Sunday November 10th
1 Corinthians 5
I’ve heard it said that “singing in the shower is all fun and games until you end up getting some shampoo in your mouth – then it turns into a soap opera!”
There are some people here who know a little secret about me – I watch General Hospital. It’s only on Wednesdays when I stop by to visit my parents before returning to church for the Wednesday night service, but I’m able to keep up on the story for two reasons:
Now I know that soap operas can sometimes have pretty steamy story lines, but those are nothing compared to what Paul had to address in 1st Corinthians 5 verse 1:
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.”
How’s that for an exciting plot? So what was really going on here? There are several possibilities according to Bible commentators:
One possibility is that this man’s father may have died, and then the son married the woman who would have been his stepmother. The other possibility is that the father is still alive and the son is having an affair with his stepmother behind his father’s back, or even openly. In any case, this type of inter-family relationship is explicitly condemned in Leviticus 18:8. And although the culture of that day tolerated a wide range of immoral activities, Paul points out that even the pagan gentiles were embarrassed by this kind of behavior.
Paul also isn’t very happy about how the Corinthian church had been dealing with their soap opera:
2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
This verse is the key to Paul’s real concern. The fundamental problem here wasn’t just the sexual sin of one messed-up individual, it was the failure of the Corinthian church to deal with the sin—in fact, Paul was disturbed because they had a sense of pride about how they were accepting and tolerating it.
That’s a big issue in our culture today, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be very tolerant and accepting of whatever anyone else chooses to do. If you express an opinion about someone else’s behavior possibly being sinful or ungodly, you are immediately labeled as “intolerant”.
But Paul is clearly NOT going to tolerate this behavior in this church that he established, even though he’s now far away from Corinth on his missionary journey. He says:
3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Paul is physically absent from the Corinthian community, but he tells them that he was there with them in the Spirit during their service, and that he actually passed a prophetic judgment in their midst. His judgment is that the church should forbid this offender from attending their fellowship. Just kick him out! In fact Paul goes so far as to say that he is willing to “deliver this man to Satan”!
Of course that all sounds very harsh, but we have to understand that Paul’s stated purpose in his judgment is the man’s salvation. He believes that the man’s restoration can only be achieved if he is made to repent and his sinful tendencies are overcome. Paul refers to that process as “the destruction of the flesh”.
Then he returns to his concerns about these church members boasting about how “tolerant” they are:
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?
Paul compares the Corinthian’s tolerance of sin to leaven, or yeast. Leaven was often used in the Bible as a metaphor for a spreading sinful and corrupting influence.
That’s why, during the annual Feast of Passover the Israelites had to remove all leaven from their houses.
We see this in Exodus 12:15 for example:
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
Do you see that idea of being “cut off” from fellowship?
Paul seems to be making a direct reference to that practice when he says this to the Corinthians:
7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
If the cleansing out of leaven was important in the Old Testament, Paul says it’s even more important with Jesus as our Passover lamb. Because He was sinless, we should strive to walk in holiness as well, in order to honor Him.
The next part of Paul’s explanation regarding the issue of dealing with sin might actually surprise you:
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
The first thing that I want you to notice here is that Paul makes reference in verse 11 to the fact that “actually, I wrote to you” about this already.
This means that, prior to writing the letter which we call 1st Corinthians, Paul had already sent another letter instructing these same Corinthians about this same issue!
In other words, he had previously told them to separate themselves from believers who practiced immorality.
And that’s a key distinction that Paul is emphasizing here. He’s saying that he never meant for them to stay away from “the immoral people of this world”.
Otherwise, how would they be able to evangelize?
Paul certainly understood that there was no real value in staying away from unbelievers who sin, because ALL unbelievers sin!
The issue that Paul is dealing with here is staying away from BELIEVERS who sin, so that by draw a line of dis-fellowship it will cause them to get their lives back on the right track.
Paul actually seems a bit frustrated that these Corinthian believers didn’t get the point of his original teaching. At least that’s what it would seem like from how they were treating the sin situation right under their noses!
Possibly the Corinthians had misunderstood Paul, and thought that he was commanding them to maintain separation from the sinners in the world. So he explains again that what he had in mind was separating from anyone who claimed to be a Christian but whose life and actions clearly contradicted the teachings of the faith.
Now, my bible commentary says that this injunction to expel or shun offending church members (going so far as to say “not even to eat with such a one”) is primarily referring to life within the church and probably does not mean that all personal contact of any kind was to be avoided.
(In others words you didn’t have to avoid them at the supermarket)
That view especially makes sense when we compare this situation to what Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Do you see the balance there? Don’t associate with disobedient brothers and sisters, but remember that they ARE still your brothers and sisters!
In verse 13 of today’s chapter Paul quotes the command found in Deuteronomy 17:7 which says to purge or expel the wicked from Israel. “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”
In doing that, Paul is drawing an important parallel between the Old Testament Jewish community and the New Testament Christian church. This is something that he will emphasize again when we get to chapter 10.
The bottom line is that these verses tell us that the church has the authority to exercise discipline within its own fellowship, but it does not have the authority to regulate the behavior of non-Christians. Sinners gonna sin! But believers gonna stop sinning!
So how did this apply to them back then, and how does it apply to us now?
Well, for starters, we can confidently conclude from 2 Corinthians 2:3–11, that the Corinthian church finally did obey Paul’s instruction, and that this man did repent of his outrageous sin.
Let’s look at that account:
3 This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
Paul is making reference here to the fact that he knew that his rebuke would make them sorrowful, but that their sorrow wasn’t his ultimate goal. His true goal was to show love to them by bringing correction to a situation that clearly needed to be addressed. And what was the response to that loving rebuke? Look at verse 5-8:
5 But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. 6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority,7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.
Paul says that true source of everyone’s sorrow wasn’t him, it was the man who was sinning. That man’s sin caused pain to the entire church community. Paul then refers to the “punishment which was inflicted by the majority.”
This means that the majority of people in the church had obeyed Paul’s instructions and cut this brother off from fellowship. Paul also says that this “punishment” was “sufficient”, meaning that it accomplished its purpose by causing the man to repent.
Now that the man has repented, Paul says, forgive him, comfort him, and reaffirm your love for him, because we don’t want “excessive sorrow” to overwhelm him.
Sometimes it’s important to know when enough is enough.
Once a person has repented, they are clean in God’s eyes, and we need to see then as cleansed and renewed also, rather than continuing to remind them of their sin.
And Paul adds a few more verses to explain why this is so important:
9 For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
In verse 9, Paul tells the Corinthians that his original instructions – to cut the man off from fellowship – were sort of a “test” to see how obedient they would be. Since they were obedient, and now that the goal of the man’s restoration has been accomplished, Paul says that he has no reason to harbor any un-forgiveness towards this person.
And the most important point that Paul is making, for the Corinthians and for us, is that holding on to un-forgiveness plays right into the hands of the enemy.
Paul says, “We are not ignorant of his schemes”.
We know how Satan works. We know that he is the accuser of the brethren. So why should we allow him to use us as his co-accusers?
I think that’s the most crucial lesson that we have to learn today about this “issue”.
As Pastor Josh pointed out last week, we aren’t supposed to be in the business of running around judging each other, and yet there are clearly going to be times when we need to hold each other accountable. That’s what families do for each other.
There are times when we need to say, “Hey brother, I’m concerned about some of the choices that I see you making.”
“Your behavior doesn’t match up with the standards of a Christ-follower.”
There may even be times when we have to say, “I’m not sure that I can hang out with you if you’re going to keep choosing that ungodly lifestyle.”
But that’s never the ultimate goal. It’s simply a step towards the goal.
Because the ultimate goal is always to see that brother or sister restored to a proper relationship with God, both in their heart and in their behavior. And once they have started to turn their heart back towards God, we should be running out to meet them like the Prodigal Son’s father!
The only one who wants to keep reminding them of their sin, and putting them through guilt and shame, is Satan.
And we certainly don’t need to be helping him to carry out his schemes of condemnation.
The devil is always working to keep people separated from God and from each other. God is always working towards reconciliation.
Look at these verse from 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Let’s choose to make that our heart today towards any brother or sister that is struggling in their walk. If we need to bring correction, let’s do it gently, in a spirit of humility, knowing that we’ve all stumbled and fallen short at times.
Remember Jesus’ instruction that we should begin by removing any log from our own eye before we start pointing out specks in other people’s eyes.
And consider Paul’s wise words from Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Always keep in mind that the ministry that we’ve been given is one of reconciliation – helping people to get back to a right relationship with God and with the family of God. The Corinthians did it, and so can we.
Sunday October 27th
1 Corinthians 3
I wanted to share with you this morning my 3 favorite quotes about immaturity:
If I had a dollar for every time someone called me immature…I’d buy so many hot-wheels!
My wife told me I was immature and needed to grow up. Guess who's not allowed in my tree house anymore.
My girlfriend left me because she thinks I'm immature. Now it’s Christmas day and I’m crying my eyes out. Because I just found out that Santa isn’t real.
God’s plan for His children is that we would grow up, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually as well!
Here in chapter three, Paul addresses a problem plaguing the young Corinthian church—spiritual immaturity.
There’s an old saying that goes: "You are only young once, but you can be immature forever." Sadly, the Christians in Corinth had a lot of growing up to do.
Paul opens the third chapter in this letter with these words:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able.”
The reality is—physically or spiritually, we all start off as babies. Growth takes time. When Paul first planted this church in Corinth, it was only natural that these brand new believers would be spiritually immature. They were babies in Christ. They needed to learn the foundations of the faith.
But as we mature in our faith, we ought to grow up little by little. We ought to develop a more Christ-like spirit and attitude. We ought to understand more and more of the Bible. Paul puts it this way in chapter 13 in this letter: “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 the ways of childhood behind me”
It had been a few years since Paul first started this church in Corinth, and they were still struggling with immaturity.
Paul then talks about one of the things that is keeping them from growing in maturity:
3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul had started this church in Corinth during one of his missionary journeys (we read about it in Acts chapter 18).
But shortly after Paul left to visit other cities, another traveling preacher arrived in Corinth—a man named Apollos. Apollos had a natural gift for teaching and he made an immediate impact in Corinth. He spoke boldly, interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures effectively. He debated against the opponents of Christianity forcefully and convincingly. Apollos basically continued the work that Paul had started.
Of course, Paul is quick to point out that it was God—not him and not Apollos—that brought about the growth of the church. Paul planted, Apollos watered, God harvested!
Paul also talks about growing in terms of serving. He writes,
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul is comparing the church to a building that is still under construction. The foundation of the church—for all believers—is Jesus Christ. Nothing and no one else will do. A building is only as solid as its foundation and anyone that doesn’t make faith in Christ the bedrock of their beliefs and ministry is doomed to collapse.
But even if we have that right foundation, that doesn’t ensure a lasting structure. Paul compares our works—our ministry and our serving—to construction materials. We can either build with weaker materials like wood, hay and straw or with precious stones, gold and silver.
Jesus laid the foundation of our lives with his ministry of preaching, teaching, and serving. When we carry on that kind of ministry, we build upon his foundation. But Jesus cautioned his disciples, saying, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
As one commentary put it, the Corinthian Christians were more interested in “serve us” then service. Immature Christians say, “I’m looking for a church that meets my needs and blesses me,” not, “I’m looking for a place where I can serve and be a blessing.” As we mature in Christ, the focus of our lives should increasingly shift towards living a life of service to others. A mature follower of Jesus stops asking, “Who’s going to meet my needs?” and starts asking, “Whose needs can I meet?”
As he calls the church in Corinth to a higher level of maturity, Paul closes out this chapter with a warning:
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” 21 So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
Do you think that warning has any application to our lives today?
Let’s start by looking at this warning from 2 Timothy 3:1
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.
Are there difficult times in our world today? I would certainly say so. And the times may be getting even more difficult!
I think that we as a church are going to have to face a difficult challenge. This will be a challenge that will test our maturity as followers of Jesus Christ. It is an area where I hope we can show more maturity and grace than the Corinthian church did.
But before I address the specifics of the issue, I want to add this additional scripture from Ephesians 4:1-6
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Paul uses the word “implore” when he asks the Ephesians to work towards unity and peace. He is essentially begging them to be patient, humble, gentle, tolerant and loving towards one another. He says that we all have the same Lord, the same Father in heaven, the same Holy Spirit and the same hope. We’ve all been baptized in the name of the same savior.
Can I “implore” you this morning in that same manner?
What are you talking about, Pastor Steve? We don’t have issues with Apollos and Paul. There is no “jealousy and strife” among us. We are not “fleshly”. We are not “walking like mere men”.
I’m not saying that we are. But I need to warn you that there are “difficult times” ahead, particularly as we enter into this next election cycle.
I think most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
I think it’s fair to say that if dwelling in unity is good and pleasant, then dwelling in disunity is bad and unpleasant!
But we don’t have to allow disunity to enter into our church.
Let me use this example to shed some light on the situation that we’re facing.
Let’s say that Paul and Apollos are candidates who are running for office.
Why would people want to vote for Paul?
He was a strong voice for the gospel. He was bold. He wrote powerful letters. He planted churches. He was willing to risk his life and suffer hardship in order to reach the world for Jesus.
Why would people NOT want to vote for Paul?
He had participated in the murder of Stephen. He had persecuted and arrested many believers. He had gotten into a very public argument with Barnabas over whether or not to take John Mark along on their next missionary journey.
What about Apollos? Why would people want to vote for him?
He was well-learned, a good public speaker, and he could argue convincingly against unbelievers.
So why wouldn’t someone want to vote for Apollos?
Well, he didn’t even know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so Priscilla and Aquila had to pull him aside and correct him. And then Paul had to fix the misunderstanding about baptism caused by Apollos’ lack of knowledge.
And while we’re at it, let’s throw in a third candidate, Cephas (or Peter). Paul mentioned in Chapter one that some of the Corinthians considered themselves to be followers of Cephas.
So why would anyone want to vote for him?
He was bold. He was the first person to recognize that Jesus was the Son of God. He wrote two books of the New Testament. He fought to defend Jesus by cutting off the High Priest’s servant’s ear.
Wow! Then why wouldn’t anyone want to vote for Peter?
Hmmm. There was this little thing about denying three times that he actually KNEW Jesus. And he had a little impulsivity problem. And even though he was married, we never hear about his wife! That’s a bit of a concern.
My point is simply this – none of these three men would’ve been a perfect candidate, because in reality there ARE no perfect candidates. As Paul put it, they are “mere men”.
And we are also “mere men and women” who have to try our best to decide which candidates for public office are most deserving of our support, despite their flaws.
Some believers choose to cast their vote for candidates who take strong positions against abortion and for traditional family values. Those are certainly good issues for Christian voters to consider.
Other believers place a higher priority on candidates whose focus is on caring for the poor and defending civil rights. And those are clearly some important biblical values as well.
Some of this comes down to different viewpoints based upon our individual backgrounds and culture.
Let me share with you something that a friend shared with me about cultural issues:
Cultural sensitivity allows us to respect and value other cultures with no hidden agendas. It is acknowledging that differences exist between us, but not assigning values to those differences by saying that one is better than the other, or one is inherently right and the other is wrong.
It is building an environment that encourages discussion and strengthens teamwork through education and acceptance of other viewpoints.
I think those are wonderfully encouraging words.
In the end, there is a way for us to handle these challenges, and it is shown to us in Romans Chapter 14.
Here Paul is discussing the differences of opinions that were occurring regarding what kinds of foods to eat and what holidays to celebrate. And in verses 12 and 13 Paul puts it this way:
“So the each one of us shall give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore.”
Doesn’t that seem like a good plan for how to handle our differences of opinion?
You are going to have to give an account to God for who you decided to vote for and why. And so will I.
You don’t have to answer to me and I don’t have to answer to you. We both have to answer to God.
So let’s not allow fleshly strife and contention disrupt our unity as a church family.
We’re allowed to disagree. We just need to do so respectfully and in love.
One thing that I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me regarding the upcoming election is this reminder:
Whether we end up with the same president or a new president for the next four years, we will still have the same king – Jesus Christ!
In Romans 14:13 Paul advises us, “not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”
So just remember that wearing a t-shirt, a hat, or a campaign button to church that supports your favorite candidate might accidentally create a stumbling block for a brother or sister who sees things differently than you do.
Therefore we might want to choose to lay down our liberty in that regard for the sake of one another.
I think we’re mature enough to do that, don’t you?
Sunday July 14th - Acts 26
I heard a story about two brothers who walked into a Walgreen’s. One of the boys was 7, the other was 5.
They walked around the pharmacy for about twenty minutes, going up and down every aisle very carefully, looking for one specific item. Eventually the boys found what they were looking for and headed for the counter.
The cashier was a bit surprised to see that the boys were buying a box of feminine hygiene products.
"Are you getting those for your mother?" he asked.
"No, they are for my little brother, he's only 5." the 7 year old answered.
"Why would you buy those for your little brother?" the cashier asked.
"Well, we saw a commercial on T.V. yesterday, and it said you could ride a bike or swim if you were wearing these, and my little brother can't do either right now."
I want to tell the story of Acts chapter 26 today by placing it between the stories of two famous brothers. These two stories will be book-ends for the significant truth that we’ll see in chapter 26.
The first story is told by the former pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. He said this:
“We missed him. Our chance to change things came and passed and we did not know it was there.
A dark-skinned little boy sat through Sunday school classes for three years at our Church, but somehow we missed him. His name was Sirhan Sirhan.”
In case you don’t recognize that name, at age 24 Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed Robert Kennedy.
That’s a really sad story isn’t it? To know that a Baptist church had the opportunity to reach that infamous assassin with the love of Jesus while he was still a little boy, but somehow he slipped through the cracks. Would Sirhan’s Sunday School teachers have tried harder to reach him if they knew where his future was headed? Would it have changed anything? Why is it that some people hear the Gospel and receive it while others hear it and ignore it?
We’re going to see those same questions facing the Apostle Paul as he tries to make the most of his chance to reach Governor Festus and King Agrippa with the message of salvation through faith in Jesus (verse 1):
Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
2"In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today;
3especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem;
5since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.
6And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers;
7the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews.
8Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
Paul opens up his presentation with a little flattery toward the king, acknowledging that Agrippa was considered an expert in Jewish laws and customs. Then Paul points out that he too was considered an expert in all things pertaining to the Jewish faith, having been one of the strictest of Pharisees in his younger years. In verses 6-8 he points out to Agrippa that the thing that the Jews keep accusing him of doesn’t really make any sense, because the belief in the resurrection is a central part of the Jewish religion. In the next few verses Paul shows Agrippa how he himself was once confused about this issue, even to the point of hostility toward those who claimed that Jesus had been resurrected:
9"So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.
11And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
12While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,
13at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.
14And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
15And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
16But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;
17rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'
19"So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
21For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
22So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place;
23that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
So Paul repeats his testimony again, having spoken it already to Felix and then to Festus, and probably to many others. He points out one crucial truth; that the only thing that changed his mind about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was having a direct encounter with the risen Lord! Apparently this is too much for Festus to comprehend:
24While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad."
Festus sums up his viewpoint very simply, “Paul…you’re nuts!” Isn’t that the way that some people react to our faith?
One commentary puts it this way: “You know, the world can put up with many church members with no problem at all. If you don’t make waves with your faith the world will tolerate you. You can go to church once in a while. That doesn’t bother anybody. And you can be nice to other people and that doesn’t bother anybody, either. But if you get serious about Christianity - If you start coming to church even on rainy days or Sunday evenings - if you read your Bible and pray regularly - if you begin to change the way you think and speak and live - if you start tithing - if you do a few fanatical things like that, the world really has trouble understanding what that’s all about. They start to say things like, "You’re insane. You’ve let this Christianity thing go too far. All of your Bible learning is driving you mad."
Paul realizes that Festus isn’t listening to the truth, so he turns his attention to Agrippa.
25But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.
26For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.
27"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do."
28Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
29And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
30The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them,
31and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment."
32And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."
Paul is sure that Agrippa has already heard of Jesus of Nazareth, heard about his miracles, heard about his crucifixion, AND heard that his tomb was found empty! Then he presses Agrippa even harder with the reality that is right in front of him. He asks, "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets?" Why does he ask that?
Because anyone who is familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament would know that more than 300 prophecies in the OT that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Agrippa would know that hundreds of years before Jesus was born prophets said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin and that He would be crucified on a cross (and this was before the world had ever heard about crucifixion) - that His side would be pierced - that He would be buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day be raised from the dead.
So how does Agrippa react when presented with such overwhelming evidence? He says, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
Agrippa seems to be both drawn to the truth that he’s hearing and resisting it at the same time. He doesn’t say, “Paul, you’re nuts!” because he realizes that what Paul is saying does line up with the facts, and with the scriptures. Agrippa is saying something more like, “Slow down, Paul! I’m not ready to make that kind of decision!”
Festus and Agrippa represent two types of people that you might encounter when you try to explain the gospel to someone. Some will say, “You’re Nuts!” and some will say, “I’m not ready yet”, but we can’t let either of those responses discourage us, because the cost of someone NOT hearing the gospel is an eternal cost.
I told you at the beginning of this message that I was placing this chapter between the bookends of two famous brothers. Since the first brother was Robert Kennedy, I suppose you can guess who the second brother is.
In his autobiography, “Just as I Am”, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election as president of the United States. He says, “On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me. ‘Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?’ he asked. ‘I most certainly do.’ Graham replied. ‘Well, does my church believe it?’ (John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic) ‘They have it in their creeds.’ was Billy Graham’s answer. ‘They don’t preach it,’ Kennedy said. ‘They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think.’ Then Billy Graham says, “I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. ‘Only then,’ I said, ‘are we going to have permanent world peace.’ ‘Very interesting,’ Kennedy said, looking away. ‘We’ll have to talk more about that someday.’ And he drove on. Several years later, the two met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast. “I had the flu,” Graham remembers. “After I gave my short talk, and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb, he turned to me. ‘Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I’d like to see you for a minute.’ ‘Mr. President, I’ve got a fever,’ I protested. ‘Not only am I weak, but I don’t want to give you this thing. Couldn’t we wait and talk some other time?’ Graham said, “It was a cold, snowy day, and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat”. ‘Of course,’ John Kennedy said graciously.” But the two would never meet again. Later that year, Kennedy was shot dead. Graham comments, “His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”
What does it take to bring someone to Christ? How many chances do we get before it’s too late? What will we do when people reject our message?
When King Agrippa told the Apostle Paul that he wasn’t ready to become a Christian in such a short time, Paul replied, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am…”
Whether it takes a short time or a long time, our hearts should wish for that same thing - that everyone who hears us, everyone who knows us, might come to know the same saving grace and endless love that we have found through the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I think the pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio Texas wishes that he had a longer time to reach young Sirhan Sirhan. And it sounded like Billy Graham wished that he had been able to spend a little more time sharing the Gospel with President John F Kennedy.
Let’s make good use of the time that we have. You never know when someone’s time is going to run out.
Sunday January 27
The Real versus the Fake - Acts 5
There was a story that I heard about several men who were standing around in the locker room of a local gym. A cell phone that was laying on one of the benches started ringing. A man picked it up and since the phone was on speaker mode, the rest of the men could hear the entire conversation, which sounded like this: "Hello?
"Honey, It's me. I stopped by the real estate agent this morning and asked about that house we had looked at last year. Remember? The one with beachfront property?"
“Uh-huh.” “Remember, it was the one with the Jacuzzi and the really nice deck?”
“Yeah” “Well I know you said it was out of our price range, but they just dropped the price and now they’re only asking $950,000. I was going to give them a check for $10,000 as a down payment"
“Okay." "Really? Thanks so much Honey! I'll see you later! I love you!!!" "OK Bye." The man hangs up, holds the phone up in the air and asks: "DOES ANYONE KNOW WHO THIS PHONE BELONGS TO?"
Speaking of real estate transactions:
At the end of Acts chapter 4, in verses 36 and 37 we saw this:
And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Why did I want to go back and remind you of that? Because it’s only when we remember the context of those verses that we can make sense of what happens next, as chapter 5 begins:
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
MAN, that sounds HARSH, doesn’t it?
But from the standpoint of Peter and the other Apostles, this fraud that Ananias and Sapphira just tried to commit was a serious offense!
And it wasn’t just the church leadership who had a problem with the deceitfulness of this couple, the Holy Spirit was clearly grieved about it too! Peter would have never even known what Ananias and Sapphira had done unless the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him.
So what’s the big problem here? I would like to point out to you that the difference between what Barnabas did at the end of chapter 4 and what this couple was attempting to do here at the start of chapter 5 is that one was showing real commitment and the other was showing fake commitment.
Barnabas said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of my land.”
Ananias and Sapphira said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of our land.”
It was the same statement, but in one case it was true, and in the other case it was false.
Consider this: God was moving powerfully in the early church, and one sure way to slow down a move of God is to start passing off fake commitment as real commitment.
And the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to allow that.
Notice that there was an even GREATER release of the Spirit’s power that fell upon the church as a result of witnessing God’s judgment;
11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
Signs and wonders, people getting healed by Peter’s shadow, healing and deliverance - As a result of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, a holy fear of the Lord was released among the believers, a renewed reverence and a passion to walk in true holiness and true commitment. Ain’t nobody got time for that fake stuff!
The renewed commitment of these believers was causing an increase in the outpouring of God’s power! People were traveling from near and far to Jerusalem just to see what was going on!
You see, real commitment makes a real difference.
Great moves of God are found only when people are truly committed to the work of God.
Is there a cost of Commitment? Yes there definitely is.
In fact, the price of commitment is often very high – that’s why so few people are willing to pay it. And that’s why so few reap the benefits of commitment.
But look at what happens next when the apostles are asked to pay a high price for their commitment:
17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Just like many of our fellow believers in persecuted countries today, the apostles were arrested for the simple act of preaching the gospel. But once again, their commitment is a trigger for a mighty move of the Holy Spirit to set them free miraculously. And so they go right back to preaching. And this really freaks the temple leaders out!
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
Isn’t that just fantastic! “Guards, bring those men here from the jail that we arrested for preaching in the temple.” “They’re not in their jail cells!” “Where are they?” “They’re back in the temple, preaching!”
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
When you are moving in true commitment to the cause of Christ, you don’t have to be afraid of anyone!
Let’s summarize several of Peter’s answers this way:
“We ordered you not to preach!” “I take my orders from someone higher than you.”
“You’re blaming us for Jesus’ death!” “That’s because you killed him.”
Of course these answers don’t go over real well with the leaders, until one reasonable old man speaks up:
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
What powerful wisdom! If these guys are fake, then they will fizzle out on their own. We’ve seen other fakes come and go. But if this is a real move of God, you’d better not stand in its way!
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Look at the price that the apostles had to pay for preaching the Gospel in those last few verses. They were flogged. They were whipped. They were beaten. They were told to keep their mouths shut.
But what was their reaction?
They not only kept preaching, they actually REJOICED over the fact that their true commitment made them WORTHY to suffer for the name of Jesus! There’s nothing fake about that.
The bottom line in this entire chapter is this:
We all face the same choice as to how far we are willing to go to commit to the work that God is doing. I really can’t tell you how committed you should be, that’s between you and God.
But I can tell you this - the real problem that Ananias and Sapphira ran into was that they weren’t willing to commit to the work of God 100%, but they wanted to pretend that they were giving their all.
Let’s not pretend. Let’s decide in our hearts how far we are willing to go to see the Kingdom of God fulfilled in our lives, in our marriages, in our families, in our church, and in our community. Those aren’t necessarily easy decisions. There is a cost involved. But whatever you decide to do, commit to it! Don’t give half-measures to the work of the Lord. Don’t fake it. Give God what He deserves. And remember this important reality - our commitment to God is the key to the release of His power in our lives!
Sunday January 13th
“Silver and Gold”
Acts Chapter 3
A lot of people don’t know this, but Beethoven was buried in a church graveyard. A couple days after he was buried, a man was walking through that cemetery when he heard some strange noises coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. The terrified man ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent down close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. The priest ran and got the choir director.
When the choir director arrived, he bent his ear down close to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, "Ah, yes, that's Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, but it’s being played backwards."
He listened a while longer, and said, "yes, there's the Eighth Symphony, and it's playing backwards, too. Most puzzling." He kept listening; "There's the Seventh... the Sixth... the Fifth...all in reverse!"
Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the man; he stood up and announced, "There's nothing to worry about. It's just Beethoven decomposing."
Speaking of graves…
In Moscow, Vladimir Lenin’s body is kept in a crystal casket. The inscription on the casket reads: “He was the greatest leader of all peoples, of all countries, of all times.
He was the lord of the new humanity.
He was the savior of the world.”
There are two things we can be sure of regarding this inscription. One is that Lenin wasn’t the lord of humanity or the savior of the world, because he’s dead, and his body is still in its tomb.
The other thing we can be sure of is that Jesus Christ is the true lord and savior of the world, who defeated death for us all, which is why His tomb is empty!
And as we read through Acts chapter 3 this morning, we will see the power of the true risen savior being poured out through His earthly representatives, the church that He established.
In verses 1 through 10 we read about a visit of Peter and John to the temple, where the power of the risen Lord heals a man who had been lame from birth.
1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every
day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." 7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
Peter’s words must have sounded disappointing to the beggar when he said “Silver and gold I do not have”
Perhaps the beggar wondered, “Well then, what good are you if you don’t have any money to give me?”
But then Peter continued, “What I have I give you”!
And what he had was worth a lot more than money! He took the man by the hand, lifted him up, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, he healed him.
There is a great lesson in this story.
As Christians, we are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment”
Let me repeat that: We are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment” and not wait for a greater opportunity or for a better time when we might have more abilities or resources.
Because money isn’t everything! Too often people think that that giving money is the only way to help a person in need. But here we see a story that clearly demonstrates that money was not the most important thing Peter had to offer.
Peter said, “Silver and Gold I do not have” and then proceeded to be used by God to work a miracle.
Whether we talk in terms of money, talents, abilities or gifts, we must all answer the same question, “What do I have to offer right now?” And another question quickly follows: “Am I willing to give myself – including my finances, my talents, abilities and gifts – to be used any way that God sees fit?”
How else will the world know that Jesus Christ has the power to transform lives?
When we read about this particular encounter we must realize that we are also faced with cripples every day – an entire crippled society – and they need the power of Jesus to set them free just as much as this lame man did.
Our Society has crippled morals, crippled marriages and crippled relationships.
Our world is crippled by perversion and pornography.
Lives are crippled by alcohol and drug abuse.
People are crippled with negative attitudes, anger, hate, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Only Jesus Christ can bring the healing they need.
The truth is that all of us, prior to knowing Christ, were crippled and in need of healing.
Romans 3:23 says “All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
Isaiah 53:6 says “All are like sheep who have gone astray, we have turned, every one to their own way.”
We are dead spiritually and the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 13:3 state “Unless we repent we will perish”.
Like the lame man at the gate, we are helpless and powerless, spiritually crippled without Christ.
Salvation is our most basic need.
Verse 6 says that Peter healed the lame man,
“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:14 was “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.
The answer to our crippled generation is the name of Jesus Christ, not silver or gold or self-help books.
Jesus was given all authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18). He shared his power with the apostles, and according to Ephesians 1:18-19, all of us as believers share this power:
“18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
If we believe that then everything we do should be done in that spiritual authority.
We have the authority to lead people to salvation.
We have the authority to pray victoriously.
We have the authority to resist the devil and make him flee.
We have the authority to enforce Christ’s victory in our lives and homes and our church and our country.
Spiritual authority shouldn’t be taken lightly; it is intended to be exercised by believers who are filled with the spirit, living cleansed lives, and walking by faith.
Notice how Peter uses this healing to proclaim the power of the risen Christ in verses 11-26
“11While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade.
12When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17"Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.'
24"Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.' 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
Peter explains that the miraculous healing of the crippled man was the work of the risen Christ.
And then he uses the attention that the healing has brought to bring conviction and preach salvation. He reminds them that all of us are responsible for Christ’s death because He died in our place. And he points out to them that without the resurrection there’s no hope, no salvation.
He tells them that there is no new life without repentance, but if they turn to God their sins will be blotted out – completely wiped away – and that times of restoration, of refreshment await those who come to God for forgiveness.
And he quotes from Deuteronomy 18 where Moses tells the people of Israel that when the Messiah comes, whoever rejects Him will have to face God’s judgment.
It is a simple message: hear it and be blessed or refuse to hear it and be destroyed!
Responding to Christ’s forgiveness brings untold joy; rejecting him brings spiritual ruin.
The final point that we need to take from this chapter is simply this: that true spiritual power comes through obedience. Without Peter’s obedience to God, the power of the Gospel would not have been shown, the man would still have been lame, and the truth would not have been shared.
In obedience, we allow God to provide opportunities.
Peter and John were walking in obedience - "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple..." What would have happened if they didn’t feel like going to church that day?
Because Peter and John were obedient and went to the temple as God had commanded, they were used by God to perform a miracle.
Peter knew that because he was walking in obedience, he had the power of the name of Jesus.
So he was able to make the bold proclamation,
“Rise up and walk!”
1 John 3:22 states, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight."
There are conditions through which we receive His power - "Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight!”
The key is obedience.
Are we living in the power of Christ because we’re walking in obedience to God’s Word, or are we lacking power because of disobedience?
We can’t expect to receive anything from God if we aren’t following Him and obeying His commandments.
Peter tells the people of Israel that “God desires not only to bless you, but to also make you a blessing to others.” The same is true for each of us.
We can expect the blessings of God to flow through our lives if we completely surrender our hearts to Jesus.
If you’ve never trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, today would be a perfect day to ask Him into your heart. He desires to fill you with His wonderful grace, power, and blessings.
If you are a child of God but have felt defeated because of your lack of obedience, make a new commitment to obey Him today.
Follow His path, be obedient in all things to His Word, and watch God transform your life.
The living savior means there is hope for our crippled world.
Ephesians 2:12 states that without Christ people have “no hope”.
They are spiritually lost, “condemned already” (John 3:18).
Not condemned tomorrow, or next year, not when they die, but now, already condemned, trapped in sin. Christ is their only hope!
But He’s all the hope they need!
Christianity has been described as “One beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
You might not feel like you have a lot to give, but if Jesus has impacted your life in a way that gives you hope, then you can share that hope with others.
Peter didn’t have silver or gold, but he had hope. Jesus had freed him from the crippling grip of shame, and he knew that he could call upon the power of Jesus to help another man out of his crippled state.
In 2 Corinthians 1:4 we are told that…
“He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.”
Whatever you’ve been through, and God has helped you to get through it, you can share that experience, strength, and hope with someone who is going through their own struggles right now.
It’s not silver or gold, but to a person who sees no hope, what you have to share with them is priceless!
Sunday December 30th
It’s been said that life is all about choices. That reminds me of the story of a Frenchman, an Englishman and an American who were exploring the jungle together when they were captured by a fierce tribe.
The tribe’s chief told them, "The bad news is that we're going to kill you, and then we are going to use your skins to build a canoe. The good news is that you each gets to choose how you will die."
The Frenchman said, "I vill take ze poison." The chief gave him some poison; the Frenchman said, "Vive la France!" and drank it.
The Englishman said, "A pistol for me, please." The chief gave him a pistol; the Englishman pointed it at his heart, said, "God save the Queen!" and pulled the trigger.
The American said, "Give me a fork." The chief was puzzled, but he just shrugged and gave him a fork. The American took the fork and started jabbing himself all over – in the stomach, the arms, the legs, the sides, the chest, everywhere. Blood was gushing from every hole.
Finally the chief screamed, "What are you doing?"
The American looked at the chief and said, "Good luck with your canoe, Chief!”
As the book of Joshua comes to a conclusion, there are some important choices that still need to be made.
Chapter 21 wraps up all of the distribution of land among the tribes of Israel, and it ends with these verses:
So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? God keeps all of His promises to the children of Israel. Of course He does! End of story, right? Well, not exactly!
We are going to take a look at chapters 22 and 23 in just a moment, but first I want to jump to the end of chapter 24, with is actually the end of the book of Joshua. Here are the final verses of the entire story:
29 It came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of Mount Gaash.
31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.
32 Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.
So Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar have all passed on now, and it’s up to a new generation of Israelites to decide whether they are going to continue to follow God.
Earlier in chapter 24 we can see Joshua stating his famous pledge and challenge in verse 15:
“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And then all of the people of Israel replied in verse 18:
“We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
Then Joshua makes this shocking statement in verse 19:
“You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.”
What a downer! Why would he say something like that? Because Joshua knows these people pretty well. He has led them for many years, first alongside Moses and then on his own. He knows how easily they could turn to disobedience and fall away from following God.
If we go back to Chapter 23 we see something that is called Joshua’s Farewell Address. It could also be called Joshua’s Farewell Warning. Verses 1-3 set the scene:
Now it came about after many days, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, 2 that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, “I am old, advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has been fighting for you.
Then in verse 14-16 he gives them this solemn reminder:
“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. 15 It shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you. 16 When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”
This is a pretty straightforward message for the people –
Because we have followed the Lord and obeyed His commands, we have been blessed by God and have received the fulfillment of all of His promises. But just remember that if you ever become disobedient to God, you will lose out on His blessings and instead you will have to experience His judgment and His wrath.
In Chapter 22 we find out why Joshua was so stern in his warning, and just how quickly and easily these Israelite tribes could move from peace towards chaos:
10 When they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. 11 And the sons of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” 12 When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.
All of these tribes have labored together and fought together, side by side, to conquer and inherit the Promised Land. But now, as they are ready to start settling into their newly acquired lands, ten of the tribes get all fired up and ready to attack the tribes of Reuben and Gad. And over what? Because those tribes decided to build an altar on the side of the Jordan River that they didn’t own!
Most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1, which says:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
Well, this situation points out how UN-pleasant it can be when brothers DON’T dwell together in unity!
So then 10 chiefs, one from each of the 10 ticked-off tribes, go to the leaders of Reuben and Gad and they confront them, starting in verse 16:
“Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the Lord this day?
Then in verses 17 through 20 they rant about all of the previous sins against God committed by other Israelites.
Their main point can be summarized by verse 18:
If you rebel against the Lord today, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow.
They use Achan, the guy who hid some forbidden stuff in his tent, as an example of what might happen:
20” Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’”
Essentially what’s happening here is that these 10 chiefs are jumping to a MAJORLY wrong conclusion about this altar that their brothers have built. They think it’s a sinful act of rebellion against God, and that it’s going to bring God’s wrath down upon ALL of Israel.
However, that’s not at all what this altar is about. And now the tribes of Reuben and Gad get to explain the real reason why they built the altar, starting in verse 22:
“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the Lord do not save us this day! 23 If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the Lord, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the Lord Himself require it. 24 But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your sons may say to our sons, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the Lord.” So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the Lord.’
This is a very interesting and sincere concern. Remember that these two tribes had preferred settling in the land on the East side of the Jordan. They made a deal with Moses, and then renewed the deal with Joshua, that they would help the other 10 tribes conquer the Promised Land, as long as they could return back to the Eastern land when the fighting was over.
So they did their job as promised and then while they were heading back to their lands, a thought hit them – “What if, later on, the descendants of those other 10 tribes look at our descendants over here on the other side of the Jordan river and decide that our tribes aren’t part of Israel anymore because we are separated by the river?”
Then they go on to explain how this altar was designed to prevent that very problem:
26 “Therefore we said, ‘Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27 rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 Therefore we said, ‘It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away from following the Lord this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.”
The reason that the sons of Reuben and Gad made this altar was NOT for sacrifices! It was a symbolic altar which was meant to remind their descendants, AND the descendants of the other 10 tribes, that they all worshipped the same God! Plain and simple.
Do you remember the old character named Emily Litella, played by Gilda Radner from the show Saturday Night Live? She was an older woman with a hearing problem who would go off on some completely looney rant based upon incorrect information. Like she would say, “What’s all this fuss about violins on television?”
Then, when she would be confronted with the correct information, (it’s violence, not violins) she would say “Oh, that’s very different.” “Never Mind!”
That’s kind of what the chiefs of the 10 tribes said after hearing the truth about the reason for the altar.
30 So when Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the congregation, even the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the sons of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the Lord; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”
32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Reuben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 The word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living. 34 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
Just as Joshua had predicted, the children of Israel almost blew the entire covenant of the Promised Land before they even had a chance to get settled in. And for what reason?
Jealousy, misunderstanding, jumping to conclusions, being too quick to pick a fight before the facts were fully known, assuming the worst about their brothers.
Are these issues still things that we can fall prey to today? Absolutely yes, because we are no less human than these people were.
Can we AVOID falling into these problems? Absolutely yes, because WE have the advantage of learning from THEIR mistakes!
Look at what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
And for emphasis, he adds this in verses 11-13:
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
By studying the book of Joshua, we can learn from the example of the mistakes that they made, and we can guard ourselves from making those same mistakes.
Based on the example found in today’s verses, let’s enter 2019 with a renewed determination to avoid judging one another or assuming negative things about each other without finding out all of the facts first.
Do you want to make the coming year one of great blessings? Then listen to these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve…you only need a heart full of grace and a soul regenerated by love.”
Are you ready to have a great year in 2019? Let’s do this together, by loving and serving one another!
Sunday December 16th
I read a story about an investigative journalist who went to Afghanistan and was shocked to discover that the women in that country were made to walk ten paces behind the men. She asked her guide why that was, and he said, "Because they are considered of lesser status." She was really outraged by this but there was nothing she could do about it so she just finished her assignment and went back home.
Several years later she returned on a new assignment to that same region and was surprised to see that the women were now walking ten paces ahead of the men. She turned to her guide and asked, "What has changed since the last time I was here?" The guide answered, "Land mines."
In exploring the relationship between men and women in God’s Kingdom, we’re going to highlight several significant portions of chapters 15 and 17 of Joshua.
Most of chapters 15 through 19 have to do with dividing up the land among the tribes of Israel, and this includes lengthy descriptions of the borders of each tribe’s territory, which we don’t really need to go over word for word. (Unless you enjoy being completely bored)
What we do want to focus on are two specific passages, one from chapter 15 and one from chapter 17.
Laurie is going to take us through the first passage.
Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).
The Lord is a man of war;
The Lord is His name.
16 And Caleb said, “The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter as a wife.” 17 Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it; so he gave him Achsah his daughter as a wife.
For your Maker is your husband,
The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth.
2 Corinthians 11:2
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
18 It came about that when she came to him, she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. So she alighted from the donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 19 Then she said, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
One more interesting thing about that story is that the whole thing is repeated word for word in Judges Chapter 1 verses 12-15, which isn’t really a surprise because Othniel became one of the judges over Israel after Joshua died.
The next section, from chapter 17, that we want to look at goes from verse 3 through verse 6:
3 However, Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, only daughters; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. 4 They came near before Eleazar the priest and before Joshua the son of Nun and before the leaders, saying, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers.” So according to the command of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers. 5 Thus there fell ten portions to Manasseh, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is beyond the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance among his sons. And the land of Gilead belonged to the rest of the sons of Manasseh.
The daughters of Zelophehad realized that if they didn’t speak up, the land that should have been their inheritance might get divided up among all of the other families. So just like Achsah in chapter 15, they let their voices be heard, and they claim what is rightfully theirs.
This episode is actually a fulfillment of a promise made by God through Moses in Numbers 27:6-7
6 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them.”
In fact, in verse 8 God added that this didn’t just apply to these daughters, it applied to ALL daughters:
8 Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.’
Now I took the time to count, and I found that the words “son” or “sons” occur 61 times throughout chapters 15-19!
So why are we focusing so much on these two little episodes that involve daughters?
I’ll tell you why. Because Galatians 3:28 reminds us that:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Think about this: Every woman who is a part of this church is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s mother, somebody’s wife, somebody’s niece, or somebody’s granddaughter. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
I want to share another quote with you as well. This is actually a quote from me!
It’s from an article in the Press of Atlantic City back on September 22nd, when they interviewed Pastor Josh and me for the 40th anniversary of the church.
The interviewer had asked me how the church had changed over the course of the 40 years. My answer was this:
“There is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that said 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. That is not true at Praise Tabernacle. I believe that’s a work of God, and that He is pleased by that.”
I want to tell you for certain here this morning that God loves all of His children equally.
It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Hispanic or Asian, rich or poor, male or female.
God loves His sons and He loves His daughters.
He has an inheritance to give to each one of us – an inheritance of blessings – an inheritance of gifts and talents – an inheritance of callings and ministries.
He wants to give us the upper springs and the lower springs. He wants to give us the fullness of what Jesus Christ purchased for us with His own blood.
Ladies, aren’t you glad today that God has such wonderful blessings to pour out upon the men of this church? Don’t you want to see them walking in the fullness of those blessings?
And men, aren’t you glad today that God has such wonderful blessings to pour out upon the women of this church? Don’t you want to see them walking in the fullness of those blessings?
You see, God has a wonderful plan for this church, and each one of us has a part in seeing that plan fulfilled.
Let’s rejoice today in the fact that God has called ALL of us to fulfill our part in His plan, and that we are called to do it together!
Sunday December 2nd
Recently I keep having this same dream over and over again. In the dream I’m surrounded by all of these pregnant women and they all want me to help them deliver their babies. So I asked someone who is prophetic to help me interpret the dream and he said, “It sounds to me like you’re going through a mid-wife crisis!”
In Joshua chapter 10, the people of Israel find themselves surrounded by 5 Kings and their armies:
Now it came about when Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had captured Ai, and had utterly destroyed it (just as he had done to Jericho and its king, so he had done to Ai and its king), and that the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were within their land, 2 that he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were mighty. 3 Therefore Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent word to Hoham king of Hebron and to Piram king of Jarmuth and to Japhia king of Lachish and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us attack Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and with the sons of Israel.” 5 So the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered together and went up, they with all their armies, and camped by Gibeon and fought against it.
Sometimes we read passages like this and we don’t see any connection between such a historical record of this upcoming battle and the lives that we live day to day.
But consider this – some days doesn’t it feel like we’re being surrounded by enemies and attacked from all sides!
Look at this sample of verses from the Psalms and see if you can relate to any of them:
Psalm 17:9 - My deadly enemies surround me.
The cords of Sheol (Hell) surrounded me
Many bulls have surrounded me
For dogs have surrounded me
For evils beyond number have surrounded me
The iniquity of my foes surrounds me,
I think that most of us have experienced times when the whole world seemed to be turning against us. Maybe the five kings and their armies who were attacking us included attacks against our family, our finances, our faith, our health, and even our sanity.
As we see how this battle unfolds for Joshua, let’s think about a few lessons that we can learn from HIS battle that we can apply to OUR battle! And we can start with verses 6 and 7:
6 Then the men of Gibeon sent word to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, saying, “Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him and all the valiant warriors.
The thing I want you to grasp from those verses is simply this – You might have enemies, but you also have friends! The men of Gibeon were under the same attack as the men of Israel, and they called out to Joshua asking for help. When the forces of darkness seem to be lining up against you, remember that you have brothers and sisters in Christ who are also facing the very same battles. God has given us the gift of fellowship so that we can lean on one another and support one another in the midst of these battles.
But we have even MORE than just each other!
Look what happens next:
8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly by marching all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord confounded them before Israel, and He slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and pursued them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
Are you getting this picture? Joshua and his men, along with their allies, are fighting the armies of the five kings. But who is doing the most damage to these enemies? God is! He is raining down huge hailstones on Israel’s enemies!
We have to remember what David declared to Goliath in 1st Samuel 17:46-47
“This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.”
It’s probably fair to say that God’s ability to aim hailstones at enemy soldiers while avoiding hitting Israelite soldiers is pretty supernatural. But watch what happens next:
12 Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“O sun, stand still at Gibeon,
And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.
Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. 14 There was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Wait! God did what? Yes, you heard it correctly. God made time stand still so that Joshua could complete his victory in battle before the sun went down!
Do you know that we serve a supernatural God?
Do you know that nothing is impossible for Him?
Jesus assured us of that in Matthew 19:26
And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And do you know what happens to your enemies when you fight back in the supernatural power of the Lord? They run and hide!
Verse 17 says:
It was told Joshua, saying, “The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.”
That’s exactly what James 4:7 says, isn’t it?
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
But Joshua isn’t done yet. And God isn’t done yet. So look at what happens in verses 22-27
22 Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring these five kings out to me from the cave.” 23 They did so, and brought these five kings out to him from the cave: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24 When they brought these kings out to Joshua, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came near and put their feet on their necks. 25 Joshua then said to them, “Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies with whom you fight.” 26 So afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees; and they hung on the trees until evening. 27 It came about at sunset that Joshua gave a command, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and put large stones over the mouth of the cave, to this very day.
How’s that for an ultimate victory?
Do you remember those verses from the Psalms that we read earlier about being surrounded by our enemies? Well now let’s take a look at these Psalms as well:
All nations surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off.
They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off.
They surrounded me like bees; They were extinguished as a fire of thorns; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them off.
Do you see the significance of these verses?
It really doesn’t matter whether my enemies surround me or not.
What matters is that I can defeat every one of them in the name and the power of the Lord!
In verse 28-41 we see Joshua winning at least 8 more battles! And then verse 42 summarizes everything that has happened with these words:
“Joshua captured all these kings and their lands at one time, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.”
That’s Joshua’s story. He was victorious because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought his battles for him.
Isn’t that our story too?
Isn’t that what the Apostle Paul is talking about in Ephesians 6:12?
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
So let me ask you a question this morning –
Are you running away in fear from the forces of darkness that are warring against you, or are you causing them to run away from you in fear?
Because that’s what you are able to do if you understand your identity in Christ.
I want you to think about this verse from Romans 8:37
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
What are “these things” Paul is talking about? These things that we overcome through the power of Jesus?
Paul already told us in verse 35: “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, peril, or sword?”
Can we conquer those challenges? You know that we can!
Can we OVERWHELMINGLY conquer those challenges? You know that we can!
Did Joshua defeat the five kings? You better believe it! And then he defeated eight more kings for good measure!
That’s called an OVERWHLEMING victory!
You see, it’s not enough that your enemies turn and run and hide from you in a cave!
You need to pull them back out of that cave, step on their necks, hang them from a tree, stick them back in the cave, and roll huge boulders over the mouth of the cave!
Then you need to declare to the forces of darkness once and for all – “If you know what’s good for you, you’d better stay in that cave! Because I will no longer be afraid of your attacks!
My God has given me OVERWHELMING victory over you and anything, and I mean ANYTHING you can throw at me!”
Sunday July 8th
I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but the Nike company was founded by a guy. That explains why its tagline says "Just do it!"
Because if "Nike" had been founded by a Woman, its tagline would have been:
"Just do it...if you want to...
I don't want to force you...
It's your life...
You don't listen to me anyway…
Just Do Whatever You Want...”
All throughout the book of Exodus, God has been giving instructions to the people of Israel through Moses regarding the construction of the Tabernacle, along with its equipment and the priest’s clothing. Now it’s time for them to “Just do it!”
So we see this in Exodus 36:1
“Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the Lord has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.”
God has given His people the skills and God has given them the instructions. Now they are told to “perform in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.”
Another way of putting it would be - you know what to do…now…just do it! And they do, as we see in verse 2-7
Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it. 3 They received from Moses all the contributions which the sons of Israel had brought to perform the work in the construction of the sanctuary. And they still continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning. 4 And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, 5 and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.” 6 So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. 7 For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.
That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it!
The people were bringing so much gold and silver to donate for the construction of the tabernacle that the workmen asked Moses to tell the people to stop giving!
I’m hoping that the same thing will happen to our building fund for the new Welcome Center – but we haven’t reached that point yet – so please feel free to keep on giving! We will let you know when you’re giving too much!
I want you to think about what is happening here in relation to something that happened back in chapter 32:
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
Do you remember that episode? The Golden Calf!
The thing I want to point out is that in both instances the people donated generously, but one time it was for an ungodly purpose and the other time it was for a Godly purpose. What does that tell us?
We each have a certain amount of resources that we’ve been given. It’s really up to us whether we’re going to devote those resources towards the building of the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of our own little world.
Every single dollar that you and I spend carries with it an indication of what is important to us. It’s been said that the most accurate barometer of your spiritual state is your checkbook.
That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6:21
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
And even though the people of Israel were often disobedient towards God throughout their history, in this instance they were faithful, at least in their giving.
And the next few chapters also show the people doing exactly what God had asked them to do.
In Exodus 37 the Ark of the Covenant and the furnishings for the tabernacle, such as the lampstands and the table for the bread, were made exactly as God had instructed.
In Exodus 38 the curtains and the altar for the tabernacle were constructed exactly as God had instructed.
And then in verses 24-31 we see an accounting of the total cost of all of this work:
24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the work of the sanctuary, even the gold of the wave offering, was 29 talents and 730 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 25 The silver of those of the congregation who were numbered was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary), for each one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men. 27 The hundred talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary and the sockets of the veil; one hundred sockets for the hundred talents, a talent for a socket.28 Of the 1,775 shekels, he made hooks for the pillars and overlaid their tops and made bands for them. 29 The bronze of the wave offering was 70 talents and 2,400 shekels. 30 With it he made the sockets to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and the bronze altar and its bronze grating, and all the utensils of the altar, 31 and the sockets of the court all around and the sockets of the gate of the court, and all the pegs of the tabernacle and all the pegs of the court all around.
Okay, so let’s do the math so that we can get a sense of this in terms of today’s dollars.
Based on the known ratio of three thousand shekels to one talent, and the fact that each talent weighed roughly 75 pounds, we can estimate that a total of 2193 pounds of gold, 7544 pounds of silver, and 5310 pounds of copper were donated by the people towards the work of building the tabernacle.
In today’s money, that gold would be worth about 58 million dollars and that amount of silver would be worth another 4 million dollars!
Just to show how accurate these figures are, the amount of silver, which is 301,175 shekels, is linked to the head count of the Israelites: half a shekel was given by every male over the age of twenty (603,550 men according to Numbers 1:46)
So those two chapters, 37 and 38, take care of the building and the furnishing of the tabernacle, and then in Exodus 39, the garments for all of the priests are now made according to the instructions that were given back in chapters 28-29.
And then finally chapter 39 closes out the whole building process, starting in verse 32, with these words:
32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they did.
Notice that there was nothing lacking, nothing unfinished!
“all the work of the tabernacle…was completed”
“the sons of Israel did…all that the Lord had commanded”
In verses 33 through 41 there is a description of what that ALL included:
33 They brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings: its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars and its sockets; 34 and the covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and the covering of porpoise skins, and the screening veil; 35 the ark of the testimony and its poles and the mercy seat; 36 the table, all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37 the pure gold lampstand, with its arrangement of lamps and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38 and the gold altar, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the veil for the doorway of the tent; 39 the bronze altar and its bronze grating, its poles and all its utensils, the laver and its stand; 40 the hangings for the court, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords and its pegs and all the equipment for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 the woven garments for ministering in the holy place and the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests.
So the ALL included the tent and the furniture and the garments for the priests, everything that had been discussed since the beginning of chapter 25.
And then the last two verses of the chapter sum it up this way:
42 So the sons of Israel did all the work according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses. 43 And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the Lord had commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.
I think there may be no more beautiful words ever spoken that these:
“they had done it; just as the Lord had commanded, this they had done.”
The Lord commanded it – so they did it!
Isn’t that what it means to say that He is the Lord?
That’s why Jesus asks in Luke 6:46
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
I think that one of the things we need to do is understand the fullness of the meaning of the word “lord”.
Here is a commonly accepted biblical definition:
A name for God that means He has authority, or that He is our 'master'.
There’s nothing wrong with that definition. It’s very accurate. But the word lord actually means more than that.
Look at this additional definition:
A special name for God that his people use, knowing that He will do what he has promised them. That is what this name means.
Do you see how this more complete definition helps us to relate more intimately with God?
If my only way of seeing Him as my “lord” is that He’s my master and I must obey Him, then I may find that what He wants me to do and what I want to do are in opposition to one another. It’s easy to think that’s what Jesus was saying when He asked:
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
So, maybe Jesus is saying, “I thought I was your boss. Why aren’t you obeying me?”
But if we think of the other definition, that “He will do what he has promised”, then maybe what Jesus is asking is more like:
“When I tell you to do something, don’t you trust me?”
Because when my desires are leading me in a different direction from where God is telling me to go…
When my plans are different from God’s plans…
Then what I’m really saying isn’t just “I don’t want to do what my Boss is telling me to do”. We might as well add the full truth, which is “I don’t trust my Boss to take care of me.”
When the people of Israel built the tabernacle exactly as God had instructed them – When they made all of the furnishing and the priest’s garments exactly in the way that God had told them – They were proclaiming that “God knows what He is doing, and we trust Him to take care of us completely as long as we follow His instructions closely.”
Ultimately that what we have to decide for ourselves, over and over again, in each and every circumstance and challenge that we face.
Is Jesus really my Lord? Not just as a Boss who tells me what to do, but as a shepherd who watches over me and takes care of my every need.
How I answer that question is a reflection of how much I trust Him.
And there is no one who is more worthy of my trust!
Sunday April 22nd
We live in a nation governed by laws. But some of those laws might leave you wondering who thought them up. Here are 12 of the strangest laws on the books:
In Alabama - residents are committing “unlawful bear exploitation” if they train a bear for the purpose of bear wrestling.In California - Any frog that dies during a frog-jumping contest can't be eaten.In Iowa - Anyone trying to pass off margarine as real butter is guilty of a misdemeanor. (I can’t believe it’s not butter! I can’t believe I’m going to jail for saying that!)In Minnesota, any game in which participants attempt to capture a greased pig is illegal.
In New Hampshire -It's illegal to collect seaweed at nightIn New Mexico - "idiots" can't vote in state elections.In North Carolina, bingo games can last only up to five hours.
In Oregon - Leaving a container of urine on the side of the road is a Class A misdemeanor.In South Carolina - A male over the age of 16 can't falsely promise to marry a woman.
In Utah, no one may hurl a missile at a bus — except "elected or appointed peace officers"
In West Virginia - Anyone who hunts with a ferret will face a fine of $100 and 10 days in jail.In Wyoming, you can't "detach" more than one-half of a sheep's ear.
As we look at Exodus chapter 22, which is collection of various additional laws for the people of Israel, we may find that some of these could strike us as odd also!
Verse 1 says:
“If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.”
That one makes a lot of sense, because paying back five times more than you stole should help to discourage thievery. But this next one might seem a bit trickier:
2 “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. 3 But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
Here’s what’s being expressed by this law - The killing of a burglar at night did not incur guilt on the home owner, since confronting the burglar in the dark could endanger the homeowner’s life. But a daytime thief was easier to identify and stop, therefore killing him was not justified.
Now verse 4 I can’t quite understand, if it’s connected to verse 3:
4 If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.
Do you see why I’m confused? Who has to repay double, the dead thief? (I never realized that there were zombies in the Bible!)
There must be something in Hebrew grammar that I just can’t figure out. So let’s simplify this one to something simple: “Don’t steal stuff because someone might kill you!”
Verses 5 through 15 are all about property rights regarding fields, animals, fire, accidents, and lending stuff out:
5 “If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.
So if your goat eats my crops, you owe me your crops!
6 “If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or the standing grain or the field itself is consumed, he who started the fire shall surely make restitution.
I’m sure that Smokey the Bear liked that one!
7 “If a man gives his neighbor money or goods to keep for him and it is stolen from the man’s house, if the thief is caught, he shall pay double. 8 If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor’s property. 9 For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.
So if you lend me your hammer and I tell you “someone stole it from me” when you ask for it back, but you see it in my toolbox, then I owe you two hammers!
10 “If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, 11 an oath before the Lord shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor’s property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. 12 But if it is actually stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13 If it is all torn to pieces, let him bring it as evidence; he shall not make restitution for what has been torn to pieces.
One time my roommate asked me to watch his cat, and it got hit by a car because I let it outside near a busy street.
It wasn’t “torn to pieces” but it was definitely flattened, and I had some “splaining” to do when my friend got back from his trip!
14 “If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution. 15 If its owner is with it, he shall not make restitution; if it is hired, it came for its hire.
This one seems to say that if you and I are together, and I’m throwing a Frisbee with your dog, and he run into a tree and dies, that’s not my fault, because you were there and you didn’t tell me to stop.
I think we can see why these laws were important for the people of Israel, because in a farming culture, crops and animals were very crucial to their survival.
And if there weren’t laws regarding how to handle property disputes, then chaos could occur, possibly leading to violence.
Even in our court system today, there are 2 distinct types of courts – criminal courts, which are for law-breakers, and civil courts to settle property issues and other personal matters.
Then verse 16 deals with a very sensitive kind of interpersonal issue:
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.”
This verse was probably the origin of what came to be known as “shotgun weddings”. You got the girl pregnant, so now you need to “do the right thing” and marry her. That is, unless her Daddy says “get lost, you loser!” In that case, just make sure that you pay your child support!”
The next three verses list different reasons why people might deserve capital punishment:
18 “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.
19 “Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.
20 “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.
Those are three very different crimes, but each one was considered to be a justifiable cause for the death penalty!
The next section, from verses 21-24, has to do with how to treat widows and orphans, and those who are foreigners:
21 “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
God expected the people of Israel to be kind to strangers, since they had been strangers in Egypt. And that last verse surely shows us how serious God is about the treatment of widows and orphans!
If we look at James 1:27 we can see that this concern remained important to God all the way through the New Testament:
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
God’s concern for those who are weak and vulnerable has never changed.
God continues to show his concern for the treatment of the poor in verses 25-27:
25 “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.26 If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.
Do you see what those verses are saying? You can’t take away what little a poor person has and claim that its the interest on what they owe you.
Verse 28 equates God’s authority with those whom He has placed in positions of authority:
28 “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.
This verse is actually quoted by Paul in Acts 23:1-5
“Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” 2 The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 4 But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
You see, Paul didn’t realize that Ananias, who had ordered the guards to smack him, was the High Priest.
As terrible as his actions were, Paul knew that he must still respect the authority of his position.
And it was Paul who wrote in Romans 13:1 “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
The next two verses are a reminder not to withhold tithes and offerings from God:
29 “You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.
In our PBI course on Theology and Life we talked about how God doesn’t “need” out tithes, but we “need” to tithe in order to be in a correct relationship with God.
And the final verse in this chapter is what I like to call “The Vegetarian Verse”!
31 “You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh.”
Actually, it says more than that, which is why we always tell you to read every verse in its full context!
The complete verse says:
31 “You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.
Or a more modern translation might be – “Don’t eat roadkill – it might make you sick!”
When we look at this list of laws, we can understand that God was trying to guide His people towards holy, healthy, righteous living. These rules were for their good, not just to frustrate them.
As New Testament followers of Jesus, we also are being asked to not only know God’s ways, but to do them.
We see this in James 1:22-25
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
It’s not enough to hear God’s Word or to know God’s Word – we are called to DO what God’s Word says!
I want you to think about what verse 25 says about “the perfect law, the law of liberty”
Liberty means freedom. And laws tend to limit or restrict my freedom. So how can there be such a thing as “the law of liberty”?
I believe it means this:
God gave me a free will. I can use it to obey Him or to disobey Him.
If I use my will to disobey God, I may feel that I am walking in freedom, but I am actually walking in bondage to my own selfish desires.
The only way that I can walk in true freedom is to take my free will and turn it back over to God – to submit my will and my ways to the higher calling of His will and His ways!
When I am able to say “Not my will, but yours” then I become truly free – Free from selfishness and self-centeredness – free to serve – free to truly live!
That’s why James describes the law of liberty as “the Perfect Law”
I don’t know about you, but God’s law suits me perfectly!