We’ve been in the middle of our MIRACLE sermon series. In the course of this study, we’ve seen Jesus miraculously help people before it’s too late.
He met a man with incurable leprosy and cured him before it became fatal.
He’s heard about a man sick in bed and healed him before it became his deathbed.
He met a man with thousands of demons coursing through his body and drove out those demons before any permanent damage was done.
What happens when the damage has already been done?
This morning, we continue our series, by examining an interaction Jesus had with a man who was paralyzed. His legs had already stopped working. He had no hope of walking again. Could Jesus help? Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The account we’re looking is found in three different parts of Scripture. It’s found in Matthew 9, Mark 2, & Luke 5. Each writer adds different aspects to our understanding of this incredible miracle, so we’ll be looking at all of them.
Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to his own town. (Mt. 9:1) This would be Nazareth. The place Jesus grew up. It’s where he learned carpentry from his dad, where he went to Hebrew school with his buddies, where he played a game of baseball out at the local sandlot.
The people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door…
That means people were doing everything possible to fit into this room.
The three-person couch had become a five person couch.
The kids had to sit crisscross applesauce on the floor.
There were probably even a few people doing wall sits over in the corner.
It was like one of our hallways during a Christmas or Easter service – it was jam-packed full.
And he preached the word to them. (Mk. 2:1-2)
But there was one group of people that weren’t quite there yet.
Walking through the streets…
Huffing, puffing, sweating…
And taking a quick break to catch their breath…
Were a group of five friends.
One of them was laying down on a stretcher.
The other four were carrying him on that stretcher.
The man on the cot was paralyzed.
In fact, that’s all the Bible tells us about him.
Not his first name.
Not his last.
Not his favorite drink at Starbucks.
Not any characteristic of his personality.
Just that he was paralyzed.
He couldn’t walk.
He couldn’t run.
He could hop.
He couldn’t skip.
He couldn’t jump.
He couldn’t even stand up.
But his friends had a hunch.
They had heard about Jesus.
They had about his miraculous power.
They had heard about his compassion.
They thought that if they could get their friend to Jesus, he could help.
So, they took a swig of “Passover Power” Gatorade and lifted the cot once more.
“I think the house is just ahead. Don’t worry. We’ll see Jesus soon enough.”
The problem was that many other people had that same idea.
And, since they weren’t carrying anyone on a cot, they had already gotten there.
In fact, when they found the house it was so full of people that some were crowding around the outside windows just to get a glimpse of the Savior.
“Guys, I don’t think we can make it in.”
“Especially not with this stretcher.”
“What a waste of a morning. All this – for nothing!”
“Hey, paralyzed friend. I’m sorry. But I think you’ll have to remain paralyzed. Things just aren’t looking up.”
Did you say, “looking up?”
In 1st century Israel, roofing was a bit different than now. Rather than solid rain deterrent shingles made of fiberglass and asphalt granules that can withstand wind forces of up to 60mph from fine shingle companies like Owens Corning, GAF and CertainTeed that you nail gun into a wooden roofing frames, roofs at the time of Jesus were thatched of straw and mud. The higher-class citizens could afford pieces of tile that would be placed them into the mud concoction on top.
It wasn’t common practice for people to come into a house through a roof.
But in order to see Jesus…
The men took turns climbing up to the roof. With two on top, the two on the bottom hoisted up the cot containing their friend, grabbed a nearby rope and they climbed up themselves. Then, they began praying off the tiles, digging with their hands, and making a hole right in the middle of the roof.
On the underside, Jesus was in the middle of teaching. People were so interested in what he had to say that they had ignored the little kid crying. They had ignored the man with the cough in the corner.
But they couldn’t ignore this.
Because right above Jesus’ head, dirt started to fall.
Pieces of tile started to crack.
Light suddenly streamed in.
…lowered by ropes…
…with a man on it…
“Ummm….. Hiya Jesus!?!”
The room was silent.
What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus say?
How dare anyone interrupt him!
But Jesus smiled.
“Take heart Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)
Do you remember how the room was filled with people? The Gospel of Luke makes note that some of those people were the Pharisees. These were the religious leaders of the time that didn’t like Jesus very much. After all, these crowds of people that were there to see him, used to be crowds of people that came to see them.
And upon hearing what Jesus said, they started muttering.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Lk. 5:17-21)
Then some of the experts in the law said among themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming! (Mt. 9:3)
Blasphemy means saying you are God, when you aren’t.
That terrible sin in ancient Israelite society.
And with good reason.
If you tell people you are God (and you aren’t) and some of them believe (even though you aren’t), you’ll will be personally responsible for leading them to hell.
And since Jesus was telling this man that his sins were forgiven.
And only God can forgive sins.
Jesus was setting himself up as God!
Which would be blasphemy!
Jesus responded to their question with another question:
“Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? (Mt. 9:4)
To understand what Jesus is getting at, think of yourself in a conversation with a relative who can no longer walk.
Which is easier to write on a greeting card to that person:
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk.”
I’ve visited a lot of hospitals.
I’ve visited a lot who are sick.
At Elmcroft retirement home, I run into people who can’t walk.
It’s not hard to tell them, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Have I ever said to one of these people, ‘Get up and walk.”
Why the difference?
If I tell someone their sins are forgiven, no one has any idea if that’s true or not.
Sins don’t go flying into the area.
A halo doesn’t appear on their head.
There isn’t a loud chorus of “Hallelujah.”
But if you tell someone who can’t walk to get up and walk…
If they don’t do that immediately?
You’re a fraud.
You’re a liar.
It didn’t work.
It is harder to claim a VISUAL miracle than an INVISIBLE one.
So, follow Jesus’ logic:
It’s harder to claim the visual miracle than the invisible one.
…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Mt. 9:6)
Allow me to claim the hard one.
Jesus turned to the paralyzed man.
Looked up right in the eye.
And said, “Get up. Take your stretcher. Go home.”
And the man….
Looked at Jesus.
Looked at his friends
Wiggled his toes…and…
Took his stretcher.
And went home.
II. The Truth about Jesus
Jesus’ miracles are VISUAL proof of the INVISIBLE truth.
Remember: There was a room full of people in that room.
And since this was a local miracle involving a local man, they probably knew him.
And their responses:
This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mk. 2:12)
They were filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Mt. 9:8)
Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Lk. 5:26)
Jesus speaks the truth.
Even when the truth is invisible.
That’s really important.
Because most of you here today aren’t physically paralyzed.
You can stand.
You can walk.
You can job.
You can run (just maybe not for all that long)
You may be able to walk, but you might still understand what it’s like to be paralyzed.
Paralyzed with guilt from that one sin you did last week.
Paralyzed with shame from the way you’ve been acting in front of your spouse.
Paralyzed with fear that God has abandoned you completely.
Paralyzed with sadness that God could never forgive you.
What’s easier to say?
“Your sins are forgiven” or “Kill me and three days later I’ll come back to life.”
But to prove that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins….
Jesus was said he would rise from the dead – and he did.
And this is proof that when Jesus tells you that your sins are forgiven – they are.
And does this throughout Scripture:
Your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name. (1 Jn. 2:12)
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
Jesus’ power is real.
Forgiveness is real.
Your forgiveness is real.
Not trusting Jesus’ power to FORGIVE is EVIL.
Look back at what Jesus said about the people who didn’t trust his power to forgive. He said, “Why are you thinking EVIL in your hearts?” (Mt. 9:4)
They were thinking that it was evil for someone who wasn’t God to claim to be God by forgiving sins.
But what if that person who is claiming to be God is God.
Then, the evil isn’t coming from God who is claiming to be God.
The evil is come from the one claiming that God isn’t God.
And granted – you might not actually say that Jesus isn’t God.
But you might say,
“I’ve sinned too much, Jesus.”
“I should have to do something.”
“God needs me to help myself.”
Which is another way of saying:
Jesus, you don’t have authority to forgive sins.
Friends, that’s evil.
If that’s you, turn to Jesus.
And ask him forgiveness.
And trust that he grants it.
Jesus has all AUTHORITY to forgive.
It’s like a set of church keys:
If you asked me to unlock the front door of church for you, I could because I have the key & authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the janitor’s closet, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked me to unlock the door to Precious Lambs, I could because I have the key and the authority to do so.
If you asked Jesus to unlock you from the guilt of your sins, He could…
…and he would…
…and he did…because he has the key and authority to do so.
And the key was his blood.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
When he tells you that he unlocked guilt, he means it.
III. What Now?
(1) Do Whatever It Takes to Get to Jesus
Do a quick case study of this man’s friends:
They were willing to carry him great distances.
They were willing to climb a roof.
They were willing to cut a hole in that roof…
They were doing whatever it took to get to Jesus…
…all because they trusted Jesus’ power to heal.
Do the same.
Because it’s so easy in this life to feel paralyzed.
Things happen during the weak that can paralyze you with shame, guilt, sadness, and fear.
Jesus heals that paralysis.
So, do whatever you can to get to him.
That means making worship a can’t-miss for the week.
It means Group Study is something that you don’t let a little traffic deter you from.
It means that you reach over to your bedside table – and open the Bible.
(2) Do Whatever it Takes to Get Your Friends to Jesus
Because these men didn’t get to Jesus for themselves. They did whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.
Do you know someone in need of the forgiveness Jesus brings?
Could be a friend.
A family member.
Someone paralyzed by fear, guilt, and shame.
Do whatever it takes to get them to Jesus.
Because Jesus has power over paralysis.
Power to free from any paralysis.
Power to free so that you can walk.
With Jesus. Amen.
Last week we investigated the very first church meeting in the history of the church. The main outcome of that meeting was that grace means grace. Jewish believers couldn’t make a theological case for requiring non-Jewish believers to follow Jewish customs. Similarly, we shouldn’t make grace difficult for ourselves or others.
Grace means grace.
When the decision was finalized by all of the leadership, the next step was to make that decision known. Since this is the 1st century A.D., they couldn’t just tweet out their decision.
They needed to hand deliver the decision to the churches.
Paul and Barnabas volunteer to deliver the message. They figure while they’re doing that, they can also visit new places and do some more mission work (Acts 15:35)
So… they head home.
They pack up extra pairs of sandals.
They put on their fanny packs.
And meetup at the church to see if there’s any leftover outreach material that they can take with them.
Unfortunately, that’s where things go wrong.
Barnabas wants to bring along a young man named Mark. Mark had joined them in their first missionary journey, but halfway through, he deserted them.
As a result, Paul doesn’t trust Mark. He doesn’t want any wishy-washy folk on his mission trip. He figures that Mark will just do the same thing and won’t be a valuable partner.
Barnabas is more forgiving.
They part ways.
Which - it isn’t necessarily wrong to disagree.
It’s wrong to be jerks about disagreements.
And I’m sure that’s what the devil wanted to happen so that the message of the Savior never made it out of Antioch again!
But…you can see God’s hand in the midst of the disagreement because now there’s no longer one mission trip, but two.
Barnabas and Mark head to the island of Cyprus.
Paul and a believer named Silas head to the northern countries of Galatia.
The devil loses.
The kingdom is multiplied.
The Gospel is above all else.
The book of Acts focuses in on Paul’s journey. As it does, it introduces us to a young man named Timothy. He is the focus of our sermon today. Before we dive into his story, let us pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Timothy’s Story
Acts 16 says this, “Paul came to…Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:1)
Lystra was one of the cities that Paul visited on his first missionary journey. (Acts 14) If you remember, that’s the place where God worked a miracle through Paul and Barnabas in order to heal a man who had been lame from birth. As a result, many of the people started to worship…Paul and Barnabas. When Paul told them to stop, they tried to murder them by tossing stones at their heads.
Timothy was probably not a part of that.
He was one of the few that believed what Paul said about Jesus being the promised Savior.
In fact, Timothy had a mother who was a believer. He had been raised by his mother to know the promise of the Messiah.
His mother took him to their version of Sunday School.
His mother read him stories about Creation, Noah’s Ark, and the parting of the Red Sea.
He probably did some finger paint art of David defeating the giant goliath.
As he got older, he got involved: ushering, saying hi, making the coffee!
And when Paul came to town teaching that Jesus was the Messiah…
He examined the Old Testament prophecies.
He examined Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ life.
He listened to Paul’s eyewitness account of the Resurrection.
And he changed his faith in the coming Messiah into faith in the Messiah who had just come.
And quickly he became a well-liked leader in the church, even as a young person…
The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. (16:2)
Notice those aren’t just the people in Lystra, but the people in the neighboring church of Iconium as well.
Maybe he attended worship in Iconium when he was on vacation.
Maybe he helped the people of Iconium run a Vacation Bible School.
Maybe he ran a young person’s small group somewhere between the two cities.
Maybe he played church softball where he crushed a few home runs but was Christ-filled and polite while he did so.
Timothy’s faith was evident in all that he did.
Such that Paul wanted to take him along on his journey…(16:3) But the issue was that Timothy wasn’t circumcised.
Now, you might be thinking: Why is this a big deal? Wasn’t the whole point of the Jerusalem meeting that we talked about last week – that Jewish traditions were not a requirement for grace?
Remember – the meeting in Jerusalem had a lot of discussion.
It had a lot of disagreement.
It was challenging for the leaders of the church to accept that their longstanding Jewish traditions weren’t needed.
If the leadership had a hard time with it, what about the average laymen?
It might be similar to you having a bunch of tattoos up and down your arms. One with a big old heart that says “Mom.” You believe in Jesus, but you know that if you head to the local retirement home people might not want to listen to anything you have to say if they see tattoos on your arms.
Rather than have them miss the Gospel of Jesus…you wear a turtleneck.
That’s the same thing Paul is thinking. Rather than have groups of dissenters following and jeering them as “uncircumcised heathen,” Paul said: “Maybe…it’d be wise if…you were circumcised.”
And you know what? Timothy didn’t hesitate.
Even though he didn’t have to, Timothy was willing to be circumcised in order to remove any obstacles to sharing the Gospel.
That’s amazing faith!
That’s a mature faith.
That’s putting the Gospel above all else.
Paul takes Timothy along. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reach by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (16:4-5) Timothy proves himself so mature that he works with Paul throughout the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys. Paul even trusts him enough to go to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), to go Macedonia (Acts 19:22), and to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17). Ultimately, it culminates in Timothy being the pastor assigned to the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3)
Talk about impressive.
Timothy is the kind of guy living a faith that any Christian parent would want for their children.
That any believer would want for themselves.
II. Lessons from Timothy
How did Timothy do it?
How did he get to such a strong faith?
Maybe you’re wondering:
What does Timothy have that I don’t have?
There’s no Heirloom Greater than Jesus
Take a look at what Paul wrote to Timothy, many years later when he was that pastor in Ephesus:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Tim. 1:5)
Have you ever seen Antiques Roadshow? It’s probably the best show to come out of PBS since Mister Rogers. It’s a reality show in which people bring their antiques, heirlooms, and collectables to a panel of experts who examine their piece and give them an estimated value of what their item would bring in an auction. Sometimes it’s more than they expect. Sometimes…a lot less.
There was a woman on their recently named Rose. She brought along a painting that had been in her grandmother’s toy room for years. She had always played by it. She had conversed right under it. She had seen that painting in her grandmother’s room for her decades.
When her grandmother died, the family was rummaging through some of her things and came across the painting. Rose said that she would take it because it gave her fond memories of grandma.
She put it up in her attic. She didn’t even hang it up.
But one day as she was cleaning in the attic, she noticed a mosquito on the painting. She swatted at it and as her hand hit the painting she noticed that she could feel the texture of the paint. It wasn’t a copy, but an original. She took it to Antiques roadshow to get it appraised.
How much? Close to $300,000.
Friends: There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
That’s the heirloom that was passed down in Timothy’s family
From his Grandma Lois
To his mother Eunice.
Friends, you have been given the same heirloom.
Maybe it isn’t from a Grandma Lois or a mother Eunice…
Maybe it’s from an aunt, an uncle, a friend, or a coworker.
Regardless, understand this:
(1) There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
Because no other heirloom brings peace with God.
No other heirloom brings forgiveness of sins.
No other heirloom wipes out guilt.
No other heirloom defeats evil.
No other heirloom conquers death.
No other heirloom gives eternal life.
Only Jesus can and does.
(2) Fan into Flame
This is a priceless heirloom.
One that needs to be cared for.
That’s the whole point of the next verse: Fan into flame the gift given to you by the laying on of hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Do you understand that reference? Air is necessary for a flame to grow. It’s why when you’ve got a pile of charcoal and it appears to be going out, you open up the lid of the grill, blow on the embers and they come back to life. In the past, they even had this big accordion-like thing that would blow air on the fire when you pushed it together. It was a safer option than get your face right next to the glowing hot rocks.
Paul reminds Timothy to keep fanning into flame the gift he’s been given.
And what gift was that? Two scholarly options and both are theologically sound.
First of all, the gift of faith. That’s the gift that we share with Timothy. When you come to faith in Jesus, it’s as if a single flame has been lit in the fireplace of your heart.
But if you don’t feed that flame, if you don’t tend to it.…eventually it goes out.
And, dear brother and sisters, if you don’t fan your faith into flame with the truth of God’s Word, it will fade away.
If you stay away from worship…faith grows dimmer.
If you stop reading your Bible…the flame starts to flicker.
If you drop out of your group study…the flame becomes a lone ember.
If you remove yourself from Jesus…the flame may go out.
When the gentle message of God’s Word comes to your heart again…
When you study God’s Word…
When you get into a Bible group…
When you hear God’s promises of his love.
When you meditate on the truth of his sacrifice.
When you worship and contemplate the words of praise.
That single flame?
Becomes a roaring fire.
A Timothy-like fire.
Stoked and ready to serve in His kingdom.
Want to be like Timothy? Fan that faith flame with God’s Word.
But the gift may also be a reference to the gift of talent. In fact, Paul reference the “Laying on of hands,” which literally means, “laying on hands.” It’s something that the early Apostles did as a way to confer special gifts on members of the church.
Timothy had special gifts! He was a pastor. He was outgoing. He was smart. He was patient. He was gifted with the skills to be a pastor.
You might not have pastor gifts.
But you have some kind of gifts.
Kid care skills.
Flower planting skills.
Whatever skill you have been given…
Recognize it’s a gift from God;
Put it to work in God’s kingdom.
And fan it into flame.
There’s a woman at the retirement home that I serve who loves coloring. Every day I make it there for Bible study; she’s working on coloring pictures. I asked her if she enjoyed doing it and she said that she did. She said that she colors because it’s a way that she can give thanks to God – even if it’s more difficult for her to do much else. And then…she said that she was practicing because she wanted to get better at color choices and shading so that she might give glory to God through her artwork.
Friends, that’s fanning the flame…
For God’s glory.
(3) Be Bold
Because it could be easy to be intimidated by all of this Jesus stuff.
It would easy for Timothy to feel unqualified or inadequate.
To feel uneducated.
To feel nervous, anxious and frightened.
He might be tempted to be timid.
And you might be, too.
But look at what Paul reminds Timothy that is also a reminder to you:
“The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power…” (2 Timothy 1:7)
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He made flames appear on the heads of his disciples.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He roared like a tornado without an actual tornado.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He gave the disciples the ability to speak in languages they have never learned.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He worked through fishermen, accountants, political activists…and even a young boy like Timothy to spread the message of the Gospel.
And that same Spirit will work through you.
Will be with you.
Will guide you as you serve in his kingdom.
(4) Be Loving
Because if the Spirit were only powerful…well…
Suddenly evangelism isn’t about winning souls.
Suddenly evangelism is about winning…
Maybe you’ve seen this in action.
Christians head to online forums, find a blog, and spending all day trying to give them spiritual complexes with God’s Word in order to prove that I am godlier than they are!
It’s as if we view God’s Word like a chair that we’re slamming onto someone’s head in order to stand over them in superiority.
But God didn’t just give us a spirit of power. He gave us a spirit of love. (2 Timothy 1:7)
He didn’t crush us with God’s law, but crushed sin with the Gospel.
He didn’t dominate sinners, but saved sinners from domination.
He didn’t destroy us for our sins, he destroyed our sins for us.
We do the same.
Empowered by God.
Loved by God.
We speak boldly.
But we speak lovingly.
We remember the goal isn’t “to win,” but “to save souls from eternal hellfire.”
(5) Be Disciplined
That was Paul’s whole point to Timothy. It was his main reason for writing to him.
Even though he was no longer a rookie…
Even though he was now a long-time pastor…
Even though he was a veteran of faith…
Paul’s main directive to Timothy was to be disciplined.
Because God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity…but a spirit…of self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Part of preparation for youth confirmation is memory work.
Memorizing truths about God’s Word.
It may not have always been easy.
It may not have always been fun.
It may not have always been something you looked forward to.
But that’s being disciplined.
That’s taking the truth that God loves you.
And taking it from the page.
Planting it into your brain.
Guiding it into your heart.
When you kids bully you and you feel unloved, you remember: “God so loved the world (me) that he gave his one and only Son (for me) that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
When you feel confused about what path to take in the future, you remember: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
When you are tempted by friends to do things that you’ll regret for the rest of your life, you remember: “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the Light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
When you are in college, alone, as if no one will be there for you: Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus…(2 Timothy 1:8-10)
Do you remember at the beginning we talked about the heirloom of eternity that has been given to you.
We said it goes back to your parents.
Even to your grandparents.
But here…we’re reminded it goes farther.
It goes back to the beginning.
It goes back to before the beginning.
The heirloom of eternity comes from before eternity.
Brothers and sisters…
Cherish that heirloom.
Fan your faith into flame.
Until God confirms your faith eternally and takes you home to heaven. Amen.
We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to the One who is Faithful even when we’ve been unfaithful because He will be Faithful Forever! This week God calls us to return to Him for Abundant blessings! Before we dig into Scripture, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Severe Lack of Blessing?
Our lesson for today comes from 2 Kings 4. Chronologically we’re going even farther back in time than the last couple of weeks; though the situation is similar:
Two weeks ago, we heard God’s call to his 7th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
Last week we heard God’s call to 8th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
This week we get to hear God’s call to 9th century B.C. people to leave idol worship behind and RETURN to Him.
It’s a bit like my high school Football coach. “Furious Feet! Furious Feet! Furious Feet!” He said it all the time.
When we were in practice: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in the 1st quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were tied in the 4th quarter: “Furious Feet!”
When we were in Pizza Hut after the game; “Furious Feet!” (OK, maybe not that last one)
You get the point? We kept forgetting. He kept rebuking.
The same was true with God. The people kept forgetting Him, He kept rebuking them:
“RETURN to me.”
In fact, in all of 1st and 2nd Kings you would hear the call of “RETURN to me,” so often that it makes you wonder if anyone ever stayed close to God.
Enter 2 Kings 4. It’s an account that takes place within a small community of prophets. It was a group of people that had dedicated themselves and their families to serving the Lord. They spoke His message and stayed closed to Him.
Unfortunately, for one woman who had not abandoned God, recent events had made it seem like God was the one who had abandoned her:
“The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)
A couple of notes as to why this woman was in such despair:
(1) Recently Widowed. It doesn’t matter how tough you are – losing your spouse is hard. Your spouse is someone that you’ve known for a long time. Someone you’ve partnered with for a long time. Someone you’ve gone through ups and downs with for a long time. The Bible says in marriage that “two become one flesh.” When one of those two are removed from this world – that flesh is torn apart.
(2) She’s a Widow in a Society that wasn’t Friendly to Widows. In the 9th century B.C. world, society wasn’t that friendly to women – at all. There wasn’t equal pay. There weren’t equal job opportunities. In fact, there wasn’t much for women to do besides care for the family and help tend to whatever vegetables they were growing.
Now that this woman’s husband was dead, the family’s source of income was dead. She had to feed herself. She had to feed her kids. She had to pay the rent, feed the animals and pay the bills. The last of which leads to the third problem.
(3) She had an Old Testament Credit Shark after Her. Yes. Even back then, in Old Testament Israel, there were bill collectors. They couldn’t call you on the phone. They couldn’t send you email after email. They couldn’t text message you or lower your credit score, so…they showed up at her front door.
For some reason, I’m picture this guy with one of those curly moustaches and a maniacal laugh.
Because this guy tells her that if she doesn’t pay him back, he’s going to take away both of her sons and make them into slaves. They will work for years trying to pay back what was rightfully his.
And to be fair – this wasn’t illegal. In Old Testament society, it was common for:
(1) families to be held responsible for other family member’s debts
(2) people to be taken as slaves in order to work off debts.
This was why she was in need.
This was why she was turmoil.
This was why she was in need of help from an Almighty, All Loving, Always Faithful, Shepherd God!
But she was having a hard time reaching out to him. Because…
(4) She was Struggling with Faith. Look carefully at her words to the lead prophet Elisha, “YOUR servant is dead and YOU KNOW that he revered the Lord.” It’s almost an accusation against the company of prophets, against the work that they did together, again Elisha, against…God:
Where is this God guy?
He’s supposed to be a shepherd?
He’s supposed to have Good Ways?
He’s supposed to always be faithful?
My husband is dead.
I have no job.
I have no money.
I’m going to lose my sons.
Where is this God guy?
All those prophets that worship Baal? They’re doing fine. Their wives wear diamonds. Their kids have Xboxes. They have fully founded 401Ks.
We’ve been following God our whole lives. Even devoting our lives to him – and now we’re losing everything.
I don’t think God can help.
I don’t think God cares.
I don’t think God is real.
Can you relate?
II. The Real Issue
To be fair – Elisha does not get very defensive.
He listens to her.
He hears her complaints.
Then, he offers his response: How can I help you? (v.2)
I have to confess the first couple of times that I read that I read it like this: “How can I help you?” as in “What types of things do you think I could do to be helpful?” But – the thing is Elisha follows up by asking her about what she has in her house. It becomes obvious that he knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to help her.
That’s why I think we’re supposed to read this not as “What things can I do to be helpful?” but “How can I help you?”
As in, I’m just a human.
As in, I’m just a sinner.
As in, why not go to God?
Why not seek the One who is faithful?
Why not reach out to the One who cares for you?
Do you see the implication? She was looking for help Away from The Helper.
And that’s the first WHAT NOW for you and me as well.
If you’ve got problems and you’ve got issues and you’re looking for help, but you aren’t seeking the Helper…how do you expect to find help?
That’s like walking into Home Depot. Not having any idea where to find the 7” Circular band saw that you’re looking for. Walking right past the Help Desk. Ignoring the Customer service counter. And when the nice gentlemen in the orange apron asks, “How can I help you?” responding with “I’m good. No help needed.”
God is our Help.
God is always faithful.
God is always good.
God is always shepherding his flock.
That woman didn’t seem to recognize it.
Now…God as going to prove it.
III. God’s Incredible Abundance
Elisha asks the woman a second question, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” (v.2)
Which seems like good advice.
Ransack your home for something to sell.
Perhaps a rummage sale – or a lemonade stand.
But the woman responds that she has nothing…nothing besides a one small jar of olive oil.
Something she could use for a couple of meals.
Something she could cook up a meal or two – if she had anything to put in the olive oil.
Something that might last a day or two before it was totally gone.
Elisha tells her, “Go around and ask all of your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.” (v.3)
If I’m that woman, I’m a bit confused.
Empty jars? That’s like the ancient version of Tupperware.
Everyone had a lot of empty jars.
Empty, clay, worthless jars. They stored everything from water to oil to food.
But you want me to get empty jars?
Sure, Elisha, I’ll go ask them for empty jars and then I’ll open a business where I sell the Tupperware to people who have lids that don’t fit on any of their current Tupperware – because everyone has 20 some odd Tupperware and 20 some odd Tupperware lids that don’t’ fit any of those 20 some odd Tupperware.
She might have been a bit frazzled.
But she listens.
Until she gets to the next part of Elisha’s instruction:
Go inside. Lock all the doors behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all of the jars and as each is filled, put it to one side. (v.4)
My jar is little. These jars are big.
My jar is one. These jars are many.
Yet – you want me to pour my oil into this big jar?
You want me to pour this tiny bit of oil into that gigantic jar?
Done. It’ll take me about three seconds.
She lifts up the little jar.
Her son brings over a large jar.
She takes a deep breath.
And the jar is full, “Son, get another one.”
And she pours
And she pours some more.
And she says, “Get a couple to stand by.”
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she pours.
And she fills up every jar in that room with oil.
Until she gets to the last jar…
And she asks her son for one more.
And he says, “Mom, we don’t have anymore!”
And just like that – the oil stops.
She takes the oil.
She sells the oil.
She pays off her debts.
Friends, there is no explanation for why the oil kept pouring.
It wasn’t the other jars – they were empty.
It wasn’t from her friends – the doors were locked.
It wasn’t from Mary Poppins – this isn’t 18th century London.
This was God.
A miracle from God.
A miracle from the abundant blessings of God.
The Bible says this, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
It says this, “Test me and see if I won’t throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour open so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store my blessings.” (Malachi 3:10)
It says this, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)
God has an abundant number of blessings.
It’s like if you take all of our needs, all of our wants, all of our desires – clothing, shoes, food, drink, money, health – and we fit them into one of those little Dixie cups with a Disney character on the side.
We think about bringing that Dixie cup to God, but then for some reason we conclude:
He can’t handle this.
This is too much.
I’ve gotta do this on my own.
But the truth is that as we bring our Dixie cup sized requests to God – He begins pouring – pouring out abundant blessings.
And it’s like Niagara Falls in that Dixie cup.
God is able to abundantly provide for you.
God does abundantly provide for you.
And you might say, “But why don’t I get the million dollars that I asked God for way back in 5th grade? God must not be that abundant.”
Do you remember what happened with the oil?
It only stopped flowing because the family couldn’t handle anymore.
It’s not like God couldn’t produce more; the family didn’t have the ability to handle more.
Here’s the truth:
The problem isn’t God’s abundance; it’s our ability to handle God’s abundance.
God says, “You can’t handle that million dollars. You’d spend it all on Doritos and end up on the street.”
God says, “You aren’t yet strong enough to handle fame. You’d trust yourself and stop trusting me.”
God says, “If I bless you with that job, you’ll forget about me, disown me, and remove yourself from eternal life.”
God says, “I’ll provide for you abundantly, even abundantly providing for you means barely providing for you so that you keep your eyes on me and receive the MOST abundant blessing that I have to offer.
Case and point:
We have our own legal indebtedness. It’s true.
And now – I don’t have a hold of your Credit Card score, nor have I been compromised by the Lizard Lick Repo.
The Bible says that we are legally indebted to God.
We are supposed to live perfectly.
Every time we sin, we owe him the legal debt of death. “The Wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23)
But God has an abundance.
He came to earth.
He lived perfectly without incurring any sin debt of his own.
He died innocently to pay for your sin debt.
And the payment was abundant.
Because his blood began to pour from his side…
It covered your first sin.
His blood kept pouring from his side…
Enough to cover your second.
It kept pouring…
37th sin covered.
It kept pouring….
Bring me the 2,708th!
It kept pouring…
That’s sin number 120,262 completely covered.
God’s blood poured out on the cross until every last one of your sins was covered.
Such that YOU are abundantly forgiven.
And the blessings don’t stop there!
You now peace with God.
You are a part of his kingdom.
You are His child.
You are loved.
You are in His care.
You are never alone.
You are empowered by His Spirit.
You are given gifts of the spirit.
You have the promise of heaven.
You will conquer death.
You will live forever with him because of His abundant blessings in Jesus!
Friends, God provides abundantly.
Return to Him and take part of his abundant blessings. Amen.
I. The Wall
As the soldiers peered at it through the thick foliage of the distance, they couldn’t help but feel a bit intimidated.
The city was named after the “moon god.” One could see why. It had an abundance of water and a pleasant year-round climate. Everything was impressive. Impressive gardens. Impressive marketplaces. Impressive culture and night life. From the distance, one could see ancient skyscraper-like apartments.
But the thing that was most noticeable about Jericho?
A double wall.
A thick double wall.
A wall of solid stone.
A wall of solid stone wrapping completely around the city.
And because of the impending invasion, the city gate was closed.
There was no way in.
There was no way out.
There was no way under – without having the guards at the top of the wall pin you to the ground with spears.
There was no way over – without taking an arrow to the chest.
For some reason…
They were planning on going through it.
The LORD said to Joshua, “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have the priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven time with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them around a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse.” (6:2-5)
In other words: March around the city and make some music.
The 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall will be no match for some jazz.
This had to be one of the greatest faith tests that the Israelites had ever faced. Yes, they had just seen God’s Almighty power as he split the Jordan river in half, but there’s a couple of reasons that this faith test was more challenging.
(1) The Composition
Because this wall isn’t made of liquid. It wasn’t easily transported like the Jordan River might have been. It wasn’t able to be manipulated by the simple touch of a hand. This was a solid wall of stone.
Just to give us a better understanding of what that wall was, archaeology in the 1950 has uncovered remains of a wall around the area where Jericho would have been. Based on their finding, the mound of the city was surrounded by a great earth rampart with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12-15 feet high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall of about 6 feet thick and 20-26 feet high.
The third little pig would have been proud of the people of Jericho. How in the world would you get past that wall? This task was humanly impossible. There was no technology of any kind that would allow them to destroy it.
So… God’s plan.
(2) The Tools
A bomb? Didn’t exist yet.
A battering ram? That allows the defenders to attack the single spot – for the hours you’d be at work.
A ladder? You’ll take an arrow to the chest before you get very high.
God says that they should walk.
I was playing BIG JENGA last week with Julianna. Have you ever played BIG JENGA? It’s the board game where you remove one brick from the tower at a time without having it fall over – only it’s a giant version of it.
I remember as I started to get nervous that I might lose. I started marching around, stomping my feet, jumping up and down in hopes that the vibrations might cause the tower to fall during Julianna’s turn.
If marching around a toy the whole point of which is to make it fall doesn’t make that toy fall down, how likely do you think marching around a giant 6-foot-deep, 15-foot-high double wall until it falls down will be?
Because in order to split the Jordan River all that had to happen was the priests touching the river with their feet. Then – instant miracle. This miracle was going to take days. It was going to repetition. It was going to take repetition of the same thing without any visible results.
And the people of Jericho would have noticed:
You idiots. What are you doing?
Oh no, Bob! They’re walking again! Duck!
I’m cowering in fear at the sight of those deadly, deadly trumpets!
In fact, if you’ve ever seen Veggie Tales, this is where the people of Jericho – played by a bunch of peas – come up with this doozy of a song: “Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall. Keep walking. But it isn’t going to fall. It’s plain to see that your brains are very small, so keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall.”
Question – how likely are you to keep doing something if you don’t see any results?
God says, “Pray to me and I will hear it.” But…what if you don’t get what you’re praying for?
God says, “Study my Word and I will grow your faith.” When it feels like that isn’t doing anything, do you keep it up?
God says, “Trust in me.” When finances are tight, you’re behind on your mortgage, your ant’s in the hospital and there’s all kinds of stress at work – it sure seems a lot easier to just give up?
When it seems impossible, when it seems like there’s nothing going on, when it seems like God’s not doing anything…
God is at work.
And God specializes in demolishing walls.
II. The Demolition
At least, Joshua thought so.
And he was the commander.
So, no matter how foolish it sounds or how impossible it seemed, the soldiers obeyed.
They obeyed for six days.
They endured ridicule.
They endured doubt.
They endured sore calves.
Then, the seventh day.
They walked again.
They walked a third time and heard the ridicule from the soldiers at the wall.
They walked a fourth time and heard the doubting from the soldiers behind them.
They walked a fifth time and started to doubt themselves.
They walked a sixth time and heard Joshua’s command, “Keep going. God is with us. This will happen. Trust him.”
Then, they walked a seventh time. And as they made their way around to the same rock that they had seen so many times this past week – the priests stopped.
They lifted up their trumpets.
They pressed them to their lips.
They blew with all of their might.
And Joshua commanded them, “Shout! For the LORD has given you this city!”
The soldiers looked at one another.
They shrugged their soldiers.
And as they shouted, suddenly, they heard a bass added to their music.
It wasn’t coming from the trumpet.
It wasn’t coming from a fellow soldier.
It was coming from the wall.
The rocks began to tremble.
The fortification began to give way.
And the men shouted even louder.
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet the wall collapsed. (v.20)
And they took the city. (v.21)
III. What Now?
1. Hire the Same Demolitionist
Nobody has the power to knock down walls like our God.
Not Home Builders, Inc.
Not Demolitions ‘R Us.
Not even the U.S. Army with all its fire power.
No one is an expert demolitionist like our God.
And the greatest wall torn down isn’t even this one from Joshua 6. Take a look at what Isaiah 30 says: Sin is like a high wall. That’s because sin does what walls do: It separates. Us from God. It makes it so that God’s on one side and we’re on the other side.
There is a disconnect.
There is a barrier.
There is a barrier of sin between us and God!
Maybe you’ve done sins and you’ve felt that.
Apart from God.
And there’s nothing we can do about it. No dynamite of doing good has any effect. The TNT of trying hard doesn’t make a dent. Even the hard-swung wrecking ball of “I’m really doing my best God,” will fail to tear that wall of sin down.
No one human can tear that wall down.
You can’t tear that wall down.
Only God can.
And He did.
Ephesians 2 says this, “Formerly you…were separate from Christ…without hope and without God in the world. But…in Christ you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace! Jesus has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility!” (v.10-14)
Understand what it’s saying:
Jesus is the spiritual TNT.
Jesus is the spiritual dynamite.
Jesus is the wrecking ball to knock down the wall of sin and leave us barrier-less…connected to God!
And finally….it means God is the one to turn to no matter what kind of wall your facing.
God destroyed the wall of sin. God destroyed the wall of Jericho.
Whatever wall you got? It’s no problem for him.
Hire him for all of your problems.
2. Appeal to His Grace
But…what if you’re part of the wall?
Do you remember Rahab? She was not an Israelite. She had a job that was not remotely God honoring – she was a prostitute. Yet when she heard that God was going to take back the Promised Land – she didn’t fight.
She appealed to God’s mercy.
Look what happens in verse 22 - Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all that belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So…the young men went in and brought out Rahab and all who belong to her.”
And here’s what’s most interesting. Her house – had been built into the wall. Yet it was the wall that was destroyed! How did Rahab make it out?
Even though she was a part of the wall (and by her sins against God was a part of the spiritual wall), God had mercy on her. God kept her alive. God brought her out. God spared her.
Have you built your own wall of sin between you and God?
Do you feel like you are a part of that wall?
Do you figure – there’s no way he’ll spare me?
Appeal to his grace.
Because while God is powerful – knocking down walls, our God is merciful to spare those who built the wall.
Without Jesus, you aren’t getting to God.
With Jesus, you are.
Call on his mercy.
Believe in Jesus.
You will not be destroyed with the wall.
You will be saved.
You will be a recipient of God’s incredible mercy.
Because those battle cries must have turned into cries of praise! God had done the impossible. God had knocked a wall down. God had kept his promises.
God had done the same for you:
He did the impossible.
Jesus knocked down the wall of sin.
Jesus kept his promise.
Shout for joy!
Don’t just do it here – but do it out there.
Do it when you go home to see the rest of your family.
Do it when you’re around your friends.
Do it on Facebook.
DO it on Instagram.
Do it at work, at the coffee shop and at the workout club.
Wherever you are – shout God’s praise! Tell others about the GREAT Things he has done.
Tell others about our God – and the walls he has brought down.
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.
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.
Do you remember the Presidential Physical Fitness test? It was a test for Middle schoolers to see how physically fit they were. You'd be tested on how many pushups you could do, how many situps you could do, and how fast you could run the mile.
I thought I was going to get the highest level of fitness for sure. I was tall and good at basketball. No problem testing to the top, right?
Then...the V-Sit and Reach.
Basically you had to sit with your legs in a v shape (no more than a foot apart) and reach 6 inches past your toes.
I couldn't even get to my knees.
That's what tests do though. They measure where you are at. They tell you if you really are where you think you are. They let you know if you need to improve.
Over the Lenten season there is alot of spiritual exercising going on. In confession we turn to the LORD for forgiveness and ask for strength to fight against sin.
It's the perfect time for a test! A faith test.
Over the next weeks we will look at Old Testament believers whose faith was put to the test. As you hear about them, please consider your own life. How is your faith? Strong as it needs to be? Does it need to be stronger? How does God say that our faith is strengthened?
I. The Test for Abraham: “Give Up…
Take a look at the test God had for Abraham. This is from Genesis 22. God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Sacrifices and burnt offerings might seem strange to 21st century America, but these were very common in that Ancient farming culture. Think of it like God asking you for money today. It’s why we call it an offering – it’s not easy to part with. Back then it wasn’t easy to part with an animal or the fresh crop of corn, but it wasn’t unheard of either. Burning some of your food was a way of saying – “I am thankful God has provided this for me and I know He will provide more for me.”
God’s request of Abraham was not ordinary. God’s Words to Abraham emphasize just how difficult this would be:
· Your Son. It wasn’t his grain offering. It wasn’t some vegetables. It wasn’t a goat. It wasn’t a lamb. It wasn’t even the fattened calf. It was a person. His own son. His own flesh and blood. Abraham would be sacrificing his own DNA: his blue eyes, his jutted chin, his round nose! This was the one he was supposed to be protecting.
· Your Only. Abraham and his wife Sarah had been waiting for children for years. Genesis 12 first records Abraham’s longing at 75 years old. That was when God first promised him and his wife a Son. It wasn’t until he was 100 years old when Isaac was finally born to Him. Can you imagine the joy Abraham felt? Can you imagine what he felt when God asked him to give it all up?
· Whom You Love. As you might expect, Abraham didn’t tolerate Isaac. He didn’t like him. He wasn’t simply ok with him. Abraham loved him.
· Your Son --Isaac. When God said his name, it became very personal. God wasn’t asking for some nameless goat. He wasn’t asking for an inanimate bag of wheat. He was asking for Isaac – his personality, his voice, his being. God was asking him to give up his farming protege, his friend to play a game of catch with, and a pupil to lead through life.
Over this past week there was a lot of Snow Days here in NC. That sounds like a lot of fun time with your kids. Time as a family. Time together.
Did you feel the same way when it was done? Waking up to the sounds of arguing over the iPad? The constant clanging of Superman action figures? The marathon of the Frozen soundtrack in the background?
As trying as your kids can be on your patience, what would it be like if you lost them?
If you get that, then you get how hard this test was for Abraham.
II. Abraham’s Response
How do you think Abraham might react to God’s difficult request?
For starters, he could waste some time. He could put it at the end of his to do list and get to it when and if he ever has time. He could keep Isaac around until after the next harvest – get some final work out of him. He could even wait one more day just to spend some quality time with his son.
Would you fault him? Probably not. We have a hard time doing what God asks – and he hasn’t even asked us to do anything that difficult.
· “OK. I hear you God. You want me to join a church and get involved on a weekly basis. But I’m busy with my career now. I’ll have to t to it later on.”
· “God, can you take a rain check on getting that sin out of my life? I’m just not feeling ready to live without it just yet.”
· “God, I’ll get to working on my addiction. I promise! Just let me have one more puff, one more drink, one more scouring of the internet for pictures. When that’s done, then I’ll get rid of it.”
We might expect Abraham to waste time, delay, and put off God’s request. It’s what we do on a daily basis with sin – things we should get rid of for our own good!
Abraham did none of that. 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
Did you catch that? There were no delays. There was no distraction. There was no putting it off. Abraham got up, got ready, and got going on what God wanted him to do.
That’s trust. Trust with No Hesitations.
Even if Abraham was following God without hesitation, we still might expect him to complain about – to mutters they journeyed to the mountain, to have a mind racing with Hebrew expletives against God for making him do this, to tell his servants – “Don’t think bad of me, this is all God’s fault.”
Again – would you be upset with him if he did? This is another common human practice when God asks us to do something hard.
· “The only reason I’m not joining you guys for way too many drinks is because of my religion. Jesus can be kind of a bummer sometimes.”
· “I stopped watching that TV-MA show because church keeps making me feel guilty about it. That’s what church does. Makes you feel guilty.”
· “Fine. I’ll go to church. I know that I’ll get my faith strengthened, I’ll be encouraged, and get to eat some donuts, but I won’t be happy about it. Even though it’s three hours later than when I have to wake up during the week – God I’m not happy about it. I could be sleeping!”
· “Another email from Pastor about inviting people to church! He even quoted a Bible passage telling us to do it. Ugh! Put it in the SPAM folder.”
Abraham could have done that. That would be understandable. We complain about things God tells us are good for us: going to church and leaving sin.
But Abraham didn’t complain. Check out how he describes his task to the servants with him: He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Amazing, right? Abraham doesn’t define this task as a joke, annoying, or worthless. He doesn’t even consider it a terrible task from a terrible God. He calls it worship.
That’s trust. Trust with No Complaints!
Then, as Abraham is getting closer to the mountaintop, Isaac speaks: “Father?...The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Wow. That’s hard. Isaac’s voice is calling to him. What are you doing? What’s going on here?
Whether Isaac meant to or not –and who could blame him if he did mean to – Abraham’s actions are questioned.
Are you doing what’s right?
Are you sure you want to go on without Isaac?
Is this the God you really want to serve?
If there was ever a time for Abraham to turn, back now would be it!
That too is something that is common amongst humans. We make plans to follow God. We are excited to listen to him. Then, just when it’s about to happen – someone gets in our head. Another person. Our own desires. The devil himself. These voices get in our head and cause us to turn back:
· “I was planning on moving out from my live in boyfriend and wait until marriage to have sex, but…he told me he really loves me. I trust him more than you God.”
· “I was in the middle of installing the Internet filter on my computer, but then…I thought of all the fun that porn gives me. I don’t want to give that up.”
· “I was planning on reading my Bible during Lent, but then I’d have to give up the marathon I set up on Netflix! I just can’t do it.”
Woe to us human. We love to turn back from our plans to TRUST and follow God.
But Abraham? Listen to his answer. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Simply amazing. We struggle to say no to the sinful voices that sinfully tempt us to sin – which is bad. Abraham hears the innocent voice of his son – who maybe – just doesn’t want to die and Abraham trust God. There is NO TURNING BACK!
III. God Provided
Then, we reach the climax. It’s time to see if Abraham will go through with it. Time to see if he really trusts God. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. Abraham was going to go through with it.
But God wasn’t.
The angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham!...Do not lay a hand on the boy, do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
It doesn’t say it, but I bet Abraham sighed and then gave Isaac a big hug. He had passed the test.
But perhaps you are wondering about the how? How did Abraham pass the sacrifice his son test?
Hebrews 11:17-19: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”
Do you see how Abraham did it? He held to the promise that God provided. God had promised that Abraham would have grandkids through Isaac. Isaac hadn’t had any kids yet. Therefore, Abraham figured God couldn’t be done with him. He had promised otherwise. So…if Isaac died, then God would just bring him back to life.
That’s pretty amazing faith. But it only happened because God has provided the promise.
But God wasn’t done. Read verse 13. "13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
Can you imagine the rejoicing? Abraham because his son was alive. Isaac because he was alive. Both of them because God was good.
Do you want a faith like Abraham’s?
“I don’t see how I could do that pastor. That faith is just too incredible.”
But remember Abraham’s faith was only strong because of what God provided. God has provided for you too the exact same things he provided Abraham.
First of all, God provided a substitute for you in a very similar way to the way he provided a substitute to take Isaac’s place.
True, it wasn’t on Mt. Moriah, but on Mt. Calvary.
True, it wasn’t tangled up in thorns, only his head was covered in thorns.
True, your substitute wasn’t a ram; it was a close, domesticated cousin – a lamb – the Lamb of God.
Just as the ram in the bush was Isaac’s substitute so he wouldn’t die, so Jesus was your substitute so you wouldn’t die eternally for your sins.
For all the times you hesitated to trust God, you should have died – Jesus died in your place.
For all the times you complained while obeying his will—Jesus died in your place.
For all the times you have turned back from doing what God wants you to – Jesus died your place.
Jesus was your substitute.
Secondly, God also provided promises to you. The reason Abraham had such a strong faith was that he had such strong promises from God.
You have similar promises. And…better than Abraham…you don’t have to just remember them from way back when God spoke it. Someone wrote them down for you! In a book. A book that we have plenty of copies of. A book that we study every Sunday at church!
Think about some of these promises. They will help you do the tough things:
· When your friends threaten to unfriend you won’t join them in their sinful activities, REMEMBER: God has promised he will never leave you.
· When you are tempted to choose sin, REMEMBER: God has promised that His way is better.
· When you are overwhelmed and feel like there is no time for God, REMEMBER: God has promised to bless all who spend time with him.
· When you are tempted to stay away from church, because you did something bad and God couldn’t possibly love you REMEMBER God has promised that his love for you is eternal…a love he proved on the cross.
· When something is hard or difficult REMEMBER: God is stronger. God is with you. God’s strength will not leave you.
Before Abraham and Isaac left that mountain, Abraham gave it a new name. Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. Whenever he started to have doubts, he could remember that mountain. Remember that the Lord would provide…and do anything God asked.
May the same be true for you. When your faith is being attacked, when your trust is being tempted, when you have doubts –anytime you have doubts— head to the Mountain. Head to your mountain. See God provide a substitute. See God provde you promises. TRUST: The LORD will provide. Amen.