Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

2 Samuel 15:13-37 (Part 2 of 3)
David Escapes from Jerusalem

Over the weekend, my senior pastor (and my boss) lost his father to death. Although his dad’s death has been anticipated for a while now, it does not take away the shock of the finality of death. I can feel for Pastor Tim and his family. My wife can too. My mom passed away in November 2010 and Elena’s dad passed in March of this year. In each of these cases, death came almost as a relief. Each was ready to go meet Jesus and was just waiting around and suffering til the time came in God’s providence.

My mom passed away in November 2010 at the fairly young age of 70. Although the last six months of my mom’s life was like watching some other person occupy my mother’s body. Her mind had degenerated into dementia and she was not the mother that I had once known. She had become paranoid and delusional because of the dementia. She was in excruciating pain from her back (where she had surgery on various parts of her spine 4 times in the final 6 years of her life). Crippling arthritis made even the smallest move of her body difficult. It was difficult to watch my mother suffer both in mind and in body. It ripped holes in my heart watching her suffer particularly those last 6 months of her life. We had been anticipating her death those last six months. However, it was that last 6 days where she was at death’s door. We were ready for it. The Sunday before she died on Thursday we waited at the hospital ICU for her to pass on, but she fought it. She was a feisty woman all her life so she wasn’t going to die without a fight. Finally, the day came. Not long after I got to work on that Thursday, I believe it was, my dad gave me a call and told me that I needed to get to the nursing home as quick as I could. The hospice nurse had told him that the end was within hours.

I was able to get to the nursing home in the little town of Starr, SC (the town where my dad was pastoring a small United Methodist church on a part-time basis at that time) pretty quickly. It was the middle of the morning and the drive down from the Greenville area was pretty smooth as rush hour was over. When I got there mom was breathing heavily in labored breaths and was totally incoherent. Her body was simply functioning. Her mind had already checked out. It was just her soul still making things happen in her body. She did not respond to any stimuli. As the remainder of the morning progressed, the breathing was not as labored but the breaths were beginning to be further and further apart. I finally was able to muster the energy to hug my mom and whisper in her ear that it was OK to let go and go be with Jesus and to see her mom and dad and brother. And within the half hour after that, she just…just stopped breathing. And that was it. No grand cataclysmic event. She was there one second and then she was gone. It was a peaceful passing. She just stopped breathing and it was finished.

I am getting a little choked up as I write this because even though it has been almost 8 years now since my mother’s passing, I can get choked up by thinking about her if I let myself think on it long enough. I miss my mom. I really do. I miss dreading having to answer the phone because I knew I would be stuck on the phone for 30-45 minutes. I miss her being all up in my business. I miss her unique Carolyn Bowling way of loving me. Since she has been gone, I have come to realize that mom was the glue that held us together (my dad, my brother and me). Family get-togethers do not seem quite as special now. My mom made our family time seem special. I miss that. I miss her.

But the thing that always keep coming back to is that I know my mom was a believer in Jesus Christ. I know that she is now in heaven. I know that she has been spending almost 8 years, by how we reckon time on this side of eternity, praising her Savior all the day long. She is fully healthy now in heaven. She is no longer ravaged by dementia. She is no longer in severe back pain. She is experiencing joy immeasurable.

That’s the believer’s promise. That is what we have in store for us in heaven when we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and have spent the rest of our lives making Him our Lord. No matter how tough things get. No matter how deep the valley. No matter the physical pain. No matter the troubling circumstances that we must go through in our lives, we will emerge on the other side on top of the mountain in heaven in victory for eternity. Eternity in heaven experiencing perfect joy and praising the Savior. That is how we as believers emerge from the valleys of this life is in the hope that we will one day be in heaven. Things may seem dark now on this side of heaven. You may be going through a valley that never seems to end but heaven is our reward.

That was the thing that I thought of today when I read this passage for the second time of three readings that I have planned for this passage, 2 Samuel 15:13-37. Let’s read the passage now:

13 A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!”

14 “Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.”

15 “We are with you,” his advisers replied. “Do what you think is best.”

16 So the king and all his household set out at once. He left no one behind except ten of his concubines to look after the palace. 17 The king and all his people set out on foot, pausing at the last house 18 to let all the king’s men move past to lead the way. There were 600 men from Gath who had come with David, along with the king’s bodyguard.[a]

19 Then the king turned and said to Ittai, a leader of the men from Gath, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. 20 You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go. Go on back and take your kinsmen with you, and may the Lord show you his unfailing love and faithfulness.[b]”

21 But Ittai said to the king, “I vow by the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.”

22 David replied, “All right, come with us.” So Ittai and all his men and their families went along.

23 Everyone cried loudly as the king and his followers passed by. They crossed the Kidron Valley and then went out toward the wilderness.

24 Zadok and all the Levites also came along, carrying the Ark of the Covenant of God. They set down the Ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices[c] until everyone had passed out of the city.

25 Then the king instructed Zadok to take the Ark of God back into the city. “If the Lord sees fit,” David said, “he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle[d] again. 26 But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him.”

27 The king also told Zadok the priest, “Look,[e] here is my plan. You and Abiathar[f] should return quietly to the city with your son Ahimaaz and Abiathar’s son Jonathan. 28 I will stop at the shallows of the Jordan River[g] and wait there for a report from you.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the Ark of God back to the city and stayed there.

30 David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the hill. 31 When someone told David that his adviser Ahithophel was now backing Absalom, David prayed, “O Lord, let Ahithophel give Absalom foolish advice!”

32 When David reached the summit of the Mount of Olives where people worshiped God, Hushai the Arkite was waiting there for him. Hushai had torn his clothing and put dirt on his head as a sign of mourning. 33 But David told him, “If you go with me, you will only be a burden. 34 Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, will be there. Tell them about the plans being made in the king’s palace, 36 and they will send their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan to tell me what is going on.”

37 So David’s friend Hushai returned to Jerusalem, getting there just as Absalom arrived.

In this passage, we see that the Kidron Valley is mentioned for the first time in the Scriptures. The Kidron Valley runs below the southeast wall of Jerusalem, separating the city from The Mount of Olives to the east. It then turns southeast from Jerusalem and follows a winding course to the Dead Sea. The Kidron Valley is nearly always dry but does have a waterflow during rainy season. Here, we see the first reference to the valley when David and his people crossed through the valley over toward the wilderness. This strategic move would give them a way of escape if the forces of the rebel army of Absalom decided to attack the city. The people and the king wept bitterly during the move because it had such a depressing significance – they were abandoning the city without a fight.

Later Shimei was forbidden by Solomon to cross the valley on the penalty of death if Shimei did so (1 Kings 2:36-38). Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions the wicked queen Athaliah was put to death in the Kidron Valley (see “Antiquities” 9.7.3). Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his crucifixion (John 18:1). Because of David’s sad crossing and Jesus’ sad crossing, the valley has come to symbolize suffering. We may have our own “Kidron Valley” to pass through; stay true to God, and he will stray true to you throughout your sufferings.

Each of us has hope in Jesus Christ. Once we accept Christ as our Savior and begin to grow in making Him the Lord of our lives, we have our eyes opened to one immutable reality. No matter how deep the valley or how severe the trouble, we have hope in a God that promises us deliverance. It may not always be on this side of eternity. Someone once said that “what’s the worst that could happen? I die and go to heaven? I can live with that!” Our ultimate prize is heaven as believers. That gives us comfort even in the toughest times. That gives us comfort when a loved one who was also a believer dies. We may miss them terribly but we know where they are. They have emerged from this valley called life into their victory on the mountaintop on the other side. Jesus gave us this hope through His resurrection. Death could not hold him. He arose from the dead to prove to us that He was our Messiah, Savior and Lord. He arose from the dead to show us that we have hope in everything that the Bible tells us. Jesus had His Kidron Valley moment but He emerged victorious in the resurrection.

So whatever you are going through including the loss of a loved one, take heart. Celebrate that there is a reward for being faithful to God even in the valleys of life. We have all eternity to celebrate with our Savior in heaven.

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 1:17-27 (Part 1 of 2)
David’s Song for Saul and Jonathan

Love you enemies. Lay down your life for those who hate and despise you. For all those that still despise him still and point to his moral failures as a man, there is no modern day man that I think epitomizes the ideal of loving those who hate as Martin Luther King, Jr. And, yes, there are those who are disappointed in how the victories for the oppressed have turned into a sense of entitlement among some of those he was trying to help as we continue to walk into the 21st century. And, yes, some have made it today as though we can no longer have real honest discussions about race relations for fear of being labeling racist if you push back against the ideals held dear by those he tried to help. There’s no denying in this age of polarization of ideals that the pace of social change is in some cases being ramrodded down our throats without discussion or glacially slow in others. Dr. King would be saddened by the lack of compromise for the purpose of progress in today’s world of political correctness where we are so afraid to speak out without causing a firestorm of bad press. Lost is the art of winning one battle and then the next that Dr. King lived out.

However, even with his failings as a man, I love the preacher in Dr. King. I love how he used the universal truths about love, life and liberty that come from God’s Word to change the world. I love the fact that he espoused loving your enemies. I loved his sermon/speeches. The man could preach. And he backed up his speeches with action. He was willing to love his enemies in the face of repeated hatred. He was willing to love his enemies in the face of repeated violence against himself and against those who had aligned themselves in the fight for basic civil rights of blacks in the South and for all those who were similarly oppressed. He was willing to sit down and have discussions with those who hated him. He sought social justice when everybody wished he would just leave it alone cause it was too hard. He spoke beautifully, eloquently, and logically about the wrongs against the oppressed in the South. No one could argue the logic and rightness of his cause. He was a preacher first and foremost. He loved God’s Word. His sermons and his writings are an amazing testament to a man, who like David had his moral failures, but a man who sought after God’s heart. When people pushed and pushed him to react with violence to the violence perpetrated against blacks demonstrating for their rights in the South. He reacted with non-violence. He often walked his people into situations where they all knew violence would be received to point out that his was an objective of love. He simply wanted America to live out the biblical ideals upon which it was supposedly founded. There were those such as Malcolm X and the Black Panther Movement that agreed with Dr. King’s movement but disagreed with the methods. They wanted violence for violence. However, these valid movements never advanced the cause of oppressed Southern blacks as much as Dr. King’s movement did. And oh how I can sit and listen to Dr. King’s speeches and sermons. Quite the preacher he was. His words can take you places and inspire you. There is no better speech that he gave than the March on Washington Speech. I never tire of the passage of that speech where he says:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I HAVE A DREAM TODAY!

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama — with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I HAVE A DREAM TODAY!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood.

Oh man. That section of the speech gives me chills every time I read it or every time I see the black & white video from back in August 1963 of Dr. King uttering these words for the first time. This is the ideal. To love your enemies in the face of hatred such that one day they can through love no longer hate you. This is what Dr. King fought for. Love changes things. Not hate. Non-violence conquers violence. Violence only begets violence. Love is what changes things. Love wins.

That ideal of Dr. King. That which he was willing to die for – loving your enemies – and did is what I thought of this morning as I read this beautiful song of honor by David in 2 Samuel 1:17-27. What can inspire us more than David’s words here or Dr. King’s words above. Love wins. Hate loses. Now, let us read through this passage today (for the first of two blogs on this passage):

17 Then David composed a funeral song for Saul and Jonathan, 18 and he commanded that it be taught to the people of Judah. It is known as the Song of the Bow, and it is recorded in The Book of Jashar.[a]

19
Your pride and joy, O Israel, lies dead on the hills!
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!
20
Don’t announce the news in Gath,
don’t proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon,
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice
and the pagans will laugh in triumph.

21
O mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor fruitful fields producing offerings of grain.[b]
For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled;
the shield of Saul will no longer be anointed with oil.
22
The bow of Jonathan was powerful,
and the sword of Saul did its mighty work.
They shed the blood of their enemies
and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes.

23
How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan!
They were together in life and in death.
They were swifter than eagles,
stronger than lions.
24
O women of Israel, weep for Saul,
for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing,
in garments decorated with gold.

25
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies dead on the hills.
26
How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan!
Oh, how much I loved you!
And your love for me was deep,
deeper than the love of women!

27
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!
Stripped of their weapons, they lie dead.

In this passage, we remember that Saul had caused much trouble for David, but when he died, David actually composed a song in memory of the king. Even though when translated to English the words do not flow very well but in Hebrew this is beautifully flowing song. David was a talented musician. He played the harp. He brought music into the worship services of the Temple. He wrote many of the Psalms (though we simply read them now and think of how beautiful they are even in translated English) which were used in the worship services in the Temple. He, as we know from 1 Samuel, played music in the court of King Saul – sometimes even as spears were thrown at him. He had every reason to hate Saul but he chose not to. He composes a song of lament and honor toward the man that wanted him dead. He chose to look for the good that Saul had done as king and to ignore the times of when Saul had attacked him. It takes courage and a humble heart to lay aside hatred and hurt and to respect the positive side of another person, especially an enemy.

Father in heaven, let us return to the ideals of Dr. King as he laid them out. Love wins. Communication wins. Ignorance and lack of communication loses. Hate loses. We do not stand on the throat of those who disagree with us. We convince them not of our ideals but of those in God’s Word. We convince them through love of the universal truths of God. We seek restoration and unity. Dr. King had the example of David right here in this passage. Man, could David have gone off and been bitter for wasting years of his life running from Saul. However, David never lost sight of the fact that Saul was a child of God and the anointed king of Israel. He chose to honor the man who hated him. He chose to honor the man who hated him enough to want to kill him. He chose to love the man who through a spear at him.

Father, that is your dream for us. That we see each other as valuable in God’s sight even when what that other person is saying makes my skin crawl and my blood boil. That we see each other as worthy of love because God loves us even when we are dead wrong about something. That we sit down and communicate with each other. That we sit down in love and honor and respect for one another such that love wins and hate loses. Jesus Christ did know less for us. He died for us when we show our contempt for Him when we live lives that are in opposition to His Word. Jesus died for us. Even in His own physical time of torment on earth, He could have down of the cross and took vengeance on those who were perpetrating violence against His body. However, He humbly took it all in love. His love for His enemies is our example. He knew the greater ideal was for them to come to know God and be reconciled to Him. We should see our enemies in the same way.

I have a dream that one day we will all be sitting at the banquet table of our Lord. I will be sitting beside those who have persecuted me, hated me, despised me, and we will be praising Jesus Christ together. If that happens then love will have won.

Amen and Amen.

1 Samuel 19:1-10 (Part 5 of 6)
Saul Tries to Kill David

In this series of blogs, we are talking about the false teachings of the Christian faith that are prevalent today. Today, we will look at a doctrine that we have virtually gotten rid of in Christianity in the post-modern era (the world as we know it since the end of World War II).

I will introduce this foreign concept to us with a bold statement. Let’s bring hell back! Such a statement seems a shocking one to the 21st century ear, even those who considered themselves Christians.

The existence of and doctrine surrounding hell is no longer a universally accepted concept among Christians and Jews much less those of other religions or of those who hold no religious beliefs at all. It is not surprising that in an increasingly secular American landscape that only 27% of people who consider themselves non-religious believe in the existence of a place of eternal punishment in the afterlife, according the 2015 Religious Landscape Study performed by Pew Research Center. Overall, only 58% of all survey respondents (including religious and non-religious alike) believe in the existence of hell.

Even among Christians, the statistic vary. Belief in hell is not universally accepted by Christians in the 21st century. Although belief in hell is highest among historically black Protestant churches (82%) and evangelical Protestant churches (likewise 82%), the belief level drops to 63% among Catholics, 60% among mainline Protestants, and 59% of Orthodox Christians. It was also noted in the survey that only 22% of the Jewish respondents believe in hell. Among other religions, 76% of Muslims surveyed believe in hell while not surprisingly Buddhists and Hindus surveyed affirmed the existence of hell at a rate of 32% and 28% respectively. It is worthy of noting that more non-religious respondents believe in hell (27%) than the Jews surveyed (22%). The alarming point here is that, depending on your denomination of Christianity, a pastor can look out over his congregation on Sunday and find that anywhere from one-fifth to half of his parishioners do not believe in the existence of hell. As noted earlier, outside the doors of the church, it can be extrapolated that three-fourths of the people one meets on the street do not believe in hell. One can discount the non-believer being dismissive of hell as it would be opposed his firm belief in the lack of existence of God, would dismiss his belief in moral relativism, would dismiss his belief that man controls his own destiny, and would dismiss an everyman’s ticket, where we are judged on the weight of good deeds plus good intentions to outweigh our negative nature. When deeds and intentions are weighed against our bad deeds, then, most if not all of us will ascend to some sort of nirvanic afterlife (which we will talk about tomorrow). This sentiment, we can dismiss as the product of human pride that blinds us to our own ignorance in the face of God.

That idea of the elimination of hell from our theological lexicon is what came to mind this morning when read through this passage about the choice that Jonathan had to make – to be obedient to his father or to honor his friendship with David, to follow his father’s command which was not biblical or to follow that which was right and true according to God. Jonathan was being asked by his father to ignore a biblical truth because it was inconvenient to his father, Saul. Expediency was most important to Saul not what was biblically and universally true according to God’s Word. That kind of thinking is what has become of the concept of hell in Christian theology today. With that idea in mind let us read about the choice that Jonathan had to make:

Chapter 19
1 Saul now urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his strong affection for David, 2 told him what his father was planning. “Tomorrow morning,” he warned him, “you must find a hiding place out in the fields. 3 I’ll ask my father to go out there with me, and I’ll talk to him about you. Then I’ll tell you everything I can find out.”

4 The next morning Jonathan spoke with his father about David, saying many good things about him. “The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. 5 Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all!”

6 So Saul listened to Jonathan and vowed, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be killed.”

7 Afterward Jonathan called David and told him what had happened. Then he brought David to Saul, and David served in the court as before.

8 War broke out again after that, and David led his troops against the Philistines. He attacked them with such fury that they all ran away.

9 But one day when Saul was sitting at home, with spear in hand, the tormenting spirit[a] from the Lord suddenly came upon him again. As David played his harp, 10 Saul hurled his spear at David. But David dodged out of the way, and leaving the spear stuck in the wall, he fled and escaped into the night.

In this passage, we are challenged by the fact that Saul commands his son, Jonathan, to commit an act that is clearly unbiblical and is clearly against the nature of God. Jonathan had a choice to make. He had to decide whether what his father commanded him to do was consistent with Scripture and with the nature of God. Jonathan was wise enough to understand the difference between obeying a parent’s command and violating God’s law. Our parents should be teaching us and commanding us to do only that which is consistent with Scripture. In general, not just as children of our parents, we must be discerning about what we hear from others as biblical truth compared to the actual Word of God. If someone omits a portion of the full counsel of God’s Word just to make a biblical truth more palatable or more expedient, we must be discerning about those things too.

Saul thought like many of us today that there was no real punishment for evil deeds as long as we do more than we do bad. He seemed to think that doing evil could be offset by good deeds. All we have to do is do more good. Then, we become the judge of our goodness or badness, and, of course, we are always going to come down on the side of us being good enough or having done good enough or having done less bad than good. We are the judge of our own judgment – the fox in charge of the hen house, so to speak. Saul had situational ethics here in this passage. He thinks like many of us think. He, by his actions, appears to believe that there is no real judgment for his evil deeds and all he has to do is make up for it with a prayer here, a good deed there, a promise to God there, a ceremonial sacrifice here. He, in a sense, made himself the judge of his own fate. Jonathan had to decide whether he was going to follow his father’s belief system or follow the moral absolutes and the eternal truths of God.

In the absence of hell, we are certainly the arbiters of our own eternal fate. In the absence of hell, there is no one who judges us. In the absence of hell, God is only love but not justice. Most of us in the 21st century world have a problem with final judgment and hell. The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God’s grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. The gutting of the harsh doctrine of hell always minimizes the wonderful good news of the gospel. To preach the good news, we must preach why it is good news. We must understand why the gospel is the essential good news and that nothing else but Jesus will do.

The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ because of the true nature of man and what that true nature garners us in eternity. In a post-modern non-traditional world, we see ourselves as basically good people. However, the truth of the matter is that none of us are good at all. Have you ever really took notice of all the evil thoughts, the little lies, the outright lies, the meanness that comes out in us each and every day in one form or another. We believe that it requires goodness to get to heaven and that if we just do more good than bad that we will get into heaven. We don’t realize that like an ink drop into a glass of water permanently changes and stains the water irreversibly, so is committing any sin. Sin is imperfection when compared to the holiness of God. One drop of ink in a glass of pure water does it all. The same with sin. We commit one sin and we are done. It is the ultimate one and done scenario.

However, we are not just one-time sinners. We are habitual sin criminals that have been through the sin court system far too often. We sin every day like a common thief who steals something every day. We have a rap sheet a mile long of a lifetime of sins. We deserve the punishment of a career criminal in the court system having committed heinous crime after heinous crime. Our record belies anything that we can say in our defense before the righteous Judge that is God. We deserve hell. We really do. Once we commit one sin we are done, finished, not to mention a lifetime of habitual sinning. We kid ourselves that we are more good than bad because we don’t want to think of the fact that we tell lies, we hurt people, we lie to ourselves, we offend God each and every day with our prideful sinning. We are career sin criminals standing before a righteous Judge who looks at our record and has every right to throw the eternal judgment of hell at us. We deserve it. We have no excuse. No quippy comebacks. No way to talk ourselves out of what we deserve. We deserve the fiery pits of hell where Jesus said there was pain, sorrow, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. It is the place of eternal suffering.

The very realness of hell is what make Jesus Christ so incredibly important to us. He is more than just some great philosopher that is one of the many ways of self-actualization and self-improvement. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to the Father. Without the doctrine of hell, Jesus is just a way to self-improvement along with Muhammed, Buddha, Confucius, and others. With the doctrine of hell, Jesus is our Savior. Jesus as part of the Holy Trinity of God came down from heaven to live a perfect life and become the sinless sacrifice for our sins. He went to the cross to take on God’s eternal punishment for man’s sins, past, present and future. And to prove that He was of one and the same essence as God, He arose from the dead. By dying on the cross and by arising from the dead (all of which are historical facts that have yet to be realistically disputed), Jesus demonstrated that He was the Son of God and that He did indeed die for our sins.

Jesus doing these things would be unnecessary, truly, in the absence of what he did it for – to save us from our eternal judgment. In the absence of hell, Jesus did not need to come down from heaven and suffer as he did for us. All we need do is do is more good than bad. Jesus’ sacrifice would be the grandest excess of all in the absence of eternal judgment, in the absence of hell.

That is what makes or should make Christians the most joyous people in the universe. We have been saved from what we know as hell. The fiery pits of eternal punishment we know that we deserve. We have had our blinders taken off and see ourselves as the dirty rotten sinners that we are. The grace of Jesus Christ then becomes amazingly wonderful and just the greatest gift that could ever be given – the pardon from the fiery eternal death that we deserve. How can you have this joy when there is no judgment, there is no hell. We have been saved from what we know we deserve!

That makes Jesus even more awesome that just some great philosopher. It makes Him the Savior to whom we owe everything and to whom we owe all thanksgiving and daily praise and great joy.

That is the eternal truth of the gospel. That is the Jonathan choice. That is to walk away from the situational truths of Saul and embrace the eternal truths of God.

Amen and Amen.

Ruth 4:1-12
Boaz Arranges to Marry Ruth

In this day in age in which we live, if you are single and in your 30’s or 40’s, it is a great likelihood that you have been married and divorced at least once. In you are a woman in your 30’s or 40’s and you are single, you most likely have either small children, pre-teens, or teens at home with you. It is a statistical fact that mothers of children end up with custody of their children in 90% of divorces nationally. Either men don’t want the responsibility of day to day care of children, the mothers don’t trust them to do the myriad of things that are required to get children up and out the door each day, or the men don’t trust themselves. It is also a statistical fact that 27% of fathers see their children only when required by their court order or do not see them at all.

So in the American dating scene out there (not that I am familiar with it anymore myself, but these statements are made based on statistical probabilities), any time a guy meets a gal in her 30’s or 40’s (heck sometimes even in their 20s), there is a high probability that she has kids at home. Somebody’s keeping them while she is having a girl’s night with her gal pals. If you really want to get to know her, the breaking point for any such relationship is going to be about the fact that she has kids or that the kids get in the way of the relationship. There are too many guys out there that just want to have fun with the gals with kids but want none of the responsibilities or the drawbacks of dating a woman with kids in tow. With so many of these men, they are absentee fathers themselves. They feel “tied down” when they have their own kids with them. I know there are some great dads out there but there is a growing majority of dads who disappear from their own kids lives and shy away from any relationship with a woman who has kids. There are a growing number of men out there that just want to have recreational sex with women (even if the woman has kids at home) but split when there is mention of getting to know her kids. These men don’t want women with baggage. They want the fun but not the baggage that comes with most women who are “single again.” With the divorce rate out there where 50% of first marriages fail, 67% of second marriages fail, and 83% of third marriages fail, there is a great possibility of any woman a guy meets is going to have had a past and is most likely to have children at home. But like I said, there is a growing number of men who are baby daddies out there and not fathers. They want the fun of women but none of the responsibility that comes with having a relationship with a woman with kids.

There was a movie out there a while back called “Courageous” that was a faith-based film that was extremely popular even with the secular movie going public. The famous tag line from that movie was “Where are you, men of courage?” It was the story that men are often removed from their kids lives and are even less involved with their kids when it comes to faith issues. The point of the movie was to urge men to take hold of their God ordained place as being the priests of their homes, leading their family in all things but especially in leading their families in the family’s relationships with God. It takes courage to be a man of faith. It takes courage to be a real dad these days when it is so easy to wash your hands of the family your procreated. Where are you men of courage today in this broken world where practically every woman you meet has kids at home? Where are you men of courage willing to accept the baggage that comes with a woman who has kids? In this broken world we live in, it is a simple fact of life that virtually everyone who meet and potentially can have a relationship with is a person who has been married before. It’s not the world that God wants for us. He wants us to examine who we will marry before we marry them. He wants us to think long and hard before we get married the first time because He wants us to stay married to who we married the first and only time. However, in this sin-filled broken world, we will most like be married at least twice in a lifetime. That’s a sad fact but a true one. So, given that, we must be willing to accept the baggage of the person that we are attempting to have a relationship with and potentially marrying any time after the first marriage is done. Men especially must be willing to accept what a single mom is bringing to the table of the relationship.

That’s the thing that came to mind this morning as I read through Ruth 4:1-12 – the difference between Boaz and the unnamed man who was closer in line to be the redeemer of Naomi and Ruth. The unnamed man wanted the property but not the women who came with it. Let’s read through the passage here right now and then we will finish our discussion after that:

4 Boaz went to the town gate and took a seat there. Just then the family redeemer he had mentioned came by, so Boaz called out to him, “Come over here and sit down, friend. I want to talk to you.” So they sat down together. 2 Then Boaz called ten leaders from the town and asked them to sit as witnesses. 3 And Boaz said to the family redeemer, “You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.”

The man replied, “All right, I’ll redeem it.”

5 Then Boaz told him, “Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.”

6 “Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied, “because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.”

7 Now in those days it was the custom in Israel for anyone transferring a right of purchase to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly validated the transaction. 8 So the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, “You buy the land.”

9 Then Boaz said to the elders and to the crowd standing around, “You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her dead husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.”

11 Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”

In this passage, we see that Boaz cleverly presented his case to the relative. First, he brought in new information not yet mentioned in the story – Elimelech. Naomi’s deceased husband, still had some property in the area that was now for sale. As the nearest relative, this unnamed man had the first right to buy the property (Leviticus 25:25). But then Boaz said that according to the law, if the relative bought the land, he also had to marry the widow, Ruth (because Mahlon, Ruth’s deceased husband and Elimelech’s son, had inherited the property). At this stipulation, the relative backed down. He did not want to add a complication to his own inheritance to his existing children because of the new children he would have had with Ruth. That was the most likely reason, but he could have just not wanted to complicate his life with another woman. Whatever his reason for backing away, it cleared the way for Boaz to marry Ruth himself.

That’s the thing that made me think of today’s messed up dating world out there is because in this story, the unnamed relative wanted the property but not the baggage that came with it – Ruth. He wanted the additional wealth that came with owning more land but he did not want the responsibility of another wife and raising more kids and complicating his financial situation. That so reminded me of how men out there today just want women for recreational fun but they don’t want the baggage that often comes with women in today’s world of divorce. They want the fun but not the responsibility. That’s why men are often divorced anyway is that they could not face up to the lifetime of responsibility that is marriage – kids, mortgages, schooling, kids activities, and no time for themselves.

What if God was like that with us? What if He did not want all our baggage? Our sins condemn us in His sight. He could just throw us away into the pit of hell and walk away and be right in doing so. He could just say I don’t need this and that be it! However, God has greater love for us than that. Even though our first sin condemns us to hell and not to mention the lifetimes of sins that we commit, He could say that you have too much baggage for me to deal with and cast us into hell. But He doesn’t. Boaz represents God’s love for us. Boaz did not care about all the baggage that came with Ruth. He simply loved her. He knew that she had a past and had been married before and knew that she was not originally from the people of Israel. He knew all the baggage she brought to the relationship. But he loved her anyway. He was willing to marry her when the unnamed relative was not. He was willing to set aside all the things that would make Ruth undesirable for marriage and took her in marriage anyway. God is the same with us. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to earth to become the perfect sacrificial lamb to take on God’s punishment for our baggage, our sins. In that way, through Jesus, He can set aside the punishment we deserve. He can set aside our sins because Jesus paid the price for them. Through Jesus, we are made clean before God. We are made into marriage material before the bridegroom. We are made new and desirable again to God. We are redeemed by a God who loves us despite our past sins, despite our past baggage. When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we no longer carry around the baggage of our sins that condemns us in the sight of God. Through Jesus, we are made into a beautiful bride ready for the bridegroom. We are made into something beautiful and desirable by God. He loves us that much. He loves us enough to redeem us when we have all this sin baggage. He sets it aside, through Jesus, and welcomes us into His house and makes us His bride with all the rights and privileges that go along with being a child of God.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 11:16-12:24

Summary of Conquests

 

Last night, I watched a movie that I had last seen in the movie theatre. Now, last night it was on TBS. It was the movie, Interstellar, starring Matthew McConoughey and Anne Hathaway. It is one of those movies that messes with your head. It is well-written but it deals with some heady scientific concepts. The theory of relativity plays a front and center role in the movie. That is a pretty high-brow concept to be the star concept of a movie. The movie does not dumb down the science and the theory and it challenges you to consider the concepts of their being different dimensions of life that we are not aware of outside of time, spatial relationships, and motion.

 

The story centers on Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned farmer, who discovers mysterious coordinates to a top-secret government project. He is recruited by his old colleague Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to lead a journey into the nether regions of space to, essentially, find a new home for humanity. While it’s somewhat glossed over in the film, the reason for this mission is because the Earth’s resources are dwindling rapidly, with the “blight” rendering the planet incapable of yielding any crops except for corn, although that will be over soon as well.

 

At any rate, despite the protests of his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), Cooper joins this all-important mission aboard the Endurance spacecraft alongside Brand’s daughter and biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romily (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) and two androids known as TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). Their mission is to enter a wormhole and explore the three planets orbiting the black hole Gargantua, which are named Miller, Mann and Edmunds, after the astronauts who explored them in the previous Lazarus missions. In Interstellar, Cooper wrestles with the decision to join the Endurance, since he knows he will be separated from his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) for an unknown amount of time. He doesn’t know then that years upon years will pass, with Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) growing up never knowing if and/or when their father will come back. It’s Murph’s undying faith that Coop will return that provides a heart-wrenching payoff.

 

What a quandry this film proposes, saving humanity (where through the vagaries of the relativity you only age a few years) at the expense of spending time with your family over a period of sixty or so years on earth. Which would you do? Do something that no one on earth will possibly remember that will save their lives or stay on earth, not take the risk and suffer and die with your family as the planet wastes away. Would you rather take the risk of failing in an effort to save humanity for which you may never get credit for and risk alienating and destroying family relationships to save something greater, humanity?

 

Sometimes, we have choices like that to make. We can take the easy way out or we can do the hard work whose fruit might not been seen in this lifetime or, at least, not for many years. We may choose comfort over doing hard work that may take many years to realize. We see this in this passage. Remember, back in the first approach to the Promised Land, the Israelites did not want to do the hard work of conquering the Promised Land. Wandering in the wilderness for 40 years was preferable to having to fight and claw and scratch out the conquest of the Promised Land. Remember, God promised them the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, but they did not want to do the work that was necessary to obtain it. Here in this passage, we see just how hard that work was. Let’s read it together now:

 

 

 

16 So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and put them to death. 18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

 

21 At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns. 22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive.

 

23 So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.

List of Defeated Kings

 

12 These are the kings of the land whom the Israelites had defeated and whose territory they took over east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge to Mount Hermon, including all the eastern side of the Arabah:

 

2 Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.

 

He ruled from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge—from the middle of the gorge—to the Jabbok River, which is the border of the Ammonites. This included half of Gilead. 3 He also ruled over the eastern Arabah from the Sea of Galilee[a] to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), to Beth Jeshimoth, and then southward below the slopes of Pisgah.

 

4 And the territory of Og king of Bashan, one of the last of the Rephaites, who reigned in Ashtaroth and Edrei.

 

5 He ruled over Mount Hermon, Salekah, all of Bashan to the border of the people of Geshur and Maakah, and half of Gilead to the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.

 

6 Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the Israelites conquered them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to be their possession.

 

7 Here is a list of the kings of the land that Joshua and the Israelites conquered on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir. Joshua gave their lands as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel according to their tribal divisions. 8 The lands included the hill country, the western foothills, the Arabah, the mountain slopes, the wilderness and the Negev. These were the lands of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. These were the kings:

9 the king of Jericho       one

the king of Ai (near Bethel)         one

10 the king of Jerusalem              one

the king of Hebron          one

11 the king of Jarmuth  one

the king of Lachish          one

12 the king of Eglon       one

the king of Gezer             one

13 the king of Debir        one

the king of Geder             one

14 the king of Hormah  one

the king of Arad               one

15 the king of Libnah     one

the king of Adullam       one

16 the king of Makkedah             one

the king of Bethel            one

17 the king of Tappuah one

the king of Hepher          one

18 the king of Aphek      one

the king of Lasharon      one

19 the king of Madon    one

the king of Hazor             one

20 the king of Shimron Meron   one

the king of Akshaph       one

21 the king of Taanach one

the king of Megiddo      one

22 the king of Kedesh    one

the king of Jokneam in Carmel  one

23 the king of Dor (in Naphoth Dor)        one

the king of Goyim in Gilgal         one

24 the king of Tirzah      one

thirty-one kings in all.

 

In this passage, we see that much of the conquest of the land of Canaan seems to have happened quickly (we can read about it in just a few pages), but it actually took seven (7) years. We often expect quick changes in our lives and quick victories over sin, over circumstances that oppress us, over obstacles to our successful enjoyment of life. However, our journey with God is a lifelong process and any changes in our lives or victories over that which we want to conquer may take time. It is easy to grow impatient with God and feel like giving up hope because things are moving too slowly, according to our standards. When we are too close to a situation, it is difficult to see progress. But when we get a chance to reflect, we can see that God never stopped working. In this passage, we see that this information is a summary of the first half of the book of Joshua. It lists kings and nations conquered by Joshua both east and west of the Jordan River. The accumulation of evidence here suggests that, even though it takes time sometimes, obedience to the Lord will result in victory and not just some quick fix.

 

That’s the thing that we must grapple with in our relationship with the Lord. If we are to grow in our relationship with Him sometimes we have to put in the work that we may not see immediate results from it. We want quick answers to our prayers. We want a “if I do this Lord, you will do that immediately” relationship with the Lord. Just think of how long Moses had to work in Midian before God called him to lead His people. Just think of Moses leading Israel in the desert for 40 years and not getting to even go into the Promised Land. He never got to see the fruition of the conquest, but without Moses’ efforts Israel would have never made it back to the Promised Land. Just think of Joseph toiling away in prison, falsely convicted of a crime he did not commit, mind you, for 12 years. Twelve years in prison for a crime he did not commit, but he continued being faithful to God (even when there was not immediate results). Jesus lived for 30 years in the flesh before He began His ministry. Was it wasted time? No. It was necessary for Jesus, the God in the flesh component of the Trinity, to know the feel, the touch, the everything of our merely mortal existence. He knows what it is like to cry over loved ones who have passed. He knows the joy of life’s great events in our lives. He knows pain of hitting his thumb with a hammer. He knows the pain of being beaten within an inch of His mortal existence. He knows it all from the human point of view. It took thirty years. Also, think of Jesus from His humanity’s perspective knowing that His death on the cross would give us a way to be reconciled forever with God but He had to endure real human suffering and a gruesome death for that to happen. He even asked the Father to take that cup from Him. What a choice that would be do something that will matter for eternity but you gotta put in the work on the cross that nobody will notice until they understand that you were not just human but you were the fully divine presence of God. Millions of people will ignore what you did. Millions more won’t even recognize that you even existed. But in order for everyone to have access to the Father through your payment on the cross, you must do this.

 

Sometimes, we must do the hard things to grow in Christ. We must do more than just what’s easy. We may suffer hardships as a result of our faith but the rewards go far beyond the here and now. Is God asking you to do something hard that will take a long time to see any benefits of. Sometimes being a Christ follower involves obedience without any tangible earthly results. But we must do them any way because God has directed us to do it. We may have a cushy life and a comfortable life now but God may be calling us to do something that is really hard? Are you willing to trade the here and now benefits of this life but miss out on God’s eternal blessings? What is God calling you to do that is hard and you are shying away from it? What if you miss the real eternal blessing that God has in store because what lies ahead seems to hard? The safety of here and now pales in comparison to the blessings that come from obedience.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:1-3

Punishment Befitting the Crime

 

I remember when I was a teenager and the new kid in town in Travelers Rest, SC (affectionatetly known as TR by the locals). After we had been there a few months, I was in pretty good with the youth group at one of the two churches that my dad served as Methodist minister. By October, after having moved to TR in June, I had started dating the girl who would eventually become my first wife and subsequently the mother of my two daughters. One night after the youth meeting on Sunday night after I had been dating Lisa for a couple of months, we were all hanging in the parking lot at the church talking – the whole Jackson Grove UMC posse. It was youth group at a small church but it was about 20 of us. One thing that I was unaware of was that before I moved to town and got Lisa interested in me was that Harold Perry had long had a crush on Lisa, but he was a shy introvert but a giant of a teenager. He was about 6’3” and 200 lbs at age 16. He never played sports for some reason. That spring before we moved to TR, Lisa had broken off a relationship with Charles Monroe so Harold must have thought that it was his chance to act on his crush on Lisa. However, the cute new preacher’s kid, me, had moved to town. I ruined his plans. He had this smoldering anger toward me. And it spilled out one night.

 

One night after youth group, teenagers being teenagers, not thinking or even caring about each other’s back stories, I must have made a flippant remark (not intended to do anything but draw laughter) about Harold’s manhood or something. I cannot even remember what was said. Then, to me, out of the blue, Harold the 6’3” behemoth picks up this boy, a boy of 5’6” in height at that age, 14, and throws me over his shoulders and start spinning round and round in imitation of a wrestling move. In my embarrassment in allowing myself to become a victim of such a public display, I did not wait for him to either stop or slam me to the ground, I did my best to wiggle free of the choke he had around my ankles on one side and my neck on the other. As he was spinning I was able to break free but that also meant that I went flying through the air toward the ground – because gravity is gravity and she is an unrelentingly consistent bitch. When I hit the ground it was chin first. Did I mention that the “ground” we on was the paved parking lot of Jackson Grove UMC? I scraped the heck out of my chin. It could have worse. The landing could have dug down through my skin to my chin bone. But luckily I had turn my face somewhat sideways right before my face hit the pavement so my chin did not take the full force of gravity and the immovable pavement.

 

When I arose, bloodied, embarrassed and shocked, I was all “what the heck was that all about, dude?” I couldn’t believe that I was just standing there joking around with my friends one moment and then the next I am spinning helplessly on the shoulders of a guy that hardly ever said anything to me, and now I standing there with a bloody chin and side of my face. I didn’t say “what the heck” and you know the what the…” that I said. It was only later when Lisa and I were talking about the event that I found out (being a clueless man – we are often clueless about things that women see, and a teenage one at that) that Harold had a crush on Lisa there for a while but never acted on it. Then I swooped in out of nowhere, to him, and took “his girl.” From that point on, he quietly disliked me greatly unbeknownst to me. I was clueless of the crime that I had committed in his eyes. And, then, bam, one night he punished me for a crime that I had no idea that I had committed.

 

That idea of punishments of crimes and the punishment fitting the crime brought that memory to the surface suddenly. I had not thought about the events of that night in the Jackson Grove parking lot for years and years. It is funny sometimes how the Holy Spirit draws out memories that are buried and forgotten so as to illustrate Scripture. He often takes memories of our lives to show us what Scripture means in relationship to real events in our life. This morning, that was certainly the case. Let us read Deuteronomy 25:1-3 now:

 

25 When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, 3 but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes.

 

At first glance, this passage seems irrelevant today. However, a closer look reveals some important principles about discipline. Are you responsible for the discipline of a child, a student, or an employee? Three important points will help you carry out your responsibility. First, let the punishment follow quickly after the offense. Second, let the degree of punishment reflect the seriousness of the offense. Finally, don’t overdo the punishment. Discipline that is swift, just and restrained makes its point while preserving the dignity of the offender.

 

In my case, Harold denied me of my dignity. He never identified to me what my crime was. He never stated that I had offended him. He never gave me the chance to defend myself against his charge against me. I was not given a fair trial. I was just punished. It is an example of how we often just lash out at people who have offended us. Sometimes, we have made up our mind on getting revenge and punishment without determining whether our outlook on the reality of the situation is valid or not. We just lash out. Sometimes, we lash out and our reaction is unjustified because there was no crime committed against us by the person. We knee jerk react to situations. This passage reminds us that we need to give our enemies a fair hearing before we execute punishment. We need for them to know how they have hurt us and get an explanation. Often times, people who have offended or hurt us, don’t even know that they have hurt us. Give them a fair hearing. Give them a chance to defend themselves. Then, let the punishment fit the crime. A lack of knowledge of what they had done wrong against you would deserve greater degree of mercy that a willful intent to hurt you. But even willful offenses do not deserve punishments beyond what fits the crime.

 

As we begin the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar today with Palm Sunday and continuing on through Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are reminded of how Jesus committed no crime, but was treated as if he had committed some great offense against the Jewish religious state and, also, the Roman Empire. He had committed no crime but to speak the truth of God. He was innocent of any real crime. However, it was all part of God’s plan to show mercy to us by taking out His wrath against sin against His Son on the cross instead of taking it out on us.

 

He was innocent. We are guilty. But He took the punishment that we deserved. God poured it all out on Him. All the wrath that I deserved. Jesus didn’t deserve the punishment of 40 lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails whip and with reeds. He didn’t deserve to have the flesh ripped from his body by that horrible kind of whip. He didn’t deserve the deep tissue bruises caused by being beat with wooden reeds. There was no unbiased judge that prevented that. There was no mercy shown Him for the crimes he supposedly (without evidence) had committed against the government. He did not deserve to be bloodied almost to death and then paraded through the streets with the cross beam on his shoulders. He did not deserve to be forced to carry that beam when he was beaten with an inch of his life and had bloody open wounds all over his body. He did not deserve to be put to death by crucifixion – still one of the most cruel and lengthy punishments to the death ever devised by man. He did not deserve what He got. He was innocent of His crime. But, yet, there was an eternal thing that He was doing in a temporal world. He died for all sins. He died for all your sins and all of mine. He took the punishment that He personally did not deserve.

Therefore, let us be a merciful people when people have offended us. Jesus didn’t deserve what happened to Him. But he accepted it anyway because of his love for us, our friends and even our enemies. Let us show mercy. Let us show restraint. When someone offends us, let us make sure first that they have indeed offended us. Let us give them the opportunity to seek forgiveness. Let us learn their back story. Let us offer forgiveness. Let us react in ways that are befitting to the crime that has been committed. Let us then forgive and restore. Let us be merciful as God has been merciful to us by giving the punishment we deserve for our crimes of sin to His Son instead of to us. Let us seek mercy as well as justice just as God has done with us.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 19:14-21 (Part 2)

Concern for Justice

Have you ever been blamed for something that you did not do? You see it all the time with kids. They will blame things on other kids and particularly their siblings if it will get them out of trouble with their parents, teachers, or other adults. We learn how to sin pretty quickly as children. Self-preservation is the rule of the day when it comes to kids. I think it was Bill Cosby who once said that you are not a real parent until you have more than one child. He said that with one child, you knew did it. With multiple children, you have weed through the accusatory finger pointing and the not-me’s to get to the truth of who did what.

 

I would see this all the time in my second marriage when we had the kids, all five of hers and mine, living together under the same roof. That did not last long, one year, before I allowed my girls to go live with their mother. It was probably one of the worst years of my life when looking back on it. It was impossible to enforce discipline on the boys even though their behavior was worse and more rebellious. There was this perception that I would not punish the girls but would punish the boys. My second wife fanned these flames with the boys and would confront me with it. The girls were simply better behaved than the boys and they did not intentionally challenge my authority. The boys were jealous of the girls and would blame things on them when they got the chance. Because of the geopolitics of nations that was going on my household, me trying to keep my second wife happy and keep the bedroom approval that I desired and coveted, the jealousies that are ever-present in a blended family, rebellious boys who never were disciplined before I met them, my girls who didn’t want to be living with us, the blame game between the boys toward my girls was an easy, effective way to ensure that nothing that the boys did got punished.

 

When I look back at that “year from hell” now, I cringe to the point of nausea at my lack of being the leader of my home. I ceded my authority in pursuit of my idol, which in the nicest term possible was bedroom approval. How I did not have the kahunas to stand up for what was right and true (because I feared loss of bedroom approval) was the cause of an unruly household. I truly felt sorry for my girls having to live in a house where at any moment they could get blamed for something and the boys would get away with whatever they did without punishment. I should have been more of man. My solution was to let the girls go live with their mom to get them out of the pea soup of accusations and jealousies that existed at my house. I should have. I would have. I could have. These are things that we say when looking back our past as the re-runs of memories pass by in your head. The sad part is that the opportunity of those situations has passed and the actions taken back then are etched in stone now and cannot be changed. Oh, though, to think of how I have matured as a Christian man since then. Knowing what I know now about being the spiritual leader of my house. What I know now about where my value comes from! How I wonder at how I would have responded to these punishment situations where false accusations were being made. May I be able to discern false testimony going forward!

 

Those painful memories of the past where I failed to act against false accusations was the thing that I thought about this morning as we return this passage, Deuteronomy 19:14-21, a second time. Let us refresh our memories and read through it together once more now:

 

14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

 

15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

 

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

 

Here, we see that a false witness was to receive the same punishment that the accused person would have suffered. When I looked back at trying to raise a blended family, I did a disservice to everyone involved for not ferreting out false accusations and getting to the truth of matters. I was too concerned with my own bedroom approval needs than I was about justice and doing the right thing.

 

Have you ever blamed someone else for something that you did? It’s not just children that do it. We do it as adults and we often get away with it. We either directly blame someone else for what we did or we sit silently and let someone take the fall that we should be taking. We also blame others for our own troubles as if we did not have a hand in the lot that we have in life.

 

We can get away with things such as these here on earth. We can blame others for actions we have taken that were wrong or that hurt others. We can blame others for our mistakes. We can blame others for how we have become who we are. We can spend our whole lives doing that and doing it successfully. But at the end of it all, we will face the Righteous Judge. The Righteous Judge, God on His throne, is the one guy that we can’t BS with. We cannot pull the wool over the eyes of the Creator of All Things. He is full of wisdom and truth. He knows all knowledge. He sees all things. He knows the hearts of men, and women. He knows the truth that we have covered with lies. He knows our sins that we have kept hidden all these years. He knows the truth about who and what we are. He knows your deepest, darkest secrets.

 

Who will you blame then? Who will I blame then? These arguments that we successfully used on earth to cover up our sins will not be valid arguments here. He already knows it all. All the stuff we did. All of it! Alllllll of it! He knows about all the big ugly things we have done down all the way to that box of paper clips that we stole from our office. He knows it all. We cannot BS our way around our sins. They will be on full display before the Righteous Judge. We will not be able to “shuck and jive” Him. We will not be able to explain anything away! We will be condemned before Him. None of us is righteous. Not even one! None of us is pure before the One Who Knows Our Heart.

 

There is only one course of action that we have when our case is heard before God’s throne (and it will be, let me assure you) is to have fallen on our faces before God and asked him to forgive us of our sins (and knowing that God in His purity does not have to do that) and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and is our Savior. When our case is heard, He is our city of refuge. He covers up all of our ugliness, darkness and sin in His purity. Jesus says to the Father, this one is mine. I have taken the punishment for this one already. He is my follower. Jesus says to the Father, this one is most assuredly guilty before you for the past that he has but He has proclaimed Me as His Savior and His Lord and He has been living for me under the direction of the Holy Spirit for some time now. He still sins, yes, but his own sins revolt him and make Him nauseous about himself and that drives him to his knees daily calling out to me to indwell him and make him more holy day by day. Father, Jesus says, this one is mine. Let him pass into heaven.

 

Where do you stand this morning? Are you still covering up your lies? Are you still blaming others? Are you afraid of what will happen when you die and meet whatever comes next? Even non-believers think that there is some karmic justice after death. We are wired by God, believer or not, to believe that there is justice in the afterlife. As a believer, we know that the Righteous Judge is the one-true God who created the universe by speaking it into existence. Ignoring the existence of God does not make Him not exist. Come to Him now and fall before Him. He knows your stuff. All of it. He knows all the stuff that you keep hidden. Fall before Him. Beg for His forgiveness. Ask Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life. So that at this life’s journey is at its end and we face the Righteous Judge, Jesus can say, this one…this one is mine.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 13:1-16 (Part 3 of 3)

A Warning Against Idolatry

 

What’s going on with America, right now? There is a large segment of Americans that are unwilling to give Donald Trump a chance to prove or disprove that he is worthy of the office that he holds. Late night talk show hosts, actors giving acceptance speeches that veer off into political tirades, women marching to protect their right to use abortion as a form of birth control belting out speeches that would make Richard Nixon blush. Every member of the Trump team is fair game for vitriolic blasting and rather mean humor. And the man has been in office for only 13 days so far. Some like Madonna have even gone as far as to say they want to blow up the White House with Trump in it. They have made decidedly mean remarks about Trump’s wife and what she wears. They have made insidious remarks about Trump’s youngest child, his ten year-old son, Baron.

 

Never before in my lifetime, that now stretches 54 ½ years, have I seen such personally-specific hatred for the person holding the office of the President of the United States. I was old enough in the late 60’s and early 70s to remember the protests against the Vietnam War that filled our television screens (the three channels that we could choose back then – ABC, CBS, and NBC). Those protests were strong and there was a generally higher moral ground that those protests appealed to. There was a general feeling that there was an industrial/military complex at work in our nation to keep us in wars and the ideology of stopping communism wherever we find it was growing tired. Did we really have to have more and more wars after World War II. And in an effort to stop communism at all cost we were picking and choosing and defending the sovereignty of corrupt governments – particularly in South Vietnam. The protests were against our government but not specifically the President. There was still a respect for the office then. Even though Lyndon Johnson was a consummate politician that would make a back room deal with the best of them, he was not necessarily the direct object of hate of the protestors. Johnson, when he took over at the death of Kennedy, was even given time to prove himself before the war protestors began in earnest to protest what we were doing in Vietnam.

 

However, the left seems to have come unhinged at the thought of Donald Trump being President. After years of liberal presidents, and particularly, the last one, Obama, they seem to have lost self-control. Trump-hate is in full force these days. To the liberal left, Trump represents all of the evil forces of the world. He is Darth Vader to them. He is operating the Death Star that is going to destroy the earth – to them. They seem to almost believe that Trump represents racism of centuries gone by. They seem to think that he represents oppression of women’s rights. They think he is going to turn the clock back. They think that he is a tyrant that should be killed. They think that he somehow stole the election. They seem to refuse to believe that the majority of Americans in the majority of the states elected this man because they were tired of seeing America drift further and further to the left. The conservative right was energized by Trump’s brashness and finally spoke up after years of resigning themselves that the liberal agenda was the way of the world – with its transgenderism, liberal elitism, the removal of faith from the public domain. Trump tapped into that quiet and latent anger toward the direction of the country that was being celebrated by the left and the media. Trump did not steal the election. He simply tapped into the latent anger of conservative suburban and rural America. Obama was elected by the liberal urban centers and in both elections failed to carry the majority of suburban and rural counties in America. Trump however solidified these voters in rural and suburban counties across America to produce his victory without carry a single large, liberal urban center.

 

So that is the surprising thing here is that the liberal left, so democratic in nature, so uplifting of individual human rights, refuse to accept the results of the election. They refuse to even give the main a chance to fail as a leader. They have already failed him. Not my President is their battle cry. Yes, he is your President. I did not vote for Obama and could not vote for Clinton, but I respected and accepted that Obama was the President. I prayed that he would make wise decisions while he was in office. I would have done the same if Clinton was in office. I certainly did not agree with Obama’s policies and his support of the liberal elitist agenda. However, he was the President and we had to deal with him and we did so through Congress. Same approach with Clinton had she won. There is a constructive way to voice our opposition. However, the liberal left today, is not even giving this man a chance. They are equating him with Satan from the moment he took office. To much of conservative America (the vast rural and suburban America), the liberal left along with their taking every media opportunity to equate Trump with Satan, just comes off as a temper tantrum. The man has been in office in less than two weeks and they are acting as if he is going to suspend the constitution and institution a dictatorship. Everything associated with Trump including his 10 year old son is fair game for their hatred.

 

That’s the amazing thing here to me is that the liberal elite of our country has long been the champion of the downtrodden, the forgotten, the ostracized. They have been the champions against what they considered close-mindedness against transgender, gays, and all of the oppressed races of our country. Yet, they refuse to allow Trump to prove himself worth or unworthy. They have branded him unworthy without evidence of how he will govern. They want to invalidate the results of the election without a trial. They want to impeach him because they don’t like him. They are displaying the very kind of prejudice that they fight against.

 

Sure, I am not a big Trump fan. I personally felt that of all the Republican candidates, Marco Rubio, would have made the best president. Sure, I think Trump is brash and suffers from foot in mouth disease. Sure, I cringe every time he is interviewed and thus cannot be handled by his handlers. Sure, I think he is ill-prepared to be president. Sure, I think that he had better hire a lot of smart people around him so that he doesn’t get America in trouble that we can’t get out of. Sure, I think he ran for president for egotistical reasons – the last feather in his cap kind of thing. Sure, I think we as Republicans are walking a tight rope with him as President in a way that puts the 2020 elections fully in jeopardy as Trump is, in effect, galvanizing the Democratic party. Sure, I am pretty darn sure that Trump is a one-termer. Sure, I think he most likely will fail miserably as President. My vote for him was not so much a validation of him as “my guy” but as a vote against the wildly liberal agenda of Hillary Clinton.

 

Having said all that, though, Trump may well surprise us and end up being a successful President. Right now, I must give him that benefit of the doubt. I must let there be an accumulation of evidence as to the type of president he is going to be. I must reserve judgment before I say he is not my president (but yet respect that he holds the office). I must reserve judgment and not automatically assume that he is the worst president ever. I must reserve judgment and weigh the evidence that will accumulate before us before I equate him with Satan.

 

That idea of God desiring us to weigh the evidence before judgment is rendered is what I thought of this morning when I read Deuteronomy 13, particularly vv. 12-16. Let us read it together this morning:

 

13 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

 

12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,[b] both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, 17 and none of the condemned things[c] are to be found in your hands. Then the Lord will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you. He will increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your ancestors— 18 because you obey the Lord your God by keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.

 

In this passage, a town that completely rejected God was to be destroyed so as not to lead the rest of the nation astray. However, Israel was not to take action against a town until the rumor about the rejection of God was proved true. This guideline saved many lives. If we hear of friends who have wandered from the Lord or hear of entire congregations that have gone astray, we should check the facts and find the truth before doing or saying anything that could prove harmful. There are times, for sure, that God wants us to take action but we must be sure that we have our facts straight before we do. God wants us to not react with a mob mentality to things that may or may not be true. God wants us to weigh the evidence. He set up a whole system of justice in the Old Testament that acts as a model to modern court systems today. Nowhere in the Bible does God act without justice. There is always evidence to support why God does what He does in judgment of the peoples in the Bible. He is the Great Judge who makes his judgments based on the evidence presented.

 

But, yet, at the same time, He shows mercy even when the evidence shows a need for just punishment. In Jesus Christ, He shows us the most mercy. In order to be in God’s presence, we must have no sin in us. We must be perfect. We must be completely holy lest we be consumed by the perfection and holiness of God. Sin makes us imperfect. Just one sin taints us from ever having the privilege on our own merits to be in the presence of God in heaven. We are disqualified from the moment of the first sin and the first sin comes early. Not to mention that we commit a lifetime of sins before we reach our judgment day. In the court of God, we cannot claim that one sin was an aberration. We have a lifetime of sinful behavior that establishes a pattern of disregard for God’s law. We thus cannot ask for pre-trial intervention. We are habitual sin criminals before the Judge. We deserve that He should throw the book at us. He should give us the stiffest sentence possible. He is right and just to throw us into the deepest, darkest parts of hell, each and every one of us. However, He gives us a way out through Jesus Christ. God poured out His punishment on Jesus for what should have been our punishment. Jesus took the punishment we deserve. Jesus thus covers us and makes us acceptable in God’s sight. God knows that we are sinners but He gives us grace and imputed holiness and perfection through Jesus Christ.

 

God is a God who gives us grace even though we by the evidence should deserve punishment. He gives us grace even though there is evidence. He withholds judgment through grace. God is a God that is willing to allow us the benefit of the doubt. He should by all rights judge us but He gives us a reprieve through Jesus Christ.

 

It is for that same reason that I am going to give Donald Trump, the arrogant, brash, uncultured ass that he is, a chance to govern before I call for his head. I will give him a chance to govern and gather evidence of his unfitness before I pronounce that Trump is not my president. Let us gather the evidence and make the judgment then. That we should gather evidence before judgment is not only the politically correct thing to do. It is the biblical thing to do.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 1:19-25

Scouts Explore the Land

I remember a short time ago as far as eternity goes, how things were extremely different than they are now. It was a mere twelve years ago. My second marriage had ended. As I have stated before, I allowed myself to get so wrapped up in maintaining my second marriage that I forsook all things including my children. Just to keep my wife happy I would do only what was necessary for my kids and no more. I do not blame my second wife anymore for these things. I allowed it to happen. She knew she had power over me and who wouldn’t take advantage of that? I had made her my god and all else was secondary to making her happy. I lost my soul in maintaining access to her female charms to the point that I lost who I was. Any behavior was acceptable to me to maintain approval so as to maintain access to what a woman can give a man. So, when the trajectories of having to support my child in college (beyond what was required of me by child support order) and my need to maintain the approval of my wife collided, the marriage ended before it ended. My second wife began staying out all night with her buddies from work and would not come home until late in the evening. The marriage was dead and beyond repair. We split up. I had to walk away.

 

When things came to a head and she left me no alternative but to leave after three weeks of bickering and three weeks of silence that was not to change, I called it quits. When I finally got the kahunas to do that, I think I actually heard the earth split into inside my head. Those first months after the breakup were the hardest. The weeks were hard. It was hard to even get out of bed, but something made me go to work in those days. It was a diversion from my depression that was always there in the background. It was like I felt that people could see how lousy I felt about myself and I had to work hard to hide my warts all day. However, if it were not for work, I do not know what I would have done. It was a temporary time to focus mostly on something else other than my loneliness and depression. The evenings and weekends were the worst. I was so depressed those first few months that there was no way for me to get out in the world. I was so self-conscious. It felt like people could see that my second wife was out there living it up with her party girl lifestyle and that I had nothing. It made me withdraw. Weekends were long and painful as I would hardly leave my apartment from Friday evening to Monday morning. Each tick of the clock was excruciatingly long and painful. Each tick was loud and palpable as time slowly, ever so slowly marched forward. I used to look forward to weekends but during those first few months after the breakup, I dreaded the weekends. The march of time on the weekend was audible. There was a time that I just wished I would stop living. I never considered suicide. That’s just not who I am. I did however wish that the pain would go away fervently. I was in a hole and did not know when and if it were to ever end. That’s what happens when you make a person your god and then that god is removed.

 

Even though a natural death would have been welcomed those first few months, there was always that hope that things would get better. It was a small sliver of hope that was microscopic back then, but it was a hope nonetheless. There was a dream of a life that was better. There was a slight point of light that said you will have joy again. It was a battle against the overwhelming depression that I felt in those days, but it was there and that little tiny, infinitesimal, faint light of hope that kept me going. Things would get better. Things would get better. Things would get better. Like a drug addict coming off drugs thinks the world is going to end, I was coming off my drug of making a person my god. It was the most painful experience of my life. There was a hope, however small, that pulled me through. I think that it was the Holy Spirit maintaining my sanity so that I could get to where I am today. That sliver of hope carried me through. I have been through the valley of darkness and I have survived it. If you only have a sliver of hope that things are going to get better, you still have hope. Cling to it. It is a life raft offered by the Holy Spirit.

 

It is that idea of clinging to hope instead of letting the overwhelming sense of doom overtake you that I thought of this morning. We all need that life raft of a bed frame to cling to like in the movie Titanic when all things around you are sinking. Let’s read the passage together today, Deuteronomy 1:19-25:

 

19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. 20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

 

23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. 24 They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 25 Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

 

The scouts had been sent out to determine not whether to enter the Promised Land but where they should enter. Upon returning, though, the scouts concluded that the obstacles were too large. God would give them the power to conquer the land, but they decided that the risk was too great and they let fear overtake them. God gives us the power to overcome our obstacles but we often let our circumstances control our lives. We can let our circumstances define us and defeat us and drive us into the ground. When we have trust in the Lord, no matter how bleak the situation looks, we demonstrate courageous, overcoming faith.

 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you do not have doubts about whether God is listening and caring when we go through the depths of the valley. Sure, even the strongest have doubts. Even, Jesus in the flesh on the cross asked the Father why He had forsaken Him, as Jesus felt the weight of the punishment of God for all sin for all time. We, too, will have doubts as we go through our valleys. But Jesus never lost faith while suffering on the cross. He clung to the obedience of doing His Father’s will. He knew that His objective was greater than His momentary pain. We too must cling to hope when we go through our valleys. I am witness to tell you that your resurrection is coming. It will get better. I am a living example. I am now standing on the high, dry ground. He has blessed me with a resurrected life that is firmly planted in Him. I have a great wife who loves me unconditionally no matter what. She is the wife that He intended for me. I have a great job in the secular world and I am serving the Lord at my church part-time on staff and full-time in any way I can. I am blessed. Jesus pulled me through those dark early days. I survived. I made it to the other side. Jesus was that faint light that I walked toward when I was surrounded by darkness.

 

Keep you eyes on Jesus and not your circumstances. Things will change if you trust Him no matter how hard it seems right now. You will make it. Hold Jesus’ hand!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 19:1-22 (Part 1 of 3)

The Water of Purification

As Christ followers, we sometimes read the Old Testament and wonder why it is filled with these stories of unclean and clean things. We wonder how that applies to us. How can killing a red heifer without physical defect apply to our daily lives in any way? Atheists, those who loathe God’s Word for whatever their reasons may be, point to things like this as an indication that the Bible is at best good literature but nothing to live your life by. I will have to admit, at first reading, of this passage for this morning, Numbers 19:1-22, that I said to myself, “What am I going to write about this morning?” Then, it hit me.

 

As J. Ligon Duncan, III (who happens to have been a classmate of my at Furman University back in the early 80’s), writes in his sermon on Numbers 19, and which can be found at http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/with-god-in-the-wilderness-26-the-red-heifer, he says,

 

“…as the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, death was everywhere. It was everywhere. Death was a standing issue, and so it is a picture of God’s loving, caring concern for His people that He talks with them about how they ought to respond to death. This is especially important in light of the fact that the cultures around them had all manner of wrong responses to death. The cultures around Israel were often involved in the cult of the dead, in the worship of the dead; they would offer food sacrifices to the dead. They would come to the graves of the dead with food and put it there; they would attempt to commune with the dead through occult practices, and God wanted nothing of that in Israel. And so He spends an entire chapter informing the children of Israel of how they need to respond to death. This makes sense because of the context of death in the wilderness. Death was everywhere.”

 

When we visit this passage twice more in the next two blogs, we will take about the similarities of the water of purification to baptism and the similarities of the red heifer to Christ Himself, but for today. Let’s talk about how God was molding His people through some of these regulations that see archane and, at best, odd to us in the 21st century. This regulation that we have here is about death and dead bodies. In the centuries before Christ, human culture was quite different. Death was everywhere. Sickness caused by handling dead bodies was issue. They did not have the technology for preserving bodies for extended periods of time between death and burial. So there were severe health concerns by allowing persons to come in contact with decomposing bodies. In the wilderness of the desert of the Sinai, what to do with dead bodies was a big concern.

 

Other cultures glorified death in bizzare ways as Ligon Duncan indicates in the quote of his that I used. They worshiped the dead. They had bizarre rituals when it came to responding to the dead. What we consider the prohibition against tattoos in Deutoronomy has to do with how other cultures handled death. Some cultures would cut themselves, not symbolically but actual, literal cutting of their skin, and paint their bodies as they mourned the death of person they either loved or knew. God did not want His people to participate is this type of worship of death. God wanted His people to have none of that. Ancient Middle Eastern cultures were, as many cultures around the world, obsessed with death – the curiosity of it, the worship of it, developing ancestral myths over it. No wonder! Death was everywhere. The population of our planet did not start growing exponentially until 400-500 years ago with the advent of modern understandings of medicine and health. Before, then, the world’s population was less than 1 billon people right up until the 1700’s when things started exploding. Earth’s population now is estimated at close to 7.4 Billion in 2016 and is projected to be 11.2 Billion in just 150 more years. The world’s population has will have grown eleven-fold between 1700 and 2150. Mind boggling, even with the advances in birth control that we have now that the earth will have 51% more people than now in just 150 years. However, in the cultures of the ancient Middle East the world had to deal with death on a widespread scale on a daily basis. Death and dead bodies were everywhere. So death was easily something that cultures could become obsessed with and how it could develop into a religious thing.

 

God wanted His people to be a different people. He wanted them to be a nation of priest. He wanted them to be living testaments to the one true and living God. He wanted them to be separate and act differently than the cultures around them. He wanted them to be different. He wanted to be His representatives to the world because it would be through this unique culture of the Israelites that would come the Messiah to the nations. He wanted people of the world to drawn unto God through His people so that they would know the One True God and would be the kingdom of priests who would herald the one true King in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s read through this passage while thinking of how God wanted His people to be uncommon in a world that did not know how to handle dead bodies properly and in a world where the cult of death had become a religion:

 

19 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 2 “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. 6 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. 7 After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. 8 The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.

 

9 “A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. 10 The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the foreigners residing among them.

 

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.

 

14 “This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, 15 and every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean.

 

16 “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

 

17 “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. 18 Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death. 19 The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. 20 But if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean. 21 This is a lasting ordinance for them.

 

“The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. 22 Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”

 

 

What’s my takeaway this morning? Sure, all this seems like weird to us in our 21st century sensibilities but so do third world country practices today to us. Let us not dismiss the deeper messages of this passage getting lost in the surface details. The first thing that I notice here today is that God wanted His chosen people to be different from the world around them. He did not want them to assimilate their practices. He did not want them to start chipping away at His prescriptions for their holiness by assimilating the cultural practices of the world around them.

 

How relevant is that thought? We as Christians are being threatened on every side today to assimilate the culture’s practices around us. We are being pressured to accept that which is clearly against God’s Word. We are called old-fashioned, ignorant, and intolerant if we do not dive headfirst into accepting that which the culture has accepted as normal and OK. We are to be a kingdom of priests so that the world will be drawn unto Jesus Christ through loving and compassionate interaction with the world around us. However, if you cannot tell any difference between us and the world, what are they going to be drawn to. We can love the world but not participate in its ways. We can love the world by interacting with them and develop relationships with them but not accepting those behaviors of the world as our own. We can love the world by getting to know them right where they are at and leading them to knowledge of Jesus without buying into cultural norms that are clearly against God’s Word. We must love them and not hate them because we should not wish eternal separation from God in eternal damnation on even our worst enemy. Let us be that different. Let us be the difference. Let us be that kingdom of priests who points the way to the cross to a world that desperately needs it.

 

Amen and Amen.