Don’t Hide; Just Seek

Posted: June 29, 2017 in Amos

Amos 5-6, “Don’t Hide; Just Seek”

One of my daughter’s favorite games when she was little was “Hide & Seek.”  We don’t have a large house, so I was always amazed at how well she would find little crevices in which to hide.  She became great at camouflaging herself behind chairs, and going all kinds of places where we might look right past her.

What is fun & games among little children is not so great between us and God.  Our Heavenly Father loves us, and wants us to enjoy Him – but He doesn’t want us hiding from Him.  It’s when we try to hide from God that we inevitably get into trouble.  That’s when we engage in sin, fall to temptation, and generally start walking away from Him.

We “try” to hide from God, but it is impossible to hide from Him in reality.  God is ever-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful.  How can we hide from a God who is everywhere at all times?  How can we shield our actions from a God who sees everything?  We can delude ourselves into thinking He neither knows nor sees, but the truth is quite different.  He does know, so there’s no point in trying to hide from Him.

What’s worse than trying to hide ourselves from God is simply giving up on Him – not even caring any longer that He sees.  That’s when we’ve moved from conscious, yet concealed sin, to complacency.  That’s when someone has given up on God, and perhaps given up on faith entirely.  That’s a place of danger…and that’s a place where God will confront us.

That’s what was going on with Israel, as Amos continued his prophecies against the nation.  They had entered that place of complacency, no longer bothering to hide their sins from God, and giving only lip service to Him at occasional points along the way. When they did think of God, they believed God didn’t see them as they were – but they were wrong.  God saw all their sins, even the ones they had long forgotten about, and the time had now come for judgment.  The nation still had the opportunity to seek the Lord in repentance, though God already knew what their response would be.  He freely offered them grace, even as He knew they would turn away.

God freely offers us grace…don’t turn away!  Don’t try to hide your sins from God.  Instead, seek Him, and His righteousness.  Seek Christ, and live!

Amos 5

  • The imminent fall of Israel (5:1-3)

1 Hear this word which I take up against you, a lamentation, O house of Israel: 2 The virgin of Israel has fallen; She will rise no more. She lies forsaken on her land; There is no one to raise her up.

  • What follows is not going to be good.  This is a word of “lamentation,” – a terrible word of mourning concerning “the virgin of Israel.”  God & Amos were grieved over what was going to happen to the nation.  God loved Israel as a betrothed – He had wonderful plans for her.  Yet for a time, things would be different.  His beloved would be brutalized.  She had endangered herself through her sin, and the consequences would not be pretty.
  • Yet would Israel truly be forsaken?  Abandoned?  Temporarily, yes.  God’s promises will never be taken away, but that doesn’t mean He would never allow Israel to experience the consequences of their actions.  God would remove His hand of protection from them, and it would truly seem as if God had abandoned them.
    • Sometimes it may seem as if God has abandoned us.  He hasn’t…not if we’re in Christ, He hasn’t.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  That doesn’t mean He will give us free reign to sin as much as we want without consequence, and He might temporarily remove His hand of protection from us.  When that happens, the key is not to despair, but to repent.

3 For thus says the Lord GOD: “The city that goes out by a thousand Shall have a hundred left, And that which goes out by a hundred Shall have ten left to the house of Israel.”

  • Sad description of the destruction that would come to the land.  The cities and towns would be decimated, with massive amounts of people dying.
  • Again, this is a temporary reversal of God’s covenant promise.  Genesis 15:4–5, "(4) And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” (5) Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”"  That’s what they could have had.  Instead, only a remnant would remain. 
    • Yet, in Christ the promise remains!  We are the spiritual descendant of Abraham in Christ.  More than that, the physical nation remains, and one day they will themselves come to faith.  We pray for that day, as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
  • Invitation: Seek God & live! (5:4-15)

4 For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: “Seek Me and live; 5 But do not seek Bethel, Nor enter Gilgal, Nor pass over to Beersheba; For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, And Bethel shall come to nothing.

  • Destruction was coming, but there was still a chance for them to live.  What did they need to do?  Seek God!  They needed to turn to Him in repentance – they needed to put their full trust in the Lord, surrendering their whole lives to the Lord.
  • They had sought idols.  That was what was at Bethel & Gilgal & Beersheba. But that was the opposite of what they should have done.  Seek God; not idols!  Idols are empty & vain.  Idols offer nothing.
    • That’s true of false ideas just as much as it is of statues.  Idols come in all shapes & forms, sometimes only existing in our mind as false expressions and ideas of God.  It doesn’t matter how much we might believe our ideas concerning God to be true, if they contradict the Scripture, then they’re false & vain, period.  Instead of seeking the false, we need to seek the truth.

6 Seek the LORD and live, Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, And devour it, With no one to quench it in Bethel— 7 You who turn justice to wormwood, And lay righteousness to rest in the earth!”

  • Simple & clear choice: live or die.  Seek the Lord, live.  Turn away, be consumed.  For centuries, Israel had turned away, and they were about to be devoured.  God’s justice is unquenchable.  He is an all-consuming fire.  People cannot engage in consistent rebellion against God and not experience the consequences that come from it.
    • But that’s not what God desires for us!  He wants us to seek Him – He wants us to know Him in true surrender & faith.  What is it you seek?  It can’t be the stuff you think God might provide – it can’t be the good feelings you think God might give – it needs to be Lord Himself.  When we seek Him first, thirsting after Jesus as a parched man seeks after water – that’s the kind of seeking God desires & honors.  Seek Him & live!  Experience the abundant spiritual life that Jesus offers…
  • Notice the sin in vs. 7.  Israel’s idolatry has been mentioned several times, but their sin was more than false worship.  It was also injustice & iniquity.  They perverted justice & treated righteousness as garbage – something to be cast away.
    • God cares about our actions.  Sin is of the heart, but it is also of the hands.  How do we treat others?  How do we act in the face of injustice?  God sees these things, and He wants us to honor Him in our actions.

8 He made the Pleiades and Orion; He turns the shadow of death into morning And makes the day dark as night; He calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the face of the earth; The LORD is His name. 9 He rains ruin upon the strong, So that fury comes upon the fortress.

  • The idols at Bethel & Gilgal were empty, but the Lord God is not.  He is the all-powerful creator, sovereign over all the earth.  He governs the stars (the same stars that many idolaters worship) – He turns the earth on its axis going from night to day – He gives the rain & superintends the water cycle.  This is the LORD – this is the true God.  The LORD stands apart from the rest.  No idol compares to Him!
  • In addition to all those things, this same LORD is the judge.  He both sends the rain, and “rains ruin upon the strong.”  When it comes to all of the injustice & unrighteousness in vs. 7, all of that was seen by the Lord, and people would be called to account.  Every idle word spoken by men will be judged by the Lord – every word, thought, and deed.  The judgment of God is not something to take lightly!
    • On the contrary, it’s the very reason we cling so tightly to Jesus!  Were it not for Jesus, we would have no hope!
  • That’s the Lord God, but what about the people who are supposed to worship Him as His people?  They are far different! Vs. 10…

10 They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly. 11 Therefore, because you tread down the poor And take grain taxes from him, Though you have built houses of hewn stone, Yet you shall not dwell in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, But you shall not drink wine from them.

  • The people despised wisdom & righteousness.  If an elder spoke the righteousness of God in the city gate, that man was “abhorred” by the rest of Israel.  God’s wisdom, righteousness, and truth was rejected by His own people.
  • The people oppressed the poor, demanding taxes from people who had no money to give.  The God who is compassionate towards the poor had a people who oppressed them.
    • Keep in mind that when it comes to eternal things, we are all poor!  We have nothing to offer God apart from our sins.  If God wasn’t compassionate towards spiritually poor people, none of us would be saved!  We are absolutely dependent upon the compassion of God through Jesus!
  • Thus, the people would be punished.  God would take away their wealth & luxury.  God had given them their luxuries, and thus God would remove them.

12 For I know your manifold transgressions And your mighty sins: Afflicting the just and taking bribes; Diverting the poor from justice at the gate. 13 Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time, For it is an evil time.

  • God knew their sins, for they were many!  They oppressed the poor, giving preference to the rich as bribes were received & so-called “justice” was bought.  Those who were truly “just” were afflicted and pushed aside.  And the worst part was that nothing was said.  The “prudent [kept] silent” in the face of it.  The sins of Israel piled high, indeed!
    • God knew their sins, and God knows our sins, no doubt.  Our culture has little room to talk in regards to the sins of Israel.  Justice all-too-often goes to the highest bidder with the most expensive attorneys.  Those who are poor rarely have someone willing to speak on their behalf.  Examples of injustice abound.  God knows the manifold sins of our own culture, and of every individual within our culture (including us!).  Not a single sin of ours is hidden from His sight.  (And He still loves us!  Amazing!)
  • BTW – whether the prudent/wise believed it would do no good to speak up, or if they were intimidated into silence, or they just didn’t say anything at all, it was still lumped in with the other sins of Israel.  Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
    • This is the reason the church speaks up regarding abortion, homosexual marriage, pornography, drug/alcohol addiction, oppression of the poor, injustice, etc.  Not that the church is supposed to be a political organization; it is not.  Our first and foremost responsibility is to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations. (Mt 28:20)  But in the process of engaging in that mission, we cannot help but be salt and light within the world.  How can we invite people to experience the love of God through Christ Jesus if we do not express His same love?  How can we tell people the truth of the gospel, if we ignore the truth of God’s morals?  Thus we speak up, and do so without apology.  We cannot & dare not keep silent.

14 Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the LORD God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken.

  • Notice the parallel with vss. 4 & 6.  To seek good is to seek God.  When we seek Him, we seek His character.  When we seek Him, we seek to be like Him.  As Christians, we follow in the footsteps of Christ.  Discipleship 101 (i.e. the Great Commission) is to obey all things that He has commanded us, which means we are to live rightly, seeking Jesus & His kingdom.  In that, comes life – abundant life!
  • And God wants us to live!  God wants to be with us.  Just as He wanted to be with Israel.  His desire was not to punish them, but to bless them.  He wanted them to live & to live in a right relationship with Him.  IOW, God wants more from us than right actions; He wants a right heart…and that only comes through ongoing relationship with Him.
  • So how to do it?  How does Amos tell Israel to seek God & His good?  Vs. 15…

15 Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

  • Act rightly.  Act according to repentance.  All the things that went wrong “in the gate,” is to be reversed.  Instead of despising justice & wisdom & righteousness, seek to uphold those things.  Walk according to God’s truth, as He has revealed through His Scriptures.  For Israel, it was to obey the covenant & listen to the prophets.  For us, it’s still to obey the Scriptures, and to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • Seek God for His grace.  Israel was to hold out hope that they might experience grace & favor from the Lord.  The hope of Israel is the promise to us, when (and if) we come through Jesus Christ.  Those who humble themselves unto Jesus do experience the grace of God!

So this was the invitation.  It would be ignored.

  • Warning: God’s arrival (5:16-27)

16 Therefore the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, says this: “There shall be wailing in all streets, And they shall say in all the highways, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They shall call the farmer to mourning, And skillful lamenters to wailing. 17 In all vineyards there shall be wailing, For I will pass through you,” Says the LORD.

  • Why would there be wailing?  Because of the arrival of God.  For God to “pass through” Israel was for God to use Passover terminology.  Only this time, it wouldn’t be a good thing.  It would not be an act of deliverance, but of destruction.  This time, Israel would learn what it was like for Egypt, to be on the receiving end of God’s wrath.
  • Is it sobering & a bit scary?  Yes…and it ought to be.  Hebrews 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  Fearsome thing to fall into the hands of God.

18 Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is the day of the LORD to you? It will be darkness, and not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion, And a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, Leaned his hand on the wall, And a serpent bit him! 20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?

  • Depending on how the book of Amos is dated, this is quite possibly the first chronological mention of “the day of the LORD.”  Normally, when we think of the Day of the Lord, we think of the end-times, when Jesus comes back at the Battle of Armageddon in His glorious return.  Yet for Amos, the context is different.  This is a reference to the day of God’s wrath specifically for the northern nation of Israel when the Assyrians come in conquest. … It would be brutal.
    • So will Jesus’ 2nd Coming!  For us, it will be glorious & wonderful, as we as born-again Christians will accompany Him.  For those upon the earth, it will be fearsome and terrifying.  Although we desire that Day, they will not.
  • Neither should anyone in ancient Israel desire the preview of the Day of the Lord.  Again, the idea of God passing through Israel was commonly associated with Passover, and it brought to mind salvation & deliverance.  But that wasn’t what Israel would experience on their next time.  There was nothing that was desirable about that day to the Israelites/Samaritans.  Those who believed it to be good had another thing coming.  The Day of the Lord is not good to those who remain in sin.
    • Many people are going to be surprised when they finally see their Maker face-to-face, and not in a good way.
    • The key is to be ready now.  And we can be!  That is the great news that Jesus provides!
  • So what to do about this?  Worship the Lord, right?  Wrong.  Vs. 21…

21 “I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.

  • All of this sounds like it ought to be great – it ought to be everything that would please the Lord.  Feast days, sacred assemblies, burnt offerings, songs, etc., are all things prescribed in the Scripture.  Yet God says that He hates these things.  He hates it so much that He states it twice!  These actions are not what the Lord desires from His people.  Why?  Vs. 24…

24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.

  • This was God’s desire for His people, yet this was what was lacking from Israel.  All of the previous acts of “worship” were offered by people with unrepentant hearts.  Outwardly, they could walk through actions that resembled Biblical worship, but inwardly their hearts were corrupt.  They despised justice & righteousness.  Instead of these things flooding His people as a reflection of God’s own character among them, there was a drought of justice & righteousness.  God’s own people had not been transformed by God.  They had no fruit of His righteousness among them, and thus no evidence of true faith in God.  What good were sacrifices and feast days if their hearts were not yielded to the Lord as God? …
  • This is the way it had always been.  It wasn’t only the current generation of Israelites that had despised the Lord; it was their forefathers as well.  Vs. 25…

25 “Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings In the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried Sikkuth your king And Chiun, your idols, The star of your gods, Which you made for yourselves.

  • There’s a bit of exaggeration in vs. 25.  Yes, sacrifices and offerings were offered at various times through the 40 years in the wilderness, but Israel had always struggled in their faithfulness to God.  They always had idols in their midst, most famously seen at the base of Mt. Sinai when Moses was receiving the law directly from God Himself.  They hadn’t seen Moses for 40 days, so they built a golden calf to worship, claiming that it was the god who delivered them out of Egypt.  Apparently, the golden calf was not the Israelites’ only experience with idolatry.  False gods previously unmentioned in the Scriptures, such as Sikkuth and Chiun were carried by the Hebrews the entire time they were in the desert.  The Israelites may have thought these idols were hidden from the sight of God, but they weren’t.  God was fully aware of every bit of idolatry and unfaithfulness among them.
  • And yet He still loved them!  Think of it: not only did God not destroy Israel at Mt. Sinai after the incident with the golden calf, but God said nothing about these other idols until centuries after the fact.  And still, God dwelt among His people, provided food in the desert, gave them His word through His prophets, brought them into the Promised Land, blessed them through the judges and kings, bringing them all the way to this day.  At any point during the past, God had every right to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, yet He didn’t.  Why?  Because He loved them.  He had a plan for them.  He had made a promise to them to bring a Messiah through them.  God would be faithful to them, despite their faithlessness to Him.
    • That’s how God works with us!  Should we be the children of God?  Absolutely not!  He has every right to destroy us & wipe us from history.  He has zero reason to show us grace…and yet He does!  He knows every sin we ever committed against Him – He knows every sin we’ve yet to commit against Him – and He still loves us.  He still sent Jesus for us.  He still freely offered us salvation in Christ.  The love He has for us is amazing!
    • When you read the OT prophets & the judgments promised to Israel, always remember the NT fulfillment of these things: the cross.  Everything Israel experienced are things we deserve, but don’t.  Why?  Because Jesus took these things upon Himself.  Contextually here, how much does God love you & me?  He loves us in Christ despite our idolatry & unfaithfulness.  Those were things for which His Son died.  Those are things for which we have been forgiven.  Praise God!
    • Just be careful not to take the forgiveness of Christ for granted.  God will not remove His salvation from us, but that doesn’t mean He will not act in regards to our own individual sin.
  • As for Israel, they had sinned just as their forefathers had sinned, and just as God had always known they would sin.  He had given them chance after chance to change, and they never did.  Despite the repeated offers to seek God & to repent, they refused.  Thus God would act.  Vs. 27…

27 Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,” Says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.

  • Thus, their captivity.  Because Israel refused to seek the Lord, God would send the Assyrians.  This was His judicial sentence against them.

Amos 6

  • The pride of Jacob (6:1-8)

1 Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, And trust in Mount Samaria, Notable persons in the chief nation, To whom the house of Israel comes! 2 Go over to Calneh and see; And from there go to Hamath the great; Then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory?

  • Note: both Zion AND Samaria are indicted.  That’s a reference to both the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel.  No doubt the majority of the specific prophecy is directed towards the north, but that didn’t mean the south was innocent.  They had just as much reason to be at woe as did Samaria/Israel.  They just had a bit more time to repent.
  • What reason did they have for woe?  Judgment was coming, and Israel would be conquered…just like everyone else.  Israel’s past history with God did not make them better than the other nations of the world.  Just as the Gentiles had been conquered by the Assyrians, so would Israel.  Calneh & Gath were stronger cities than Samaria, and yet they had fallen.  Israel would prove to be no different. 
    • What had made the difference in the past?  God’s protection.  Without it, they had no hope.
    • What difference is between us and the rest of the world?  None, apart from Jesus Christ.  Without Him, His work, and His grace, we have no hope.  We are just as sinful, and just as deserving of God’s judgment.  Thus we cling to grace!  We hold fast to Jesus!

3 Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, Who cause the seat of violence to come near; 4 Who lie on beds of ivory, Stretch out on your couches, Eat lambs from the flock And calves from the midst of the stall; 5 Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, And invent for yourselves musical instruments like David;

  • The picture here is one of pride – laziness – an excess of self-confidence.  This what Israel had in the midst of impending judgment.  Amos wasn’t the first prophet sent by God with a warning to Israel; he was just the latest to be ignored by the people.  Despite warning after warning, the people lived in luxury as if it would last forever.
  • Jesus said a similar attitude would persist among the people of the world right before His 2nd Coming. Matthew 24:37–42, "(37) But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (38) For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, (39) and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (40) Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. (41) Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. (42) Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming."  (Not a rapture passage; a 2nd Coming passage!)  The idea is that people won’t be ready, despite the many warnings given them.
    • The key?  Pay attention while you have the chance!

6 Who drink wine from bowls, And anoint yourselves with the best ointments, But are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. 7 Therefore they shall now go captive as the first of the captives, And those who recline at banquets shall be removed.

  • Once again, God knew the insincere hearts of His people.  The Israelites lived in luxury, but they were “not grieved for the affliction” of the northern tribes of people.  God had warned them, but Israel didn’t listen.  They believed the prosperity they experienced would never end.  They would be surprised!  Their luxury would soon be lost as the Assyrians came in and took the people captive.

8 The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, The LORD God of hosts says: “I abhor the pride of Jacob, And hate his palaces; Therefore I will deliver up the city And all that is in it.”

  • Israel was proud, and God hated it!  He loathes self-pride and exaltation.  They had magnified themselves, and they made themselves a stench in the nostrils of God.
  • How much does God hate this sort of self-exalted pride?  Virtually every name that could be used of God is used in a solemn oath that He swears by His own soul.  The first part of vs. 8 could be literally rendered, “He has sworn, Lord YHWH in His soul.”  The deepest part of God hates pride.  Self-exaltation took down Satan.  The desire to raise up himself took down Adam.  The list of casualties is endless.  The proverbs say that “pride goes before destruction” for good reason! (Pro 16:18)
  • So Israel was proud to a dangerous extent.  What would be the result?  God promised to “deliver up the city and all that is in it.”  That deliverance over to destruction is described in the remainder of Chapter 6.
  • The affliction of Jacob (6:9-14)

9 Then it shall come to pass, that if ten men remain in one house, they shall die. 10 And when a relative of the dead, with one who will burn the bodies, picks up the bodies to take them out of the house, he will say to one inside the house, “Are there any more with you?” Then someone will say, “None.” And he will say, “Hold your tongue! For we dare not mention the name of the LORD.”

  • The picture is one of massive death.  So many people die that they finally recognize that it is the hand of the Lord that brought it.  Yet instead of seeking the Lord in repentance, they continue to turn away from Him.  They fear to even mention His name, believing that more destruction will come upon them.  And if they would continue to offer insincere unrepentant worship, then they had every reason to fear!  Yet, if they turned to God in true humility, they would have had reason to hope.  Sadly, that would not be the case.

11 For behold, the LORD gives a command: He will break the great house into bits, And the little house into pieces.

  • Destruction was sure to come.  Every bit of the land would experience it, with no household being exempt.  Just as when the angel of God passed through the land of Egypt & every home knew his presence, so would the northern kingdom experience complete ruin. 
  • Additionally, remember how the kingdom was described in 6:1, “the house of Israel.”  This house would be broken into bits, smashed to pieces.  It was a terrible prophecy of the very real destruction to come.

12 Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into gall, And the fruit of righteousness into wormwood, 13 You who rejoice over Lo Debar, Who say, “Have we not taken Karnaim for ourselves By our own strength?”

  • The answer to the first two questions is “no.”  Those are ridiculous thoughts, just as the actions of Israel were ridiculous & wrong.  Again, they despised justice & righteousness.  Again, they were proud, taking joy in their military victories.  Yet they would learn that everything they gained militarily could be taken away from them.  Vs. 14…

14 “But, behold, I will raise up a nation against you, O house of Israel,” Says the LORD God of hosts; “And they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath To the Valley of the Arabah.”

  • For all the nations that Israel had defeated in the past, they would not be able to defeat Assyria.  The nation God would bring against them would “afflict” the entire land from the far north to the far south.  Total destruction was coming – all by the hand and will of God – all because they remained unrepentant against God.

Conclusion:
Don’t fight against the Lord – don’t try to hide your sins from Him.  Those things are fruitless.  God invites us to seek Him, so seek Him!

That was the consistent invitation from the Lord: seek Him, and live!  They had an open invitation – all they needed to do was humble themselves in repentance.  It was their stubborn pride & complacency that kept them from doing so.  They had stopped up their ears to the word of God, and it brought about their ruin.

Seek the Lord!  Find life when your hope is solely resting upon Jesus.  Find life when your relationship with God is unhindered by pride & insincerity.  Seek Him in truth, seek Him in practical obedience.  Seek Him, being filled with the Holy Spirit & that’s when we will experience the abundant life Jesus promised us.

This is too good not to share. Many thanks to Clint Archer and Tim Challies for posting it.
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How to help your pastor be an effective preacher
Author unknown.

Fling him into his office. Tear the “Office” sign from the door and nail on the sign, “Study.”

Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before a holy God and a holy text and broken hearts and a superficial flock.

Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God.

Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing. Shut his mouth forever from spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever from tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.

Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!

Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day: “Sir, we would see Jesus!”

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.

Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.

And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left — God’s Word.

Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly.

Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant.

For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.

Helping the Humble

Posted: June 26, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 14:1-14, “Helping the Humble”

Common sayings that are never found in the Bible:

  • “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  It’s a great idea to bathe, but it isn’t a Biblical admonition, nor a sin if you miss a shower or keep a messy room.
  • “Money is the root of all evil.”  This quotation actually falls short.  It is “The love of money” which is the root of all evil. (1 Tim 6:10)  Money is simply a tool.
  • “The lion shall lay down with the lamb.”  The idea is true for the Millennial Kingdom, but the imagery is incorrect.  Scripturally speaking it is the “wolf” that dwells with the lamb. (Isa 11:6, 65:25)
  • “God does not give you more than you can bear.”  Commonly quoted, but blatantly false.  There are many circumstances that we endure that we can’t handle.  We absolutely need the strength of Christ, or we will fail!  The Scripture actually tells us that God will not allow us “to be tempted beyond what you are able.” (1 Cor 10:13)  Big difference!
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”  This last one is worse than all the rest, if for no other reason than it is anti-gospel.  Yes, the Bible does promote the idea of personal responsibility for our actions, but praise God that He most certainly does help those who cannot help themselves…because none of us can help ourselves!  If we could help ourselves in terms of our salvation, there would have been no reason to send Jesus to the cross.  It’s because we were hopeless that we were given the hope of Christ!

With that in mind, think over our text. It begins with Jesus helping a man who was unable to help himself, and ends with Jesus instructing others to do the same.  Jesus personally demonstrates compassion towards the helpless and humble, and we as Jesus’ followers & disciples are supposed to do likewise.

Contextually, Luke has shown increasing conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees (and other religious rulers), the most recent taking place over a different Sabbath day healing, when Jesus loosed a woman from her physical and spiritual bondage.  The leader of the synagogue at the time showed no compassion towards his sister in the faith, which called his own “faith” into question.  Jesus later made it clear that the kingdom would come in unexpected ways, including unexpected people…and some people who thought they would be there will actually be cast out.  It is the last who would be first, and the first who would be last.  Guess which category most likely included the Pharisees and religious elite?  These were the same sorts of people that had always persecuted the prophets of God, just like they were doing with Jesus.  It wasn’t surprising, but it was still sad.  Jesus longed that all would humble themselves under the protection & provision of God, but many still chose to rebel & go their own way.

That brings us to our current text.  Some of the best stories happen over supper, and things were no different in ancient Judea.  People would gather for meals, and there was no telling what might happen.  That was the case on another Sabbath day when Jesus was invited as a guest to the home of a Pharisee.  He wasn’t the only person invited that day, and what followed was surely nothing as the Pharisee had originally intended.  A scandal broke out, which led the way for some parables and teaching.  People had come to the meal with expectations about themselves and their own kingdom worth; Jesus would demonstrate something very different.  He had come for the humble, and those who follow Him needed to have the same mind.

Luke 14:1–14

  • Setting: healing at supper (1-6)

1 Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.

  • Right off the bat, we notice several things that might stand out.  (1) Where it took place: the home of a Pharisee.  In fact, it was more than that – it was “thou house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees.”  This was an elite among religious elite.  We are not told the name of this man, but no doubt he would have been well-known in his community.  (2) Who was there: “they watched Him closely.”  This was no private meeting, such as what took place between Jesus and Nicodemus early on in Jesus’ ministry.  This was a semi-public event.  Yes, it took place in a private home, but this was a dinner party with more than one invitee.  Jesus may have been the guest-of-honor (perhaps?), but others were present as witnesses.  (3) When it took place: “on the Sabbath.”  It was common for people to have large meals on the Sabbath, just as it is commonplace (or used to be) for people to have large Sunday dinners after church.  But the Sabbath day timeframe is contextually important for Luke, as the last time the Sabbath was mentioned, it was regarding another miraculous healing from Jesus.
  • So put it together.  There is a ruler among the Pharisees who invited Jesus to his home, along with several others for a Sabbath day meal & gathering.  They were watching Him with sharp intent & scrutiny for a reason: something was up.  The group had planned something, and they were waiting to see Jesus’ reaction.  This was a trap, plain & simple.  It would have been the perfect setup for the Pharisees, except for one thing: they were dealing with the Son of God.  How can someone sneak up on Someone who knows everything?  They were dealing with the all-knowing, all-wise, omnipotent Son of God.  It is impossible to catch Him in a trap!
  • But try they did, and it was sprung with the arrival of another guest.  Vs. 2…

2 And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy.

  • Although it’s possible that this man simply showed up, it seems more likely that he had been invited/instructed to come.  After all, Jesus was under close watch by the people who were present, so they were expecting something to happen.  This man was that something.
  • We don’t use the term “dropsy” anymore; the more common term is edema – a swelling of bodily tissue (usually in the legs and feet) brought on by too much fluid.  There are several things that can cause edema, ranging from blood clots in inflamed veins to heart failure, kidney disease, or cirrhosis of the liver, and more.  In some cases, it could be nothing more than water retention, but other cases can be very serious, requiring medical attention.
  • What was it for this man?  We don’t know.  Although Luke was a physician, he wasn’t present at the time, and he may not have been able to give a proper diagnosis even if he had been there.  Jesus, however, was there.  He knew precisely what was going on with the man (in addition to what was going on in the minds of the Pharisees), and Jesus was not content to let this man be treated as bait or a test subject. 

3 And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 4 But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go.

  • Again, Jesus wasn’t fooled.  He knew precisely what was going on.  This was a sting operation set up by the religious lawyers (the scribes).  We don’t have a transcript of every word spoken in the room that day, but one can easily imagine Jesus taking one look at the sick man, looking back at the lawyers & Pharisees & asking this question without any other statement made.  Jesus didn’t need to inquire about the extent of the illness, get any sort of medical background to determine if there was an emergency at hand.  He didn’t even need to say “hello.”  It was obvious this was a set-up, and Jesus wasn’t deterred in the slightest.  He asked the religious lawyers what was authorized on the Sabbath, and went from there.
  • Question: Why did Jesus ask?  Wouldn’t He have already known what was/wasn’t legal to do on the Sabbath?  Of course.  Not only does Jesus have perfect knowledge of the Scripture (which is inspired by God the Holy Spirit), but Jesus has perfect knowledge of the laws and traditions of men.  And the difference between those two things was really the point.  The law of Moses as recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy did not forbid the healing of this man.  Any objections (if they existed) were in the traditions of men that had been added to the Scriptures. 
  • Objection: “But even the Scripture says that no work should be done.  The 4th Commandment is clear that there are six days for labor, but the Sabbath is set apart for rest.  This wasn’t a dire emergency.  Couldn’t Jesus have waited a few more hours before He healed the man?  Even in the miracle, it was still a work of God.”  Go back to the foundational principle.  Why was rest required on the Sabbath?  It was for the Hebrew to affirm his/her trust in God as Provider, Covenant-King, and Creator.  What better trust in God could be demonstrated than receiving a healing from God the Son?  More than that – ultimately the rest of God points to the salvation provided by Jesus & His resurrection.  Jesus performing miraculous healings on the Sabbath is a clear testimony of the rest that only He provides – one blessed by Almighty God.  Even with all that being considered, keep in mind that this was by no means the first time Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  The New Testament records at least 7 Sabbath day healings, not all of them being set up by the Pharisees as traps.  If this was evidence of habitual law-breaking, no one would have followed Jesus…He would have been easily dismissed as a false Christ.  But that wasn’t the case.  Not only is Jesus, as the Messiah, Lord of the Sabbath (Lk 6:5), but could never be credibly accused of violating the Sabbath.  He Himself is the fulfillment of it!
  • It’s no wonder that lawyers and Pharisees “kept silent.”  They had nothing to say because they had no case.  Their entrapment scheme crumbled right before their eyes, and they were left with nothing but silent shame.
    • Have you ever gotten caught in something that you knew was wrong?  You may have wanted to win the argument, but you still knew you were on the losing side.  Such was the case with those lawyers and Pharisees.  We may have been in their shoes, but we can do something different.  Instead of shutting down and going silent, we can confess our sin & shameful attitude to the Lord, asking His forgiveness.  Born-again Christians have no reason to live in guilt & shame…there is cleansing in Christ! 
  • Obviously more needed to be said that day, but Jesus first took care of the most important business: healing the man with edema/dropsy.  Jesus wasn’t going to use him as a pawn in a theological debate (unlike the Pharisees), so He healed the man & sent him on his way.
    • Quick note: Luke barely spends any time on the healing.  It was an amazing miracle, but it was no big deal for Jesus.  He didn’t need light shows, loud music, or other theatrics to work miracles; He just did what needed to be done.  People who make a spectacle out of healings are drawing attention to themselves; not Christ.  If the focus was truly on Jesus, it would be on the proclamation of His gospel.  All the rest is simply the platform that puts Jesus front & center.

5 Then He answered them, saying, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” 6 And they could not answer Him regarding these things.

  • Depending what Bible translation you have, the examples Jesus uses might say “a son or an ox,” rather than “a donkey or an ox.”  Strictly speaking, the oldest manuscripts have “son,” but there are some very old & important manuscripts that say “donkey.”  The abbreviated words in the Greek in which they were written would look very similar, but the meanings are vastly different!  It’s difficult to say which of the two is original, considering the context – but the overall point is basically the same.  If life is at stake on the Sabbath, then steps are taken to ensure that life is preserved.  Granted, the urgency of the situation drastically changes whether a farmer’s livestock has fallen into a pit, versus his beloved child – but either way, people do what need to be done to save life.
  • A similar point had been made in Ch. 13 in regards to the woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  If animals could be untied in order to be led to water, then why couldn’t a woman be unbound from Satanic and physical attacks?  Life matters to the Lord Almighty – both in quantity and quality.  Would the woman have lived another 18 years?  Perhaps…but now she could live it upright (literally), and praising God.  Likewise with this man.  Could his condition have waited another day?  Certainly.  And if the Pharisees hadn’t drug this man before Jesus at the Sabbath day dinner, it’s quite possible that Jesus would have healed the man after the Sabbath came a close.  The Pharisees and lawyers were the ones who insisted on pushing the point, and Jesus wasn’t about to be intimidated.  Jesus came so that people may have life, and to have it more abundantly. (Jn 10:10)  The opportunity for this had presented itself to this man, and Jesus wasn’t about to deny him that.
    • God cares far more about people than our own theological preferences.  Not that doctrine doesn’t matter to the Lord; it does!  Doctrine matters tremendously!  Jesus made it clear that He came to fulfill the law, and not one jot or tittle (dot or decorative mark) would pass from the law until all was fulfilled. (Mt 5:18)  God values His word so much that He magnifies it according to, or even above His own name. (Ps 138:2)  Yes, doctrine matters to God.  Our own theological lenses through which we interpret His word & doctrine?  Not so much.  When our theology matches with God’s truth, wonderful!  When our theology is infected by our traditions, preferences, point-of-views, etc., then we’re going to have to expect our world to get rocked a bit.  When our theology places legalism above people, we have a problem.  When our religion picks ritual at the expense of relationship, we have a problem.  We can claim to be pious all we want, but when we start looking at people as tools rather than individuals for whom Jesus died, then our piety isn’t worth all that much.
  • The Pharisees and lawyers understood Jesus perfectly, and they fell silent for the second time that day.  They had no answer for Him.  They had presented Him with a trap, and He responded not only with compassion towards the man who needed it most, but with undeniable truth regarding the heart of the law of God.
  • This presented a tremendous teachable moment, and Jesus wasn’t about to pass it up…
  • Parable: humility at supper (7-11)

7 So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them:

  • How many people had been invited to the home of the Pharisee, we’re not told.  Since he was one of the rulers of the Pharisees, it can be reasonably assumed that he had a large enough residence to accommodate many people.  Who these people were, is another question.  Obviously some were Pharisees and lawyers.  But was that all?  It’s impossible to say.  The most important thing is that Jesus knew who they were, and that no matter what position they held in their religious culture, they still had much to learn.  Not only had they invited a sick man to the party for the sole purpose of being used as a trap for Jesus, but once there, they were all looking out for themselves.  Culturally, to seek the best seats & “best places” was to engage in a bit of self-promotion, and the promotion of “self” always gets us into trouble.
    • How much of our culture is consumed with self?  Self-improvement, self-esteem, self-promotion, self-obsession!  We’ve even coined a new word that captures our love for ourselves: “selfies.”  What was rare prior to 2010 with the development of the front-facing camera on the iPhone has become commonplace.  A 2015 study calculated that the average Millennial will take over 25,000 selfies over the course of his/her lifetime. (http://www.ibtimes.com/millennials-selfies-young-adults-will-take-more-25000-pictures-themselves-during-2108417)  That’s a lot of self-focus!
    • What does the Bible say about self?  Not much that’s good!  When it comes to self, we have all sinned & fallen short. (Rom 3:23)  Our hearts lie to us, being deceitful and vain. (Jer 17:9)  Our works lie to us, in that the best we can do regarding righteousness is still like defiled rags in comparison with God. (Isa 64:6)  In ourselves, we have nothing to offer. What makes the change is the love of God!  It is Someone else who changes us: the Lord Jesus. 
  • Instead of looking out for themselves, what should the people have done?  Look out for others.  After all, that’s what Jesus did.  Before entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the same sort of self-interest seen at the Pharisee’s house had arisen among Jesus’ disciples, and James & John wanted to have the best seats – not just for that night’s dinner, but for the entirety of the Millennial Kingdom, requesting to sit next to Jesus.  Jesus’ response put everything in perspective.  Mark 10:42–45, "(42) But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (43) Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. (44) And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. (45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”"  We are supposed to seek out someone’s best interest, but it’s not our own; it’s others.  Think of the two greatest commandments: (1) Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, (2) love your neighbor as yourself.  Both commandments are outward focused.  It was seeking out for himself that caused Satan to fall.  It was seeking out for themselves that caused Adam & Eve to fall.  Egotistical self-interest is a sure road to sin.  Sacrificial service is walking in the footsteps of Christ.
  • As for the people at the dinner party, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate His point…

8 “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; 9 and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.

  • Today, formal dinner parties often have assigned seating, with nameplates marking where people are to sit.  Obviously that wasn’t always the case.  People would arrive, choosing their own seat, with the seats nearest the host being the best ones.  We still see this today at events like formal fundraisers, where a line of tables is at the front of the room, and the most important speakers are placed next to the podium.
  • In the parable, Jesus gives the example of a terrible faux-pas.  You walk in, choose the seat right next to the host (thinking you deserve it), only to have the host come to you & ask you to move for someone else.  You’d go from being at the head of the line, to being at the kiddie-table.  It’d be embarrassing and shameful…and it could have all been averted.  Vs. 10…

10 But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  • Instead of going to the highest place, go to the “lowest.”  At that point, the host will see that you’ve been seated incorrectly, and he/she will raise you to the appropriate spot.  You would have erred on the side of caution, and instead of experiencing embarrassment, you’ll be exalted.
  • Question: Is Jesus really giving etiquette lessons?  Or is He instructing ways for people to manipulate their social statuses?  Of course not.  The way the people at the Pharisee’s house had acted for themselves simply provided a setting for Jesus to give a quick lesson about humility.  They had looked out for their own self-interests, without giving any thought to the welfare of others (i.e. the man with dropsy).  Jesus will address the second part of this in a bit, but the first part is what He addresses through the parable.  The parable isn’t about how to get the best dinner seat; it’s about humility.  It’s not about trying to manipulate yourself into exaltation & social-status; it’s about truly putting yourself aside and trusting God to take control.  Think of it: if you put yourself at the best seat, what is it?  Self-promotion.  If you put yourself down in order to call attention to yourself to get the best seat, what is it?  Self-promotion, though indirectly.  Either way it’s works-based self-focus.  The point of the parable to get your focus off of yourself & your efforts, and wait for exaltation to be done to you. 
  • Although this does sometimes take place among men, ultimately it is done by God.  We lower ourselves, acknowledging our sin; He lifts us up, exalting us in Christ.  We humble ourselves; He lifts us higher.  James 4:10, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."  Our example in this?  None other than the Lord Jesus!  Jesus humbled Himself to the lowest possible position, going from the glories of heaven to coming as a slave in the likeness of men.  He humbled Himself to the point of torturous death on the cross, allowing Himself to be treated like a criminal, and taking on all the sin of all the world.  Yet what was the result?  Philippians 2:9–11, "(9) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Exaltation to infinite degree!  No one will ever be exalted higher than Jesus!  Jesus didn’t merely teach the words of this parable; He lived them.
  • So that was part 1 of the problem among the dinner party: getting their focus off themselves.  Part 2 was to get it upon others…
  • Teaching: who to invite to supper (12-14)

12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.

  • At this point, Jesus gives less of a parable & more of a straightforward teaching.  This isn’t an imagined dinner in which a person has already chosen where to sit, and dealt with the host.  Instead, this is something that any one of the people in front of Jesus might eventually do.  At some point, each of them would go on to give their own dinner party, and they would make out their own invitation lists.  This was very practical teaching for them.  That said, that wasn’t the only thing Jesus was teaching, nor even the main point.  Again, Jesus isn’t taking on the role of an ancient Martha Stewart in instructing people on social etiquette & party-planning; He’s teaching people about humility & service.  That sort of context is crucially important, as it guides our interpretation.
  • Remember that we want to interpret the Bible literally, but that doesn’t mean we interpret it woodenly.  A proper literal interpretation is to interpret it according to its grammatical, historical, and literary context; not to simply rip the words from the page & rob them of their meaning.  That’s a bit easier to do with obvious metaphors, such as when Jesus says that He is the door of the sheepfold (Jn 10:7,9).  But even here, there is a context in which Jesus speaks, and it becomes really important.  How do we interpret passages that say we shouldn’t invite our friends & family to supper?  Are we literally to forbid them from coming to parties?  Of course not.  The people Jesus mentions are the primary people most of us would invite, and rightly so.  It’s only natural for us to invite people we love & value most.  So how should we interpret Jesus’ words?  As they are: hyperbole.  A hyperbole is an extreme example used to make a point.  “I told you a million times…  I’m so hungry, I’m starving… I’m buried with work to do…”  Likewise here.  “Do not ask your friends,” etc., is the extreme example.  That is the figure of speech.  He sets up one extreme here, in order to make His point stand out.  Who are the friends & family contrasted with?  The humble…

13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

  • This is especially interesting in light of who Jesus said this to.  Vs. 12: “Then He also said this to him who invited Him…”  The ruler of the Pharisees had invited one man who might have been included in Jesus’ list, but it was apparent that the man with dropsy was only a pawn.  The Pharisee had filled his home with his own friends who were intent on watching Jesus for the slightest mistake, and his only regard for those who were hurting was that of contempt.  For the host, the man with dropsy was an afterthought; Jesus made it clear that his priorities were misplaced.
  • As to the teaching, instead of invited the expected, who should be invited?  The unexpected.  Instead of inviting those who can do something for you in return, invite those who can do nothing.  Seek out the least, the forgotten, the humble.  Seek out those who cannot help themselves, much less you in repayment.  Invite the least, in order that they may be blessed.  After all, that’s what Jesus does with us.  What can we offer Him?  Nothing, except our love & praise.  We certainly can’t give God something He doesn’t already own.  We can’t offer Him a history of our righteous acts, for we have none.  When it comes to eternal things that really matter, we arethe poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.”  And yet Jesus invited us to the marriage supper of the Lamb!  He invited us to the very best place & position of honor – to join Him as His co-heirs for all of eternity.  He reached out to the least, for the least was us.
  • So we are to do likewise.  Instead of self-promotion, we should engage in service.  And even in our service, we’re still to beware of self-promotion and take care to serve those who cannot serve us in return.  Reach out to those who cannot repay.  Give gifts to people who can only receive.  That’s the point that we’re giving like Jesus.  As Christians, we are to be Christ-like.  Jesus gave selflessly to people who didn’t deserve it (us).  Go and do likewise.
    • “But this sounds so radical!”  It is. J  Again, keep in mind that Jesus is still using exaggeration here.  It’s not that every dinner party you throw from now on needs to be filled with total strangers from the hospital ward & the street; that’s not the point.  But we shouldn’t be blind to them, either.  The Pharisee had treated the man with dropsy as a pawn; not a person.  The sick man was a tool to be used against Jesus; not a true guest.  Jesus saw them both as individuals.  The man with dropsy needed healing, so Jesus gave it.  The ruler of the Pharisees needed humbling, so Jesus gave that, too. J  Sometimes we need a bit of radical teaching to help us get our priorities straight.
    • Some of this may be exaggeration, but keep in mind that all exaggeration is based in truth.  What would it look like for you to bless a total stranger who is unable to repay you?  It’d look a lot like Jesus! Maybe you see someone who’s hungry, so you buy him dinner.  Maybe you know of a family who’s struggling, so you bring by some groceries.  Maybe someone on your block has some home repair issues, so you go help them fix it.  Look around.  Maybe you have the chance to be the hands & feet of Jesus to someone.  Go do it.  You’ll find you have no better platform from which to share the gospel.  You will have put actions to your words, and your love will be tangible.  We need more tangible Christians.
  • Keep in mind that although strangers might not be able to repay, God can.  There will be a “resurrection of the just.”  Jesus spent much of Chapter 12 speaking about the future judgment that people will face, and how many folks simply aren’t ready.  Those who reject Jesus as Lord – those who aren’t able to discern the signs of the time & thus repent, putting their faith in Christ will face a final judgment, but that will be different than the one mentioned here.  There are two future resurrections: one for the just & one for the wicked. John 5:28–29, "(28) Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice (29) and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."  The wicked (those who reject Jesus) will be raised at the very end of the Millennial Kingdom to face the final judgment of God at His great white throne. (Rev 20:11-12)  But there is also a resurrection for the just (those who do have faith in Jesus).  It is actually split into two parts: the initial resurrection which takes place at virtually the same moment of the rapture (1 Ths 4:16-17), and what takes place after the Great Tribulation right as the Millennial Kingdom begins. (Rev 20:4-5)  It is with the resurrection of the just that Jesus speaks of the idea of reward.  This is the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10), during which we will be rewarded for the things we did as born-again Christians.  At that point, all of the things we did selflessly for Christ & the glory of God will be “repaid” and rewarded by our Lord & King.
    • The point?  Don’t seek the reward of men; seek the reward of God.  What men give is temporary.  Money is spent, power fades, gifts rot, etc.  Only God gives reward that lasts eternally.  Seek the things of God, and let your contentment be in the reward that He gives you.  The very best reward?  Just as He was to Abraham, those who have saving faith in Christ find Jesus to be our “exceedingly great reward!” (Gen 15:1)

Conclusion:
It was quite a dinner party…and it wasn’t even over!  There was still more teaching to come as people had more to learn.  For now, the lesson was regarding humility.  Faced with a set-up on a Sabbath day, Jesus turned everything around unexpectedly.  He graciously helped the man who could not help himself (on the day that no one expected Jesus to help him).  And Jesus showed how everyone else in the room was supposed to do the same thing.  They were to be humble, and they were to help the humble.

We can get so self-focused & self-obsessed in our culture, and (especially as Christians) we need to beware the danger.  Our Lord didn’t come to exalt Himself; He came to serve us and exalt His Heavenly Father.  In the process, His Father did exalt Him, giving Him the name above every name.  That’s our example – that’s our model.

Some of us have been self-consumed as of late.  We’ve sought out our own interests to the exclusion of others, and we’ve forgotten what it means to serve.  Putting others ahead of ourselves may sound radical, but it’s Biblical.  If more Christians get back to doing what the Bible says to do, we might find that more people are willing to hear what the Bible says for us to tell them about Jesus.  Christians who act like Christ present a powerful testimony.

Others of us need to be reminded of our own humble dependence upon Jesus.  Who are we, but the lame, the poor, the maimed?  Just like the man with dropsy was totally dependent upon Jesus for healing, so are we totally dependent upon Him for salvation.  We cannot help ourselves; it is Jesus who must help us…and that is exactly what He offers to do!

Don’t Ignore the Message!

Posted: June 22, 2017 in Amos, Uncategorized

Amos 3-4, “Don’t Ignore the Message!”

It’s always fun to play “hide & seek” with little kids.  All they’ve got to do is put their hands in front of their eyes, and they think they’re invisible.  “I can’t see you!  I’m hiding!” What’s fun with a 2-3 year old is downright sad with a fully-functioning adult, yet that’s sometimes the way people act with God.  God has made Himself obvious and known, but people put their fingers in their ears & shut their eyes, and claim they can’t hear or see Him.

Obviously, that’s not God’s desire for us.  He doesn’t speak to us in hopes that we won’t hear Him.  When He communicates with us (generally through the pull of the Holy Spirit working on our consciences, or through the clear commands of His written word), He wants us to hear.  He wants us to respond.  He wants us to know that it is our God who speaks, and it is His faithful people who hear Him.

But sometimes we close our ears & eyes, which was exactly the same actions as ancient Israel.  God repeatedly reached out to His nation, and they blinded themselves to Him.  That only works for so long.  Eventually, God would give them something impossible to ignore: the outpouring of His wrath through the Assyrian armies.

Remember who Amos was: a sheepbreeder/rancher living in the sticks south of Bethlehem, sent to prophesy to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel.  This was not a man most people at the time would have thought to be able to offer a word from God, yet that was exactly what he did.  During the days of prosperity for both kingdoms (north/south; Israel/Judah), Amos spoke of a soon judgment – one that would rock the entire region surrounding the Hebrew people.  All of the nations had sinned against God, and all of the nations would be judged, but especially the nation of Israel.  Despite God’s gracious provision for them & His hand of protection through the years, they had persisted in their sin against Him, and He was weighed down by them in burden.  Thus judgment would come to Israel, and it would be swift.

Israel’s judgment was introduced in Chapter 2, and the details of it pick up in Chapter 3.  Israel should have known what was on the way, because God repeatedly warned them (as Chapters 3-4 detail).  Now they would be facing the wrath of God, and they were left without excuse.

Beware that you do not ignore the Lord’s outreach to you – especially in regards to His discipline.  When God speaks, He wants us to pay attention.  The sooner we hear Him, the sooner we will repent…and the sooner we will experience His grace and forgiveness.

Amos 3

  • God speaks (3:1-8)

1 Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying: 2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

  • Although God’s proclamation has the northern tribes of Israel in mind, they aren’t all to whom God is speaking.  This is addressed to the “whole family” that God had redeemed from Egyptian slavery: i.e., Israel & Judah.  Both kingdoms comprised the “children of Israel,” and both were guilty of similar sins.  Northern Israel might be judged first, but Judah would not be far behind.
  • Why would God judge them?  Because God had a special relationship with them.  He knew them in a different way than He had known the other “families of the earth.”  Objection: shouldn’t this be a reason for grace?  Perhaps God looking the other way due to favoritism?  No…quite the opposite!  Israel and Judah had been entrusted with more revelation of God than had any of the Gentiles.  They had been given incredible gifts in their knowledge of the Lord, and this was something for which they were responsible.  With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility.  It’s bad enough for a thief to steal a car; it’s exponentially worse when there’s a baby in the backseat.  All people everywhere will be held accountable for sin, but those who have greater access to God will be held to greater account.  Judgment begins with the house of God, and it is seen right here with Israel.
  • What had gone wrong?  Israel walked away from their Lord.  Vs. 3…

3 Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?

  • This is an excellent principle in the Scripture, though it is often taken out of context.  Contextually, Israel was not in agreement with their covenant God.  They had agreed to obey Him, to worship Him, to serve Him, etc., but they had walked away from Him long ago.  Israel had different priorities than God, with different values.  How could God call them His covenant people if they couldn’t even agree on the basics?  God’s people (including Christians today) are supposed to be unified with God in purpose.  That doesn’t happen when we spend all our efforts seeking our own agendas.  When this goes wrong, the entire relationship falls apart.
    • Again, the original context is to Israel and God, but the application is valid in all kinds of circumstances.  Partners in ministry split ways when there is no more agreement (such as Paul and Barnabas).  Churches split when disunity arises in the midst (many times over trivial things).  Those are sad examples, but this can also be a great guiding principle.  Why should born-again Christians only date other Christians?  Because otherwise they will never be in true agreement.  Harmony & unity is essential for relationship, or else there will be unavoidable problems.
    • That said, don’t forget the most important aspect of all of this!  The most important relationship in which we need agreement is our relationship with God.  That’s exactly what Jesus provides.  He reconciles us with the Father.  Without Jesus, it’s impossible to be in agreement with God – He is the one that makes that agreement.
  • Amos gives the initial question, then follows by several rhetorical ones to make the point.  Were the people agreed with God?  No.  Just like other things were a “no.”

4 Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has caught nothing? 5 Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth, where there is no trap for it? Will a snare spring up from the earth, if it has caught nothing at all?

  • All “no.”  Lions have no reason to roar without prey – birds won’t be ensnared without traps.  These things were obvious.
  • And that was the point.  If these things were so apparent, so was the fact of their broken relationship with God.  How could they claim to be God’s people?  They weren’t in agreement with Him!  Thus, they weren’t walking with Him, and their relationship had been severed.
    • This same sort of disunity is obvious in our culture, too.  At one time, it was commonly assumed that the United States was a Christian nation.  That may be our reputation around the world, but it isn’t the reality, and hasn’t been for a long time.  Our culture has walked away from the Lord, because it no longer agrees with God on His values and priorities.  And just like Israel, we may soon find ourselves square in the sight of God’s judgment.
  • One more question in vs. 6…

6 If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?

  • The previous questions were all answered “no”; this one changes to “yes.”  The shofar trumpet was blown to sound the alarm.  During Israel’s time in the wilderness, the shofar was sounded to gather the people together for various reasons – sometimes even for joyous worship.  The context here shows a much more ominous sounding: the red-alert battle alarm.
  • What do all of these questions have in common?  They are all cause & effect.  A lion captured prey (the cause), so he roars (effect).  A trap is placed for birds (cause), so the bird is caught (effect).  A trumpet sounds an alarm (cause), so the people respond with fear (effect).  What else was cause & effect?  The calamity in Israel.  The calamity was the effect; the Lord was the cause.
  • Would God really bring calamity?  Yes!  The trials He brought upon Israel was His righteous punishment of them.  They needed to wake up & see it.  The things that would soon happen to their nation were not random geo-politics.  This wasn’t simply the rise & fall of another empire.  This was the direct result of the hand of Israel’s covenant God.  They needed to recognize God at work if they were to respond appropriately.  This was why God warned the people so many times through so many prophets.  Vs. 7…

7 Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. 8 A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?

  • Does God always share His plans?  No, but that’s not really the point.  The language here is purposeful exaggeration to underscore the fact that Israel’s judgment had been foretold through the prophets.  Of all the things that God revealed to Israel, He at least revealed this much.  Israel had been clearly warned.
  • What has God NOT shared through the prophets?  The exact date of Jesus’ return, for one thing.  But again, that’s not really the point, not even from the Hebrew text.  The word for “nothing” is a term much more often translated “word,” though it could refer to “word, deed, thing.”  There was a word that God shared through “His servants the prophets”: judgment.  This was something upon which God would act at the right time, and the Israelites would not be able to claim ignorance.
  • It was a powerful word – a mighty word.  It was a lion’s roar. (Just like Amos 1:2).  The warning had gone out – now there needed to be a response.  The prophets had done their duty, being unable to hold back the word of God.  Now it was the people’s turn.  They needed to repent.
    • Have you heard the roar of God?  Have you known the conviction of the Holy Spirit?  Have you been cut to the heart by the Scriptures?  Respond!  Repent – turn back to the Lord, seeking the mercies available to us through Jesus Christ.  Quite often, this is exactly what we don’t want to do, even though it’s exactly what we ought to do.  God mercifully reaches out to us, sometimes with the Father’s hand of discipline, and that requires a response.  Instead, we ignore Him, attempting to drown out His voice with entertainment, addictions, or anything else.  Those things might postpone our guilty consciences for a while, but they will never cleanse them.  What we need is true forgiveness, which is exactly what is promised to us as believers when we confess our sins to Christ Jesus. (1 Jn 1:9)  When God roars, don’t run; repent!
  • Israel’s punishment (3:9-15)

9 “Proclaim in the palaces at Ashdod, And in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say: ‘Assemble on the mountains of Samaria; See great tumults in her midst, And the oppressed within her. 10 For they do not know to do right,’ Says the LORD, ‘Who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.’ ”

  • From the region of the Philistines all the way to Egypt, the Gentiles were invited to come see the sin of Israel/Samaria.  They would serve as witnesses against God’s people.  To be sure, these nations would face their own judgment, but God wanted them to see what He would do among His own people.  God is righteous in His judgment, and no nation on the earth will be able to accuse Him of wrongdoing when they see Him face to face.
  • Question: Why didn’t the Israelites “know to do right”?  Because they had stopped up their ears.  They engaged in the sin they did because that was what they chose.  Their lack of knowledge was their own fault.  Again, God had a special relationship with them.  They had the prophets – they had the Scriptures.  What they didn’t have was an excuse.  They chose to live in willful ignorance.
    • No doubt much could be said about our own culture.  Biblical truth surrounds us, and any person in the United States has incredible access to it.  The reason we don’t do right is because we choose not to do right.  And this is something that will be called to account.

11 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “An adversary shall be all around the land; He shall sap your strength from you, And your palaces shall be plundered.”

  • Judgment was proclaimed.  An enemy would come in military victory.  There’s no doubt this is a reference to the Assyrians, as they would surround cities, besieging them.  Food supplies were cut off, and people would starve to the point that the Assyrians could easily come in & plunder the weakened people.

12 Thus says the LORD: “As a shepherd takes from the mouth of a lion Two legs or a piece of an ear, So shall the children of Israel be taken out Who dwell in Samaria— In the corner of a bed and on the edge of a couch!

  • The picture is rather gruesome: that of a shepherd retrieving pieces of an eaten lamb from the lion which killed it.  Considering Amos’ occupation as a sheepherder, this was something that would have made a big impact upon him.  The practice served a greater purpose than just burying the animal – this was done by shepherds to prove to their masters that they were innocent regarding the animal’s death.  They hadn’t stolen the animal or treated it with neglect; pieces of a torn animal was proof of the work of a predator.  It absolved the shepherd of responsibility.
  • Consider that in terms of God’s relationship with the northern kingdom.  He was innocent!  He had done everything that ought to have been done; it was Israel that had wandered away like a dumb sheep, and thus it would be torn to pieces by the enemies among them.  No hiding place would be sufficient to save them; the Assyrians would hunt them down wherever they could be found.
  • We’ve said it before: our sin is our fault.  The consequences that come as a result cannot be blamed upon God.  When we wander away from Him, we cannot blame Him for what happens afterward. 

13 Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,” Says the Lord GOD, the God of hosts, 14 “That in the day I punish Israel for their transgressions, I will also visit destruction on the altars of Bethel; And the horns of the altar shall be cut off And fall to the ground.

  • Notice how God identifies Himself…almost as if He’s using His full title.  Seems to be the idea of a fully vested legal judgment against “the house of Jacob.”  Israel’s idolatry would be judged & destroyed.
  • There would be no escape from that judgment.  The “horns of the altar” were protrusions coming from each of the corners of the altar.  Sometimes they were a sign of power – other times people took hold of them as a way of claiming sanctuary & asking for refuge/asylum.  By cutting off the horns of the altar, God is removing any possibility of finding refuge from His judgment.
  • Does there ever come a point when it’s too late to seek forgiveness?  From God, no – from our consequences, yes.  As long as our hearts still beat, we still have an opportunity to humble ourselves before God, declare our faith & belief in Him, and seek Him for forgiveness, grace, and healing through Jesus Christ.  That is the glorious good news of the gospel!  But Christians can still face consequences.  We can be truly forgiven by the Lord, but still find ourselves past the point of avoiding the earthly consequences of our sin.  If that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that God loves us any less…it just means we should have sought His face & forgiveness earlier.  That said, His strength is still available to us to help us endure!

15 I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house; The houses of ivory shall perish, And the great houses shall have an end,” Says the LORD.

  • Not only did God promise to take away the power & asylum afforded by Israel, but He also promised to take away their prosperity.  Remember that this word had been given to Amos during the years of Jeroboam II, which were great economic times for the northern kingdom.  He reigned for 41 years, and expanded the borders of his nation. (2 Kings 14:23-25)  He may have been evil in regards to his responsibility to God, but the people would have thought life relatively easy under his leadership.  All of that would come to an end.  The nation would fall on hard times, and not even those with great wealth would find a way to escape.
  • Money never does offer refuge and safety.  We think it does, and we put a great deal of effort trying to build it up.  But at the end of the day, it can be lost just as surely as it was gained.  It doesn’t truly bring safety and security.  Those things can only be found in the Lord.

Amos 4

  • Israel’s sins (4:1-5)

1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, Who oppress the poor, Who crush the needy, Who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!”

  • Who within Israel had been guilty of sin?  Everyone: men & women alike.  Comparing women to cattle isn’t exactly considered complimentary today, and it wasn’t then, either.  The idea is that they were fat with prosperity, looking down on the poor who were in their way.  The irony was that they may have made themselves fat with luxury & hedonism, but they really just fattened themselves up for the slaughter.  Amos the rancher saw the women of Israel exactly as they were: livestock ready for butchering.
  • BTW – although this does indeed seem focused upon the women (the word for “cows” is feminine), this same thing could be said of the entire nation of Israel.  The word translated “husbands” could just as easily be translated “lords/masters,” depending on the context.  It would not be unlikely at all that this word Amos gave regarding cows applied to all the people and not just the women.
  • The bottom line: people didn’t recognize the danger.  When the infamous ship Titanic was struck by an iceberg, most of the people didn’t recognize the danger.  The crew believed the ship was impervious to harm, and reports say that several of the passengers played impromptu football with pieces of ice lying on deck.  The first lifeboat didn’t leave the ship until 45 minutes after the impact, and people had to be persuaded even to board it.  They didn’t realize how bad things were, despite all of the clear evidence around them.  They made no attempt to change their lifestyle of luxury even though they were in imminent danger.  That’s the way the people of Israel were at the time.  It was a life of luxury, and despite the warnings, they didn’t want to change.  They were endangering themselves, and didn’t even know it.
    • How often do people today do the same thing?  Physically, people drink & eat themselves to death, ignoring the danger of blatantly harmful habits.  We see it in smoking and all kinds of illogical things.  Far worse is the spiritual danger people ignore.  They want to “live it up today,” under the guise that nothing happens after we die – despite all of the evidence to contrary.  They live as if they will never be held accountable, even though God clearly reveals Himself to the world. 
    • Just like crew members on the Titanic had to convince people of the danger & to get on the lifeboats, so do we have to convince people of the danger of their sin.  We’ve been sent out into the world with the good news of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ & His gift of eternal life, but they won’t understand how good it is if they never understand the danger they face without it.  Go out – convince!  Help people wake up to their situation, and show them the wonderful solution of God!
  • What was the danger for the Israelites?  The Assyrians, vs. 2…

2 The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness: “Behold, the days shall come upon you When He will take you away with fishhooks, And your posterity with fishhooks. 3 You will go out through broken walls, Each one straight ahead of her, And you will be cast into Harmon,” Says the LORD.

  • God made a firm declaration: the Assyrians were coming for them, and it would not be pleasant the day the Israelites were taken into captivity.  The whole picture of fishhooks is gory, and it’s no exaggeration.  The Assyrians were known to physically maim their captives & insert fishhooks into their mouths as their version of handcuffs.
  • What/where is “Harmon”?  No one knows.  The Hebrew seems likely that this is an actual location, but there’s no historical record of where it might be.  There’s a potential the word could refer to a general place of “casting off,” or even a dung-heap, but it seems more likely this was a city or region of some sort.  Whatever it was, the Israelites wouldn’t be able to hide from their fate – they would be drug out of their corners and forced into slavery.
  • Nothing would save them from this.  Not even their worship.  Vs. 4…

4 “Come to Bethel and transgress, At Gilgal multiply transgression; Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days. 5 Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, Proclaim and announce the freewill offerings; For this you love, You children of Israel!” Says the Lord GOD.

  • At first glance, this seems strange.  After all, this seems to describe exactly the sort of thing God wanted them to do: to worship Him with their tithes, sacrifices, offerings, etc.  Yet God makes it clear that whatever they offered would be “transgression.”  Why?  Because it was mixed, polluted worship.  Even if we grant that these were truly sincere offerings (which is doubtful), they were still offered wrongly.  Notice the locations: Bethel & Gilgal.  Bethel was one of the locations of the golden idols of Jeroboam I, and Gilgal seems to have been in the same vicinity.  Where were sacrifices supposed to be offered?  Jerusalem.  However the northern Israelites worshipped, they brought their worship to the wrong place, ultimately offering them to the wrong gods.  Thus even their attempt at worship was sin.
  • It’s not enough to worship God however we want to.  People will say, “God and I have our own thing going – we’ve got an understanding,” and then go on to describe something anti-biblical.  Whoever that person has an understanding with, it’s not the God of the Bible.  Being that we are the sinners, and He is the one we need to be reconciled with, He is the one who sets the terms of our relationship; not us.  We have to come to Him on His terms, or we cannot come at all. 
    • And God has told us how to come: through the Lord Jesus!  John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."  These are the terms of God!  He has but one: repentance & faith in Jesus.

At this point, God presents a series of judgments and punishments to Israel.  These were His repeated attempts to gain their attention & bring them to repentance, but they were all ignored.  God will show how things got progressively worse, and end each attempt with a common refrain saying how the people had rejected Him.  It’s reminiscent of Romans 1, where Paul describes God’s repeated (and rejected) outreaches to the world, and how step-by-step God gives them over to their depravity.

  • God’s repeated outreach/Israel’s repeated rejection (4:6-13)

6 “Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 7 “I also withheld rain from you, When there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, And where it did not rain the part withered. 8 So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, But they were not satisfied; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD.

  • Punishment #1: famine.  “Cleanness of teeth” means that there was nothing in their teeth to get them dirty.  They would go hungry, according to the covenant promises of Deut 28:17-18.
  • Punishment #2: drought.  Not only would there be a lack of food, but there would be a lack of water.  Rain was to be blessing given to the Israelites for faithfulness to their covenant with God (Deut 28:12), but their disobedience brought its lack.
  • The refrain: “yet you have not returned to Me.”  This is repeated in every example.  They had walked away from God, not being agreed with Him, so God gave them the opportunity to turn back & change direction.  Yet they didn’t do it.  They chose to continue walking in disobedience.  Sin is always a choice, and Israel demonstrated it to the full.

9 “I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, Your vineyards, Your fig trees, And your olive trees, The locust devoured them; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 10 “I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; Your young men I killed with a sword, Along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD.

  • Punishment #3: pestilence.  Food wasn’t lacking in the land solely because of weather issues, but also due to diseased crops and infestations of insects.  Once more, this was one of the prophesied curses for disobedience. (Dt 28:42)
  • Punishment #4: plague/violence. (Perhaps the bubonic plague, due to their rejection of the laws regarding purity & cleanliness.)  For God to send a plague among Israel as He sent among Egypt should have been a truly terrifying thing!  Yet even the plagues of God can be ignored, as Pharaoh demonstrated in the hardness of his heart.  All his advisors told him of how Egypt was destroyed, yet he continued in his rejection of God.  Apparently Israel did the same…as do we.
  • Again, the refrain was their return & repentance.  This was God’s repeated desire for His people.  He took no pleasure in sending punishment after punishment.  He wanted His people to live!  It was them who insisted upon their own destruction.
    • Have you ever worked with someone engaged in self-destructive behavior?  It’s so difficult to open their eyes to what they are doing to themselves.  It seems crazy to us, but this is exactly what we do to ourselves in our sin.  And yes, it’s crazy – it’s illogical.  Why engage in a practice that alienates us from God?  Why do something that is going to cause destruction & harm?  And yet we still choose it.  How desperate we are for the gospel of Christ!  Romans 7:24–25a, “(24) O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (25) I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Hold fast to Jesus!  He is our only hope!

11 “I overthrew some of you, As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, And you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD.

  • Punishment #5: God’s personal involvement.  What exactly happened at this point, we don’t know.  This could refer to any number of military battles that wiped out whole cities in Israel.  Potentially, it could refer to something supernatural, although unrecorded.  Either way, it was clear that God had acted.
  • How far God went to get their attention!  Yet no matter what God did, it wasn’t enough.  That’s not something unique to Israel; that willful blindness is indicative of the entire human race.  The same thing will be seen during the days of the Great Tribulation.  After describing several similar judgments to be put upon the earth during the sounding of the seven trumpets, John writes: Revelation 9:20–21, "(20) But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. (21) And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts."  (And if that weren’t bad enough, almost the exact same thing happens as the bowl judgments are poured out in Revelation 16!)  Hearts hardened to God are hearts that refuse to repent.
    • Beware of hardened hearts!  As has often been said, the more you say “no” to God, the easier it becomes.  Thankfully, the opposite is true as well.

12 “Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” 13 For behold, He who forms mountains, And creates the wind, Who declares to man what his thought is, And makes the morning darkness, Who treads the high places of the earth— The LORD God of hosts is His name.

  • If Israel wouldn’t come to God, God would come near to Israel…and not in a way that they would like!  They had the opportunity to see Him in their own humility of heart; now they would see God in the fullness of His wrath.
  • They had forgotten who they were dealing with.  He is “the LORD God of hosts.”  He is the ever-existent I AM, the commander of all the angelic armies.  He is the all-powerful Creator of mountains & wind.  He is the all-knowing God who discerns the thoughts of men.  He is the ever-present King who has authority on every square inch of the globe, including all the high places of false worship.  He is God.
    • He is fierce & fearsome – but He can still be known as Father!  Israel had the opportunity to know God in His compassionate mercy, but they were blowing it.  Don’t blow it!  We can know Him that way when we know Him through Jesus Christ!

Conclusion:
Don’t ignore the warnings of God!  When He disciplines us, He does it out of love – He does it to get our attention so that we might repent and change.  He wants us to be reconciled to Him, so be reconciled.

That’s not only a message to the unbelieving world; it’s a message for us as well.  Think of it: Israel was disobedient, but they were still God’s people.  God didn’t want to punish them, but He was going to do what was necessary to uphold His judgment & righteousness.  Likewise, we as the Church are God’s people, but that doesn’t mean He’s going to give us free reign to sin as much as we want.  Sometimes we walk in blatant disobedience, and God will do what it takes to get our attention.

Don’t blind your eyes to His outreach – don’t plug your ears to His warnings – don’t harden your heart, and resist the outreach of the Holy Spirit.  Keep your heart humble before God, and respond to His call sooner rather than later.

Whose Will Be Done?

Posted: June 18, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 13:31-35, “Whose Will Be Done?”

It is the most famous prayer in the Bible – the pattern Jesus gave His disciples (and us) regarding how to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Yours is the kingdom & the power & the glory forever, amen.”  It is the third request that stands out in regards to our text: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Why would this need to be prayed?  Is there ever a time when God’s will is not done?  As the sovereign Lord over all the universe, doesn’t He always see His will accomplished?

Yes and no.  Yes, God is absolutely sovereign, and anything that happens within this created universe is something that happened if not by the direct will of God, then certainly allowed by Him permissively.  But it is that idea of permission that makes us pause.  There are certain things that God allows that He does not desire.  He does not desire sin, but allows it in the course of the exercise of our free will.  He does not desire that any would perish, but obviously some do – this is something God permits because He permits humans to have freedom of choice.  Thus although nothing happens apart from God’s sovereignty, some things do happen apart from His express desires.

This is seen in our text as Luke finishes out Chapter 13.  God the Father has a prescribed will & plan for Jesus, and Jesus steadfastly obeys it to the end, despite any difficulties along the way.  God also has a desire to save His people from destruction, but His people desire something else: rebellion.  Their will comes in conflict with God’s will, and in the end, God allows them their choice.

We see the same thing today.  Jesus’ clear invitation is for all of humanity to come to Him & be saved, yet many are unwilling to do so.  He will draw, woo, invite – but He won’t force them.  He will allow them their choice, and that choice lasts into eternity.  Even from the perspective of born-again believers, we are eternally saved (praise God!), but there are times that we still choose rebellion.  God graciously and lovingly warns us away from certain choices, knowing the consequences that will come – but He will still allow us to make them.  At that point, we’re unable to blame God for the results that follow, as much it might cause us pain to endure them.

Contextually, remember that Jesus had pointed out the sin (leaven) of the Pharisees, labeling it as hypocrisy.  That specific criticism was seen in-action, as a woman enslaved by disease was criticized for being healed by Jesus on the Sabbath Day.  The legalistic religious leaders were unable to look past the ends of their own noses to not only have compassion upon those around them, but to discern the Messiah right in front of them.  Earlier, Jesus had warned the people of the reality of a future judgment, and in His teachings regarding the kingdom, let them know they were not ready for that judgment.  Many of them had already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and as a result, they would be left out of God’s kingdom.  The kingdom would come in unexpected ways, doing unexpected things among unexpected people – and many of the Jews themselves would not be there.

No doubt this caused some waves among the people (especially the religious rulers), and they were anxious to see Jesus move along.  They shouldn’t have been too eager.  For some of them, this was their last opportunity to see Jesus for themselves, and possibly their last opportunity to be saved.  They were rejecting Jesus, and thus rejecting the will of God.

Don’t be one who rejects the will of God.  God’s will is that you be saved through Jesus Christ.  May our wills be submitted to His loving will for us.  Don’t be one who rejects Jesus – He is willing to save!

Luke 13:31–35

  • Jesus’ resolve (31-33)

31 On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.”

  • When did it take place? “On that very day,” or according to the oldest manuscripts, “in that same hour.”  Luke doesn’t always give a timeframe for the chronology between events, but he does here – and it is very specific!  The very same hour that Jesus spoke of the need for people to strive to enter through the narrow gate of the kingdom – the moments following Jesus’ clear warning that many of the Jews would be told to depart from the presence of God, even while calling out “Lord, Lord,” – that was the time that “some Pharisees” came forward with this warning.  It seems curious at the least, if not downright suspicious.  Why would the Pharisees bring a warning to Jesus about “Herod”?  Although some Pharisees had a secret faith in Jesus (i.e. Nicodemus), Luke has not shown them.  Most recently, the Pharisees had been shown openly opposing Jesus, and had been condemned by them.  The source of this warning & the timing of this warning calls the whole thing into question.  Was it sincere?  Or was it an attempt at intimidation, or at least a last-ditch effort just to move Jesus out of town?  The things Jesus had been saying had obviously been sobering, and it probably shook some of the locals to their core.  They needed this Guy gone – they couldn’t afford to have Him around!
    • It’s one thing to personally reject Jesus, despite the good news of His offer of salvation.  It’s foolish (to be sure!), but at least it’s your own choice.  It’s another thing to try to cause others to reject Him, to shut up their ears to the gospel.  In essence, that was one of the outcomes of this seeming-warning.  If Jesus was gone, the people in town would no longer hear Him.  Just as Jesus had condemned the religious lawyers of taking away the key of knowledge & standing in the way of those desiring to enter the kingdom (Lk 11:52), so had these Pharisees done in this town.
    • This same sort of thing has been routinely done all around the world, as dominant cultures have persecuted Christians, running them out of town, throwing them in jail, etc., all in their attempts to shut down the spread of the gospel.  And it has begun to spread even in our own culture.  Atheist legal groups actively look for cities in which to bring lawsuits regarding the so-called separation of church & state.  Others try to intimidate Christian business owners to deny Biblical convictions and give their artistic services to anti-Christian or anti-Biblical events.  For these groups, freedom of religion is limited to the practice of worship within the doors of a church building, never to be brought outside to the public square.  It’s no different than the actions of the Pharisees.  It’s an attempt to shut down the message of the gospel & stand in the way of those who would hear the good news of Christ.
    • That’s the reality – but we also have a great example of how to deal with that reality: the resolve of our Lord Jesus, which is demonstrated in a couple of verses.
  • Why would “Herod” be the subject of the warning?  The last reference to Herod was in Chapter 9: Luke 9:7–9, "(7) Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, (8) and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again. (9) Herod said, “John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?” So he sought to see Him."  Herod Antipas had been curious regarding the ministry of Jesus for quite some time, and probably fearful of retribution for the way John the Baptist had been treated.  Later, after Jesus’ arrest, Luke is the only gospel writer to show the interaction between Jesus and Herod, who seemed to delight at having Jesus finally in front of him.  Whatever the motive (which is unsaid), the facts of what was told Jesus were likely true.  It seems probable that Herod did want to kill Jesus.  This was his true desire, or “will” towards the Son of God.  For all of the conflict that will soon be seen between the will of God & the will of the Jews in Jerusalem, the first instance that the word for “will” is used is right here.  Herod’s will was to kill Jesus.
    • Although many people rebel against God’s will, and other people miss God’s will, some people actively wish to overthrow God with their own will.  They hate God, despising the idea that there may come a day that they will be held accountable by an all-perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator.  Their dislike of it doesn’t change the fact.  All people will stand before God and be judged.  All sin will be brought to light, and all sin has the wage of death, leaving each and every man & woman condemned.
    • The good news is that Jesus offers to save us from that judgment!  He has taken our condemnation upon Himself when He died for us at the cross.  The very message that some people try to shut down is the same message that would save them, if they only believed!  (You can believe, too!)
  • If all of this was said to intimidate Jesus, did it work?  Nope.  It’s impossible to throw the Son of God off His game!  Vs. 32…

32 And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’

  • Jesus is unafraid.  “Go, tell that fox…”  The Pharisees throwing around the name of a power-hungry murderous dictator is not enough to intimidate Jesus.  The Son of God is not easily cowed!  In the grand scheme of things, Herod wasn’t even all that important, as Jesus implied by calling him “that fox.”  Foxes are typically thought of as cunning & sly (and Herod certainly fits that description), but among the Hebrews foxes were also thought of as insignificant.  Remember the insult of Tobiah the Ammonite towards Nehemiah as the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt: the wall of the city was so weak that even a little fox running on it would cause it to fall. (Neh 4:3)  Here, it is Herod who is that tiny, insignificant fox.  The Romans may have allowed him the title of “king,” but he was nothing compared to the true King of the Jews!
    • By telling the Pharisees to “go” and tell this to Herod, Jesus seems to imply a bit of collusion between them & Herod.  Were the Pharisees really all that fearful of this king?  Did they really desire Jesus’ safety?  If they really knew Herod’s secret will & desires concerning Jesus, they must have had a way of finding out.  They could go back to their co-conspirator and tell him that their plan had failed.
    • God isn’t going to be intimidated, and He can never be fooled. 
  • Jesus was busy doing the work of God.  He was actively engaged in ministry, and He wasn’t going to stop what He was going to get out of town & go on the lamb (so to speak).  He was casting out “demons” and performing healing “cures” – a combination of which was recently seen with the woman earlier in Chapter 13, whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath day.  She was physically bent over with her disease, and Jesus recognized it as a bond of Satan. (Lk 13:16)  Jesus’ work was necessary in the present time (“today”) and would continue for as long as it was necessary (“tomorrow”).  He was ministering to people both spiritually and physically, and He wouldn’t stop until the time had come for it to be completed.  If Herod or the Pharisees didn’t like it, Jesus didn’t care.  He had a job to do, and He was going to see it done.
    • Christian: praise God for the tenacity of Christ Jesus!  He never stops until a work is complete.  When you put your faith in Jesus, asking Him to forgive you of your sin and to become your Lord & Savior, Jesus began a work in your life right then & there.  When will He stop?  He won’t – not until it is complete.  Philippians 1:6, "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;"  You may consider yourself a work-in-progress (as we all are!), but don’t get discouraged…the work isn’t done.  Some parts are done: you are fully saved, eternally secure, fully made a child of God, etc., but some parts are not yet complete.  We are constantly being transformed from the inside out, continually conformed to the image of Christ, gradually changing our desires from the things of the world to the things of God.  If you are in Christ, Jesus has not only done a work in you; He is doing a work.  And He will see it through!
  • Jesus was focused upon the work of God yet to be done.  Although the near future would have Jesus continuing His spiritual and physical ministry among the people, there was soon coming a day when that time would come to completion, and Jesus would “be perfected.”  The KJV & NKJV do a far better job of translating this than NASB, NIV & others that render this “I will reach My goal.”  Although the idea of completion is accurate, the voice is not.  The Greek verb is clearly in a passive voice, meaning that this is an action performed on the speaker; not by the speaker.  “I am eating” is active; “I am being eaten” is passive.  Big difference!  (Sounds like a Jurassic Park movie! J)  Yes, there was a goal that Jesus was striving towards, but there was more in mind than just a completed schedule.  There was something that would happen to Jesus that would itself be the culmination to His ministry: the resurrection.  It does not seem to be by accident that Jesus relates this to the “third” day, even though the “today and tomorrow” were not literal chronological days.  (After all, Jesus was not ascending to heaven prior to week’s end!)  On the third day following the cross, Jesus was raised from the dead, perfecting the entire work He had eternally planned to accomplish.  This was the perfect, prescribed will of God, and nothing would get in the way of it being done.
    • God’s perfect will is always perfectly accomplished.  One of the things we see in this text is the difference between God’s perfect will & God’s permissive will.  His permissive will is demonstrated in the Jewish rejection of Jesus and the prophets, but His perfect will is seen in Jesus’ journey to the cross & resurrection.  There was not a single obstacle that Satan could throw at Jesus to stop this from being accomplished.  It would happen, and it would happen exactly the way as God desired.  That’s the way things work with God’s perfect will, whereas in His permissive will, people can get in the way (as we’ll see).  The question for us is often: how can we know if something is God’s perfect will or His permissive will?  Apart from the clear direction of Scripture, we can’t – but it does show us a difference.  To declare that all things are God’s perfect prescribed will is to make God the author of evil.  It is to relegate ourselves to determinism & fate, declaring that all of our choices are nothing more than illusion, that we are nothing but pawns in a predetermined universe.
    • Is God sovereign?  Yes!  Without a doubt, yes!  Not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of our heavenly Father. (Mt 10:29)  There is not a moment in eternal past or future that God has not foreseen nor superintended.  His desire is supreme, and what He declares to be done will always be fully accomplished.  But heaven forbid that we would hold up His sovereignty as an excuse for our evil behavior – that we would relieve ourselves of our personal responsibilities, making Him the author of our rebellion.  How careful we need to be not to hold up one aspect of God’s character to the exclusion of all others!
  • Bottom line: Jesus was resolved.  Vs. 33…

33 Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.

  • No matter what difficulties, rejection, and persecution may exist (real or imagined), it would not dissuade Jesus from what He came to do.  He “must journey.”  Why must He?  Because it was part of the eternal plan of God.  Again, this was God’s prescribed, perfect will for Jesus, and Jesus had to do it.  It was necessary for Jesus to accomplish it, and He would see it done. 
  • How long would Jesus need to do it?  As long as it took.  “Today, tomorrow, and the day following.”  Again, He isn’t using literal numbers of days here.  Chronologically speaking, Jesus had not even arrived in Jerusalem in His triumphal entry, and there were at least 7 days that followed that point.  The whole idea Jesus is portraying is that of faithfulness.  Jesus would journey & keep journeying – He would keep on ministering for as long as it took, because that was what the Father had given Him to do.
  • Besides, if the Pharisees were really all that concerned for Jesus’ well-being, they shouldn’t be urging Him on to the most dangerous city on earth for a Jewish prophet: Jerusalem.  In all likelihood, Jesus was in the region of Perea at the time (which was the territory and jurisdiction covered by Herod Antipas), and Jesus was safer there with them than He was in the holy capital city of Judea.  Why keep moving on to Jerusalem?  Herod may have wanted Jesus dead, but so did the Jews!
  • Question: Is Jesus exaggerating?  Had all the prophets of Israel died inside of Jerusalem?  Historically, yes, several prophets died outside the city – Moses being perhaps the most well-known example.  Moses was not allowed even to enter the Promised Land due to his sin of misrepresenting God to the people. (Dt 32:51)  That said, it’s difficult to include prophets like Moses in Jesus’ statement, considering that Moses (and others before him) died before Jerusalem was even in the possession of the Israelites.  It wasn’t until the reign of David that it became the capital city & site of the future temple.  The Bible does not record all of the deaths of all of the prophets, but many of the ones that are recorded after the formation of the kingdom seem to take place within Jerusalem.  (Ezekiel and Daniel obviously died while in captivity.  There’s some evidence that Jeremiah perhaps died in Egypt, though the Bible never directly says so.)  Even so, the city borders of Jerusalem & the sites of physical death of the prophets is not really Jesus’ main point.  The way He speaks of the city here is similar to the way that God speaks of the city throughout many of the OT prophets: as a stand-in for the entire nation of Israel. (Metonymy)  It was the nation that rejected the prophets & that killed them in many horrible ways.  To be a prophet in Israel was virtually as dangerous a profession as being a king!
    • Consider the irony of that for a moment.  Very few of Israel’s prophets were called to serve in other lands (although many had oracles regarding other nations).  However, one was: Jonah.  Jonah was a disobedient prophet sent to whom he (and the rest of the civilized world) considered to be an extremely dangerous people: the Ninevites of Assyria.  These were people so violent that they would shove fishhooks through the cheeks of the people they conquered & use that as their “chain-gang” in carting off their newfound slaves.  (It’s no wonder Jonah didn’t want to go to them, and wanted to see God pour out His judgment & wrath!)  Yet in the grand scheme of things, Jonah was safer among the Ninevites than he was among the Jews.  In contrast, the prophet Jeremiah had an exclusive ministry in Jerusalem and he was repeatedly persecuted and imprisoned, virtually left to die in a pit.  It was more dangerous for a prophet to be among the people of God than the Gentiles!
    • Before we go pointing too many fingers, a similar observation could be made about Evangelical Christianity.  We have a tendency to eat our own.  Men and women of God who speak the truth are often told to shut up & sit down.  We don’t want to hear of sin & the need for repentance.  People come to church to feel good, and a whole bunch of talk regarding sin doesn’t do that.  Are there times to feel good?  Absolutely!  The Christian life is meant to be joyful; not sour.  But we also need the truth, thus we need pastors willing to proclaim the truth, & people in the pews hearing it & doing the same.
  • For all of Israel’s (Jerusalem’s) trouble regarding the prophets, Jesus had something so much better in mind for them!  Vs. 34…
  • Jesus’ desire (34-35)

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!

  • Again, “Jerusalem” is likely standing in for the entire nation of Israel, but there can be no denial of how dangerous this particular city was for the prophets of God.  Men like Isaiah and Zechariah ben Jehoiada (among others) were killed in Jerusalem.  And this didn’t stop with the Old Testament.  Obviously Jesus was killed by the Romans and Jews of Jerusalem.  Stephen was stoned by those in Jerusalem, while the not-yet-converted Saul of Tarsus supervised.  All kinds of prophets and faithful men of God were killed in & around Jerusalem.
  • All of that was representative of Israel’s rejection of God, but it wasn’t representative of God’s will towards Israel.  What had God the Son wanted/desired/willed?  He wanted to “gather [His] children together.”  He wanted to love them, to protect them, to shower them with His compassion and provision.  Jesus used an incredibly unusual picture to help envision this: that of a mother hen sheltering her chicks.  For all of the imagery that could be used, Jesus used a hen.  Not an eagle swooping down upon prey in ferocity, which might be thought of as protection (though more likely as attack) – not even a male animal of any sort, as might be appropriate when speaking of the Father’s love – but a mother hen.  “As a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” so did Jesus want to do with the Jews.  Seeing that most of us weren’t raised around chickens, what does this look like?  One farming website describes it: “Chickens make amazing mothers and although we do not allow breeding at our sanctuaries we have had mothers arrive with babies. Mother hens are so protective of their children that you often cannot see the chicks when you first arrive in the barn. Moms puff up and hide their babies beneath them to ensure that not one single chick is taken from their brood. Even as their children grow, mothers shield them under their wings at night safeguarding them from harm. Chicks cannot get wet and mothers cover them in the rain. … Here, we have witnessed mother hens vocalize to their babies as soon as they spot an aerial predator. They’ve even sounded the alarm on pigeons flying too low over the farm. In response, babies run directly to mother hen for cover.” (https://www.thedodo.com/farm-animals-moms-babies-affection-1132949239.html )  That was the love of Jesus for Jerusalem.  God the Son wanted to love His people like a mother, with that kind of compassion and self-sacrifice.  He wanted to stand in their place for them, protecting them from danger, taking the hit from sin & death in their place.
  • What was the problem?  The Jews ran from Him.  The will of the people conflicted with the will of God.  Jesus said of them: “you were not willing.”  In the Old Testament, God used the imagery of His people finding refuge under His wings (Ps 57:1, 91:4).  That was His will for them, but their will for themselves was different.  Their will was to run the other way, forsaking the loving protection God offered them.  Their freewill was counter to the stated will of God, and God allowed them their choice.  This gets back to the idea of God’s perfect will vs. God’s permissive will.  God’s perfect will was for Jesus to go to the cross, and not a thing in heaven or on earth could stand in His way.  God’s permissive will was for Israel to freely come to God and be loved by Him, but they were unwilling to comply.  We see this same thing in the New Testament.  Without question, we know that it is God’s will for people to be saved: 1 Timothy 2:4, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." – 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."  There is no doubt in either Scripture that God clearly desires people to be saved.  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would much rather the wicked turn from his evil ways & live. (Eze 33:11)  This is God’s will.  Yet we know that not all are saved.  The Bible is clear that many perish outside of salvation.  The whole context this comes out of is one of Jesus telling Jews how many of them will be rejected from the kingdom.  Whenever hell is described, it is always described as populated.  How is this possible, if God’s will is for salvation?  This is the difference between His perfect will & permissive will.  God wants people to be saved, but He also want people to have free choice.  He wants people to freely respond to Him.  He wants to have a loving reconciled relationship with us, and that is not something that can be forced.  He invites us to come to Him in faith, but we need to be willing.
    • Are you willing?  Not everyone is, but some are.  No doubt, some listening to this today are.  But with that willingness needs to be a response.  Someone can say with their lips that they are willing to be saved, but still act opposite of that.  A person whose drowning can cry out for help, reaching forward for a hand to save them, yet still push their rescuer under water in an attempt to save themselves.  For a drowning person to be saved, he/she must surrender to the work of the rescuer.  Guess what?  You’re drowning, and you need to be rescued.  Surrender to the work of Jesus.  Let Him save you – let Him gather you to Himself to be placed under His wings.  Believe upon Him & entrust yourself fully into His hands.  He alone is able to save you; are you willing to trust Him?
  • Before we leave this, note a couple of important theological points:
    • Jesus asserts His eternality.  In the life of this 33 year old preacher & prophet, how many opportunities had He had to reach out to Jerusalem with compassion, longing for them to be gathered to Him?  Probably not too many.  As God the Son, how many had He had?  Too many to count!  Jesus had longed to shower His compassion upon Jerusalem before there even was a Jerusalem!  He had always loved His people, because He always knew them.  Likewise, He has always known us, loved us, and reached out to us.  He has known us since before the foundation of the world, because He has always existed.
    • In the same vein, Jesus asserts His deity – His equality with the Father.  Not only does the Son have the same eternal existence as the Father, but He somehow shares in the identity as the Father.  If Jesus were to point to the vast number of Scriptures showing the love of God for Israel, the Person identified there would most likely be God the Father.  Yet Jesus says that it is He who had longed for Israel’s reconciliation with Him.  How can this be?  It is part of the wonder of the Trinity.  Although Father, Son, and Spirit are separate Persons, God is still simply one God.  Thus when the Father longed for Israel, so did the Son & Spirit.  The Godhead yearned for His people, even when they were unwilling to come.
      • Jesus is God, and Jesus claimed to be God.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • What would be the result of Israel’s/Jerusalem’s rebellion?  Abandonment – destruction.  Vs. 35…

35 See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ ”

  • The Jews had forsaken the protection offered them by God, and they would eventually find themselves forsaken and desolate in return.  When would this happen?  In 70AD when the Romans came in and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple.  The protection offered from Almighty God would be lost when the nation rejected Jesus, and the Jews would once more feel what it was like to have God turn away from them.  Time was getting close to their last chance, and they were blowing it!
  • Although they would be forsaken for a while, they would not be forsaken forever.  God had made a promise that Israel would be His eternal people, and He would ensure it was kept.  Eventually the Israelites would recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and worship Him as the Lord.  The reference is: Psalm 118:25–26, "(25) Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. (26) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD."  This is the psalm famously quoted by the Jews outside of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (the Triumphal Entry).  When they called out “Hosanna,” they summarized the words “Save now.”  And beyond this, the actual words of Psalm 118 were quoted by Jesus’ disciples as they descended from the Mount of Olives to the walls of Jerusalem itself. (Lk 19:37-38)  Was that the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy?  Perhaps to an extent, but not fully.  Matthew places this same prophecy after Jesus’ arrival in the city (Mt 23:38-39), showing that it was not yet fulfilled.  Whether Luke quotes the exact same saying in a different chronology, or if this was something Jesus said twice is debated by scholars, but it’s clear a future fulfillment is in store.  At most, it can be said it was partially fulfilled on Palm Sunday – the true fulfillment will take place on a day when the Jerusalemites both recognize and worship Jesus as the true God of Israel.
    • Will it happen?  Yes!  When?  Prior to Jesus’ 2nd Coming.  The Bible tells us that there is coming a day, after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, that the blinders will come off of the eyes of the Jews and they will finally see Jesus as the Messiah.  In that day, all Israel will be saved. (Rom 11:25-26)  Those Jews will serve as a witness to the rest of the world that Jesus is the Christ, and people from each of the 12 tribes will be sealed for protection during the years of the Great Tribulation. (Rev 7:3-8)  Through their ministry, countless multitudes will hear the gospel and be saved. (Rev 7:14)  It may seem impossible today, but it is absolutely certain in the plan of God.  It is a wonderful marriage of the perfect & permissive will of God concerning Israel!

Conclusion:
The very thing that will one day be recognized by all of Israel will eventually be recognized by all the world: Jesus is Lord!  Every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess who He is, all to the glory of God the Father.  This is the perfect will of God.

Much of what happens until that point is in His permissive will.  He gives people the freedom to choose to come to Him, but many are unwilling.  Maybe they are like the Pharisees and Herod, actively working against God.  Maybe they are like the Jews of ancient Jerusalem who refused God.  Either way, that is their choice, and it is what God allows…even when it is not what God desires.

God desires us to be saved!  He loves us, has compassion upon us, wants to protect us, wants to shelter and deliver us – but He will not force His love upon us.  That is something to which we must willingly respond.  Will you?  Don’t be one who rejects the love of Jesus!  His will is that you be saved – allow your will to be submitted to His will, and receive His salvation. 

What if you’re already saved?  Praise God!  But we can still have trouble submitting to the will of God for our lives.  Maybe we start second-guessing God’s perfect will from His permissive will – maybe we start giving ourselves excuses for our actions and consequences – maybe we even start blaming God for the bad things happening to us.  Stop.  There are some things we can clearly know from the pages of Scripture, and some things we cannot.  In the things in which we cannot be certain about God’s perfect will, there’s usually zero doubt in regards to His permissive will.  We know that God’s will for us is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We know God’s will for us to preach the gospel and make disciples.  We know God’s will for us is to be faithful in obedience, to pray & worship, to be filled with the Spirit, and more.  Follow through on what you know, leaving the results up to God.  We can be sure that He will do what needs to be done.  Trust His ultimate plans, and continue to entrust yourself to Him & His love.

Are You In?

Posted: June 11, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 13:18-30, “Are You In?”

“Are you in or out?”  I remember being asked this by my grandmother many times as I stood in the doorway with the door wide-open.  Are you coming in, or going out?  Eventually a choice needs to be made, and it might as well be made when the A/C isn’t running.

Sometimes, the question isn’t so much when you’re in or out, but if you’re in or out.  That was the issue at hand with Jesus and the people He spoke with on His way to Jerusalem.  He had taught about the nature of the kingdom & its growth, which naturally caused at least one person to wonder how many people might be included in it.  Jesus redirected the question a bit: it wasn’t about others; it was about the individual.  Why worry about someone else being included in the kingdom if you yourself aren’t in it?  It’s like the pre-flight presentation given by every flight attendant: before you assist someone else with their oxygen mask, ensure yours is secure first.  Before you get excited (for good or bad) about someone else’s inclusion in the kingdom, ensure you yourself have a place in it.

Contextually, Luke had shown Jesus giving instructions to people to prepare themselves for their final judgment.  The Pharisees (and those like them) weren’t ready, because they were hypocrites.  Jesus warned people away from their infectious leaven, telling His listeners that they needed to have a righteous fear of God, and a fervent trust in God.  It was when people were humbly submitted to God in faith that they were truly prepared to see Him when the time came.  Yet many weren’t ready.  They were neither ready for the final judgment, nor were they ready for their own impending death.  Anyone could see God at any time, and they were not prepared.

This was exemplified through the hypocrisy of yet one more religious ruler.  Jesus had been teaching in the synagogue one Saturday morning, and a woman appeared who was in dire need of healing, having a terrible condition that left her physically bent in half, bound by the devil.  Jesus graciously released her from her bondage, with the synagogue ruler objecting that it took place on the Sabbath day.  This man was willing to let his sister-in-the-faith suffer, treating her worse than livestock, all to satisfy his own legalistic sensibilities & false piety.  Jesus openly confronted the man on his hypocrisy, and the crowd rejoiced in the glorious things of God.

That’s where Luke’s narrative picks up, with two parables regarding the growth of God’s kingdom, followed by an illustration showing who’s included in that growth.  How did this all fit together?  People like the Pharisees and the synagogue ruler thought they knew what the kingdom of God was all about, and believed they would be first through the gate.  In reality, they didn’t have a clue how it would come, nor was their own inclusion within it assured.  What they thought they knew, they didn’t.  They didn’t know if they were in or if they were out.

Are you included in the kingdom?  Strive to enter!

Luke 13:18–30

  • Parable of the mustard seed (18-19)

18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?

  • First things first: how do we know this is a parable?  There are times the Biblical writers make it clear, as Luke did earlier regarding the fig tree, when he specifically said that Jesus spoke a “parable.” (13:6)  Other times, the specific label is not used, but certain features are seen.  One of these features is Jesus’ comparisons for the kingdom of God.  This is most often seen in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus gives many comparisons for the kingdom of heaven (7 times in Matthew 13 alone!).  In Luke, the comparison is found only in these two examples, but it is still a common mark of a parable.  In fact, comparison of a real thing (be it the kingdom or not) to a fictional example is enough to have us examine the teaching as a parable.  In a proper literal interpretation, it’s important to rightly identify the genre, or we’ll miss the point entirely.
  • The realization that this is a parable helps guard us from error, which is all too easy to fall into – even for otherwise excellent Bible teachers.  Remember that in a parable, we are to look for the singular main point.  What is the main idea presented by Jesus, within the context He’s presenting it?  The details of the parables are there for illustration & fullness; they aren’t there for us to press for hidden messages.  Unless Jesus specifically gives us an interpretation otherwise, we’re not to assign symbolic meaning to every minor detail.  That transforms a parable into an allegory, and that can drastically affect the interpretation.  Basically, we want to ensure that we’re hearing the parable as Jesus’ original listeners would have heard the parable, paying attention to the main point that He was communicating to them.
    • Why make such a big deal out of this?  Because the particular parables given here have been the source of a lot of controversy from some well-meaning Bible interpreters.  Details are picked up & pointed out & made into a much bigger deal than what the context shows they ought to be – and the lesson that gets taught is likely the opposite of what Jesus originally intended.  As with all Scripture, we need to let Scripture be the final judge.  It doesn’t matter what our favorite Bible teacher has taught on the subject, if it doesn’t match up with the contextual, natural reading of the text.  We need to be Bereans, faithfully seeing the Scripture for ourselves & judge the teaching we receive accordingly.  (That’s just as true with me, as it is for anyone else!)
  • Thus the first thing we notice about this parable is that it is a comparison regarding “the kingdom of God.”  It’s not the church; it’s the kingdom.  Certainly the church is included in the kingdom, but the kingdom of God (as will be fully revealed in the Millennium and beyond) is a whole lot bigger than the New Testament church.  The Jews listening to Jesus would have immediately related to ideas regarding the kingdom, for it was the kingdom that they themselves were expecting to be restored.  They knew the promises God made to David, and they knew a Messiah would come to rule not only over Jerusalem & Israel, but that His rule would expand over the entire world.  They had a solid expectation for a tangible kingdom – one which was reinforced every time they thought of the one they called the Son of Man.  Daniel 7:13–14, "(13) “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. (14) Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed."  Of course, “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself, and one which was never far from the mind of those who listened to Him.  Every time He spoke, people wondered about this prophecy of Daniel.  Was this the time the kingdom was to come?  Was this the moment the glory of God would be revealed in power?  So Jesus gives them a parable about the kingdom.  Did they want to know about the kingdom?  He’d tell them what it was like…

19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

  • There are probably a lot of images that come to mind regarding Daniel’s prophecy.  It’s doubtful too many of them look like a mustard seed. Mustard kernels are tiny, insignificant things.  How can something so small be compared to the kingdom of God?  Take notice of the growth.  It may start small, but it grows into something quite large.  The black mustard (which is/was common to Israel) can grow up to 8 feet high.  That’s quite a plant from a tiny seed!
  • Objection: “That’s not a tree!”  No – it’s not a tree like we think of as an oak or pine.  It’s not even a cedar which would have been common in nearby Lebanon.  But don’t get too hung up on the English word “tree.”  The Greek word translated “tree” can refer to any large, woody plant – which is a suitable description of a black mustard.  Objection #2: “But what about the birds nesting in its branches?”  Although the Greek preposition εν is often translated “in,” it can also be rendered “by, with, among,” and many other ways, depending on the context.  It’s not difficult to envision birds nesting in the recesses of a large mustard plant.  Nests don’t need to be high in the air to be effective.  That said, Jesus does imply extraordinary growth.  This isn’t just any mustard plant; this is a very large mustard – one that would attract the attention of birds to come and find protection for their homes.
  • All of that is nice imagery, but so what?  What does any of this have to do with the kingdom of God?  This is where the idea of a parable becomes so important.  Some look at this & say, “Yes, the seed became a large plant, but notice the birds!  Birds are symbols of unclean things & tools of Satan, so this shows the infiltration of unbelievers within the church.”  The problem is, birds aren’t the main point.  Jesus didn’t liken the kingdom to the birds; He likened it to the seed.  The birds are there to illustrate how big the seed became as a plant.  Besides, birds aren’t always bad in the Scriptures.  Certain birds were allowed to be used in sacrifices, by those who weren’t able to afford larger animals like bulls & goats.  The Holy Spirit even took on the form of a dove (a bird!) when He appeared at Jesus’ baptism.  Again, birds aren’t the main point; the seed is.
  • Others look at this & say, “This shows the growth of the church, how it gets so big that it goes throughout the world!”  While that might get closer to the main point, we need to remember that the parable is about the kingdom; not the church.  Again, the church is included in the kingdom & is the current expression of the kingdom – but it isn’t the fullness of the kingdom.  The kingdom is “now,” but it is also “not yet.”  There is a day coming when the kingdom really will be known all over the world, and all the nations of the world will recognize Jesus as King.  Every knee will bow & every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord.
  • So what’s left?  The plainest interpretation that sticks to the main point of the parable is: the kingdom will be glorious, but it won’t appear to start that way.  Again, the main comparison is that to a “seed.”  It’s not even the tree, but the seed.  That’s how the kingdom begins.  It may start small, but it will grow!  Thus, the kingdom won’t come as expected.  The Jews expected the Son of Man among clouds of glory – but that’s not what was coming, at least not yet.  The Jews expected Jesus’ 2nd Coming, but they weren’t prepared for His 1st.  They needed to receive Him in His humility before they would be received by Him in His glory.  They needed receive Jesus on His terms; not theirs.
    • That’s a problem many people share with the Jews of Jesus’ day.  They want God on their terms; not His.  They want God to fix their problems – they want God to give them their desires – they want God to give them their victories.  Basically, they want the 2nd coming without the 1st.  They want the promises of heaven without the realization of its cost.  What’s the price?  The cross.  Sinful people don’t go to heaven, and means we’ve got a big problem!  We’re all sinners!  Our sin needs to be dealt with, and that’s what Jesus does at the cross.  He dealt with all our greed, pride, anger, lusts, and other rebellions against God when He died in our place – and that was the price that needed to be paid for us to experience all of the promises God has to offer.  Without the 1st Coming of Jesus, we have nothing to look forward to at His 2nd Coming…only judgment.  It’s the 1st Coming that makes the 2nd Coming possible for us to enjoy.  So we have to receive Jesus on His terms as He came.  We have to receive His humble service & sacrifice on our behalf – then (and only then) will we know His glories.
  • Parable of the leaven (20-21)

20 And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

  • Once again, Jesus gives a comparison with the kingdom of God, and once again the picture is unexpected.  “Leaven” is yeast – not exactly something that a person would normally associate with the kingdom.  In this particular case, it was probably a large amount, for it needed to be enough to work its way through “three measures of meal.”  That’s about 47 pounds of flour, enough to feed 100 people.  Either the woman in the parable was extraordinarily hungry, or she was preparing a feast!
  • But this idea of leaven is truly unusual.  The last time Luke records Jesus speaking of leaven was in a bad sense, when Jesus told the people “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (12:1)  In fact, that instance & here in 13:21 are the only occasions Luke uses the term.  Matthew provides the same parable & warning, and Mark provides only the warning, so they don’t broaden our understanding.  Paul uses it as an example of sin among the Corinthians & Galatians (1 Cor 5:6-8, Gal 5:9).  The Hebrew Bible primarily uses leaven in a bad sense, for it was something that needed to be removed for the Passover, and wasn’t to be offered with most of the normal sacrifices.  For this reason, many Bible teachers believe Jesus to be warning His listeners about the future corruption that would eventually infiltrate the church.  Historically speaking, there’s no doubt the church did experience corruption, both doctrinally & morally.  To this day, the church still struggles against false teaching & sinful practices among those who claim the name of Jesus.
  • Yet – is that what Jesus was teaching here?  Is that how His original listeners would have understood Him?  Probably not.  Yes, leaven was typically used in a bad sense, but it was still used among the Hebrews in their normal day-to-day cooking.  It wasn’t inherently evil, as if it should be forbidden from their kitchens 365 days a year.  Additionally, the Old Testament law actually had occasional use for leaven.  The peace offerings were made with both unleavened and leavened bread. (Lev 7:12-13)  The Feast of Weeks was celebrated with leavened bread. (Lev 23:17)  Challah bread seems to go back 4000 years, and it most certainly has yeast in it.  The point?  We don’t want to get stuck on the symbol before we look at the text.  The order of inductive Bible study is: (1) observation, (2) interpretation, (3) application.  To read this parable & immediately jump to the symbolic meaning behind leaven is to skip the step of observation altogether.  We have to first look what the text says before we can determine what it means.  What does it say?  (1) It is the kingdom of God which is likened unto leaven.  That itself makes the idea of leaven = sin unlikely!  (2) This leaven was able to affect a massive amount of meal.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  A little sin can have a large effect, but so can a little godliness.  Context has to determine the meaning.  And what’s the context?  There’s already been one parable about the unexpectedness of the kingdom – here, the kingdom is doing something else unexpected: changing something from the inside-out.  Put it all together, and what do we find – what’s the main point?  The kingdom of God brings massive internal change.  The true kingdom of God transforms all whom it touches.
  • This isn’t about some sort of world-wide revival, as if every single person in the world will come to faith in Christ before He returns in glory (as some Christians scholars are prone to believe) – neither is it about sin that exists within the church today, which (although true) is not equivalent to God’s own kingdom.  This is about God’s ultimate plan for the kingdom, just like the first parable.  It comes in unexpected ways, and it does unexpected things.  And one day all the earth will see it for what it is!
  • There’s a natural follow-up question to all of this, and it’s what Jesus encounters next…
  • The exclusive kingdom (22-30)

22 And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.

  • We’re not told a timeframe here.  Luke doesn’t give a picture of one conversation flowing into another.  Rather, he’s giving snapshots in time, arranged thematically for the point of his gospel.  What came earlier was representative of the things Jesus was teaching while on His way to Jerusalem, and the conversation that follows arose out of that teaching.
  • That said, note something important: Jesus is still “journeying toward Jerusalem.”  Luke’s narrative takes quite a while to get there, but he shows that Jesus is still focused upon His mission.  Jesus is still headed to the cross, and although Luke’s narration may be a bit circuitous, Jesus was not.  He was laser-focused on what way ahead, determined to follow through on the will of God for Him.

23 Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”…

  • There’s the rub.  If the kingdom of God is going to be so unexpected in so many ways, who is going to be saved?  This particular man understood that not everyone is going to be saved, and he wonders how many (or few) would there be?  Quite possibly, there’s a bit of hesitancy in the idea that Gentiles might be included.  If all the birds of the air make their nests in the branches of the mustard plant, where might these birds come from?  Who’s going to be there that some of the Jews might not like?
    • That’s not unlike what many people today think.  We’ll look at a certain person dressed a certain way & think, “There’s no way that person is a Christian!”  We might be surprised!  Heaven is likely to be full of all kinds of people who others never expected to be there – and likewise, hell is going to be full of people who never imagined themselves being there.  A person doesn’t have to meet our expectations for them to go to heaven – they simply need to belong to Jesus Christ, having believed upon Him as Lord & Savior.  After all, He saved us!  If He did it with us, why not others?
  • There’s one glaring problem with the man’s question: it was all about others.  He simply assumes he’s one of the few.  Jesus points out to him (and all those listening) that he first needed to concern himself with his own salvation…

And He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

  • The key word here is “strive.”  The Greek word is the same from which we get our word “agonize.” (ἀγωνίζομαι)  Jesus is telling this man to fight – to struggle – to intensely do whatever is necessary to enter through what He called “the narrow gate.”  This isn’t something to take lightly – it wasn’t something to let roll by.  Salvation isn’t something received by osmosis.  We’re not included in the kingdom of God by default.  That was the idea that many of the Jews had.  They figured that because they were Jews, they were bound for the kingdom.  They put their hopes in the fact that they had been born as children of Abraham.  Yet John the Baptist made it clear: God could raise up children of Abraham from the rocks! (Lk 3:8)  Their heritage was not enough to save them.  They needed to actively ensure they were able to enter the kingdom of God in eternity.
    • So many people share this same view!  They believe that because they were raised in a church that they’re already saved.  They think because they prayed a prayer as a child that they’re bound for heaven.  Sure, they’ve given no thought to Jesus in the years following & they live like they’ve never heard the gospel, but because they identify themselves as “Christian,” they believe they’re saved.  They are deceived.  It’s not a matter of how you choose to identify yourself; it’s whether or not you belong to Jesus by faith.  It’s not a passive, indifferent viewpoint of eternal things; it’s an active striving – a grabbing hold of Jesus, refusing to let go.
    • Question: is Jesus telling the man (and us) to work for our salvation?  Is He saying there’s something we must do in order to be saved?  To the first question, no – to the second question, yes…at least, in a manner of speaking.  No – we don’t work for our salvation.  The New Testament never once teaches anything besides a salvation by grace.  If Jesus doesn’t save us, we’re not saved…period.  But yes – there is something we must do in order to be saved: we need to actively believe upon Christ.  Belief isn’t a work, but it is intentional.  It’s something in which we exercise our will.  We have to choose to respond to the work of Christ, or we do not receive His grace.  Thus, we are to strive.
  • Strive to enter what?  “The narrow gate.”  Like the parables of the mustard seed & leaven, Jesus has used the picture of the narrow gate before – this time, in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 7:13–14, "(13) “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. (14) Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."  The context is different, as is the comparison – but the idea of a restricted entrance remains the same.  Jesus (like any teacher) used similar illustrations and analogies from time to time, which means we have to take each teaching in its individual context.  In Luke’s version, there’s no mention of a wide gate, and the emphasis is on those who can’t enter, versus the few who can.  Why is that?  Because at this point in Jesus’ ministry, He’s speaking to different people.  He’s facing rejection from the religious & political leaders, as will be explicitly seen at the end of Chapter 13.  Many people all over the land have chosen to reject Him, and their window of opportunity is closing.  Soon, Jesus will go to the cross, and it will be too late for them to hear Him in person, and for many, it will be too late for them to be saved.  They need to be warned of what it is they’re about to miss.  That’s what Jesus goes on to illustrate…

25 When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’

  • Why would someone rise up to shut a door?  We have to put ourselves in the ancient culture, where a wealthy man with a large home would have a gate leading into his courtyard.  If he threw a banquet, he’d leave the gate open long enough for his guests to arrive, then shutting it at some point to attend to the party.  Even on a normal day-to-day occasion, there would come some point in the evening when the gate was locked & no one else was allowed inside.
  • So what happens when someone arrives late?  They might knock at the door, but the homeowner isn’t going to open.  No matter how much they plead with him, the door is going to remain locked.  Why?  Because the homeowner doesn’t know the people outside.  This is true in our culture today.  If someone rings your doorbell late at night, you might peek through the window to see who they are.  If you know them, you’ll open – if you don’t, you won’t.  (And you might even call the police!)
  • So far, so good.  But what if the people did know the homeowner?  What then?  That was the objection Jesus showed them raising…

26 then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ 27 But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’

  • The people outside might have known the homeowner, but the homeowner didn’t know them.  At least, the people on the outside thought they knew the homeowner, but they obviously didn’t.  They had been around him at various times – they had been in his presence at meals & teachings – but they didn’t have any relationship with him.  They didn’t know him in such a way where he knew them as well.  Thus he told them to depart.
  • This sounds very much like another teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:21–23, "(21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’"  Just as in the illustration in Luke 13, there are people who call Jesus “Lord,” and claim to do things with or around Him – but Jesus does not know them as His own, and in fact know them to be lawless workers of iniquity.
  • Is this harsh?  Maybe, but it’s the truth!  Being around Jesus isn’t the same thing as knowing Jesus.  Doing Christian activities (even miracles!) isn’t the same thing as being a Christian.  Not a single person will be in heaven based on the number of times he/she walked through the doors of a church building, or how many hours they listened to Christian music, or how many Christian friends they may have had.  Praise God for all those things, but they don’t make anyone a Christian believer.  None of those things are striving to enter the narrow gate, doing whatever is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.  That might be stuff people do around Jesus, but it’s not the same as actually knowing Jesus.
    • Try treating any other relationship this way, and see how far it gets you.  The way some people treat their so-called Christianity, it would be as if you wake up in the morning, say hello to a picture of your spouse, have your breakfast by yourself, tell your friends what a great spouse you have, listen to love songs on the radio, and then generally go about your day…all the while never once actually engaging with the person you married.  It would be ridiculous, and your spouse would be right to wonder if you even knew who they were.  Worse yet, imagine doing all of that while actively engaging in activities that were the opposite of what your spouse enjoyed.  You did the things that he/she hated.  They would wonder if they ever really knew you at all.
    • That’s basically the picture here.  Does the Almighty God know every single person in the world?  Of course.  He has knit together every human baby in the womb of his/her mother.  He knows the numbers of hairs on our head – God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves.  But in terms of a relationship with Him, He does not know everyone as His own.  He does not recognize everyone as belonging to Him.  To those who arrive at the door late, knocking on the outside pleading with the homeowner to let them in, the homeowner can rightly say: “I don’t know you.  If you truly knew me, you would have come to me when the time was right for you to arrive.  You didn’t care enough about me to come when the invitation was open, so now it’s too late.”  The gospel of Jesus is freely offered to all.  His grace is handed to us as a free gift…but there will come a point that it is too late to receive it.  The key is to respond before it’s too late.

28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.

  • Did you notice Jesus’ consistent use of the 2nd person throughout the illustration?  This wasn’t like a parable where everything was fictional; Jesus put His listeners directly into this story.  Meaning, it wasn’t all fiction.  It was a symbolic way of making His point, but there is a literal truth to it: some of the people listening to Jesus that day would not be entering the kingdom.  They will want to enter, but they won’t be allowed inside.  In fact, they will be “thrust out” & told to “depart.”  This was a fate that many of the Jews would face, even as they saw the patriarchs & the prophets on the inside.  Remember, their hope was placed in the fact that they had been born-Jews.  They were the recipients of the national covenants that God made with Israel, and they had been raised reading the prophets, psalms, and the rest of what we call the Old Testament.  This was their heritage – this was who they were.  Yet even with all of this, they would still be cast out to the place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  They wouldn’t be allowed into the kingdom, but would instead be left in a place of grief and torment.
  • More than that – not only would the ones who expected to be let into the kingdom be the ones cast out, there would be others included in the kingdom that they never expected to be there in the first place…

29 They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”

  • From all over the world, people will come to the kingdom of God, and be let in.  They will have striven to enter, and they will be known by Jesus (the ultimate Master of the house).  They will arrive from every nation & culture – even the ones that were despised from the Jews in Judea at the time.  Although Jesus doesn’t use the word, He strongly implies that Gentiles will arrive in the kingdom before many of the Jews.  These were the ones the Jews would have considered “last,” and yet they would be “first”…with the opposite being true for themselves!  Imagine being a 1st century Jew listening to Jesus at the time, hearing Him say that Gentiles will sit in the kingdom of God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but you won’t.  That would have been scandalous – shocking!  And that was the point.  Jesus hoped to shock them into reality, like someone having a bucket of cold water being dumped on his/her head.  They needed to wake up and realize their danger – wake up & understand the urgency of the moment.  They had an opportunity right now to be saved – they had an opportunity to enter the kingdom…they dare not waste it!

Conclusion:
Neither should we!  No human being is guaranteed of entering the kingdom of God, apart from one way: active faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  If you don’t know that you belong to Him – if you don’t have the assurance that you are known by Him – then you don’t have any assurance at all.  Strive to enter the narrow gate of salvation!  Agonize & do what is necessary to ensure that you will be included in the kingdom of God!  If you aren’t 100% certain of your eternity, then make sure you are by the time you get up from your chair today.  Do what needs to be done in your heart to commit your life to Jesus Christ, intentionally & actively putting your faith & trust in Him for salvation.  Turn away from your past, and place yourself in Jesus’ hands, knowing that He is the God who died for you, who rose from the grave, and who is the only one who saves.

Are you in the kingdom?  It comes in unexpected ways, it does unexpected things, and it includes unexpected people.  It didn’t arrive in clouds of glory, but in the grandest display of humility when Jesus died upon the cross.  It did not impose itself upon the world, but it transforms believers one at a time, and will eventually spread over the entire planet during the Millennium.  It does not include everyone who expects to be included, but only those who are known by Jesus as His own.  We’ll likely be surprised by some of the people we’ll see in the kingdom…and no doubt they will be just as surprised to see us!

For those who aren’t sure of their inclusion, the biggest issue for you is to be sure.  You can be sure.  In his first epistle, the apostle John gave the purpose for his letter: 1 John 5:13, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."  You can know that you have eternal life.  You can be sure…all you need to do is actively, knowingly believe upon Jesus.  Do it.

What if you already believe?  Take it on faith, but don’t take it for granted.  What you and I have been promised is a glorious gift!  It’s something that should be treasured & treated appropriately.  And the best part about this treasure is that’s it’s one that can be shared.  We have striven to ensure we’ve entered the kingdom – now we strive to help others do the same.  In fact, Paul used this same Greek word with Timothy when he wrote to him to “fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Tim 6:12)  Timothy needed to stay firm to his calling, and continue to proclaim the good news of Jesus.  Likewise with us.  You cannot decide for anyone else whether or not they receive Christ and enter His kingdom – but you can decide whether or not you’ll tell someone about Christ.  Tell them!  Tell them while they still have an opportunity to believe, because it won’t last forever.

The Future’s So Bright…

Posted: June 10, 2017 in Joel, Uncategorized

Joel 2:18 – 3:21, “The Future’s So Bright…”

“The future’s so bright…I gotta wear shades.”  That’s the way some of the promises of the Bible can seem.  Things may look dark now, but the future looks to be amazingly awesome!  It’s so bright, we’ve got to wear shades.

That’s certainly the case for Christians, as we look forward to the incredible promises we have in Christ Jesus.  He’s promised to come and receive us to Himself, in a home that He’s been building for the past 2000 years.  He’s made us His co-heirs in His eternal inheritance, we’ve been promised crowns of glory, we’ve been given new names & new natures, and (best of all) we will be united with Jesus in a marriage relationship so incredible that human marriage provides merely shadows and glimpses of what is yet to come.  The Church has awesome promises in the future!

That’s the Church, but what about Israel?  Do they have anything to which they can look forward?  Yes!  The Bible is chock-full of promises of future blessings for Israel, many of which have some sort of correlation to the blessings that will be experienced by the Church.  But never let it be said that Israel is forgotten by God, or replaced in His eyes!  There is a definite future for Israel, and it is wonderful.

Some of those promises are in view in the latter half of the book of Joel.  The first half looked at judgment; the second looks at blessing.  The first half looked at discipline; the second half looks at restoration.

The book began abruptly, without any note of the time-period or background of the prophet.  Joel simply begins speaking, and he sounds a warning to anyone in Judah who would hear him.  There had been a terrible locust swarm in the land, one that left the crops and economy in ruins.  Joel proclaimed that as bad as it was, it was merely a foretaste of what would happen when a future army swept across the countryside, destroying everything in its path.  Scholars debate the identity of this army (with it depending on when Joel lived & wrote), but it is clear that there are at least two armies in view.  There is the one that was about to overwhelm Judah in the present day, and there was another that was expected to come in during the fateful Day of the Lord in the end-times.  Joel foresaw a time when Jerusalem would be overrun, with soldiers running over the walls like a swarm of insects, all brought in by the Lord as His instrument of judgment and wrath.  As Joel wrote in 2:11, that day would be “great and very terrible; who can endure it?”

In light of these two expressions of certain judgment, the call went out for God’s people to repent.  They weren’t to simply go through the motions, doing ritualistic practices; they were to turn to God with all their heart, trusting in the goodness & graciousness of God.  All the people from all over the land were to gather in unified purpose to seek the Lord, knowing that even the worst judgment might be something from which God might relent.

It’s at this point in the prophecy that things start to change.  What would be the response to a repentant people?  What might the Jews expect from their gracious God?  Glorious results!  The promise God gives them is one of incredible grace.  God knew His people would be rebellious and would face certain doom in many ways – but He also knew that eventually they would repent, and God promised to pour out His salvation in abundance.  The blessings of God flow freely upon the people of God, when they are humble & repentant – and that is exactly what is promised to Israel.

God was going to bless them, and the blessings given unto them would overflow to the rest of the world.  Their future was bright…bright, indeed!

Joel 2:18–32

  • Healing: God restores His people (2:18-27)

18 Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And pity His people. 19 The LORD will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.

  • This is the answer to the question of 2:17.  In the repentance of the people, they were supposed to call upon the character and nature of God according to His promise, asking for His help & deliverance.  It was for His own fame and glory that God would rise up on their behalf.  The Jews weren’t worthy of God’s action, but God Himself is.  Why should the nations have reason to wonder where God is, in regard to His people?  The clear answer from verse 18: God is here & He is active!
  • God is not dispassionate towards His people.  On the contrary, He is “zealous” for them like a husband for his wife.  There is a renewed compassion for His covenant people as He pities them & spares them from the judgment they deserved.
  • The picture here is of internal & external blessings.  Internally, they have a renewal of their crops & economy.  Notice the restoration from 1:10: “grain and new wine and oil.”  All that the locusts (and future armies) had wiped out was now regrown.  Once more the nation was equipped to worship God through grain & drink offerings.  Externally, they are no longer a “reproach among the nations.”  Their public humiliation is rolled back, as they are once more in the favor of Almighty God.
  • Part of the external blessings is the Lord’s protection of Israel from their enemies.  Vs. 20…

20 “But I will remove far from you the northern army, And will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, With his face toward the eastern sea And his back toward the western sea; His stench will come up, And his foul odor will rise, Because he has done monstrous things.”

  • God had brought the army in; now He would drive them out.  Just as with the prophecy of Gog & Magog from Ezekiel 38, God does the same with this unidentified army.  (Be it the Babylonians, or an unnamed army during the Great Tribulation)  At one time, this army overwhelmed Judah like a swarm of locusts, but now God drove them far away into desolation.
  • And they deserved it!  Even though this had been God’s army, it doesn’t mean that they were excused from their own sin.  What they did was still odious in the nostrils of God.  God never excuses the sins of the unrepentant.  He may use pagans as His tool for judgment, but as long as they remain pagan, they are responsible for their own actions.  The only solution to sin is the grace of Jesus – no matter now those sins might be used by the Lord God.
  • How bad were their deeds?  They were “monstrous.”  That’s a very loose translation of the word, though it is not inappropriate to the context.  NASB, ESV, & NIV all translate it literally as “great.”  “Great” is not a moralistic judgment; it’s a comparison of size & grandeur.  And it’s that grandeur that Joel contrasts with the deeds of the Lord God…

21 Fear not, O land; Be glad and rejoice, For the LORD has done marvelous things!

  • Marvelous” is also a contextual gloss – a loose translation of the exact same word for “great.”  But the idea of one being “monstrous” while the other is “marvelous,” gets the basic point across.  The great deeds of God are greater than even the best efforts of the world.  The great deeds of God are greater than the best efforts of the devil.  God is simply greater…period.
  • In light of that, what was Israel’s reaction to be?  Joyful confidence!  No more fear…

22 Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; For the open pastures are springing up, And the tree bears its fruit; The fig tree and the vine yield their strength. 23 Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you— The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month. 24 The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.

  • Remember that the “fig tree” and “vine” are pictures of Israel. (1:7)  Before, they lay in ruins; now they are blessed and fruitful.  No longer did the people of Judah have reason to fear extermination – no longer did even the bests of the field have reason to fear desolation and hunger.  God removed all reason for fear when He gave them His grace.
    • What do you fear?  Why?  As a born-again Christian, what reason do you possibly have?  Yes, we have troubles, trials, and tribulations – yes, we have a spiritual enemy who hates us & worldly enemies that work against us.  But we still have no reason for fear.  We belong to the Most High God!  We’ve been bought with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ!  We’ve been sealed & indwelt by God the Holy Spirit Himself!  We have no cause for fear – He has removed that from us when He brought us into His grace.  We are blessed beyond measure…even during the times that we cannot see His blessings.  Fear not, but rejoice in the Lord your God!
  • Question: was Israel to rejoice in their blessings?  No.  Their blessings were reason for joy, but the primary object of their joy is the Lord.  “Rejoice in the LORD your God.”  We thank God for the gifts we have received – we give Him credit for the blessings we enjoy – but we do not rejoice in those blessings.  Those blessings are not the things we seek.  We seek the Lord our God – we seek to live in His grace – we seek to walk in unfettered relationship with Him.
  • That said, the blessings would be abundant!  It would be overflowing.  Everything that they had lost in the past would be restored to the uttermost, with them having even more than what they had at the beginning.
    • Like Job.  He had lost everything he held dear, including his health and his children.  But God restored him, and abundantly so!  Job 42:12, "Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys."  Goes on to speak of his children & other blessings.  Can those children be replaced?  Of course not – but the idea is clear: God gave more to Job than what he had in the past.  It didn’t remove the pain of the past, but it certainly provided for him a glorious future.

25 “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.

  • In Chapter 1, it was declared that this was what was lost.  Now there is a total reversal of what was listed in 1:4.  God promised to restore them.  What does restoration look like?  Wholeness.  The Hebrew verb is the same root from which we get the word “Shalom / peace / completeness.” (שָׁלֵם )  When God restores, He makes His people whole.  For Israel, it was restoring them to that place of blessing & favor in His sight.  It was a literal physical restoration of the land, their kingdom, and their economic prosperity.  For us, we are made whole in Christ Jesus.  We are restored from dead men & women walking to living, breathing, creations of the Most High God.
  • Restoration happens even in terms of discipline.  What was lost can be regained!  This is impossible from the point of view of men.  Years lost are lost forever – there’s no recovering decades of sinful living or re-doing youthful years of parenthood, etc.  What’s gone is gone…at least, humanly speaking.  But nothing is impossible with God!  Parents who lost years with their children can have relationships miraculously restored.  Time that seems forever gone can be transformed into future years better than we could have possibly imagined.
    • What have you lost?  God can restore it!  He can make you whole.  Trust Him for it!  So often, we lose something & then we lose hope.  Believers in Christ never need lose hope!  The restoration may come in a different form than what we can think in this present time, but there’s no question that when people who are submitted to God place themselves in the hands of God, restoration can come!

26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame. 27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.

  • Earlier, it was God’s army & God’s discipline.  The Jews had experienced God’s focused hand of His wrath.  Now it is God’s grace.  They will be satisfied in their bodies & in their spirits.  Their restoration & wholeness is seen in far more than the physical land of Israel, but in their praise of God. 
  • No more shame – no more isolation.  No more being removed from God’s attention & blessing.  Now He looks upon His people as they look to Him.  They are promised a total restored relationship with Him – He is the LORD their God!
    • Question: how is isolation possible for God’s people if He promises never to leave us nor forsake us?  Answer: we isolate ourselves from Him.  This is what happens in our sin.  We shut our eyes to our heavenly Father as we turn away from Him to serve ourselves.  That’s why we need to “repent” – to “re-turn” to God.  What we’ll find is that He never left us, even when we had left Him.
  • Interesting trivia: the remaining verses in Chapter 2 are actually counted as a separate chapter in the Hebrew text.  Our English Bibles follow the example of the Latin Vulgate, which combined the Hebrew chapters 2 & 3 together.  Our English Chapter 3 is actually the Hebrew Chapter 4.  Obviously chapter breaks aren’t inspired, but the Hebrew chapter division seems to make better sense.  The following promises are so amazingly good that they are set apart by themselves. J
  • Outpouring: God gives the Spirit and salvation (2:28-32)

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

  • Should be recognizable from Acts 2, as Peter quoted this entire chapter during his sermon on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:16–17, "(16) But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: (17) ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams."  The disciples had all been speaking in tongues, and those from foreign lands heard these Christians praising God in their own languages.  What was going on?  It was a move of the Holy Spirit.  God poured out His Spirit on all flesh, exactly as He had promised through the prophet.
  • All flesh” – really?  All flesh = all believers.  “All flesh” is appropriate in the context of “all flesh who trust in God.”  The whole idea is that no one is left out.  Everyone experiences the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit.
  • How does this work today?  We need to keep the different ministries of the Holy Spirit in view.  “With, in, upon.”  He is among the world of non-believers, convicting them of sin, righteousness, & judgment.  He is “with” those seeking after Jesus, guiding us into all truth. (Jn 14:17)  He is “in” us the moment we become born-again believers. (Jn 20:22)  He comes upon us with power to equip us for ministry. (Acts 1:8)  In this last experience, it happens a first time (the baptism), but it also happens again & again (the filling).  It’s this final experience that is debated among Christians, as to whether it always happens for everyone at conversion, or if it takes place subsequent to it.  Whatever someone’s viewpoint of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, there is no doubt in the New Testament that the filling of the Holy Spirit is a repeatable experience, and is received through faith. (Eph 5:18)
    • The biggest issue isn’t what you call it, but whether or not you have it.  Perhaps you were filled once, but when was the last time you asked to be filled?  Perhaps you’re unsure if you’ve ever been filled with the Holy Spirit?  Nothing stops you from asking.  He is available to “all flesh” – to all those who believe upon Jesus Christ by faith.
  • BTW – the NT clearly shows an aspect of this prophecy that was fulfilled on Pentecost (and in the generations following).  But contextually, this is spoken to the Jews – so there is still an unfilled aspect of this even to this day.  The Jews still await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them.  When will it come?  When they finally put their faith in Jesus as their Messiah!
  • That there are future unfilled aspects of the prophecy is evident from the following verses…

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

  • Obviously this did not take place in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost!  When will this happen?  During the days of the Great Tribulation.  This seems to be referenced by the apostle John in his description of the 6th seal.  Revelation 6:12, "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood."  At that moment, those on earth realize that the day of the wrath of God has come, and they will seek to hide themselves in the mountains & under the rocks.  God will make His power & His presence known, and even the most hardened of skeptics will lose his/her ability to doubt the existence of God.
  • At that late hour, will it be too late to be saved?  No.  Vs. 32…

32 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls.

  • There will be a “remnant” even at that time, and from that population, God will call people to put their faith in Jesus and be saved.  They will be able to flee to safety from the Tribulation destruction that is determined for Jerusalem, and they will find “deliverance.
  • That said, this offer isn’t limited only to the Jews.  “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”  This was quoted by Paul in his letter to the Romans.  Romans 10:9–13, "(9) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (13) For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”"  The offer is open to any & all in the entire world!  As many as the Lord calls to salvation will be saved.
    • The question is: have you heard His call?  Respond!
  • With all this in mind, if God has this sort of blessing in store for His people of Israel, then surely there are repercussions for the various nations of the world that oppressed them.  And there are.  That’s what the prophecies of Joel next address…

Joel 3

  • Vindication!  God judges the nations (3:1-17)

1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will also gather all nations, And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there On account of My people, My heritage Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; They have also divided up My land. 3 They have cast lots for My people, Have given a boy as payment for a harlot, And sold a girl for wine, that they may drink.

  • There are two possible interpretations of this future judgment: (1) the battle of Armageddon, when the nations of the world join forces with Antichrist to fight against God…  (2) The judgment of the sheep and the goats, when Jesus judges the nations that survive the Great Tribulation based on their treatment of Israel & the saints of God.
  • Whichever judgment this is, it doesn’t bode well for these nations.  They treated the Jews like a common commodity, and sold God’s people into slavery.
    • How people treat other people matters.  How people treat the Jews (in particular) matters.  They may be a nation in rebellion, but they are still God’s chosen people.  The covenant He made with Abraham is unconditional, and the nations of this world persecute Israel at their own peril.  These are things God sees, and these are things that God will judge.

4 “Indeed, what have you to do with Me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the coasts of Philistia? Will you retaliate against Me? But if you retaliate against Me, Swiftly and speedily I will return your retaliation upon your own head;

  • Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia are apparently included in this judgment.  Being that they are the regions that physically surround the nation of Israel (i.e. Lebanon to the north, and the Gaza Strip to the south), it makes sense that they would be specifically identified in this judgment for how the nations of the world treated the people of Israel.
    • That said, this isn’t necessarily a comprehensive list.  These named regions could also be symbolic of all the nations of the world that are to be judged by God at this time.
  • God’s retaliation would be swift upon them.  Why?  Because they stole from Him…

5 Because you have taken My silver and My gold, And have carried into your temples My prized possessions. 6 Also the people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem You have sold to the Greeks, That you may remove them far from their borders.

  • They stole God’s treasures, and (more specifically) they stole God’s treasured people.  They had sold the Jews into slavery.  When this happens, we don’t know.  We do know that the Jews have been treated as the castoffs of the world since the time Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD.  There’s no limit as to how this sort of slavery could be symbolically fulfilled throughout history.  Even so, there’s a potential of a future literal fulfillment – one of which has not yet been seen.
  • That said, it doesn’t last.  God redeems from slavery!  God redeemed His people once, and He will do it again.
    • God redeems us!  We have been freed from the slavery of sin & death!
  • God returns retribution!  Vs. 7…

7 “Behold, I will raise them Out of the place to which you have sold them, And will return your retaliation upon your own head. 8 I will sell your sons and your daughters Into the hand of the people of Judah, And they will sell them to the Sabeans, To a people far off; For the LORD has spoken.”

  • The punishment fits the crime.  The Gentile nations had enslaved Israel; now it would be their turn to be enslaved.

9 Proclaim this among the nations: “Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, Let all the men of war draw near, Let them come up. 10 Beat your plowshares into swords And your pruning hooks into spears; Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’ ” 11 Assemble and come, all you nations, And gather together all around. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD.

  • This seems to more specifically point to the battle of Armageddon.  The call goes out to the nations to “prepare for war” as they arm themselves and draw up battle lines.
  • Ultimately, their plans are futile.  To fight against God always ends in futility.  We see this on a spiritual level all the time.  How much more on a physical level?

12 “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; For the winepress is full, The vats overflow— For their wickedness is great.”

  • No small irony in vs. 13.  Earlier, there was no “new wine” for the vats.  Now the vats are overflowing!  This time however, it isn’t wine in view; it’s blood.  This is the harvest of the grapes of wrath, and the blood will be deep.
  • Again, the apostle John seems to call upon this imagery in Rev. 14.  Revelation 14:19–20, "(19) So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. (20) And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs."  Gory?  Yes.  Justified?  Without question.

14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness. 16 The LORD also will roar from Zion, And utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake; But the LORD will be a shelter for His people, And the strength of the children of Israel.

  • The valley of decision = the valley of Jehoshaphat.  Similarity in the definitions, as “Jehoshaphat” means “God judges.”  God judges – He makes His decisions regarding the nations of the world.  Multitudes are destroyed because of their rebellion against God & their sin against God’s people.
  • Once more, this imagery of darkness comes up – seen at various times throughout Revelation. (4th trumpet, Rev 8:12 – 5th bowl, Rev 16:10)  Which is this?  It’s unclear.  Prophecy often looks at future events as occurring simultaneously to each other, simply because it is so far away in the future. (Mountain peaks)  Regardless, it’s a plain reference to the Great Tribulation.  Signs in the heavens will be clear that Jesus is about to return to Earth, and it is a warning to all the world to be ready for His arrival.
    • Are you ready?
  • When He comes, it will be with a “roar”!  It will be with power & might & glory! … The same sound that terrifies the world will strengthen God’s people.  The manifestation of the power of Almighty God causes those who are not reconciled to Him to fear & quake.  Yet that same manifestation of power is a comfort to those who trust Him.  He is our shelter & strength.

17 “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, Dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, And no aliens shall ever pass through her again.”

  • The idea is repeated from 2:27.  Finally, they will know the Lord their God AS God.
  • Final, forever protection of Israel.
  • Conclusion: God blesses His people (3:18-21)

18 And it will come to pass in that day That the mountains shall drip with new wine, The hills shall flow with milk, And all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water; A fountain shall flow from the house of the LORD And water the Valley of Acacias.

  • Millennial blessings.  Every kingdom promise given to the people of Israel will be realized in the Millennial Kingdom of the Lord Jesus.  Every description given of the land “flowing with milk & honey” will be understood, and the prosperity of God’s people will be literally fulfilled.
  • Ezekiel 47 also speaks of a river flowing from the Millennial temple of God.

19 “Egypt shall be a desolation, And Edom a desolate wilderness, Because of violence against the people of Judah, For they have shed innocent blood in their land.

  • Reiteration of God’s judgment upon Israel’s enemies.
  • All of that is contrasted with Israel…

20 But Judah shall abide forever, And Jerusalem from generation to generation. 21 For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; For the LORD dwells in Zion.

  • Judah is “acquitted”!  God chooses to hold them innocent, declaring them free from future punishment.
  • He will forever dwell with His people in grace.

Conclusion:
What amazing promises for Israel!  What amazing promises for us!  Israel could look forward to a day when God personally dwelled among them, protected them, and poured out His Spirit & salvation upon them.  Yes, judgment and discipline was in their immediate future, but their ultimate future was one of the goodness & grace of God.  He would stand up on their behalf, judge their enemies as their defense, and generally bless them beyond measure.

What is promised to future Israel is already ours to enjoy today!  We are the ones upon whom God has poured out His Spirit!  He has saved us from the twin enemies of sin & death – He has passed judgment upon our accuser the devil – He already dwells among us spiritually & has promised to dwell among us physically in heaven.  There is hardly any promise in this text that has no corollary application to the Church today…which just goes to show how amazing our God truly is!

But remember: these promises come in the context of a repentant people.  They are given by the grace of God – they are assured by the faithfulness of God – but they are only given to a people in a right relationship with God.  They are given to those who trust God in humility and faith.

Is this you?  Then rejoice!  Live in the reality of this blessing, trusting Jesus for the restoration He brings.