18 March 2018

Who Is Your Father?

Today I noticed an interesting example of the grace of God in the Old Testament.  It is exciting and to discover connections previously unknown by me, and these revelations confirm our deepest studies only scratch the surface of God's Word.

Uzziah was king in Jerusalem and was greatly helped by God.  Yet when he was strong his heart was lifted up with pride and he decided to burn incense to God - a duty given by God for sanctified priests, not the king.  After he was angry when confronted by a host of godly priests, Uzziah was struck with leprosy.  This event did not go unnoticed by his son who became king after him.

The following chapter makes a key observation concerning king Jotham in 2 Chronicles 27:2:  "And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Uzziah had done (although he did not enter the temple of the LORD). But still the people acted corruptly."  It seems Jotham did not discern the sin of his father from the place where God's judgment fell and consequently would not even enter the temple.  Better safe than sorry, right?  Not at all, for the people followed his example and acted corruptly.  If the king did not go to the temple for sacrifice or prayer, why should they?

After the passing of Jotham, Ahaz his son became king and did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD.  Not only did he openly worship idols, but 2 Chronicles 28:24 tells us, "So Ahaz gathered the articles of the house of God, cut in pieces the articles of the house of God, shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and made for himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem."  Ahaz scorned the worship of God and forbid anyone else to worship God either.  The temple was plundered, polluted, and the doors sealed.  Uzziah sinned in the temple without repentance, Jotham would not enter the temple, and Ahaz plundered and shut it so no one could!  The spiritual downward spiral seemed without end.  Only the grace of God could redeem this hopeless state.

At twenty-five years Hezekiah became king and did what was right in the sight of the LORD.  He did what was right as his father David had done, not as Ahaz had done for he was faithful to the God of Israel.  God led him in the first year of his reign to open the doors of the temple and repair them (2 Chron. 29:3).  At his command the priests and Levites were sanctified, the temple was cleansed of rubbish, and the worship of God began once again in earnest.  Praise and prayers were lifted up to God and sacrifices were made morning and night.  2 Chronicles 29:36 says, "Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly."  God prepared Hezekiah, the priests, Levites, and people to worship the LORD, and it was His doing.

How awesome is our God, who redeems people from iniquity!  We are not destined for destruction without hope, even as a son is not doomed to repeat the mistakes of his wicked father.  Everyone who has a Father in heaven has access to the grace of God in which we stand.  We must not blame our fathers for our spiritual lameness, but take to heart what Hezekiah urged the people in 2 Chronicles 30:7-8, "And do not be like your fathers and your brethren, who trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, so that He gave them up to desolation, as you see. 8 Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you."  Those who yield to God, and enter His presence with worship on the basis of Christ's sacrifice, can serve Him faithfully.  We turn from God, but when we return to Him He will not turn His face from us (2 Chron. 30:9).

Victory in the Wilderness

In many ways the temptation of Jesus Christ was a parallel experience to the children of Israel after the nation was birthed out of Egypt.  They were baptised through the Red Sea, and Jesus was baptised in the Jordan.  They were led by the Spirit of God in the wilderness for 40 years, and Jesus was led by the Spirit into and through the wilderness for 40 days.  Though there were similarities, the contrasts are pronounced because the endurance and righteousness of Christ far exceeded the Israelites.  The children of Israel were fed by manna from heaven, water from the rock, and quail carried on the breeze – yet Jesus did not eat any food.  Days into the wilderness the Hebrews murmured against God and Moses, murmured and complained, doubted God could or would save them, and quickly rebelled against God.  Jesus remained faithful without fail and finished the season in the wilderness victorious.

Do you remember the three temptations Jesus was tempted with after being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness?  “Turn these stones into bread,” Satan said.  Jesus responded in Luke 4:4:  "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God."  The Israelites failed because  they didn’t obey God who told them to gather so much every day and to not gather on Sabbath.  God was teaching them more than how to gather food but to heed His Word.  Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, “Bow down before me, and all will be yours.”  Jesus answered in Luke 4:8, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve."  Moses left the camp for a few days to meet with God on Sinai and the people had taken a collection, crafted a golden idol, and worshipped the works of their hands.  Finally Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and told Him to throw himself down because as it is written in Psalm 91, angels would keep him from harm.  Jesus replied in Luke 4:12, "It has been said, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God."  Jesus believed the Word of God and did not need to prove it to Satan by tempting God.  How many times did the Hebrews tempt God through their unbelief in the wilderness?  Having seen God’s miracles and presence they said, “Is God with us or not?" (also see Exodus 17:7, Numbers 14:22-23; Psalm 78:40-43).

Praise the LORD when God lead us through wilderness He does so with a good destination and end in mind.  What happened when the time of temptation was over for Jesus?  Angels came and ministered to Him.  What happened when the 40 years in the wilderness was over for the children of Israel?  They entered the Promised Land, saw God’s wonders, entered into His victory, and obtained an inheritance.  The trip through the wilderness was for more than reaching the end but so they would learn:  God's people do not live by bread alone, but by every word spoken by God.  God wanted His people to refuse to bow before idols and only worship the LORD their God.  God wanted them to believe His Word and cease tempting Him in their unbelief.

Do you see?  You might feel you are in a wilderness of sorts today and temptation is all around.  Spending 40 years or 40 days in the wilderness is a long time!  But know God not only wants to bring you to an awesome destination but the lessons you are learning now will help you (and others as well) to enter into and be fruitful in the place He has prepared for you.  You don’t need to leave the wilderness to discover the way of escape for temptation God has made, for His Spirit fills us wherever we are as we abide in Him by faith and walk with Him in obedience.

14 March 2018

Dealing With Sin

Imagine if God punished us for our sins with immediate wrath and judgment we deserve!  If God did so there would be no opportunity for repentance, redemption, or salvation.  In all these things God delights.  It is well observed in Psalm 103:8-12, "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."

After being severely chastened by the LORD for seven years, a notable king's understanding returned to him.  He had this to say of God and His ways in Daniel 4:37:  "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down."  Forgiveness of sin does not mean the consequences for sin are also removed.  Aaron and Miriam murmured against Moses, and God struck Miriam with leprosy for her sin.  Moses begged God to heal her, and after seven days outside the camp she returned whole.  Uzziah's case is another story.

King Uzziah was a good king who was greatly helped by God.  Yet when he became strong his heart was lifted up with pride and transgressed by offering incense God commanded only the priests to offer.  As he offered incense, Azariah the high priest confronted him with 80 other priests.  Instead of recognising his error and repenting, Uzziah was furious.  Being lifted up with pride he would not humble himself before men, so God struck him with leprosy on his forehead.  I imagine his fierce countenance instantly changed when he saw the looks of horror on the faces of the priests coupled with the numb sensation he felt on his face.  2 Chronicles 26:20 reads, "And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the LORD had struck him."  Uzziah slowly died of the disease, living in isolation.  His pride led him to going beyond the bounds set for him, and then ironically was unable to fulfil the calling God had upon his life.

How many times have we transgressed?  How many times have we become angry when confronted by others for our sins?  How many times have we deserved to be struck with leprosy or thrust immediately into hell for our pride and subsequent transgression!  Praise the LORD He is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger, abounding in mercy.  These qualities ought not to embolden us to sin because there are many examples of God's fearsome judgment in scripture.  Uzziah was angry at the messengers and God returned his sin - quite literally - upon his own head.  Having been purged from sin, let us not proudly walk therein.  LORD, cause me to humble myself in repentance when my sin is exposed, and especially when you use people to do it.

13 March 2018

Responsible Teachers

"Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
2 Corinthians 4:1-2

The ministry of the Word is a sobering, challenging, and rewarding task for those called to it.  Bible teaching and preaching is a responsibility before God and men, for they are indeed the words of life.  Nehemiah 8:8 is a good example of what pastors and teachers are to do:  "So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading."  They read from the book of the Law, explained what it meant, and helped the people to see how it applied personally to their lives.

The purpose of studying the Bible is more than gathering information, but is a revelation of the Almighty God who has established all wisdom and truth.  What are some hallmarks of teachers who handle God's Word responsibly?  This is not a complete list, but responsible teachers:
  • pray.  They seek the LORD during study, wait on Him for guidance, trust Him to supply wisdom and application, pray for help to deliver the message, and for people to respond.
  • are led by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will always magnify Jesus Christ and reveal what He has said (John 16:13-15).  
  • use scripture to interpret scripture in context.  People are well aware how stats can be distorted to say what we want, and the same is true when the Bible is mishandled.
  • apply the scripture personally.  Learning new things should never be an end in itself.  People can be "ever learning" but never grasp the truth.
  • stick to the good old paths.  New "truth" often makes way for old deceptions.  God has much to reveal to those who walk in the good old way (Jeremiah 6:16) now fulfilled through Jesus who is the Way.
  • do not place major emphasis on personal opinions, doubtful doctrine, or speculations.  What we do not or cannot know is hardly as important as acknowledging and practising what we do know.
  • would rather be clear than clever.  God made truth simple enough for children to grasp.
  • keep the main point the main point.  The message is infinitely more important than the messenger.
  • are focused on edifying the Body of Christ, not entertaining.
  • draw conclusions from the text rather than using scattered passages to validate our hypothesis.
  • do not take aim at people.  They repent themselves when convicted and trust the Holy Spirit will also transform others in His time and way.
  • do not avoid controversial teaching the Bible clearly speaks on because people could potentially be offended.  We do not need to be controversial to be relevant, and without controversy is the revelation of Jesus Christ throughout the Word.
  • remind mature believers of what they already know.  Being reminded of things we have neglected can be just as critical to our growth and maturity as a new revelation from God.
  • value God's Word as absolutely true and superior to man's ideas in every way - including their own.
  • use illustrations wisely.  Spurgeon said even as a tailor puts a knot in his thread, so there should be knots in the thread of our discourses.  Windows bring light into a house and illustrations illuminate an important point, but never let the window be bigger than the structure.
  • do not substitute emotional manipulation for the move of the Holy Spirit.  Emotions are fleeting, but God's Word will endure forever.
  • live their life in agreement with their words.  Hypocrisy sours the source.
Paul wrote to a young pastor in 2 Timothy 4:1-4 an exhortation we ought to take to heart:  "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables."  People like a good story, but those who handle the word of God have much more than stories to tell.  We hold in our hands words breathed by the Spirit of the Living God, and let us ensure we study to rightly divide them and are committed to proclaiming the whole counsel of God.  May those under the sound of our voices hear sound doctrine.  This will not be enough for some, yet the foundations of truth are forsaken who then can know God and be saved?