the Spirit who dwells among and within each of us. I thank God for how people not only pledge but keep their pledges. We don’t bind people`s consciences, if circumstances change, we understand that giving is impacted.
The problem here is that they claimed to give all when they didn’t.
As you read this story you’re not expecting what happens next
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. ~Acts 5:5-6 (NIV)
Judgment was both swift and severe. It's not as if there was no time to repent, when Sapphira comes to the house 3 hrs later Peter gives her the chance to tell the truth. She maintains the lie and falls down dead. We all long to see more miracles of healing and not miracles of judgment. We want to see the power to heal, and to amaze but not the power of judgment to create fear. Twice we are told:
And great fear seized all who heard what had happened… Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. ~Acts 5:5,11 (NIV)
Fear took place inside the church of God and fear took place outside the church of God.
Friends: God will not be mocked! It is a warning to all! How is your conscience friends?
How is your conscience?
I knew a man who paid back years of giving. He knew he benefitted from a ministry at MBM that he never supported. I said “I didn’t think he needed to”- start fresh but his conscience would not let it go.
How is your conscience?
What do we make of this judgment? It served as a warning to every generation of Christians, it was the ultimate form of church discipline. It’s rare but it’s also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11, where some have fallen sick and died due to unrepentant sin but this is not the norm. We see godly Christians dying and ungodly believers living long.
But I did hear of one young pastor who served in the outback. The church was riddled with sin from the top down and there was no point of church discipline because you would have had to expel everyone. After 18 months of opposition in the church
He said “God I can`t do it. You have to do it.” In the next 12 months, 18 people in that church died for various unconnected reasons and then 1 year later 200 people were baptised, the Lord cleaned out that church.
At MBM we do believe in church discipline, after a lengthy process we say to those who carry the name Christian, and want fellowship but who justify their sin ‘One of those will have to go, either stop calling yourself a Christian, stop attending our growth group or stop justifying your sin.’ We do it for the sake of the person's salvation and the holiness of the church.
But I`m also reminded of the grace shown to the rest of us, no conscience is perfectly clean, we each have uttered some lie and we say one thing and do another.
I`m aware of the grace shown to us and I wonder what will you do with this grace? Trample over his mercy and patience?
Remember Friends: God is no fool, God has shot a warning blow, so don’t presume on God`s kindness calling for us to take heed.
Christians have a high view of government, not because the government is always good but because it's given by God. Submitting to government is how we submit to God, that is, we don’t sing at church and are socially distanced. But sometimes and very rarely you have to make a choice between God and Government. Today's passage is one of those examples.
We saw last week a beggar who was lame for 40 years, he was instantly, completely, and permanently healed by the apostles in the power of Jesus name. The healed man proved that Jesus is very much Alive and Lord. Peter then called on them all to repent and their sins would be wiped out and over 5000 believed.
As Peter is preaching to large crowds in the temple area the Jewish leaders are upset and come to arrest him. They didn't like what was happening because the power base was shifting,
This Jewish council was the Sanhedrin. They came from rich high priestly families and they belonged to a group called the Sadducees. They sentenced Jesus to death and they were known for not believing in the resurrection. Peter is now preaching that the same Jesus is alive and the resurrection of the dead had begun. Peter and John are stopped in their tracks.
They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” ~Acts 4:7 (NIV)
That was a gift question, it’s up there with “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” With that question, they go straight to Jesus
It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. ~Acts 4:10b (NIV)
Peter has come a long way in 2 months, he is no longer denying Jesus and he is now filled with the Holy Spirit and he gives bold witness to his Saviour, he does not hold back. The same Jesus you crucified, God raised to life and this mans healing is proof.
Its one thing confronting the crowd with courage but now Peter is confronting the leaders themselves. He quotes a psalm they would say as they went to Jerusalem.
The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; ~Psalm 118:22 (NIV)
The stone they discarded on the cross, He became the most precious - who holds together all of Gods purposes and promises.
I once bought a second-hand surfboard at a garage sale in Mt Druitt for $20, it stayed in my garage for 8 years until I got rid of it by giving it to my nephew. He then sold it on eBay for $800.
The rock that was discarded proved to be most precious. So precious is Jesus that salvation is only found in him.
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. ~Acts 4:12 (NIV)
That is a verse worth memorizing. The name of Jesus healed this man and saves our souls:
I knew a man who came to Christ at MBM, he use to be a Taoist (Ying/Yang). He used the name of Tao as his secret password to access his bank account and after becoming a Christian he replaced that name with Jesus. Of all the possible names there was only one name that could access his account. Of all the possible names there is only one name, Jesus, that gives us access to God's salvation.
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. ~Acts 4:13-14 (NIV)
Shocked: not by the miracles but by the boldness of Peter and John. They were amazed that these guys were ordinary and untrained. But they were trained, these men had been with Jesus.
I am Ray Galea BTH, I would prefer Simon Peter BwJ (Been With Jesus). In Jesus, they saw it perfectly taught and then perfectly lived out. The leaders that once terrified Peter are now intimidated by him.
So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” ~Acts 4:15-17 (NIV)
If you not committed to truth, you suppress the evidence or explain it away, the healed man was irrefutable proof that Jesus is alive and Lord. The rulers lived in fear that this thing we call Christianity would spread faster than the COVID virus, so they issued orders to shut up about Jesus.
Now it came to just one question - Who do you obey? God or Government
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” ~Acts 4:18-20 (NIV)
Too many Christians use any excuse to justify civil disobedience. Like the church I heard in our area which kept meeting through the lockdown and with no social distancing, they believed the government was trying to suppress Christianity with COVID.
That makes sense… Governments around the world have trashed their own economies to destroy Christians who only make 5% of Australia's population. That is a false choice between government and God.
But here is a real choice, when given a choice to obey God or man they chose to obey God. They could have been silent, they could deny Jesus and get out of trouble but Peter knew what that was like. We all know what that is like, we have all seen God open doors that we have closed. We did it by our silence.
What an enormous change has come upon these fear-ridden men. Listen again. “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
It was only 7 weeks ago when Peter denied he knew Jesus three times “I don’t know him…” now he’s confronting Israel’s leadership. Notice how these Christians operate under pressure? Their first instinct to is pray, oh that we would learn to pray under pressure.
When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. ~Acts 4:24 (NIV)
It begins with Sovereign Lord - If God is not in total control then I should panic because God is useless and so is prayer.
The ones who are making the threats are just creatures created by God. They say if you’re nervous giving a speech then imagine everyone naked. I would suggest imagining that each person is created by God, just like you and you will be less intimidated. God controls the universe and He controls the future.
Peter then quotes Psalm 2 that predicts the cross, in this psalm God laughs at the stupidity of rulers of the world who think they can take on his Messiah. It’s like standing in front of a semi-trailer barreling down the highway at 120 km per hour thinking the truck is going to come off second best.
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. ~Acts 4:27 (NIV)
Everyone shares the guilt, the Jews and the Gentiles, the governors and the King. Together they planned out Jesus execution.
They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. ~Acts 4:28 (NIV)
From one vantage point the cross is humans at their worst, that when we had the chance to meet God in the flesh, we killed him.
From another vantage point the cross is God at his best, bringing about the salvation of the world. They did what Gods will decided beforehand should happen.
Learn this lesson, humans are responsible and God is sovereign, like twin train tracks running through the bible. If you get this you are more likely to pray about anything and less likely to be frightened about everything. That is what Peter does.
Now, Lord, consider their threats ~Acts 4:29a (NIV)
They don't tell God what to do! We leave it in your hands, God. There is plenty of stuff in your life you need to leave in Gods hands. Then they prayed for boldness.
…and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. ~Acts 4:29b (NIV)
The apostles are more worried about wimping out then being wiped out, the persecution is going to escalate. What was worse than being arrested, beaten, imprisoned and killed for Jesus, it's denying him, Peter does not want to go back there.
The apostles prayed for boldness which would cause more trouble.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. ~Acts 4:31 (NIV)
God answered their prayers and he will answer yours as well. It’s not a boldness that comes by believing in yourself or feeding your mind with positive thoughts. It’s a boldness empowered by two things, first the Spirit of God. You don’t need another miracle to give you that confidence, you don’t need another sign to speak up for Jesus, but you do need the power of the Holy Spirit.
Seriously, have you ever prayed for spiritual courage? This courage is supernatural, its not limited to extraverts. Let the God-given evidence speak to your doubts.
I was given a box for a belated 60th birthday gift, it's an urn - awkward, I have a box that will one day hold my ashes and it’s a touch unnerving because it made my own death that much more real. So I asked myself is this the end of me?
No! Why not? And then I recalled the evidence.
And now this lame beggar is completely and instantly healed in the name of Jesus which no one can refute. What proves they are telling the truth? These witnesses just 2 months before had denied Christ, so convinced that what they saw is true they will defy authorities and be willing to be arrested, imprisoned and die, proving that Jesus is alive and Lord and that salvation is
found in only him.
No, this urn won't carry me or you, for Jesus is alive and the resurrection from among the dead has begun. So pray for courage to speak in the name of the Living Lord, Jesus.
Partner with us at MBM. Today is Commitment Sunday and the last day for pledges, if you believe Jesus is alive and there is no other name for salvation, then prove it. Put your money where your mouth is, so that others may know that Jesus is alive and salvation is found in only him.
Pray for boldness, pledge generously and ponder the evidence.
In my younger days, I was desperate to see the power of God, I longed for more. I probably claimed miracles that I fear had more to do with wishful thinking. I was in search of not just signs and wonder but for assurance and proof that what I believed is real and true and that what I gave up was worth giving up. That the Jesus I trusted was indeed alive.
Today we will the find the assurance we are all looking for and why don`t have to pretend. The story begins in the temple.
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. ~Acts 3:1 (NIV)
These new Jewish Christians followed the pattern of prayer of the Jews and 3 times of the day they spent in prayer at the temple. At the temple we find one desperate man:
Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. ~Acts 3:2 (NIV)
He was disabled from birth for over 40 years, so powerless he had to be carried and so desperate he was forced to beg. He was placed near the gate called “Beautiful” that was marked with an enormous bronze artwork, hoping visitors would stop and also notice this man. This gate was as close as he could get to the temple and he hoped that people who came to love God would love him. While the Spirit-filled Jewish Christians had no needy person, the same could not be said of the rest.
Jesus would have walked past him for 3 years, he never asked Jesus for healing, even now he only asks for money.
When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. ~Acts 3:3-5 (NIV)
Hoping he could have a piece of Christian generosity Peter and John look straight at him, Peter wants this man to give him his full attention, this was not going to be another shekel in the hat. Then the man focused his attention, could this be the day he was going to get the $100 note?
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have… ~Acts 3:6 (NIV)
The apostles were the opposite to the prosperity gospel preachers because the prosperity preachers are rich and these apostles were poor, prosperity preachers do fake miracles and the apostles actually do real miracles. We are about to see one.
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. ~Acts 3:6-8 (NIV)
Dr Luke gives the specific details, the 2 words often used to describe a miracle. First, he was healed straight away
“…instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” ~Acts 3:7b (NIV)
He did not slowly get better over the next 6 months.
Second, he was completely healed. Notice the man didn’t go from a wheelchair to a walking frame and then 2 years of intensive physio, he went from being totally disabled to totally healed in an instant.
He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. ~Acts 3:8 (NIV)
With Jesus they don't limp out, they don’t walk out, they go walking and leaping and praising God.
It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see. ~Acts 3:16b (NIV)
Third, this miracle was on public record, it didn`t happen to some anonymous stranger. When faith healers fly into town in their private jets raking in $100,000s of dollars claiming to heal people, you don’t know the person on stage, you can’t verify anything, I commend the documentary on American Gospel.
Everyone knew the man who was lame from birth now walking and leaping.
When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. ~Acts 3:9-10 (NIV)
Don’t every apologise to ask questions when people claim miracles.
Ray Galea quote: “God is never glorified when you praise Him for a miracle that did not take place.” It only harms the gospel!!!
Everyone knew this man was the beggar at the temple gate. No one at the time of Jesus and the apostles doubted the miracles. They may say they did it in Satan`s power, but it did happen. It`s not lack of faith to test the genuineness of a miracle. This was a miracle. The reaction to this miracle is the same reaction done by Jesus, filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him, and the man was filled with praise, he could not just walk but he could now join Peter in the temple to pray, at last he could enter that which had been off limits.
Now we have the explanation.
While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? ~Acts 3:11-12 (NIV)
When a miracle happens, the temptation is to think that the healer has some magic touch, or he must be especially holy or have special powers. If you don’t have the right explanation then you end up with the wrong conclusion.
This miracle is a sign and signs point away from itself to the living Jesus. Peter makes it clear...its not his power but the power of the living Jesus and that was both the good news and bad news.
Why bad news? Because he was healed in the name of the one they killed and this healing meant one thing, Jesus is alive and he is Lord and they were in serious trouble.
Notice: Peter will not let them off the hook, he tells them, you handed Jesus over to be killed and what made it worse was when the Roman Governor declared him to be innocent, you cried out "crucify him". You disowned the Holy and Righteous one and what made it worse was when given a chance to set him free you chose a terrorist to be released instead of Jesus.
You killed the author of life, who gave you life. Like the ice addict who was choking on his own vomit and then stabs the paramedic who saved his life.
They killed the author of life. What`s really surprising is that they are deemed fully responsibility and yet ignorant. Their sin is not excused and it's not covered up but it was done in ignorance.
“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. ~Acts 3:17 (NIV)
You killed him not knowing that he was the Christ. The sin of ignorance not the sin of presumption, both responsible and ignorant. That is what Jesus said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do"
That is what Paul said of his own rejection of Christ. Paul says:
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. ~1 Tim 1:13 (NIV)
We probably need to remember this, don't we? When non-Christians attack us and who blaspheme the name of Jesus and who sin without shame… responsible but ignorant.
But as Christians it is the one thing that we are not, you may have been ignorant but you are not now, so no more excuses. That is why it is a greater judgment on those who have come to Jesus and then walk away. That is why it's said of Judas, it would have been better if he were never born.
For those who are thinking of walking from Christ, I plead with you, there lies a greater judgment on you. The word for those who killed Jesus is the word for you and me
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, ~Acts 3:19 (NIV)
Three Words beginning with 'R'.
Repent: Do that you do what everybody has to do, everyone needs to acknowledge that they were born heading the wrong direction. Turn from your sin and turn to God.
And the promise is that your sins will be wiped out, completely obliterated, just as if you have never sinned, not one left to condemn.
That is why we are promised to be
Refreshed: If you repent you don’t have to carry fear or guilt or shame any more. If that is not grace then I don`t know what grace is. Grace is not just getting what we don’t deserve, grace is getting the opposite to what we deserve
Jerry Bridges “Grace is God’s free and unmerited favour shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.”
If I give $1000 to a person who lost their job then its mercy but if I give $1000 to a person who stole and trashed my car then its grace.
That grace comes only through Jesus–the promised prophet.
For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. ~Acts 3:22 (NIV)
There is just one you must listen to. This is the KISS principle and it cuts through the complexity where you’re bombarded by never-ending options.
We live in world cursed by so many choices. Go shopping and you go nuts because there are 20 different types of milk and 30 different types of cereal. In the public square, there are 100 world views, options range from no gods to a million gods.
But there is but one Lord, one Christ, one author of life, only one whom the prophets pointed to, only one whom the Apostles witness to, only one whom God raised to life and only one who we have listen to.
Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people. ~Acts 3:23 (NIV)
I remember one woman saying, “I'm not interested in Jesus, whether he is Son of God or not, Jesus is irrelevant to me, I'm interested in God”
But its that God who said “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased, listen to him or you have no place among my people”
Jesus will not be ignored. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people. For now, we receive the refreshment of sins wiped out.
When Jesus returns it will be a time of restoration.
Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, ~Acts 3:21 (NIV)
They killed the agent of blessing but they did not kill off the blessing. In Christ we live in the time of refreshment now we end up in the time of restoration.
There are only 2 stories to believe in:
Story one: you are the result of a billion random accidents and will live a miserably short life marked with pain and then die a meaningless death and you will soon be forgotten.
Or, story two, you repent and take hold of Jesus, who refreshes your soul now and restores this universe when he returns. What Jesus did to this crippled man he will do to this crippled world. The picture of this man walking and leaping and praising God is a picture of new creation restored and released from its enslavement to death and decay.
We have such good news to enjoy, we have such good news to share, and oh, how the world needs to hear it. The west of Sydney is lost in its ignorance yet still responsible for its rebellion.
Pray that at MBM we bring the name of Jesus to our suburbs and our city and that they ache to hear that God refreshes their soul and restores this universe and that they long to know that there is a better world and a better future. The one who wiped out sins will wipe away our tears…and who will never wipe our names from the Book of Life. That is the assurance we need to hear.
Have you ever received a summons to appear in court? In my 60 years I've never been called for jury duty, others I know have been asked 2 or 3 times. I'm feeling rejected!
Did you know that each of you received a summons today? A summons to gather and praise our great God with joy; called to listen to His word and heed His warnings. Did you hear the summons from God today? Of course, you did and that is why you are here.
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. ~Psalm 95:1-2 (NIV)
This summons is from God but comes through his people, here are God's people calling on each other to come ‘let us’ sing, come ‘let us’ bow down and worship.
A man once complained to his minister, he said “I don't like the songs you chose today” The minister said “That's ok, we weren't singing them for you.” That is not quite true, we sing to God and we also sing to each other about God. When I sing “Amazing Grace” I'm telling you that I am a wretch of a sinner saved by God's grace and you’re telling me the same thing.
But Praise is not just saying praise you Jesus 50 times like some mindless mantra, it should never be praise for praise sake.
I once went to a Christian conference and the first 8 songs we sang had me telling God that I loved him but I was not given one clear reason why. God had done so much but the writer of the songs couldn’t give me one reason. Listen to the reasons in verses 3-5.
For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. ~Psalm 95:3 (NIV)
We shout and sing because He is a Majestic God. He is El supremo in the heavens and He has no rivals and He will not share His glory with another. Unlike the credits in a movie God will not share the billing, He will not co-star with other gods, He is the great King above all gods, He is supreme in the heavens and He is supreme on earth.
In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. ~Psalm 95:4-5 (NIV)
Like a potter with his clay, He gets his hands dirty in creation. Picture God at work as our maker, I will put Australia there at the bottom end because last shall be first and first last. For kicks I'll make Italy look like a foot and since I know that they will love football why don't I give them a ball to kick and I'll call it Sicily. Look, a little bit of mud on the ball, I just give it a flick and there we have the Island of Malta. Isn't that more interesting than plate tectonics?
In His hands are the depths of the earth, remember the song “He's got the whole world in his hands”. It was a sad day when that song was used to advertise Mastercard. With Mastercard, you can pretend to be a god until you can’t pay your credit card bill of $10,000.
But God is no man's debtor, the sea is His, for He made it, as are the peaks of the mountains, the simple rule is, you make it then you own it and it belongs to you. That’s the rule of copyright, you create something and it's yours.
Friends, you do not belong to yourself you belong to God and that is why Joyful Praise is the right response to a great God. He is not only a great God he is our God.
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. ~Psalm 95:6-7a (NIV)
He is both powerful and personal, He is Majestic and He is mine. A Great God has made us his own. He is not just creator, and judge, He is our covenantal Lord, our loving Saviour, our Father in heaven, and our Good Shepherd. We kneel before the Lord our maker, he is our God.
The bulk of the earth's population neither know Him nor are known by Him. The reason why mission happens is because worship doesn’t.
The hands that hold the earth, the hands that formed the dry land, the hands that rescued his people, they are the same hands where our names are written. We are kept safe in those hands, hands that were stretched out on the cross, that same hand that will raise you up on the last day. These are the same hands that are held out to you today.
In one way worship is the same in the Old Covenant and New, it's about responding to God on his terms. But the terms are redefined between old to new, worship for Jews was temple centred and you approached God through a human priest, with an animal sacrifice and at a physical temple.
The reality for the new covenant people is that we trust Jesus Christ who is the perfect High Priest who offered the perfect sacrifice, his life, to the perfect God at the perfect temple in heaven to make us perfect and that is what we are. It’s on that basis that we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, wholly and pleasing to God.
Worship language in the New Testament is for all of life, 24/7. You worship God not just with a song from your mouth but with the whole of your life. To reduce worship to 10 mins of singing on a Sunday is like breathing for 10 mins a day, you’re not going to get very far, BUT part of our worship is to gather and sing with joy. Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; we have a reason to be joyful.
John Wesley was a missionary before he was a Christian. On his way back to England, Wesley was on a ship that was sinking and he was petrified. He noticed that a group of people on the boat were singing songs of joy as they faced their death. He was shocked and wondered, had they done more than he to be so confident? They shared with him how through Jesus our great God has saved us, so when this boat goes down we will go up to be with the Lord. That is why its Christians alone who sing songs of praise, marked with joy, for our God not only wants to save us he wants us to know we are saved.
1. A God of wrath
But almost as an intrusion to this joy-filled sound comes a second summons, to hear God's word and heed its warning.
Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:7b-11 (NIV)
Amidst the singing comes the warning, when we gather we not only sing we also listen and are warned.
Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts. It’s a living word with a real warning for this moment in time… This is a warning for TODAY! The warning is - Do not follow the pattern of Israel in the past.
Two places became the benchmarks for Israel's hard heart: Meribah and Massah. The names of the places tell the story in Exodus 17:7. Meribah means quarrelling and Massah means testing and that is what Israel did again and again.
Instead of trusting God, they decided to test God, even though they had seen his works. Within a month after God rescued them from the Egyptians, after seeing God unleash his power in the 10 plagues, after seeing the parting of the sea with them walking through it and after seeing the same sea closed in on their enemies.
On their way to a land flowing with milk and honey and being fed daily for 40 years, Israel complained against God about not having water and they wanted to go back to Egypt and they paid the price. A whole generation failed to access the promised land, God's warnings are his means of grace to keep his people fearing and worshipping him.
I remember when I had been a Christian for about a year, I started wishing I came to Christ a few years later because I had more sinning to do. I wanted to go back to my old life, forgetting why I left it in the first place, my heart was beginning to harden. Then one day I walked into the home of a Christian and there in the lounge room was the record cover of a Christian singer, Keith Green, the title “So you wanna go back to Egypt.” It was like God had hit me on the back of my head and I repented.
The warning is clear and the warning is for you. This is God’s voice and it is for you today and he is saying ‘Do not harden your hearts or you will miss out of the heavenly promised land.’
The warning to Israel is the warning to us, for forty years I was angry with that generation.
“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:11 (NIV)
This was not simply an emotional reaction, a whole generation died in the desert and they never made it to the promised land.
As a rule humans don’t like warnings, when they revised the American Anglican Prayer Book they left out the last 4 verses of Psalm 95 with God's warning of God's anger. The negative for our age is the church is so often ashamed of God's anger which flows from God's holiness. We must not change God's nature to suit our cultural preferences otherwise we end up worshipping ourselves.
But to show how different the church is from the Bible when the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 in the New Testament a 1000 years later, it only quotes the last 4 verses of this Psalm about Gods anger. After the psalm is quoted we then read
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. ~Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
The word is the same, do not harden your hearts to Gods word. Specifically, they were tempted to not gather because the pressure of persecution made them withdraw.
We need each other and we need to encourage one another daily. What is your heart like toward this warning? Is it a HEART that is soft that melts like butter in the sun or is it a HEART hardened like butter in the freezer? The church is God's great declaration that you can’t do it on your own.
This is how it often works: you slowly begin to isolate yourself from God's gathering and for some its for the pleasures of life like sport and leisure or perhaps an addiction that everyone can see except you, the freedom of a new car or a first job or a new relationship or the distractions of a hobby. For others it's worrying: worries of money or job or business or over mortgaging or relationships.For many they get stuck in one of the phases of life: going to Uni/Work/Tafe, getting married, having a baby, buying a house, starting a business or having a sense of failure in a Midlife Crisis or an aimless Retirement.
For others it, not pleasure but pain: a person you refuse to forgive leaving you with bitter heart, an ongoing sickness that makes you disappointed with God, a persecution that feels that following Christ is not worth it.
Through it all your heart hardens and you begin to isolate yourself from Christians and your attendance moves from weekly to monthly to Christmas and Easter. You tell yourself ‘I can be a Christian and not go to church’ with no congregation to encourage you and no sermon to warn you, you slowly die a slow spiritual death.
Then when someone follows you up you get defensive and blame others for judging you, at which, ask God for mercy because the hardening is almost complete.
Our corporate worship is a subversive act and no matter what mood you’re in when you gather, the gathering does not leave you focused on you. It turns you away from your anxiety to a God who is in charge and worthy of our worship, it turns you away from your guilt and shame to a saviour who forgives and inspire us to joyful praise.
The Singing, the Bible read and preached, Prayers, Fellowship, these are getting you to live for a greater cause, Gods glory. To look away beyond your small world and to look to Jesus whom we both worship and who leads us in worship to our great God and Father. Since you’re listening to this sermon, I am confident that you’re on the right track.
We come before you in praise and worship
With joyful singing and thankful hearts
You are our great God and saviour
You are both powerful and personal
There is none that compares to you
Your hands which made this earth, were the same hands that were stretched out on that cross
Thank you for offering each of us a fresh start
Today we have heard your voice.
We beg you to deliver us from a hard heart
Help us to heed the warnings of your Word
Stop us from the urge to isolate
Help us to encourage each other daily that we may be found faithful till the end.
In Jesus name we pray.
Monopoly has been a worldwide favorite board game, everyone in the game is given the same money - $1500. But as we know we all don’t start life with the same opportunities, some are born into poor families and some into rich but the one thing it does get right is that whether you make a lot or a little, whether you have hotels on Mayfair or not, at the end of the game it all goes into the box.
The challenge for every preacher is showing the relevance of a passage. The thing about death is that it’s the one experience that every human shares, it becomes an important lens to understand the rest of life.
This Psalm begins with it a shout out to everyone to listen.
Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: ~Psalm 49:1-2 (NIV)
This is a Psalm that speaks to all people, not just people who believe, its addressed to all nations, not just God's people. What is said makes sense, whether your inside or outside the circle of faith, because it speaks of death. Its for all demographics, rich or poor, the powerful and the powerless, whether you live in Darling Point or Doonside.
It’s not a lament, or a confession or a praise, it’s a wisdom psalm and it promises understanding.
My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle: ~Psalm 49:3-4 (NIV)
This is the very thing the world is so short on, we have lots of information but not much wisdom, we have lots of knowledge but no discernment, we have lots of Google me this but not much understanding. It begs the question, who is worth listening? With my bible closed I really have nothing worth saying. Lets open this psalm and gain some wisdom.
Why should I fear when evil days come, ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)
The bible is realistic, it expects that days of evil will come but this Psalm also promises hope. Why should I fear and be intimidated when evil comes?
Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)
Again, we have the importance of self-talk, why should I be afraid in the face of injustice? In this context the threat comes from evil doers who are deceivers. Liars are bad but deceivers are worse because a liar is easier to spot than a deceiver, a liar tells untruths for their own advantage but a deceiver tells a mixture of lies and truths to deceive and harm others.
Deceivers encircle the Psalmist. They both trust in their riches and boast in their wealth. Wealth is power and they were abusing their power by exploiting the poor. The way to dismantle one's fear when you’re powerless is to think God thoughts, to understand the absolute false hopes of wealth through the lens of death.
No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever and not see decay. ~Psalm 49:7-9 (NIV)
Why not fear?
The price tag for eternity is too expensive for everyone. You can’t buy your way into heaven, you can’t bribe your way out of death. Sadly, you can’t ransom your life or any other, it’s what every grieving person knows, especially if you have lost a loved one, wishing you could take their place but knowing you cant.
When my son James nearly died at birth my theology went out the window, I was bargaining with God to save his life offering
everything I have.
Wealth can do a lot, you can use it to bless others, you can buy your way out of a lot of trouble with an expensive lawyer, you can buy your way out of poverty and move to a nice part of town, you can extend your life by paying for the best private medical treatment, but it cannot stop death.
Either way sooner or later we all owe God a death. As a result, we all die leaving our wealth to others.
For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. ~Psalms 49:10 (NIV)
Observe how both the rich die with the poor, the wise end up with the fools and the POWERFULL end up the same places as the POWERLESS. Death is the great leveller.
We all leave our accumulated wealth for other others to enjoy. Ecclesiastes makes this point and extends it, you leave it to another and you don’t know whether they will be a fool or wise. Sooner or later either your kids, grandkids or their spouses will blow it away by gambling, or a divorce or a bad investment.
Train yourself not to be easily impressed
Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. ~Psalm 49:16-17 (NIV)
We all leave this earth in exactly the same way as we enter, naked and with nothing. On any given day you can have a homeless man and a wealthy man both lying on a slab next to each other at the Morgue, the exact same outcome. Bottom line is, don’t be overawed by the rich who take advantage of you, they can't take it with them.
There is the story of the wealthy man who organized to be buried in his gold plated car, as the car rolled into the ditch, one worker asked to the other “how much did he leave behind?” The answer is always the same “All of it.”
Egyptian Pharaoh’s tried to take it with them but the grave robbers were the only ones who benefitted. You never see a removalist truck following the hearse to the cemetery, which is why it’s tragic when Christians sell their souls for some get rich schemes. The only house that we will live in is our tomb.
In that sense, we are no different from the animals
Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:11-12 (NIV)
When my kids were impressed by someone who was both famous and foolish I said “Don’t forget they will die like a dog like everybody else” now that is good parenting.
The only house you own and benefit from is your coffin. I find Mausoleums very interesting, they are impressive buildings that house a tomb of a loved one, the most famous would be the Taj Mahal. They are attempts to honour the dead and soften the reality of death, they look somewhere between a temple and a hotel, the only difference is that no one gets to walk out.
The Psalmist says, while you managed to leave your name on some piece of real estate or monument, you wont be around to enjoy it. Bill Bryon notes that if you’re buried in a sealed coffin you will deteriorate somewhere from 5-40 years. “The average grave is visited only for about fifteen years, so most of us take a lot longer to vanish from the Earth than from others memories”
This is the destiny of humanity, well not quite...
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. ~Psalm 49:13-14 (NIV)
The call is to be wise as to who and what you put your trust in. If you put your trust in yourself and in your wealth than death wins every time. While the mansion you built will carry your name, your corpse is rotting away. If you trust yourself then, death becomes your shepherd and it leads you to destruction. If Jesus is your good shepherd he will restore your soul and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
For one reason, while we can't ransom our lives, while we cant take the place of another, God can and did.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself. ~Psalm 49:15 (NIV)
Jesus alone is able to ransom us from death. He is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
We have already heard that no one can ransom themselves or another, that is unless they satisfy 3 criteria.
In Jesus alone we have all three, He was truly human, He was totally sinless and He was fully God. That is why Jesus can say…
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:45 (NIV)
It's why He can say:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
The psalmist is pleading, don’t be in awe, don’t be afraid of those who exploit you with their wealth. You’re not the one to live in fear, they are! Their blessings are short lived.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life. ~Psalm 49:18-19 (NIV)
Right now we are seeing many lose their jobs while others are getting a promotion, we are seeing some businesses die a slow or quick death while others are bursting with success. If things are going well the temptation is to trust yourself, take care what conversation you’re having with yourself. When other say “Wow, you have made it!” take care how you interpret the praise of others.
As one T shirt said, “The one with the most toys doesn’t win he just dies like everything else.” Not true, there is a different destiny between those who trust in themselves and their wealth and those who don’t.
People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:20 (NIV)
So, the issue is not just wealth, its not about those who have wealth but those who have wealth without understanding.
How do I know that I am not putting my trust in myself and in what possessions I have, Jesus will urge us:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
So you can take it with you! if you use what you have great or small as if it belongs to God. You own absolutely nothing!
Death is proof of that. You are but a steward entrusted by God with much or little and as stewards we will give an account.
I was talking to one of our overseas ministry partners, they said “I want to live life like I’m playing Uno not Monopoly” “What do you mean?” “In Monopoly you win by ending up with the most things, in Uno you win by giving all your cards away.” I thought it was a helpful image.
I want to commend those who have kept their jobs but have not panicked, you are still generous and supporting the work of the gospel and care for the poor.
As Psalm 90 ends, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Or as Luther put it, "Teach us that we must die…"
Teach us to not be afraid.
To not be intimidated.
To not be overwhelmed with those who take advantage of us.
Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Teach us to not put our confidence in ourselves and in what we have.
But to trust in our Jesus for he alone can ransom us from death.
And set us free that we may store our treasures in heaven.
In Jesus name Amen.
Happy Father's day. All Fatherhood stems from God the Father, which means our Dads were either stepping stones or stumbling blocks to knowing the one true God. They either hindered or they helped or a bit of both.
One of the most decisive moments in my life was when I went to hear Larry Crabb, renown Psychologist, speak at a week-long conference. He shared stories about his two boys and I didn’t realise, but I was being drawn to him as a father, in Larry Crabb, I found a man who both loved God and loved people. It awoke something inside of me and at the end of the conference as he drove away I started crying and I don’t cry all that much, I didn’t stop crying for the next 3 hours and they were the most beautiful tears I have ever shed. It exposed a grief I carried about my own dad.
At age 22 I started a journey that led me to know the love of my Father in heaven, which freed me to both face my Dad's failures and yet be grateful for his love. Too many people spend their life desperate for their fathers. Approval or seeking to prove their father wrong. Psalm 103 speaks of the Fatherhood of God in all his glory, He is the Father you never had.
Yes, the Bible is patriarchal. Third-wave feminism wants to solve a real problem the wrong way, the aim is not to deconstruct patriarchy and dismantle fatherhood. We think the answer to bad fatherhood is no fatherhood but the answer to bad fatherhood is to imitate their heavenly Father.
Our Father in heaven deserves our praise. The Psalm is an extended call to oneself to praise God our Father.
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. ~Psalm 103:1-2 (NIV)
David is speaking to himself for most of this psalm, let all of me praise all of you Father. We can’t really sing “all of me loves all of you” because we don’t love the sin in the other person. But with our Holy Father, all of me can truly love all of Him.
The modern vision of Fatherhood is not a Christian one, in it, we Dads become the heroes and not God our Father. I think there are lots of fathers who love their kids, they take them to sport, they make time and have fun but you hear no God-talk on their lips and they share no joy in Christ.
John Piper is right when he says “Dads, your kids greatest need is to see you praise God”
Either by talking singing or sharing some truth about who God is and what he has done, whether at church, at home or in the car or camping. Psalm 103 is one long self talk.
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits ~Psalm 103:2 (NIV)
Learn the art of preaching to your soul and don’t forget what God has done, don’t steal his glory and don’t be overwhelmed with life's pressures. The way to remember is to keep urging yourself to praise God for HIS many blessings.
There are so many benefits in this Psalm, let's break them down into 3 areas.
1. We praise our Father for he is in total control
The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. ~Psalm 103:19 (NIV)
God rules! Praise God that he rules over every corner of this universe, from Angels to Atoms to Ants, He lovingly rules over the big picture and the small details of life.
In the fury of the moment
I can see the masters hand
In every leaf that trembles and
In every grain of sand
Do you have a moment by moment awareness of Gods total control? God rules over the present and the future.
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ ~Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)
His total authority is clearly seen in his Son who had absolute control over sin, sickness, suffering, satan, and the surf. Let our children hear us say, I praise you, Lord, that you rule over all 7 billion humans in all 195 nations, that you rule over every world leader however they got into power, that you rule over every corner of this massive system and over a rouge virus.
Learn to give yourself a good talking to. For example:
Q: Raymond is God Lord of the universe? Yes!
A: Then why do you live with so much fear?
Q: Will God supply all my needs? Yes!
A: Then why O Ray, why are you so anxious
Praise your Father in heaven for he alone rules! We praise our Father who seeks justice for the powerless.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. ~Psalm 103:6 (NIV)
God jealously defends those who can’t speak up for themselves. Think with me for a moment, the bible is honest about the sins of Israel. Why are we so afraid to admit the sins of Australia?
If like me you or your parents chose to make Australia your home then we must own its history both the good and bad. If we benefit from the past sins, we must assume responsibility of the past, not to mention the present. It’s a history that has oppressed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We had a white Australian policy when the original custodians were not white. We only gave them citizenship in 1967 when I was 7. It’s shameful that my Maltese Father who came to Australia in 1939 got his citizenship before Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders who lived in this land for over 40,000 years. They fought in wars defending a country that would not let them vote, they were not paid a proper wage and at times were limited to who they could marry. Their children were taken from the mothers. We have systematically dismantled a culture over centuries and it took as late as February 2008 before a Prime Minister finally apologized, then wonder why or come up with cheap answers to why they have high mortality rate, unemployment and incarceration and shorter lifespans.
When you see injustice know the God of the bible hates it, so Praise him for being a God of justice
Let your children hear you praise the Lord for his justice and plead for his protection of the powerless. Never forget, no one is more powerless than the unborn. Praise God that his cross is the ultimate evidence that he is a just God.
We praise our Father for his extravagant love
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. ~Psalm 103:3-5 (NIV)
God never does a job that is half baked, He lavishes us with his love and His blessings are so complete that He
When God entered into a covenant with Israel He revealed his glory by revealing his character
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. ~Psalm 103:8-10 (NIV)
That is your Father in heaven. I don’t know what your Dad was like. Was he quick to anger and quick to blame, who constantly brought up your failures and shamed you in public? When you think of the word “Father” what words spring to mind? Harsh or Gentle. Mean or Gracious. Critical or Encouraging. Absent or Present. Abusive or Safe. Like me, my Dad was a mixed bag, that is why at times we Fathers must apologise to our children. If we don’t then we are liars and hypocrites, most kids can live with imperfect Dads if we genuinely own our failures.
God does not hold our sins against us and he is perfect SO why do we hold our children's sins against them and why do we hold our Dad's sins against them?
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. ~Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV)
God wants us to grasp the full extent of his love that just can’t be measured. Sometimes God says When I forgive, it's like I take all your sins and I plunge them in the deepest part of the ocean. Never to be used against you. Praise you Lord. When I forgive you its like I put your sins behind my back. So that when I look at you I see perfection. Praise you Lord God. Or, I create so much distance between you and your sin that its the distance between East and West. In a full moon, you can't see the moon and sun at the same time.
The point is that God is saying I cant see you and your sin, He treats us as we don’t deserve.
But our sins are not placed at the bottom of the ocean or behind Gods back they are all stapled to the body of his Son
who took our blame, they were left at the cross never ever to be brought up against us again.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. ~1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
But of course, this is only for those who FEAR GOD, three times we are told it's for those who fear God, specifically, who put their trust in God's Son. Do you joyfully praise God for his forgiveness or are you like Trump? When asked if he had ever sought God's forgiveness and he replied, "I'm not sure I have ever asked God's forgiveness. I don't bring God into that picture."
Days later when asked to clarify if, "asking for forgiveness" is a central tenet in his faith life. Trump answered "I try not to make mistakes where I have to ask forgiveness," Friends I'll stay out of politics when politicians stay out of bad theology. You don’t want your kids, let alone your nation, ever to hear that. Remember it's critical we point our kids to our heavenly Father
because we won't be around forever and they won't be around forever.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. ~Psalm 103:13-16 (NIV)
Here today and gone tomorrow. We are not preparing the next generation for our death if we make ourselves the heroes of the story.
I said to my Maddy, who has a sensitive conscience, if by chance I catch COVID from you and die please remember that God my Father numbered my days not you.
Don’t waste your life feeling guilty for God sovereignty.
Finally, as the psalm begins so it ends, but now he wants everything and everyone everywhere to praise our Father for his many benefits.
Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. ~Psalm 103:20-22 (NIV)
It’s a call to you angels who stand in the presence of God day and night, yes even you archangels Gabriel and Michael that includes Cherubim’s and Seraphim. Don’t hold back, give God the praise he deserves. To You who died in Christ and are gathered in heaven around the throne, you believers gathered in homes or around this screen or around the world. What is stopping you!!! Pump up the volume and let your neighbours hear praise coming from out of your mouth and out of your windows
And as for the rest of creation from Mt Everest to Mt Druitt from Buffalos to Bees, let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
You may not be able to sing at church but you can sing at home and in the car. You can praise God in words before the world and before the saints.
Here is one idea: Why not write a Father Day card to God your Father. My son gave me a Fathers day card and the cover said… Best Dad in Sydney …I was hoping for the World. He wrote “I am so thankful to God to have you as my Dad”
How about we all write God a Fathers day card telling him why we love him, then share what you wrote with your friends or family, here is mine.
Heavenly Father, Bless you for you choosing me before the creation of the world and adopting me into your forever family.
Precious Father I praise you for providing me with full forgiveness for all my sins, past present and future.
You have gifted me with your Son who died in my place.
You have gifted me with your Spirit who dwells in my body.
You have gifted me with your forever family where I have found a home.
Praise you for being the Father I never had and I could never have.
Praise you for being a God who is slow to anger and abounding in love.
Praise you for being in absolute control of this universe and my personal world.
Thank you for siding with the oppressed and for hating injustice.
And today I want to thank you so much for loving me through my earthly Dad
In Jesus precious name Amen.