Psalm 16 Utmost confidence in my Safe Place!

Where do you find confidence?  When everything around is in turmoil, when life gets, overwhelmingly, loud and there is a constant demand for your attention where can you find some peace?

Do you have a safe place?   This is a question those who are on the spectrum need to have an answer to.  They need a safe place to regain confidence when melt down is imminent.  A safe place to go when the stims of life have turned an otherwise healthy environment toxic.  But they surely aren’t the only ones who need to know where their safe place is.  Even King David the writer of this Psalm spoke of his safe place.  The place where he turned and found renewed confidence and inner peace to carry on.

This Psalm of David has no specific point in history for us to look up.  No heroic battles won, or near death escapes for the King of Israel.  It is simply a declaration of what David knew to be true.  So, if you have your Bible or app along you might want to turn there and follow along.  Each version has its nuances so follow along in which ever version you prefer.  We’ll look at each verse this morning out of the NIV and the NLT and see if we too have discovered David’s safe place.

Psalm 16 (NLT)

David begins,(1)   Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge.”   You and I know that God is a person not a place.  So clearly David isn’t suggesting otherwise here?  Yet repeatedly David has taken refuge in His God.  Psalm 7:1, “O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me…” (NIV).   Psalm 11:1, “In the LORD I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain” (Psalm 11:1 (NIV).  David’s confidence was clearly in the Lord, he rejected the idea that refuge was to be found elsewhere.

As I wrote that, I suddenly found myself thinking of the refugees out in Summerland that Sylvia and Renee mentioned a while ago.  If you remember, after escaping war-torn Syria, enduring horrendous living conditions, they sought refugee status in Canada.  And like winning the lottery they were granted visas and sponsored by caring Canadians.  Then they traveled to the other side of the earth, looking for a safe place to raise their family. Looking for a refuge.

And as they settled in Summerland it surely looked like safe refuge for them.  But then, as we have often seen as of late; when the vacancy rate of rental properties dips below 1%, and prices of those few remaining rentals increase with demand, these refugees had the house sold from under them.  At the point S&R asked us to pray for them, they had two months to move and it was causing great inner turmoil for them.

They thought they had found refuge in a house but it was sadly temporary.  Yet David clearly expressed much confidence in his Refuge, his safe place.  A confidence that seemed unmoved by circumstances.  David, “(2) …said to the LORD, “You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.”   David’s Refuge was found in the same place that S&R asked us to pray for those refugees.  In fact, God was the source of everything good in David’s life.  Can we pray for better refuge than that for them?

In verse 3 David thanks God for that which God has blessed him with.  (3) The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!”

The Godly ones!  Did you notice that?  Psalm 84:10 says, A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked” (NLT)

The day I began to write this message Rika went home to her Refuge.  She had lived a long and sometimes difficult life but in the end, there was no doubt how godly she had grown.  Like some versions of your bibles, the word godly and saint were interchangeable.  Rika was a delight to be around even though she was feisty at 97, there was no doubt that Jesus was her Refuge!

David delighted in the saints because of Who their refuge was.  He didn’t worship them, but he sure admired them.  Called them heroes!  They were the people he enjoyed being around the most.

I hear sad things at times out of the mouths of people who call themselves Christians.  Like when they say they prefer the company of the ungodly.  In fact, they’d rather be out with the ungodly than be with the godly at church.   I just shake my head.

How is that possible I wonder?  How is it that a professing Christian finds more in common with the people who find nothing in common with the one whom they profess to be their Refuge?  What does this really say?  Are they truly whom they claim to be?  Or have they never actually met those “godly people” …David’s “true heroes”?

Seriously if you would rather keep the company of the ungodly that says more about you than you think.  I know you will likely come back with “but Jesus hung around with “tax collectors and sinners”, “prostitutes” and shady characters”.  “And He was God in the flesh. If it was good enough for Him it is good enough for me”

But really?  Did he hang out and party, cursing and carrying on like them?  Enjoying what they enjoyed and doing what they did?  Worshipping what they worshipped?   And did those people carry on doing the ungodly things they had always done once they had been with Jesus for a time?    His record is spotless how about yours?

Delitzsch writes, “The expression of his abhorrence attains its climax: even their names… he shuns taking upon his lips” (1:224: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.)

David said, Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods. I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood or even speak the names of their gods” (Psalm 16:4 (NLT).   Basically, he said, “I’m not with them, I’m with the godly ones.” He taken a stand.  Which doesn’t mean he thought he was perfect like you and me!   Clearly there is a line that you and I ought not cross even as we try to bring the ungodly folks that come into our lives to further a relationship with our Lord.  But it does mean he’s all in.

 “LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine” Psalm 16:5 (NLT) David has things that are dear to him.  He’s not some ascetic monk living in the wilderness.  The truth is God has given that once shepherd boy a kingdom full of things that his heart desired.  Fancy clothes, horses and chariots and clubs and swords….  Gold and silver and precious stones, even land!   “The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!” (Psalm 16:6 (NLT).  He possesses much but it doesn’t possess him.  He doesn’t worry about leaving it to go and do what God is calling him to because he knows that God gave it to him and will keep what he needs for him.

How does he know this?  Well, David gives us a clue in verse 7.   “I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7 (NLT).  That’s a personal relationship with the almighty that David is getting at.  A relationship that he clearly cherishes.  His counselor is the creator of everything and he acknowledges his reliance on the God who guides.

I don’t know about you but I know I have times when my days are hectic and so full that time to think things through just doesn’t happen.  And Like David I have experienced those times when I finally go to sleep and sure enough in the middle of the night the answer suddenly comes.  I try to get up and write it down.  Or I’ll make a note beside my bed on the tablet.  Cause sure enough I’ll forget it by morning.

Now I can ask other Pastors, and talk with smart people, even Google answers when I need to know something but trusting God as your counsellor – is the safest place to go to and the safest to listen to.

David was that confident.  He was so confident in his safe place that he wrote, I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me”
Psalm 16:8 (NLT).   Put your confidence in man, and even the most loyal one will eventually fail you or not be there when you need him.  Trust in technology and you’ll find out quickly when the power fades how poor a safe place that is.  But when you have a friend who sticks closer than a brother, now you’re in your safe zone.   Now your confidence has a resting place.

I think David surprised himself with his declaration in verse 7 because in verse 8 he writes, “No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety”
Psalm 16:9 (NLT).   With God, right beside you, what have you to fear?  Yet I find, as I wander at times, that the assurance the David proclaims doesn’t hit home.  And in those times, I don’t sleep so well.  I may toss and turn all night long…ever been there?  David is doing more than instructing us and giving God praise in these verses.  These things he writes are for instructing his own heart, telling it what the truth is.  Not accepting the counsel of the wicked, or giving into fear and superstition. He reminds himself where His refuge is found and he instructs his heart to go to his Safe place when even death threatens to rob him of his peace.

He thanks God that,God will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave” Psalm 16:10 (NLT).     David didn’t want death to be the end of it all.  And now he knows that the best is yet to come! But at the time he wrote this do you think he understood the resurrection?

I’m aware that the Apostle Peter used these very verses in Acts 2:23-25 as he spoke of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, our Safe Place confirmed according to Paul.  Peter looking back confirms what David spoke in faith, looking ahead.

He was told by the prophet Nathaniel; the account is found in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, that David’s legacy would live on through his children.  But was it more than a spiritual resurrection as they call that?

Nathaniel said to him, “(12) When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, (euphemism for dying or death.  David did know that like his fathers he would die.)  Nathaniel goes on to say, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, (this would be a physical, blood line descendant) and I will establish his kingdom.  (And we know that Solomon, David’s son did carry on as King of Israel).  Nathaniel goes on to say, (13) “He shall build a house for My name,  (Still speaking of Solomon.   Solomon’s Temple is a historical, traceable fact of history…you can read all about it.  It happened as the prophet predicted.) Nathaniel predicted, “He shall build a house for My name,  and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever”. (David was told about a throne that will last longer than a man lives.  Forever. One of David’s descendants’, Jesus Christ, His Kingdom would last forever.   Jesus – the son of David, the Son of God whose body never saw decay nor did it stay in the ground!  Because on the tird day He rose from the dead in accordance to the scriptures.  Jesus would literally live forever! )   But wait for it…).     Nathaniel speaking for God goes on to say, (14)  “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, (15)  but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you”
2 Samuel 7:12-15 (NASB).   This king would suffer taking on the sins of the world, being corrected by man’s devices, beaten and hung on a cross to die, but unlike Saul who went to the grave, whose body did decay this son of David would continue to reign under God’s protection and refuge and history confirms this too.  But wait for it… Nathaniel then says, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever’2 Samuel 7:16 (NASB).  Jesus rose bodily from the dead, “did not see decay” ascended to the right hand of God, the place of absolute authority and reigns forever.

So when David said confidently, For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.  You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever (Psalm 16:10-11 (NLT).  If this was written after Nathaniel’s prophecy, David already understood that he was of the lineage of the coming Messiah and spoke of the joy of being in God’s presence with his son forever.   Is that cool or what!  No wonder he had such confidence!

Romans 8:10-11 says, “(10)  And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. (11)  The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:10-11 (NLT).

Make this your safe place and you can never be shaken!  Amen?

Today’s lesson brought to you by the letter H –

  Today’s lesson is sponsored by the letter H.   H as in Hosanna?  Home? Health? Heaven? Happy? My grandson would add Hudson!  

In the church calendar this Sunday is the celebration of Palm Sunday.  Loud Hosannas rang out from the joyful crowds welcoming our Lord into Jerusalem.  The Gospel of John records, (12) … the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. (13)  They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13 (NIV)   Yes today’s lesson is sponsored by the letter H but not the word Hosanna!  There is another H word, maybe even two, that came to mind as I looked at the events of that week in our Lord’s life.

No treachery is worse than betrayal by a family member or closely trusted friend. Julius Caesar knew such treachery. Among the conspirators who assassinated the Roman leader on March 15, 44 B.C. was Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus, he had favoured him as a son.

“According to Roman historians, Caesar first resisted the onslaught of the assassins. But when he saw Brutus among them with his dagger drawn, Caesar ceased to struggle and, pulling the top part of his robe over his face, asked the famous question, “You too, Brutus?” (Today in the Word August 13, 1992).

Many years ago, when I pastored in Pincher Creek we put on an inter-church pageant of sorts.  I got the dubious role of Judas Iscariot.  Lynda even made me a pouch for my 30 pieces of silver!  When it came time for the kiss it really sank in how low can a friend go!

We tend to think of Judas as an unbeliever and a traitor, and thus we place him in a category all by itself, rather than to see Judas as a man not all that different from you or me, which is exactly where the discomfort comes from.

Judas was a man who seemed to be a genuine follower of Jesus, a close trusted friend.  He was a man who had experienced and had been a channel of God’s power displayed.  He was very much like the other disciples, he did not stand out from them, nor was he ever suspected by them.  He even seems to have been somewhat of a leader among those disciples.  They trusted him as a friend trusts a friend.

Judas’ downfall came from a flaw evident earlier in his life, in a secret sin kept within.  He was a man who seems to have loved money too much and Jesus too little.  He was a man who heard Jesus’ teachings first hand, but failed to obey them.   His failure was progressive, taking place over 3 years, and — by means of a sequence of decisions.

Judas was not forced to sin by Satan, but was surely tempted and assisted in his fall.  He was made vulnerable to Satan’s involvement by his sin of greed.  Satan got a “death grip” on Judas by means of his fleshly desires and their dominion in his life.  He did not choose to follow Satan, but he did choose to follow his own desires.  And while it is clear to the reader that Judas became possessed by Satan, we do not know that Judas was ever consciously aware of this.

To put it differently, Judas made choices which resulted in his possession by Satan, but we are never told that he actively sought to be possessed.

From Judas’ twisted point of view his sin was not all that bad.  In fact, he thought what he was doing would help Jesus to claim His throne that very week. And those loud Hosannas, that jubilant entrance into Jerusalem gave Judas the gumption to do what he did.   For Judas the ends would justify the means, or so he thought.

Remember this infamous villain of Passion Week was just a person like you and me!  He was not born a betrayer, but he became one, by a progression of increasingly wrong or sinful choices.

So what was it about that Triumphal entry that gave Judas the gumption to betray his closest friend?

It was an event that would fully proclaim to all the leaders and people of Jerusalem that their Messiah had come. An event that was orchestrated and carried out by Christ himself in fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies.

Here’s another H word.

To us anyway.  Jesus is and was the HERO of that passion filled week.  To the common person Jesus was a “prophet from Nazareth”.  A man who had done many wondrous things.  As the procession began the people gathered around, some out of curiosity no doubt, wanting to perhaps see a new mighty work, or to gaze upon this man who raised Lazarus from the dead.  Such a hero had to be seen if opportunity arose.  And the scriptures record that all of Jerusalem was stirred by this brief appearance of the Messiah.

As I read before, some got so caught up in the excitement that they “took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! “ “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the King of Israel!”” “Hosanna to the Son of David”…”Hosanna in the highest!”.  

Had the Spirit of God brought to their remembrance what the prophet David had written a thousand years before?  Ps.118:25  “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you”.

It seems that the people began shouting cheers for their HERO, and their Saviour.  They were fed up with the Roman occupation and they wanted the promised deliverer, the one whom Zechariah had also prophesied would come.  “See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.  But they wanted him on their terms not on His.  They wanted Him to wipe out their earthly oppressors.  And yes, Christ truly was their Messiah, even his mode of transportation proved that.  The disciples had found that donkey just as Jesus had foretold.  They even had to speak the words Jesus had forewarned them so that the owners didn’t object.  And in fulfilment of the prophets Christ rode before them.

So they proclaimed Him their king…loud Hosannas to ‘the king of the Jews’.  But in their Hearts, it was only if he ruled on their terms!  Hearts! -yes there is another H-word.

We too, at times approach God in this fashion.  We may even utter praises and platitudes of servanthood but when it comes right down to it, Jesus is only our Messiah, our Lord, when it suits us.  The rest of the time he is that historical ‘prophet of Nazareth’ who lived years ago.  Who is Jesus in your Heart? (pause)

The owner of a photographic studio tells the story of a college boy who came in with a framed picture of his girlfriend.  He wanted the picture duplicated.  In removing the photograph from the frame, the studio owner noticed the touching inscription on the back, written by the girlfriend:

“My dearest Tommy: I love you with all my heart.  I love you more and more each day.  I will love you for ever and ever.  I am yours for all eternity.”  It was signed “Dianne” and contained a P.S.  “If we should ever break up, I want this picture back”.

The very next Friday the same people who shouted Hosanna could be found shouting, “Crucify Him!”. Hypocrisy, don’t you agree?

Well how did the disciples react to all these events?  Did they take them to Heart?

Some of the disciples were sent ahead for the donkey as I’ve already mentioned.  Can you imagine their reaction when they went into Bethphage and there was the donkey just as Jesus had said it would be?  And wouldn’t your jaw drop and hit the ground when the challenge came and the answer accepted just as you had been told?

Of course, it happened that way.  They knew it would– they had walked with the Lord and saw all the miracles and healing and other wonders.  So they brought the donkey back to the Lord and they placed their cloaks over it as a saddle.

And then the Scriptures recorded that they stood silently as the rest of parade went on.  HAH!  Hudson would say, that word has two h’s!

They began excitedly telling how all those mighty works had come to pass and they praised God loudly for all they had seen Jesus do.  They hailed him as God’s king and chanted that the effect of His coming was “peace in Heaven” (as Luke records) and glory in the Highest” Praises befitting only the King of Kings –God Himself. (Luke 19:38)

We too are called to give praise to God for what he has done in our lives and to bear witness to what he is doing in the lives of people around us.  The disciple’s reaction was to lead the people of Jerusalem in worship of the King.  Like them we are to proclaim Jesus Christ the Messiah and get all excited about our faith.  But more often then not, we are quietly telling nobody of the greatest thing that ever happened in our lives. Go-figure!

Now, lets look at the reaction of the Pharisees.  The scriptures tell that they too were present in all this hoopla.  But they didn’t join in.  Instead we’re told that they got in a HUFF, they were ‘indignant’.  They stubbornly refused to believe that this man riding on a donkey was the King of Kings.  They told him to rebuke his disciples!  Tell them to stop praising you as king. (cf. John 12:19)

I love Jesus’ comeback to their Huff —He answered them, even if everybody were to stop — the rocks would continue the chorus of praise!

Exasperated, they cried out in another HUFF that “the whole world had gone after Jesus” (John 12:19).  Of course, they didn’t realize that the interest of the crowd was to be a quickly passing thing.  It was Hypocrisy!   They were a fickle bunch who weren’t worshipping Christ.  Sure, they shouted loud Hosannas but in their Hearts this Hero was worse than a thief.

Only a remnant, a chosen few would be true worshippers, believing in Him as God.

Sometimes, we’re even like those Pharisees, aren’t we?  We tell people that if they aren’t worshipping God the way we believe they should, well they shouldn’t worship him at all.  This has been a major stumbling block of the faith since it began.  Long before Palm Sunday.  In fact, it started way back in Genesis with Cain and Able.  Really! Cain murdered Able over his style of worship.  

But on that Palm Sunday, the people worshipped with shouts of praise, perhaps even with hands raised and they certainly were waving palm branches.  They even gave Christ the red-carpet treatment with the cloaks off their backs.

So what was the Hero’s reaction?  At first it appears that Jesus is elated with the response — but it isn’t long lasting.  Christ knew that the “people worshipped him with their lips but their hearts were far from him” (cf. Mark 7:6)   And as he drew near Jerusalem, he wept for them.

They had missed the golden opportunity.  If the people had only received Him as the Messiah, it would have meant peace for them.  But they didn’t recognise that He was the source of peace.  Now it was too late.  They had already determined what they would do with the Son of God.

Remember, those who had been shouting Hosanna on Sunday were by Friday Shouting Crucify Him!   They rejected Him and their Hearts were blinded.  And our Savior looked on and lamented for Jerusalem.

A.W. Griffith Thomas has said, “Let us sit at Christ’s feet until we learn the secret of His tears, and beholding the sins and sorrows of city and countryside, weep over them too”.  Do we weep over the sins of our city, our province and our nation?  When injustice and immorality are condoned by the masses are we moved to our knees in prayer? When we see people rejecting Christ are we moved to tears, knowing that they have taken another step closer to hell?

With tears in His eyes, Christ foretold in detail of the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  “Not one stone “would be left “upon another” (Matthew 24:2).  And in a few years’ history records that Jerusalem was destroyed, just as Christ had said it would be, as he wept for the lost.  He had visited the city with an offer of salvation.  But the people only wanted Him on their terms.

We often celebrate Palm Sunday as a day of worshipping the King.  And rightly so!  It is good to worship our Messiah!  But let’s not forget the anguish that Christ experienced as he saw before Him a nation who rejected salvation and brought upon themselves destruction. The prophecies were fulfilled that had long awaited the Messiah.

Even today, many call themselves Christians but like the people on that Palm Sunday they do so on their own terms.  Christ is the Messiah, The King of Kings. And the Lord of Lords. But He is the Messiah only for those who come to Him on His terms. For those hypocrites, Jesus laid down His life.  It’s Palm Sunday but Good Friday is coming!  Are you ready?

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James 1:1-4 Refining faith God’s way.

Zach was telling me the other day that the first couple of weeks at the Gym are particularly busy this time of year but that quickly trails off as people begin to realize the perseverance it takes to retain never mind grow healthy muscle tone.

Those muscles don’t happen over night.  Sometimes people try to take shortcuts to make that happen but that can often lead to very negative results.

Shortcuts like anabolic steroids taken to make those muscles bulge and produce a temporarily increase in strength.  In the short run, steroids may produce the looks that one hopes for in lieu of the pain of persevering at the gym.  But in the end the folly of taking steroids produces infertility and impotence.Continue reading

You think you’ve done some dumb things…check this guy out: Jonah 1

When I mentioned the book of Jonah what first that comes to mind?

Like many stories from HIStory the book of Jonah causes our creative juices to flow.   Artists throughout the ages have depicted this tiny book in several ways but none more than a whale of a tale.  Sea monsters, sperm whales, and other giant sea creatures are the usual depictions for the book of Jonah.  But frankly I think they may have missed the point.   This book is not about a giant whale!  Though to be sure a whale plays a part in this book.

And this book isn’t about a city named Nineveh, though to be sure that city is in HIStory and not only in this book.  They have found artifacts from it dated back even before 786bc.

slide1To be perfectly honest this book isn’t even about a man named Jonah though once again a man named Jonah does play a predominant role in this book and he may have even written it according to many scholars.  But this book isn’t here today because of Jonah’s story.  His story was included in it because of HIStory.  This book is all about a living relationship with Jesus Christ!  The maker of heaven and earth.

The book teaches us about our freewill and divine sovereignty.   It is about the invitation given by God, even today, to be change agents in HIStory.  Willing change agents or otherwise as we will see. And it tells of the consequences that human choice set in motion.

In this book you can find both divine wrath and amazing grace, the very hallmarks of HIStory, as you follow this man named Jonah who was called by God to bring correction to the inhabitants of Nineveh.   And from that point of view it is an extraordinary missionary story.

Today we’ll look at the first chapter and see Jonah receive merciful correction after making a few wrong choices in life.   If you have your Bible with you turn to Jonah chapter 1.

 

 (1)  The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: (2) “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (3)  But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. (4)  Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (5)  All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. (6)  The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” (7)  Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. (8)  So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

 (9)  He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (10)  This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) (11)  The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” (12)  “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (13)  Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. (14)  Then they cried to the LORD, “O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” (15)  Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. (16)  At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. (17)  But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.  Jonah 1:1-17 (NIV)

This portion of History shows us that with God you are always free to choose.  He has given us autonomy when it comes to making choices.  We human beings are entirely free to make even really dump choices. We can even choose to ignore God Almighty Himself!

In Deuteronomy 30 we read, (19) This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (20)  and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NIV)  God has given mankind freewill.  You are truly free to choose as you will.

slide5I mean just look at Jonah!  Here was a prophet of God’s own choosing.

As this book begins Jonah is in the ministry.  He has already been used of God to deliver a powerful and clearly life altering messages that got King Jeroboam to restore the boundaries of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 14:25).   Jonah was living in the limelight because of it.  Things were going good in his ministry.  And then God sent forth this word to Jonah that he had a new assignment to attend to.  A huge assignment!

Jonah was to go and prophesy in a city that historians tell us was more than a half a million people!   A huge city in that time!  Later in Jonah we find out it takes a person 3 days to go across this sprawling city (cf. Jonah 3:3).  So this was a big assignment for the prophet of God’s own choosing!  And Jonah was even to tell them that God was royally ticked off with their behavior as of late.  This is usually a favorite thing for prophets to do, in fact you find this is as you read through the entire Bible.  It’s the usual job of the prophet to bring warnings from God.   So you’d think Jonah would be happy to oblige.   After-all he’s in the ministry.  This wasn’t his first assignment.  He was a prophet of God Most High.  Frankly there was no higher calling known to man.

But verse 3 tells us that instead of embracing the call, Jonah ran away.  He basically said I quit, I’m out of here.  Not only am I not going to Nineveh I’m going in the opposite direction just as fast as I can.  And he seriously tried to do exactly that.

He took his own money and bought himself passage on a freighter heading 2500 miles in the opposite direction.  That would soon prove to be a real waste of money.  And you know what?  Jonah was absolutely free to make that choice!

You see God has really given every human being this thing called freewill.  That just means we have the freedom to choose to ignore even God Almighty.  And if we are perfectly honest with ourselves we’d have to admit that you and I have done this on many occasions for even lessor reasons than Jonah.

So why did Jonah do it? Well, after researching Nineveh, part of me can’t blame Jonah for not wanting to go to there.  He knew Nineveh’s reputation.  Nineveh was known for the cruelty and wickedness that ran rampant in that city.

slide6Nahum, another prophet who actually proclaimed it’s downfall said of Nineveh, (1)  Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! (2)  The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! (3)  Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses–” (Nahum 3:1-3 (NIV).   This was a pagan city where evil knew no bounds.  Killing was done just for sport.

Historians paint graphic images with the idolatry and hideousness of their wickedness running rampant.  slide7Even God Himself said, “its wickedness has come up before me” (2) And …Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, …Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:11 (NIV)

But Jonah was “a Hebrew that worshipped the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (10).   That’s what he calls himself in verse 10.  A man who worshipped God.  And it is clear from not only his actions in this passage but his later discourse with God that Jonah thought he was above the likes of those nasty gentiles.  Why should he go and warn them?

Clearly he had little compassion for those whom God had much compassion for.  But this too he was free to choose!  God had bestowed upon mankind freewill.  Jonah was absolutely free to choose to show his prejudice, and his lack of compassion and concern for Nineveh.  Which he promptly did by boarding a boat headed in the opposite direction.

And that’s when things got real interesting right?

Have you ever noticed God doesn’t take no for an answer?  While it is absolutely true that God gives us the freewill to make choices it is also absolutely true, as clearly seen in this passage, that God does not give us the freedom to determine the consequences of our choices.  You are always free to choose but remember He alone determines the consequences of your choice.

You are free to choose to take drugs or abuse alcohol but you are not free to choose the consequences of taking them. That may include marriage breakdown or kidney failure, poverty or homelessness.  You are free to choose to ignore the laws regarding drinking and driving but the consequences of doing so are out of your control.  You are free to tell your employer to take this job and shove it, but the short or long term consequences of doing so are beyond your control.

slide8I think Jonah certainly got to learn some of that lesson in this passage don’t you?   It began with that powerful wind that came up just after they had entered open seas.  This was no ordinary storm.  Those were hardened sailors in that boat.  They had been through storms before but not like this one.  This one caused them to get out their idols and pray like never before.

They were so afraid that they started throwing cargo overboard.  That cargo was their livelihood!  And few things cause man to jettison their livelihood other than a near death experience.  That’s what was unfolding before them and they recognized it and were terrified.

But Jonah, we’re told just went below deck and fell asleep.  His guilty conscience likely had tired him out completely.  Saying no to God has that effect.  While God gives strength and power to those who do His will; “there is no peace …for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22).

Jonah is not a type of our Lord as some might call him.  They usually point to the way he slept during the storm, saying he had not a worry in the world.  And they compare that to Jesus who also slept peacefully during the storm.  But this was in no way like our Lord who after a busy day of miracles and healing the sick went out on the water with His disciples to rest.  As they rowed to sea Jesus was found sleeping in the hull of the boat.  And when the raging storm threatened their peace Jesus slept through even that stormy blast.  But that’s where the similarity ends.   Unlike Jonah when Jesus was jarred awake by the frightened disciples Jesus merely rebuked the waves and the storm died.

Even the captain of the boat wanted to know why Jonah was sleeping when they were about to perish.  He ordered Jonah to get up and pray to his God!

Funny, isn’t it, that those who show little faith in daily life often get very prayerful when calamity strikes?  Yet these men, captain included, were about to learn the difference between false gods made of wood and stone and the God of the Hebrews who made the sea and wind.

As the storm raged on those men in desperation cast lots hoping to determine whose fault it was that they were in peril.  And God caused the lots to fall in the right direction.  God would make sure they knew who to blame when the lot fell to Jonah.

The sailors demanded to know what he had done to piss off His God so royally. And it was here that Jonah began to do the right thing.  He confessed his sin before those men.  Admitted that he rebelliously ran away from God’s clear calling.  And then Jonah even told them what they could do to remedy the situation.  Just get rid of him and the trouble will end.

Euthanasia is what we might call it today.   Or maybe death by cop would be a better example?  Jonah said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” … “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12 (NIV)

Seriously?   God would actually do that?    He would actually cause a deadly storm as the consequences of Jonah’s poor albeit free choice?  The consequences of his choices could have hurt or killed everyone on that boat?  Does God really do that?

Absolutely! 

And you know how I know?  Just look what happened next?

At first they tried to spare Jonah by rowing like crazy.  They didn’t want to throw a man into the sea.  But when the storm grew and their self-effort failed their only choice left was to follow what the man of God told them to do or they too would suffer the consequences.

So they prayed some more! But did you notice to whom they prayed this time? (cf. Jonah 1:14)   It wasn’t to their idols.  It was to Jonah’s God.  The God he told them that was in charge of the storm.  And did you notice what they prayed?  They asked for forgiveness for what they were about to do.

slide10“Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm (Jonah 1:15 (NIV).

You should underline that in your Bible.  The raging sea grew calm!  The storm immediately ended the moment they obeyed God.  And what was the immediate effect of calm seas on those sailors?

At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him” (Jonah 1:16 (NIV).

Well, would you look at that!  They actually began their faith journey at that very moment.  And why do you think that you might be asking?  Because their actions showed that there was no doubt in their minds that God, Jonah’s God, was the real deal.   He really does control the storms in life.

But where did that leave Jonah?  Well in the belly of the whale of course.

God had not only chosen the consequences for Jonah’s actions He also provided a way out from what would have been certain death.   Any man tossed overboard into the sea stands little chance of being found alive but God in His mercy provided a new and more humbling mode of transport for Jonah.

There is lots of debate about what this fish was.  The Hebrew basically says “big fish”.  But Sir Francis Fox, was told by a captain and crew of a whaling ship, that a sailor fell overboard and was swallowed by a sperm whale. The sailor was rescued alive, some twenty-four hours later when the whale was captured and cut open. After being mental deranged for two weeks the sailor recovered. (Tenney, pg45)”

So I wouldn’t rule out a whale.  But then again God who instantly calms the seas could have wrapped Jonah in an air bubble and got him safely to dry land.  The fact is a fish of some sort was provided by God.  How it happened is somewhat a mystery.  Why it happened is not a mystery.  As I said at the beginning of today’s lesson, this book is not about a whale, a city called Nineveh not even about Jonah.slide12

This was all about Jesus Christ, God incarnate, sovereign Lord of the universe who later would look back at this event and say,

(29)  … “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. (30)  For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation…The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. Luke 11:29-32 (NIV).

Jesus spoke not so much about the judgement as about the remedy for man’s sinful choices.  The miraculous provision of God that saw Jesus die, entombed three days and rise again to new life.

 “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:10).

The Bible says, (19) This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (20)  and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NIV) 

Beware of the consequences of your choices today, for it is beyond your control. If God has made it clear to you what you must do, choose to do it His way.

 



Dig deeper into HIStory: Jonah 1:1-17

Discussion Starters:

  1. Do you prefer to be on the giving or receiving end of correction?
  2. Has there ever been a time when you chose not to do what you were told to do?  Why didn’t you?
  3. Has there been a time when being disciplined helped you?

 

READ Jonah 1:1-17 in several versions if available.

 

  1. Who was Jonah and what do we know about him from the OT?  (Jonah 1:1; see also 2 Kings 14:25)
  2. What do we know about Jonah from Jesus? (Matt. 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32; Matthew 16:4)
  3. Where and what was Nineveh?  (Gen. 10:11; Jonah 3:3, 4:11 )
  4. Why did God tell Jonah to Nineveh? (Jonah 1:2;  Nahum 3:1,7,19; see also Gen 4:10; Gen 6:13; Gen 18:21; Ezr 9:6 Rev. 18:5).  What was their sin? Exodus 20
  5. How did Jonah answer God’s call at first? (Jonah 1:3,10)  Why? (Jonah 4:2; Matthew 16:4; Heb. 3:15; James 1:22; Psalm 119:27) see also (Exodus 4:13; 1 Ki 19:3; Jer. 20:7-9; Eze. 3:14;  Luke 9:62).
  6. What did God do about it?  (Jonah 1:4) How do we know it was God? (12b,15b) (see also Exodus 10:13,19; Exodus 14:21; 15:10; Num. 11:31; Psalm 107:24-31; Psalm 135:7; Amos 4:13; Matthew 8:24-27)
  7. What affect did that have on the people in the boat? (Jonah 1:5,7-8 see also 1 Ki 18:26; Isa 44:17-20; Jer. 2:28)  Where was Jonah as the storm raged? (Jonah 1:5b,6 ) Was Jonah like Jesus in Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23?
  8. What right thing did Jonah do in verses 9 and 12?  (Luke 13:3; Proverbs 28:13; Rev. 2:5; 1 Jn. 1:9, see also 2 Sam. 24:17; John 11:50)
  9. What did the sailors do? (Jonah 1:13)   Did it work?  So then what did they do? (14-15)
  10. What was the immediate effect of throwing Jonah overboard? (Jonah 1:15b, 16a)
  11. What happened to Jonah (Jonah 1:17)  (see also Hab 3:2)
  12. How is being swallowed by a big fish God’s grace? (Rev. 3:19; Joel 2:13; Matthew 3:2; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9-10)
  13. In what ways has God pursued you?
  14. Who can you share with this week what you know Jesus has done for you?

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Exodus 14:10-17 Like learning lessons the hard way?!

To see all of today’s study questions, click here.

How many of you like learning lessons the hard way? Have you ever noticed that you learn some lessons much harder than others? 

I was out flying my quad-copter-camera near Vaseux Lake this spring and had just taken off to do a sweep over a rock outcropping.  We were safely off on a secondary, and what seemed a rather private bit of a road, when suddenly I found myself distracted by a big truck coming my way.  Seriously we had been in that spot for like fifteen minutes setting up, checking wind speed, watching traffic patterns…and there was no traffic what-so-ever.  But the very moment I put my DJI Phantom 2 quad-copter-camera in the air a big truck just showed up!

Now to be fair to the Phantom 2 this was like the fourth or fifth time I had flown the copter so I was certainly a bit of a noob.  And in that split second of noticing the truck my copter turned and headed straight for a tree.   I took my eyes of it just a split second!  And disaster struck my quad-camera.

I’d like to think I learned my lesson that day but I’m sure that there will be other lessons to learn with this new type of camera along the way.  Fortunately, this lesson was not too costly.  The camera was fine and the copter had about $60 damage.  And no trees were harmed in the filming of this crash.  But some lessons in life can cost us dearly especially when we refuse to heed God’s warnings and harden our hearts in the process.

One of the greatest examples of this from HIStory is found in the book of Exodus at a time when Pharaoh’s hardened resolve to let God’s people go cost him everything.

So in today’s Scripture portion we see that even lessons learned the hard way by others can be used to teach us “to fix our eyes upon Jesus the author and prefecter of our faith” (cf. Heb. 12:2).   So if you have your Bible with you, turn with me to Exodus 14:10-17 and lets learn from the lessons they had to learn the hard way.

10  As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11  They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” 13  Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14  The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 15  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17  I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:10-17 (NIV)

Slide4 “They were terrified and cried out to the LORD” (10).

And can you blame them?  I mean really?  Just look at the circumstances they found themselves in.   Pharaoh had just lost, his pride and joy, the first born son, the heir to his kingdom.  It was the final straw that seemed to break his grip on the Hebrew slaves and he reluctantly said they could go and worship their God!  He likely said…good riddens! But grief is a powerful motivator as we all know.  And one of the stages of grief that often rears its ugly head is sudden uncontrollable anger…even rage.   And to top it all off the Bible tells us that Pharaoh wasn’t the only Egyptian royally ticked that day!  Every household that wasn’t ‘passed over’ was effected.  So there was plenty of grief ridden anger driving those chariots into battle against the Hebrews.

Combine that with the fact that as they left Egypt the Israelites took with them tons of plunder; gold, silver, bronze and plenty of animals and grains and you have even more motive for chasing after them.  Sure the Egyptian people were motivated into generosity by God’s plagues (see Exodus 12:36) but that doesn’t mean they wanted to release their slaves and lose their material processions.

Along with the Hebrew slaves, also standing there at the water’s edge the Bible tells us are many others, non-Israelis, that joined with the mass Exodus also taking with them large droves of livestock (cf. Ex. 12:38).

Now remember these folks had only seen the power of the God of the Hebrews do terrible things to their lands and people.  They didn’t have the benefit of knowing and understanding God’s redemptive plan handed down through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and foretold by the prophets of old.   They got out of Egypt because the getting was good or so they thought until that storm began blowing in.

Combine all that with the fact that God himself had directed Israel’s path away from the Philistine territory which would have been the most direct route to the Promised Land and made it so they were boxed in by the advancing Egyptian army and you have plenty of reason to be afraid.  The Bible tells us that God did this detour because He knew that Hebrew slaves would have high tailed it back to Egypt the first sign of war (Ex. 13:17).  But still caught between the armies of Pharaoh and a deep blew sea these folks felt trapped by circumstances.  And they had no armies to fight back with either.

The Hebrews knew how to raise crops and herds and build edifices but they were not yet warriors.   The Philistines whose territory they avoided on the other hand were a fierce people so God was actually showing  great mercy by detouring his people towards the Red Sea.

They were exactly where they ought to be at that moment.  At least physically…perhaps not quite so spiritually or emotionally.   We know that they were supposed to be exactly there because we’re told that God Himself led them with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night through Succoth, which was Egyptian controlled territory, and then straight to the edge of the Red Sea.  Or as it is directly translated in Hebrew, ‘the Sea of Reeds’.

Slide5

That’s modern day Gulf of Aqaba.  Today the Gulf averages 18km wide and is at it’s deepest point more than 1800 meters deep.  They have in the last century recovered many artifacts that show where Israel crossed that day.  But remember these people fleeing Egypt had no boats as they saw Pharaoh’s army and Chariots in the distance baring down on them.   They were terrified!

Because these folks were not hardened warriors, and didn’t have any avenues of escape God had effectively brought them to a point where it was trust Him or die.  It was a humanly impossible for them to escape.

So when our Scripture portion says “they were terrified”, you can see they clearly had very good reasons to be terrified.  And their first instinct was to cry out to God.  This was music to His ears!  That is the most appropriate response when we are in fear for our lives.

The Bible says,  “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17 (NIV).
Slide7Proverbs we read, “The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” (Proverbs 15:29).

David, a man who had the kings armies chase him, and had to hide out in caves before becoming King of Israel, wrote, “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chron 16:11).  ).

Slide9

And Paul an apostle who was beaten many times, stoned, left for dead, ship wrecked, and who went hungry, thirsty and was imprisoned several times, wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6).

But the armies of Pharaoh were raising a cloud of dust …and their bugles were blaring and there was nowhere to go!  They were terrified!

So Israel cried out to God and then in frustration took out their fear and anxiety on God’s mouth piece, Moses, as though he was the one moving the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led them to the very spot in which they stood.

Slide10

11  They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12 (NIV)

I know he’s the leader and the buck stops with him…but really?  Did they think that his boss wasn’t listening in?  When they shouted at him were they not blaming the One who sent him?

Fear and anxiety can cause us to respond in ways that truly show those around us how much we believe in God.  In anger and rage…not much but certainly there were those who had faith in that crowd.  They just weren’t as loud as the fearful ones.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the last time that Moses would have to deal with mob mentality run a muck.  In fact they were just getting started.  But Moses also showed some extraordinary leadership skills that day!

Unlike the newest recruit on examination day.

The story is told about “A young police officer that was taking his final exam.   One of the exam questions went like this: ‘You are on foot patrol in central Vancouver, down near BC Place, when you hear an explosion on a nearby street.  On investigation you find a fire hydrant has been taken out and a geyser of water is currently flooding an overturned van.  Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol.  Both occupants – a man and a woman – are injured.  You recognize the woman as the wife of your staff Sargent who is presently away on holidays.  A car stops nearby to offer you help and you recognize the driver is wanted for terrorist related offences.

When suddenly a man runs out of a nearby condo, shouting that his wife is with child and the accident has made the birth imminent.  Then you notice another man waving frantically and crying for help, having been blown into the harbor by the water geyser, and clearly he cannot swim.

The exam question was – Describe in a few words what you would do.’

The new recruit thought for a moment before writing his answer to the question: He wrote… ‘I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.’” (Unknown)

But there was no mingle room for Moses that day! 13  Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  14  The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13-14 (NIV)Slide11

His answer provided a three full response to help ease their panic and fear.  1. Having seen and been used by God to perform miracles Moses had the faith to say,  “Do not be afraid”(13).   Surely God had not done all those miracles to let the people succumb in Succoth.  To die in the dessert next to the sea!

When people are overwhelmed it often helps when you calmly remind them that they still have the ability to exercise some control in this situation. They can choose not to fear or they will have chosen to be overwhelmed by fear.

That’s  why Moses said, “Do not be afraid”.

Like King David, Moses knew, 1 The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).   Isaiah wrote, 4  say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Isaiah 35:4 (NIV).  Slide12

Moses reminded Israel, they should not fear because the Lord himself would deliver them and fight for them (cf. 13-14).

This wasn’t a matter of them bucking up courage and girding their lions for battle.  God had already demonstrated to them His mighty power.  In fact, Moses said they merely had to “stand firm” and watch what God would do.   But that’s hard for us men isn’t it?  I’m not sure how women handle it but as a man I can tell you that “being still, standing firm” is about as welcome advice as “wait upon the Lord” (cf. Isaiah 40:31).   It’s not that it’s bad advice but as a man there must be something I can do?

Am I right men?

I mean you come home and your wife gives you the look.  You think, oh oh, now what have I done?  You say hi honey?  But really your saying, what’s up?  She breaks down and starts sobbing uncontrollably. And you want to fix the situation right?  You start thinking about all the things it might have been that got her down.  And you are ready to do what it takes to fix this.  But just maybe what it takes is a hug, and a listening ear.  And the fortitude to not do anything in that moment, don’t offer any advice, just be there and be still and let her unload.  But men would much rather fix things, am I right?  Maybe I’m just weird.

But clearly there was absolutely nothing that Israel could do for themselves in this given situation.  This would require action from God!  And He was planning something much bigger than them.

15  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me?”  Crying out? 

Ummm…I don’t see Moses crying in this passage do you?    We see what Moses said to the throng but no where do we hear him cry out.  Yet God heard Moses.  God heard the rather urgent plea from his chosen vessel as he tried to convince the throng.

Frankly,  I think Moses was more worried about that unruly bunch of grumblers before him than all of Pharaoh’s armies.   And just because Moses was their appointed leader doesn’t mean he’s less human then they are.  Remember he didn’t want the job in the first place.  So he may have wined just a bit to God.

God told Moses, “Tell the Israelites to move on. 16  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground”.

Slide13Do you think Moses might have thought, “now why didn’t I think of that?”  I have this handy staff that has never let me down before.

But wait a minute…did you notice that Moses had just finished telling the people to stand firm, be still?  Wait for God’s deliverance! Seems exactly opposite of what God told them to do doesn’t it?

It wasn’t bad advice that Moses had spoken.  He had an unruly crowd that he thought could use some verbal reassurance.   But God corrected him.  It wasn’t time to be still, or stand their ground they needed to get out of dodge!

What Moses was told to say was, “move on!”  And fortunately for Israel Moses was clearly in very close fellowship with the Lord for when he heard the command to go  and stepped up to the plate reaching out his staff and the sea opened right up.

God trusted this man Moses more than most.  You know how I know this?  God took enough time to fill in the ‘why’.  Why was this lesson about to happen?  What was the purpose of it.

Why had God brought Israel to the end of the rope so to speak?

Why?  Was it so they would learn that GOD alone is their strong deliverer?   He alone is worthy of their faith!

Slide14King David would later write, 6  Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. 7  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:6-7 (NIV)

God said, 17  I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:15-17 (NIV).

Moses was indeed right that their strong deliverer was about to amaze them and cut them off from their foes.  Israel did need to stand firm in God, and be still and know that He could do exceedingly abundantly more than they had asked.  But would they actually learn the lesson of Pharaoh and not give into bad attitudes and wicked thinking that hardens hearts and kills faith?

I believe God is still working on that one …even with us many centuries later. The only difference is we have a Saviour who has overcome sin and selfishness and who bestows upon us the gift of righteousness.  One who is able to deliver us from anything that this old world or even anything Satan  throws our way.

And unlike Israel who were caught between a rock and hard place, we have a choice to make.  We can slip back into what we think is comfortable, our old thought patterns and lifestyle, go back to Egypt or we can choose to press on to the promised land choosing to trust in our Strong Deliverer every day as He leads the way.

We can learn from their lessons or we will learn it the hard way.  But do you really like learning the lessons the hard way?

 

——— Lesson Below ———–


Read Exodus 14:10-17 in several versions.

  1. Have you ever had to learn a lesson the hard way?  Can you think of one example?  What made it the hard way?
  2. Do you like learning lessons the hard way?  Is there any other way to learn?
  3.  Under what circumstances had Israel left Egypt? (Numbers 33:3-7)
  4. Who lead Israel to the Red Sea?  (Exodus 6:1; Exodus 13:9,16,18, 20-22; Deut 26:8; Neh. 9:9; Acts 13:7)  How did He lead them?
  5. So why was Israel terrified? (Exodus 14:9;10)
  6. What caused Pharaoh to pursue Israel? (see also Exodus 7:3,13, 9:12, 10:1, 20,27, 11:10, 14:4,8; 1 Samuel 6:6; Exodus 8:15,32; 9:34 )
  7.  Was God unjust in hardening Pharaoh’s heart?   (See Acts 10:34, Psalms 33:5, Deuteronomy 30:19 and Isaiah 10:5-11).
  8. What lesson was God teaching Israel in our passage today?  (Num. 14:9;  Duet. 20:3;  2 Kings 6:16; 2 Chron 20:15-17; Psalm 27:1-2; Psalm 46:1-3; * Isaiah 26:3;  Isaiah 41:10-14; * Isaiah 43:11; Lam 3:26; Hosea 13:4; * John 3:16,17 )
  9. What lesson is God trying to teach you today?  Do you like learning lessons the hard way?

 

Mark 1:40-45 The Least of These?

To see all of today’s study questions, click here.

That passage in Matthew has always caused me great concern.  I’ve wrestled with it for years now.  Especially every time I walk by a street person or drunk out begging or get accosted by the guy who stands at the corner of Channel Parkway and Eckhardt Avenue.  Lately though I’ve wondered are these the least of these that Jesus is speaking of?

So tell me.  Are people like the ones pictured here the ones that Christ was talking about in Matthew 25? Why or why not?  Are these the least of these?  What do you think?

(Zach wrote down the answers on the screen.   See the video above if interested in how we grappled with this question.)

Slide1
As I came to this morning’s passage I chewed on this story in Mark for more than a week before sitting down to write out my thoughts. And as I did my mind would keep coming back to that passage in Matthew 25, back to “in as much as you have done it to the least of these you have done it unto me” (40).   Are these stories intertwined?  Do they complement or antagonize each other as it seems.

I looked at all my commentaries and many different versions of the Bible itself to see if I could better grasp why this story is included and what practical applications I can draw from it.  But every time I started to write I kept coming back to just a few questions.

  1. Are there people you find particularly uncomfortable to be around?

I don’t know about you but I find those who are physically disfigured be it through disease or accident at least somewhat uncomfortable to be around.    Now I’m not exactly sure why.  But I think it may stems from my morbid curiosity.

I find I want to really take a good look and examine what has happened that caused this disfigurement.  I want to look at  them from different angles and get right up close.  In fact I find some things fascinating that way.  But I also know, that more often than not, that starring would make the person really uncomfortable to be around me.  So for the main part I restrain my curiosity at least until I can get to know the person and hear their story.

Slide2I found that getting to know part particularly difficult when I was in Kenya though.  Since I did not know the native tongue it was often hard to even begin a relationship.  Never mind getting to know someone well enough to ask those awkward questions that would allow me to satisfy that curiosity.

And there were a few totally cool looking people that I would have been interested in finding out what happened.   I so wanted to hear their story.  Like my friend Pastor Wyjonji the bigger man pictured here.  His head and hands were truly amazing to see.  As I talked with him I found out that it was some sort of heart defect that caused some hormonal imbalance which in turn caused this wavy growth on his head and unusually big hands and body size.

When I first met him in 2011 I wasn’t sure I’d get to see him again as the heart issue seemed of major concern to him and those around him.  We prayed together and God saw fit to keep him around and a part of every visit to Fafarol since.   He is a truly amazing man, gentle and very loving!

The man next to him, pictured here, is a stock photo I got of what leprosy looks like according to some info I found.   I’ve never met him but again I’d love to hear his story.  I can’t begin to imagine what life has been like for him, can you?

Leprosy is a disease mentioned often in the bible.  In fact leprosy would from a biblical sense actually describes both of these men.  It was  used to describe many skin ailments from severe rashes to unusual deformities.  So it was not limited the same definition as Leprosy today is.

Today’s leprosy has much fewer strains and scientists now believe it all started in East Africa and spread throughout the centuries and across the continents following trade routes.

The characteristic loss of fingers and toes, facial deformity and even blindness is due to the nerve damage that the disease inflicts on its victims.  Since the nerves no longer send pain impulses to the brain, those with leprosy often don’t know that they burned or cut a finger or toe which eventually becomes infected and if left untreated falls off or requires amputation.  And though leprosy was fairly common in Biblical times this disease is still very active in our world today.  In fact in the last year or so 121 countries reported new instances of this terrible disease which is caused by a germ, or bacteria, called Mycobacterium leprae.

Even in Canada 2-10 new cases are found each year.  It is treated quite effectively today with multi-drug-therapy that takes from six months to a year to complete.  But once started this therapy quickly makes the person no longer contagious.  So Isolation is no longer necessary as it was practiced Biblically and especially practiced throughout the middle ages until about 1960.

Slide4This Island was once connected to Crete but according to historians it was dug around and eventually fortified in the 1500’s.  Being well fortified and separated from the peninsula  made this the perfect place to put people, to isolate them from the rest of the population.  And in the early 1900s to 1953 the island was used as a leper colony having housed many people with leprosy at times.

In Biblical times often the leper was simply put out of the camp, town or city and forced to live away from family and friends.  In fact it wasn’t unusual for these poor souls to lose all human physical contact if the disease was not cured.

Once the priest pronounced the person unclean, according to Leviticus 13:45-46, “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.” 

So not only was the deformity debilitating but depression must have been rampant for these social outcasts.

Which makes our Bible story today all the more miraculous and touching once you realize what this poor man had been going through.

So if you have a Bible with you open it to Mark 1:40-45 and let’s look at this passage together this morning.

 “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.  Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:  “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”  Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere” (Mark 1:40-45 (NIV).

 “If you are willing you can make me clean!” – As this man comes and kneels before the Lord the one thing that is not said by him is “I’m not sure if you can help me but give it a go”.

Slide6There was no doubt that Jesus had within him the power to heal this deadly, deforming, disease, called leprosy!

Where did this man get such faith?  How did he know that Jesus could heal?  Had he heard about all the people outside of Peter’s house that found that Jesus not only heals the sick but casts out demons?  We can only assume he did because his earnest plea was full of faith!  you can make me clean” (40).

And yet having been subjected to isolation for who knows how long, and having not had the simple pleasure of a hug in ages this dejected man did express some doubt.  Didn’t he?

It appears from what he said that he wasn’t so sure that Jesus would chose to help him.  That’s what this “if” is about.  Why is it that,  It is sometimes easier to believe in God’s power than in his mercy ?(Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 630) 

Have you found yourself there?   You believe that God can do what you need Him to do but you just aren’t sure He’ll do it for you?

Why is it that we can believe in His power but not His mercy and grace?

Slide7Somehow this man had faith that healing was in the realms of possibility.  And he certainly knew there was nothing he himself could do to get rid of leprosy.  But I believe he also knew that emotional sting along with the stench of this disease.  The sting of isolation had created doubt.  And that isolation caused him to doubt that anyone cared enough to help him at all.  But that doubt was short lived.

You got to love our Saviour’s response!  And His compassion even at a time when Jesus was trying to avoid the crowds… it speaks volumes about our wonderful saviour.

If you look back just a couple of verses (Mark 1:30-39) you’ll see that Jesus had tried to escape the growing crowds of people wanting miraculous healings.  He even snuck out under cloak of darkness to a secluded place so he could have a talk with His father uninterrupted (cf. Mark 1:36).   And when the disciples finally found him and told him everyone is looking for you he said “let’s go somewhere else!” (Mark 1:38)  But when this poor dejected man knelt before Him compassion welled up inside of Jesus.

And then He did the remarkable.  He did what no one else had done since the day the man was sent away from that town.  Jesus actually reached out …and touched the man!  That’s the miracle here.  He reached beyond his comfort zone, beyond the cultural taboos and touched a disease ridden man.

 

Now, scientists today are pretty sure that leprosy spreads through contact.  Particularly through sneezing and coughing because of direct bodily fluid contact like most infectious diseases.   And I’m sure when Moses, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, set forth the laws concerning leprosy, God already knew it spread by contact.  So there was good reason for social isolation.  So when Jesus reached out and touched this man it was not the thing to do humanly speaking.   It was the beginning of a miracle!

The fact is most of us might even find being in this man’s presence uncomfortable, never mind actually reaching beyond that discomfort and touching him.  Even though today we know that the chances of actually getting leprosy from casual limited contact are slim indeed.   And yet the stigma is still there big time.

But can you imagine for a moment the eyes of the disciples?  Of Peter, James and John as they watched what Jesus just did?  It would have been priceless to see their expressions as Jesus hand actually made contact.  Since anyone who touches something unclean becomes unclean until evening at minimum according to the laws of Moses they would have been aghast!  The Law which guided their thoughts and at convenient times even their actions was in them from childhood.   They knew that no one was to touch a leprous man!

Yet that didn’t stop Jesus, he not only reached out, touched the man but answered that man’s question, “I am willing!  Be clean!” (41).

Slide8Alexander MacLaren writes,  “People tell us that to believe in sudden conversion is fanatical. This is not the place to argue that question.” (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture – St. Mark 1-8, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 48).

Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured!(42)  It was over in an instant!  A few words of instruction and the Master was on his way.  It has taken me much longer this morning to speak about this event then the event itself took!

But do you think, even for a moment, that this man, once the leprosy was gone, wanted to do what Jesus asked of him next?

We read in verses 43-44, “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:  “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them” Mark 1:43-44 (NIV).

Funny isn’t it?  He told that man, don’t tell a soul!  And the man immediately told everyone he came in contact with.  Warren Wiersbe so eloquently puts it,

“Jesus told this man to keep quiet, and yet he told everybody. Jesus commands us to tell everybody—and we keep quiet! (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 114).

Jesus specially said to you and I, “… as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give…Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you until the end of the age…(Mat. 10:8, 28:19)…

But know this!  “…whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”(Matthew 12:50). 

Those who go and tell the Good News, who make disciples…those are Jesus’s brother’s, and sisters…  You mean like some poor leprous man who was healed but couldn’t follow the Master’s immediate orders?

But wait, doesn’t that make him one of the least of these?  As well as one of Jesus brothers? Hmmm?

Slide9

Why do you suppose Jesus said, “don’t tell anyone” to this once leprous man?  Especially if He knew that the man wasn’t capable of keeping this secret between them?   Why was that included in this passage?

Well some say that Jesus was using reverse psychology on him.  You know, if you tell someone they can’t touch something they will likely prove you wrong quite quickly.

But other scholars seem to think it was because Jesus didn’t want that kind of publicity.  He wasn’t looking to become the best magic show in town.  Jesus had come to bring salvation from God, to restore wholeness to broken humanity not just heal disease, but something far more important.

But to this man who was isolated and hurting physically, emotionally and spiritually, the sudden release from the prison he was in was overwhelming good news!  There was no keeping that a secret!

That kind of good news is just too much to keep inside!   So that man “went out and began to talk freely, spreading the good news.

There were consequences to his actions though!  It’s right there in the text.  Verse 45.

As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere”  Mark 1:45 (NIV).   

“Surely you can see how Jesus took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows …” Isaiah 53:4 (NIV)?

Slide10Did you notice?  Did you notice Who was then the one on the outside looking in?  Did you notice Who was now in a sense the outcast, the one in forced isolation?

Mark says,  “Jesus could no longer enter a town openly…he had to stay outside in lonely places!”  Could that be why He asked the man to keep it to himself?  To do as Moses commanded, and give glory to God the old fashioned way?

And yet that’s our Saviour!  He was willing to trade places so that the very illness that separated us from God could be remove once for all.  And it cost Him His very life on the cross.  And that was only the beginning as we saw last week.  He has risen!

Jesus still answers our prayers of desperation with those words that brought healing and comfort to that leprous man.  “I am willing, Be Clean!” (41).

And that kind of takes us full circle to where we started today.  Back to Matthew 25.  Back to the least of these.  Who are the least of these?  Is it the poor, the imprisoned, the outcasts?  Well, actually the answer is right there in what Jesus said.

Slide11I don’t know how I missed it for so long.  It’s not talking about those who are goats, who Christ said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ …they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:46 (NIV).  They are the ones who mocked the Master and persecuted His brothers, and sisters and even His mother!    These goats are NOT “the least of these”.

The least of these are you and I and everyone who, having been set free by the master and having gone out and, talked freely, spreading the good news, even if it meant we went hungry, thirsty, or naked!  And trust me there are plenty in foreign lands who fit those descriptions.   Many who are forced into isolation or imprisoned or beaten and murdered because of Christ’s name on their lips.   Jesus says to them as well as you and I:

 “… ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)

They are the ones that Christ said is our brothers and sisters to whom we had the privilege of feeding and clothing, visiting and even giving a cup of water in His name!  AMEN?


 

Read Mark 1:40-45 in several versions. Then read Matthew 25:31-46 and begin the lesson.
1.  Are there people you find uncomfortable to be around? Why is that? What makes you or them uncomfortable to be around?
2.  Who is Jesus referring to in the Matthew 25 passage as “the least of these”?
3.  What do we immediately find out about the man in Mark 1:40?
4.  What do you know about his infirmity?
5.  How would you define his disease Biblically? What does the Bible say about it?(see also Lev. 13:1-46; Num 12:10-15; Deut 24:8-9; 2 Samuel 3:29; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Kings 7:3-4; 2 Kings 15:5; Luke 17:12-19)
6.  Do people today still suffer from that disease? (Ask mr. google for statistics, you may be surprised!)
7.  What did the man do when he met Jesus? (Mark 1:40) Why is it easier for us to believe in God’s power than in His mercy and Grace?
8.  How did Jesus respond to the man’s faith and doubt? (see also Mark 6:34; Luke 7:12-13; Heb 1:3; Heb 4:15; Ps. 33:9)
9.  There was more than one miracle mentioned in verses 41 and 42 what were they?
10.  Why did Jesus strongly warn the man in verse 43? (Mark 7:36; Matthew 9:30; Luke 8:56)
11.  What did Jesus tell the man to do? (Mark 1:44; see also Lev. 14:2-32)
12.  What did the man actually do? (Mark 1:45) What is so funny about that? (See comment in my notes)
13.  Who actually are “the least of these” according to Matthew 25:40?
14.   Is there a person that makes you uncomfortable that you need to help this week? Who should you see in them?

Mark 1:21-28 You Can’t Muzzle The Holy One of God!

Do you like dogs or cats?  It’s pretty safe to say our household is more inclined to dogs than cats.  Though I’ve had both in my lifetime so personally I have no bias against either so long as they are well behaved that is.

Slide2Well maybe I have a little bias.  It seems that there is a growing debate in our household about dogs.  Specifically if the one in the middle of this picture is even a dog?  Zach says that’s not a dog! It’s a mop that can’t stop yapping. 

Personally, I like the little ones but don’t mind big ones like Gauge either.   I just think that in the city it is unfair to coop up a great big dog in a tiny yard.  I also think that those who do may cause them to become vicious and lash out over time if they are not very careful. 

So practically speaking a little dog is obviously the way to go.  Although Lynda sides more with Zach preferring bigger dogs, even Great Danes!  You know…those that eat you out of house and home and that can even take off the whole hand in one bite of those that feed them.  Since we are so far apart on which dog is preferable we will never likely have one.

Any of you here have cynophobia? No not the fear of sinning!  Anybody here terrified of dogs?  I sure was even through my high school years, and sometimes I still flash back to those days.  Looking back I didn’t have too much reason for it either.  In fact it seems kind of irrational now.  Like most kids I had been nipped by a dog or two growing up but my fear of dogs went way beyond that healthy respect that grows from being bitten.   If I knew that a dog was in a yard on my way to school I would choose a different route, even if it made me late, seems I let fear control my route. 

Slide3This fear has occasionally affected me as an adult.  We had been warned by a Christian friend that their dog, named King, if memory serves me right, was known to bite people he did not now and even bit some that he did know. 

In fact one of the elders in my church told me of his encounter with that dog and he said he wouldn’t visit there so long as King isn’t muzzled or tided up. So on our first visit to that farm I drove the car up inches away from the door and used my snow brush to ring the bell and we waited for the owners to come out and put King away. 

The truth is that German Shepherd had a nasty temper and even bit our minivan as we drove up.  King brought back my fear of dogs and took it to a whole new height.  I’m not so sure that’s irrational as the definition for cynophobia calls for.

Since then I’ve often wondered what would possess anyone to keep such a demonic animal for a pet.  Especially every time I hear of some poor child mauled or badly bitten by a family pet. Like what were they thinking?

One day, in talking with that couple about their dog, they told me, “King didn’t start out that way”.  And when their kids were around King watched over them keeping them safe…  I thought to myself “ya he was likely just waiting until the master was out of sight so he could have them for a snack.  Licking his chops”.  But regardless of how he was back then, something had gotten into King, and the result was he became a vicious vehicle biting brute not to be trusted. 

On another visit I spoke with them after King ran out and bit my tire and left tooth marks!  I asked them why would they leave him in this terrible state and take the chance that he bites someone or maims one of their cows?   Why not at minimum muzzle him or perhaps have the brute put down?  They might just avoid a lawsuit and may even get more visitors coming their way. 

“Nothing doing, he’s family”, they said.  And besides they had a sign that said beware of the dog.  That was sufficient in these parts.  What can you say…see ya.

Why is it that people choose to live with the devil they know rather than evicting him from their midst?   And how is it that people could say they follow Christ and even throw a party to welcome Him and yet within days be found shouting crucify him?  It’s Holy Week and our daily luncheons this week will focus on many aspects of the week that changed the world. But this morning we ware looking at a time three years earlier that changed one man’s life and caused the whole city to stir with excitement about this new teaching with authority.    

And perhaps today’s Bible lesson from HIStory can help us to understand that the devil is sometimes, more often then not in the details.  Let’s look at Mark 1:21-28.

 “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.  The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.  Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out,  “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”  “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”  The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.  The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:21-28 (NIV)).

 Slide5Capernaum would become a central point for a lot of Jesus ministry and many miracles.  Today’s story actually happens three years prior to the Triumphal Entry following on the heels of calling Andrew, Peter, James and John, fisherman from that region of Galilee who became Jesus disciples. 

Since this was Jesus home turf he already had a reputation that actually spawned from the miracle that He performed at a wedding turning water into grape flavoured water (that’s the Baptist version) for the rest of us it was water into Dom Perignon!   Then, according to John’s gospel, Jesus had performed another miracle when he healed the son of a Royal Official who lived in Capernaum and so His fame spread throughout the land (cf. Jn. 4:43ff).

But on that day in Mark 1:21 Jesus showed that he had authority even over Satan and the demonic realm.  It was to be a special day indeed.  One that started where any lawful Jew would expect to find Jesus on the Sabbath.  Jesus was found teaching in a synagogue where he had come to worship God. 

Slide6 A synagogue in those days could be formed anywhere that 10 or more Jewish males over the age of twelve existed, and there was, as far as I can tell, no maximum membership except what was practical for meeting.  So once 10 males formed the synagogue, people met regularly, especially on the Sabbath, to read the Scriptures, and to hear from some Rabbis and worship God. 

As the communities grew in numbers eventually more leadership was necessary.  And in time an eldership headed by a chief elder would be appointed to direct the affairs of the synagogue and determined who should speak, read and lead worship.  But no sacrifices were done at the synagogues as that was expressly the purpose for the Temple visits throughout the year.   And when visiting Rabbis came through they were vetted by the eldership and would often be given opportunity to read or teach from the Scriptures.

We are not told what Jesus lesson plan entailed that day but it was apparently amazing stuff!  Unlike the usual Rabbinical jargon that often started with “Rabbi so and so said”, Jesus spoke with, what appeared, at least to this crowd, what appeared to be authority from God.  

In verse 22 where Mark mentions “teachers of the Law”(22) the one word most often used for that group was “Scribes”.  We often hear it in conjunction with Pharisees.  The Scribes and the Pharisees were often the ruling elders.  Scribes were men who were paid professionals well-schooled in the Law and Prophets.  Some were traveling teachers who for a price would come and teach at your synagogue. So we shouldn’t see it as weird or extraordinary that Jesus got the opportunity to teach that day.  They treated him as an expert. 

Slide7Verse 23 says, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out…”.   He likely did look any different than the others.  He probably had come on several occasions.  May have even been a member but not necessarily so.   Synagogues weren’t for Jews alone.  In fact anyone, could back then and still can today, visit a Synagogue, even on a Sabbath, so long as they do not fully participate in the Sabbath rituals.  

Like coming to church the synagogue was a place to learn about the rituals and customs prior to conversion or formally joining that comminity.   Since a major portion of the conversion has to do with community life what better place is there than in the community to become aware of how the community interacts.

We are not told if this demon possessed man was a Jewish convert or just what he was doing there other than he was overcome by those demonic forces and began a very short conversation with “the Holy One of God” (24).  

He was clearly there to disrupt what Jesus had to say.  But God took what Satan meant for evil and turned it around as an object lesson on the authority of Jesus over everything…absolutely everything… including the demonic realm. 

Jesus never needs nor elicits Satan’s help to accomplish His ministry and in a word He puts a muzzle on the demons.  (Not on the physical man I might add!  Just on the demons inside this man.)  The demons were immediately silenced and ejected from the service but not before they would announce the mission of the Messiah. 

I say they, as it would seem from verse 24, where is says, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”, that this poor soul had more than one occupant to be evicted.  The wording even in the Greek is in the plural.  Even though verse 26 seems to indicate that it is a single spirit that is shaking the man violently that verse doesn’t negate that there was more than one demon ejected.   

Over in Matthew 12:43-45 Jesus explained that an unbelieving generation had created fertile ground for such multiple demonic possession to occur. 

Jesus said, “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation” (Matthew 12:43-45). 

Slide9Without further interruption Jesus took authority over the situation.  Yet once again our passage today demonstrates the compassion and mercy that Jesus showed during his ministry.  This man was being used involuntarily to help Satan disrupt what the Lord was doing.  Since Jesus already had the authority to set this man free and rather than just leave him in that helpless condition, Jesus chooses to muzzle the demons and orders them to leave.  And of course not having a choice in the matter they take it out on their host by violently and with the usual demonic showmanship exit the scene looking for some other willing host to occupy. 

Mark then notes that the crowd was amazed.  Their jaws dropped!  Astonished is not too strong a word for their response to what Jesus has just done in their presence.  They have never seen teaching like this before!  And they recognize that by saying “A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him” (27 (NIV).  

Now you would think that ought to be enough to make them his disciples wouldn’t you?  

Yet later on “…Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.  “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! …And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you.”  Matthew 11:20-24 (NIV).  

Three years later and a short 85 mile journey from Capernaum, some of those who spread the word far and wide in Mark 1:28 may have been in the crowd shouting Hosanna to the King of Kings. 

 My guess and I admit that’s all it is, but my guess is that a man who was once possessed by demons, but thanks to Jesus was now living free from them,  took off his cloak for the donkey to ride over on the way into Jerusalem.  And surely you can hear him “when Jesus entered Jerusalem, and the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” Matthew 21:10 (NIV). 

 Slide11That once demonized man may have shouted at the top of his lungs: “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:11 (NIV).   The Holy one of God ….the man Who set me free!

You see, having been delivered by Jesus, his house was not only swept clean but would soon be filled with the Holy Spirit and this once demonically possessed man rather than being an outcast who was consider out of his mind would be invited to partake in the wedding supper of the Lamb on the Day of Judgment.  He was set free to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! 

And now like him, you too know the authority of our Lord to set all people free.  Having tasted and seen through the power of His Word will you be like those of Capernaum who ignored the signs and rejected the miracles, or will you be delivered from the evil one and set free for that great Sabbath to come, and set free to worship “The Holy One of God”?  

Week 8 – Matthew 17:1-9 Context In HIStory is HIS Glory

To see all of today’s study questions, click here.

One of the passages in HIStory that is often told around Lent is found in Matthew 17:1-9.  The story of that amazing day when three disciples were treated to a mountaintop experience that stuck with them long after Jesus Ascended to heaven.

So if you have your Bibles with you lets read that passage.  Matthew 17:1-9.

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How can we get the most out of the familiar passages that we have read and heard so very often?  I don’t know about you but personally I’m not into repeats.  So how can we read something old with fresh eyes so that we don’t risk losing a blessing from the LORD?

When you figure that out let me know.

Slide7In the meantime, like exercising muscles I think it is best to be repetitive in our studies.   After-all who exercises just once and expects to see glorious results?  But in time with repetitive exercise there is always gain so even that first time has some value.

Slide8 So we continue to read and ask the Lord to bring to us what it is we need to know and understand about the passage we are going through no matter how many times we come to it.

Take for instance the passage at hand.   What is its context?  When did it take place and with whom?  These are part of the spiritual disciplines we must exercise with our brains to get the most out of the passage at hand.

Slide10Matthew begins our passage with a time reference.  It’s been six days.  Six days from when?  What happened six days earlier that Matthew wants to draw our attention to?

As Matthew chapter 16 finishes we see a rather strange argument between Peter and the LORD.  Peter is at first praised by Jesus for correctly identifying HIM as the Son of the Most High God.  But then only moments later he is rebuked by Jesus for his selfish motives.

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” Matthew 16:23 (NIV).   Ouch!  That had to hurt! One moment Peter’s got it right the next he’s acting on behalf of Satan?  That had to hurt a bit!  And it’s not like this was a private little whisper in the ear sort of rebuke.  Jesus did it right there in front of all the other disciples.

Slide11“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.  I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” Matthew 16:24-28 (NIV).

OK so now we have the context.  Peter and the disciples got both their marching orders and a promise from the LORD.

By show of hands how many of you think or hope you are the ones that Jesus referred to as some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”(Mat 16:28)?  

Anyone here voting for the rapture from that verse?

Ok…let’s return to chapter 17 verse 1.

Slide12What does Mathew say there?

How long has it been since Jesus said, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”(Mat 16:28)?   Six days right? That is what Matthew has said is it not?

And who was it that went up the mountain with Jesus? Was it all the disciples?

Verse one says,  “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (Matthew 17:1 (NIV).   Peter?  The “get behind me Satan”, Peter?  Right?  He and James and John.  So are they not the ones that Jesus was referring to when He said some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mat 16:28)?

And what was it that happened in verse 2?   “There Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” Matthew 17:2 (NIV).

You see when we take time to read the context we likely won’t use verses as proof texts for some pretext that doesn’t fit the context.   Unless of course we are doing it for selfish reasons.   And I’m not talking about robbing widows or to cover up crimes.

What was Peter’s selfishness back in chapter sixteen?

Was it not that he was worried that his friend was speaking curses into his own life?  Or perhaps more so that Peter was not ready to listen to what Jesus had just finished telling him about having to be put to death?    Peter just couldn’t stand the thought of it. So he blurted out those fearful but heartfelt words of losing a friend.

But six days later look what the LORD has done!  He has taken those closest to Him up the mountain and given them a glimpse into heaven.  Jesus has given them something to look forward to.  To hang on to as the turbulent days that were about to begin would surely cause them much grief.

That’s our LORD.  He rebukes, and corrects those He loves, He exercises discipline but doesn’t condemn us in our fears.  Over and over again He tells the disciples “do not fear”.  Don’t lose hope!  Behold I have overcome the world!

As they gaze upon this magnificent sight trying to comprehend why their best friend is glowing Matthew adds…“Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” Matthew 17:3 (NIV).

Like, how did they know?  It’s not like they had facial recognition software back in those days?  So how could they know it was Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus?

Nelly one of our Bible Study Leaders in Kenya received that sort of question to: “How do you know its God speaking?”  This was a question from their study on Peter when he asked the LORD “if it’s really you, tell me to come?”  Peter didn’t seem 100% sure it was Jesus even after the LORD said, “It is I, do not be afraid”.   So how do you know?   How did the three disciples know this was Moses and Elijah?  Did they demand credentials?

Come to the mid-week study and we’ll exercise some more spiritual muscles and search HIStory for answers to that question.   And we’ll also look at verse 2 where Mathew said Jesus was transfigured.  What does it mean that Jesus was transfigured? What had happened to their friend?

Is it as Paul says,  “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV).  Does it have to do with a transformation that is taking place in all who have the Spirit of God in them?

Paul was perhaps referring to Moses and his glowing face that happened every time he went up the mountain and was in God’s presence.

Exodus 34:35 says, “But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him”.  He put the veil back on because the visible presence of the Lord would fade as he encountered more of man’s sinful presence and Moses didn’t want the people to see it fade.  But Paul said our glow is growing as we get closer to the Lord and we need not veil it.

In fact Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

Well we could get hooked up on the transformation and miss out on Peter’s next well intention blunder. “Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Matthew 17:4 (NIV).    Yup he’s up the spiritual mountain but still looking though eyes of clay. Planning a new camping resort where they can dwell in the glow together.  And who can blame him?

Wouldn’t you love to dwell twenty four seven in God’s presence?  I know I would.

But is there a deeper significance to who showed up on the mountain top? The Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “Perhaps these two men and the disciples suggest all the categories of people who will be in Jesus’ coming kingdom. The disciples represent individuals who will be present in physical bodies. Moses represents saved individuals who have died or will die. Elijah represents saved individuals who will not experience death, but will be caught up to heaven alive (1 Thes. 4:17). These three groups will be present when Christ institutes His kingdom on earth. Furthermore the Lord will be in His glory as He was at the transfiguration, and the kingdom will take place on earth, as this obviously did. The disciples were thus enjoying a foretaste of the kingdom the Lord promised (Matt. 16:28)” (BKC:Matthew 17:4).

Well, before Peter could lay out the construction schedule God interrupted him with what Matthew describes as the shekinah glory of the LORD.  It was a bright cloud not a damp towel to put Peter’s passionate fire out.

God, the Maker of the Universe, spoke to the disciples and said, “…This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Matthew 17:5 (NIV).   Why was it that Peter was rebuked at the end of the last chapter?  Was it that he refused to listen to what Jesus was saying because he found it so painful to think that his friend would die?  And now God says, quit flapping your jaw and listen to Jesus.  His ways are not our ways, or even Peter’s ways.

Yes it is true that one day we all get to dwell in His presence but that particular moment in HIStory was not yet the time.

Well when God speaks from a cloud that envelops you I suspect you too would respond in the same way those three disciples did.  They hit the deck!  Face first to the ground.  They were terrified.

But did you notice what Jesus immediately did when he saw his friends frightened?  “Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” Matthew 17:7 (NIV).

Say have you noticed that every time the LORD or one of His messengers appears to man their first response is usually fear and did you also notice that God’s immediate response is to calm their fears?   Jesus touched them.  There is something calming about a hug or a gentle well placed hand that says, this is real empathy not just empty words.

Jesus is so compassionate!  Who wouldn’t want to dwell in His presence?  Can you blame Peter for wanting to build a shack so they could stay there?

But when mortal man encounters the glory of God in HIS fullness suddenly the idea that Peter had was not as palatable to him was it?

In fact even with the Jesus right there in HIS glory it was still a fearful place to be.  So Jesus in His great mercy ends the show.  The cloud dissipates, Moses and Elijah return to wherever they came from and only Jesus and the three disciples remain on that mountain top.  And only for a few minutes more until they head back to join the rest of the family below.  But before they reach the others Jesus says to them “this one was for you and you alone until I have returned from the dead” (bw. 9).

Sometimes you and I are blessed by God with something that is just for us for a time.  A special treat from our heavenly Father.  For example I am often given verses or special insight when I’m praying that would not be helpful to you if I just blurted it out.  I of course had to learn that the hard way.  But think of it for a moment, if those disciples had come back with such a story what would the outcome have been?  Guess we’ll never know.

Fortunately they obeyed Him and later on they did let everyone know as we shall see at Easter.



So what are you supposed to get from this passage in HIStory?  We’d love to hear it at the mid-week, come and share what God’s Word revealed to you.  Or ask to be added to our Whatsapp group and join the discussion there.

Read Matthew 17:1-9 and answer these questions:

  1. How can we get the most out of the familiar passages that we have read and heard so very often?
  2. How is Studying God’s WORD like doing physical exercise? (see 1 Timothy 4:8-10)
  3. What is the context of today’s passage?  When did it take place and with whom?
  4. What happened six days earlier that Matthew wants to draw our attention to? (Matthew 17:1; Matthew 16)
  5. Are you one of the ones Jesus was referring to in Matthew 16:28? Why? Or Why not?
  6. By Matthew 17:1 how long has it been since Jesus said, “…some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mat 16:28)? And to who did he say it?
  7. What happened in Matthew 17:2? (see also 2 Cor. 3:18; Exodus 34:35; Acts 9:3-8; ) And how does that relate to Matthew 16:28?
  8. Why is it important to always read the context of the passage you have come to study?
  9. Who showed up in Matthew 17:3? Why is this significant? Who do they represent?  (See my sermon notes, the quote from Bible Knowledge Commentary).
  10. How did the disciple know who Jesus was standing with in verse 3?
  11. What did Peter want to do in verse 4? Why?
  12. Why and by Whom was Peter rebuked in Matthew 16:23?
  13. What happens because of a thoughtless comment? Who rebuked whom in Matthew 17:5 and for what?
  14. What was the disciples’ reaction in Matthew 17:6? What had Peter just finished saying in verse 4?
  15. What did Jesus immediately do when He saw the terrified disciples? (Matthew 17:7-8; Dan 10:10-19) Why?
  16. What did Jesus tell the disciples in Matthew 17:9 and why? (see also Mat. 8:4, Mat. 16:20-21, Mark 9:9-10)
  17. Did the disciples obey? (2 Peter 1:16-18)
  18. Is there something you have heard and rejected from Jesus? How can you make that right?
  19. Have you said things thoughtlessly that you later realized were wrong?  What should you do about it?

 

Psalm 148 B.E.G.I.N. with Praise

 

Ah, it’s summertime in Penticton.  For some that means it is time for golfing, going to the beach, camping, and other adventures with God into the great outdoors.   As I was planning and praying what this summer series should like I thought, hmmm… another summer in the Psalms perhaps?

Truly, the Psalms have become for me much soul care and even more.  I can’t help but commune with God as I read and study this portion of Scripture.   So to spend a quarter of our yearly church calendar preaching and teaching from them seems good to me.  And I especially enjoy when you give me specific Psalms to go through.

So if you have a favorite Psalm that we haven’t gone through in the last couple of years let me know after the service and I’ll work them in over the summer if I possibly can.  You can also email me or put a note in the offering or for those watching online you can use the chat box next to the video.  But feel free to let me know which Psalms have impacted you and maybe even in a sentence or two say why they have.  And together we’ll hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to our church.  So this summer let’s do this journey together.

Slide2

As I prayed about what to call this summer series our yearly focus of Give to God the Glory –GtGtG seems fitting but the more time I spent communing with the Lord the more the sub-focus of B.E.G.I.N. seemed to shape my direction.

B.E.G.I.N. with Praise.  Bringing Every Gentile Intimate News with praise.  That’s what the Psalms can do.  Though the various Psalmists have moments of grief and sadness in their lives it seems that they chose to continue to praise God and somehow those heavy burdens seem to get lighter.  And in time as they journeyed down life’s path they grew in wisdom on how to avoid many of the pitfalls found along the way.

Slide3So this year not only will we focus on the Psalms but also some Proverbs during the summer series.  Perhaps we can glean some of that wisdom without having to experience all the pitfalls along the path.   Then we can B.E.G.I.N. with Praise and Wisdom.

I realize the connection may not be immediately evident, yet these two characteristics of the Christian life develop together and often feed off of each other.  And in my observation, God uses both the praises of His people and the wisdom they have been given to draw others into an intimate walk with Him.

Today we’ll begin in praise looking at Psalm 148.  This Psalm is part of the “hallel” collection, which includes the last 5 Psalms in the Bible.  They are labeled so because of the Hebrew word that both begins and ends the passage.  That word is transliterated ‘hallelujah’ in the English and more often than not translated, “praise the Lord”.   So let us B.E.G.I.N. to Praise the Lord as we read this passage and see if we can find some wisdom for our journey.

“Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.  Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.  Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.  Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.  He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.  Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,  lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,  you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,  wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,  kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,  young men and maidens, old men and children.  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.  He has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his saints, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the LORD” Psalm 148:1-14 (NIV).

Slide5

Hallelujah, Hallelujah! What a magnificent sunset Lord!  And just when I needed it too!  My photo assignment on Facebook for that week was “Sunset”.  And God gave me a beauty to shoot.  The sky erupted into a song of praise for our Lord.  It was a ten minute solo that was sure to make even a pagan go wow!  And then as quick as it came on darkness filled the sky and I waited for a night shot as Gail said there may be aroha borealis that night.    The rest of that week we were sopped in with rain but for that moment it seemed like the clouds and the sun just said ‘hallelujah’.  And so I echoed the sentiment and praised the Lord as a snapped a dozen or so shots.  

Slide6

Lately Lynda and I have been doing more back country road trips.  We hop in the ford head down some dust roads around our area. This shot is from high up the Anarchist, in the new sub division called Sasquatch.    It overlooks the Canadian / US border towns of Osoyoos and Oroville.  You can just see the praises going up to God can’t you?   Ok…so it’s rain coming down but if you use your sanctified imagination you can get the picture. 

I‘ve been struck once again by the amazing beauty that God has placed all around us.  I don’t know about you but I can’t help feeling blessed living in this part of the world. 

Pastor Scott coined a phrase that we use a lot around Grace, he said that we in Canada have “won the birth lottery”.   But did you know as Christians in Canada we have won more than the birth lottery, we have been given a double portion!  We have won the rebirth lottery!   Not only do we live in the greatest place on earth but we have been given grace to live in the present with eternity in our hearts!  God is truly awesome!  Worth of all our praise! Amen? 

The Psalmist, who some scholars attribute to David but most others attribute to anonymous, has narrowed the focus for this Psalm to one purpose.  It is the purpose and calling of every human being and all off creation too.   When we get this one right in our hearts our world with all its foibles fade into their proper places.   

Slide7

The Psalm begins and ends with “Hallelujah” – it’s a command not simply a statement.  A call to the heart to do something it may not at that moment feel like doing.  It insists a firm choice be made and not just thought about. The Psalmists cries, “praise the Lord!”  Make the choice. When you do it’s like rain in the dessert land!  Out of that dry ground will spring even more reasons to continue to praise the Lord.

In Psalms 146-150 the Psalmist is saying look around you!  Look at what God has created and give Him Praise!   Like a conductor leading the choir, the psalmist is purposely calling all of heaven to bear witness by joining their voices together in that song of praise.  It is the highest and holy calling of all of creation. And it gives us a glimpse into what Heaven is all about.

In Isaiah chapter 6 we see another glimpse of heaven.  I should interject that this is one of the few glimpses into heaven that God has given mankind.  Beware of those false images painted by people who supposedly died and came back to tell us what heaven is like.  

Those images are purely imagination and likely not at all reality.  We know this because they seldom make mention of and more often than not conflict with what the Bible has clearly shown that heaven looks like.  So don’t run out and buy the latest ‘true story’ about someone who died and went to heaven and back expecting to find ‘divine revelation’.  Expect imagination and lots of creative license and you won’t be sucked in or disappointed by their biblical misrepresentations.  But know this too, Isaiah, a proven prophet of the Lord, was invited to receive this revelation of what truly happens in heaven. 

Slide8

And he wrote about what he saw in the temple of the Lord: “Above God were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:2-4).  Seems this praise fest was profoundly loud and apparently had a great bass section that shook the whole temple! 

The angels around the throne were doing exactly what the Psalmist was inspired to ask of them.  They were praising God for what He has shown throughout creation.  

Slide9

The moon, shining stars, and those things we see in the upper atmosphere and beyond were all created to show forth the glory of the Lord.  They were not created to be objects of our worship.  But rather to remind us of whom we worship.  In case you missed it week before last Gail caught this meteorite flying through the heavens.  And this spring we saw that the sky was alive with praise.  You can almost see the angels dancing can’t you?  

All this that we can see in the heavens did not happen by chance.  All of it brings praise to God who “commanded and they were created” (5).   It was “He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away” (6).   God the intelligent designer like no other, that’s who we are to “hallel”.   The angels announced to Isaiah “the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3)

Likewise, in verse 7 the Psalmist said you don’t have to look up to see something to praise God for just look around.  And there too, if we open our eyes, we can see God’s creation waving in praise, and if we listen closely we may even hear their song. 

Slide10

When I was in Hawaii, I swam with the sea monsters.  That’s what the NASB calls them here in Psalm 148.  Sea monsters! Those majestic beasts!  I was diving in about 30 to 60 feet of water off the coast of the Big Island at Kapua Bay.   It was a gloriously beautiful Hawaiian day.  So I was already praising the Lord for this tremendous blessing He provided.  I had much to praise God for in just being there.  But that day was full of so much more to praise the Lord for.    

It was that day I had lead my friend Lynn to know Jesus and frankly I didn’t think that the day could get any better. 

I was so filled with the joy of the Lord as I swam along gazing at the tropical fish and sea turtles around me.   But my heart nearly burst as I heard those sea monsters songs cry out in praise to the Lord.  And I might have soiled myself just a little when I noticed how close they were!  Yikes!  Those whales are huge!  But my God is so big so strong and so mighty…and He created those monsters too!  Their songs from the deep brought even more praise from my lips. I even praise the Lord some more now as I look back and remember that day.

Slide11

But less we think it is only during the mountain top experiences of life that we can praise the Lord the Psalmist in verse 8 also suggests that even the storms in life bring Him praise. 

Now I don’t know about you but I really enjoy a good lightning storm.  I think they are better than the finest fireworks shows man can come up with.  But to be perfectly frank I’m not that fond of cloudy or rainy days! The kid in me wants every day to be suitable for at the beach playing in the water and on the slides.  Hot sunny days with enough cool water to increase the joy…those days I find it easy to praise the Lord. 

Yet if we can learn to praise God throughout the storms in our lives then there is nothing in all of nature that can separate us from God’s love.  However, being able to PTL as we watch a lightning storm or see hail pummel the vineyard maybe easier than when we are standing in the path of the storm and we are witnessing its destructive power especially on the ones we love.

I suspect for Michael Schultz (the Pastor at the Lutheran Church) it is difficult to PTL as he watches his young son battle with cancer, and all the awful treatments that seem to make Davis sicker yet.  But let me read to you just a portion of his blog.  This dated just before Easter 2014.

Michael writes, shortly after his son had an operation to remove cancer from his liver, “… for now I just want to highlight the amazing job the surgical team did, and to point out the extraordinary skill and work the surgeons and all the support team have and do. I wouldn’t wish medical trouble on any child, but if any child has to go through it, BC Children’s Hospital provides the highest level of care. We heard that when we first came down here, and we’ve certainly seen that be true for us.

Slide12

Thanks for making it this far with me …, and Easter blessings to you all. “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” “Alleluia!”(http://michaelschutz.com/blog/2014-04-22/back-at-the-bedside).   

“Alleluia!” That would be the Greek word for “Hallelujah”.

So Michael, even after months of trials and heart wrenching moments walking along side of his very ill son, is still able to “praise the Lord” to bring “hallel” for what God has blessed him with in this storm of life.  

Perhaps that’s why the Psalmist reminds us that even the storms of nature ring out praises to God. 

In fact it seems as though the Psalmist was reading the creation account found in Genesis 1-2 and realized that every created thing we can gaze upon brings praise to its creator.  

Slide13By Verse 11 the psalmist is bringing it home.  He is calling upon those in authority, “kings, princes and rulers” together with those they lead, “men & maidens, both young and old” (12): “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (13).    

God alone is to be exalted.  Yet somehow we often fail to remember that.  We worship that which is created rather than He who created it.  We give to men praise that is fit for God alone. We honor man’s accomplishment and forget Who it was that inspired them to that greatness.

The Creator is so far above the creation is He not?  God is more valuable than anything we can behold.  Nothing in all of creation compares in value to knowing the Creator.  Without Him is all just passes into obscurity. 

Humanly speaking we get that concept… at least somewhat.  Go to the art gallery and you’ll find that pieces by certain artists are worth infinitely more than by other artists.  But why is that? 

 Slide14What makes a landscape by Ansel Adams any better than a picture I took with my cell phone?  I mean really…is it his full frame camera?  His excellent lens?  Maybe his subject matter or layout that gives is its worth?

Yet his pictures still get more recognition and praise than mine ever will.  Not only that but if you had, by some good grace, in your photo collection an original picture by Ansel, you would have an object valued between $8,000-$50,000 USD. 

As long as provenance can be established; so long as you can prove it was truly a picture by Ansel, you would have something of real monetary value.  And this is simply because of the photographer’s name. Ansel’s reputation and the fact that he pressed the trigger and he produced it or in essence he created it makes the photograph worth something.  So humanly speaking we somewhat get the concept that the creator is above the creation because Ansel’s works regardless of the quality of the individual images are worth something simply because they are Ansel’s.  People in know can tell the difference and can praise the merits of owning an Ansel.  The Psalmists calls upon those who should be in the know, “kings, and leaders”  those who have been blessed with much to lead the praise.

So far, the Psalmist has shown us that all of creation ought to be seen as that which brings praise to its Creator but as he brings this psalm to a close he turns his focus to those that have “won the rebirth lottery”.  Those of us who are double blessed as Christians as I said in the beginning, regardless of where we live or our station in life.

Slide15The Psalmist wrote, “He has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his saints, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the LORD” (14).

Not only is God worthy of praise for being higher than His creation but especially because of His covenant relationship with His chosen people.  If you are one of His chosen people you my friend have been given something of infinite value. 

In raising a horn for them, the Psalmist is speaking of a mighty deliverer.  A King, in fact the King of kings.  God has given His chosen people the King of kings to lead them in this song of praise. 

Moses wrote, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” Deuteronomy 4:7 (NIV). 

We Christians, more than all of creation, have something to give praise for.  We are the people close to his heart.  God has chosen us for intimate relationship with Him through this horn that was raised up. 

In those days when the battle was won the victory was announced with the blast of the horn.  It showed who ultimately had the strength to win. But it was usually followed by loud praises and shouts from all the people.

That horn is Jesus Christ. He became “the praise of all His saints” when he defeated Satan on the cross.   His victory bought us our freedom.

Slide16We can look back through 2000 years of history and actually see that praise well up over and over again. 

The fact is, every new believer gives God praise for Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of their sins that came through His sacrificial love restoring us to a covenant relationship, making us Israel; a people close to the Father. 

We are truly double blessed.  We were not only created to bring God praise but we were chosen to lead the world to do the same.  For we have been chosen by God to Bring Every Gentile Intimate News with Praise so that all of creation can choose to join with us and praise the Lord.    Hallelujah? 

Amen!

Blessings!

Pastor Blake