Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like. It’s a series all about parables. Parables are short earthly stories that teaching about the eternal kingdom of God. So far, we have heard that the kingdom of God is like buried treasure—which, to be fair, seems like a very flattering comparison.
Treasure is valuable
Treasure is beautiful.
Treasure is worth selling anything and everything to make yours.
Treasure seems like a great comparison for God’s kingdom.
We compare God’s kingdom to a fishing net.
Fishing nets are stinky.
Fishing nets are smelly.
Fishing nets come with those some of those little algae goobers encrusted on around the edge.
It’s not as flattering of a comparison.
Why is God’s kingdom like a fishing net? Before we look at this strange comparison which teaches us some very important truths about God’s kingdom, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. 1st Century Fishing
Jesus’ parable is from the parable-filled Matthew 13. It comes right after the parable of the treasure and stands in stark contrast to it. Remember – each parable emphasizes a different aspect of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the Treasure reveals the value of God’s kingdom; the parable of the net reveals methodology.
Look at what the parable says:
Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. (v.47-48)
Anybody here go fishing? Nowadays fishing consists of packing up a rod and reel, stopping by the local bait shop, picking out a nice, big juicy earthworm (or maybe a wriggly, black leech), then heading out to the local pond, casting, stopping to untangle the line from the tree branch behind you, casting again, watching as your line drifts into the middle of the lake…and then…
And waiting some more.
Eventually some fish grabs the hook, line and sinker.
You pull him in and…
If he’s an acceptable length and weight – you keep him.
If not …plop!
If it’s a delicious looking salmon, in the basket.
If it’s a creepy looking dogfish, not so much.
Back at Jesus’ time, the fishing is a bit different. Fishermen would drag their nets to the shore and paddle to the middle of the lake. Then, they’d toss a weighted net overboard. Then, slowly they’d move along with the waves, while their net dragged against the bottom collecting any and every fish that happened to get in the way of the net. When they’re done fishing, they pull up the ropes, cinch the corners and pull the net up.
But here’s the thing:
Can you tell which fish are bad?
Can you tell which fish are good?
Can you tell which fish are future 5-star restaurant menu items?
And which fish belong on some Discovery Channel documentary on deep sea monsters?
No. It’s too much of a jumbled-up mess!
So…what do the fishermen do?
They take the net back to the shore.
They open the net and begin separating:
Too much like Uncle Joe…
Fishing at Jesus’ time required a lot of sorting. But…
The fish cannot be sorted from the good from the bad while they are in the net; rather they are sorted when the fishing is finished.
II. A Priceless Treasure
But remember – this is a parable.
Parables are short earthly stories that teach about the kingdom of God.
Things are about to get real.
Real and a bit uncomfortable.
Look at the meaning of the parable:
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (v.49-50)
At first glance, this might seem to be another parable.
The parable of the furnace…
But – let’s be clear: The second half of the parable the part about the blazing furnace and the angels, that’s not the illustration part.
It’s the explanation.
It’s not an illustration, but the reality.
In fact, this parable is all about realities.
Realities that are quite uncomfortable.
(1) Hypocrisy is Real
Because… that dragging net represents the kingdom of God at work. And there is no greater representation of the kingdom of God at work than visible local churches.
In a church, God’s Word is proclaimed.
In a church, people are baptized.
In a church, people celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
In a church, people pool resources to go and plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
In a church, God’s kingdom is at work.
And when God’s kingdom is at work, it’s like a big old net that collects people of all type and varieties.
Big and small.
Young and old.
Black and white.
Tarheel fans, Wolfpack fans and Duke fans.
But most importantly to this parable…
People that are a part of God’s kingdom.
And people that only look like it.
NOW STOP! Immediately. Because what some of you are about to do is quietly, sheepishly raise your finger and slyly point at someone else here. “Pastor, I think it’s him…”
NOPE. That’s not the point.
In fact, the point is the exact opposite. Because remember – while the net is in use – that is, while the people of God are using God’s Word – it’s impossible to see which are true believers and which are hypocrites.
It’s kinda like trying to identify which fish are good and which fish are bad when they’re still in the net.
You won’t be able to tell who’s a hypocrite and who isn’t in a church simply by looking at them.
You won’t be able to tell most hypocrites simply by looking at them.
But there is one person in the church…
That you should be able to identify as good or bad.
You know you.
You know your heart.
You know if your heart is following Jesus or if this is all just some big show.
Something you do because your parents told you to do.
Something you do so pastor will get off your back.
When it comes to facing the reality of hypocrisy, it doesn’t start by looking into the world…
Or looking into another Christian church…
Or looking at other people in this church…
It starts by looking in your heart.
(2) The End is Real
The second reality has less to do with now and more to do with later.
Take a look at Jesus’ words – This is how it will be at the end of the age. (v.49) He then goes on to describe angels, divine, holy messengers of God – no longer invisible – fully and completely perceptible - picking people up like fish and separating them.
If you are a hypocrite, you need to pay very close attention to this section.
Because, truth is, you might be able to fool other Christians.
You might be able to fool them with a fish sticker on the back of your car and “Christian” listed on your Facebook profile’s religious preference.
You might be able to fool others at church.
You might be able to fool me.
You can’t fool God.
And at the end, you will be separated.
And placed wherever it is you belong.
And can I say something obvious? There’s one place that you don’t want to be your final destiny.
(3) Hell is Real
Look at the description of where the bad fish go:
“The blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v.50)
Notice. The verbs are present tense.
Notice. The verbs are continuous.
That’s because this is eternal.
Stop – real quick – because the devil is doing everything possible right now to make you say:
“Pastor has gone off the deep end. Pastor is talking all mean like. Pastor is saying thing I wish he wouldn’t.”
I am because I love you.
And I don’t want you to go to this very real and very awful place.
But more importantly Jesus loves you.
After all, look at whose words about hell these are:
The same guy who told the blind guy to see…and he did.
The same guy who told the deaf guy to hear…and he did.
The same guy who told the lame guy to walk…and he did.
The same guy who told the storms to stop…and they did.
The same guy who told the Pharisees to go ahead and kill him because he would come back to life…
And they did…
And he did.
Jesus has street cred.
Whatever he says will happen, will happen.
And to those who reject Him?
This hell thing?
(4) Good Fish are Real
I’m not gonna lie.
Thus far this is one of the least uplifting sermons of all time.
Because – if we are talking about bad fish – how do you not begin to be filled with absolute fear!
We are sinners.
All of us.
And I am included!
I’m like some ugly carp at the bottom of a mutant ooze infested landfill with three eyeballs where his gill should be.
I’m gross and my sins are gross.
I think -- There is no reason that God would ever want to collect me in his basket and take me to heaven!
Here’s something interesting. When Jesus uses the word “end” here in verse 50, he uses the word: syntelia. That’s a form of the world telos which means: the end.
The end is when judgment will happen.
The end is when God will bring justice against sinners.
Now – here’s where things get really interesting.
Because about a year and a half after Jesus spoke this parable --
Jesus spoke something else.
On the cross.
Right before he died.
Which is the exact same root words that Jesus used in our parable to denote the end times.
IT IS FINISHED.
In other words, judgment has happened! From God’s perspective – Jesus has been judged as the bad fish.
And you – friends—you have been judged righteous.
Think about that!
We are sinners.
We are filled with a yucky past.
We are grody to the touch.
Yet because of what Jesus has done, you have been declared GOOD.
Ready to take home in the take basket.
And understand this point too:
We are not judged by our good merits.
We are not judged by our good deeds.
We are not judged by our good tries.
We are judged entirely by what Jesus did for us on the cross!
And we are judged righteous.
And by faith in Jesus, we are the good fish!
We will not be thrown out.
We will be collected and taken home.
(5) Heaven is Real
Because that’s what the good fish have to look forward to.
This parable just touches the surface of it. It says that the good fish, will be placed into baskets.
But what it doesn’t say is that those baskets have someone’s name written on the handle.
They have someone’s name written in Black, Permanent Marker.
Because the good fish – that is – those made holy by faith in Jesus Christ – will be brought to God’s home.
The kingdom of righteousness.
The home of peace.
And unlike this world --
With danger lurking on every corner…
And predators chasing after us…
And giant waves of life hitting us again and again…
Heaven is peaceful.
Heaven is a place of forgiveness.
Heaven is a place of peaceful rest.
Heaven is yours.
Friends! Praise the Lord for being caught in the net and taken home to heaven. 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.
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to His Way because His Way is Good! This week God calls us to return to Him because He is Faithful unlike any other kind of faithful person ever! 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. Hosea’s Strange Choice for a Wife
Background of Hosea. Last week we read a section from 2 Kings that took place around 600 B.C. This week we are in the book of Hosea which takes place about 120 years earlier. It also doesn’t take place in country of Judah and Jerusalem, but in a sister country up north called --Israel.
A little bit about the climate of 8th century B.C. Israel. The people had gotten very into worshipping a statue called “Baal.” Baal was a ‘god’ of the neighboring nations. People worshipped Baal in a much different way than we worship the Lord today.
Instead of visiting the temple to worship the Lord, they visited Baal’s temple to worship a statue.
Instead of adopting the Ten Commandments, they had adopted the magical practices of fertility cults.
Instead of being intimate in prayer with God, they were “intimate with Baal” by being intimate with Baal’s shrine prostitutes.
Hmm…Seems like yet another situation where God needs to call his people to RETURN to Him.
Hosea is a prophet.
Hosea works for the Lord.
Hosea goes wherever God tells him to go.
Hosea does whatever God tells him to do.
Hosea is also a single young man.
He is a single young man who understood God’s plan for marriage:
That one man marries one woman and be united to that one woman for a lifetime.
He knew that such unity would be proclaimed via a public marriage ceremony and practice with exclusive intimate relations.
So…I doubt Hosea took marriage lightly.
He looks at ancient papyrus dating profile and swiped RIGHT on the women he was interested in knowing.
He took them out for dinner and watched to see if they ordered a BLT or respected his religious wish not to eat pork.
He made sure to ask them his make or break question: “Do you worship GOD or BAAL?”
And up to this point in his life --- Hosea did not have a wife!
Imagine Hosea’s excitement…when the long arduous process of finding a faithful wife for himself came to an end.
God called out to Hosea.
God had found a wife for Hosea.
God had found the perfect woman for Hosea.
He fell to his knees.
He said, “Yes, Lord! I can’t wait to meet her.”
And the Lord said:
“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her.” (1:2a)
Would you marry someone who is promiscuous? That’s a kind Bible word from someone who is sexually intimate with lots of people. Would you marry the woman who kisses 12 other boys on your first date? Would you marry the man that has text messages from 6 of his exes on his phone? Would you marry a spouse that made you think: “There’s no way that person will ever be faithful.”
You might date them.
They might be fun.
BUT...! They are NOT marriage material.
Yet the Lord told Hosea told Hosea to seek out a woman just like that.
It wasn’t his bad judgment.
It wasn’t even a few too many gin and tonics in Law Vegas.
The LORD told Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman.
Check out the answer in verse 2:
“For like an adulterous wife; this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (1:2b)
Hosea’s life is a living, breathing parable.
It’s a lifelong illustration.
It’s a picture of God’s relationship with his people of Israel.
It’s a picture of God’s relationship with his people of the Triangle.
II. The Unfaithful One
What do I mean? Take a look at chapter 2. Chapter 2 gets into the nitty gritty about how the people’s relationship is going with God. Pay attention -- Chapter 2 is going to reference a wife and a husband. At no point is it ever a reference to an actual wife and an actual husband. It is a reference to God as the husband, and his wife as his people. Look at verse 2:
“Rebuke your mother,” and mother is a reference to Israel…God’s wife. “Rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.” (2:2a)
Why would God say that?
Why would God break his covenant?
A new study published in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships surveyed 232 people who had been cheated on. The study showed that those who were cheated reported “experiencing great bouts of depression, anxiety, and distress.” (Psypost.org)
Why is it so damaging? I think the Bible answered that a long time ago:
The Bible says that marriage is a very special relationship.
There is a very emotional promise of faithfulness at an engagement.
There is a very public commitment to faithfulness in front of family and friends.
There is the physical promise of faithfulness that exclusive sexual intimacy implies.
The promise, the commitment, the exclusivity of intimacy bonds the two together as one!
One incredible being.
What the Bible calls “One flesh.” (Genesis 2)
To break the marriage bond with unfaithfulness is to sever the marriage bond – and leave spiritual, emotional blood of that one flesh all over the floor.
Keep that in mind and listen to God’s heart for those who are unfaithful:
“Rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and her unfaithfulness.” (2:2b)
It wasn’t God who stopped being a husband.
It was his people.
Let her remove her adulterous look! Because God’s people have been flirtatious. They have been looking for other gods.
“Baal, you are so cute! And not as oppressive as the God of Israel!”
“Asherah pole, you are in style. Not stuffy and old fashioned like the Lord.”
“Dear money, you really care about me and let me do what I want. God is always lecturing me.”
“Oh pornography! You are the best thing for me; so much better than God. I wish I was with you”
“Oh lovely beer bottle. I come to you and you make everything better – unlike God – who makes me feel so uptight.”
“Mmmm. Pride. I always knew that the perfect one for me, is me!”
And these adulterous looks lead to actual unfaithfulness.
It’s not just flirting with the idea of other gods.
But being intimate with them.
The intimate desires of a heart revealed in prayer to Baal.
The intimate time of worship spent in the temple of Asherah.
The intimate trust that all will be ok – placed in a few dollar bills.
The intimate need for value discovered in digital photos where the woman gives you whatever you want when you want it.
The intimate need for comfort looked for in a bottle of PBR – and another 16 or so.
The intimate need for acceptance found in the callous embrace of one self.
Brothers and sisters, this is unfaithful Israel.
Brothers and sisters, this is unfaithful us.
And that’s harsh.
Look at what happens to those who are no longer a part of God’s family. The Bible calls them…
Stripped. Verse 3 says: I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born. Because God is the one who brings home the bacon in the relationship with his people. God is the one who provides all the physical blessings! And in the settlement between God and the people who have been unfaithful to him? He gets everything! He gets the house. He gets the home. He gets the clothing. He gets the 401K. He gets the Jaguar. He gets the Xbox. He gets it all, because He is the one who has been providing everything to begin with!
And the unfaithful? They are naked. Everyone can see their sin. Everyone can see their shame. Everyone can see their guilt.
Parched. Verse 3b says: “I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst.” For Israel, it meant that God was going to send a drought on the land of Israel. They would no longer receive rain. Without rain, their crops would die. Without crops, they would no longer receive nourishment. Because God is the one who nourishes us all and God stopped nourishing them.
And…So…Consider this: What if God didn’t provide for you? Where would you be?
A soup kitchen?
Eating the old dog food at the bottom of the dumpster behind the local kennel?
TRUTH: If God didn’t provide for you, you would not be nourished.
And why would he provide for those who aren’t part of his family?
And why would He keep the unfaithful as part of His family?
Blocked. Verse six says this: “Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
When I read this verse, I get this picture of this high-ranking jaded spouse. They are high up in government. They have been scorned and publicly humiliated.
And they will get revenge.
They talk to the city officials and make it impossible for their spouse to find a job. They make it impossible for them to find a living. They see to it that – you never work in this town again!
God’s Word says that if you are unfaithful to God, you will be against him.
And He will be against you.
And there’s no way that you will win.
And to be fair, you can turn to your other lovers!
You can turn to money.
You can turn to porn.
You can turn to alcohol.
You can turn to pride.
You can turn to whatever it is that has led you to be unfaithful to God.
You can Look for your lovers…but the unfaithful one will not find them.
Do you know why?
Because these “lovers” don’t care about you.
Not at all.
And you left the only One who did love you to go after them.
(And now…I’m alone.)
The Unfaithful one.
III. The Faithful One
Then…the only thing left…is despair.
Despair and return.
The unfaithful spouse will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.’
I will go back to God.
I will return to my husband.
I will return to the One who really loves me, who always provides for me and who will never leave me!
I will return to the faithful One.
And they return.
And they fall on the floor.
And with tears in our eyes, they beg for God to take us back.
They beg for one more change.
They beg for forgiveness.
Who has been wronged.
Who has been wronged repeatedly
Who has been hurt.
Who has been betrayed by the One He loved most…says:
“I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, In love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness.” (v.19-20)
If you have been unfaithful to God and you seek reconciliation with your faithful husband, hear his promise of betrothal again:
He will betroth in righteousness. Remember earlier when it talked about being without clothes and sin exposed? Not anymore! God covers up your sin and your shame. He clothes you with the impenetrable beauty of His forgiveness and the gorgeous fashion of His righteousness.
He will betroth in justice. He defends his spouse. He brings justice on his enemies. He defeats the devil. He defeats sin. He defeats death for the sake of his beloved wife.
He will betroth in love. Not just emotional, flighty Disney love, but real, tested, unconditional action love. Love that sends him to the cross. Even when we’ve been unfaithful.
He will betroth in compassion. Not lashing out – as would be understandable and as He should – but speaking…With kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness: whispering sweet nothings of HIS divine love.
He will betroth in faithfulness. Never getting “back” at you. Never getting revenge. Never being unfaithful.
Always, always, always faithfully loving you.
Every day of this life.
Every day of eternity.
Friends, hear God’s call to you today. If you have been unfaithful to Him, RETURN. Return to THE Faithful One. Amen.
Last week we heard God’s call to RETURN to Him – to return to the God who really, really, really loves you! This week we’re taking it a step farther and we’re going to hear God’s call to return to HIS way. Before we do that, 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 4th Century B.C. Israelite Way
The text for today is an Old Testament lesson coming from 2 Kings 22. 2 Kings is a history book. It goes together with 1st kings. Both books detail the history of the kings among the Israelite nation. 1st Kings is the 1st book about the history of kings in the Israelite nations. And 2nd Kings is…wait for it…the 2nd book about the history of kings in the Israelite nation.
If you follow the history throughout these books, the kingship starts in 1st Kings 1 with King David. He’s fairly well known and a king that was well connected to God. He built God’s temple, wrote hundreds of Psalms about God and led the nation in worshipping the true God. King David reigns in about 1025 BC. That means about 400 years of time take place before we get to chapter 22 of 2nd Kings.
The king at the end of those 400 years is a guy by the name of Manasseh. He is THE reason that there aren’t a lot of kids named Manasseh. As opposed to King David who 400 years earlier set up a temple and temple worship for the One True God, King Manasseh…well...ruled much differently:
Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:2)
He increased the number of statues and worship centers to gods like Baal and Asherah – made up gods who weren’t really gods at all (21:3)
He set up some of those statues to other gods in the temple of the true GOD, the LORD himself. (21:4)
He sought advice from sorcery and Satanic rituals (v.5)
Ponder for those things for a minute:
It’d be as if all of our mission money went to handing out pamphlets about how we needed to worship Poseidon in order to stop hurricane Florence from hitting us.
It’d be as if one Sunday you came to worship and underneath the cross up front was a big statue of Buddha – with portraits of a Hindu elephant God hanging on the banners.
It’d be as if instead of having you all to open up your Bibles, I asked you to open up your Ouija boards.
Manasseh was bad. But…even if you don’t think so yet…one more thing Scripture included to help us understand just how bad he was:
Manasseh sacrificed his own children in the fire. (2 Chronicles 33:6)
If that is the morality of the leader of Israel, where do you think the rest of the nation was at?
Enter chapter 22. In chapter 22, Manasseh’s grandson Josiah becomes king. Manasseh died. His son was killed, and Josiah becomes king at 8 years old.
Now, an 8-year-old king might not sound like the greatest idea. I imagine there’d be some good things: Free Twizzlers for everyone! A public transit system of piggy back rides. The police officers would literally be PAW PATROL! Yet…you could make a good argument that it isn’t the wisest to elect a kid to be in charge of the government.
Yet, in spite of that solid opinion and logic:
God’s Word says that Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:2)
Josiah did good in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 22:2)
God preferred a God loving 8-year-old boy to a Satanic, child-sacrificing adult.
But as Josiah grew up, governing with the aid of officials and other governors, he was still governing in a mostly godless nation. Since his grandpa didn’t care about God’s way, he also didn’t teach Josiah God’s way and since Josiah didn’t know what God’s way, he could not lead his people in God’s way.
Then, one day - when Josiah is 18…
Temple maintenance was up for the month on Josiah’s kingly task list. Maybe some of the paint was chipping or some of the stone was cracking, I don’t know. But King Josiah sent his servants to the temple to obtain money from the treasury so that they might begin a temple repair project.
When the servants returned, they didn’t just bring the bags of money.
They brought a really old book that the priest had called “the Book of the Law.”
The Book of the Law is a reference to the books written by Moses.
Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number and Deuteronomy – the first five books of the Bible – the same first five books that you and I have today.
When Josiah’s servants found that book, it was the very first time that Josiah had ever seen it! Maybe it was locked up. Maybe it was hidden. Maybe it was on some back shelf in the storage room of the temple, collecting dust and housing spiders.
Josiah reads the book for the very first time in his life and…
He isn’t excited.
He isn’t intrigued.
He is absolutely terrified:
Josiah said, “Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (v.13)
Because Josiah read the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods,” and looked around at his own temple with statues of other gods for worshipping.
He read the sixth commandment: “You shall not commit adultery,” and looked out at the red light district nearby where people could pay cheap for a night with a prostitute!
He read the fifth commandment: “You shall not commit murder,” and he remember his own uncle who had been killed at the age of 3 at the hands of his own grandfather.
He read all of this and he read that God brings punishment against those who do evil.
And Josiah tore his clothing.
And Josiah was cut to the heart.
And Josiah was grief stricken.
Josiah started the day wanting to repair the temple – but now he realized the repairs were beyond what a tube of caulk could fix.
The people needed to RETURN.
They needed to RETURN from their own way.
They needed to RETURN to God’s Way.
II. The Problem with Human Ways
One of Josiah’s first actions after reading the book of the Law is to inquire of a prophet. The prophet gives this message from God: “These people have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.” (v.16-17)
Which maybe that seems a bit harsh.
Why is God’s anger burning? Why is He so wrathful?
That doesn’t seem like something a good God would do.
Sometimes preschool kids hit each other. It happens. What’s interesting is that if one of the kids is mean to another kid and leaves a mark, the parents want to know (1) Is my child ok? (2) What are you doing to ensure that kid is properly punished?
And fair enough. Parents need to know that we are not supporting and encouraging violent and wrong behavior.
Can you imagine if we did? Can you imagine if some little kid pushed another down and I ran up to him and said, “KID! That was awesome. Give me a high five.”
That doesn’t go so well, does it?
Or even if I did nothing and simply said, “Meh! No big deal?”
That doesn’t go well either.
There needs to be justice.
There needs to be a reaction against wrong doing.
A good teacher needs to react against wrong doing.
And a good God will always react against wrong doing.
He doesn’t react because He is wrong.
He reacts because He is Good.
If he didn’t react to Manasseh leading thousands astray into the worship of pieces of wood…
If he didn’t react to Manasseh calling to Satan for help…
If he didn’t react to Manasseh sacrificing his own children in the fire…
Then, he wouldn’t be a Good God.
He would be an Evil God.
Yet when we hear about God’s wrathful reaction against wrongdoing, it can still seem harsh. Many people don’t like reading the Old Testament and they sometimes treat the Old Testament God like a supervillain! He’s Thanos from Infinity War.
I think what’s helpful in this is to look at how God reacted to the reigns of Manasseh and Josiah respectively:
Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:2)
Josiah did good in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 22:2)
“In the eyes of the Lord.” That’s seems to be an important phrase. Because I don’t imagine that Manasseh said to himself, “I can’t wait to do evil today. I can’t wait to do wrong. I think it’s the best part of my week.”
I imagine that he thought he was doing good:
“I’ll set up statues to other gods just in case there are other gods. That’ll be a good thing.”
“I’ll go inquire of the devil in case he gives me an insight that I can’t get anywhere else. That’s a good thing.”
“I’ll go ahead and sacrifice my children to this Molech guy because if he is real, he’ll be flattered by such an action that he’ll probably give me a good luck – which is a good thing.”
Manasseh’s actions were good in his own eyes.
But they were evil in the eyes of the Lord.
Do you see the rub then?
When God is wrathful, the problem is not an evil God…
The problem is an evil people.
And when we get angry with God because His Word clearly claims wrath against one of our own actions…
The problem isn’t with God.
It’s with us.
Think of it logically:
If a good God calls an action evil, it’s evil.
If a sinful human calls an action good, it might not be good at all. (He has sinful, imperfect reasoning which prevents him from accurately labelling the action).
If a good God calls something evil, but a sinful human calls the same action good, then…
God’s right. The human is wrong. End of story.
If you think sleeping with you boyfriend before marriage is good because it feels good, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
It you think stealing that money at work is good because your boss deserves it, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think gossiping about that person is good because it makes you look better, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think not helping the poor is good because you are teaching them a lesson, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think racism is ok because those people have brought it on themselves, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
If you think homosexuality is right because ‘love is love’, but God calls it wrong. It’s wrong.
And if you keep following your sinful ways, they will lead you where you don’t want to go:
They will lead you against a good God.
They will lead you into his wrath.
Return to God’s Way!
Return because…God’s Ways are Beyond Good.
III. God’s Ways are BEYOND Good
Look at God’s response to Josiah. He says this:
“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.” (v.19-20)
This is amazing!
Josiah sees the problem his people are in.
He realizes it is beyond what a sinful human can fix.
Josiah simply turns to the only one with the inherent good to fix it all -
And when Josiah turns to God, God offers him peace.
Keep in mind! Josiah hasn’t even done anything to course correct yet.
He hasn’t fixed any of the problem in Israel.
He hasn’t destroyed any statues.
He hasn’t given any money.
He hasn’t DONE anything but turned to God for mercy.
And God’s ways are so beyond good—that God is merciful to Josiah.
It is that same merciful God who hears your cry.
It is that same merciful God who heard your cry 2000 years in advance and went to the cross to achieve peace for you.
Romans 5:1 says this:
Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because, as we mentioned before, God is so good – he needed to pour out wrath for our sins.
And God is so beyond Good – He didn’t want to pour out that wrath against you!
And so, in a way that can only be described as God’s own, incredible, beyond good Way:
God suffered his own wrath against our sins to save us from wrath and bring us peace.
This is truth.
Jesus died to bring you peace.
It means no matter what sin you have done.
No matter how wrong you have been.
No matter how far off from following God’s ways you have gone – even if you’ve gone so far as to think you’re way is right and His way is wrong – God’s way is so incredibly Good that when you return He says the same thing to YOU that he did to Josiah:
IV. What Now?
Our WHAT NOW is similar to last week’s WHAT NOW? Return to God. Return to His Way. Return to God because He is good. Return to His way because it is good.
But more specifically – how do we respond to his grace and follow his ways? A few clues from the text:
1) Read God’s Law
Take note that in verse 16 God mentions that the people had gone against “Everything written in the book of the Law” and his wrathful reaction would happen “according to the book of the Law.”
In other words – God’s ways are NOT a surprise.
They aren’t a mystery.
They aren’t hidden.
He wrote them down clearly. They’re only a mystery to us when we don’t study them.
Read God’s Word. Study God’s Word. Learn God’s Word.
Read it if you don’t know what God’s way is.
Read it if you think you do.
Because REMEMBER: There is a big difference between what God wants me to do and what I want God to want me to do.
Reading what God wants from his clear Word helps to set you straight.
2) Use your Influence
Because when Josiah saw that 6th Century B.C. Israelite society was far from God’s ways – he used his influence on their behalf.
He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. (23:2)
There is no doubt that modern American society is far from God’s ways, too.
But unfortunately, none of us have the influence that King Josiah did to influence the whole nation.
Use the influence you do have:
Share His Word with your kids. Teach them the Ten Commandments.
Make Bible stories a part of your daily time with your family.
Memorize Bible Verses with your spouse.
Don’t be afraid to speak up for God’s way with friends and coworkers.
Use your influence to teach God’s way just like Josiah did.
3) Repair the Temple
This was Josiah’s original goal. But instead of spending money on caulk and fresh paint, he ends up buying sledge hammers and crow bars.
The king removed from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for the false gods.
He burned their statues.
He did away with the fake priests.
He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord, ground it to powder and scattered the dust. (23:4-6)
Where in your life have you been following your own ways?
Where in your life have you been moving away from God?
Ask God to reveal it to you and then…
Repair the temple.
Repair YOUR temple.
Clean up the filth.
Take a sledge hammer to the wrong.
Throw away the evil.
God will help you do this! God is good AND He has declared you good because of what Jesus did for you!
That good God – who is excellent at destroying evil – even destroying evil on the cross – will fight beside you.
2 Kings 23:25 says that King Josiah “turned to the Lord with all his heart.”
Not some of his heart.
Not a bit of his heart.
Not most of his heart.
All of his heart.
Friends, it is my prayer that God inspires our hearts to turn as well.
And I know God will work to do this…
Because God has already turned all of His heart to you. Amen.
I have a dog who really, really, really loves us. His name is Clay and he is a black lab. He loves to be at home. He loves to have his people by him. If he is out in our backyard and the backdoor, glass sliding door is closed – he won’t go play in the backyard. He will sit by that back door and whine like a Hyena until you let him in.
He always likes to be by his people.
He always likes to be home.
The other day we were coming home. I opened the front door and had my hands full. So, I went inside to put the bags on the front counter and left the front door open so that I could get out quick and get the rest of the bags from the back of the car. Clay, of course, stayed happily next to me, licking my knees, hopping up and down, slobbering everywhere.
That is until Clay saw something far more interesting than me.
Clay looked past me.
He looked to the front yard.
Clay saw…a SQUIRREL!
Clay ran out the door, he started down the block, he was running down the street away from me.
And I shouted after him:
“Clay! Come back!”
“Clay! Come Home!”
But it wasn’t working. Then, as Clay was running down the block out of sight - I had an idea:
I think he set the record for fastest 200-meter dash in history.
When dogs go away from home, they need to be reminded of a reason to return.
The same is true with people and God.
Whether you’ve been completely away from God or away from his Word or away from his people in a church, when people have been away for a while, we need to be reminded of a reason to return.
That’s theme for Back to Church Sunday.
That’s the theme for our RETURN sermon series.
God is calling you to return to Him.
But what kind of bone does God have?
What reasons does He give for us to return?
Our goal this morning is to look at a story that Jesus told about sheep to identify the first and most powerful reason to return to God. 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 Religious Climate
The text for today coming from Luke 15 beginning at verse 1. It says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (v.1-2)
A bit of background:
The Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious elite of the day. They were the type that always looked like they had it all together. There were the Boy Scouts. Do-gooders. They were like Wally Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. They were the model religious citizens. They wore fancy religious jewelry. They had fancy religious beards – cut at regulation length. If they would have Facebook, they were the type of people who would post every hour on the hour about all the awesome religious things that they have been doing. #WeArePerfectAndYou’reNot
To be fair Jesus was, too. He was kind. He was gentle. He didn’t do anything immoral. He knew his Scriptures well like a Pharisee. He knew the Old Testament well like a Pharisee. He knew the Jewish Ceremonial commands well like a Pharisee. In reality, Jesus was a dream candidate for being a Pharisee! He’s the kind of guy that the Pharisees would have loved to have in the group for no other reason than it would make them look good by association.
By all outward appearances, the Pharisees and Jesus should have gotten along.
But they didn’t.
To be fair – their teachings agreed to a certain point.
They both taught that God wants us to keep The Ten Commandments.
They both taught that God demands humans be perfect.
They both taught that humans are imperfect.
They both taught that this imperfection disqualified people from the perfect halls of heaven.
They both taught the same problem.
But they taught VERY different solutions:
The Pharisees taught: Try to be perfect “like us” and you might gain heaven.
Stop lusting so much.
Stop gossiping so much.
Wear religious jewelry like us.
Wear your regulation beard like us.
Always wash your hands before you eat, like us.
Try to be perfect “like us” and you might, maybe, possibly-ish, gain heaven…but probably not.
Jesus was one of the only common people in Israel who seemed to be able to do what the Pharisees did.
Jesus was one of the only common people who did what the Pharisees did BETTER than the Pharisees did.
But that’s not what he taught.
You can’t be perfect. Believe in me and you will gain heaven.
This is why Jesus had attracted a crowd very different from the Pharisees.
The Pharisees attracted those who liked to think that they had their life together.
Jesus attracted those who knew that they didn’t.
Like Tax Collectors. Tax Collectors were not very popular people in the first century because (1) they were collecting taxes (2) they worked for the Roman government that was enforcing their rule on the Jewish people (3) they cheated people. They told people who owed $10 that their tax was $20 and pocketed the extra $10. Tax collectors were shamed by Jewish society. Tax collectors were not welcomed with the religious leaders.
Jesus welcomed them.
Jesus promised them a friend.
Jesus promised them heaven.
“Sinners.” Which is such a strange phrase. Because the implication is not that the religious leaders were NOT sinners, they were; the implication was that some people were such sinners and doing such gross sins that the only word that could be used to describe them was: “Sinner.”
Like Prostitutes. They sold their bodies. They sinned against God’s plan for marriage. They hung out in the red-light district, not the temple. They were welcomed by clients, not the religious elite. They were shunned by society, and to be honest, might be shunned by us today.
But Jesus didn’t shun them.
Jesus didn’t think of them as too dirty or too gross.
Jesus welcomed them.
He promised them heaven.
II. The One Who Really, Really, Really Loved His Sheep
This whole situation rubbed the religious leaders of the day. How could God want anything to do with those scum of society people? How could Jesus claimed to be from God if He hung out with those scum of society people?
Hence – their interruption; “Look at THIS GUY, why does he hang out with tax collectors and sinners?” (v.2)
Jesus overhears them.
Jesus gets the crowd to quiet down.
Jesus walks over towards the religious leaders.
Jesus gives them the answer:
Suppose there’s a man that has a hundred sheep. Which is a decent amount of sheep. It meant that man could produce wool. It means that he could make money. It meant that he had money. It means the man was quite wealthy.
But on this particular evening, as the sheep are herded into the sheep pen for the night…the servants count:
“97, 98, 99…” Hmm. Let me do that again. “97, 98, 99…Oh.”
He heads up the dirt road to the owner’s house, knocks on the door and tells the owner the bad news. “Sir, we’ve lost one of the sheep. We counted a few times and number 57 isn’t there. I counted. Bob counted. 99 is all we have. I don’t know. He must have gotten lost or wandered or maybe a wolf got him.”
Regardless, it’s only one. There are 99 others? We’ll recover.
The man listens.
He wipes away a tear.
And shakes his head.
“No. I must go after him.”
He pushes off of the table, runs over to the door and grabs his outer cloak.
“Don’t wait up for me! I’m not coming back until I bring that sheep back with me.”
He goes out into the dark.
He goes out through the rain.
He searches for hoof prints.
He shouts his call at the top of the lungs: “Come sheep! Come Sheep! Come Sheep!”
Then, tired. Wearied. Ready to give up. His flashlight catches a glimpse of something.
A patch of wool – it’s caught on a bramble bush.
He approaches the bush:
“Sheep! Is that you sheep?”
A low, pained bleat replies.
The man wastes no time. He shoves his arms through the brambles. He’s scratched; he’s bleeding.
He cuts the sheep loose and frees him.
He gives him a hug.
Then, he puts the sheep on his shoulders and sprints to his house. All the while shouting:
“I found him! I found him.”
Waking the neighbors:
“I found him! I found my sheep!”
He’s going to get a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct:
“I found that sheep that was lost. My sheep! He was lost; he is found. He is…home.”
A touching story, right?
Thanks for telling it Jesus. It might make a really good children’s book.
But look carefully at the very last verse:
“I tell you the truth: There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who don’t need to repent.” (v.7)
Do you get it?
This story isn’t about a shepherd. It’s about God.
And it isn’t about sheep.
It’s about the tax collectors.
It’s about the prostitutes.
It’s about the sinners.
It’s about the porn actress, the drug dealer and the felon.
It’s about the divorcee, the alcoholic, and the failure.
It’s about the lost.
It’s about YOU.
This story is not about some shepherd’s love for his sheep…
But God’s incredible love for you.
III. The One who Really, Really, Really Loves You
That’s important to remember.
Because it’s easy to think that God doesn’t really love you.
It’s easy to think that you’ve been gone too long.
it’s easy to think that you’ve done too much wrong.
It’s easy to think that you aren’t the religious elite and God could NEVER love you.
But the truth is HE DOES.
The truth is HE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DOES.
And you don’t even have to take my word for it!
Look at the Jesus’ words:
1) Though He has a Large Flock, God NOTICES if YOU are Missing
Because look at the parable. The man had 100 sheep! That’s plenty of sheep, wouldn’t you say?
He could’ve spent some of the money he made from their wool and gotten a new one.
He could’ve mated a few of the 99, waited a few months and gotten a new one.
He could’ve ignored his lack of sheep, allowed nature to run its course and gotten a new one.
But that’s not what the man does.
Instead, he immediately leaves his other sheep behind, heads out into the world and searches for his lost sheep.
The sheep was more than just number 57 to him; it was his sheep.
You are more than just a number to God; you are His child.
Maybe you are thinking – God doesn’t care about me.
He’s got plenty of people in his family.
He’s got plenty of people in his kingdom.
I imagine that all these other people here this morning are a part of his kingdom.
And there’s plenty of them.
And what would he care if he doesn’t have me.
Because “yep” there are a lot of Christians in this world.
And a church might even be big enough that they don’t notice if you are there or you aren’t.
But God notices.
God notices because he doesn’t just want a number in his kingdom.
He wants YOU in his kingdom.
2) God has Eternal Searching Stamina
It’s kinda like a missing kids’ toy. Has YOUR kid ever lost a toy? Maybe a Lego? Maybe a Shopkin? And when it’s missing, and you’ve searched under the cushion and behind the pillow, and you can’t find it – and your kid’s lips start quivering and eyes get teary and you say: “Don’t worry honey. I’m sure we’ll find that 1 inch high, grimy, piece of 1 cent plastic.”
Then you hope on Amazon, order the toy and voila! Three days later: “Oh Look! I found your Shopkin. It’s been right here in this envelope.”
It’s easy to think God acts like this.
He doesn’t need to find us, because he’s got other, newer, better people to be a part of his kingdom.
He doesn’t need me.
I’ve been gone for too long!
I went away from God way back in college.
I been lost in some very dark places.
Places that would make you blush.
Places that would you cringe.
Places that would make God say – “NOPE! You are too far gone. And I’m too tired.”
But that’s not how God works.
Notice in the parable – the man doesn’t plan on coming home until his sheep is found. The implication? God doesn’t quit searching for you – as long as you are alive – God will continue to come after you.
No matter how long you’ve been away.
No matter how long you’ve been gone.
God keeps coming!
3) God’s Greatest Joy is Having You Back Home
He lifts the sheep on his shoulders. He runs home. He tells all of his neighbors about the sheep he found. He has a celebration!
UNDERSTAND: That is God’s response to your return.
It isn’t “I told you so.”
It isn’t “Get out of here. I don’t have room for you.”
It isn’t “Here’s a list of things to do in order to get back in my good graces.”
God’s response to the one who returns to him is PURE JOY!
As verse 7 says: “There is more joy in heaven over the 1 who repents than the 99 who don’t need to repent!”
Think about that.
There’s a party in heaven when you return to him.
When you throw away your sin and return to Him, they’re throwing confetti!
When you get back into His Word, they’re serving ice cream with hot fudge– and the ice cream doesn’t even melt.
When you return to him after years of being away, they’re having a dance party – and look! In the corner, one of the angels is doing the Floss!
The point is that your returning to Him fills God with joy.
It filled Him with joy when you made your way into this church today.
And His heart will remain filled with joy as you continue to return to Him.
IV. What Now?
Return to the One Who Really, Really, Really Loves you!
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away; God has forever planned for you.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing that sin; God brings eternal blessings that sin cannot bring.
It doesn’t matter how deeply you’ve been engrossed in it; God’s love is deeper.
God’s love is strong enough to overcome whatever you have undergone.
That’s really the story of Jesus!
He came into this world to find those who were lost.
He found the tax collector.
He found the prostitute.
He found the sinners.
He found those lost in the dregs of society.
He found them even when the religious elite hated him for it…
And plotted against him for it…
They killed him for it.
Historically speaking, a few months after this parable, that’s what happened:
They arrested Jesus.
They falsely convicted him.
They bullied their way to the governor’s approval.
They nailed Jesus to two giant crisscrossing pieces of wood by his hands and feet.
And those “Sinners” …
Those who had found a friend.
Those who had turned their lives around.
Those who had seen a love from Jesus unlike anyone else in society.
Watched as his life slipped away.
As blood dropped from his forehead.
As his lungs took in one more breath…and stopped.
They had been lost.
He had found them.
Now…He was lost.
Three days later…
From the one place that no one in history has ever returned from.
Three days later…
From the one place that will keep you away from family and friends forever.
Three days later…
From death itself.
Return to him.
And even when you die, you’ll be home…
Did you get any gift cards for Christmas? Sometimes you might get a gift card to a place that you have never heard of before. Sometimes they're not gift cards, so much as gift certificates, or pieces of paper that the small business owner wrote "$10 free" on in blue ink.
What do you do when you get a gift card to a place that you don't know where it is? Google it. Use your map App on your iPhone. Guys, we pretend like we know where it is and then trust our man-sense to get there.
However you choose to do it -- this may be one thing you are doing this POST Christmas season: SEEKING out stores in order to use a gift card or maybe just return a gift. Today God's Word reminds us that these places are not the only things we should seek after Christmas. But that we should also SEEK GOD!
Open up to Isaiah 55. Remember Isaiah was a prophet at a time when the people of Israel didn't seek God. Instead, they sought their own sexual desires, their own greedy wants, and their own earthly happiness. That was what was most important to them. God was not.
It was Isaiah's job to tell them differently. He says, Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near."
I. When to Seek Him
Do you remember Beanie Babies? People used to go crazy for those things! Moms would pull up in their soccer vans, sprint out of the door, hurdle a baby stroller and get to the McDonald's counter in order to get a tiny bean-filled stuffed wallaby.
Why did people go nuts for that stuff? Because they were only available for a limited time. The value was increased because once they were gone, there were no more!
Isaiah's words are similar. Find God now while he may be found! Find Him while he is available. He will only be available for a limited time. Once that time is over, if you haven't found him, then you'll never find him.
Of course, are most people more urgent about God or Beanie babies? About God or some post Christmas deal? About God or getting home to watch the NFL playoffs because "the game is only on for a limited time!"
Brothers and sisters, we need to change our urgency!
You might be asking, "Why? I've got all the time in the world. When won't I be able to find God anymore?"
Answer: When you are dead. Dead people can't find God. Dead people can't find much of anything. The Bible tells us, "Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment."
Did you hear that? Die Once. That passage alone eliminates a host of false teachings: There is no purgatory. There is no millenial reign on earth. There is no reincarnation. There is no second chance to find God later. Stop thinking there isn't urgency and find God him now before it's too late!
II. Where NOT to Seek Him!
Isaiah is pretty clear of where God is not. "Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts." Because God is not in wicked ways and you won't find him in unrighteous thoughts.
He's not at the bottom of a liquor bottle. There's nothing heavenly found on the 14th page of pornographic search results. You won't experience and find God through liberal sexuality. The high from whatever will not lift you up so you can see God. Sin does not lead to God!
Yet by the amount of time we spend seeking out sin, you'd think it does lead to God. "I need to clear up my schedule so I can have drinks with the ladies and make fun of all my neighbors." "I need to work all weekend so I can have more things and stuff." "I need to stop doing everything else and watch a couple of hours of this TV show with awful language and adult situations."
Brothers and sisters, stop seeking sin and seek God!
III. Where TO Seek God?
Look back at the Gospel of John. We read more of this chapter on Christmas Eve. The beginning verses are all about someone called "The Word." After some detective work in those surrounding verses, it was determined The Word was referring to Jesus Christ. Now read verse 18: No one has ever seen God, but God the One and only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
In other words, we see God in the Word himself. We see God in Jesus and we see Jesus in the Word -- The Bible.
Now let's be clear. I'm not asking you to pick up the book and put it under your feet as you stand at the top of the Blue Ridge parkway so you can get a better glimpse of God in nature. Nor do I want you to use the book to prop open the door to a theological discussion at some liberal university where "they determine what God must be." Nor should you use this book to hold up your keyboard so your wrists won't get tired and you can better search for "What's God like?" on the Google.
God wants you to read it. To hear it. To study it. Because in his Word, you will find God.
Find God in a barn quietly sleeping next to his mother. Find God in the carpenter's shop handing his dad a hammer. Find God on the hillside, smiling as children play near him. Find God, smiling softly as he raises a girl from the dead. Find God standing in a courtroom, listening to the insults hurled at him. Find God on the streets, buckling under the weight of his cross. Find God on a hill, nailed to that cross and dying.
It's really quite amazing! Because instead of revealing himself in some loud, thundering lightning bolts or a glowing, magnificent rainbow, God reveals himself most clearly in a human. A condemned, dying human.
OK pastor, but how do I know this Jesus is God? And how do I know this book about him isn't just the mistaken words of a few human beings?
It really is a matter of trusting Jesus. Because Jesus called the Bible -- the Old Testament portion -- he called it God's Word. Then, his apostles the very people sent out by Jesus' to teach Jesus' teachings wrote the New Testament and declared Jesus -- who was God -- his Words and teachings.
Again the skeptic might say: "But why should I trust Jesus? You said earlier he was a sad pathetic man who died on a cross."
Simple. Jesus came back to life! No other human being has ever been able to bring himself back to life! If Jesus didn't do that, his legacy would live on in books and that's it. But Jesus returned from the dead! He did what only God can do!
And there were hundreds who saw Him alive again! At least 500 to be exact. Most of whom were still alive when this book was completed. Who read what it said about Jesus and who confirmed: "Yep. He was alive. Yep. He was God. Yep. This book is of extreme importance! This holy book is how you will find God!"
IV. Why Seek Him.
That might be the best question to consider. Why seek God at all? Because if the Bible is God's Word, then doesn't it describe how God wipes out sinner after sinner? Doesn't it tell of a worldwide flood? Fire and brimstone destroying to sinful cities? A sinner swallowing earthquake? And these are all nothing compared to the eternal fires of hell it describes! Why would I want to seek Him?
Because there's more to God. Read what Isaiah tells us in the next part of verse: Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them.
Not "he might have mercy." Not "He'll consider having mercy." "Not he will have mercy, if..."
Simply: "He will have mercy on them."
That's why you need to seek God! Because God will give you mercy. Forgiveness. Eternal life. Salvation. To all who turn to him.
This mercy that God bestows is not a limited time offer. It didn't expire at the end of 2013 so that any sin you sinned in 2014 isn't covered under Jesus' death on the cross. No. God's mercy keeps on repeating! God will have mercy for the addiction that you struggle to get past. God will have mercy for those awful sinful thoughts you had yesterday evening. God will have mercy for the big sins. God will have mercy for the little sins.
Simply put, God will have mercy, because He has been merciful! He showed us himself in Jesus who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.
And the Bible keeps telling you that! It tells you God loved you that he gave his one and only Son for you that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. IT tells you It is by grace you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. It tells you God has clothed you with garments of salvation. And In Jesus we have redemption!
It's like that $30 Mug you can get at Starbucks. You pay for it once and then you can get as much free coffee as you want in it. God's Word repeatedly declares to the trouble conscience the forgiveness of sins.
Except it doesn't even cost $30. It's free! Isaiah emphasizes that with the final words of our text: "Let them turn to our God and he will freely pardon."
It would be a downer if it wasn't true. If after spending your entire life trying to find God, you finally stumbled upon him and he spoke to you and said "Glad you found me. Did you bring the righteous deeds I require? No? Come back when you've figured out the secret to being perfect."
That would be sad. But that's not what God will say. Instead, as we sinners find God in the message of Jesus found in his Word, God smiles. He simply says, "My child, you are forgiven."
Brothers and sisters, seek this compassionate LORD in 2014. Seek him while he may be found. Forsake wicked ways. Receive his mercy! Amen.