What makes you shout? Your kid reaching for a cookie even though you told them not to? A coworker expecting you to do something when it isn’t your job? Someone cutting you off in traffic on the way here this morning? Duke making it to the Elite Eight? UNC not making it to the Elite Eight?
Question: Does Jesus ever make you shout? I’m not talking about a firm “Yes” as you politely sip coffee and wait for the next part of the sermon. I’m talking about a feel it in your belly, this is so exciting, I’m just that blessed by God so I’m gonna let the world know, kind of shout.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday before they even knew it was Palm Sunday, the people couldn’t help but shout. But it’s a bit strange shouting, isn’t it? Because there wasn’t anything altogether that spectacular about Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem. This morning we’re going to examine two things: (1) Why Shout? and (2) How to Shout?
I. Why Shout?
Picture the scene. Jesus was on the Mt. of Olives – which is just outside Jerusalem at about 2700 feet. That’s a decent height. From there he can see Jerusalem. Now – if you head back in Scripture just a chapter before Jesus tells his disciples this truth: 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem…and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Do you suppose Jesus could picture it from there? Could he see the garden where he would be betrayed and arrested? Could he see the courtyard where he would be falsely accused and condemned? Could he see Calvary…a hill not too far away…where he would hang on a cross and die?
Understand this. If you book a hotel on Priceline and you want to write it off for your taxes, you have to list the purpose of the business trip. A conference. A client meeting. A nearby Expo.
The point of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem was that he would suffer and die to save people from their sin. Do you think the IRS would let him write that off on his taxes?
Yet in spite of the gloomy circumstances surrounding his impending stay in Jerusalem, Jesus made preparations to enter. As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
Maybe Jesus had made arrangements beforehand; maybe he’s just being divine and knowing exactly where to send the disciples to borrow a donkey. Because verse 6 says, The (disciples) went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
Now how many here have been to a parade before? Parades are exciting. There are marching bands, beautifully decorated floats, acrobats, a giant balloon or two, and a few people tossing candy.
I grew up in a small town of 20,000 people. We had parades. They had the local beauty queen. A few dozen firetrucks. And that guy who’s driving along in a car--not a particularly impressive car either – maybe a 1997 Chevy Lumina minivan – and on the side of the car is the name of his business – “Bob’s A/C and Heating Supply”. The only thing interesting happening is that the guy is waving from the window. Maybe he’s tossing a few of those hard candies you get in droves from the dollar Store.
It’s not the most exciting.
Jesus is entering Jerusalem in a similar fashion. He’s not on a beautiful stallion. He’s not in the back of an awesome chariot. He’s not driving a fancy muscle car. He’s not at the top of a gigantic horse drawn podium like Santa Claus in the Macy’s parade.
He’s riding a donkey. A young donkey. He’s sitting on a coat for decoration. That’s it.
And the people went bananas: Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. The Apostle John tells us they were palm branches. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our Father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
I’ve never reacted with that kind of fanfare for a parade. How about you?
It makes you wonder why. Why are they that excited to see Jesus? If we examine their words closely, we’ll get clued in as to why this is so exciting:
Hosanna! Hosanna is a Hebrew word. It’s an imperative. It simply means “Save!”
If your basketball team has been struggling in any tournament game, maybe you caught yourself chanting: “Score!” Score! Score already!” It’s something they are capable of doing and you want them to do.
Why were these people chanting “Save!?!” “Teach!” we could understand. “Love!” would seem appropriate. “Make the Pharisees look bad,” would be a fun chant as well.
But this word “Hosanna” teaches us so much about who Jesus is. He’s more than a teacher. He’s more than a nice guy. He’s more than a rebel that made the local officials feel foolish.
He’s the Savior.
This is key. Your level of understanding of this one word alone will affect your excitement today and always.
Truth is there’s a lot going on in our lives – financial struggles, relationship breakdowns, constant business. Learning about Jesus at church or in your Bible seem just like one more thing to cross off the list of ‘ToDos”. Indistinguishable in importance from one bullet point to another. This whole idea of Jesus it might not seem all that exciting all the time. I don’t even toss out candy…usually.
So whether you’ve forgotten, not pondered it in a while ,or simply never been told, consider what Jesus saves us from. Here’s three simple passages:
1 Timothy 1: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…
Sinners are those who have done sin. Sin is anything wrong, selfish, greedy, lustful, rageful. Sin is God’s Word for wrong. It is the word for the awful things that humans say and do to each other.
Are you a sinner? Have you ever said or done something wrong? (I’m raising my hand real high right now.)
Not what 1 Timothy says though. Jesus came to save sinners. It doesn’t say that he came to show off. It doesn’t’ say that he came to high five the righteous. It says that he came to save! To remove sins that had marred our souls from before God’s sight. He came to wipe away our guilt. He came to cleanse us from sins!
This is a big deal. Because sins leads to God’s wrath. That's something else we need saving from. That’s because God hates sin and wants nothing to do with sin. He must punish it.
That may sound harsh, but consider how humans demand fairness. If you are driving down Falls of Neuse at 55 mph –the exact same speed as the car next to you and the cop pulls you over but not him, don’t you demand justice?
If you and a friend complete a test in school, but they get a higher grace because the teacher likes her better, don’t you demand justice?
If so, you’re like God. He’s just. He must punish all sin. Which means he must punish sinners. Sinners like you. Sinners like me.
Romans 5:9 says, We shall be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus! It’s as if Jesus saw God’s wrath coming and stepped in front of it for us.
Like a friend who stands in front of a fan, so that you don’t feel it’s cool breeze, Jesus stood in front of us so that we don’t feel the full force of God’s wrath! He did it on the cross. He suffered and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Then Jesus saved us from one more thing. 2 Timothy 1:10 says, “Our Savior, Jesus Christ…destroyed death and brought life…through the Gospel.” That happened on Easter. He broke open the grace and broke open death. Death no longer means eternal separation from God and from loved ones. By faith in Jesus death means life. Eternal life.
Maybe you are thinking, “That all sounds nice. But how do we know it’s true?” Check out the second line of praise from the Palm Sunday onlookers: “Blessed is He Who Comes in the name of the Lord.”
Ever been to the store looking for FDA approved meat? If you see that seal on the package, then you know the meat is safe to eat. The practices are humane. The food is not going to poison you. It’s approved by the FDA.
Jesus is God approved. He came in the name of the Lord. We know this from more than just the people’s words. We’re smarter than that. We know this from Jesus’ miracles. God miracles. Things no one else could do! He stopped storms, cast out incurable diseases, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to talk, and the dead to rise. On more than one occasion, a voice came from the skies – long before the time of microphones and speakers – and this voice said, “This is my Son whom I love with Him I am well pleased.”
God the Father had given his seal of approval for Jesus’ work. Jesus was now entering Jerusalem -- to suffer and die – work that was approved by God. Approved by the Father as the only way for you and me to get to heaven.
Buddha didn’t get that kind of approval.
Neither did Mohammed.
Neither did that Yoga teacher from Daily Burn ‘becoming one with your spirit’ breathing enhancement.
Jesus is the God approved way to be saved!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of the Father. This wasn’t the chant of some political zealots excited that the “God” party was being formed and soon all the rules in Ancient Rome would match up with God’s rule.
It means God had come to rule in hearts. To speak peace. To give joy. To hold in love. To promise a forever—happily ever after—in heaven to all who believe in Jesus.
Fear doesn’t rule. Peace does. Guilt doesn’t rule. Joy does. Hatred doesn’t rule. Love does. Death –awful, terrifying, frightening no longer rules. It’s not even death anymore. It’s life.
Hosanna in the Highest! Translated loosely this means “Raise the roof!” Why not? Look at all the awesome things that Jesus was going to do for the people in Jerusalem – the things he has done for you. He saved you from your sins. He saved you from your guilt. He saved you from eternal punishment. By believing in Him, he saves you to an eternity of pain free, guilt free, sin free bliss in heaven!
You see – we shout because God shouts! When our consciences shout, “Guitly. You are condemned. God can’t forgive you.” God speaks to us in His Word. He speaks through Jesus. He says, “You are forgiven. You are loved. You will be in heaven!!!”
That’s worth shouting about, isn’t it?
II. How to Shout
So…how loudly have you been shouting?
I don’t own an applause meter. I’m not going to hold it up and see if we can break Gethsemane’s all time decibel record on the next hymn. This isn’t an imperative to go downtown, set up a box on the curb, and scream at everyone who passes by.
Let’s worry less about how loud your voice is and more about how loud your life is. Think about the last couple of weeks…even months. How loudly have you been a witness for Christ?
· Are you certain to never miss a Sunday singing Amazing Grace in church OR just certain that you never miss a chance to sing karaoke?
· Can people glance at the cross by your workplace computer OR is it hard to find under the stacks of Duke memorabilia?
· Does your Facebook wall state, “I’m a Republican. I love country music. I’m obsessed with Hunger Games. I bleed NC State red. But…my religious views? That’s none of your business.”
Brothers and sisters, there are lots of people telling you to quiet down with your Christianity and your Jesus. Today I tell you crank it up! Turn that Jesus praise volume in your life all the way up! Do it in 3 Ways.
1) Shout in More Places.
If there’s anyone outside on a walk and I ran out and asked them what I just said, even if I was screaming it they would probably have no idea.
You can’t just shout in church. You need to “shout” in other places to.
Shout at home. Let them see you reading the Bible. Let them hear you praying. Make sure you practice forgiveness. Let them see you leaving for church. Shout at work. Invite someone to Easter. Pray for your friends. Lovingly, calmly, boldly share your faith in Jesus. Shout on the internet. Pass on Bible passages. Share what God has done for you today. Invite people Easter! Shout in other places too -- Shout in your neighborhood. Shout with your friends. Shout at the dog park, the laundromat, at Starbucks, at Goodberry’s for an ice cream. For goodness sakes shout in the library.
Wherever you are give glory to Jesus and don’t be afraid to let others know what Jesus has done.
2) Shout without Shouting.
The truth is that sometimes audible words aren’t enough. Sometimes big flashy, obnoxious, neon colored signs get your attention better than a few loudly spoken words. Krispy Kreme knows this and their light up “FRESH RIGHT NOW” sign drives people into the restaurant until the cars back up to the street.
Think of your life the same way. Jesus said, “Let your light shine that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ point? Do everything you can to show people the love of Christ with your actions. Maybe they’ll take notice and then ask you and you’ll be able to tell them about what Jesus has done for them.
So be the best coworker you can be. Be the best neighbor your neighbor has ever had. Be an incredible mommy. Be a respectable father. Take pride in showing people love in a incredible, selfless, servant minded, “I’ve gotta pay attention to that” kind of way.
3) Shout Clearly
I love the Precious Lambs kids. But sometimes when I’m eating lunch with them, I have no idea what they just asked me. Perhaps it’s my ears OR perhaps it’s all the mashed potatoes up in their mouths.
Make sure your is a clear confession. If someone is seeing you drunk on Saturday night, but off to church Sunday morning, how is that clear? If someone is hearing you use foul language one minute and then, saying a prayer the next minute, how is that clear? If someone is hearing you invite them to church, but then you don’t show up at that same service, how is that clear? If someone is hearing you say “show love to everyone,” but then you are cold and abrasive to someone just because they look different than you, how does that clearly give praise to Jesus?
Shout clearly. Examine every aspect of your life to make sure it’s coming in line with God’s will. Make sure that everything you say and do points people back to Jesus!
Because here’s the deal. If on that first Palm Sunday – only a few people had politely golf clapped – thousands of people would have missed it. They would have missed seeing their Savior. They would have missed the cue to what he was about to do.
But together –that first Palm Sunday was an event for all to see. With everyone shouting God’s praises – it was clear that something awesome was going on. Something awesome was coming.
Together we are that voice. We are one loud voice. Shouted loudly in all kinds of places. Shouting loudly throughout North Raleigh. Shouting clearly this Easter message: JESUS IS THE SAVIOR! Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Amen.
Today we’re looking at a time in Scripture where a few people felt all alone and completely outnumbered. It’s the next sermon in our series on Old Testament FaithTests As you listen, think about your life. Would you have trusted God in that situation? Do you trust God even when you feel all alone?
I. The Intrigue
This test is found in 2 Kings 6:8-17. Take a look at the background that verse 8 gives us. “The King of Aram was at war with Israel.” Now commonly in ancient battles warfare was a lot like you see it in the movies. One army lined up facing the other army. Then they would fight in hand to hand combat.
The king appears to have been getting creative in his warfare. Verse 8 continues, “After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.” He had in mind a surprise attack and was hoping to catch the Israelites off guard.
But it wasn’t working. Every time they went and hid behind a hill or in the forest…they would wait. And wait. And wait. The Israelites would never come.
Here’s why: 9 Elisha, the man of God, sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.”
As you might expect, the Aramean king was getting upset. 11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” He suspects a mole and begins a full scale investigation into who was leaking their tactical information.
But the answer surprises him. 12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
How did Elisha know?
It wasn’t because he had a spy camera. He hadn’t paid off an Aramean servant. He didn’t place a wire tap in the back room. Elisha knew because God informed him. He had divine information. The “little bird” that told him about the Aramean plot was none other than the Divine, All powerful, Eternal Lord of Heaven and earth.
It’s nice to have God on your side.
But the Aramean king didn’t give up. “Go, find out where Elisha is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
II. The Test
The next morning Elisha’s servant awoke. I imagine he went about his daily business. Rubbed his eyes. Said his prayers. Combed his beard. Got dressed and walked outside to grab some water from the well. Maybe he was sipping his morning coffee, trying to get awake.
But something else woke him up before any caffeine would have an effect. 15 The servant of the man of God (saw) an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.
Can you imagine the fright? The jumping of his heart? The terror that was in his mind? Here they were in a small city of Dothan. The Israelite army wasn’t near them. They didn’t have anything to defend themselves with. They were severely outnumbered.
He felt alone.
“Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
Elisha remained calm. “16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
Can you imagine the servants response?
“Don’t be afraid!?! What are you talking about? We’re surrounded. They have chariots. They have horses. They have an army. We have a few buckets, a broom, and some seminary students. How can you be so calm? This is the perfect time to panic! We’re outnumbered. We’re alone!”
There isn’t really a word for “smirk” in Hebrew. But if there was, that might describe what Elisha did next.
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. God’s divine army was on their side. Though it looked like they were alone, they never were. Angels were with them. Angel armies were with them.
GOD was with them.
III. What about You?
Ever feel like Elijah’s servant? Ever feel like you are all alone? Ever feel like the world has surrounded you and is all against you?
Maybe you’re a single mom trying to have a career, pay for school, and pay for doctor visits all alone.
Maybe you’re a college student far away from home and far away friends.
Maybe you’re surrounded by bill collectors asking for money you don’t have.
Maybe you live on a block where people of a difference race avoid you because of yours.
Maybe you’re the only one at work who’s Christian and all your coworkers love to remind you of it.
Maybe you’re a widower who spends long, quiet hours at home alone.
That’s about the time the devil comes along. He convinces you that you’re all alone. He whispers that no one cares about you and that you'll never get out of the jam you’re in.
When that happens. Remember these three truths:
1) God is Always With YOU.
I don’t have the same connection as Elisha did. God isn’t going to open up our eyes to see the flaming chariots of fire that are parked next to my Ford Explorer outside. Nor do I own any kind of X Ray scanner to show you where the angels are sitting right now in this church.
But that doesn’t mean God isn’t with you.
Remember the passage we read from Psalm 139. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
What’s the point? God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere. That’s what makes him God. When you’re downtown at night, God is there. When you’re alone on the weekend, God is there. When you’re up to your ears in bills, God is there. When you’re coworkers are making fun of your faith, God is there. When racism makes you feel ostracized, God is there. When you’re depressed, saddened, and you feel like giving up – DON’T! God is there.
2) GOD is Always With You.
I’ve gotta be honest. I feel more comfortable walking around with some people than others. If I’m downtown late at night, I’d rather have a 95 pound German Shepherd that can produce a mean sounding growl with me rather than my 20 pound puppy that runs underneath the bed because it thinks it heard a chipmunk.
Understand who it is that is always with you. It’s not your grandma. It’s not your nana. It’s not your childhood friend or the tough guy at your work. It’s not even a UFC fighter or a member of secret service.
It’s the almighty God and Father of this earth. It is the divine—earth creating Lord. It’s the one who destroyed the sin that surrounded your soul. It’s the one who conquered death! It’s the one who reigns on high and reigns in your heart. God Almighty is the one who is with you.
3) God is Always With Us.
Easter is coming up. Did you know that? 2 weeks away. Have I mentioned it?
We’ve got our sights set high. 4500 invitations mailed. 500 personal invitations passed out. 10,000 impressions on Facebook. A church jam packed for Easter.
How can we do that? We’re the tiniest church on Newton Road. Some people pass by and think we look like a Doctor’s office. We are approaching it, but still don’t quite average 100 people a Sunday. How can we possibly think we can affect the community with the Word of God?
We are not alone. We have God with us. We have God blessing us. With God’s blessing, we will share his Word in this hurting, lonely community.
Do you know someone who’s lonely? Someone’ who surrounded by negativity? Someone who is heartbroken by the guilt of their past. Someone who is surrounded by the constant reminders of their sin?
Be with them. Tell them God is with them. Tell them what Jesus did for them. Tell them about Easter.
I know you can get pumped about it, ready to do it, about to ask them, and then…the butterflies in our time frighten you and scare you away.
You’re not alone. God Almighty is with you. Amen.
TRUST GOD…When It Doesn’t Make Sense
Have you ever needed the help of the Geek Squad? These guys specialize in fixing your computer when it’s got a virus.
I always enjoy the explanation when I go to pick up the computer:
“There was a problem with the beta delta that was hidden in the drop files of the D drive’s code code. So I bypassed the cortex backup using the dual processor 12 and recovered 15 gigabytes which I transferred to the RAM. That was enough to help me break into the BIOS, rediscover the syntax binary, perform a Carthusian wipe on the system, wipe out the virus, and restore power to your system. Make sense?”
I don’t get it. But they’re the experts. I trust them. Just as long as they can get me back up and running before my latest Trivia Crack game expires.
Today we’re looking at something else that doesn’t make sense. It’s the next sermon in our series on Old Testament Faith Tests. In it God asks the Israelites to do something that doesn’t make any sense at all. As you listen, think about your life. Would you have trusted God in that situation? Will you trust God even when it doesn’t makes sense?
I. The Snakes
This test is found in Numbers 21:4-9. A little bit of background. At this point the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for years. They had adding up a lot of mileage by foot and horseback. Israelite parents were sick of hearing the question: “Are we there yet?”
The Israelites were fed up. This aimless wandering didn’t make sense anymore! They made themselves clear with this complaint to the Almighty: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Let’s examine their four complains:
1) Wandering didn’t make any sense.
If you go back to chapters 13 & 14 of Numbers, the Israelites had actually come to the promised land. Unfortunately when they saw the size of the people living there, they were frightened. The majority agreed that they should turn back to Egypt.
God heard their request. He responded by turning them around. Just not to Egypt. He said they would wander around for 40 more years before their children would return to the Promised Land.
Obviously this was punishment for doubting God. But the Israelites didn’t seem to see it this way. To them it didn’t make sense. Why make it so far to turn back? Did God even care about them?
2) The desert didn’t make any sense for food.
At this point there were thousands of Israelites. That meant there were thousands of mouths to feed. Thousands of little voices complaining “Mom, what’s for dinner?” A scorpion? A tumbleweed? Dust mush?
True—God was providing them miraculous food that fell from the sky. But they didn’t think that wasn’t sustainable. Why hadn’t God taken them to a place with fertile soil? Why hadn’t he helped them set up some kind agricultural infrastructure? Why did he continue to have them dwell in a place that didn’t grow so much as a stalk of celery?
3) The Desert didn’t make sense as a source of water.
That’s what a desert is. Hot. Dry. Not a lot of lakes. Not a lot of water.
True, God had provided water to them in miraculous forms – whenever Moses spoke to a rock – a river came out. But that too wasn’t sustainable. Who gets the first drink? Who gets to shower first? How much water do you get to wash your hair? How were they supposed to set up a water park at this rate?
4) The taste--didn’t make sense.
Maybe you’ve been to a restaurant where that’s the case. They put so many spices on it and try to be so creative that it just doesn’t taste that good.
For Israel, they were tired of eating the same food all the time. Yes, God was providing for them, but couldn’t he do so in a more delicious way. Chocolate manna? Cinnamon manna? Buttered manna? Dorito flavored manna?
This just didn’t make sense. They complained to God, “What’s the point of all this? It doesn’t seem like we are ever going to get to our destination. We aren’t getting to the promised land! THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!”
It isn’t recorded that God said anything in response to these complaints. He didn’t defend himself. He didn’t point out the fact without him they’d still be brutally beaten slaves in Egypt. He didn’t point out that without Him they would have been slaughtered at the banks of the Red Sea. He didn’t point out that without Him they wouldn’t have gotten any food or any water. He didn’t even mention the fact that they had been to the gates of the Promised Land once already, but it was the Israelites, not God, who were too frightened to enter.
The Lord didn’t speak. He simply did.
The Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
One of the many complains of Atheists and unbelievers in our society is that the God of the Old Testament is a terrifying and awful character. They claim that he is one big jerk and is very cruel to his people.
At first glance, this account doesn’t seem to help his case.
But take a break with me for a second. Here are two reasons that God is absolutely in the right by sending the poisonous snakes:
1) God Hates Sin
Basketball season is upon us. The ACC Tournament is in full swing. That means when Duke is playing UNC, UNC fans won’t be cheering for Duke. Nor will Duke fans be cheering for UNC. State fans won’t be cheering for either of those teams—at least—until they are out of the playoffs altogether.
God is like that. He is good and against sin. Therefore, God loves everything good and hates everything that isn’t good. In the same way, sin loves everything that’s bad and hates everything that is good. Sin and God are utterly opposed to one another. They can’t stand together. God can’t condone bad ever—not even remotely!
That’s exactly what the Israelites were doing. We call it complaining or doubting. God called it evil.
If God didn’t do anything about this evil, then we should be concerned that God just doesn’t care. Racism is wrong. Hatred is wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong. Violence is wrong. Complaining, doubting, and rebelling against God…is wrong! God proves that He thinks so in verse 6. And no amount of – ‘we are God’s special people’ – can stop him from punishing evil.
2) The Real Poison was Unbelief
If you look carefully at the first words of this section, it says that the Israelites were invoked to anger. That verb gives us the sense of stirring up and inciting a feeling. It’s like a sibling who’s poking his brother with no other reason than he wants to get his brother angry.
This is what was happening in Israel. A few people were stirring up other people. It had happened already with a man named Korah. You can check out the story in Numbers 16. It was happening again a few chapters later. People who no longer trusted God were inciting other people to stop trusting in him as well.
Thank goodness social media wasn’t around yet.
Yes—God could have spared their lives. He could have let them continue in unbelief and rebellion against him. But then – eventually – there’d be nothing but unbelief left. As each family taught their children, “God is a big terrifying and awful being. Have nothing to do with him.”
God didn’t want this for the people – even if they deserved it. Because ultimately unbelievers gets exactly what they want– an eternity apart from God in hell.
Can you blame God for thinking that a few people dying physically was worth saving thousands of lives from dying eternally?
TRUTH OF THE WEEK:
The snakes weren’t sent because God is some terrifying and awful being.
The snakes were sent because God is good.
II. The Test
God’s plan worked. As the snakes went throughout the Israelite camp terrorizing the people. The Israelites came to repentance. Check out verse 7, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.”
The Israelites understood. They realized that they were the ones who didn’t make any sense. God had been protecting them. Yet they had opposed Him. It didn’t make any sense for them to ever question God.
They asked for God’s help. “Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” Their hope was that God would just help control collateral damage. Maybe he would send the vipers away before they all died.
Here’s where you see God’s character. Take a look at God’s response: “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
That’s a very strange prescription isn’t it. Who here has ever went to the doctor and been told, “You’re cold isn’t so bad. Stop at Walgreen’s. Buy a box of Kleenex. Duct tape it to a broom stick. Then…look at it. You’ll be cured.”
That doesn’t make any sense.
How much less sense with a snake bite? Why didn’t God gift Moses with a vile of medicine? Why didn’t he give the people directions to a nearby plant with healing powers? Why didn’t God make any sense!?!
That’s the test. Did the Israelites really trust him? Did they truly trust Him…even when it didn’t make sense? They weren’t before, would they now?
Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. And you can see God’s mercy by what happens next. When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. They were healed. The poison was gone from their body – physically. The poison was gone from their hearts—spiritually.
They trusted God once again. God saved them physically. But he also saved them spiritually.
III. What about You?
Three things to keep in mind as you go about the rest of your week.
1) Get Rid of the Poison In your Life
This isn’t a rant about watching out for chemicals and growth hormones in your food which slowly poison your body. This is a rant about chemicals and growth hormones in your spiritual life which slowly poison your soul.
Think about it: What or who causes you to doubt God?
Is it someone on Facebook who repeatedly sends out messages blasting Christianity and its teachings?
Is it your drinking buddy who mocks you for not going drinking with him?
Is it your boyfriend who constantly nags you to sleep with him?
Is it song lyrics that teach you sin isn’t that big of a deal?
Is it a cute social media video which pushes a non-Christian message?
There is a pretty popular video on YouTube that calls Christianity into question. If you look in the comments section, there are lots of people who respond with things like “I knew it wasn’t real. I knew Jesus wasn’t to be trusted. Thanks for helping me with the truth.”
You can Google it later to find a whole website devoted to exposing the lies in this video. But what we’re interested in is the premise: When did looking at an amateur YouTube video produced by a man called TheAngryAtheist sound like a better way to discover truth than going to God himself?
Stop looking to the world to see if God should be trusted! Instead, look to God to see if the world should be trusted. This is what the Israelites should have done. They didn’t and paid the price.
Learn from them.
If there is something in your life not trustworthy – get it out of your life! Do it now before the spiritual poison ruins your faith.
Block those posts on Facebook.
Stop hanging out with the friends that are leading you to sin.
Stop listening to false teachings.
Stop going with your gut reaction to whether something is right or wrong.
Stop scouring science, atheism, and pop culture for answers – when God has given you the answers right here!
Why go to God?
2) REMEMBER: God Has Your Best Interest in Mind.
We saw that in the case of the Israelites. Even when poisonous snakes were attacking, God allowed it to save them eternally.
This is why parents discipline their children. Whether it’s a spanking to keep them away from running in the road or three weeks of grounding to make sure that they don’t get involved in that illegal drug…parents discipline out of love. Even if the kid is screaming and yell and says something like “I hate you.” The parent still does it—because it’s for the good of their child.
God has that same kind of love for you. A love willing to do anything—even the hard things – even shaking you up and making you a little uncomfortable – in order to save your soul.
3) Trust God When it Doesn’t Make Sense--
Is God’s Word hard? It is counterculture? Might it get our laughed at because “that doesn’t make any sense!?!”
Nowhere is this more clear than in the matter of your spiritual salvation. Take a look at this passage from the Gospel for this morning: "14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Consider what Scripture is teaching you: Some guy 2000 years ago, said some nice things, did some nice things, then he was arrested and killed, but with his death he made you right with God? He forgave you all your sins? If you simply trust in him as your Savior you will be in heaven, not in hell? Is that really what we believe?
Does it make sense? Not to the world. The world doesn’t get God. It can’t. God has heavenly wisdom. Psalm 145 says this, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”
But just because we can’t fathom it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Take Easter for example. There’s a reason that I’m so excited for Easter – 3 weeks away – because it is the heart and soul of our faith. Jesus had told his disciples he was going to do something that didn’t make sense. He told them he would die and come back to life.
Then -- he did just that.
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to forgive all your sins?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to bring you at peace with God?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to secure your place in heaven?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to make whatever strange, countercultural, opposite of modern thought thing he asks you to do in Scripture work out for your eternal good?
Brothers and sisters – TRUST God. He is the expert on a lot of things. He is the expert on you. He is the expert on getting rid of sin. He is the expert of getting to eternal life. He is the expert on living int his world. He is the expert on living for the next world. He is the expert of eternity, divinity, and true love.
He is the expert. Won’t you trust him…even when it doesn’t make sense? Amen.
Ever used Lumosity? It's a series of online video games that help to train your brain. Studies have proven that over time you will develop language skills, memory, and speed recognition.
One of my favorite game is called FlyBy. In the game, a flying "V" of geese appear on the screen. Your job is to figure out which way the middle one is facing--up, down, left, or right.
At first it is. The image will stay on screen for a few seconds. But as your score improve so does the speed. Soon the image will flash on the screen! You can't blink. If you do, you might miss it.
It's that same way with sharing the message of Jesus. If you don't keep your eyes open, you might miss it.
Take Philip for example. Philip was travelling along a dusty, lonely road. As he walked, he encountered a speedy chariot going in the opposite direction.
Philip could have minded his own business. But instead, he saw an opportunity.
He approached the chariot.
He spoke with the man.
He told him about Jesus.
He baptized him in Jesus' name later that day.
1 Peter 3:15 says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
That means be ready. Keep your eyes open.
The guy standing in line at the Dollar Tree.
The woman with the pitbull at the dog park.
Your next door neighbor taking out the trash.
The lady sitting near you at the library.
The young man lifting weight by you at the gym.
Be Ready. Keep your eyes open. You never know when you'll have opportunity.
Granted-- it's easy to NOT look. It's easy to keep your head down, your eyes on the smartphone, and your earphones in your ears. It's easy to walk right by your neighbor in order to get home and watch MASH reruns.
Jesus didn't keep his head down. He looks off through eternity and saw YOU.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He rose for you.
Can you bring his message to other this Easter? Stay in prayer AND keep your eyes open for opportunities to tell about his love.
Luke 22:70-71 – “They [the Sanhedrin] all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’ He [Jesus] replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’ Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.’”
How much can you say with 2 words?
How long do you think the sermon would last if I told you: Everything I need to say tonight can be answered with a 2 word phrase?
Years ago a British newspaper asked leaders and other well-known figures to reply to the question: “What’s wrong with the world?” One answer, reportedly sent in by an author of the day, has been widely cited. Maybe you’ve heard this. His brief letter read: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
You and I – we – get what he was saying with those 2 words. Right? Are you the author of anything evil? I am. Are you someone in whom self-gratification has stirred, and disregard for God’s will has followed, and thoughtlessness toward others has been the sad result? I am. Are you a person who has inflicted pain on others, times beyond count really (think not just physical, but emotional)? I am.
Yet even when face-to-face with such evidence, even when giving such testimony from one’s own lips, people often don’t look in the right direction for help.
A documentary was released a few years ago with a 2 word title. You can probably guess the 2 words: “I AM.” It’s by a big time Hollywood film director: Tom Shadyac. Even if you haven’t seen them, maybe you’ve heard of Ace Venture: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, or Bruce Almighty? Those are kind of a slap-stick humor genera. Right? Shadyac took a little different path after an accident left him thinking on a more serious plane. He went on a quest asking two questions: What’s wrong with the world? And, what can be done about it?
Shadyac’s documentary “I AM” is the answer he comes up with. He took the title from Chesterton’s reply to the same question that he asks first in his film: what’s wrong with the world. But I have a hunch that he and Chesterton wouldn’t have seen eye-to-eye on an answer for the 2nd question. Here’s the conclusion the “I AM” documentary arrives at:
“We are what’s wrong” – there’s question one, now on to the answer to question two – “and we need to temper consumerism with compassion, and competition with cooperation to save ourselves and our world.” http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/movie-reviews/2011/07/07/Documentary-I-Am-ponders-What-s-wrong-with-our-world/stories/201107070316
What’s wrong with the world, and how can it be fixed? The film answers “I am” to both. “I am the problem. I am the solution.” Shadyac says, “We started out by asking what’s wrong with the world, and ended up discovering what’s right with it.”
Shadyac is not alone in this conclusion. People all over will voice similar testimony: I know “I am” guilty of so much that is wrong – evil – selfish – I certainly haven’t loved others like I should. But they turn away from the answer God has given from his own lips of...
What can be done about this? What’s the answer for everything for which I am guilty? God says, “Who can be saved? With man this is impossible” – Mark 10:26-27; Psalm 49:7-9. So I am ruled out. I can’t fix what is wrong with me and my world. What can be done then about my sin, my guilt and the verdict of eternal damnation it deserves?
We’re headed to that answer. On the way to it – and connected to it – we encounter a different question that was posed on this night recorded in Luke ch.22. Let’s see how this fits together.
We have the answer here to a topic highly debated in our day. People contend that Jesus never said that he is God. You’ve heard that challenge, haven’t you? There are lots of Bible passages to answer that. One of them is right here. Tonight we’re going to limit ourselves to this one.
Jesus’ enemies serve as witnesses. They confirm the answer Jesus gave to this question: Does Jesus ever say that he is God? “We have heard it from his own lips,” Jesus’ enemies bawl. What had they heard? The answer to the question: “Are you the Son of God?” “I am.”
Wow. Some statements echo through time with such power, clarity, truth and hope. Mark this as one such statement. Jesus tells you: “I am.” The enemies of Jesus do us a service by pointing us to this answer: “We’ve heard it from his own lips – he just said, ‘I am.’”
Where Jesus’ enemies go fatally wrong is their reaction to Jesus’ answer. They ask: “Why do we need any more testimony?” They, instead, should have been begging for more testimony. The question they leave begging-to-be-asked and answered is: “So if you are God” – and we know he had shown that to be true – “why are you here? What’s your reason for stepping into the world you created?”
Ah, there, now we’ve gotten to the heart of everything. What’s the reason God came? What’s the reason he stood trial before these men, and allowed himself to be smacked with these blasphemous responses from his rebellious creations? What’s the reason he allowed his flesh to be pierced, his body to be hung up, his lungs to exhale their dying breath?
Some of you are maybe ready to burst from holding in the answer. Go ahead and say the 2 words with me: What’s the reason God came? “I am.” I am the reason God came. I am the reason he stood trial. I am the reason he went to his death. I am the man that should have suffered the hell which he suffered.
Tonight we hear the evidence: God came. We hear his identity from his own lips. And as we turn to him for more testimony, he tells us why: “I am the only one who could solve your problem. So I came.”
Jesus says: “How can you be saved? With man this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible. God - that’s who I am. To save you - that’s why I’ve come. I am faithful to my promises. That’s a truth you can hear echoed every time you hear my name – the Lord. The Lord, the Great I AM, expresses: I am faithful. That includes both: I am faithful to my justice; I am faithful to my love. The place the two of those perfectly intersect and mesh is my cross. There see: I am punished for all sin – I am the substitute; I am offering all sinners forgiveness and peace. Trust in me,” Jesus says, “I am the only way for you to get to be with me/God eternally” (John 14:1,6).
I was struck when I saw this.
“What’s your story?” someone asks you. That’s like saying, “Who are you?” (Preach the Word, vol.18, no.4).
“What’s my story? Who am I? Well… I am a sinner, who is fully forgiven by the undeserved love God has shown me. I am God’s dearly loved child through faith in Jesus Christ, my Lord. I am confident of the home God has prepared for me, where I will enjoy the freedom and peace with him that will last forever and ever.”
“You sound so sure,” the person replies to your answer. “How are you so certain of all that?”
“I am sure because I have heard the testimony from my God’s own lips. Jesus says… “I am your God. (Luke 22:70-71). … I am the Good Shepherd, I lay down my life for the sheep and take it up again (John 10:11,17). … I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9). … I am the resurrection and the life – he who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26).”
His Story is what makes me who I am – His Story is what makes you who you are, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dear Christians, go home tonight rejoicing: “We have heard it from his own lips.” Amen.
--Pastor Tom Glende
TRUST GOD…When You Feel Trapped
Over our recent wintry weather, a lot of things got stuck. Windshield wipers stuck in their resting position. Car doors stayed stuck shut. Entire cards were stuck in their apartment parking lots.
Did you get stuck? Did you get stuck at work because the roads were to slippery drive home? Did you get stuck at home because your driveway was way too icy? Did you get stuck with the kids because nobody was having any school? Hopefully you didn’t get your tongue stuck to a lamppost.
We are in the middle of a sermon series about Old Testament Faith Tests. In today’s lesson from Exodus 14, the Israelite find themselves stuck between two very scary options. Scary enough that you wouldn’t just called it stuck, but trapped! Pay attention to the account and try to put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you trust? And when similar --- and much less scary ---situations happen to you, how well do you trust God when you’re trapped?
I. The Trap
At the start of Chapter 14, the Israelites are on the run. This is literally the Exodus in progress. They have been freed from slavery in Egypt and are travelling through the desert to get back to the country their forefathers grew up in.
Only travelling isn’t as good of a word as wandering.
Their route was curious. It was similar to getting directions from your GPS that avoid that main route and instead direct your car on back roads and through private communities. Instead of taking a direct route toward the promised land of Canaan, they had travelled south in order to avoid the country of the Philistines. These people were an vengeful country that wouldn’t have taken kindly to the Israelites cutting through their private property. The Israelites went around them to avoid the trouble.
Now they found themselves trapped by some Impassable Geography.
There are a few different opinions and scholarly options as to where the Israelites specifically were. Here’s a map of a very traditional and very likely route near the top of the Suez Gulf. This route is likely because it’s still a part of the Red Sea and it leads to the wilderness of Shur on the other side. (Later mentioned in Exodus 15:22)
Using this as a guideline, we learn that the Red Sea wasn’t just on the Eastern side of their camp. They had bunkered into a little inlet. The Red Sea was surrounding them on the North as well.
And if they went south, they would need to have their mountain climbers packed. The south quickly became mountainous in the region which was not too far away. Could all the kids, animals, and supplies make it through the mountain? Remember this is long before the area of Cabella’s and lightweight, special fibered, thermal enhanced sleeping bags. This wasn't feasible either.
The only topographical option that didn’t present a problem was to the west and that option was quickly disappearing.
Approaching from the west was a Vicious Enemy. The Egyptian army, their former captors, had given chase.
Hundreds of chariots and thousands of soldiers were sprinting in their direction. Angry and embarrassed by the departure of the Israelites, they had been ordered by Pharaoh to bring the Israelite back by any means necessary.
They were no slouches in battle either. Verse 6 says, “Pharaoh had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots Egypt, with officers all over them.”
Chariots were the tanks of the ancient world. They were fast. They were armored. They allowed attacking while being well defended.
How could the Israelites – slaves who left with nothing more than clothing, camels, and kids fight them off?
They couldn’t. That’s where the test came in.
If you were an Israelites camping at night in the desert, there was something very interesting that you couldn’t help but notice. On the outskirts of the camp burned a very large fire. It was large enough to be called a pillar--something that would hold up a coliseum like building.
Were the Israelites pyros? Not so much.
In fact, if you approached the fire you’ find that there wasn’t so much as a few pieces of papyrus paper on fire. There weren’t any sticks. There weren’t any logs. The fire was fuel-less, yet it burned endlessly.
In the day time? The fire went away. But the miracle did not. In the same spot and the same formation as the fire had been moments earlier, there was now a pillar of cloud. Constantly visible against the bright blue sky.
Exodus 13:21 explains what was going on. “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or night.”
These pillars were pillars of promise. They were pillars of presence. They were reminders to the Israelites that they were not alone. Every time they looked at these miraculous structures, they would be reminded that they had a powerful God on their side. A God who had worked miracle after miracle to get them out of Egypt. A God who turned water into blood, covered the land in frogs, flies, gnats, and locusts. A God who plagued all the Egyptian cows while keeping their cattle safe. A God who crushed all the Egyptian crops with hail, who turned the daytime into darkness, who covered the bodies of Egyptians with painful boils. A God who sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn child of every rebellious, stubborn Egyptian heart.
They didn’t have any reason to worry.
II. The Israelite Response
But they did.
As Pharaoh’s army approached the Israelites didn’t look on with anticipation to see what the Lord would do this time to save them. Instead, they looked on with worry. Verse 11 reports their response, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?”
I’d like to take a look at that paragraph again and paraphrase their three main complaints --
1) We’re Gonna die! Notice that there is zero confidence in God with this statement. They only see the approaching army and reason that they didn’t stand a chance at defeating them. Never mind the pillar of fire and its destructiveness. Never mind the pillar of cloud and its etherealism. They saw the vicious enemies on one side and a vast sea on the other and came to the conclusion that they were as good as dead.
2) This is God’s fault! To be fair, they are speaking to Moses in verse 11. But Moses had always spoken for God. Moses had done what God told him to do. It wasn’t Moses who did all those miracles. It wasn’t Moses who changed Pharaoh’s mind and released them. It wasn’t Moses who was keeping the pillars of fire and cloud going.
It was God. They were blaming God for putting them in this situation.
3) We Should Never have Followed you! Do you hear that in the last statement? They start to long for the time when they were slaves. They missed the backbreaking, sun blistering, impossible, bloody work of making bricks in the hot sun with a whip to their back. Really? They were so frightened by the prospect of death that they were now longing to return to the former easier life of a desert slave.
What do you think? How did the Israelites do with this Faith test? A+? B-? Do they even pass?
I’d say they all fail. Miserably.
Poor Moses. He tried to get them to trust. Listen to what he tells them in verse 13, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
What do you think? If you were trapped between a impassable geography and a vicious enemy army, would you be more like Moses or the Israelites?
III. The Deliverance
Then God speaks. The Israelites haven’t trusted in Him, but that isn’t going to stop Him from doing something amazing. Check out his directive to Moses in verse 16:
"16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” So… “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”
Notice how they get across. It wasn’t that the water was real shallow. It wasn’t that there was a thin collection of rocks for them to walk across. They didn’t discover a rickety old bridge down the way.
Scripture is specific. It was God. A special wind sent from God. A miracle from God. Where there hadn’t been a way before, God had created it. Now they had a quiet aquarium like walkway to leisurely cross through to safety.
But that’s not all God did.
Check out verse 26, God said “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. …The LORD swept the Egyptians into the sea... Not one of them survived.”
Suddenly the threat was gone. The vicious, unbelieving, unrepentant army was judged by the LORD. The Israelites were left with nothing but a peaceful waterfront scene to their back.
Yet here’s where it gets really amazing. This wasn’t just a reactionary move by God in which he pulled out all the stops to try and save his people against an impressive and violent foe. Check this out from earlier in the chapter.
Verses 1-4 “The LORD said to Moses. “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea…Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them…
…But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and his army and the Egyptian will know that I am the LORD.”
Do you see it? IT was God’s plan the whole time. The impassable Geography? God led them there. The vicious angry army? God sent them there. The miraculous saving? That was what God had been planning to do the whole time.
It’s not fair to say that God trapped the Israelites. The opposite. God trapped the Egyptians.
Understand this: The Israelites never had any reason to doubt. They needed to simply do what Moses suggested to them, “Don’t be afraid. Stand Firm. Watch. Watch…God.”
IV. What Does This Mean for You?
Maybe you’ve never been cornered by angry charioteers and a vast sea. Seagulls, maybe? But not a vicious army.
But have you ever felt trapped?
“I started following you God. I became a Christian….and my family of a different religion disowned me.”
“I handed out a few Easter invitations at work…and my coworkers complained to my boss.’
“I told my girlfriend that I wanted to wait for marriage to sleep together…and she is threatening to break up with me!”
“I have been faithfully gifting the church with my time and money and now I’m barely able to pay the rent.”
“I quit alcohol…and now the pain and suffering that I drank to avoid has come back. It’s overwhelming.”
I’m trapped!!! God there’s no way out. There’s no way I can follow you and have anything good come from it. If only I could go back to my sinful way of life, things would be so much easier! If only you had just left me alone God. If only I hadn’t followed you.
If you’ve ever felt like this/when you feel like this, remember Moses’ directive;
1) Don’t Be Afraid.
The exact same God who was with the Israelites is with you. Now, granted, the Israelites had a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud as constant reminders of what God had done for them in the past.
You don’t. You have something better.
Look at the cross. Understand what God did when he went to the cross. He made a way when there was none. You needed to be perfect. You weren’t. You needed to be at peace with God. You weren’t. You needed to be holy. You weren’t.
But where there wasn’t a way, God made one. In fact, he was one.
Jesus said, “I am the Way.” (Jn. 14:6) He lived perfectly when you couldn’t. He died innocently when you deserved to. He rose triumphantly to prove that you are at peace with God.
Whatever comes your way in life from following God, do not be afraid! Look at what God has already done for you. Look how he provided a way when there wasn’t one.
2) Stand Firm.
Keep following God. It can be tempting to go back, to addiction, to loose sexuality, to unbelief, to pride, to greed…to a way of life apart from God.
But don’t. Stand firm. Those things don’t provide miracles. God does. Those things don’t save you. God Does. Those things don’t care about you. God does.
Keep following Him in every aspect of your life. And then…this is the fun part…
Can you imagine what it would have been like to see that Red Sea split in half? Amazing.
How about when it came crashing down on those vicious soldiers? Amazing again.
Will it really happen that way in your life?
Once I was talking to someone who was feeling trapped. They had just started understanding the truth of what Jesus did for them a few months ago. Through tears and smiles and more study, they had been growing in faith. They were more positive. They were more confident. A job opened up. Things were going well.
Then, they lost that job. A relationship went sour. They felt alone. They felt trapped.
What had God done to them? They said, “What was the point of all this? I’m forever going to be trapped. God didn’t help.”
I smiled. Because they didn’t see what I saw. In the past, this person would have ran to drugs, now she ran to a pastor. In the past, this person might have sought solace in alcohol, now they were looking to find comfort in God’s Word. In the past, this person just felt like giving up. Now…Now they simply wanted to be reminded of why they didn’t need to give up.
It was amazing. God had been doing amazing things. They only needed to open their eyes and look.
Do the same. Keep your eyes open this week and look for how God is working in your life. Don’t fear. Don’t stop following. And Watch. Watch and Trust God…Even when you’re trapped. Amen.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
We are currently in the middle of a sermon series on Faith Tests. These have been a chance for us to consider how we would have acted in that Old Testament situation and how we do react in similar situations. The man being tested in today’s lesson is Jacob.
Jacob came from a family of faith. He was Abraham’s grandson and Isaac’s son. He had been raised in a God fearing family. He had been blessed by God with lots of wealth.
But when we meet Jacob in chapter 28 of today’s lesson, he doesn’t have any of that stuff. He is in the wilderness. He is all alone.
I imagine that as Jacob tried to start a fire and prep a campsite for the night that he couldn’t help asking the same thing.
I. Jacob’s Fear
Jacob was the younger of two twins. But he was not identical to his brother Esau at all. Jacob liked to sit at home. Esau liked to be in the wilderness. Jacob liked to tend sheep. Esau liked to hunt. Jacob had smooth skin. Esau had gruff, red hair all over his body.
Traditionally that meant he would not receive the family blessing. Instead, the family farm would go to his older brother Esau; Esau would get double the inheritance of his family’s wealth; Esau would carry on the family’s name; and in a special blessing that was only given to Abraham’s family – the firstborn would have the promise of the Savior given to his genealogical line.
Jacob—the younger son –wouldn’t get any of that.
As Jacob stoked the fire – he wished he had just let it be.
Jacob had learned that his father was going to give the blessing to Esau over a special meal. While Esau went out into the field to kill something extra tasty for this special moment with his dad, Jacob and his mom plotted. She began preparing some stew of her own and Jacob created a disguise. He put on his brother’s clothing and then covered his arm with goat fur so he’d be just as hairy as Esau. By the time he was dressed, his mom was done with the stew and Jacob went in to see his dad.
Now – you might think that a dad would know the difference between his two sons –especially two sons as different as Jacob and Esau. But Isaac was very old. His eyesight was fading. When Jacob entered with the stew, all he saw was his favorite meal.
Still – Isaac was cautious. He questioned if it really was Esau returning from the fields so quickly, but his nose caught a whiff of Esau’s clothing and his heart was at ease. Similarly when his ears became on alert when he heard Jacob’s voice, but the hairy goat skins convinced him that Esau must have just had a very bad cold.
Isaac blessed Jacob when he thought he was blessing Esau.
As the sticks his was rubbing together started to smoke, a tear rolled down his eyes. Jacob had done wrong. He had deceived his father.
Moments later Esau came in from the field. He was ready to have that special moment with his dad. They were both furious to find out that Jacob had just been in and received this irrevocable blessing.
Esau was furious. He immediately plotted to get revenge. He was going to kill Jacob.
As Jacob stoked the fire, he couldn’t blame Esau for his anger. He had done wrong. He had stolen from his brother.
But that wasn’t the worst. Another memory popped into Jacob’s mind. It was the memory of his mother’s assurance – “God himself has promised that you will be the one receiving your father’s blessing. Though you are younger – God has promised that you will be the one who gets the birthright. Don’t worry.”
Jacob had worried. He had doubted. He had deceived his dad, he had stolen from his brother, and worst of all – he had doubted God!
Now he had run away. He didn’t have his crime mate – his mother with him. He didn’t have the wisdom of his father. He didn’t even have the headlocks and playful fighting of his brother. He was all alone.
II. God’s Test
I imagine it was hard for Jacob to sleep that night -- not just because he was using a rock for a pillow. Like a YouTube video on repeat – his mind kept replaying his sins over and over again.
“If only I hadn’t deceived my father…If only I hadn’t stolen from my brother…If Only I had trusted God…”
It was frightening to stay awake because all he could think of was his sin. But when exhaustion kicked in and he began dreaming, it got a whole lot more frightening:
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven. This wasn’t just some stone made stairway to the plateau that his brother and him would climb to check out all of their ranch. It was other worldly. It reached to heaven. It was intimidating.
It was filled with angels. Verse 12 continues the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Not sheep. Not cattle. Not his dad’s servants. Not even a bunch of clones of his brother Esau – who had been running through his mind.
Angels. Glowing with light, dressed in white, sometimes winged, always otherworldly—angels.
There above it – at the top of the staircase --stood the Lord. God himself. The Holy, world creating, floodgate opening, hurricane twirling, earthquake shaking Lord of heaven and earth himself.
Can you imagine how frightening that was for Jacob? There stood his Holy God—His Holy God who HATED sin. He hated deception. He hated stealing. He hated those who didn’t trust in Him.
Jacob had just done all three of those!
Now God had found him. Now God had caught up to him. Now God was going to deliver the final blow!
Jacob winced as God spoke:
I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
Wait, what? Suddenly this wasn’t so terrifying after all. Suddenly this meeting with God had become very awesome.
For starters, God hadn’t destroyed him. As Jacob felt his body to make sure it hadn’t been burned to a crisp, he must have been elated. God was giving him a second chance. God held back his holy and righteous anger against him.
Instead God spoke kindly to him. There’s no hint of terror in what God is saying. He introduces himself as “The LORD.” That’s the Old Testament name that referenced God’s covenantal love. He calls himself “the God of Abraham and Isaac.” This filled Jacob with thoughts of God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac and thoughts of God gifting his family with blessing after blessing. It reminded Jacob of God’s promise to send a Savior from sin. A Messiah. The Christ.
And from his own family’s line.
Then, God blesses him. Write those blessings down. He promises to bless Jacob with the land that he’s lying on. He promises to bless Jacob with many children –to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. (A promise that meant he would live! God wasn’t going to kill him like he deserved.)
Then, take a look at that last part of verse 14. He promised that “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” That’s the promise of the Savior. The promise he had stolen from Esau. The Promise that God had promised beforehand would go to Jacob. In spite of the wrongs Jacob had committed, God was blessing Him with that incredible honor.
For Jacob it took on a new meaning. It didn’t just mean he would have a neat place in the line of salvation history. It meant he was forgiven. God had forgiven him for deceiving his Father. God had forgiven him for stealing from his brother. God had forgiven him for not trusting in Him.
But that wasn’t it. God continued, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God Promised to be With Jacob. Though Jacob was hundreds of miles from home and though there wasn’t a soul in sight. God now promised to be with him. Not just as a buddy either. He promised to watch over Jacob. Not just for a day either. Or a few weeks. He promised to not leave…until He had done what He promised.
III. Jacob’ Response
Then, Jacob wakes up. No sign of the stairway. No sign of the angel. No sign of God.
Did Jacob really believe that God could love him and be with him even though he did wrong?
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was in awe and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Fear had changed to joyful awe! There’s a whole character change that takes place. Jacob trusts God and is in awe of God’s. His awesome power and his awesome love.
He makes a confession of faith. “Surely the LORD is in this place!” He doesn’t say, “Surely I had some bad mushrooms for dinner.” “Surely I had a restless sleep with strange dreams.” He says, “The LORD is here!” He believed it. He trusted it.
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. It wasn’t that there was anything special about the stone, other than the fact that this was the place he heard God’s Word. So Jacob regards the place he heard from God as holy. He called it Bethel which literally means “House of God.”
Then, Jacob reveals that he is all in, “If God will be with me…then the Lord will be my God…and of all that you give me, O God, I will give you a tenth.” Jacob is confident that God is His God. He is confident enough to devote his life to him. He’s ready to change. Ready to be truthful. Ready to be trusting. Ready to give (even his wealth) to God because he trusts God. He trusts his words. He trusts his mercy.
IV. Your Response
What does this mean for you? Three things.
1) Trust God When You’ve Done Something Wrong.
Have you ever felt like Jacob before? Have you ever done something wrong – so wrong that you have lost friends over it? Or lost a spouse’s trust? Or lost a job over it? Have you ever done something that is so wrong you feel like God couldn’t forgive you? In fact, you run away from God. You avoid church. You avoid prayer. You never open your Bible, because you are convinced that you have done too much wrong for God to want to be by you.
Do you see the problem? You’re looking at you.
Today’s lesson reminds us to look at God. He is merciful. He is loving. He is compassionate. He is forgiving.
Remember that promise he mentioned to Jacob? He promised that through Jacob all nations on earth would be blessed. That’s because one of Jacob’s offspring ---great, great, great, many times over grandchild—was Jesus. Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for our forgiveness.
When you’ve done something wrong, don’t avoid God. Don’t ignore his love. Don’t try to numb your mind with alcohol. Don’t give up and dive head first into your sin.
Come to God. Confess to God. Trust that he will respond with mercy just as He did with Jacob.
2) Regard the Place You Hear from God as Holy
When he woke up, there was just a rock. No ladder. No angels. No glory of the LORD. It didn’t look special at all. Yet Jacob considered it holy. The simple looking place remembered for an incredible message from God.
Today we also have a simple looking place that we hear the Word of the Lord. No heavenly ladders. No Angels. No shining glory of the Lord—20 some wooden pews, white washed walls, and a few brown sided front that until a cross was added recently, some had mistaken for a doctor’s office. Doesn’t sound like much.
But it is. This place. Gethsemane. This is where we hear God’s Word. We hear it in song. We hear it lessons. We hear it as we study God’s Word.
Regard it as holy!
Don’t just think of this as a social club. Don’t just think of it as a place to gossip. Don’t just think of it as a place to get your fill of donuts on a Sunday morning.
This is the place where you hear from God. It’s the place where you hear of God’s love. It's where God reminds you that you are a sinner and that God sinner.
Consider this place holy. Make every effort to be here. If you can't, hear from God on the web. Then, make time in God’s Word a special time. In your car on the way to work with your SmartPhone blasting the Word of God. In an easy chair with your Bible opened. Whatever it it...Make it a time that you don’t want to miss. Take advantage of the next step opportunity to hear from God! Tell your friends to come and hear of his love too!
3) Devote your Life to Jesus
When Jacob got up, what else could he do? He had been all alone. Now he realized he was with his compassionate Lord. How could he not listen to him? He owed him an unpayable debt of gratitude. He could figure out now better way to serve God than to devote life to Him.
You do the same. Serve the Lord. Serve him by getting involved at church. Serve him by telling your kids about Him. Serve Him by giving your money to support the ministry going on here. Serve the LORD by taking the Easter invitations and sharing the message of God’s love.
Now as you finish reading this, you are about ready to go back into the world. Soon the devil will come into your thought. Your memory will be jogged to some wrong you have done. He will try to convince you that you can't be forgiven. Your pride will get you to think "I need to do better and then come to God."
Remember the story of Jacob.
Remember that God is compassionate.
Remember what God did for you.
Jacob must have done that. When haunted by his sins, he looked back to when he saw God at the top of the ladder and God was compassionate.
You do the same. When haunted by your sins, look up. Look up at --not the ladder-- but the cross. See God at the top of it. See his compassion. See his mercy. See his love.
Trust God...Even When You've Done Wrong.