Bible Text: Deuteronomy 6 | Preacher: Fiona Millar, Gary Millar | It’s For The Kids… by Gary Millar (Principal of Queensland Theological College)
How does God view children and how does this shape the way set up our kid’s ministry?
What’s The Big Idea? by Fiona Millar
Unpacking God’s truth for children begins with finding the big idea, then capturing that big idea in a short phrase kids can understand and hang onto.
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.
Imagine you lived in Australia in 1942 when Darwin was being bombed by the Japanese and 3 midget submarines came into Sydney Harbour sinking a ferry and killing 21 people. Inside your local church, you have young men hearing the call to defend the country and going off to war. Some returned home with limbs missing while others never returned at all. In your congregation some Christians refused conscription out of good conscience before God they could not fight. They believed that the bible forbids them to take up arms.
Can you imagine the tension and division it would have created inside local churches? What would be the pastor's role in that situation? I suggest one issue would be to help brothers and sisters think through the principles of living in a church where the saints held different views.
I think it's the same for us when it comes to living in a church where members hold different views on vaccination. The purpose of this paper is not to give direction on vaccination. I am not a doctor nor am I not a scientist, I am a pastor called to disciple the church of God. To that end, let me share how we can live in a church with different views on vaccination to God's glory.
Firstly, I recognize this is a very delicate and emotional issue. For a start, we are all feeling the impact of an extended lockdown. It messes with our heads and hearts. That pressure is felt by some more than others, especially if we are isolated with little support or if we suffer from acute depression or anxiety.
Importantly, some have lost loved ones here and overseas to COVID 19. One person at church lost six friends in South Africa another has lost ten people in India. COVID has profoundly and personally impacted some people at church.
Still, others have their own quota of health issues and are feeling physically vulnerable and acutely compromised concerned for either themselves or members of their family. All of which means we must speak on this issue with extra care and sensitivity.
Interestingly, last Monday we had a discussion at staff meeting and it became evident that we did not share the same views on vaccination. It was a good and gracious discussion with a number checking on each other to see if they spoke with grace. This made me realise we need to think hard about how we live together with different views on vaccination.
Here are a few principles to keep in mind and I'm sure you can think of others.
1. The two great commandments are to love God and love others.
Whatever you decide with the vaccination seek a conclusion that loves not just yourself, but your family, and the wider community. Remember it's not about you! We are to have the mind of Christ who considered others better than himself (Phil 2:5-11) and in particular those who are vulnerable. The God of the bible has his constant eye on the orphan, the poor and the widow. Paul warned us that without love we are nothing (1Cor13:1-2). Whatever your view on vaccines adopt an ‘other person-centred approach’ with a special eye to the powerless.
2. Turn your panic into prayer.
God is no less on his throne now than before or after COVID 19. Jesus told his disciples, that if we have a Father in heaven who knows our needs before we ask, and truly cares for us, then we need to trust him and not be like the pagans who panic about the basic needs of life. The repeated rebuke by Jesus to his disciples was ‘why are you so afraid?’ Before a watching world, including social media, we have a great opportunity to stand apart in refusing to live in fear because our God will never leave us or forsake us. While we can't stop feeling anxious, we are called to turn it into prayer (Phil 4:6) and let God's peace guard our troubled hearts. I assure you it will be more helpful for your troubled soul than constant exposure to a never-ending stream of COVID information.
3. Be informed and be thankful.
We are made in God's image to push back on the effects of the fall. This means we must thank God for the work of scientists who are doing what God calls imager bearers to do; to understand and rule over this virus. Nevertheless, use your God-given mind to assess the research available wisely. Be discerning who to trust and be open and non-defensive to hearing other people's views. Watch how much time you spend reading on this issue and becoming an expert compared to the time you spend reading God's word, and fellowshipping online with the saints. Ask yourself the question, “are you more excited about sharing your view on vaccines than about sharing Christ?”
4. Be humble and know that no one is infallible.
Even the best of research is not perfect. If you are suspicious about the ‘other’ position then learn to be a little suspicious about your own as well.
5. We can't avoid risk.
We live after the fall and outside the garden of Eden. We must never think that we can avoid risk in a broken world. We are all forced to assess what is calculated risk. However, there is no risk in following Christ who will raise our body from the dead as surely as our Lord was raised on the third day.
6. Don’t pressure other people toward your view.
Have the conversation if the other person gives you permission but don’t have it if they don’t want to. That includes members of your family. It’s exactly the same with evangelism which has to do with eternal issues. Ask permission to speak and share information, don’t dump it and definitely do not demand that people accept your view. If someone does send you material on vaccination, you are free to read it or ignore it, but you are not free to be rude about it. If we are called to speak with ‘gentleness and respect’ to false teachers (2 Tim 2:25), how much more should we be gracious with those who have different views on vaccination in person or on social media.
Be careful to not be cynical and sarcastic about people who hold different views. You don’t have to apologise for holding your view but never forget you share the same creator with fellow image-bearers you disagree with you. How much more, in the church where you share the same Father in heaven who sent his Son to die for both of you.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. ~ Romans 14:10 (NIV)
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. ~ Romans 14:19 (NIV)
7. Have a biblical view of government.
We each have different default attitudes to government. Some are more suspicious of authorities, and for good reason. Let us not forget that “The rulers of this age crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). On three occasions, Roman magistrates had Paul beaten with rods (2 Cor 11:25; Acts 16:22). Our federal government-led us into unjust wars such as Vietnam and approved pro-abortion legislation in NSW. It's not in “Gladys we trust” but in “God we trust.”
Others have a more positive view of government. They know that the kind of freedom, order and wealth we have in Australia has never been matched at any other time in the history of the world. No doubt, each view is shaped by experiences in this country and our country of origin. As a result, some are more inclined to believe government-approved research on vaccines, while others are more sceptical.
Nevertheless, let us be very clear about what the Bible requires. We are explicitly called to honour (1Peter 2:17), pray (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and submit to all governing authorities (Romans 13:2-3). And all for one reason, and it's not because they are necessarily doing a great job. It's because “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Rom 13:1) If the apostle Paul can say that about the Roman Emperor who was vicious and brutal we have even less reason to reject God's teaching. Unless the government causes us to explicitly violate our loyalty to Christ, then we regularly pray, openly respect and ‘willingly’ submit to them even if we think they are inconsistent, ineffective or just plain wrong in their response to Covid19.
Suffice to say that any attempt to engage or promote civil disobedience, because we are inconvenienced, grieves the Spirit of God. This doesn’t mean we can't protest and communicate our convictions, as long as it is done lawfully and respectfully.
8. Strive to maintain the unity of the church
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…” ~ Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)
Finally, take heed of the warning not to divide the church of Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NIV)
Let the world see how MBM is a profound mystery with men and women, young and old, from many cultures and classes with different views on politics and vaccines but who dearly love each other united by Christ's precious blood and sealed by his Holy Spirit.
Once conflict is faced and peace begins, trust needs to be rebuilt and that takes time. What heals wounds? What builds trust? What creates safety? It is love.
The Corinthians church was known for their many conflicts. This church managed to divide on every possible issue, from Leadership to the Lord's supper to Litigation. It was a toxic and proud church, they saw themselves as so ‘spiritual’ but were so ‘immature’. Priding themselves on some gifts of the Spirit-tongues, ignoring the fruit of the Spirit such as love. To the least loving church comes the clearest outline of Love.
The question for us is what would Jesus say about you? What would Jesus say of MBM?
The first point is this gifts multiplied by no love = nothing
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. ~1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)
Oh, to speak in the language of angels but without love, I am as useful as a car crash. Oh, to grasp the mysteries of the universe and to believe with so much confidence that you could park Mt Kosciusko in your front yard, but if love is absent, you are nothing! Oh, to be so generous that you give not 10%, 50% but 100% of all your money to the poor or be so committed to Jesus that you would take the bullet for Jesus and yet live a life without love. You gain nothing!
It won't be the first biography on a famous missionary who did great things for the Lord but whose personal life was a tragic loveless mess. The formulae is simple heroic gifts without Love = is nothing, you gain nothing.
Let me take you back to Maths class. If you Multiply one number with another number you get a much bigger number
5 x 8 = 40
If you multiply any number with 0 the answer is always 0
100 x 0 =
10,000 x 0 =
1,000,000,000 x 0 =
Any heroic act x zero love = 0
But wait a minute, I thought giving your money to the poor was an act of love? Well, isn’t it?
Well, let see the dos and don'ts of love. The first thing you notice is love is practical it not theoretical. It's not like a love song. All of me loves all of you.
But the bible gets down and dirty with love.
Love is patient … ~1 Corinthians 13:4a (NIV)
Love is Patient… it literally means “Love suffers long…” So straight out of the blocks, we are reminded that it's love in hard places, love with difficult people, love in conflict situations, when you’re tired and annoyed, love at 6am if you're not a morning person or 11pm if you are a morning person.
The best research on Marriage comes from the Gottman Institutes. John Gottman says, When couples repeatedly begin an argument with harsh words and tones -it is the great predictor of divorce.
But Love is long suffering, which is exactly what Gods love is like.
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, ~Exodus 34:6 (NIV)
He is a long suffering God, it's why the bible is so big. It's 66 love letters. Those of us with short fuses take note, Love isn’t easily angered or provoked
Love is not easily angered… ~1 Corinthians 13:5b (NIV)
Many of us have not quite come to terms that God has placed sinful humans outside of the garden of Eden. We expect our plans to operate smoothly and watch out if anyone gets in our way. No matter how organised, life throws a curve ball, holidays can be rained in, babies cry all night, friends let you down.
Christians criticize, neglect, let down, disappoint, undermine, rebel, slander, gossip, litigate,
John Piper says
If I am to LOVE like this, something in me must die.
My strong craving for a trouble-free life must die.
My need for an uninterrupted schedule must die.
My demandingness that frustrations and interference get out of my way must die.
Love is patient it is not easily angered. There are 15 things love can and can't do, but whatever else, Love is patient.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. ~1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)
Love is Kind. Even the word “Kind” sounds insipid and weak but that is exactly how God treats his people who rebel against him. His loving kindness binds him to us and us to him. Have we not tasted of the kindness of the Lord.
Consider: Two men walking toward each other around a steep mountain cliff face. The path is too narrow to walk past each other or they will fall off.
Solution: One man lies down and the other walks over.
Kindness: A kind deed to help out someone who hurts you, a kind thought wanting the best, a kind word that builds up another person rather than taking them for granted. Kindness is as simple as a word of encouragement. The Corinthian Christians who received this encouraging and kind letter were impatient, self centred, rude and full of envy.
Love is described not just by what we do but what we don’t do. Love does not envy and we know envy perpetuates so much conflict.
There are sins of commission—what we should have not done. And there are sins of omission—what we should have done but didn't.
Envy feeds conflict and love starves the envy that feeds conflict. Love rejoices with the success of others. It's hard when someone else got the job you applied for when someone else got the lover you long for. The solution to envy is to thank God for the success of others and let the person know that you are happy for their success.
We rejoice with those who rejoice equally when one part suffers we all suffer, when one part rejoices we all rejoice. Love wants to encourage, envy wants to withhold encouragement. Find that one person you envy and today send them a text, email, letter or say something to encourage them.
Perhaps you feel as if your life is more like a water polo game, you can only lift yourself up by putting someone else down. That is not love
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. ~1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)
Love also keeps no record of wrongs. Just like Jesus, love keeps no record of wrongs. It's not as if once we are reconciled there won't be any more hurts. Love doesn’t keep score on the mistakes of others. It is what kills marriages, churches and friends.
Conversations that begin with…"You always do that" or "Typical you" or "You will never change" or "You’re so hopeless". Jesus doesn’t keep score on your sins and he is perfect so why do we think we can keep score on other peoples sins.
I love the idea of love when it theoretical, I love this passage except when I have to think about real people in my life who hurt me. Love will be seen in what gives you pleasure.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. ~1 Corinthians 13:6 (NIV)
Since God is love, then love does not take pleasure in evil, love is not rude but neither will it pretend, it doesn't call good evil and evil good. When faced with conflict love sides with God. It loves what God loves and it hates what God hates. Since God is love, love sides with the truth, no matter how unpopular.
We don't play that silly game of setting truth against love, you can't love people unless you love truth even if the truth hurts. Truth is a person and that person is Jesus. Love aims at being consistent, it's how we build trust.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ~1 Corinthians 13:7 (NIV)
It always protects … it always has your back.
It always trusts … refuses to be cynical … it won't slip into sarcasm.
It always hopes …keeps handing out second chances, it's optimistic without being naïve.
It always preservers…Loves hangs in when others give up.
Love doesn’t just play the big games well but every game.
You get the parent who works 3 jobs for the family, but day by day they are moody, grumpy and critical. That is the nothing person! Gifts without love = nothing
For now, every Christian has been gifted and every gift will pass away, they have a use by date.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. ~1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (NIV)
Everything you enjoy at church and in this age is both imperfect and temporary. Imperfect because we prophesy in part, we know in part. I will never preach the perfect sermon. Temporary because they will disappear; they will come to an end.
The truly wise person knows what to be impressed by:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. ~1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
It's time to grow up…give a 5-year-old child a choice between a million-dollar diamond and a chocolate bar and they will choose the chocolate every time. It's time to grow up!
I love a person exercising their God-given gifts in the body of Christ but the older I get the more impressed I am by the fruit of the Spirit beginning with Love.
When we hear of relationships scared by conflict become healed by love, the cliché “It doesn’t get better than that!” is so misused. When I heard last week of two people whose journey began when they met a person at MBM who loved them and they could see God in them. ‘It doesn’t get better than that’
Learn what to get impressed by. Greatness is measured by one word: love…Those who love are God heroes.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (NIV)
As Karl Barth put it “When the sun rises the lights go out…”
When Jesus returns and perfection comes, we get to see God face to face the gifts go out.
People are not a means to an end they are the end. Do you know why this is so liberating? You may have missed out on a range of gifts, opportunities to serve that never came your way, but know this, you have not missed out on the greatest of all. I plead with you. Do not be the 'nothing' person. Hear the warning again: without love you’re nothing! And nothing will be your reward.
One of the great struggles in resolving everyday conflict is to see our part in the story. This is especially true when the greater sin lies with the other person or you think it does, they started it, they said the cruel words, they bagged you out on social media.
As I said last week we can freely talk about our pain and the other person's sin, but we find it almost impossible to talk about our sin and the other person's pain
Today, Jesus is giving the master class on disciple training. The question for you is, who is shaping how you respond to conflict?
He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? ~Luke 6:39 (NIV)
Too often we let the wrong people set the agenda for how we respond to conflict and then we pay the price. What did you learn from your parents? Did they ignore or ignite conflict? When you tell your friends about a conflict; do they feed your sense of self-righteousness and justify your refusal to forgive or nurture an attitude of entitlement?
The challenge for us is will you let Jesus tell you what it means to be his disciple? Will you stop telling Jesus why you don’t have to love your enemy? That its always someone else’s fault and never yours? Lets face it Jesus knows a little about conflict,
He has reconciled the world to himself. Jesus has told his disciples how to think about those who hate you, reject you and insult you.
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. ~Luke 6:27 (NIV)
The enemy is clear, it’s a person who curses you, mistreats you or takes advantage of you. It's any people who either keep you up at night or you want to get even with.
Which level of love do you live on?
a. Love your friend’s hate your enemies. “…Don’t get mad, get even”
b. Love your friends ignore your enemies…Keep your enemy at a polite distance.
c. Love your friends and love your enemies…Return good for evil
Notice how Jesus is not just calling his followers to tolerate or be polite, four ugly reactions of people meet four grace responses by Jesus people.
When hated - we love
When excluded - we do good
When insulted - we bless
When rejected - we pray for them
It's not just feel good toward them it's doing good toward them. When your enemies make it into your prayers and your prayers are to bless them and not curse you then you’re on your way to higher ground and to glorify God. That is radical. Jesus gets under our skin with his outrageous examples.
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. ~Luke 6:31 (NIV)
That is ridiculous! You won't last one minute in this world, everyone will rip you off. Like going home from church finding thieves loading their boot with your stuff and you say “Hi guys -can you tell me when you’re finished, I will just go and grab a cup of coffee, don’t forget the $300 dollars in the jar under the bed.”
We know they are exaggerated examples to get you thinking… We know that because the Apostle Paul required only widows who are over 60 and proven themselves as faithful in good works to qualify for the church pension. No free handouts here.
Jesus words are dangerous
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. ~Luke 6:29-31 (NIV)
He is almost inviting abuse. It sounds like you can't have boundaries. But we have an account of when Jesus was struck on the cheek. Jesus is being interrogated by the High Priest and the soldier hits him in the face. What does Jesus do? Feel free to hit me on the other cheek, this is what he does say.
“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” ~John 18:24 (NIV)
That’s what it looks like, Jesus love was expressed in two ways, He confronts the soldier, holding him accountable but he doesn’t wipe him off the face of the earth. Love doesn’t mean we don’t confront, it doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us, it does mean that you approach the enemy wanting to do good to bless and to pray. When you do good, remember you’re like your Father in Heaven and not like the world
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. ~Luke 6:32-34 (NIV)
Call me strange but I have absolutely no problem loving those who love me back. It's true, give me compliments, offer me a gift and I’ll be your best friend. And Jesus says Big Deal! even the sinners do that.
In 2002 they found a scrapbook that belonged to Karl Hocker, it had photos of Nazis at play loving each other, it was those who ran Jewish extermination camps in Auschwitz.
You could rewrite Jesus words and say “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even the ‘Nazis’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even the ‘Nazis’ do that.
All the time while hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were being gassed to death. To return evil for good is of the devil, to return good for good is being human, to return good for evil makes you just like your Father in heaven.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. ~Luke 6:35-36 (NIV)
Never are we more like our Father in heaven than when we love and do good to our enemies. God will remember, record and reward every act of grace toward your enemy. And it will echo into eternity because it glorifies God.
Elsewhere Jesus says God lets the rainfall on those who love and hate him, God lets the sunshine on the just and unjust, every time you see that sucker rise in the east God is telling you to love your enemies because that is what I am doing every day. Never did that love reach an absolute pinnacle then when Christ died for us while we were his enemies…do to others what you would want them to do to you. Have we not all been an enemy of someone in our lives? Haven’t we all wanted them to show grace to us? It's not like this is optional for disciples wanting to follow Jesus. When we are hurt it's so easy to demonize the other person, we stop thinking the best.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. ~Luke 6:37 (NIV)
Don’t judge…50 years ago John 3:16 was the most well known Bible verse known by Christians, now it's "do not judge, and you will not be judged." We are letting the blind lead the blind. The world is creeping into the church, the world that stops God from speaking, the world which loves sin and hates the saints, the world that loves to call good evil and evil good. So what does Jesus mean by don’t judge? I think the next verse tells us exactly what it means. Don’t condemn:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven ~Luke 6:37 (NIV)
Don’t be quick to play God, don’t be quick to say this backsliding Christian is in hell. I can warn a person that they are heading for hell if they don’t repent but I can't announce they are in hell. I don’t know what they did before they died.
We had one guy who joined us for a time, he thought he was sinless and it didn’t take him long before he was announcing that every person at MBM was not a Christian and for good reason. I was not a Christian because I yawned during prayer time. Do not judge
Imagine 2 people going to the toilets for the first time, one comes out and goes straight to the wash basin to wash their hands but the other person just goes out. Its easy for the person washing their hands to think how disgusting that the other person has not washed their hands, not knowing that the other toilet had its own washbasin Don’t judge, you don’t have all the information.
Stop trying to judge the motives of people. You’re not God, only he knows the heart, don’t be quick to think the worst, resist the urge to demonize, especially those who hurt you.
So how do we correct each other and not fall into this sin? Approach a person assuming the best and that the hurt was unintentional, that it was thoughtless, not malicious, speak to them as though you’re the greater sinner.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. ~Luke 6:41-42 (NIV)
The person who judges tends to overestimate the sins of others and underestimate their own sin. Wouldn’t we all get along with each other much better if we assumed we are the bigger sinner? It has to be this way! Because you live with you 24/7. You know what you think or say or do 24/7. You know the motives behind what you say and do, you see more of your sin than anyone else, it has to be that way. Whenever you speak to another always assume that you are the greater sinner.
So, it will always be a speck in their eye and plank in the other, as you face the person you’re in conflict with, remember the telegraph pole in your eye and eye lash in the other person. You may spend more time focusing on your sin and their pain, than focusing on your pain and their sin.
This will come out in how you apologise, you may be aware that you played a small part in the conflict.
They may or may own their failure but you know your father in heaven sees what you have done and is pleased. We play to an audience of one! Your conscious is clear and God is glorified.
In many conflicts, there is a power struggle, one person is committed to changing another person and the other is committed to not wanting to be changed. We get locked in, for me to win you must lose, and if you win, I lose. Our desires turn to demands, our hurts turn into rage or passive aggression.
When wounded, we turn in ourselves. We are quick to name our pain and the other person's sin. We are unable to name our sin and the other persons’ pain. Worst of all, we act like there are only two people in this conflict. Faced with conflict we react to what is in front of us, the bible will encourage us in the midst of conflict to go higher ground and to think God thoughts.
We can’t make wise decisions when we are in the heat of a battle. In the conflict of war Generals always went to the highest point to see the battle from with the widest lens. When they invented airships and planes they took to the sky. When they invented satellites, they took to space.
The best way to understand conflict is to stand back and go up; to think God thoughts. It's never just you and the other person. It's you, them and the Lord Jesus, He redefines every relationship for a Christian.
So what does it mean to go to higher ground? First, it means we understand that we are raised with Christ, so set your minds on the things above.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. ~Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)
So why meditate on heaven when I live below on earth? Two reasons. The first is, that is where Christ is who is ruling the church! Set your heart and mind on the risen Lord Jesus. He is now seated at the right hand of God, from there he rules the universe, he rules the church. He is firstborn of the creation, firstborn of the dead so that in everything he might be first. And that includes being first in every conflict relationship you’re in. In other words, I win if Christ is first.
Second, we set our minds on the things above, that is where we are, we are caught up in Christ’s victory. Our life is hidden with Christ. We are expected to engage in conflict from a different point of view to the world.
Let's ponder the idea of union with Christ.
We are alive in Christ and we are with Christ, we will appear with Christ in glory. The second coming is every Christian's coming out party. Once you get that you cant be the same. From that vantage point we put sin to death, we put away old me, we put off our earthly sinful nature. We may fall into sin but we don't walk in those sins.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. ~Colossians 3:8-10 (NIV)
Raised with Christ and set your minds on the things above, we will not engage with the old weapons, Anger, Malice, Slander or Swearing. Nor do we pretend and lie but speak the truth in love, all with gentleness and respect. The good news as we are being renewed and transformed is that we are not on you are own, God is at work in us
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)
From the moment you said “I Do” to Jesus, God made a commitment to transform you into the likeness of his son, to shape you to be more like Jesus. That growth is described as an ever-increasing glory that happens as we live for Gods glory.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. ~1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
Every moment of every day, amidst every relationship good or bad, we get the privilege to put a smile on the face of God. That includes how you engage with conflict.
I once ran a bible study for teenagers/young adults who were new Christians. There was one girl who was 15 maybe 16 at the time, she came from a broken and dysfunctional home. One day as the group was going home she said, “Ray I think I understand what life is all about.” What’s that Julie? She said,
“Its about Giving God the glory in everything.”
That insight changed everything, it shaped how she responded in her relationships, especially the ones that were dysfunctional. She instinctively went to higher ground, she has gone on to make an enormous impact in the lives of so many.
So how do I glorify God in the midst of my conflict? In short, you keep to two great commands front and centre, Love God and Love others. That is how you glorify God, to love God is to engage in conflict in such a way that brings honour to him.
What motivates you is that He sees your attempt to be at peace, He is honoured when you raise a difficult issue, He is pleased by your desire to forgive, He is lifted up when you love the one who wounded you, He is glorified that you’re satisfied with his approval. He smiles when you keep loving the person who is slandering you. This is higher ground, it's never just you and the other person. There is you, them and the Lord Jesus.
Have you not noticed that when God directs how we ought to live our relationship, whether to husbands, wives, parents, children, servant, masters or each other, the church. It's always in Christ and as to the Lord, in every relationship you have, whether Christian or not, work, home, study or church is redefined by your relationship with Christ. We serve and love others for Jesus sake.
It's as if Jesus is saying I “If you can't do it for their sake, I know you can do for my sake.” It's what breaks the hold of a power struggle. This truth saved my marriage.
Sandy and I fought a lot in the first 6 months of our marriage. From my end, I was counting who is doing more and I counted in my favour. Then one day I was reading:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. ~Ephesians 5:25 (NIV)
Jesus was telling me, Ray, get your eyes off Sandy and get your eyes on me and when you think you have gone as far as me on the cross then you draw a line in the sand but until then keep loving and keep laying down your life. Love for God extends to Love for the enemy. As Jesus said anyone can love those who love them back. If you do that Jesus says, big deal, even the pagans do that. We love the enemy.
There is a Scottish proverb that says ‘The worst thing in life is to die without enemies. The worst thing in life is to not love your enemies.’ In times of conflict, our loved ones can become our enemy.
The Bible is very realistic, God knows that you will be in a difficult relationship, we live outside the garden and after the fall. Do not be idealistic about the church, we are Saints who still Sin. The church is like a suitcase of porcupines, hence the command to forgive one another, and bear one another.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. ~Romans 12:18 (NIV)
Love means we are committed to reconciliation, think of a difficult relationship you’re in right now. God, if possible, because it may not be that they died, or won’t talk or admit, as much as it depends on you, from your side. Strive for peace.
Your Lord knows that it takes one to forgive but two to make peace. You are responsible to do whatever it takes to make peace. You are not responsible for the other person behaviour.
Here is a lesson I learnt 36 years ago that has kept me sane and it's in the verse. In a nutshell, know what you have control over and what you don’t. Know what you are responsible for and what you are not.
Dr. Larry Crabb put it this way:
Goals are those things that you have control over and are responsible for.
Desire is something you would like to happen but don’t have control over.
You work toward your goals, you pray for your desires.
Wanting my friend to apologise; Goal or Desire?
Forgiving my friend; Goal or Desire?
Wanting my cousin to be saved; Goal or Desire?
Taking up opportunities to share my faith; Goal or Desire?
In this verse a desire is to be at peace with all people, you pray for it but you cant control the outcome. A goal is to make sure that everything that leaves my mouth is driven by the good of the other person.
You see this principle in the Serenity Prayer - Reinhard Neihbuhr, prayed in AA meetings
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
When I am stressed in a relationship, I ask myself the question what is my desire that I have no control over? I want to be heard, I want the person to own their sin against me, I want to hear an apology, I want to be loved, I want them to acknowledge the damage they have done, I want their approval and respect. None of which I can control.
What I can control, what I am responsible for, what God requires me to do is to speak a word of encouragement with gentleness and respect, to raise a hurt, to be patient, to listen to another person’s pain, to own my sin, to apologize, to forgive, to set boundaries. So, winning is not about being loved, it's about being like God and striving for peace as much as you can do.
My goal is to glorify God in all situations and not let Satan have a win. My goal is to go to higher ground and make Jesus look good. My goal is to be satisfied with my heavenly Father's approval. My goal is to think God thoughts. My goal is to speak in a way that seeks peace. My goal is to let the Spirit do his work in my life.
On my better days when I go to higher ground, I think of Jesus at the cross being nailed by the hands that he created, knowing he could invent billions of ways of making them suffer a slow death, but all you hear is Father forgive them for they know not what they do.
I spoke to a woman at church this week, her father left her mother and 8 children, abandoning them into poverty, their life was so hard. He never owned his sin. Many years later he tried to re-entry their lives, which they welcomed, only to find out it was only for money. Years after that she heard that her Dad was in the hospital, and she called him to see how he was. She asked for the opportunity to talk about matters and make peace. His response was clear “I don’t want to talk to you” and then he hung up. The next day he died.
I said to the woman, ‘You don’t come across embittered.’ She said two things, God's grace to her and knowing that while her father on earth abandoned her, her Father in heaven said
“Never will I leave you, never will forsake you.” She went to higher ground and it set her free.
What is going to be MBM Parramatta’s biggest challenge? It will be each other? The hardest thing about being a human is other humans. We each have a natural difference, when fuelled by a spirit of demandingness it quickly leads to conflict. Which would ok except we either ignore it or ignite it, but we can do better.
This term we are going to look at resolving everyday conflict.
As the series title suggests: "Worth fighting for". Our Lord Jesus is the prince of peace and fought for that peace. At the cross, he waved the surrender flag and said I don’t want to fight anymore.
If you want to kill me then kill me and let's get it over with so that we can be friends. And He then gives us his Spirit and commands us “Be at peace with all people as much as it depends on you.” But there can be no peace unless we go for higher ground, there will be no peace unless we understand, unless we get that unforgiveness is not an option.
Deep down we each have a quota of pain, sinned against by someone in our family, in our church or in the world. It could have been a one-off event or ongoing. It could have been done thoughtlessly or maliciously, but however, it got there, it's there. At some point, we all have put a fence around our pain and have said to ourselves, to others and even to God “… this is so bad, what was done to me so wrong, the wounds so deep that not even God would ask me to ever consider forgiving the one who wounded me.”
Let me say up front
The apostle Peter is aware that sin happens both inside and outside the church and so he ask Jesus a question...how often?
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” ~Matthew 18:21 (NIV)
Peter is trying to out-grace Jesus. Rabbis required people to forgive only 3 times, Peter offers the perfect number 7 times.
But I would have asked Jesus another question with it, not just how many times? But how bad does the sin have to get before? before I can say: "that's it".
Jesus answer haunts us in our pain even today.
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. ~Matthew 18:22 (NIV)
Or 70x 7, you can almost feel abandoned by God in your pain, the word is don't ever stop forgiving, there is to be no limit, don’t stop striving to be at peace with others. Jesus reverses the vengeful language of Lamech, reminding us, the opposite to revenge is forgiveness, the opposite to forgiveness is payback!
Forgiveness is choosing to absorb the sin and not retaliate.
We have twice interviewed Gladys Staines at MBM, her husband and 2 sons were burnt alive in India by radical Hindu extremists. They were Medics in India helping the poor and the Lepers. She said “I have no anger, I have no hatred.” I asked Gladys how she was able to forgive and so quickly. She said, “I think it was because I learnt to forgive the little things.” What wise words. We are either cancelling debts or holding on to them.
There are 2 reasons given by Jesus in his story, the first is tied to the amount of forgiveness we have received and the second is tied to the amount of judgment that will fall on us if we don’t.
We live in light of breathtaking forgiveness.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. ~Matthew 18:23-25 (NIV)
The man's debt to the king was enormous. Some say it's a national debt, about 15 billion, others say it was the wages of 60,000 working days. This was a time when you couldn’t file for bankruptcy, you (and your family) were personally responsible for your debt. Like this man you and I face a debt to God we could not pay; a punishment we cant bear. We were standing on the edge of hell, facing our own hopeless eternity; staring into the place of utter darkness. With the enormous debt before him the man cries out.
At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ ~Matthew 18:26 (NIV)
He has no idea how much he owes, he thinks he can pay the king off, like so many who think they can buy God off with good works. And yet in a God like way the king had mercy on him.
The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. ~Matthew 18:27 (NIV)
Can you feel the relief? This is a picture of God's forgiveness. The whole debt is gone. The king does not postpone the payment of the debt, the king does not ask for 10 cents in the dollar, the king wipes the slate clean. It's why Paul says love keeps no record of wrongs. To forgive is to release one from a debt.
I once read in the newspaper (Telegraph) “Australia forgave Egypt a 200 million dollar debt” (1991). Australia said to Egypt you don’t ever have to pay it back.
So why does Jesus put no limit on how many times we ought to forgive? I will tell you why: because God puts no limit on the amount of sins that he forgives us. Every day we grieve his Spirit and every day he forgives them.
By not forgiving, we show that we have absolutely no idea what it cost Jesus the innocent Son of God to enter the horror of the cross. That we have no idea how bad hell is that we have been delivered from. No idea how bad we all are and we have no idea that unforgiveness is not an option.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. ~Matthew 18:28-30 (NIV)
This guy is often called the unmerciful servant, he also is the ungrateful servant, forgiven so much, now refusing to forgive so little. It was just loose change compared to what he had been forgiven.
Albert Tetzler won the lottery a while back in the US, the amount pocketed was 7 million dollars, a lot of money. Two years later he was sent to prison because he had failed to pay child support which totalled just $35,000, he got 7 million but couldn’t pay $35,000.
You reckon that is bad, try telling God why you don’t have to forgive when he has forgiven so much. He is the ungrateful servant and so are we when you allow our pain to swamp the grace of God. Freely you have received, freely forgiven.
This is not saying that you have not been sinned against and it was not wrong. This is not saying that the pain is not real or that God doesn’t care. This is not to say that church discipline should not be applied or in some cases, the cops should be called. This is not saying that comfort can't be found, knowing that God will punish those who refuse to repent. What it is saying is that when you set limits on forgiveness you deny the full extent of your own sin against God and the full extent of Gods kindness to you.
Too often revenge conquers us instead of us conquering revenge by the grace of God. We must stop playing God, who alone says “Vengeance is mine says the lord I will repay” The King acts when he finds out that the man he forgave, refused to forgive another so little, he is angry
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. ~Matthew 18:32-34 (NIV)
Do you understand what Jesus is saying? Unforgiveness is not an option for those who follow Christ. Think back to the Lord's Prayer..
"Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us"
Jesus has thrown us a curve ball, when we pray we are asking God to treat us in the way that we treat others, by not forgiving others you are inviting God to not forgive you. So both Grace and judgment demands forgiveness. Jesus ends the story with the stinging warning...
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” ~Matthew 18:35 (NIV)
Take the grace of God lightly and you will end up taking his judgment severely. If the grace of God won't move you to forgive then maybe the fear of God will. It's as clear as a bell, isn’t it? Don't wallow in the pain, now is the time to start to forgive, seize the moment and conquer the urge to punish, let the Spirit do its work in you right now.
Do you know why I think unforgiveness is not an option? It's because God loves us, He is saying: “I don’t want you to waste your life filled with bitterness; where you spend your days re-playing those stories over and over to feed your rage." Jesus says: "I don’t want you to let those who sinned against you to keep punishing you. I want you to know the freedom of forgiveness, but that won't happen unless you forgive from the heart." It is not a 'pretend' forgiveness when we play games and say 'I don’t care' or 'it doesn’t bother me' or just laughing it off. Living in denial is not forgiveness.
The journey may begin further back, you may need to pray, to want to pray, to even want to forgive. At some point, you have to get on that peace train, even if it's last carriage. Are you not tired? I know you are.
There was a year I held something against Sandy. I noticed I was sulking for longer periods of time. On one occasion I sulked for 5 long weeks but Sandy barely noticed. No eye contact, a slight shift in tone, for 5 weeks I was aloof. It went so long I forgot why I was sulking. Then I had to make myself remember, I was exhausted and ashamed. When I eventually did forgive, I was so relieved. My refusal to forgive caused me to have a growing bitter heart. Has it not weighed you down long enough.
One of the messages to Australia from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
"It's my choice to be a victim or a survivor. It's my choice to forgive or hate. It's my choice to look forward or back. So I have chosen to love the life I have. I have chosen to forgive those who hurt me, because I don't know who hurt them. My 'Message to Australia': I ask you to do the same. The action of hate fixes nothing."
I have been in awe of so many at MBM who have endured so much suffering and who eventually decide to forgive and enjoy the freedom it brings.
We start a new series and we will take our time and think hard about how we can be at peace with all people. It's risky, its not an option and it's worth it. We are reminded yet again that God’s way is the best way.
“All of life is related to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" That is what one woman said at MBM; what a profound comment. At the heart of the bible is the gospel and at the heart of the gospel is the Lord Jesus. That must be the DNA of MBM, to know that Jesus is Lord of all. Which means he answers the big question of life.
The Hitch Hikers guide to the Galaxy was a funny book seeking to find the answer to the meaning of life. The answer was '42', when we all know it's 1. Wrong answer to the right question. So, let's see how Jesus is the right answer to the right question.
At the heart of a prayer of thanksgiving, we are presented with the Son in whose kingdom we dwell. He is the image of the invisible God
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. ~Colossians 1:15 (NIV)
Christ makes the God who you cannot see, known. You don't have to guess what God is like, you meet God in his Son. He is not just a pale reflection of who God is. Jesus is God!
Later we read that all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form. That is why Jesus says to Philip ‘If you have seen me you have seen the father.’ So as Christ stands to God, He is the perfect image, but as he stands with the World Christ is its creator.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. ~Colossians 1:15 (NIV)
First born is the language of supremacy; He is not part of Creation but supreme over creation. The firstborn gets the inheritance, He holds rank over all of it. If there is any doubt that Christ is not part of the creation verse 16 makes it plain.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him ~Colossians 1:16 (NIV)
Look at how comprehensive is the supremacy of Christ. There is nothing that Christ has not created. By that, he means things in heaven and earth. By that, he includes things visible and invisible. By that, he means thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. If Jesus didn't make it, it doesn't exist. Every corner of the universe is covered. That includes the angels and demons, Jesus made the devil, not as the devil but as an angel who later rebelled. Do not think there is a spiritual battle between good and evil and its neck and neck, Jesus created hell for the devil and his angels.
The Colossians were tempted to pray to and worship angels. If your view of Christ is not supreme then you will worship something else. If your Christian religion is Mary, and the saints. If you’re into non-Christian religious gods and gurus. If it's new-age, angel and crystals. If you’re into the dark arts it's demons, if you're an animist it will be spirits, if you're an atheist it will be your mind.
Once you see Jesus in all his glory then to whom will you go.
Jesus is not number 1, He is the only one. Jesus answers the big questions of life. Questions that people have been asking from the beginning of time, questions that children ask and
adults are afraid to ask or are too busy to ask or just forget to ask. Questions like Who made me? Why do I exist? What is my reason in life? The answer is given in such simple words you could almost trip over it.
All things were created by him and for him. ~Colossians 1:16 (NIV)
You exist for one reason, you were created to be in a personal friendship with Christ, on his terms and for his glory. God made the universe for his Son, this is the message we take to the world.
When I read this verse, I think of the classic love lines in songs and movies…
Words that capture the spirit of the age, and the idols of our heart. The songs remove Christ from his rightful place, that language should only and can only be applied to the Lord Christ.
It's not as if Christ created us and then left us to go on our merry way. The one who is before all things is Christ, the one who holds it all together.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together ~Colossians 1:17 (NIV)
We say of a person who is coping with a lot of pressure, ‘He is holding it all together.’ For Jesus literally holds the universe together.
(The Son is)...sustaining all things by the power of his word. ~Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)
If the job of science gives natural explanations for the natural World, the Bible gives the ultimate explanation for the natural and spiritual world. Christ sustains the universe and it is he who is bringing everything to its appointed end.
History is moving in one direction, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. Christ is supreme in this age and in the age to come.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. ~Colossians 1:18 (NIV)
Christ rules in creation and he rules over his people the church, Christ is the head of the church which is his body. There is an intimate connection between Christ and his body the church.
Jesus said: "When you do it unto the least of my brothers you do it unto me." The church belongs to Christ, He rules the church. Its right to say that MBM is Christ's church its even ok to say its our church, but it is never Ray Galea's church.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, ~Colossians 1:18 (NIV)
The church that he rules is the one he leads into the age of the resurrection. Jesus is firstborn from the dead, He is the first of the dead ones to rise, He spear heads a new people who will also rise from the dead and God raised his Son first
…so that in everything he might have the supremacy. ~Colossians 1:18 (NIV)
literally "so that in everything he might be first."
He ranks supreme in this age and in the age to come. He ranks number 1 in this creation and the next. He rules over all people and Gods people.
The one who is firstborn of creation is firstborn from the dead, so that in everything he might be first. John the Baptist was right, Jesus must increase and I must decrease. He is first because he is God
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him ~Colossians 1:19 (NIV)
The first Christmas day not only made us happy it first made God happy. God was pleased to become fully human, God permanently sided with us humans to bring peace.
Coming to earth was not the end of the story, God delights to put right the universe that has gone wrong
… and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. ~Colossians 1:20 (NIV)
To reconcile means is to bring together that which is apart, to make friends where there are enemies, to make peace where there is war and to put right that which is wrong. The Universe was made by Christ and for Christ but every corner of the universe has been stained by sin.
There is rebellion in the invisible world with Demons opposing God, there is rebellion in the visible world with humans as enemies of God. Christ came to bring peace through his blood with all things. In some way that means God made peace with the devil. That peace is not just a peace of friendship, all holding hands, smoking weed and singing “ all your need is love…” it has the idea of the pacification of the universe.
Pax Romana described 200 years of Roman peaceful rule. The peace of Rome- was 'not flowers in the hair' singing ‘We are the world’. The Peace of Rome involved the army who came to put down any rebellion.
So how did God made peace with the devil? by disarming and shaming the devil at the cross by taking from him his right to accuse us of sin. The Cross is as much about suppressing the enemies like Satan as it is about saving sinners. At the cross, the rift between God and man and God and the universe is reversed.
These are the facts, Christ is the reason that you exist, why you exist, why your sins cant condemn you and why Satan cant accuse you, why your death cant defeat you. Christ rules the world and he rules this church, He grants you the right to breathe and the right to enter heaven. At every point Christ is supreme.
There is not a corner of your life and there is not a square metre on this earth where Christ cannot say ‘This is mine and I own it and it belongs to me’.
So why isn't Jesus first in your life? What part of your life are you refusing to let Jesus be first? Perhaps you think you've gone too far!? Join the rest of us.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation ~Colossians 1:21-22 (NIV)
We were all enemies of God, the evidence is seen in what we did and what we thought. We have been funding a war with God, for some, it's open warfare with blatant defiance, for many it’s the cold war.. silence and sulking, but war it is. The peace was brokered over Christ’s physical body.
I heard of a couple who were separated and on their way to divorce. One day the husband decided to visit the grave of their dead son, as he stood there he heard someone coming from behind, coincidently, it was his wife. For a moment they were going to walk away from each other but standing over the grave of their dead son they held hands and peace came to their marriage.
God has made peace with you over the body of his Son, its time to take the hand of God and go home knowing you’re at peace with God. What does this peace with God look like?
On Judgment day there is no shaming, no condemnation, no accusation, no rejection. You will be Holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. You go home with our Lord and there will be no I told you so, no more criticism, no blame.
That is the power of the gospel.
On our drive to our annual family holiday, my younger brother in-law and I were talking about sharks and sharks had been spotted at our holiday spot. We were both a bit scared but one of our “traditions” is to jetty jump and as soon as we hit the water I could feel these hands cling on to me, my brother-in-law needed something secure, and I don’t know why he turned to me, I would have been completely useless!
Where do you put your trust? It reminded me about how we all run and cling on to something or someone when our lives spiral out of control. When we lose our job, or you are not getting enough work for your business or you’re struggling to pay your bills.
You or someone close receives bad news from the doctor, a relationship is on the rocks or you’re feeling overwhelmed about the future, wondering, are you studying the right course, will you get a job once you’ve finished studying? Will you be stuck in this phase of life forever? We all turn to something or someone for help.
With the year that has just passed we’ve all felt what it’s like to feels out of control. The COVID virus seemed to come out of nowhere and our world has been changed forever. I know so many people who have lost their jobs. Businesses having to shut. Everything that has happened is a bit of a shake-up that reminds us of how little control we actually have over our lives.
When life turns upside down, as it has, where do you run to? Where do you place your trust?
Well, that’s the big question this Psalm wants us to think about today, “Where do you place your trust? This psalm is an invitation to look into the life of someone who has placed their trust in the God the Bible. It’s an invitation to consider, what it would look like if you placed your trust in the God of the Bible.
Where we’re going:
Firstly, this psalm invites us to look into the life of someone who has placed their trust and their confidence, in the God of the Bible.
This Psalm begins with a cry out to God for protection. David, the author of this psalm, was human just like you and I. Just as we face the uncertainty of life, David had his fair share of things to worry about in his life time.
David struggled with the worries and the uncertainty of life, in a season in his life, he was on the run from people trying to kill him, people who spoke falsely of him and treated him unfairly. He had had some serious family issues! At one point his own son was trying to kill him – he had a dysfunctional family!
David was all too familiar with the uncertainty of life. He had a far from perfect life and was far from perfect himself. Verse 1 shows us the reality of this as he calls out to God. But then look at what David does in verse 2. David doesn’t only call out to God and then sits back and waits for something magical to happen. No, David is deliberate in his response to the uncertainty of life, he runs to God and he confesses,
You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” ~Psalm 16:2 (NIV)
We see this expanded in verse 5, where he says:
“You Lord are my portion and cup of blessing. You hold my future”. ~Psalm 16:5 (HOLMAN)
What David is saying here, is that from all the places, people or things he could run to he chooses to run to God.
In verse 5 the picture he is trying to paint, is that if you imagine a table full of different portions of food, a buffet of a variety of choices to choose from. David is saying that his portion, his choice, would be to choose God, out of everything else available.
Like David, we have so many different options to place our trust in. When life spins out of control what are some of the things you run to when life is out of control? What’s your safety net?
Is it a relationship? or the figure in your back account? or your own ability to work hard and be successful?
We have to ask the question, Why run to God?
When we look at the story of David’s life, as we read some of the other psalms he wrote, we see that David knew God’s character, and that’s why he chooses to place his trust in God. That’s what David is talking about in verse 6
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. ~Psalm 16:6 (NIV)
What David is talking about here, is that he remembers Israel’s history. How God chose this small nation, insignificant to the super powers around them at the time. No land, no military power and yet God led them to victory in their battles. He provided a land that they could settle into.
Personally, David knows how God has come through for him in impossible situations. Remember the story of David and Goliath? there was no way a shepherd boy could beat this giant, who was a seasoned warrior and yet David walked out of the battle victorious.
David reflects on the history of his people, he reflects on his own life, and sees that God is someone who is trustworthy. A God who is faithful. A God who provides for and protects His people. That’s why David runs to him. And this is why David could confidently say what he does in verse 8.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. ~Psalm 16:8
As far as we know, David’s circumstances haven’t changed, life is still probably uncertain for him. When he reflects on who God is and what He has done, that’s enough for David to confidently say, that despite whatever is happening in life at the moment, despite how out of control life might seem, he is unshakeable, because he knows God is on his side.
You see, the God of the Bible doesn’t call us to have blind faith, He calls us to trust Him, to have faith based on evidence. Often we have assumptions of who God is and what He’s like. But can I ask you, do you know this God? the God of the Bible, the God David runs to. I think a lot of us don’t run to God, don’t place our trust in Him because we don’t truly know Him.
Running to someone you trust, just like a kid running to their parent even though someone else was standing right there, they run to their mum. Why? Because they know their parents are trustworthy, they feed them, stay up with them at night when they can’t sleep, protect them from danger, comfort them.
Because kids know their parents, they run to their parents.
So often I think we don’t run to God, because we don’t truly know His character, all we know about Him, is what we’ve heard from other people, from different sources, from the media. Maybe we have this picture of a God who is just about rules, a God who doesn’t care, a God who is distant.
Let me ask you, can you honestly say that you’ve taken the time to look into the claims of the Bible for yourself? Or is all you know about Him from what other people have said about Him? You see the Bible is how God has chosen to speak to us.
If you truly want to know what the God of the Bible is like, what David saw in Him then let me encourage you to investigate what the Bible has to say about God. Ask questions, do your research, spend quality time reading the bible for yourself, before you just write Him off.
The reason David put his confidence in God, when life was uncertain was because he knew God’s true character. Let me encourage you, look to the Bible and see for yourself what David knew about God.
Secondly, this psalm moves us to see how we can falsely place our confidence in things that eventually always let us down.
In David’s culture, these things took the form of idols, as you can see in verse 4. In ancient cultures (and even some today),
they believed that there were gods for different things. A god of love, war, fertility, wealth, wine and parties. They put their trust in these idols to fulfil their lives.
Now today we don’t believe these gods exist, but the principle behind why these ancient cultures worshipped idols remains the same for us. We still run after these things, love, power, sex, wealth, placing our trust in these things and expecting them to completely satisfy us. Expecting them to make us unshakeable.
We say if I had this career, looked this way, had just a little bit more money, if this person loved me or I was in this relationship, then life would be good, then I would be completely satisfied, then no matter what happens, I will be unshakeable. But look at what this psalm says.
Those that run after other gods, will suffer more and more. ~Psalm 16:4 (NIV)
See when you run after something, whether it be money, love or power, what it shows about us is that we believe we can’t live without those things. If we base our satisfaction, our security in life, in wealth, relationships, in being in control, as time goes on, you will be shaken. Why? Because even if you are in the lucky minority who gets the things you’re running after, eventually, they’ll start slipping away because nothing in this world lasts. Life is uncertain
One example is if you look back over history when, Stock markets crashed in the US in the 1920’s and the 1980’s, and there was an increased rate in suicides. People had invested all their trust into their stocks and so when share prices fell, they were shaken. What they put their trust in had failed them.
As good as relationships are, people change, they move away, they die. No matter how healthy you are, no one is exempt from falling sick and getting old. No matter how influential, or powerful or wealthy you become your life has an expiry date on it just like every other human being. Everything you chased after in this life will be taken away from you. You’ll leave it all behind.
Nothing is certain, if we run after these things, if we base our security on these things, one day it will be gone and we’ll be left shattered, without a secure foundation.
The past year has been a wake up call, of just how uncertain life is, of how things can change and be taken away so suddenly. How sure are you, that whatever you’re placing your trust in will satisfy you, will keep you secure forever?
Well in the last verses of this psalm, we’re given a picture of the future, of those that place their trust in God. An eternal confidence.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. ~Psalm 16:9-11
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
In these last verses we see, if God looks after those who trust Him in the uncertainty of this life then surely, He won’t let death come between them. Surely, He won’t let death strip His goodness away. And friends what we celebrated on Easter Sunday a few weeks ago, proves exactly that.
Through Jesus’ resurrection, God is saying, for all those who put our trust in Him, you don’t have to fear death, Jesus has taken care of that on cross.
Through the resurrection God is saying, "I will not let death separate you from my love". "I will not let death come between us!"
What David only knew partially we now know in full. And the early church saw the connection between this psalm and Jesus’ resurrection.
David said about him [Jesus]:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ ~Acts 2:25-28 (NIV)
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, is a signpost across history, that the God of the Bible is trustworthy and loves you, that He is not distant and removed from your life.
If the resurrection of Jesus, isn’t enough for you to trust God, then nothing ever will be.
You’ve got to ask yourself the question, what other evidence will you need today to believe that Jesus is raised from the dead?
See, even at the time of Jesus, people back then had strong reasons to be sceptical that Jesus would rise again from the dead. If you look at the gospel accounts, you’ll see that no one was expecting Jesus to be alive, His disciples, His closest friends were in hiding, even though Jesus had told them He would rise again on the third day. They didn’t believe Him! On the third day as the woman that was headed to the tomb of Jesus, to mourn Him, expecting His body to be there. Something drastic had to happen for thousands of people, who weren’t expecting a resurrection, to start believing that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
A.N. Wilson, who is a British author and public figure, who once laughed at Christianity, until he was convinced of the evidence, says this about the resurrection:
“We can easily dismiss the events of Easter as a fairy tale if we hid from ourselves the uncomfortable fact that the eye witnesses of the resurrection were willing to be tortured and die horribly, rather than deny the risen Christ. It’s hard to believe that these people didn’t see Jesus resurrected.”
We see the impact of the resurrection impacting people’s lives today. Testimonies of lives transformed through Jesus to the glory of God. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.
Even if you don’t believe in the historical evidence of the resurrection, just try and imagine if you did know it was true, that it was a fact, as if you knew this was going to be your future. Can you imagine how that would change your approach to the uncertainties of this life? Can you imagine how it would change the next time you went to a funeral, the next time you wept, the next time you worried about your job or anxious about anything in this life. It would completely change your outlook on life. It would free you from the fear of the uncertainty of this life.
For those of us who do believe the resurrection, imagine if we were 5times or 10times more sure of it. It would change us too.
The resurrection is evidence, that God is not done with this world, that God is not going to leave this world as it is. Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of this reality. It shows us that God is going to restore and renew this world. A world without viruses, without sickness, without pain, without death. Everything that is sad, everything that is uncertain, will become untrue.
We think heaven is in the clouds – boring! The Bible says that God is going to renew and restore this material world and it’s going to be better than you and I can ever imagine! Look at the words this psalm uses to describe this future, abundant joy! Eternal pleasure!
That’s good news of the resurrection. That’s the future Jesus has secured for those who put their trust in Him.
I pray that this psalm gives you assurance through the uncertainties of life, that there is a God who cares for you and loves you. He’s proven that in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Run to Him! Get excited about the future! Know that no matter how uncertain life might seem, when our trust is placed in Jesus, He will not let you be shaken.
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again! Coming off Easter where we’ve just remembered Great Friday. An Easter where we’ve just celebrated: Christ is risen. It seems only fitting to ask: what’s next? Answer: We’re waiting for Jesus to return.
A survey was done amongst some American Christians a few years back. And of those Christians, 28% said Jesus probably won’t return and 14% said “they don’t know. That means 42% of Christians have no certainty that Jesus is may coming back! Wow!
Today is about correcting that, about ensuring that 100% of us here today, whether you’re inside or outside the circle of faith. That just as certain that Jesus died on that cross and just as definite that Jesus walked out of that tomb. Today, we can order our lives with the same certainty, that Jesus is coming back again. That’s where the timeline of our world is heading. No ifs. No buts.
Now if you’re looking for an exact date on the when Christ will return and if you’re like me, and you live life based on your diary. You know, if it’s not in the diary, it’s not happening. Well then I’ve got bad news, the Bible refuses to give us a date.
As a pastor, it’s my responsibility to guard you from error and false teaching. So, anyone who claims to know exactly when, the time or day, when Jesus is coming back, anyone who says they’ve had a personal revelation when Jesus is coming back, then don’t believe a word of it!
That Christ will return, that’s a certainty. The exact date, that remains a mystery. Take a look at Acts 1, Jesus has just got out of the grave. He’s hanging around, eating with the apostles. Telling them they’re about to receive the Holy Spirit. They question Jesus - now that you’ve died and risen again. Is it time for the kingdom of Israel to be restored?
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. ~Acts 1:7 (NIV)
The apostles, and by extension us, are well and truly put in our place. Jesus says: “you’re on a need-to-know basis. And you don’t need to know” Not even Jesus himself, when he was here on earth knew. When asked when he would come back…
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. ~Matthew 24:36 (NIV)
But what the Father without a doubt does want us to know, what he has told us is the following:
Now, it’s worth emphasising that the same Jesus who went up into heaven, he’s the same Jesus who’s coming back. Back in Acts 1, after Jesus has ascended to heaven the crowd’s still standing there, they have probably got sore necks from all their sky-gazing, then two angels appear saying this.
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” ~Acts 1:11 (NIV)
Back before corona, back when you could hop on a plane and travel overseas, Teresa and I went to Vietnam for a holiday. As you wander through the shops and markets, everyone’s selling the same stuff, it’s all fake brands and labels. So instead of Puma, it’s Ruma, Snoopy becomes Spoony, Dolce and Gabbana becomes Dolce and Banana. But all the shopkeepers, have this line you hear time and time again: “Same, same but Different”. It’s such a common phrase, I’ve seen a t-shirt with that same line across the front.
Well here in Acts 1:11, to borrow that Vietnamese phrase: When it comes to Jesus’ return, it’s “Same, same but different”.
The same Jesus who went into the tomb is the same Jesus who three days later, popped out again. That Jesus? He’s the same Jesus who’s coming back.
From other parts of the Bible, we know that, when Jesus returns it’ll be
When it comes to Jesus returning. It’s not a matter of IF, but when. Which then leads to our next question: why will Jesus return? Plenty of things will happen when Jesus returns but the one stand out thing we come across again and again in the Bible is this, when Jesus comes back, he will judge the living and the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus we celebrated last Sunday achieved many things. Death has been defeated, God comes good on his promise, hope has been restored, heaven is assured, eternity is on offer. Oh…and one other thing.
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him [that is, Jesus] from the dead.” ~Acts 17:31 (NIV)
The resurrection was God’s rubber stamp, God’s way of saying that Jesus is God’s hand-picked judge.
Now I get that in our day and age, you may be thinking this today, this idea of judgment, is a tough pill to swallow. Siding with Jesus on this one doesn’t exactly make you the most popular person in the room. When I’m sharing Jesus with others, it’s so easy to sidestep judgment, to leave this heavy word out, I know I have before.
Whereas up until a decade or so ago, the most popular Bible verse was John 3.16. now it’s become Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
Judgement has become a dirty word and I suspect, a big part of it is as that Matthew verse is picking up. We have this feeling, that when it comes to judgment we think ‘what gives you the right to stand in judgment over me?’ Well, that’s why we need to hear the heavy word directly from Jesus. Hear Jesus directly, for yourself, from our Bible reading Jesus says
Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, ~John 5:22 (NIV)
And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. ~John 5:27 (NIV)
It’s pretty clear isn’t it that underneath Jesus’ name is his job-title and it reads “Judge”. Not even God the Father has that next to his name He gives it to his Son.
From John 5 we can also discover a couple of other things about the nature of Jesus’s judgment. First, being in the grave, being cremated doesn’t excuse you from judgment.
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. ~John 5:28-29 (NIV)
When Jesus returns, every single person will face judgment. If Jesus is powerful enough to move people from death to life spiritually now you can be sure he’s powerful enough to make the physically dead alive again for final judgment. Judgment awaits both the living and the dead.
Second, this is a judgment for both believer and unbeliever, no one is off limits. That’s what verse 29 is referring to by those who do good and those who do evil, Jesus is not saying that if you’ve done at least 51% of good things in your life, that you’ll scrape through and survive. No! God’s pass mark is 100% and it’s a pass mark that you and I time and time again fall short of.
That’s essentially what sin is. Sin isn’t just murdering someone or swearing, it’s to miss the mark.
Now if you’ve been listening carefully, you would have heard Jesus say in verse 29 that those who have done good will rise to live. So, doing good deeds gets you into heaven after all!
Well, in the context of John, the whole reason why John writes John, is to drive us to the one and only good thing we can do.
Believe that Jesus is really is who he says he is, that he really is the way, the truth, and the life. That he and he alone is God’s way to God. Believe he is the good shepherd, the one who has laid down his life for the sake of his sheep. That he is the bread of life, that Jesus is the one who will truly satisfy. That we will never thirst or hunger in our souls thanks to his life-giving message.
Third thing we learn from John 5, is that Jesus’ judgment is perfectly just.
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. ~John 5:30 (NIV)
There’s no hint of unfairness whatsoever here! And that’s because there’s no power trips, no egos, He judges justly in order to put a smile on his Father’s face, the Son does exactly what he’s told.
Whereas the best our judges can do is deliver a verdict “Beyond Reasonable Doubt”. With Jesus as judge, it’ll be with complete and utter justice, he’ll give each and everyone of us what we deserve, there’ll be no missing evidence, no dodgy decisions, no split juries, no hung juries. Jesus himself will be judge, jury and executioner.
I remember hearing the story of a Christian being shown a house by a real estate agent and during the conversation, the agent said that line we’ve all heard. You know, that there’s only two things that are certain in life, death and taxes. Well, the Christian, quick as a flash, replies ‘There’s three, Death, Taxes. and accountability.’ When Jesus returns, accountability will fully and finally be carried out.
Now you ask any person, and they’ll all agree that accountability is a good thing. It’s why, as painful and shocking as they are, we need to have Royal Commissions, to shine the light on wrongs that have been horribly committed, on injustices and to make amends. It’s one of the roles of the media, to bring dodgy, corrupt dealings to the attention of the public.
We want to see accountability, at the end of the day, it’s a good thing. Deep down, it’s what we all want because we still live in a world where criminals might get let out of jail early. Older siblings get away with stuff behind their parents back [Can you tell I’m a younger sibling?] That person who cheated you at work might get away with it. But with God, on that judgment day, nothing escapes his gaze. He’s the one who’s in control, he is fair. What a good God, for him to judge is the loving thing to do.
Can you imagine life without a judgment day? That we all went through life, you’re born, you live, you die, that’s it. Whether you love or hate, whether you stole or gave, it makes no difference whatsoever, it’d all be meaningless. Trying imagining how our society would function without any accountability. We’d be in complete and utter chaos wouldn’t we! See I for one am glad there IS a judgment day because it reflects God’s very own character. He holds people accountable! Everyone is answerable to how they’ve treated the God who knit them together in their mother’s womb.
Now there’s one more thing that we discover in this John passage. Jesus hasn’t just been given authority to judge, He’s also been given authority to give the gift of eternal life.
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. ~John 5:24 (NIV)
I celebrated my birthday yesterday and you get to my age and the presents begin to dry up, but that’s OK. Gifts aren’t a big love language of mine. I mean, sure I’ll happily take them but I’m more of an acts of service kind a guy. Having said that, plenty of awesome gifts have come my way over my lifetime. One of my favourites was a plastic cricket set I got for Christmas when I was about 8. Man - my brother and I used that pretty much everyday for the next few summers. But let’s face it, nothing, even if you put all past, present and future gifts, birthday, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Anniversaries, put all of them together and they still won’t get anywhere close to the gift Jesus gives.
It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, whether you finished school. No matter what your past is, no matter how good OR bad it is, Jesus gives you and I the gift of eternal life. The great news is we are spared from getting what we deserve on judgment day, the pressure’s off, we don’t have to clean ourselves up first, to make ourselves good enough and acceptable to God first. As far as God’s concerned, it’s come as you are.
I remember asking a man, “what makes you think you’ll be OK when you meet Jesus” And his answer was “I haven’t done anything to offend the big fella. I think I’ve treated him the way he wants to be treated” See this man had failed to grasp how it’s not about what he’s done. No - it’s about what Jesus has done for us. If you could save yourself, have a think about it, why would God let his own Son die the most brutal of deaths? Why?
Now the big question I want to tackle last is the big 'so what' question. Jesus is returning... so what?
You may have heard of the book, 7 habits, habit 2 is, begin with the end in mind.
Martin Luther, the great Reformer expresses it better. He says: “Live as if Christ died yesterday. Rose this morning. And is coming back tomorrow”
That’s not a bad place to start because AS you and I know, we live in an uncertain world. The past year and a bit has taught us that things can change very, very, quickly. Cancellations, Snap lockdowns, Borders closing, Delays.
Questions like: Will I still have a job? Will I get a diagnosis I don’t want to hear? Will my baby make it to full term? The anxiety, the uncertainty can be at times too much! But it is worth asking, if you knew Jesus was coming back at 8:54 tonight, what would change?
Whenever someone gets a serious medical diagnosis with a short timeframe to live, the doctors will always use the language of “get your affairs in order” So, let me ask you, are your affairs in order for when the Lord Jesus returns? Because he could well return at 8:54 tonight, it could happen before or it could happen after.
Now it’s worth saying, the one thing you must get right before Jesus returns. Ideally ASAP. Is to make sure you know where you stand with Jesus. Remember that Acts 17 verse from the start? Where I said Jesus’ resurrection is God’s rubber stamp for Jesus to be the judge of all the world. Well, the sentence before that one says this:
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. ~Acts 17:30 (NIV)
Hear the command from God. A command for your good. Repent, come clean and stop turning your back on God. Instead, it’s time to take the hand of Jesus and let him call the shots in your life.
Repentance is a conscious, deliberate commitment to stop living your way and start living God’s way. That invitation of repentance won’t hang around forever. It’s got a use-by date. The only reason why Jesus hasn’t already returned is so you could take the hand of Jesus.
I repented in December 1997 and boy, am I glad that God was patient and Jesus didn’t return in November 1997.
Friends, the two best days in your life are the day you know you’re not a Christian and the day you become one. I’d encourage you to try and merge those two days into one!
Now if you’re someone who has done that big R - repentance. How does Jesus’ return impact you tomorrow? Well, on the one hand, we wait.
We’re waiting for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. ~Titus 2:13 (NIV)
Waiting is such a central part of life isn’t it. We wait for:
I suck at waiting, but the waiting that is God-glorifying. The waiting that is God-honouring, is expecting and is shaping our lives, in readiness for Jesus to return.
Those of you who’ve been in my small group will know that my regular prayer point revolves around screen time discipline. Where one scroll turns into 20 minutes of my life I won’t get back. Where the Youtube vortex sucks you in so that next minute you know, it’s midnight. I don’t know about you, but I feel the weight of what John Piper says:
John Piper — 'One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.'
Instead of screen-time regret and guilt, I want to redeem that time by pursuing what Paul says “is better by far”. That is, craving to be with Jesus.
On Monday just gone, a number of us celebrated the wedding of Lydia and Daniel. It was my very first Assyrian wedding and it was fantastic. 10 years I’ve been at MBM and I finally got to see an Assyrian reception and man, it was loud. Like ringing in your ears loud!
It made me think about Teresa and I leading up to our wedding. Both of us, independent of each other, remember thinking to ourselves “Jesus, please don’t come back yet because I want to get married first!” It sounds stupid I know, but really, that was a litmus test for us. We were shaped more by the pleasures of this world than the pleasures of the world to come. We were looking forward to the union between Dan and Teresa more than the union between Christ and his church.
I’ve got plenty of things on my bucket list and I suspect you do too. The question is, deep down, is that what we spend our time daydreaming about. Is that what we’re saving our money for? Is that what we find satisfaction in? Getting as many of those things ticked off the bucket list?
So what does waiting well look like? Well, it’s not my place to prescribe what that looks like in your life. I’ve shared some of my struggles. My encouragement would be to chat with those who know you. Maybe ask a trusted friend to ask: what do they observe in your life? What are the sort of things that come off your lips?
But one thing I can tell you is what waiting well doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like sitting back kicking the feet up waiting for heaven to roll around, spending these last days - with little or no interest in living a life worthy of the Lord.
In the Christian life, sure it’s come as you are but it’s not stay as you are. So pursue growth, get to know the God who loves you, who died for a better you.
The fact you can call the judge of all the earth your dad means you’ve been set free to serve him. Not from a place of guilt or from trying to win him over, you can begin a flurry of good works out of thankfulness for what he’s done.
Those of you who’ve been along to our Belonging, you will have heard of us talk about how as a church, we see ourselves like the lifeboat. The coastguard rather than the ocean cruise liner where you plonk down your $1,000 bucks and pig out on all you can eat buffets. No - for us waiting well means that by 2025, by God’s grace, we’d love to see 1,500 here at Rooty Hill growing in faithfulness and fruitfulness.
Under God, our big prayer is to see 1,000 new disciples won for Jesus from among the nations of Sydney’s West. So far, we’re sitting on just over 400. And God willing, with MBM Parramatta kicking off in May, we’re hoping to see a new bunch move from death to life.
But for the majority of you who’ll still be churching here in Rooty Hill, this is an opportunity for you too. To step into so far 50 or so gaps that will be created by Parramatta. And that’s not including the additional 50 opportunities that are already there.
And the third goal is to bless other churches and their leaders and what an encouragement it was to hear - back on our 30th anniversary - about the way Sandy’s kid’s ministry has been such a blessing to other churches - both here and abroad.
Now Jesus may well return between now and 2025. That’s fine.
At the end of the day, we’re simply expressing God-desired outcomes. It’s only by God’s grace we’ll see these things happen. But one things for sure we’re not going to sit around on our hands. We’re not going to die wondering, we’re not going to have regrets. Instead - we’ll wait for our blessed hope. Because we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. All thanks to a most-blessed God and Savior, Lord Jesus.
Happy Good Friday just doesn’t work. I want to start an ad campaign to change the name, like Coon cheese is now Cheer Cheese. I would like to start my own Ad campaign to change the name from Good Friday. Christianity is the only faith that celebrates the death of its founder—That is weird! It's like saying it was a good execution!
It's been called Good Friday since the 13th century, that day when Jesus life was cut short at only 33 yrs. Mohammed the father of Islam lived to 63 years, Confucius lived to 72 years, Budda lived to 80 years and Moses lived to 120 years. These are good innings but Jesus barely made his mid-thirties, he was cut short in the prime of his life. When others were paying the mortgage and having kids Jesus is snuffed out as a 30 something.
So who is going to back me? Let's change the name of Good Friday, there seems nothing good about Good Friday. Jesus had already said that no one is good except God alone. This first good Friday proves the point why we humans are not so good. Humans first inclination when he met God face to face was to kill him.
There are 3 explicit motives for why people wanted to kill Jesus and none were good. Judas out of greed handed Jesus over to the Priests for loose change (Matt 26:14-16). The Priests out of envy handed Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman Governor (Matt 27:18). Pilate out of fear handed Jesus over to the soldiers who then crucified him (Matt 27:26). Greed, Fear and Envy. Not a great moment in humanity.
“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self interest (envy) that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. ~Mark 15:9-10 (NIV)
When given a choice between setting a terrorist or Jesus free they choose the Terrorist Barabbas, out of Envy, that pain is caused by the success of others. From the beginning the religious leaders try to kill Jesus. They couldn’t stand Jesus success. As one person put it, “Whenever a friend of mine succeeds a little part of me dies inside”
Even when Jesus was hung on a cross they couldn’t help themselves but put the boot in:
In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! ~Mark 15:31 (NIV)
If Jesus success caused them pain, now Jesus crucifixion will cause them much pleasure. The German word for envy is Schadenfreude, malicious joy. You see it at funniest home videos or when Soldiers are shaming new recruits. Nothing compared to what the soldiers did to Jesus
The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. ~Mark 15:16-20 (NIV)
The greater the shame the greater the pain the greater the joy.
If the internet was around it would have been an instant YouTube hit, add to that pain the way one of 12 betrayed him, one of 12 denied him and the rest abandoned him. And all Jesus did was go around doing good.
Friends there is a good case for calling it Black Friday, the thorns and nails, the spitting and scorn, the beltings and the bashing, the whips with leather straps tipped with pieces of bone which would claw into the back of Jesus and then rip of his flesh. Then the spear that GUTS Jesus like a fish.
U2 wrote a song, 'Sunday bloody Sunday', about the violence in the Irish war of independence so why not call it at least 'Friday Bloody Friday'?
So why has the church so stubbornly called it Good Day? For 3 good reason
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon ~Mark 15:33 (NIV)
The average eclipse lasts for 7.5 minutes, here for 3 long hours, from noon to 3pm, as Jesus hung on that cross, total darkness covered the land, just as God said it would happen.
The Prophet Amos predicted it 750 years before.
“In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight…I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. ~Amos 8:9,10b (NIV)
This darkness was just one of the 300 prophecies being fulfilled in Jesus life, death and resurrection. As someone put it, God switched the light off because he could not bear to see what we
humans did to his one and only Son whom he loved. God was mourning his only son and yet Darkness is also code for God's judgment.
Jesus often described Hell as the place of utter darkness, not a party in sight. I remember visiting the Kelly Caves in Kangaroo
Island and when the guide switched the light off in the cave it was so dark that I could not see my hands let alone anybody else. Even though my family were right next to me, they could have been billion miles away. So alone…
This is what Jesus said Hell is like, lost in total darkness, Christ at the cross tasting the horror of hell for us. It was Good Friday because, get this, judgment for our sins is now falling on Jesus instead. Like a lightning rod Gods anger was deflected away
from us and onto him. So maybe good Friday isn't such a bad name after all.
And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). ~Mark 15:34 (NIV)
Are these doubts? Did Jesus have 2nd thoughts? No! Jesus is quoting a prophecy by King David in Psalm 22 - written1000 years before. A prophecy predicting crucifixion before crucifixion was invented. The opening of that psalm is, My God, My God why have you forsaken me. So we ask: did he?
Why did God the Father abandon God the Son. Jesus was not imaging it. The only relationship that never had a beginning now comes to an abrupt halt.
God the Father who said at Jesus baptism “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased” Is now saying nothing, now doing nothing. So why doesn’t God step in? Why doesn’t Jesus leap off the cross? He could have at any time, the answer is found earlier in Mark
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)
Jesus gave his life to pay a price to set us free. Many of us are carrying a debt, some mortgages, some credit cards and some mobile phones. Human sin incurs a debt to God, we owed a debt that we would take eternity to pay off, in that place that Jesus calls utter darkness. Here, Jesus is paying our debt in full. My sentence in hell, your sentence of hell is paid in full by
Jesus as he hangs in my place. That is why its good Friday and if we were going to change the name, it should be Great Friday.
In fact some Church traditions call it great Friday. If the question is ‘My God My God why have you abandoned me’
The answer is for you…God abandoned his Son so that he wont have to abandon you. Jesus choose to be forsaken so that you don’t have to be. This is as personal as it gets…
Vicky Hutchinson was a single parent with 2 young boys and a member of our church. She developed a tumor in her uterus about the size of a tennis ball. For two years she had a barrage of operations and endured a lot of pain, she once said to my wife Sandy ‘Of all the prayers I've prayed during the last 2 years I'm so glad there is one prayer I will never have to pray
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ She knew that someone had to pay for her sin and that someone was Jesus.
Vicky trusted that Jesus had tasted hell at the cross in her place, she knew, she had confidence, as she faced her death.
That is why when we buried her it was a sad day but a good funeral. She trusted in Jesus who died on Good Friday.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. ~Mark 15:37-38 (NIV)
The curtain in the temple that had separated God from his people, this curtain that reminded God's people that we all were unfit to stand in His presence. Notice it was torn from top to bottom, God did it. At the exact time that Jesus dies and sins are paid for God says now and only now can you come to me. Now and only now are your sins paid for. Now and only now through my Son is your debt paid. Heavens gates are open wide to receive any who would come. Come one and come all but you must come through Jesus alone.
I go on to Facebook about 2 times a year, I discover I have a list who wanted to be my friends and I realise that you can reject someone in two ways, you can say NO, get lost or you can just ignore the invite.
Jesus is God's son who died in your place and he is calling for you, to let him serve you, to let him die for you, to let him rule over you, to let him set you free. That is faith, trust him that he tasted hell for you so that you need never have to say ‘God why have you forsaken me’ Rather you will hear ‘Welcome home’.
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 ~Genesis 38:1 (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'", the second Onan, the third Shelah (he must have thought he was having an Aussie daughter.)
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. ~Genesis 38:6-7 (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. ~Genesis 38:8-9 (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. ~Genesis 38:10 (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. ~Genesis 38:11 (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. 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 death!” ~Genesis 38:24 (NIV)
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.” ~Genesis 38:25 (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. ~Genesis 38:26 (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 is too afraid to own up to past failures and 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.
It anticipates how the tribe of Judah will follow the sin of Judah and flirt with Canaanite culture and 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. ~Isaiah 1:22-23 (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! ~Hosea 4:14 (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. ~Genesis 49:9b-10 (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, ~Matthew 1:1-3 (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:
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.
’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” ~Matthew 9:13 (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.
God always chooses the wrong people to advance his kingdom then makes us right with Him by trusting in the promises of God.
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.