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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Daniel 4:20-27; King of Righteousness and Mercy

09/19_Daniel 04:20-27; King of Righteousness and Mercy; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210919_dan04_20-27.mp3

Daniel 4:1 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! 2 It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

This is Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony of what God had done for him.

Truth or Tickled Ears

Daniel 4:5 I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me. 6 So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 7 Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation.

Daniel was brought before the king after all the other magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers because although the king respected Daniel and knew Daniel was able to interpret his dream, he did not really want to hear what Daniel had to say. He knew that Daniel would speak the truth, but he would rather have his ears tickled than to be held accountable. He was not yet ready to listen to the one man who spoke on behalf of the Most High God, and he was not yet ready to come to terms with Daniel’s God.

Daniel 4:8 At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods—and I told him the dream, saying, 9 “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation. 9 “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation. 18 This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. And you, O Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation, because all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation, but you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”

True Forgiveness

We saw last time, that although Daniel had every reason to be hateful and bitter toward this wicked king, he genuinely cared for him. For what he had done to his nation, his family, his friends, himself, he had forgiven him from the heart. He wished nothing but good for him.

Daniel 4:19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!

One commentator writes:

“Daniel encourages us here to long for God to have compassion on world rulers, specifically the wicked ones, and he encourages the world to assume that judgment is never inevitable. If we bait the tyrants and dare them do their worst, they may. Daniel invites us to care about people in power, even people who abuse power, to appeal to their humanness not their sinfulness, and to treat them as people given a responsibility by God and people who may respond to an appeal to right and wrong.” [Goldingay, p.94]

Beastly King of Beasts

Daniel treats the king with compassion, and he tells him what others feared to tell him; he told him the truth

Daniel 4:20 The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, 21 whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived— 22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.

The tree is you. Daniel confirms the king’s fear. This dream, like the king’s dream in chapter 2, had good news and bad news. That dream affirmed the greatness of the king.

Daniel 2:37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.

By the time of chapter 4 (around 30 years later) the glory of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom had been established. The tree whose top reached to heaven reminds us of the tower being built in Babylon back in Genesis 11

Genesis 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Nebuchadnezzar had been given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory. It had been given to him to rule over and provide for the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and all the children of man.

But the dream of chapter 2 also communicated that there would be an end to his kingdom. It would be succeeded by another, and ultimately crushed by the kingdom crushing stone, God’s kingdom that will endure forever. Here in chapter 4 the consequences are more immediate and personal.

Daniel 4:23 And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ 24 this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. 26 And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.

Nebuchadnezzar, who provided for the beasts of the field, would live among the beasts of the field and be provided for by heaven. The one to whom it was given by God to provide for others would himself become dependent on God to provide for him.

Promised Restoration

But the most surprising part of this prediction was that there would be a positive outcome. This is simply unprecedented! Any sign of weakness in a powerful king and those around see it as an opportunity to seize power. David was on his death bed when his son Adonijah with the support of Joab and Abiathar sought to establish himself as king (1Ki.1). Ben Hadad king of Syria had fallen sick, and his servant Hazael smothered him with the bed cloth dipped in water, and became king in his place (2Ki.8). For a ruler like Nebuchadnezzar to go insane and leave a leadership vacuum for 7 years and then have his leadership restored is nothing short of miraculous. Nebuchadnezzar would be humbled, but through the experience he would come to know that ‘the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.’ And ‘your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.’ This is an amazing promise.

The Gift of Repentance

But even more amazing than the fact that God removes kings and sets up kings (2:21) is the fact that God gives the gift of repentance to those who don’t deserve it. In Acts we read

Acts 11:18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:25)

Repentance is a gift from God. And Daniel assures the king that God will give him this gift. The purpose of his humbling is ‘till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.’ God gives his word that Nebuchadnezzar will know and that after 7 years his kingdom will be restored.

This sounds similar to what Jesus tells Peter, predicting that proud Peter is about to deny him three times.

Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus doesn’t leave a shadow of doubt as to what will happen. Jesus prayed that his faith would not fail. When Jesus prays, the Father answers. There is complete confidence; it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’. Peter’s self confidence will be destroyed. Jesus even gives him the time it will happen. But Peter will turn again because God is the one who gives repentance to whom he will.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Nebuchadnezzar’s pride will be crushed. But it is for a redemptive purpose. It is so that he would come to know the Most High God.

Call to Repentance

Here Daniel stops interpreting and starts meddling. We saw in verse 19 how much Daniel cared for the king. He must have built a great amount of trust to be able to say what he says next, and even then, this must have required great courage. This verse, even more than verse 19 displays the selfless care Daniel had for the king, for confronting an absolute monarch over his sin would come at great personal risk.

Daniel 4:27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is a guilty sinner, and he needs to repent. But he tells him this in a way that demonstrates both his personal concern for the king, and his confident hope in his merciful God. It is counsel meant for the king’s good, to prolong his prosperity. Daniel knows his God is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Ex.34:6). God often communicates the threat of his judgment to persuade us to turn from our sins and experience his compassion.

Sins of Omission

Daniel doesn’t confront the king over sins of lust or immorality or selfishness or greed. In fact he doesn’t confront him over anything he has done. Rather it is what he has left undone that is the subject of his rebuke. The way to break off his sins and iniquities is by beginning to do the good that is expected of him. As king, he had been entrusted by God with great responsibility. And ‘to whom much was given, of him much will be required’ (Lk.12:48). Nebuchadnezzar was made abundantly fruitful, and he was given the responsibility of caring for the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the children of man. Daniel instructs him to practice righteousness and show mercy.

Do Righteousness and Show Mercy

Four short years before Daniel and his friends were exiled to Babylon, the Lord sent Jeremiah to confront the king of Judah over his sins. He says in Jeremiah 22

Jeremiah 22:2 and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. 3 Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

God’s judgment is on his people

Jeremiah 22:9 …“Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them.”’”

This failure to do justice and righteousness and to show mercy to the oppressed is ultimately a worship problem. They failed to do righteousness and show mercy because they were worshiping the wrong things. He goes on:

Jeremiah 22:13 “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages, 14 who says, ‘I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms,’ who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion. 15 Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. 16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD. 17 But you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.”

Josiah’s son Jehoahaz only reigned for three months, because he was worshiping and serving the wrong things. He was given authority to do what was right in God’s eyes and to extend mercy to the oppressed. But instead he oppressed the poor and did what was evil for his own personal gain.

Jesus is held up as the ideal ruler, he fulfills the role all kings were meant to serve.

Isaiah 11:3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The king was to use his position, power, and strength to defend the poor and needy, to protect the vulnerable, to do what is right. He is not to use people to achieve his own ends.

Jesus is the king who comes both to practice righteousness and to show mercy. It is easy to point the finger at leaders who fail to do what is right, but we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Our righteous deeds are as a polluted garment; our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Is.64:6). We are the ones who are in need of mercy.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

September 20, 2021 Posted by | Daniel | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 2:17-23 The Power of Prayer and the Necessity of Praise

06/06_Daniel 02:17-23 The Power of Prayer and the Necessity of Praise; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210606_dan02_17-23.mp3

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him. So he summoned his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans to tell him his dreams. They confidently assured the king that he could tell them the dream they would give the interpretation. Archaeology has unearthed extensive dream manuals that offer explanations of different dream symbolism based on centuries of case histories.

But the king was apparently skeptical of the ability and authenticity of his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans. He insisted they tell him not only the interpretation, but also the dream that he had dreamed to demonstrate that they indeed had access to the supernatural, and that he could trust their interpretation. They argued, ‘that’s not how this works; you tell us the dream, and we will show its interpretation’. They even appeal to his pride ‘No great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean; surely you want to fall in line with all the other great and powerful kings, don’t you?’ But he had made up his mind. He offered gifts and rewards and great honor to the one who made known the dream and its interpretation, but if they failed to tell him the dream and its interpretation, they would be torn limb from limb and their houses buried under a pile of human excrement.

Because his wise men proved incompetent to provide the validation of their legitimacy that the king required, because he suspected them of trying to buy time, of conspiring to speak lying and corrupt words to him until the times change, he became angry and very furious, and ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. If the teachers were corrupt, their students would also be suspect, so this extended even to Daniel and his friends, who recently completed their training in the language and literature of the Chaldeans.

We see the utter bankruptcy of magicians, enchanters, diviners, sorcerers. Even this pagan king was able to see through their treachery and deceit. They confidently claim and make a living selling their secret and hidden wisdom, but they are incompetent and speechless when it comes to true wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

The wise men of Babylon argued that only the gods could fulfill the demand of the king, and they do not dwell with flesh. But Israel’s God is Immanuel, God with us, a God who is near to all who call on him, who desires to dwell in the midst of his people, a God who we now know ‘became flesh and dwelt among us.’

When Arioch the captain of the king’s guard came to arrest Daniel and his friends to put them to death, Daniel, who knew the one who is the source of all wisdom, answered with prudence and discretion.

Daniel 2:15 He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. 16 And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.

Daniel showed boldness and humble confidence both with Arioch and with king Nebuchadnezzar. By God’s grace, Daniel gained audience with the king and received time from the king, the very thing the king denied to his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans.

Daniels Gift of Understanding Visions and Dreams

Here we begin to see where Daniel’s humble boldness came from. Before we move forward, let’s back up and look at something we were told in chapter 1 that is important background for this part of the story.

In verse 2, we were told it was God who gave the king of Judah and the vessels of his holy temple into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 9 we learned that God gave Daniel favor and compassion; grace and mercy in the sight of Ashpenaz, chief of the eunuchs. Then in 17,

Daniel 1:17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

We are told that God blessed all four with learning and skill, but Daniel specifically was given understanding in all visions and dreams. This is much more than a proficiency with the dream manuals of the Chaldeans. This is God’s gift to one of his children, a God given ability to understand dreams and visions. We are not told if Daniel even knew about this gift before this chapter. But if he was aware of his specific gifting from God, this would be a source of great confidence in approaching both the captain of the king’s guard and the king himself.

The Reminder of God’s Character

Daniel requested and was granted a time to show the king the interpretation.

Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions,

Wait, I thought back in chapter 1 they were re-named with Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. Why revert to their Hebrew names here in chapter 2?

Let’s read it again. Remember, names have meanings. ‘God is My Judge’ went to his house and made the matter known to ‘YHWH is Gracious’, ‘Who is What God Is’ and YHWH Will Help’. Their lives were literally on the line. They were on death row. They needed to remember that God is my judge, not Arioch, not even Nebuchadnezzar. They needed to be reminded that YHWH is gracious. They needed to be reminded that there is no other God like the Lord our God, that he is above and sovereign over all the false gods of Babylon. They needed to be reminded from where their help comes; ‘My help comes from YHWH, who made heaven and earth’ (Ps.121:2).

God’s Gifts and Dependence on God in Prayer

Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

Wait, I thought we just read in chapter 1 that Daniel was given understanding in all visions and dreams, and here in chapter 2 that he confidently went to the king and offered to interpret his dream. Why pray? Why call a prayer meeting and ask your friends to pray? Why not just use your gift and interpret the dream?

We don’t know at this point how much Daniel knew about his gifting from God. But Daniel did know that gift or no gift, he and his friends were utterly and completely dependent on God.

Daniel didn’t presume on his gift; that because God gave him understanding in all visions and dreams, he didn’t need to pray. Exactly the opposite; we see Daniel’s gift operating through prayer. Expressing dependence on God in prayer was the means through which his gift became operational.

God’s Gifts and the Necessity of Community

And Daniel didn’t go it alone. Daniel’s gift didn’t puff him up. He didn’t think of himself more highly than his three friends because he had this gift and they didn’t. He demonstrates humility and the need for unity with his brothers, that together they need to seek God’s mercy. God’s gifts are given for building up the body, for through love serving one another (1Cor.12:7; Eph.4:8-12; Gal.5:17).

We need to remember that we are completely dependent on God. Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5). Abide in me and you will bear much fruit. But apart from me you can do nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Nothing. We must acknowledge our dependence on God in prayer.

And we need to remember that we need each other. We need to remind one another that the Lord is gracious, that there is no one like our God, that the Lord will be our help, that we are accountable ultimately only to him. We are meant to function as a body, to complement one another. We are incomplete on our own.

1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. …25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

Seeking Mercy from the God of Heaven

These four knew the character of God, that he ‘a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Ex.34:6). They knew that God is abundantly merciful, but they didn’t presume on his mercy. They knew that God is also just, and they understood what they deserved. Remember, mercy is not getting what we deserve. Daniel and his friends understood that the wages of sin is death (Rom.6:23); they were all sinners, so sooner or later, they deserved death. Life is a gift, grace from God, something we don’t deserve. They knew their lives were on the line, so they sought mercy from the God of heaven. They asked. They prayed.

We know the character of God. We know the grace of God. But we need to remember to ask. God loves to give good gifts to his children in response to our prayers (Mt.7:11). Sometimes ‘you do not have because you do not ask’ (Jas.4:2). If you are in need of help, if you are in need of mercy, if you are in need of grace, ask! God is ‘rich in mercy’ (Eph.2:4); it is not in short supply. And he loves us with a great love. We need only ask. ‘Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full’ (Jn.16:24).

Specificity in Prayer

Notice also the specificity of their prayer.

Daniel 2:18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

They don’t just ask God for general mercy. General prayers get general answers. They have a specific need, they are in a specific crisis. And so they ask for very specific help. Seek mercy concerning this mystery, we need to know the king’s dream, so that we will not be executed along with the rest of the satanic practitioners of Babylon.

Don’t be afraid to ask God for specific help in time of need.

God Answers Prayer

Daniel 2:19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night.

God answers prayer when we ask! God may not give us what we ask for, but he will always give us what is best. God loves to bless his children. God promises to answer our prayers. And he loves to give specific answers to specific prayers.

The Necessity of Praise

In Luke 17, there were ten lepers who cried out to Jesus for mercy. He told them to go show themselves to the priests (the priests were responsible for declaring people clean or unclean). In going, they were cleansed, but only one turned back ‘praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks’ (Lk.17:15-16). Jesus asked ‘where are the other nine?’ Why did only one return to give praise to God?

Daniel and his friends recognized their dependence on God, they asked God for mercy, and they did not fail to thank God when that mercy was extended. Given the urgency and gravity of the situation (remember, the ‘king was angry and very furious’, the decree of the king was urgent, and they ‘were about to be killed’) it would have been natural to rush with the answer in hand to Arioch to tell him the good news. After all, that would be giving glory to God, right?

First, Daniel worships.

Daniel 2:19 …Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,

to whom belong wisdom and might.

21 He changes times and seasons;

he removes kings and sets up kings;

he gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to those who have understanding;

22 he reveals deep and hidden things;

he knows what is in the darkness,

and the light dwells with him.

23 To you, O God of my fathers,

I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and might,

and have now made known to me what we asked of you,

for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

God’s name is to be praised forever and ever. He is eternal. God owns wisdom. God owns strength. God is worthy of worship, omniscient, omnipotent.

God is the author of time, of history. It is truly His story. He changes seasons. He can turn a season of grief, of mourning, of terror, into a season of joy and dancing. God is sovereign over empires, over nations, over politicians and kings. He is absolutely sovereign over history. He removes from power whoever he will, and he puts into power whoever he will.

God owns all wisdom, and he gives it to whom he will. The wise are wise because it is given to them by God. Those who have understanding have it because knowledge is a gift from God. God is the source of all true wisdom and knowledge (not the dark powers sought out by magicians, enchanters and sorcerers).

God is the revealer of deep and hidden things. No secret is hid from his sight, and he can reveal it to whomever he wills. Who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? (1Cor.2:11). God knows what we dream in the dark. God is ‘the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jas.1:17). ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1Jn.1:5). Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (Jn.8:12).

Second Person Worship

Notice, verses 20-22 are about God, in the third person; God is referred to as ‘he’. Daniel is declaring God’s greatness, he is talking about God to others. Many of our worship songs are in the third person, declaring God’s greatness and worth to each other. That is an appropriate form of worship, and Daniel uses it here.

But notice, in verse 23, Daniel switches from the third to the second person, from talking about God to talking to God. He addresses God directly in worship. This too is an appropriate form of worship.

Daniel 2:23 To you, O God of my fathers,

I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and might,

and have now made known to me what we asked of you,

for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Daniel and his friends know the character of God and worship him for his eternity, his omniscience, his omnipotence, his sovereignty, his grace and mercy. But they have also experienced first hand a specific answer to their specific request, and so they address him personally.

Have you experienced God personally? Have you prayed to him, and has he answered your prayer? Our God is a personal God, he answers personally. We can experience him, experience intimacy with him, speak to him and know that he hears, that he cares, that he knows you fully and answers you personally. The Lord is near to all who call on him. (Ps.34:18; 145:18).

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 10, 2021 Posted by | Daniel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 2:1-16 The Wisdom of God and the Foolishness of Man

05/30_Daniel 02:1-16 The Wisdom of God and the Foolishness of Man; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210530_dan02_1-16.mp3

Daniel chapter 1 tells the story of God’s grace even in the midst of trauma, oppression, exile. Daniel and his friends were ripped from their homes, taken hundreds of miles away to a pagan city, a city opposed to God, but we learn that God was still in control; that it was God who gave the king of Judah and the treasures of his own temple into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. We learn that in the face of pressures to conform, to assimilate, God gave Daniel and his friends grace and mercy, favor and compassion in the sight of Ashpenaz, chief of the eunuchs. And God gave these four youths learning and skill in all literature and wisdom. They resolved not to allow their hearts to become ensnared by the pleasures of Babylon, and their God-given wisdom proved ten times better than all their teachers.

Dream Interpretation and Dream Manuals

Chapter 2 moves the story forward with a demonstration of God’s wisdom in action, when the gifts of Daniel and his friends are put to the test in contrast to the wisdom of Babylon.

Daniel 2:1 In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. 2 Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. 3 And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.”

Dreams were considered significant, meaningful, communication from the gods. Not to be able to interpret a dream was considered a worse omen than even a dream which predicted unfavorable events.

We have discovered ancient dream manuals; the extensive Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, (668-627 BC) was discovered in Mosul, or Nineveh, the ancient capital of Assyria. This library contains over 1,000 Babylonian divination texts, including the 11 tablets of the Iskar Zaqiqu, a manual on interpreting dreams. These manuals catalog various dream symbolism and potential outcomes based on the records of the experiences of others with similar dreams in similar circumstances. The library pre-dates Daniel by 50 -100 years, and is representative of what would have been available to the various groups of Babylonian dream interpreters. This would have been part of the training of Daniel and his friends in the language and literature of the Chaldeans.

Aramaic

Daniel 2:4 Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic…

This is a language cue. The text from this point to the end of chapter 7 was written in Aramaic, the common language of the world in that day. Up to this point Daniel wrote in Hebrew, and chapters 8 to the end are again in Hebrew, the language of the people of God. Chapters 1 and 8-12 address the concerns of Israel more specifically, while chapters 2-7 have a more universal scope.

The Confidence of the Chaldeans

Daniel 2:4 Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.”

The magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, the Chaldeans are confident in their ability to interpret dreams. They had studied the dream manuals and case histories of dreams, they were experts in the art of dream interpretation. They could look up any dream scenario and give an interpretation.

Daniel is so relevant to today. A simple internet search to find information on these ancient dream interpretation manuals, and the majority of things that come up are modern day versions. You can enroll in a course to teach you how to unlock your dreams, an online dictionary with ‘over thousands of skillfully interpreted dream symbols for people who want to access the deeper parts of their minds’, a dream interpretation manual ‘written by a scientist who has decades of experience and great expertise in dream interpretation.’ And of course, there are principles of Christian dream interpretation, a biblical dream dictionary, and prophetic training to unlock your dreams. We are still captivated today, even Christians, by the hope of accessing hidden wisdom.

The King’s Demand for Proof

The Chaldeans address the king with the appropriate formalities and respect, and ask to be given the contents of the dream so they can offer an interpretation. They are confident there is no dream they cannot interpret. But king Nebuchadnezzar throws them a curve ball.

Daniel 2:5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. 6 But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.”

King Nebuchadnezzar is asking for more than the interpretation of his dream. He demands that they give him both the dream and the interpretation. The consequences for failure are severe, the rewards are great, and the demand is resolute. Make known to me the dream and its interpretation.

Skeptical Demand for Evidence

There must be some misunderstanding. That’s not how this works. You tell us the dream and we tell you the interpretation.

Daniel 2:7 They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show its interpretation.” 8 The king answered and said, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm— 9 if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.”

Here we learn that Nebuchadnezzar is a skeptic. He wants proof. This is the second year of Nebuchadnezzar, probably not counting the year of his accession to the throne after the death of his father in 605 BC. These would have been the counselors to his father, likely older than him, and for whatever reason, he was suspicious of them, of their loyalties, of their abilities. He is going to test them. If they really are magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, in touch with the gods, then they ought to be able to tell him his dream. If they can accurately describe to him what he alone knows, then he can have confidence that their interpretation of the dream would also have a supernatural source.

Nebuchadnezzar is the opposite of the evil king Ahab of Israel, who preferred 400 prophets who told him pleasant lies over one prophet of YHWH who told him the hard truth; ‘I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil’ (2Chr.18:7). Nebuchadnezzar cared about truth.

The Admission of Incompetence

Listen to how the Chaldeans respond to this skeptic’s demand for proof.

Daniel 2:10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 11 The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.”

They admit their own incompetence. They can’t bluff their way out of this one. In the face of this demand for evidence, they are empty handed. They resort to say that the thing is too hard, it is humanly impossible. They even appeal to his pride – no great and powerful king has asked such a thing. You need to fall in line with all the other great and powerful kings and not ask such things. You ask too much of us; only the gods could grant your request, and we don’t have access to them. All the magicians, the sorcerers, the enchanters; the wise men of Babylon admit their lack of the required wisdom.

The wisdom of Babylon is ultimately bankrupt. Sorcery is bankrupt. Magic is bankrupt. Divination is bankrupt. Astrology is bankrupt. Over and over again we are shown the bankruptcy of this world’s wisdom, and yet we still run to it time and again as if we don’t know the one who is sovereign over all.

The Very Furious King

Daniel 2:12 Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. 13 So the decree went out, and the wise men were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them.

The king was furious with his deceiving wise men. But he was not just furious. He was very furious. He was not just very furious, he was angry and very furious. He had proved them all frauds. They failed to give evidence of ultimate supernatural access. He may have been thinking back on all the times they offered interpretations and counsel to his father Nabopolassar, and how they tried to explain their way out of circumstances not going exactly according to their predictions. He may have based his own decisions on their so-called wisdom in the past, and he was angry at being conned. He had entrusted them with the education of the best and brightest of his conquered peoples, and they had wasted three years worth of his lavish resources. “You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change…there is but one sentence for you… You shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be made a dunghill.”

These were the experts, the Chaldean teachers. If the teachers are corrupt, their students likewise would be corrupted. All the wise men of Babylon, teacher and student alike, were to be destroyed.

God’s Favor and Daniel’s Wisdom

Daniel 2:14 Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. 15 He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. 16 And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.

Daniel showed great wisdom to his executioner. In chapter 1 we were told that ‘God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs’ (1:9). Here it is not stated, but something happened behind the scenes to give Daniel favor and compassion now in the sight of Arioch the king’s captain. Arioch didn’t owe Daniel an explanation. He didn’t have to make the matter known to Daniel. In fact, he had every reason not to waste his time answering questions of the trainees. He had been given a huge task, and the king was in no mood to put up with delays in carrying out his orders. In fact this would entail personal risk. If he fails to carry out the king’s edict, he could expect the kind of punishment that he was commanded to carry out on others. Although God is not mentioned, he is evidently at work behind the scenes.

Where the Chaldeans approached the king with confidence in their own ability, Daniel approached the king with confidence in his God. Where the Chaldeans were treated with suspicion, ‘accused of trying to gain time,’ Daniel is treated with respect, granted the time he requests. Where the Chaldeans were helpless in the face of the king’s impossible demand, Daniel knew exactly where real help was to be found.

God Who Dwells With Man

Look back at the confession of the Chaldeans:

Daniel 2:10 …“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand… 11 The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.”

The Babylonian gods may not dwell with flesh, they may be aloof and inaccessible, distant and devising, but the God of Israel is different. He is a God who dwells in the midst of his people (Ex.25:8; 29:45-46); who ‘will walk among you and be your God’ (Lev.26:11-12). The Chaldeans only knew their false gods. They didn’t know the one true God of Israel. Daniel is set to show them what God is really like.

The God of Israel is not only a God who will dwell with flesh, he will dwell in flesh. The divine Word who was with God and who was God, himself became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn.1:1, 14). He is God with us, Immanuel (Mt.1:23; 28:20).

God Who Knows Our Thoughts

The Chaldeans were right. There is not a man on earth who can tell you the secrets of your heart. Paul asks ‘who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? (1Cor.2:11). But in John 4, a man was at a well looking for a drink of water from a Samaritan woman. She went away and told everyone

John 4:29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” …39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” …41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Multiple times in the gospels we read:

Matthew 9:4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? (cf. Mt.12:25; Lk. 6:8; 9:47; 11:17)

Not even Satan knows our thoughts. No doubt, he has learned to guess well, but Jesus knows the thoughts of our hearts. And Jesus said:

John 13:19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

Jesus controls the future. He can tell what will happen before it happens so we know that he is the I AM, the one who writes history. The Old Testament test for genuineness of a prophet was 100% accuracy (Deut.18:22).

Christ In You

The God of Israel is a God who dwells with his people. Daniel and his friends had the Spirit of God with them to help them. But Jesus promises something even better for us. Jesus promised that the Spirit who dwells with you will be in you (Jn.14:17). Jesus said I and the Father, ‘we will come to him and make our home with him.’ (Jn.14:23). Jesus said ‘I am with you always’ (Mt.28:20). The riches of the glory of God’s mystery is ‘Christ in you’ (Col.1:27).

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 5, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:2; Characteristics of Authentic Ministry

07/29_2 Corinthians 4:2; Characteristics of Authentic Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180729_2cor4_2.mp3

The Roots of Authentic Ministry

Therefore, on account of this; because we have this kind of ministry, a new covenant ministry, Holy Spirit ministry, ministry driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit, ministry that gives life, ministry that brings righteousness, ministry that creates lasting transformation, ministry that removes the veils that obstruct the glory of God; because we have this kind of ministry, we do not faint, fail, lose heart, get discouraged, give up.

We do not lose heart because we have this ministry by God’s mercy. Not because we deserve it, not because of our performance, not because of our strategies or techniques, not because of our skill or expertise, or our tenacity, not because of our methods or our success rate. We have been entrusted with this transformational ministry by God’s mercy.

Last time we defined mercy as divine pity or compassion resulting in action to help one who is powerless to remedy his own situation. It is God’s rescue in response to our need. Each part of this definition is important; it is rooted in God’s emotional response to our need – he feels pity or compassion. This emotion of pity results in action to rescue – God does something to help. And it is God’s action toward those helpless to do anything – we are powerless to do ministry apart from him.

We do not give up even in the face of discouraging circumstances and failure because of God’s mercy. God’ feels divine compassion toward us. He feels compassion or pity because we are really and truly helpless, powerless to effect any change in anyone on our own. And his divine pity moves him to action; to show up with supernatural power to do what is beyond our reach.

We have experienced God’s mercy in salvation. We must also experience God’s mercy in ministry; in our service to others. Just as we are helpless to save ourselves from our sins, so we are helpless in ourselves to truly serve others. We must depend completely on the mercy of God to empower our service, our ministry to others. It is only in this way we can love and serve others and persevere in ministry.

Authentic Christian Ministry; What it is Not

In verse 2, Paul lays out what authentic Christian ministry looks like. He begins by renouncing the things Christian ministry must avoid, and then he gives us what authentic ministry consists of. Paul is defending the integrity of his apostolic ministry, but remember, we are all called to ministry, to love and serve others.

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, …

Paul renounces the hidden shameful things. This word ‘renounce’ is a strong word, meaning to disown. This is the only place it occurs in the entire New Testament. He utterly rejects secret or hidden methods in ministry; he divorces himself from tactics that are shameful or would bring disgrace.

What kinds of things come to mind? Scandal, immorality, pornography, greed and financial corruption, manipulation, abuse of authority all come to mind. Anything that would bring shame on the name of Christ. Anything secretive, hidden, underhanded. What does Paul specifically have in mind when he says ‘we have renounced the hidden things of shame?’

Not Crafty or Cunning

He lists two things. First, not walking in craftiness or cunning. This word literally means the ability to do anything and everything, and it is always used in a negative sense. This is the willingness to do anything necessary to accomplish the desired ends. The scribes and chief priests sent out spies to catch Jesus in his words in Luke 20. They used flattery and asked him if it is lawful to pay the tribute tax to Caesar. We are told that Jesus ‘perceived their craftiness’. They were willing to use any means possible to bring an accusation against Jesus to get rid of him.

This word shows up later in 2 Corinthians 11

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

There it speaks of the temptation of Eve to disobey and rebel against God in the garden. Satan employed every means possible; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life to deceive and lead her astray. He worked all the angles. He came at her from every side.

We’ve had our share of door to door sales people come to sell us stuff we didn’t need. They are masters at working all the angles. We were newly married and had a vacuum salesman show up at our door. He demonstrated how amazing his vacuum was, and we were impressed, but when he told us the price tag we both laughed. That’s more than I paid for my car! Can I drive it to work? But he worked all the angles. He had won a new vacuum that he didn’t need and he was willing to give it to us for a fraction of the sticker price. I’m a sucker for a deal, so he had us. Another time, we were listening to a sales pitch for a time share resort we couldn’t afford. The salesman made the mistake of looking at my wife and asking me ‘but isn’t she worth it to you?’ That was low and dirty. Yes, she is worth it. She is worth protecting from financial ruin by not spending more than we can afford for something we don’t really need. We walked. Sales people learn how to work all the angles, manipulate emotions and personalities and they will do anything to close the deal.

Ephesians 4:14 is another place this word shows up. We are to equip the saints toward unity and maturity and Christ-likeness,

Ephesians 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

There are a lot of winds of teaching blowing around. There is a lot of human cunning and deceitful schemes sold to Christians today. We all need to be plugged in to a solid Christian church, and be rooted in the truth of God’s word so that we aren’t tossed around and blown away by the latest thing that seems impressive.

I once attended some training on evangelism that sounded too much like door to door training for some multi-level marketing scam. Try to get a feel for where the person you are talking to is at, what they are struggling with, and adapt your presentation to target those felt needs, work to move the conversation toward a decision point, and don’t forget to close the deal. Now there is wisdom in listening well to where a person is at and skillfully applying the gospel personally to that individual, but we must be very careful not to be so eager to see a profession of faith in Jesus that we compromise the message, withhold vital information, or deceive in any way. We have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning.

Not Adulterating God’s Word

Or tamper with God’s word. The word ‘tamper’ is a word that means to adulterate, falsify, to make false through deception or distortion. Peter, in 1 Peter is talking about our new birth brought about by the word of God

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

…25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

And then he says:

1 Peter 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

He uses the root of this word twice in these verses. ‘Deceit’ is the noun form, and ‘pure’ is also the noun form with a negative prefix. We are to desire unadulterated milk, untampered with milk. We are to put away tampering or adulterating. Who would think of messing with a baby’s bottle? ‘It’s mostly milk; I’ve only added the tiniest amount of poison. I’m sure it’s not enough to do any harm.’ We have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to tamper with God’s word.

Turn over to 1 Thessalonians 2. Verse 3 contains this word; there it is translated ‘attempt to deceive.’ It is worth reading that passage because in it Paul is also defending the integrity of his ministry.

1 Thessalonians 2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Paul spoke of his boldness or openness of speaking in 2 Corinthians 3:12. He goes on to refute false motives:

1 Thessalonians 2:3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.

It was not out of error or impurity or deceit; there was no flattery, no greed, no glory seeking. He was entrusted with the gospel, and his only aim was to please God. In 2 Corinthians 2:17 he said:

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

He goes on in 1 Thessalonians to lay out his heart and motives:

1 Thessalonians 2:7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really [truly] is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Here he equates the gospel he preached, the gospel of God with the word of God. In 2 Corinthians 4 he refuses to deceive or tamper with or adulterate God’s word. That is the negative.

The Open Statement of the Truth

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Now he gives the positive, what authentic ministry consists of – the open statement of the truth. He puts the truth out on open display. Nothing hidden, nothing secret, no sales pitch, nothing tampered with. Plain, up front, transparent, honest integrity.

What is the truth of God’s word? We saw in 1 Thessalonians that he equates the word of God with the gospel of God, the gospel he preached (2:4, 8-9, 13). In 1 Corinthians he equates the gospel with the word of the cross (1:17-18); he preached Christ crucified (1:23); he decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (2:2). Here in 2 Corinthians he says that God is through us spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere, an aroma that brings death or brings life, to those perishing or to those being saved (2:14-16). In 1 Corinthians 15 he summarized the gospel he preached by which you are being saved this way: ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…’ He points to Christ, the long awaited promised King. But he gets right to the point; he died. He doesn’t waste any time with ‘Jesus was a great prophet, a great moral teacher.’ He came to die. And what is really offensive is why. He died for our sins. He doesn’t leave out the fact that I am a sinner. That I have a need. That I deserve death. ‘Don’t you think if you left out all that morbid death stuff and telling people they are sinners that less people would be offended and more people would want to listen?’ Maybe, but that wouldn’t be the gospel, and that wouldn’t save anyone. The gospel is Jesus Christ crucified in my place, now having conquered my guilt he rose victorious and he is alive. Today we can know him, have a relationship with him.

Ministry in the Presence of God

Paul commends himself to everyone’s conscience; even those who are perishing must admit he tells it like it is, he is up front, he shoots straight, he holds nothing back.

But the ultimate judge of his ministry is no man. As he said in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

In 2 Corinthians 1:12 he said:

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

He speaks and lives in the presence of God. As he said in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 ‘so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.’ He plays to an audience of one. He aims to please only one. He lives and ministers, he serves not to win the approval or the applause of those he serves, but in everything only to please the Lord God.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

August 4, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:1; How to Persevere in Ministry

07/22_2 Corinthians 4:1; How To Persevere In Ministry; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180722_2cor4_1.mp3

Do Not Lose Heart

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

We do not lose heart. He echoes this again down in verse 16

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. …

Paul had every reason to lose heart. He goes on to say ‘though our outer self is wasting away…’ In verses 8-11 he says ‘we are afflicted in every way… perplexed… persecuted… struck down… always carrying in the body the death of Jesus… we… are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake…’ Back in chapter 1:5-6 he said that ‘we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings… we are afflicted… we suffer…’

In 1:8-10 he informed of ‘the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.’ He describes it as ‘a deadly peril.’ Paul had multiplied reasons to lose heart.

This word ‘lose heart’ means literally ‘to be weak or to fail’ in the discharge of a duty. It shows up in Luke 18, where Jesus:

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Jesus is teaching persistence or perseverance in prayer. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t wear out. Don’t be discouraged when you don’t get an answer right away. Don’t fail to persevere in prayer.

It shows up in Galatians 6:9

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. …9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

There it is parallel to another word meaning to faint or relax; to give up. Don’t grow weary; don’t quit, don’t lose heart; what you sow by persevering in doing good, you will reap in due time. He says something very similar in 2 Thessalonians 3:13

2 Thessalonians 3:13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.

Don’t quit, don’t become discouraged in serving others in need; persevere in doing good.

Paul, writes Ephesians 3:13 from prison and says:

Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

There it points more to the subjective emotional discouragement which comes from hearing bad news of a suffering friend. Don’t lose heart, don’t become discouraged, don’t lose hope. Don’t lose your grip on the bold confidence you have in Jesus. Even here in Ephesians it may contain the idea of ‘don’t fail to persevere in doing good, even if your persistence means increased suffering for the apostle.’

How To Persevere in Ministry

Here in 2 Corinthians Paul is talking about persevering in ministry. How do we not grow weary, wear out, faint, fail, lose heart? How do we persistently persevere in ministry? How do you stick with it, even in the face of suffering, affliction, failure? How do you battle discouragement and even depression? How do you not give up? How do you not quit?

You might be saying ‘this sounds like a great message for a pastor’s conference, or for ministry leaders, but how does it apply to me? I’m not in ministry. Although none of you are apostles, you all are ministers. Apostles were the prototype for ministry. Paul says ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1Cor.11:1). One author says that the life of an apostle not essentially different from that of other Christians; in them Christian existence is written large (Seifrid, p.189).

Ministry means service. We all are called to minister, to serve others with the gifts God has given us. And we all need encouragement to not lose heart.

Perseverance and the Nature of Gospel Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

Paul begins his instruction on how to persevere in ministry with the word ‘therefore, on account of this or because of this.’ Because of what? In chapter 3 Paul has laid out what authentic gospel ministry consists of. I believe one major reason why many lose heart, burn out, or grow weary in ministry is that they misunderstand what ministry is.

Authentic gospel ministry, according to 2 Corinthians 3 is New Covenant ministry; ministry that depends entirely on the work of the Holy Spirit. All sufficiency for authentic ministry comes from God; we are not sufficient to claim anything – anything as coming from ourselves. God by the Spirit is writing Christ on the tablets of hearts of flesh. The Spirit is the one who makes alive. The ministry of the Spirit is a permanent, lasting ministry; not one that fades away. It is a ministry that escapes condemnation and brings about righteousness; the righteousness of Christ credited to the believer. It is a ministry of hope. It is ministry a that removes veils, a ministry of freedom, ministry that brings transformation; it is a surpassingly glorious ministry. God the Holy Spirit brings about life and righteousness and transformation in dead sinners through the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Authentic ministry spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. Authentic ministry brings people into direct contact with the glory of our Lord Jesus. Paul does not lose heart or become discouraged or give up because he has been entrusted with this kind of ministry.

If we understand what New Covenant ministry is; that New Covenant ministry is a sovereign work of the Spirit of the living God in the hearts and lives of people, using us as his instruments, we will not lose heart!

Mercy Defined

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

Authentic Christian ministry is ministry that we have by mercy. Mercy is divine compassion and pity. Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 about a servant who owed his master an insurmountable debt. Since he was unable to pay, the master ordered for him and all that he had to be sold and payment to be made. The servant fell to his knees and begged his master for more time to repay the debt. This servant understood what he deserved.

Matthew 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

The master was moved with compassion. He did not treat the servant as he deserved. Instead he released him and forgave the debt. Later in the story, this action of the master is called mercy

Matthew 18:33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Mercy is release from a debt we owe; it is an emotional response of being moved with compassion or pity toward one who is in trouble and is powerless to escape his desperate situation. Blind men cried out to Jesus for mercy. Those caring for one tormented by demons cried out to Jesus for mercy. The good Samaritan in Luke 10 was moved with compassion and showed mercy to the man who had been robbed and beaten and left half dead. Mercy is action to help springing from pity or compassion toward one who is powerless to remedy his own situation.

We read of God’s mercy in Titus 3

Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Mercy is God’s rescue in response to our need. It is not reward for righteousness; it is the opposite of merit. It is gift. Peter says:

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

God was moved with compassion by our helplessness, and made dead sinners alive.

Ministry By The Mercy of God

Let’s apply this definition of mercy to Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

We have been given this ministry by the mercy of God. God, moved with compassion by our helplessness, acted to rescue us. We are saved by his mercy. We have this ministry by mercy. Ministry is not something we are worthy of. It is not something we deserve to have. Mercy is divine compassion that meets us in our helplessness to rescue us. ‘We are not sufficient’ Paul says ‘to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant’ (3:5-6). We have this ministry by mercy.

Paul was acutely aware that he was called to minister by the mercy of God. In 1 Timothy he says:

1 Timothy 1:12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Paul did nothing to deserve his appointment to ministry. He was ignorant, so he needed mercy. He was an unbeliever, so he needed mercy. He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent opponent, and still he received mercy. He was in a position of helplessness; he didn’t even think he needed to be rescued. He thought he was doing well. But the grace of the Lord Jesus overflowed toward him. God had compassion on him, and he extended mercy to him and saved him and appointed him to his service. Saul who became Paul was the poster child for mercy. God put his mercy on display in Paul, so that no one could ever think he was beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Mercy has everything to do with God and nothing to do with my deserving or my worth.

Paul begins this letter by acknowledging God as the Father of mercies.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

Mercy Powers Perseverance

So how does knowing that we have been entrusted with ministry according to mercy affect our perseverance and keep us from losing heart? How does a recognition that ministry is according to mercy help me not to despair?

I lose heart when I think it is my performance that matters. I am discouraged and begin to lose heart when I feel that I have not done well enough or have not met expectations. I get discouraged when I don’t see the results that I hope for. But ministry is according to mercy. Ministry is not about my performance. Ministry is not about expectations or results. Ministry is according to mercy; divine help in response to my helplessness and need. I am not sufficient to claim anything – anything as coming from me. My sufficiency is from God, who has made me competent. Competent to minister. I am helpless to minister effectively. God who is rich in mercy, from the depth of his compassion, is eager to meet me in my helplessness and accomplish his purposes in and through me. I do not quit, give up, get discouraged, lose heart, because just as my salvation is God’s mercy meeting me in my helplessness, so the ministry he has equipped me for and entrusted me with is all God’s mercy meeting me in my helplessness and supplying my lack.

Most fundamentally Paul, and each of us, is one upon whom God has had pity and come to our rescue. I am a mere recipient of mercy, together with all who belong to God through Christ.

Authentic Christian ministry depends completely on the mercy of God. One who is called to minister must first receive the mercy of God in the gospel, and we must live and minister ever in the mercy of God, as God meets us in our need and supplies our lack.

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

July 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Comfort in Affliction

10/15 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Comfort in Affliction ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171015_2cor1_3-7.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Missing Thanksgiving

This letter even in its greeting is rich and deep with gospel truth. But to one familiar with Paul and his letters, and even with how letters were commonly written in Paul’s day, this letter is startling in what it does not say. The normal letter writing structure is: author, readers, greeting, thanksgiving, prayer, body, closing greetings.

This is one of only two New Testament letters that lack the thanksgiving. In Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, who were abandoning the grace of Christ and turning to another gospel, Paul attacks the problem head on. In Corinth, Paul laments that they are inclined to turn to another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel (11:4).

Compare this even with 1 Corinthians, where he addresses many serious issues in the church. He begins:

1 Corinthians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Instead of a section of thanksgiving for what God is doing in the lives of his readers, he blesses God directly; his thanksgiving is about what God is doing in his own life. This omission of a thanksgiving may have communicated to his readers that all was not well in their relationship.

He offers no thanksgiving; but invites the Corinthians to give thanks for God’s work in their apostle. He also offers no prayer for his readers; but he invites them to pray for their apostle (v.11).

Even in this opening benediction Paul confronts the misunderstanding of the Corinthians; they thought that Paul’s weakness and sufferings were a sign that God was not pleased with him; that he was not a genuine apostle. They were misunderstanding the gospel. Instead he holds up his weakness and sufferings as evidence that he is following in the very footsteps of the real Jesus, who came not as a reigning King, but as a suffering servant.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul made it clear that he preached the cross; he proclaimed Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor.1:18, 23), which seemed foolish to many, but the cross is in fact the power of God for salvation.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

2 Corinthians 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

He begins by drawing their attention not to what God had done in them, but to God himself. In his greeting, he asked that the twin gifts of grace and peace be extended together from the two united givers; God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Here he declares God blessed; blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The titles God, Father, and Lord Jesus Christ are repeated, but in the greeting God is our Father; where in this blessing God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his humanity Jesus prayed to and referred to his Father as his God. This in no way undermines the clear fact that Jesus recognized himself as fully God, equal to his Father, sharing the same divine nature with his Father. Yet as a distinct person from his Father, he was in conversation and relationship with his Father, and he gladly submitted to the authority of his Father as his God.

God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; the eternal Father who sent his one and only eternal Son into the world out of his great love to rescue sinners.

The Father of Mercies

God is the Father of mercies. In Nehemiah the people prayed and confessed their sins, recounting the repetitive mercies of God

Nehemiah 9:17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. …19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. … …27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. …31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Mercy is pity, feeling sorry for one who by their own foolishness and rebellion has got himself into great trouble. Mercy is granting escape from the punishment one rightly deserves. Where grace is enjoying the benefit you did not earn; mercy is avoiding the consequences you did earn.

God is the Father of mercies; he gives birth to mercies. God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is only through Jesus that we can experience mercy. God fathered mercy when he sent his only Son into the world. We escape the punishment we deserve only because Jesus paid in full for my every sin on the cross.

The God of All Comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3 …the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

God is the God of all comfort; God is sovereign over all comfort, he is the source of all comfort.

We tend to have a very Corinthian problem. We might say ‘God is not doing his job of comforting me, because I am not feeling very comfortable.’ We have softened this word; we think of comfort food and a comfy recliner that makes you feel all warm and cuddly.

We need to redefine comfort. Dictionary.com defines

the noun as ‘a state of ease and satisfaction of bodily wants, with freedom from pain and anxiety. Something that promotes such a state.’ They define the verb comfort as 1. to soothe, console, or reassure; bring cheer to. 2. to make physically comfortable. And then they list 3. Obsolete. To aid; support or encouragement. This obsolete sense is the sense we are after. The ‘fort‘ in the word comfort comes from the Latin fortis (fortare) – which means ‘strong’. From it we get fortitude; mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. We could translate this ‘encouragement;’ notice the root ‘courage‘ in encouragement?

The word literally means to call near or to call alongside. Jesus promised that he would not leave us alone, but he would send another comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (Jn.14:16-18). There is amazing courage that comes when someone is by your side. One day in grade school a bully that had been harassing me made the grave mistake of following me home. My big brother happened to be outside, and this bully was much less intimidating when his feet were dangling about six inches off the ground as my brother picked him up by his coat and breathed into him some words of life; ‘if you want to live, you’ll leave my brother alone!’ There is strong comfort in knowing someone has your back. God promises ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb.13:5). This is the kind of comfort we are talking about. The comfort that he is with me.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Comfort in All Our Affliction

The God of all comfort comforts us in all our affliction. The word affliction means pressure; a crushing burden; picture a donkey weighed down by a burden so great it can no longer stand. Are you experiencing great pressure? A crushing weight? God comforts us in all our affliction. No affliction is excluded from the comfort of the God of all comfort.

Purpose In Afflictions

And there is great purpose in this. Notice the purpose words ‘so that‘. So often affliction seems random, meaningless, and therefore hopeless.

2 Corinthians 1:3 …the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

So that; there is design in affliction; the afflictions we experience are not meaningless; this alone gives great encouragement to persevere. It is not random chance; it is not that God is angry with me, or I have done something wrong that I am now paying for; that is a non-Christian idea; more along the lines of karma. The Bible says ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.8:1). God is not against us; in Christ he is for us. Even in the midst of affliction we can be gospel confident that God is for us. Every affliction that comes our way is purposeful, designed and crafted by the good hand of a loving Father to be exactly what we need to accomplish in us his perfect purposes.

What happens when you are under pressure? How do you respond when you are facing affliction and opposition? We tend to pull in, to withdraw, to be on the defensive; if the affliction is severe we might curl up in the fetal position. Our focus is all within. In the midst of our pain, we might reach out to others in desperation for help, but we don’t reach out to others to help them. We focus on the pain, the pressure, and we do anything we can to make it stop.

Paul, one who had endured much affliction, teaches us something about suffering. He says it is not all about you. It is not primarily for you. Paul tells us that our affliction, and even God’s comfort in our affliction is not for us. ‘God comforts us not to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.’ His purpose is that our focus would turn outward, that we would reach out to others in all affliction, that we would become a conduit of God’s comforting mercies to others. In our affliction, God intends that our arms stretch outward to others.

Philippians 3:10b

Do any of you have a favorite verse but when you look it up, you don’t like the context? Philippians 3:7-10a has been a passage like that for me. It is an amazing section, but I’d prefer to omit verse 10b.

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

This is great stuff! ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord; …that I may gain Christ and be found in him; …that I may know him.’ I’d prefer that the verse stopped after ‘that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.’ Who likes suffering? Who wants to sign up for sufferings? But if I want to know him, really connect with him and identify with him, to really experience the surpassing worth of ‘knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,’ I must enter in to his sufferings; sufferings on behalf of others. Knowing him corresponds to sharing in his sufferings just like the power of his resurrection corresponds to becoming like him in his death.

You see, it’s only dead people who get resurrected. It’s only suffering people who can be comforted. The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord comes through suffering the loss of all things to gain Christ and be found in him.

Sharing Abundantly in Christ’s Sufferings

This comfort is purposeful, and it is others focused. We are comforted so that we are then able to comfort others with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1:5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

We share in the sufferings of Christ; the sufferings of Christ were not for him. They were not at all about him. They were not his sufferings; they were ours. As our substitute, he took our sufferings. He suffered not for himself, but for us. If we are suffering for our sins, then we deserve it. But if we are suffering on account of Christ, in so far as our suffering is for the benefit of others, we share in the sufferings of Christ.

Understand, our sufferings are not like Christ’s sufferings, in that we can’t pay the price for the sins of anyone. But they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ in that they are for the benefit of others.

Paul says ‘we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings’. There is an overflow, a superabundance of suffering.

Do you want to experience abundant comfort? Embrace suffering. God’s comfort is in direct proportion to the suffering you experience. I am not saying you should seek suffering or pray for suffering. Don’t look for affliction; look to Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus, obey Jesus, and affliction will find you. But don’t hide from it. Don’t run from it. Embrace it. Open yourself to it. Allow Jesus to meet you in it. Savor the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It is only through abundant suffering that we experience abundant comfort.

We and You

Paul has been talking about ‘we’ and ‘us’. A reader might assume that he is included in the ‘we’ until he gets to verse 6, where he says ‘If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.’ Then we find out that the ‘we’ here is Paul and the other apostles, Paul and his co-laborers in contrast to the readers. The Corinthians are not part of the ‘we;’ they are the ‘you’. They had rejected suffering. They did not want to take up their cross and follow Jesus. They looked down on Paul because of how much he seemed to suffer. But Paul is not alone in his affliction. ‘We’ the apostles experience overflowing sufferings; and we experience overflowing comfort.

Paul had already pointed out this contrast between we and you in 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 4:8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

Paul is gently rebuking his readers. He is showing them that they are not part of the ‘we;’ but he is inviting them to become part of the ‘we.’

All for your comfort

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Paul gives a two part sentence here. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. The afflictions of the apostles, the afflictions of Paul and his co-workers were for the comfort and salvation of the Corinthian church. Indeed, they heard the gospel and experienced salvation because Paul did not shy away from suffering. His current persecution is meant to bring them encouragement. They ought to be emboldened by his example to stand up for Christ even if it costs social standing and opposition. Instead, they are embarrassed of Paul and his sufferings.

We would expect the pairing of this sentence to go something like this: If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is because of your affliction. Instead he gives a lopsided picture. Our affliction is to bring you comfort. Our comfort is also to bring you comfort. Both the affliction and the comfort we experience is meant to give you courage.

There is space for the Corinthians to share in the sufferings. Paul understands, they will only experience the comfort when they patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

2 Corinthians 1:7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Our hope for you is confirmed; it is steadfast. Listen to Paul’s confidence! Paul’s confidence rests not on the character of the Corinthians, but on the faithfulness of God. He is certain that as followers of Jesus, they will face affliction. They will share in his sufferings. Not if but when. When you have fellowship in the sufferings, you will also have fellowship in the comfort.

Paul is gently inviting them into the cross shaped life of suffering for others. Not only is it to be expected that an apostle of Christ Jesus should suffer, but it is normal for every follower of Jesus to experience suffering. And it is only in the midst of the pressure and the abundant sufferings that we will experience the abundant comfort from the God of all comfort.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 16, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 24:10-23; Blaspheming The Name

03/19 Leviticus 24:10-23; Blaspheming the Name; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170319_leviticus-24_10-23.mp3

Leviticus 24, like Leviticus 10, reminds us that the five books of Moses are words from God given in a historical context. We think of Leviticus as a book of laws, and it is that, but these are laws given by God to his people in a particular context. God set his people free after 400 years of slavery and oppression in Egypt. He had demonstrated unmistakably his awesome power and unrivaled superiority over the false gods of the Egyptians. He brought his people out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He displayed that he alone is worthy of worship, and he is not to be treated lightly. He brought them out to worship him, to belong to him. He gave them the rules in Leviticus so that his people would understand what it meant to be in relationship with God, how a holy God could live in the middle of a sinful people, how their sins could be dealt with, how this holy God was to be approached.

Leviticus 24 switches from instruction to a narrative. Like Exodus 32, where Moses was on the mountain, receiving God’s words, and in the camp the people grew impatient, made a golden calf to worship, and broke all of God’s commands. Here, God has revealed to Moses that holy time is to be set apart to celebrate him, that light and bread are always abundant in his presence, and in the camp a fight breaks out.

Blasphemy of a Half-Israelite

Leviticus 24:10 Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, 11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. 12 And they put him in custody, till the will of the LORD should be clear to them.

Notice it is not the fact that a fight broke out that is the problem here. Wherever there are people, there will problems. There will be differing opinions, conflicts, tension, strife. In a camp of well over 600,000 men, this was surely not the only fight in Israel. We know there were disputes. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law encouraged him to appoint elders to help arbitrate disputes because people were standing around waiting from morning until evening for Moses to judge between one and another. The fight was not the issue. If the fight were the issue, both parties would have been apprehended. The issue was blasphemy of the Name.

Neither was the question what should be done with a blasphemer. That was laid out in no uncertain terms already. The third command said:

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

and

Exodus 21:17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

If one who cursed father or mother was to be put to death, clearly one who committed the greater crime of cursing the Lord God himself was to be put to death.

Exodus 22:28 “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

The question here in Leviticus 24 is not what should be done with a blasphemer. The question is how this law should be applied to someone who was not a full Israelite. This was an Israelite woman’s son, but his father was an Egyptian.

Parenting and Discipline

Notice, we are not given the name of the blasphemer. We don’t know the name of the father. But we are given the name of the mother, and the genealogy of the mother. We aren’t given any of the dynamics of this family. We don’t know if the Egyptian dad had escaped Egypt with the family and was still involved, or if he was a slave owner who fathered this child and took no responsibility, or if he may have been part of Pharaoh’s army who was drowned in the Red Sea. Whatever the background and family dynamic, the mother carried the responsibility for how she raised her child. And her name and family line has been preserved for us for thousands of years as the mother whose son was a blasphemer.

Let me use this opportunity to share with you a few verses of parenting wisdom from the Proverbs.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 23:13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

Hear me carefully. This is not a license for child abuse. Do not become so angry or frustrated with your child that you are tempted to injure your child. If that is where you feel you are at, you need to get some help and allow others in the church family to come along side you and speak wisdom and hope into your situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for counsel. But do not allow your children to do whatever they want to do. As a parent you have a responsibility to lovingly nurture and train your children. The Proverbs encourage parents to physically discipline their children. Think of it this way. The goal of loving discipline is to use a small amount of pain or discomfort administered carefully to prevent a much greater amount of pain later on. A slap on the hand or the back side stings a bit, but if it is applied consistently to prevent a small child from touching the hot stove, it may spare them from a trip to the emergency room. Loving discipline is hard work, and it is not meant for the convenience of the parent, but for the good of the child.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

In this case, apparently Shelomith failed to discipline her son, and he ultimately suffered the consequences. By his actions he brought shame on his mother, but notice, his mother was not held responsible for his behavior. Even if you had parents who failed to train you, that is not an excuse for your current behavior. You are accountable and will be held responsible for your own sins.

The Native and the Sojourner

The congregation understood the gravity of taking lightly the Name of the LORD. God, our Creator, our Rescuer, our Provider, is not to be dishonored. But what about this half-Israelite? Was he to be held to the same standard that a full Israelite was held to? He was held in custody until the LORD’s will was made known.

Leviticus 24:13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. 17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. 21 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God.” 23 So Moses spoke to the people of Israel, and they brought out of the camp the one who had cursed and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.

God makes it clear that the sojourner was to be held accountable in the same way as a native Israelite. Throughout Leviticus, we have seen provision made for the sojourner, the stranger, the alien. In Exodus 12:38 told that a mixed multitude left Egypt with Israel. God revealed himself to be the only true God. Any Egyptian who decided to leave the false gods of Egypt and align with Israel and her God was welcome. In Exodus 12 the sojourner that desired to celebrate the Passover was invited to be circumcised and keep the Passover. In Exodus 20:10 the sojourner was to benefit from the weekly day of rest. Leviticus 17 and 22 allow the sojourner to bring sacrifices to the tent of the LORD, and he was also held accountable for appropriate handling of blood. Leviticus 18 and 20 hold the sojourner living among Israel to the same standards of morality as the native Israelite. Leviticus 19 and 23 command the Israelites to care for the sojourners by leaving food in the fields for them to glean.

Leviticus 19:33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

The sojourners were invited to enjoy the benefits of the covenant relationship with God. But as such they were also held accountable for appropriate covenant conduct. This passage makes it explicitly clear that the foreigners who partook of the covenant blessings were also held accountable to the covenant.

We see this emphasis in the symmetry of the passage. [outline – G. Wenham]

16 blasphemy; the sojourner as well as the native shall be punished

17 take a man’s life

18 take an animal’s life

19 whatever injury he did must be done to him

20 whatever injury given must be given to him

21a kill and animal

21b kill a man

22 blasphemy; the same rule for the sojourner and the native

Verses 16-19 are mirrored in verses 20-22 Verses 16 and 22 require the same standard for the sojourner as for the native Israelite regarding blasphemy. Verses 17 and 21b deal with murder. Verses 18 and 21a deal with killing someone’s animal. Verses 19 and 20 deal with injuring another person. From the lesser offense to the greatest offense the punishment is to fit the crime, and the punishment is to be the same for the sojourner as for the native. There is to be no favoritism.

We also see in the structure of the passage an increasing degree of seriousness for different crimes. Working out from the center, verses 19 and 20 deal with the least serious, injury to another person. The eye for an eye and tooth for tooth provides a reasonable limit to compensation. This does not mean that if you knock out my tooth, I get to send you to the dentist to get your tooth extracted. What it means is that if you knock out my tooth, I am not allowed to go after you with a club and knock out all your teeth, as in the flesh most of us would be inclined to do. You are to compensate me appropriately for the loss of my tooth.

Moving out from the center, if you take the life of my animal, which would be a significant part of my livelihood, you are to compensate me appropriately. The life of an animal is valuable, but it is not as valuable as human life. If you pay me appropriately, I can buy another ox, or another tractor.

But the life of a person is more valuable than the life of an animal. When we move out to verses 17 and 21b, we see that no compensation can substitute for the life of a person. Humanity was created in the image of God, and in murder the life of the murderer is required in return for the life of the one murdered.

The Seriousness of Blasphemy

As we understand the structure of this passage, we begin to appreciate the extreme gravity of the offense. An even greater offense than murder is blasphemy. It is a great offense to deface the image of God in man, but it is an even greater offense to directly attack the character of God. This word ‘blaspheme’ literally means ‘to puncture, to pierce, to hollow out, to strike through’ The word ‘curse’ literally means ‘to make light of.’ If you remember, back in chapter 10, when God’s fire consumed Aaron’s sons who disobeyed God, he said “

Leviticus 10:3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

This word ‘glorified’ means literally ‘heavy or weighty.’ God is to be taken as weighty, substantial, with gravity. He is not to be taken lightly. We might be tempted to read this passage and think ‘Wow, that seems excessive. Murder, sure, that’s serious, but saying some words against God, what’s the big deal? How is that hurting anyone? And they stoned him to death?’

This is where we need to allow Scripture to correct our thinking. We tend to assume that suffering and death are the worst things that can happen to a person, and that a long life is better than a short one. This passage teaches that to make light of God is so serious a crime it is worthy of death. Why? If we understand that we are created to glorify God, and that true human fulfillment and joy can only be found in his presence, then if we make light of him we deceive others to their eternal harm. If God is our eternal good, and those near to him act as if the things of this life are more substantial, more weighty than God himself, we invite others to disregard God and exchange his glory for created pleasures that will not ultimately satisfy. This is what Romans 1 calls ‘suppressing the truth’ about God, or Romans 3 calls ‘falling short of the glory of God,’ and it is worthy of ‘the wrath of God being revealed from heaven’. We must understand and guard ourselves against blaspheming God, lying about his character, and leading others astray by our attitudes.

The Law and the Gospel

Something very interesting to see as we step back from this passage is that this is one of only two narratives in Leviticus. The first, in Chapter 10, God’s glory is revealed and two priests who disobey are consumed by the flame of God. Here in chapter 24, a half-Israelite makes light of God’s name, and he is stoned to death by the people. In both narratives we see death and judgment in connection with God’s holy law. This is exactly what Romans teaches.

Romans 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Romans 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The law brings wrath. The commandment proves to be death to me. The law stops every mouth and makes every person accountable to God. The law makes no one righteous; rather the law shows us our utter sinfulness, and our desperate need.

And in this need, we find good news!

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Paul reflects in 1 Timothy

1 Timothy 1:13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

We have all sinned and failed to live in a way that displays the weighty awesomeness of God. The wages of our sin is death. But even blasphemers can receive mercy. The grace of our Lord overflows to us. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just and Righteous

02/21 Just and Righteous; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160221_just-righteous.mp3

We have been looking at the character of God, specifically at the goodness of God, his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. We defined mercy as God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace as God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, God’s love, which is his special favor toward his people. Today we will look at God’s justice and righteousness, which is his goodness expressed by rewarding each one according to his work, and treating the righteous and the wicked distinctly (Bavinck, p.206, 215).

In Exodus 33, when Moses asked to see the glory of God, God replies:

Exodus 33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

In the next chapter God proclaims his character.

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

There seems to be dissonance in this verse. We might be inclined to replace the comma with a full stop in the middle of verse 7. We like to hear about a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” But it might make us squirm a bit, and it is clearly contrary to our cultural climate to finish the sentence. We might not be so bold as to take out our black highlighter and strike the words from the page, but our voice might trail off, a bit embarrassed, and mumble the last lines under our breath. But we must finish the sentence! We want to know God, not as we wish for him to be, which would be to form a god after our own image, and worship and serve the created thing rather than the Creator, but we want to know God as he truly is, as he reveals himself to be. And he revealed himself to Moses as a God “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

God is just. God is righteous. God will not let sin go unpunished. God will by no means clear the guilty. We might naturally recoil at this idea, or be embarrassed by it. We might feel a bit like the child of a father who easily loses his temper and flies into a fit of rage. The child is embarrassed by the actions of his father, especially if an outburst happens in front of his friends, but he loves his father and tries to downplay his imperfections, drawing attention rather to his better qualities. But to feel this way is to reveal that we misunderstand God’s justice, God’s righteousness, God’s wrath. To view God this way is to impose the limitations and imperfections we see in sinful creatures on the perfect and sinless Creator. We should not be embarrassed by God’s righteousness, or try to explain away his wrath. Rather we should delight in the justice of God, as an aspect of God’s goodness, because God delights in his own justice.

The Lord Delights in Justice and Righteousness

Listen to how the Bible speaks about God’s justice and righteousness.

Psalm 33:5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 97:2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Isaiah 5:16 But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Hear this: the Lord loves righteousness and justice. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice. The Lord delights in practicing justice and righteousness. God’s justice is a grounds for our boasting. God delights to reward each one according to his work. God is exalted in his treating of the righteous and wicked differently, as they each deserve.

Notice also, how justice and righteousness are coupled with his steadfast love. God’s justice and righteousness are not the opposite of his grace, mercy and steadfast love, they are not contrary to or in tension with his other attributes. Rather, God’s justice and wrath, and his love, mercy, and grace, rightly understood, are in perfect harmony.

Justice and righteousness are a positive expression of God’s goodness. To clarify this, it may be helpful to imagine a god who had no concern for justice, who was soft on sin and tolerated evil, who allowed the wicked to prosper and the upright to be persecuted. When we see images of persecution and slavery, of racial inequality and child prostitution, drug lords and terrorists, when we see wicked men prey on the innocent and helpless without consequence, our hearts cry out with the Psalmist “how long O Lord?”

Psalm 94:1 O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 ​Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! 3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? 4 They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. 5 They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. 6 They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; 7 ​and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

The Psalmist sees injustice and cries out for the Judge of the earth to repay to the arrogant proud wicked evildoers what they deserve; he cries out for the God of vengeance to shine forth.

Many times in Scripture, we see God pouring out on his enemies what they deserve as a ground for worship

Revelation 19:1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:39-43; Revelation 11:15-18; 16:4-7; Psalm 96, Psalm 98, etc.)

That God is just, that he punishes evil is grounds for worship. That God does what is right, that he rewards the righteous and punishes evildoers is something to rejoice in.

The Judge of All The Earth

In Genesis 18, God came down to give promises to Abraham and to punish Sodom and Gomorrah.

Genesis 18:17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

The Lord is revealing his own just and right dealings with these wicked cities as an example for Abraham to learn justice and righteousness. He is teaching him to keep the way of the Lord by modeling his own righteousness and justice.

Genesis 18:20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

The Lord does not fly off into a fit of uncontrolled rage. The outcry was great and their sin was grave, so he investigates. He goes down to see.

Genesis 18:22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Abraham understood that the Lord is the Judge of all the earth. And as judge, he must do what is just. Abraham understood that it is unjust to sweep away the righteous with the wicked, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, to treat the righteous and wicked in the same way. For the sake of 10 righteous people God would spare the entire city. In the next chapter, we see the angels seizing Lot and his wife and his two daughters by the hand and bringing him out and setting him outside the city. The angel said “escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.”

Peter holds this episode up alongside Noah and the destruction of the ungodly world with a flood to demonstrate that

2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

The Judge of all the earth will do right. He differentiates between the righteous and the wicked, giving to each what he deserves.

God Repays Each According to his Deeds

Jeremiah 17:10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The Lord does not judge based on appearances. He searches the heart and tests the mind, he judges every man justly. Jesus says

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.

Peter says to the church,

1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed … 19 …with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Our Father judges impartially according to each one’s deeds. Paul spells this out in Romans. In chapter 1, he says that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In chapter 2 he says:

Romans 2:2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

God shows no partiality. God is a righteous judge, and his righteous judgments will be revealed on the day of wrath, when he renders to each one according to his works.

The Soul Who Sins Shall Die

In Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31, God clarifies a misunderstanding of his people when he said that he will visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deut.5:9). There came to be a proverb ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Jer.31:29; Ezekiel 18:2), implying that God punishes innocent children for the sins of their fathers. This, indeed would not be just. But fathers need to realize that they set patterns for generations to come. There is a tendency for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, and the children will not be able to excuse their sins because of the bad example of their parents. God says:

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Ezekiel 18:29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. As we have seen, God is good, he is inclined to extend undeserved mercy and overwhelming grace. He is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands [of generations].’ He prefers to forgive iniquity and transgression and sin. He invites us to turn and live!

The Good News of God’s Righteousness

But if God is just and righteous and will by no means clear the guilty, if he must treat us as our works deserve, if he must punish sin, then that leaves us all in a whole heap of trouble, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s the point of Romans 1 and 2, that ‘every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God.’

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

We return to the tension we felt in the beginning. How can God be merciful and gracious, abundant in steadfast love, inclined to forgive iniquity, transgression and sin, yet he is just and will by no means clear the guilty? How can God forgive, and yet repay each person according to what he has done? This is the power of God and the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel that addresses the problem for us of the wrath of God.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

God’s righteousness. Righteousness given to believing sinners by grace as a gift. We are all guilty. To get what we deserve is to experience hell. But if we will cry out to God for mercy, if we depend on the work of another, we can be given a gift we do not deserve. We can be declared righteous as a gift through the redemption and propitiation of Jesus. Jesus became our substitute. He took my place, and I take his place. All my sin was laid on him, he became sin for me, and God’s righteous wrath was propitiated, satisfied, in him. My sin got what it deserved; death. I now get what Jesus’ perfect obedience earned; the declaration of righteousness, and the reward; eternal life. Notice the concern to demonstrate God’s justice and righteousness.

Romans 3:25 …This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded…

God’s own justice does not allow him to merely pass over sins. God’s righteousness is upheld both in punishing the evildoer in the person of the Lamb of God who became sin for us, and in rewarding the righteous, as I now come to be in Jesus through faith and enjoy his inheritance.

We see this same emphasis on God’s justice in 1 John 1:9.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we turn and agree with God about our sin, his justice is satisfied, because we see sin as it really is, as an offense that must be punished, and he is just to forgive and cleanse us, because the punishment has been poured out on Jesus. This is no mere outward declaration. It changes us. If we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, then we are righteous. We are born anew, given a new heart, given the Holy Spirit, and we begin to hate what God hates and to love him above all else. The Spirit begins to bear fruit in us, and God, who searches the heart will give to us according to the fruit of our deeds.

May we praise God for his justice! We don’t want a God who doesn’t take sin seriously. A God who is soft, compromising, inconsistent is not worthy of our worship. The cross of our Lord Christ is a public demonstration of both the justice and mercy of our overwhelmingly loving God.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 23, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steadfast Love

Steadfast Love ~ 20160214 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

02/14 Steadfast Love; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160214_steadfast_love.mp3

We are looking at the character and nature of God in order to know him, to know him as he is, to increase our affection for God, to love him as we ought, to enjoy his greatness and worth, to admire him, to worship him, to stand in awe of his greatness and majesty.

We have been looking at the goodness of God, his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. We defined mercy as God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace as God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, and today we will look at God’s love, which is his special favor toward his people (Bavinck, p.206).

Abundant Love

Paul prays for the Ephesian church:

Ephesians 3:16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul prays for the saints to be rooted and grounded in love, to be anchored, to stand fast in God’s love. He prays for the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them to be able to comprehend the love of God. Today we will endeavor to look at God’s love for his people. God’s love for us is so big, so abundant, so beyond what we can humanly grasp that we are utterly incapable of comprehending it. This is a supernatural task and we need supernatural help. May this be our prayer today, that we would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

One reason we need outside help to understand God’s love is that the concept of love carries so much preconceived baggage that we assume we know what it means, and we try to impose our understanding and experiences and expectations on to the concept of God’s love. As has been true with our whole study of the nature of God, we need to dump our preconceived notions and allow God to define for us what he is like through his word. It may feel like we are giving up ground and letting go of something we treasure, but we will find, if we are willing, that the truth of God’s love for us is so much richer and deeper and stronger and greater than what we could possibly have imagined.

Romans 5:5 tells us

Romans 5:5 … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

God’s love has been poured out, spilled, dumped over, gushed, into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We experience the overwhelming overflowing love of God through the work of the Spirit of God in us.

How We Know What Love Is

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

By this we know love. We are only able to know what love is because God has shown love to us. We know what love is because of the love God has extended to us.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Love is from God. Real love is evidence that we know God, that we have been born of God, that we belong to him. Although we see traces of love reflected in the world, even sacrificial love, the love of a mother for her child, the highest love is a result of being born of God, a result of God’s love in the gospel taking root and bearing fruit in our lives. 1 John 4 tells us that unbelievers cannot love in the same way that those who have been transformed by the gospel are equipped to love. God is love, and this kind of love comes from God. Love is produced in us as an overflow of experiencing God’s love for us in the gospel.

1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

We must come to know the love God has for us. We must believe the unbelievable love God has for us.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

We can only love because we have been loved.

Distinguishing Love

As Moses rehearses the ten commandments to the generation about to enter the land, he gives the reason for loving God above all else, having no other gods or no images:

Deuteronomy 5:9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God’s love is steadfast love, and he shows it to thousands. Back in Exodus 34, the passage we have looked at for the past few weeks where God displays his goodness, God says he is ‘abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.’ God’s love is abundant. He abounds, he overflows with steadfast love. But God’s love is not for everyone. Notice, this love is extended to ‘those who love me and keep my commandments’. God’s love is a discriminating love. In fact, this verse states that God is jealous and will punish those who hate him. God’s love is not indiscriminate. He chooses to love. He is free to love whom he will. God insists on establishing his own freedom to love. His love does not come from duty or obligation. He does not love because he ought to love, but because he wants to love, he freely chooses to love. He says in Exodus 33:19 “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”

We established last time, when we looked at God’s mercy and grace, that God is inclined to show mercy and grace to all his creatures, but God is in no way obligated to show mercy or grace to any of his creatures. He would be just and right and good to punish all evil and give to every person exactly what they deserve. But instead he gives to everyone better than they deserve.

God’s love is not an impersonal force like electricity, when the breaker is on, the juice is flowing to whatever is out there, whether it be a light bulb or a computer downloading porn, a hair dryer or a child’s finger in the light socket. God’s love is a distinguishing love, treating different individuals differently.

The Reason For Love

What we want to know is how does God distinguish? How does he choose? On what basis does God choose to set his love on someone?

In Deuteronomy 7, Moses warns the people when God brings them in to the promised land, not to make a covenant with the people of the land, not to show mercy to them, not to intermarry with them, because they will turn your hearts away from the Lord to serve other gods. He gives the reason:

Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. …

Out of all the peoples on the earth, God chose you to be his treasured possession. Why? Why did God choose to set his love on this people? Not because of anything in them. It is simply because the Lord your God loves you. God chose to set his love on you because he loves you.

Of course, this is the nation of Israel, chosen to be God’s people, to be the ones through whom the Messiah would come, and ultimately to be a blessing to all peoples. But what about us?

Paul speaks to individual believers in the church in 1 Corinthians 1.

1 Corinthians 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

God’s calling, God’s choosing is designed to eliminate boasting. God chose to set his love on unlikely candidates so that no one could ever take credit for something within them that was the reason God chose them. Whatever the reason for God setting his love on a person, it has nothing to do with some foreseen good in that person. In fact, Ephesians 2 describes us as dead, walking in sins, following Satan, doing what pleases us with total disregard to what pleases God.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Again, the goal is to eliminate boasting. God saved us because of the great love with which he loved us. And this was not because of something he saw in us; all that was in us was distasteful, displeasing, detestable to him. It was to display the immeasurable riches of his grace – being good to those who deserve only punishment.

Initiating Love

In Ephesians 1, we are told that

Ephesians 1:4 …In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

He adopted us because he loved us. Why? It was according to the purpose of his will. And it served to bring praise to his glorious grace – highlighting his goodness to those who did nothing to deserve it. We struggle to understand this because our love tends to be called out by something we see in the one we love. Something catches our eye. We are attracted in some way. There is something that stirs up our affections. A character trait, a quality, unrealized potential. Our love is a reaction, a response awakened by something in the one we are attracted to. God’s love is not like that. God’s love is free. God initiates. There is nothing we could do to attract his love, and we have already done everything we could do to repel him and make ourselves unlovable. Romans 5 says:

Romans 5:5 … God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God poured out his love on us while we were weak, ungodly, sinners, his enemies. His love is not dependent on something in us.

Costly Love

It could go without saying, but we must say it, that God’s love is a costly love. For God to give us exactly what we deserve would cost him nothing. But to choose to set his love on his enemies, that is an infinitely expensive venture for a righteous God. For God to show his love to sinners meant the death of his only Son.

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, …

The wages of our sin is death, and by choosing to love us, he chose to pay the price himself.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God is love. God’s love was shown to us by his sending his only Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins. Jesus came to lay down his life for his wayward sheep. He came to drink the cup of the wrath of almighty God against rebels who abused his good gifts and spat in his face. He came to die so that we might live. Colossians (2:14) tells us that the record of debt that stood against us was nailed to his cross. God liberally, generously, freely pours out his love on us, but it was deeply costly to him.

Covenant Love

The word [חֵסֵד] checed (kheh’-sed) which appears well over 200 times in the Hebrew Bible is most often translated ‘steadfast love’. This term appears frequently in the context of a covenant relationship. God of his own free will entered into a binding relationship with his people. This is also closely tied to the concept of faithfulness. God commits himself to a relationship, and he will not go back on his word. God’s steadfast love is a ground for many prayers.

Psalm 25:6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! …11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.

Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 ​Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Psalm 86:5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

The Psalmist calls on God to forgive because of his steadfast love. God’s covenant keeping love is also the basis for much praise.

Psalm 36:5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 6 ​Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. 7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

Psalm 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

God’s steadfast covenant keeping faithful love is a frequent ground for worship in the Psalms. “For his steadfast love endures forever” is the refrain repeated 26 times in Psalm 136 alone.

Individual Love

Listen to Galatians 2:20.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Can you say this? The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me? This is individual, this is personal. It is one thing to say ‘God so loved the world‘ or even to talk about ‘the great love with which he loved us‘. But it is another thing altogether to say that ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me‘. This brings the love of God home. Can you say that when Christ hung on that cross, that he had me specifically, personally in mind? Did you know that he knows you by name? This, I believe, is what it means to ‘know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.’ He took my place. His death was an expression of the love of God for me.

Transforming Love

This love of God, this costly, self-sacrificial, freely given covenant keeping love, this intimately personal love expressed by Christ to us, when we get it, when we are given capacity by the Spirit to see it, when we begin to grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, it changes us. When the good news of God’s love penetrates down into the hardened soil of our hearts, it will germinate and grow and begin to break up the rocky ground and burst out and overflow with life and fruit, hope and peace and joy.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

God is love. Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. The gospel has taken root and is bearing fruit.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 14, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merciful, Gracious, Compassionate

02/07 Merciful, Gracious, Compassionate; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160207_merciful-gracious-compassionate.mp3

We are seeking to know God, to increase in our affection for him as we listen to what he says about himself. This greatest of all beings, is profoundly worthy of our adoration and worship. We have looked at some of his essential attributes, those describing his very being, his essence, how he relates to his creation, to time, to space. We have looked at some of the characteristics which set him apart from us, in a class by himself, utterly unique and different – holy, and we are looking at some of the characteristics of which we find a faint reflection in us his creation, we who are made to reflect his image.

Last time we looked at God’s goodness. We used Stephen Charnock’s definition: “the goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures.” We saw that God is good in and of himself, in his very nature. He is the source of all good. And although he is not obligated to extend his goodness to any, he is good to all. In varying degrees, as he sees fit, he gives to each one better than we deserve. He is inclined to do us good. And he is our ultimate good. Although many settle for enjoying his good gifts, our supreme good is to enjoy forever the good giver of all those gifts.

In Exodus 33,

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

God’s goodness is defined here by God’s right to freely extend grace and mercy to whom he will. His goodness is then declared to Moses in chapter 34

Exodus 34:5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

God’s goodness is proclaimed as mercy, grace, longsuffering, covenant love, faithfulness, and justice. Today we will look at God’s mercy, his grace, and his patience.

Although there is much overlap in these concepts, the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921; p.206 ff.) helpfully distinguishes them according to whom they are directed. He writes that ‘mercy is God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace is God’s goodness toward the guilty; longsuffering is God’s goodness manifested in patience toward those who are deserving of punishment.’

Moses (d. 1406 or 1220 BC)

Throughout the Scriptures we see that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger. God revealed this to Moses. In Moses’ instructions to the generation who would enter the promised land under Joshua, in Deuteronomy 4, he warns the people in coming generations not to fall into idolatry. He says that you will ‘provoke the Lord to anger… you will soon utterly perish from the land … you will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples… you will be left few in number …where the Lord your God will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands.’ but he gives them hope and confidence, based on the character of God.

Deuteronomy 4:29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. 31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

He grounds this hope, hope for repentance, hope of forgiveness, on the fact that the Lord is a merciful, compassionate God. God is inclined to be good toward those in misery and distress, even when that misery is self-induced.

Jonah (c.782-753 BC)

Some 500 – 700 years after Moses, Jonah, the reluctant prophet, is sent by God with a message of judgment to Nineveh, the great city of Assyria. When he finally delivers his message, the pagan king proclaims a fast, for everyone to turn from evil and cry out to God. He says:

Jonah 3:9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah’s refusal to proclaim God’s judgment on this wicked enemy of Israel was due to his understanding of the goodness of God, his inclination to extend help toward those in distress, to be patient toward those who deserve punishment, to be forgiving toward those who are guilty.

Hezekiah (715-686 BC)

Some 30 – 50 years after Jonah, Hezekiah had already seen the northern 10 tribes of Israel conquered by Assyria because of Israel’s idolatry. After the wicked King Ahaz led Jerusalem in the abominations of rampant idolatry, King Hezekiah sought to cleanse Jerusalem from idolatry. He sent out an invitation to the remnant of Israel and Judah to return to the Lord and keep his Passover in Jerusalem.

2 Chronicles 30:6 So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. 8 Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. 9 For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”

Hezekiah finds hope for wayward people punished for their idolatry in the character of God. God is compassionate, merciful, gracious. He will turn away his fierce anger if his people will return to him.

Nehemiah (445 BC)

300 years later, after Judah had spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, and with Ezra sought to restore proper worship to God. In Nehemiah 9, a public prayer of worship and confession of sin, they recount the history of God’s grace and mercy from Abraham through Egypt to Moses into freedom,

Nehemiah 9:16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.

Then they recount the supernatural conquest of the promised land under Joshua, and their subsequent slide into complacent idolatry.

Nehemiah 9:27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies.

After the time of the judges, throughout the time of the kings,

Nehemiah 9:30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. 32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day.

The people under Ezra and Nehemiah turn to the Lord in hope in spite of their repeated history of sin because of God’s character. He is ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, great in mercies. He does not forsake them.

Undeserved, Unmerited, Free

Mercy is God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress. Grace is God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment. In order to truly appreciate, to truly enjoy God’s mercy and grace, we need to grasp what mercy and grace really mean, and how we relate to them. Mercy means I am miserable and needy. I am in a position with no way out and no way to help myself. To cry out for mercy is to recognize the desperate nature of my situation and ask for help from outside. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story that helps us to feel the weight of our desperate situation.

Matthew 18:23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’

This is where the footnotes in your Bible can be very helpful. This servant owed ten thousand talents. What is that? What is a talent? The footnote in my Bible says that a talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer. I’m not sure what you take home in a year, but this man had embezzled 200,000 years worth of wages. He could not pay. He could never pay. So he was being sold. His wife, his children, everything that was dear to him was being sold. There was nothing this man could ever hope to do that would dig his way out of a hole that deep. It seems he didn’t even understand the depth of his situation. He doesn’t ask for mercy. He asks for patience. He asks for more time, an extension on the debt. As if given enough time he could somehow pay of the debt. But God doesn’t work that way. Look at the response of the king.

Matthew 18:27 And out of pity [σπλαγχνίζομαι] for him…

Out of pity. Literally, his innards were moved for him. In the depth of his gut, he was moved with compassion. Pity. His situation was hopeless. The king knew that no amount of time would make it possible for him to repay even a fraction of what he owed.

But the king had been wronged. Robbed blind. This man was a liar. A cheat. An enemy. He had abused the king’s trust, misused the king’s resources. He deserved to be sold. He probably deserved much worse. He deserved to be hated. But instead the king was inclined toward pity. In verse 33, the king says ‘I had mercy on you.’

Matthew 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

The master released him fully. Complete pardon. The debt forgiven.

If you go on to read the rest of this parable, you will see that the point of the parable is how utterly out of place our unforgiving attitude toward the petty offenses of our brothers is in light of the staggering debt we have been released from. Clearly the servant didn’t grasp the magnitude of the undeserved mercy that had been freely extended to him when he deserved so much worse. He just didn’t get it. Although offered free pardon, he continued to operate as if he were under a system of debt. His heart wasn’t moved. He wasn’t changed.

Grace vs. Debt

Romans helps us understand grace by contrasting it with its opposite. In Romans 3:19, Paul has established the universal guilt of all mankind before God.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

And then in verse 23 and following, he holds up the hope of grace.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Justification, legal pardon, forgiveness, being declared not guilty, our debt expunged, is a gift rooted in God’s grace. It was not free. It is the most costly of all gifts. God paid the purchase price. Redemption in Christ Jesus, propitiation by blood sacrifice. God is not righteous if he merely lets sin slide, looks the other way, brushes it off as if it were no big deal. God in his patience had passed over former sins. This left a question mark on the righteous character of God. Does he really care about justice? How can he justify ungodly people? The price was paid in full. He paid it himself. He gives it to us by grace as a gift. Romans 4 clarifies what this means.

Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

If you work, you earn wages. They are owed to you. They are due. Literally, this phrase could be translated ‘to the one who works, the wages are not counted according to grace but according to debt.’ Grace is the polar opposite of debt. Grace is unearned, undeserved, freely given, with no obligation. If you work you are entitled to a paycheck. And we have worked. We are entitled. The wages of sin is death. God owes us. He owes us death. He is only obligated to give us what we have earned. Grace is in a completely different category. We cannot demand it. We cannot presume upon it. God is in no way obligated to extend to us the least bit of grace. He is free to give us what we deserve, but it costs him dearly to extend to us grace. Faith is in a different category. It is not work. It is a total departure from the system of debt and obligation. It is a helpless dependence on the promised generosity of another, taking him at his word, gladly receiving a gift.

In Romans chapter 11, Paul speaks of the future of ethnic Israel, and the current unbelief of the majority of Jews, and he says:

Romans 11:5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Grace is freely extended to a remnant of Israelites, like Paul. It is not based on performance. If it were in any way attached to merit or obligation or earning, it would not be grace. Grace ceases to be grace if you are entitled to it.

2 Timothy 1 speaks of

2 Timothy 1:8 …God 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

God saved us, God called us not because of works but because of his own eternal purpose in Christ, because of grace – God’s inclination to extend goodness toward those who deserve nothing but evil.

Ephesians 1 is an extended hymn of praise of God’s glorious grace.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 2 describes us as

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

And then he says:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 11 Therefore remember…

Remember that you were separated, alienated, strangers, having no hope and without God. But now you have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Remember the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Remember God’s undeserved, unmerited, unrestrained, free gift.

Until we feel the weight of the debt we owed, until we realize the extent which it cost God to forgive us, until we recognize he wasn’t obligated to, he is just and free to exact from us every bit of what we owe, we, like the ungrateful servant, will not get grace. We will not understand mercy. Our hearts will not be moved. We will still operate under a system of debt. And we will miss out. If we feel entitled, if we feel God owed it to us to extend grace and mercy, we just don’t get it. God would be just to give us all what we deserve, but God is inclined to deal well and bountifully with us. God is inclined to pity us, to extend goodness toward those in misery and distress. God is inclined to withhold his punishment toward those who continue to sin, eager to bring us to repentance. God is inclined to extend his voluntary, unrestrained, unmerited favor toward guilty sinners, granting us justification and life instead of the penalty of death, which we deserve. Let us praise the immeasurable riches of his mercy and grace!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment