It was Halloween about 25 years ago. I was dressed up as a fisherman. I had on my dad’s vest. I had my dad’s fisherman’s hat. I had my bright green, Oscar the Grouch fishing pole with a bright red and yellow bobber. I was carrying a mini-bucket in order to collect my candy.
It was going as expected. I went up to a house. I knocked on the door. I said, “Trick or treat.” I got a Tootsie Roll and moved on.
But then, we approached a house that was different. The candy was located outside. It was being held by a giant mannequin in a grey snowsuit with a hockey mask on. There was a sign attached to his suit that said, “Have one.”
I thought – “This is unexpected. It’s a little different. But it’s easier. I’ll be saving myself about 15 steps all the way to the front of the door and the awkward fifteen seconds waiting to see if anyone came. If more people did this, I could get more bang for my buck, save time and get more candy.” This is a nice surprise!
Then, I walked up to the mannequin. I reached out my hand. I grabbed a Butterfinger. And…
The mannequin reached out and grabbed my hand. I turned tailed, dropped the Butterfinger and ran as fast as my little Cabella boots could take me.
That was a scary surprise.
Today we are starting our sermon series it’s all about surprises. It’s called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine God’s grace through the lens of God’s Word and learn some surprising truths about His Grace. Some terrifying. Some wonderful. Before we take a look at some of the first surprises in God’s Word. Let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Scary Price
Today we want to start our series by talking cost. (I know that sounds like a political ad), but I think it’s real important to talk cost when you’re talking about buying anything.
If you’re buying a home, you want to talk cost. Sure, you look at the floorplan, the rooms, the updated hardwood, the open concept living room, the backyard, and the location. But you’ve also got to talk cost. What’s the down payment? What’s the homeowner’s insurance? What’s the tax value? How much will renovations cost? Can you get the NC State Wolfpack washer and dryer set for free or not?
It’s the same with God’s grace. It’s filled with value. In God’s grace, we get forgiveness of sins, peace with God, the promise of heaven, a joy filled heart, the assurance that we are God’s children and a beautiful connection with people of all races, ages, and social status.
Those are some pretty awesome things. Those pretty, divinely, awesome things.
As your grandpa would say, “Sounds expensive.”
But God doesn’t deal in dollars and cents. That’s physical.
He deals in righteousness and perfection. That’s divine. In fact, God puts this rather simple yet expensive cost on His eternal and divine gifts – his Grace. The price tag is found in Leviticus 4:2:
Be holy as I the Lord you God am holy.
Holy seems like a key word then. Holy is what you’re going to need to get to heaven. Holy is what your gonna need to have peace with God.
What’s holy mean then?
Does that mean you go to church a lot?
Does it mean that you wear nice clothes to church?
Does it mean that you have a nice, holy, smile on all the time?
Nope. Holy means “without sin.” It means “without defects.” It means “without sin.”
Jesus helps us out with this when he quotes this passage and uses a Greek word that means “perfect” to translate “holy.” He says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
So are you perfect? You’re going to need to be perfect to get to heaven.
Understand this. You can’t trick God. You can’t convince him that you're trying hard and doing your best and your good intentions are perfection. God knows a bogus holy payment when he sees it. That’d be like trying to take some Monopoly money to buy a house. It won’t work.
Let’s be real: What do you have lying around? What is in your spiritual piggy bank? I imagine it’s a lot like mine. I don’t have any perfection. I have imperfection.
I have a thing called Sin.
The Bible says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
The word for sin there is interesting. The Bible was written in Greek and the Greek word translated sin here is one of the most popular words for sin in the New Testament. It’s hamartia. Hamartia means to miss the mark or to be off target.
It’s like darts. Ever played darts? Your goal is to aim your dart and try to throw it onto the bullseye…or at least somewhere on the board. If you miss, you don’t score any points. If you miss the board entirely, you are a laughingstock to your friends.
That’s sin. God has given us a benchmark for our lives. He says, “Don’t lust. Don’t hate. Don’t be a jerk. Be king. Be loving. Help others.”
When we don’t do that, when we sin…it’s like we’re taking a dart, aiming carefully, and hitting the drywall about 3 feet to the left of the dartboard.
Now a bargaining man might ask – What’s my sin worth? I might not be able to get all of it, but how much of God’s grace can I get by offering him my sin?
Ever heard of Kelley’s Blue Book? It’s a place online where you type in your car make, model, and year. You let them know what condition it’s in. You tell them if has a Smartphone port, a CD play or a (gasp) tape deck. You let them know if you have made any upgrade and whether or not those stains from that time your kid spilled red Kool Aid on the back seat are permanent. You enter in all that information and the website provides you with the appropriate value of your car.
Sin doesn’t work like that. You can’t type in the amount of sin, type of sin, year of sin and expect a price that it’s worth to come back to you.
Kelley’s Blue book for sin is called the Bible.
And the Bible places the same value on sin regardless of size, shape, and variety.
Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death.
Let’s break that passages apart. First, zero in on the word wages. That means the payment. It’s a word that’s used to described what you get paid for raking the leaves – what you get paid for crafting a cabinet – what you get paid for working 40 hours a week at your job. A wage is what you get paid for what you do. It’s what you earn.
What is sin worth? What do we get paid?
Pay careful attention to that. Because the wages of sin is NOT a $20 offering. The wages of sin is NOT saying the Lord’s Prayer 10 times. The wages of sin is not 15 good deeds. It’s not 10 hail Mary’s. It’s not trying, really, really, really, hard for the next couple of weeks.
The wages of sin is death.
And it doesn’t matter what kind of sin it is.
Stealing a pencil from work? Death.
Calling your husband a loser? Death.
Not holding the door for the guy behind you because you don’t feel like it? Death.
Taking a second glance at the secretary who is not your wife, but is looking real good today? Death.
Checking your phone at church to see if your Fantasy team is set for today, because that’s more exciting to you than singing God’s praises? Death.
It’s all the same and it’s all worth the same. Death.
And notice this – Each sin is worth one death. One sin costs one death. Two sins cost two deaths. Seventeen sins costs seventeen deaths. One hundred-forty seven sins costs one hundred forty seven deaths. If you’re like me (and you are) then you have so many sins that you can’t even count.
An infinite amount.
An eternal amount.
Payable with eternal death.
Can you imagine your bill? Can you imagine how impossible this is? Because sin is all we’ve got. A piggy bank filled with sin. A bank account bulging with imperfect. A fully funded H.S.A. of death. This means that the surprising and terrifying truth about God’s grace is this:
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
You haven’t in the past. You can’t right now. You will never be able to in the future.
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
II. An Incredible Gift
That’s a keyword in Romans 6:23. “But.” It means there is more to come. It means the thought is going to change. It means there is a solution. It means there is someone who can help us. It means keep reading…
The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Do you know what a Shopkin is? It’s these little plastic appliance action figures that kids love.
But here’s the deal – They cost a bit of money. And if, like any good Shopkins collector, your kid wants them all – they are going to have to turn to you for help. Mommy, can you buy this? Daddy, I don’t have the money?
Of course, the same thing is true when you’re an adult. You ask someone with the money to help you pay for something you don’t have the payment for.
Mom, help me with this car payment?
Dad, can you give me money for the new TV?
Credit card company, can you help me get these things that I don’t need?
It’s the same thing with all of God’s heavenly blessings.
We can’t pay for it for us.
We need someone to pay hundreds of thousands of deaths for us.
Someone who doesn’t have his own sins to pay for.
Someone who has an infinite life funding his death.
Someone like Jesus.
The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
That’s why he died! Jesus didn’t die because he owed God a death for his own sins. The Bible calls him perfect. The Bible calls him without sin.
Jesus didn’t die for his sins, but for your sins. Jesus died because you owed God a death for your sins.
That’s why he went through a horrific and terrifying, Halloween-esque death on the cross. It’s why he bled and hung with nails in his hands and through his feet. It’s why a crown of thorns was pressed into his skull. It’s why his lungs slowly stopped breathing.
Jesus was paying for sin. He was earning God’s grace. Jesus was buying your way to heaven. And his death was more than your average human death. It isn’t like he just died for one of your sins. He was the Son of God. He was the Divine Lord of heaven and earth himself. His death is worth a lot more than a normal human death. He’s got God blood. It paid for your first sin, your last sin, and the hundreds of thousands of sins in between. His death paid for your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin.
Want proof? Jesus came back to life! If he hadn’t paid for your sins, then, he would still be dead – still dying – still paying….like a Credit Card debt with interest that just keeps multiplying, he would have stayed dead.
But he didn’t stay dead. Three days later, he rose. That cross is empty!
This means that Jesus did paid for your sins.
He paid for all your sins.
He paid for every, last one of your sins.
Jesus paid the steep price for God’s grace.
Our first truth was terrifying. You cannot pay for God’s grace. But here’s something amazing. God’s grace is already paid for which means -
God’s grace is free. That’s what our passages says, “The gift of God is eternal life.” If it’s a gift, that means it doesn’t cost anything.
Think about your grandma. Maybe she has made you a nice sweater before or crocheted you a blanket or a pair of socks. If you open up your gift and look at the socks, and say “Thank You” and her response is, “That’ll be $42.50.” IT’S NOT A GIFT! It’s a wage.
God doesn’t do that. God paid for it all. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
The gift of God.
That’s exactly what God gives you in Jesus.
He gives you forgiveness.
He gives you peace.
He gives you heaven.
III. What Now?
1) Stop Trying to Pay for the Gift!
Because it’s really quite rude. God bought you the gift. God paid for it all. God brings it to you in His Word.
And we say, “Nah, God. I think I’d rather try to pay for it by myself. I don’t trust your money. I don’t trust it’ll be enough.”
We’re the ones who don’t have enough. God is the only one who does. Stop trying to pay for God’s grace and simply rejoice in it!
There’s a change in the way you live your life. The burden is gone. There is no eternal debt over your head. You don’t have to sit there each day thinking, “I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be…ahhh! I missed a chance to be good because I was too busy trying to remember to be good! That’s selfish. It’s another sin. Now I’ve got even more good to be doing!”
That’s foolish. It’s impossible.
It’d be like throwing away an all-expense paid gift card to Applebee’s. Racking up a $780-dollar bill on ½ price apps. But then, doubting that the gift card will work. Throwing it into the garbage and trying to pay with what’s in your wallet.
If you do that, you’re in trouble.
And if don’t trust Jesus, you will be in trouble.
2) Have Faith in Jesus.
But God is God.
God doesn’t lie.
He doesn’t change his mind on payment.
He doesn’t offer incomplete gifts.
He says, For God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son – that’s Jesus – that whoever believes in Him – and what he did! That he lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly to pay every last bit of God’s grace for you – shall not perish, but have eternal life.
If you trust him, God’s grace is yours. As expensive as it is, as impossible as it is for you to earn – it is yours.
That’s life changing.
A while back I met a woman at the hospital. Maria. I stumbled into her on an elevator and we exchanged pleasantries.
How are you?
I’m fine; how are you?
How was the person that you came to see?
What treatment did the doctor’s recommend?
And so on…
I said to her before I left, “May God bless you and your family with healing.” I meant it to be nice – but she began to frown.
“God couldn’t be nice to me. I don’t deserve it.”
I stopped her. I asked her to explain. We sat down and I listened.
About how God couldn’t love her.
About how God had seen her do awful sins.
About how God had seen her do drugs and sleep around and cheat on her husband and even…try to take her own life.
She knew it was wrong. Oh, she knew it was wrong. She understood sin.
Because of it, she couldn’t ever earn God’s blessing.
She couldn’t earn his grace.
And I looked into her eyes. I looked past the tears. I smiled and said,
“You’re right. You can’t….But Jesus can.”
The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Amen.
It’s getting very close.
A night full of the scariest things you’ve ever seen.
A night that you might cover yourself with a blankie as you watch spooky things on TV.
A night filled with treats, and quite a few tricks.
Yep, it’s almost time…for Election Night.
(Did you think I meant Halloween?)
I guarantee that there are many more people fearful of the Election than Halloween this year. Halloween is make believe. People wear masks. But the Election is real life! What will happen? How will we survive if so-and-so is president? Is this the end of America?
Today our goal is to take a look at God’s Word and we want to do 2 things: (1) see why it is this election is not nearly as scary as some websites would have you believe and (2) see how it is Christians should react to whoever is president next. But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Not-So-Scary Night
I direct your attention to Romans 13. Romans is a book that a disciple named Paul wrote. It was actually a letter to Christians and future Christians in Rome. In fact, it’s a good letter for all Christians. It talks about sin and our Savior. Then, it discusses Christian living. Finally, in Chapter 13 – there’s this directive about the government:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. (v.1)
Take a look at that word “authority” to start out with. Authority means to “be in charge of” or “to have power.”
There’s a lot of different authorities in this world. There’s the “authorities” as in police officers and highway patrol. In each family, parents have authority – although sometimes husbands joke that the “wife” has authority. You might have authority at work to do some things that others can’t and you might not be able to do some things that others can.
There’s lots of different authorities. Even in the government. There’s the President of the United States. There’s the Vice President. There’s the governors and senators and representatives – there’s the mayor and district representatives and even the city clerk! They are all very different in size of authority, shape of authority, and form of authority.
But they also have one thing in common.
There is no authority except that which God has established.
Have you ever seen ‘est’d.’ on the front of a building? Usually it’s on cornerstone – or in some easy to see spot. It means this is when the building was made and this is who paid for it. We’ve got a plague in the hallway that says something similar about our fellowship hall. Maybe we’ll have something like that for the new Precious Lambs building.
Do you understand what Romans 13:1 is saying? If someone is in authority – no matter where the authority is – no matter when the authority is – no matter how the authority is – God is the one who set it up. Because God is the ultimate authority.
And that means – that on the morning of November 9th – we will know who is in control.
No matter who wins the election. No matter who becomes President of the United States (POTUS). No matter who is elected – you can envision a little ‘estd’ on the name badge above their breast pocket.
Established by God.
Do you believe that? Imagine for a minute that it’s November 9th. You are waking up the day after the election and after you grab your coffee and you read the headline on the newspaper OR the tweet on your phone – the other candidate won.
Not the one you voted for – who you maybe didn’t even like all that much – the candidate that you didn’t vote for because you were terrified of that candidate becoming president.
How do you react?
Add a little spike to your morning coffee?
Immediately tweet about how America is over?
Do you go online and start searching for the price of houses in Canada?
When less than 40% of America is behind a candidate, November 9th is bound to be a scary day. Someone will be in authority that more than 60 percent of the country doesn’t even want!
We'll start thinking!
This is because our no-good country elected that person.
This is because of the no-good media.
This is because other countries interfered.
This is because it’s rigged.
Some – or all of that might be true. But there’s a bigger, deeper reason behind the Next President.
Romans 13:1 again: There is no authority except that which God has established.
II. God’s Choice
But that’s hard. Because it means that whoever gets elected on Election Day, will do so under God’s authority!
And if we were to end the sermon there, you’ll probably leave thinking:
That was crazy. Because if so-and-so wins, that one is an awful no good unbeliever – How could God be behind that?
To be fair: It was hard for the people who were hearing this message originally. Because at that time, the Roman government was in charge. The Roman government was the authority. The Roman government wasn’t Christian. In fact, Romans didn’t like Christians all that much. Romans viewed Christianity as a cult that would lead to a revolution and loss of authority for the Roman government.
One of the worst offenders was a guy called Nero. He’s gonna show up very early in the history of the Christian church – shortly after the letter to the Romans is circulated. Nero hated Christians. There are accounts and records of Nero burning Christians at the stake and throwing them into the Lion’s Den. Christians were probably very wary of the Roman government and very nervous about what it might bring them!
Then, they read this letter form Paul. I bet they thought: Here’s the section about government. I can’t wait to read it. I can’t wait for him to tell us about how we should fight back against Roman soldiers. I can’t wait to read about how we should burn Nero’s palace down. I can’t wait to hear about how this is all a bit misunderstanding and God will give us a new ruler soon.
So…let’s see. It says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God?”
Is this a typo?
But this must be true! If we believe in an all knowing, all powerful, all incredible God, then we believe he has all authority. Otherwise you make him into some feeble, old ruler who can’t prevent his own overthrow or some non-caring, jerk, who doesn’t care about you.
God establishes authority.
And no, we don’t always know why God establishes the government that he establishes. If you look at Bible history, there are some reasons that are explained --
(1) Sometimes it’s for good order. To keep believers and unbelievers and people of different cultures, races, belief systems and backgrounds from beating each other up.
(2) Other times it’s for prosperity. God used kings like David to bring prosperity on the nation.
(3) Sometimes? It’s for discipline.
Take Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian ruler. He didn’t know God. He didn’t care for God. He didn’t consult God. But God used them. He used them to punish his people. He used them to bring them to their knees. He used them to discipline his children and bring them back to faith in him.
Here’s the truth. We don’t know why God establishes the authorities that he does. But we do know that whatever the reason – It’s for our eternal good.
Check out this passage from the same letter to Rome – “All things work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Here’s a second truth: We don’t know why God will establish the authority that he does on November 8th. But…we do know that whoever he established, “All things – including the American election – will for your good.” For your, eternal good.
Like Pontius Pilate. He was a Roman. He didn’t care a lick about the Jewish people. He could be harsh and uncaring – like the time that he allowed an innocent man to be crucified on a cross just so that he wouldn’t lose his authority.
But God had a purpose. An eternal purpose. Your eternal purpose.
That innocent man that he killed just happened to be the Son of God – Jesus Christ. The one of whom it was prophesied, would die on a cross. (Isaiah 53) A cross that the no good, unbelieving, Roman government used as a punishment.
God used Pontius Pilate to fulfill his plan.
God used the Roman government to sacrifice the Savior.
God used those authorities – to save you.
God will use the next president for your good—your eternal good.
III. What Now?
Because there might be a Next President that you don’t like. A president that you don’t trust. Even if you vote for that person, you might not trust them.
But Trust God.
It doesn’t matter what earthly person is in authority, they can’t out-authority God.
They can’t take away the salvation that Jesus won for you on a cross.
They can’t pass a law that says "You aren’t forgiven."
They can’t change legislation to make you into an enemy of God.
They can’t amend history and keep Jesus from dying and rising from the dead.
God is in control.
So…here’s what I think you should do. Before you open up your newsfeed on November 8th. Before you check Facebook or the news. Before you watch the news later that night after you vote --- Open the Bible. Find Psalm 46. Read “God is our Refuge and strength and ever present help in trouble; Therefore we will not fear, though the earth quakes and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
2) Don’t Rebel
Ever had a babysitter? Me too. I, like many young boys, didn’t think that I had to listen to my babysitters. In fact, one of my first babysitters – I refused to listen to. I stayed up late. I jumped on my bed. I ate way more cookies than she said I could have. I rebelled against her authority and I thought that it wasn’t a big deal. I figured if I wasn’t disobeying my mom and dad, then it was okay.
I was wrong.
The same is true with the next president: if you rebel against whoever it is – you’ll be rebelling against God. Look at what it says in verse 2, “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” You’ll have to answer to God.
You might be thinking, “I’m not gonna rebel. I’m not gonna grab a sign and go downtown to picket…because I don’t know where to buy picket signs.”
But that’s not necessarily rebellion. Rebellion means “to go against authority.” To attack; to fight against; to tear down.
So here’s something to ask yourself about your action. Is it building up? Or tearing down?
Ask yourself. Is this email joke really building anybody up?
Is this SNL skit just attacking someone?
Are my swear words really a blessings?
Is this illegal way that I’m trying to not pay so many taxes, really supporting our government?
Not so much? Then, you’re rebelling. Against authorities and God.
3) Give Respect.
Instead, give what you owe the next president. Look at what Romans 13:6 says, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Instead, give respect. Give honor. Give prayers. Give kind words.
And if you’re having a hard time doing that – please look at God! Because God is the one who established that person. I know you want to give glory to God. He won salvation for you; he forgave you; he loves you; and he’ll take you to heaven.
Treating his representative with respect is treating God, your Savior, with respect.
4) Remember Where you are “of”
In John 17, Jesus says this about his disciples, “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world…Protect them from the evil one.”
Because the truth is, we are in this world. While we are in this world, we will always have sinful human leaders. Because there are only sinful, human leaders to choose from.
While you can’t avoid that, you need to remember that you are more than that. You are in the world; but you aren’t of it.
Be different this election.
When others are frightened, be confident.
When others are complaining, give praise.
When others are planning rebellion, show respect.
When others think the world is following apart, show them God’s World and how he put you back together.
No matter what's going on -- remember that your kingdom is not of this world.
Your kingdom is God's kingdom.
That kingdom is above.
Did you watch the latest Presidential debate?
Call me old fashioned, but I remember a time when candidates talked about issues and policies and how they would address those issues and policies. This latest debate?
Here’s why you’re terrible.
And here’s why you’re terrible.
And here’s why you’re even more terrible -er.
It seemed a bit more like I was watching an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
I don’t think I’m alone. According to the latest polls, neither candidate has a majority. In fact, they are barely hovering around 40%. That means – the eventual winner will have more than half the country against them! It’s is going to be one of the largest third candidate votes in American history. Time and time again – I see people’s reason for voting for Hillary or Trump as – They’re bad – just not as bad as the other one.
What’s a person to do?
What’s a Christian to do?
Who should we trust to make our lives better?
Today we are continuing our series called God & Country. We’re looking at the Christian and voting. I wanna say right off the bat: I am not endorsing any candidates. You can give me a lifetime supply of Nacho Cheese Doritos and I’m not endorsing any candidates. I’m a pastor; not a politician. I care about spiritual -- way more than temporal.
Yet there’s a spiritual aspect to casting a vote. Because there’s trust involved in casting a vote.
Today we want to look into God’s Word and see (1) who should we trust while casting our vote and (2) what principles do we keep in mind while voting. But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Voting & Trust
Our lesson for today comes from 1 Samuel 8. That's actually before where we were last week in our God & Patriotism lesson. It's before David was king. In fact, it was before Israel even had kings or a human government.
Which is what makes this biblical studying on voting for a political candidate difficult. There isn’t any democracy in the Bible. Democracy is relatively new. In the Old Testament – most governments were Monarchies – that means – they were governments run by kings.
But not in Israel. Not in 1 Samuel. At that time Israel was different. Israel was run by a theocracy. Theos is the Greek word for "god." That means a theocracy is a government run by God. Literally. God, their heavenly Father, was actively involved in the government of Israel.
He would give guidance to a leader -- Moses or Joshua -- who would then lead the Israelites in battle and citizenship -- How to live, what to celebrate, what's good and what's bad. This system went well for Israel as long as they listened to God. When they listened to him, they were blessed. When they didn't listen to God, they were in trouble.
The same thing happened when Samuel (the person for whom the book of 1 Samuel is named) became the go between for God and the people. Things went well. The Israelites had been in captivity, but after Samuel led -- they were not.
People were generally happy with this theocracy.
Until one day….
…Samuel heard a rock tumble down his gravel walkway. He looked up from his morning devotion and went to the front window: A group of men was walking up his driveway. He recognized them. They were leaders from various tribes and various families in this Israelites nation. A congress of elected officials – that was neither elected nor official.
Samuel went to the front door to let them in. It was always good to see them. Together they enforced God’s Will. They helped pass on God’s Word of wisdom. God talked to Samuel; Samuel talked to these men; these men talked to the people.
Together they guided Israel.
And it worked! 30 some years earlier, Israel was a broken mess. Various sections of the country had splintered off and been captured by the Philistines and the Amorites. They were oppressed, taxed, and beaten. But, after the country repented and listened to God’s leadership through Samuel – Israel was at peace. The country was restored. The nation was blessed and had been for years.
Maybe the guys are here to talk about the good old days OR maybe they want me to speak at a high school graduation again.
But the people didn’t come for high fives.
They weren’t bringing him a gift of appreciation.
They didn’t even want to take selfies with him.
v.5 “You’re old." You’re not young. It’s a new era; a modern era. You don’t connect with the younger generation anymore. You can’t keep up like you used to. You should be in the hall of fame; not on the front lines.
"You’re sons aren’t like you." They aren’t. They just want money and they only care about themselves. They aren’t doing a good job doing the legwork for you.
"Appoint a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have."
Samuel’s smile faded. He nodded and listened as they spoke. “OK, Ok. I hear you.” But his heart wasn’t in it. Why were they rejected him? Was it something he said? Was it something he did? Was he not wearing the right clothing? Did he need a new hair style?
Samuel excused himself for a moment. He went out back to a private room. He got on his knees and he prayed to God. God, is this right? Should I listen to them? God why are they rejecting me?
God responded – with one of the truest statement Samuel had heard in a long time.
v.7 Samuel…It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
Do any of you know who Chumbawamba is? They’re a one hit wonder from the nineties. But…I remember back when I was a preteen, all of my classmates were obsessed with Chumbawamba’s number 1 hit song: Tubthumper. It goes “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you ain’t ever gonna keep me down.” (Sound familiar?)
So here’s what I did. I found a BMG Music ad in the newspaper. I ordered the Chumbawamba CD. I had to order another 10 CDs (based solely on whether or not I had heard my classmates talking about them) and I spent my whole allowance to get them.
The CD came. And Tubthumper was alright…the other songs? Awful.
All so I could be like the other kids.
Essentially that’s what the Israelites were wanting. They were willing to give up the leadership of their holy, perfect, all loving, never failing, completely on their side, miracle making God – all for the sake of being like the other nations.
They wanted someone they could see.
They wanted someone that was like them.
They wanted someone who was invested in the human race.
They wanted to be like other, sinful, godless, heading toward hell people.
But then again – this is what Israel had always done. For years, they had been rejecting God’s rule. For years, they had been doing the opposite of what God said. For years, they had been appearing to follow God – but really following sinful human beings.
God and Samuel finished their campaign meeting. Samuel returned to the Israelites with some talking points. He had a chance to debate; to give a final warning as to why God was a way better leader than a human being. His defense is found in verses 10-18, but here are the highlights:
1) Take your kids and make army fodder. Instead of having the hand of God doing the work for you, protecting you and keeping you safe, he’ll grab your sons. They’ll be maimed and die in battle. And it won’t always be for your best interested. It’ll be for the king’s interest and the king’s legacy. For his own, selfish, human reasons.
2) You’ll lose your freedom. You won’t be able to choose your lifestyle and choose your occupation. If the king needs a farmer, you’ll be a farmer. If the king needs a baker, you’ll be a baker. If the king needs a outhouse repairman, you’ll be an outhouse repairman. He won’t keep in mind your desire and dreams for this life – he’ll give you a job…for his own, selfish, human reasons.
3) The Taxes… Oh the taxes will increase. You’ll give up a portion of your food and your goats, and your oxen and chicken, and everything that you have. Some will go to protect you, but once that king gets a taste of wealth, the majority of taxes will not happen to improve your life, they will happen for the king’s own, selfish, human reasons.
4) You’ll be slaves. Because eventually, eventually someone will become king whose sinful, selfish human reasons overtakes his policies. He’ll make you serve him – not your country and not yourself. He’ll be filled with vengeance and a complete disregard for you – and you shouldn’t be surprised! That’s what sinful, selfish, human beings do!
And you’ll call out to God for help. You’ll regret the decision you are making right now. But, v.18 the LORD will not answer you.
The Israelites thought about it.
They pondered it.
They deeply considered the thoughts of their holy, perfect, all knowing God.
…for about 2 seconds.
v.18 “No! We want a king over us! We want to be like the other nations.”
Did you see the problem? The Israelites trusted humanity more than God. Soon, they’d put their trust in Saul – their very first human king – more than God.
It’s foolish to do.
God is holy; humans are sinful.
God is all loving; humans love themselves first.
God is all powerful; humans are weak.
God is all knowing; humans know whatever their very biased advisors tell them to know.
But this trusting of humans more than God is something that was happening back then…
…and is still happening now.
Who do you trust this election?
Hillary? Donald? Do you trust Jill or Gary or Scott?
Are you panicking because you don’t trust any of them?
Do you expect a president to completely change your life?
To fix your problems? To fix your money situation? To improve your job and heal your health issues?
If you do, your trust is in the wrong place.
Hillary Clinton will not fix your life.
Donald Trump will not make your life great again.
A third party candidate will not put your life in the right direction.
The only one who can do that; is not on the ballot.
Isaiah 43:11 says this, “God is the Lord and there is no other Savior.”
Cause when you look at our lives apart from God – there’s been a Great Recession.
And you know how good candidates are at lying? We’re good at it too. Telling ourselves “I’m fine. Everything’s great. I have no spiritual problems.”
But we’re wrong. It’s a mess. And it's beyond any human being!!
But it isn't beyond God.
Here’s the truth:
Your Savior isn't on the ballot; he's on the cross.
To be fair, this may not mean that you make more money. It may not mean that your health care payments go down. It may not mean that you get all of the benefits that you t think you deserve.
But what you’ll get; is beyond your wildest imagination.
Jesus said this, “My kingdom is not of this world.” That means he’s concerned with your life on this earth, yes, but he’s even more concerned with your spiritual, eternal life in heaven. His decisions, when it comes down to one or the other, are always going to be in favor of your heavenly glory.
Because that's better.
Because that lasts.
Because that's how He fixes this broken world.
Because that's how He fixes this broken you.
II. Principles for this Election
Jesus is the only Savior. But he's also not on the ballot. I'm not suggesting that you write in his name. (He wouldn't take the job and sadly, he probably wouldn't win anyways).
What are you to do? What does the Bible encourage us to do in an earthly election? Keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t exactly address voting. Democracy isn’t a part of the Ten Commandments and it was never a part of Israelite government. There's not even a mandate to vote! But there’s a few Biblical principles that I think you should keep in mind.
The Bible tells us to pray continually. It doesn’t say, “Pray continually until an election comes up; then stop praying and start making decisions on your own without seeking God’s help.” Nope. God tells us to pray about big things and little things – to help grandma get over cancer and to help me do well on this 10 question math quiz.
The presidential election fits under the category of things to pray for.
Won’t you keep it in your prayers?
Pray for God to bless America.
Pray for God to bless your heart.
Pray for God to guide you toward the best decision that you can make.
2) Use the Wisdom God gave You.
That really has a twofold meaning. The Bible says that God made us "Fearfully and wonderfully." Therefore, we should use that wonderful mind that God gave us and the wisdom he bestowed on us.
But also he gave us wisdom beyond that. Wisdom within his Word.
Now, there is not a Bible book called. “2nd What-to-Do-in-the-2016-American-Presidential-Elections.” It just isn’t there. That means this will take some time. You'll need to learn about the candidates and then search in God's Word for what a godly leader looks like. You'll find examples of godly leaders and godly characteristics of leaders. You'll learn godly morals and godly mandates.
It takes some time, but it's worth it.
Don’t just do something cause all your friends are saying so on Facebook.
That’s what the Israelites did and it didn’t work out to well for them.
Take time to think about the issues and vote using the wisdom God gave you.
DID YOU KNOW: There will be some friends, some family members, even some church members who vote differently in you?
Kick them out pastor! Right?
You do realize that every candidate in this election is a sinner?
Every candidate has sinful human reasoning?
Every candidate has sinful human motives?
There is no perfect candidate. If you’re going to disown a friend because they voted for a sinful candidate, then you’ll have to disown yourself.
Relax. Christians can make different choices for President; just as they make different choices for what type of car to drive and different choices for different types of chewing gum. You don’t need to crucify them or call them names. You don’t need to send them angry blog post after angry blog post.
You need to pray with them. You need to work with them.
You need to share God’s Word to them and with them.
And you have important work to do:
4) Move on.
Which leads to the final point – after you make your vote – move on!
Because God didn't call us to sit around and wring our hands and worry about our government. Nope.
God called us to share the Gospel of Jesus.
We’ve got way too important of work to keep doing together. We need to Gather to the Garden. We need to share Jesus with our community. We need to keep telling others about our incredible Savior, Jesus Christ.
And you need to be a part of that.
Here’s where God helps with that.
Because the more our trust is in him, the more we calm God gives us.
To be honest, this election is quite the opportunity for trust in God. Because if I think back to the elections that I can remember – people were voting because they were confident in the candidate to do the good job. George W. Bush will fix things. Barack Obama will fix things.
This year – They won’t mess it up as much as the other person.
Which means – when trust in the candidates is at all time low – we have an opportunity to place trust in God at an all-time high.
Put your trust in the Lord, the Only Savior.
Share your trust it the Lord, the Only Savior.
Today we want to start our series called God & Country. We’re looking at how a Christian balances God and Patriotism. Our goal for today is to see (1) when patriotism can become a danger (2) what good patriotism looks like. We’re going to do that by focusing in on a section from 1 Chronicles. That’s old school. It talks about the nation of Israel and its relationship with God. If you want to open your Bibles to it, it’s in the Old Testament close to the books of Kings. You can also search for it on your iPhones.
But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Bad Patriotism
King David took the final steps out of his palace into the early morning streets of Jerusalem.
It was quiet. Quiet because the city had been partying late into the night. There had been another victory. Another victory for Israel. With that victory came another welcoming home of the victorious soldiers. Chants of “Is-ra-el! Is-ra-el!” had filled the streets. Street musicians played “I am proud to be an Israelian!” as little old ladies waved Israelite flags to the beat. Little kids held up their GI Israel action figures and older teens had pledged to ‘join the army’ when they were a bit older.
It was a good time. A time of national pride.
A time of Patriotism.
With good reason. Under King David, the nation had expanded its borders; it had defeated its enemies. They had gained national wealth, improved the economy and brought prosperity for even the poor. They were the United States of the Ancient World. Other countries feared them; many wanted to be them; no one dared cross them.
David knew that. He knew that and yet…he knew the worries. He knew the nervousness that comes with the economy. He knew the whispers of terrorism and war. He knew that some didn’t think Israel was as great as they thought they were.
A pile of confetti blew past his face. David needed something. Something to comfort the people. Something to dispel their doubts. Something to assure them they were safe. Something to assure himself he was safe.
Then, David had an idea. In a brilliant, politically tactical move, he would order a census. He’d number the fighting men. He’d get a count on how large his army was. He’d post that census on billboards throughout Jerusalem. He’d let himself and his country know how great the land of Israel really was!
David returned to the palace and called for the general of his army to stand before him. “Go; gather your commanders. Set into motion a census. Find out for me just how great the Israelite army is.”
Joab protested. “Majesty -- the country is huge. The army is great. Why do you need a census to prove that? Why do you need to boast? Whose ego are we trying to feed? Mine? Theirs? Yours?”
But David was king. That was that. Joab went out. He travelled. He counted. He tallied. He added. He subtracted. He numbered and reported:
“There are over 1.6 million soldiers in the army of Israel.”
David smiled. David swelled with patriotism.
The others who heard; they smiled. They swelled with patriotism.
But God didn’t smile. He didn’t swell with Patriotism.
“But this command was evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
This seems strange at first. David took a census. Is census taking sinfully wrong? Is it as bad as theft and adultery? Should we feel as uncomfortable around census takers as we might around pornography directors and terrorists?
No. Of course not. Census taking isn’t wrong.
The problem wasn’t the census. The problem was the motivation behind the census.
It’s kinda like eating yogurt. There’s nothing wrong with eating yogurt. There isn’t a commandment that says, “Thou shalt not commit yogurt eating.” If you’re eating yogurt because you’re hungry, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt because you like yogurt, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt, because there’s nothing else in your fridge, no worries.
But if you’re eating yogurt, because your wife implied that you’re a bit out of shape and you’re upset at her for doing that and you hope she sees you eating yogurt and feels bad about the fact that she was being such a meanie – That’s wrong.
What was the bad motivation behind David? Pride. Pride in himself as King. Pride in his country. He trusted the great number of troops; the awesomeness of his army; his nation more than his God.
Because did you notice, there is no mention of God in his request. He doesn’t tell the people – “Be calm; everything is good in Israel because of God.” Nope. With the census he was saying, “Everything is good in Israel because of Israel. Because of our nation. Because of our patriotism.”
That’s bad patriotism. In fact, you might call it “Patriolatry,” – the worship of nation…rather…than…God.
So. I ask. At the time of this election – where’s your trust?
Recently there’s been a controversy around Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem. Did you know this? He and some other athletes have been kneeling during the national anthem. And I’m not here to give a long winded reaction to all of this.
Yes, it’s important to show respect to the men and women who serve our country in war and standing during the national anthem is a way to do that. But it’s also important to listen to a large portion of the black community (our family) when they are telling us about struggles that we might not know anything about.
But I’m more interested in the reaction that I’ve seen these past couple of weeks to it. People have been downright vengeful. There are comments on social media and in the mainstream media about how awful anyone who doesn’t put their hand on the heart for the flag is awful. About how they are traitors About how they are the worst. About how they are “swear word; swear word; swear word.” About how there is nothing more important than showing respect to our flag.
OK. I’m gonna challenge you.
If you’ve got that outrage over a lack of respect for our sinful country, where is that outrage over lack of respect to God?
Where’s your outrage over the family member who doesn’t show God respect and devote one hour a week to him at church?
Where’s your outrage when someone takes God’s name in vain?
Where’s your respect when you can’t even stay awake for a 20-minute message from God’s Word?
Why is there post after post after post (and conversation after conversation) about America and Debate and Vote this way, but there is no mention of God – no mention of our Savior?
I heard someone say this recently: “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing that you love the most passionately.” I’ll say that again. “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing you love most passionately.”
There’s truth there.
Think about your love. What’s that for you? The USA? Or God?
Scripture says this. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods.” You shouldn’t trust anything more than God. You shouldn’t love anything more than God. You shouldn’t fear anything more than God.
This isn’t God being a big jealous jerk! It’s God loving you. It’s God reminding you that He is the only one that can save. Because the truth is:
The United States will not pass some law to get you to heaven.
George Washington didn’t die for your sins.
Abraham Lincoln didn’t rise form the dead.
Uncle Sam isn’t your Savior.
God did and God is.
And if you ignore this truth. If you stay at the temple of Patriology and your country is more important than God, then that’s bad patriotism.
And God will act swiftly.
II. Good Patriotism
Just like he did with David.
God sent a prophet. The prophet told David, v.10-12 "This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options…Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies…or three days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel."
Now. If I were David and I thought that my nation was so great (and it was), I might pick option one. Three years of famine would be no problem for the booming economy of Israel. He could tell his secretary of agriculture to start gathering food the very next day and start rationing the day after that.
Or I might pick option two. Because three months of enemy combat…After all, they had over 1.6 million soldiers in their army. They might be able to fend off these attacks. They might be able to defend the country.
But option three, three days of plague in the land? If that started immediately, Israel could do nothing. They wouldn’t be able to set up vaccination sites. They wouldn’t be able to combat it. They’d be entirely at the mercy of God.
Which is exactly why David picked it:
v. 13 “Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
Notice the change in trust. No longer does David trust his country. He doesn’t trust his army. He doesn’t trust his nation.
He trusts God. He trusts God to be merciful simply because he’s merciful.
So the pestilence starts. The angel of the Lord stands like a stalwart statue with his sword directed over the land. Soldiers start dropping. Heart attacks. Strokes. Other sudden illnesses. 70,000 people died. It looks like more will die. It looks like a terrible decision. And the angel of the Lord approaches Jerusalem – and the capital city was about to experience the complete wrath of God. But then….
That’s what happens when you trust God and his mercy. God has mercy.
And if you read a bit farther it says that God commands the angel to put his sword away and the angel does. Because God was in control the whole time. Not just at the beginning of this story. It was about God the whole time. From the start of the Israelite nation and throughout King David’s reign, to the kings after David and even the destruction of Jerusalem way in the future. Israel was ok. But God was Great!
It doesn’t depend on the size of the army. Remember the size that David came up with? 1.6 million soldiers? That’s huge. It wasn’t even everyone. Joab had intentionally not counted the men of Levi and Benjamin – probably to keep people from being so prideful.
But God has never needed millions to win battles.
With Gideon he used 300 men to defeat close to 120,000.
In Egypt, he used the wind and the waves to destroy the thousands of Egyptian chariots chasing the Jews.
In the small town of Dothan, his prophet Elisha was trapped, but not a single human soul came to save him. For that God used chariots of fire and angels of vengeance.
But none of those are anything compared to his greatest battle.
Jesus fought millions of billions of sins and death and the devil, all by himself.
He didn’t use a sword. In fact, as the battle started he told his disciples to put their swords away. They did and they ran away. He was betrayed, abandoned, beaten, scorned, whipped, and crucified. He died!
But – with that dead body, he won a war. He came out of the grave and won salvation.
It means that if you have been trapped in Patriology, if you have been trusting in nation rather than God, God is ready to forgive. He defeated your sins. By faith in him, you are forgiven. You are victorious. You are a part of his heavenly kingdom.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) Redefine Patriotism
Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as (sorry if that sounds like a lame segue for a speech) “the love of one’s country.”
You are American. Love your country. But you are a part of a country much greater than that. A country that you’ll be a part of, if you travel abroad, if you move to Mexico, if you retire in the Caribbean, even if America ceases to exist.
You are a part of God’s kingdom.
Take pride in that. Make that the conversation you have at work. Make that the encouragement you post on the internet. Brag on God’s kingdom and brag on your God.
God’s Word is often described like a mirror. A mirror shows you where you need some help. It tells me where I missed shaving and where I have some asparagus in my teeth. But too often in America, as Christians in America, we pick up the mirror and hold it like this. We run around telling others to look in the mirror and forget to look in the mirror ourselves.
Turn the mirror around. Reflect on your own attitudes and reactions. Reflect on how you’ve done wrong. Like King David – cry out: “Oh dear Lord, forgive me! Forgive me for my wrong doing.”
And then? Hear God’s Word of forgiveness. Reflect on his love. Reflect on his mercy. Reflect on how you can show his love and mercy to other citizens closest to you.
3) Get on Your Knees
That’s what King David did. When he saw the destruction that was coming on his country, he got on his knees and prayed. He prayed because of God’s mercy. He prayed for God’s mercy. God gave it.
Let’s do the same thing. Rather than getting on our feet and arguing with one another – let’s first get on our knees and pray. For God’s kingdom – for our country. Prayer for the salvation of souls in America. Prayer for the coming to faith of our leaders. Pray for opportunities to share his love in our land of North Raleigh.
Pray for God’s blessings on our nation.
Which is actually the very prayer that we will say in the very last hymn for today. Maybe you peeked. It’s God Bless Our Native Land.
Notice something about song. We are asking God to bless our native land.
Not our army.
Not the president.
God bless our native land. God bless the USA. God bless all of us in the USA.
Brothers and sisters, how would you feel if myself or any pastor started a sermon like this: “Look at how many seats are filled today. Look at the crowd who has come to hear the word of the Lord. I am absolutely livid that there are so many people who think they have a right to be here in God’s presence!”
Brothers and sisters, I don’t really feel this way about you or about our Lord. Hopefully it struck you as absolutely un-Christian, and rightly so. But it’s pretty similar to what we’re about to hear. When we look at Jonah here in a minute, we better be offended at his attitude toward what happened. But before we start lining up to hurl rocks in his direction, we also better take a close look at our own hearts and make sure his attitude isn’t still alive and kicking within ourselves, showing itself in ways that aren’t so obvious and absurd.
So to start with, let’s go back to our final chapter of Jonah. It’s been a real up and down ride through his story so far, but we left off on a pretty high note last week. Things seemed to have turned around and come out well. In fact, it was a satisfying conclusion to the whole mess and would’ve made any modern Hollywood producer happy. Jonah had been called to come preach a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh. He ran away. God pursued him. Jonah gave up running and threw himself on God’s mercy, and God had mercy. God rescued him and brought him home to try again. And it looked like Jonah learned his lesson. He went to Nineveh and he preached the message. “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned!” And in a miracle greater than the fish, the people listened. All of them, from the king down to the smallest child repented and called on God for mercy. And God relented. They would not be destroyed. Jonah’s work bore the kind of fruit we dream about. God’s mission through Jonah had succeeded.
And now in our last chapter, we finally get some psychological insight into what’s been driving Jonah this whole time. Up until now we’ve kind of had to guess what’s been going through his head as he acted. Now we get to see what’s really been going on. It is a shocking contrast when you come across it. Especially when you remember that these chapter and verse numbers we see in our Bibles are not something God gave us but just a human invention to help us find certain parts. So let’s ignore those numbers and just look at the flow of the account. We end up reading this, “When God saw what [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.”
What? You want to run that by me again Jonah? Your mission was an unprecedented, miraculous success, and you’re angry? In fact, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take a moment to give you an insight into the original language here in the Hebrew of this line. It comes out much stronger. It’s not good English, but a literal read of the Hebrew might sound something like this, “But this was evil to Jonah, a great evil and it burned to him.” Do you see that? This didn’t just upset Jonah some, he literally felt that what God did for the Ninevites was evil. An utter miscarriage of justice we might say! And that last bit, “it burned to him.” This isn’t the kind of anger where you just sit kind of fuming quietly in the corner, this is the kind of angry where the blood floods your face and you get red and hot from it. He was foaming at the mouth furious over this.
We can just picture Jonah now, going through the streets, going through the city, proclaiming his message. And he notices a change. People are starting to wear that unbearable sackcloth. They’re shouting to the Lord begging mercy. They’re sitting in the dust praying relentlessly with tears in their eyes. And he knows what this means. They’re listening to God’s message. And he knows what’s coming next. Or more to the point, he knows what’s not coming next. He figures out that God is going to forgive these people instead of destroying them, and we can just imagine the scowl that clouds his face as he continues his mission.
Why? He tells God exactly why. At the end he prays to the Lord and says. “I told you, God, I told you this would happen! This is exactly what I was afraid of from the start. You wondered why I ran away so quickly when you called me the first time? This is why! I know you. You’re a compassionate God, you’re so slow to anger and quick to forgive. I knew if I came out here and warned these people, they’d show some kind of repentance and you’d change your mind and let them go. Haven’t you been paying attention? Don’t you know what these people have done? Haven’t you seen how violent and sexually immoral they are? They should be destroyed! Good riddance! But no, you had me come and warn them and since they feel sorry about it and apologized you’re going to let them off the hook without any repercussions. This is so infuriating I would rather be dead than see it.”
We can see now that Jonah didn’t run away at the beginning because he was afraid of persecution. He wasn’t afraid of the enormity of his task. He wasn’t intimidated by the work involved or by having to carry it out himself, alone against a half-million people. He wasn’t afraid to tell all those people they were bad people and were going to die for it. No, he was afraid that he would succeed. He was afraid that they would listen. He hated those godless Ninevites and the last thing he wanted was for them to be spared God’s wrath. So he ran the other direction. And we can see now that even when God turned him around and sent him back, he still didn’t want his mission to work. Even now, after God decides to relent, we will see he still hopes that maybe it’ll change back.
God is patient and compassionate, of course, and his response to Jonah is a simple, calming rebuke, “Do you have any right to be angry?” he asks.
Jonah apparently has no response to this. Instead, his appointed task complete, he storms out of the city like a pouting child leaving the room. And does he go home? Does he put this whole thing behind him and go back to his daily life? No. He feels so strongly about this that he goes out east of the city and finds a place where he can sit and look out at the city. Forty days wasn’t up yet. Maybe, just maybe God will change his mind back and wreck the place. He builds himself a little makeshift shelter. And he sits in the desert sun and he waits and he watches. He is so single-minded in wanting these people punished that his life is literally brought to a standstill by this.
God cares just as much about Jonah as the entire city of Nineveh, and so he prepares a unique object-lesson to help Jonah understand. As Jonah sits and watches, his little shelter of twigs and dried leaves doesn’t do a whole lot to keep out the beating sun, but then miraculously, a plant of some sort springs to life overnight and provides a shade. Much better. Jonah’s liking this. His anger subsides some and he just enjoys relaxing there. This plant is his new best friend. But then the next day something has eaten away at the root of the plant and it withers away just as quick as it showed up. The sun rises and a scorching wind tears across the sands, the temperature jumps about 20 degrees and sucks all the moisture out of the air and now Jonah starts to act again like a teenager who just got embarrassed by Mom or Dad at school. He’s so angry that the plant is gone that he says he’d rather be dead than live without it.
Again God asks this question, “Do you have any right to be angry about this vine?”
We’re not at our rational best when we’re angry, so Jonah’s probably not thinking about his reply when he says, “I sure do! I’m so angry I could die!”
And the Lord, in love, drops the truth on Jonah. “Jonah you’re angry about the loss of this vine, right? But why? You had nothing invested in it. You didn’t tend to it. You didn’t make it grow. You didn’t raise it from a seedling. In fact, it was here one day and gone the next. And yet look at how important it was to you. A plant that lasted a day. Now turn back around and look at this city. People. Human souls. There are more than a hundred and twenty thousand children just in that city, never minding adults. People I created. Souls I care for. I raised them all. I caused them all to grow. And you want to be angry that I just didn’t wipe them out because I had an excuse to? Consider how precious they are to me. Instead of looking for a reason to punish them, shouldn’t I look for any reason to pardon them? Shouldn’t I look for any reason to forgive them?”
The story of Jonah ends here. And if we’re not careful, we can walk away from it thinking that this is a cautionary tale of one guy with a bad attitude who learned a lesson we already know. And yeah, I’m guessing not one of us has ever gotten so furious at the evil of a city that you went and sat out and watched to see if God would wipe it off the face of the earth (though maybe that fantasy occurred to you). No, to really watch ourselves for Jonah’s attitude we have to backpedal all the way to the start of the story. The word of the Lord came to Jonah and said, “Go preach against Nineveh.” Go and tell the Ninevites exactly about their evil and how I as God feel about it so they have a chance to change their ways and be saved. Jonah didn’t want them saved. Jonah didn’t think they deserved to be saved. So he went the other way.
Do we do this? Perhaps not literally run from the Lord but do we just ignore the same command he gives us? Do we treat someone differently because we have determined they’re not worth it? By God’s grace I should hope we’re never as overt about it as Jonah, but I know my own heart and I think if any of us are sitting here today thinking “I’ve never judged myself to be better than someone else,” then we’re lying to ourselves. We always do this. In many different ways. But before we wrap up this morning let’s look at first the root of where this attitude tends to come from and then at what God gives us to fight against it.
Like I said, this attitude of Jonah can manifest in many ways. Maybe we just don’t tell someone about Jesus because we don’t think they’re worth it, because we want them punished for what they’ve done. Usually it’s even more subtle than that. Maybe we’re just indignant that someone we know is forgiven at all. They come in here, unkempt, disrespectful, fresh from a life of blatant sin and they smile when God says they’re forgiven and we’re upset that this is it. Where’s the lesson learned? Where’s the guilt and shame poured out for a while? Where’s the consequences?
Okay I could keep going, but the point is, where does this all come from? Where did it come from in Jonah? It comes from a false sense of self-worth. You think you’re better than the other person. Again, you’d probably never say or even think those words as such. But the attitude is there. I deserve to have God save me because I’m worth it. I take my faith seriously. I try really hard for him. I’m a good person that God should be glad to have on his side unlike those slackers over there.
And at the same time, like Jonah, we are undervaluing the lives, the souls of those others. Rather than treasuring them and wanting them saved by any means possible, we’re more concerned with justice and fairness. And humanly speaking, maybe we’d be on to something.
But let’s balance this value-equation. Let’s consider our value, and their value. Do you know the answer to this question, “What is something worth?” Let me say that again in a different way, “How do you know what something, anything is worth?” You might think that’s a nonsense question that can’t have a real answer, but it does have one. A thing is worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.
Now as you consider your value on your own, as you consider the value of those we try to devalue, look to the cross and balance the equation. God himself became a human being so he could go in your place. Your own sin, your own lack of value meant God had to make up that worth himself. He had to pay for you. How much did he have to pay to bring you up to an acceptable level? Look at the cross. It was the blood of God himself. God himself had to suffer and die to complete your worth. I should hope that gives you insight into how worthless you are to start with.
But now consider it from the other side. How valuable are you to God? How much was he willing to pay for you? He was willing to pay for you in his own blood. And the same is true of that other soul you would like to consider yourself above. He or she is worth the blood of God. And before we start to devalue the blood of God saying something like “well, sure but that was a once for all shot. Jesus dying included everybody no matter who they were.” Sure, that’s true. But that’s because we are all equal sinners. If you and you alone were the only one who ever sinned, Jesus still would have done it. If that person we’re tempted to look down on was the only one who ever needed it, Jesus still would have done it.
Brothers, sisters, I call you that because that’s what you are to me. We are family in Christ, each equally important, each equally valued. Each soul out there is equally in need of the same salvation we have come to know. When we find ourselves struggling with that equality, when we start to think ourselves above or better than someone else, more deserving of God’s love and salvation, look back at that great equalizer; the cross. Remember what about you drove Christ there. Remember why he went anyway. He loves you. He treasures you. May that same love show itself through you to others in everything you do. Amen.