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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who Is Sufficient?

04/22_2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who is Sufficient? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180422_2cor2_16-17.mp3

In 2 Corinthians Paul describes what authentic Christian ministry is and corrects mistaken views.

Paul paints a picture of authentic Christian ministry as a triumphal procession, being led as a conquered captive and slave to God, spreading a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. And this aroma of Jesus, while always pleasing to the Father, divides humanity into two categories; those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To those who are being saved, he is the smell of life leading to eternal life. But to those who are perishing, he is perceived as the smell of death and leads to eternal death. Authentic ministry divides.

Jesus said he came to cause division between people. He said:

Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Jesus describes this division of all mankind into two categories in Matthew 25.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

…34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

…41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

…46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus describes those who are being saved as blessed by my Father, who inherit the kingdom. And he describes those who are perishing as suffering eternal punishment, eternal fire.

Paul says that God

2 Corinthians 2:14 …through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…

When Jesus sent out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom, he told them:

Matthew 10:14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

The proclamation of the gospel, the word of the cross, is a weighty responsibility. On the one hand, it is a message that rescues and delivers and breathes life into dead souls. On the other hand, it increases the accountability of the one who hears. Better never to hear of Jesus at all, than to hear of him and reject him.

Who Is Sufficient?

This is heavy. Some will benefit eternally from the message, but those who reject will be forever made held to a higher level of accountability; ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’ (Lk.12:48). To be the one who brings this dividing message, to be a fragrance of life to some, and the stench of death to others, is an incredibly sobering responsibility. Paul recognizes that the gospel he declares divides humanity, and he asks the question ‘who is sufficient for these things?’

Who is fit, able, worthy, competent; who is sufficient? Who is up to this weighty responsibility?

This reminds us of Moses, when God called him out of exile to lead his people out of Egypt. God sent Moses to two distinct groups of people. He was to go to Israel to declare that God was coming down to rescue them and set them free. He was also to go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he let his slaves go free. God said:

Exodus 3:19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.

This was good news to a people who were enslaved to a cruel tyrant. But this meant God’s judgment against the Egyptians who refused to bow to God’s authority. Moses felt the weight of this call.

Exodus 4:10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

The Greek translation of this verse uses this same word ‘sufficient’ or competent. ‘Oh, my LORD, I am not sufficient. I am not competent.’ Moses is acutely aware of his own inadequacy in the face of such a weight responsibility.

For We Are Not…

Who is sufficient? This sounds like a rhetorical question, and we are quick to answer ‘no one!’ Paul begins as we would expect ‘for we are not…’ Who possibly is up to this task? With Moses, we certainly do not feel competent. But this is not Paul’s answer. He says:

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.

Paul gives a five part answer to the question in this verse, one negative and four positive characteristics of his own ministry to demonstrate that he is indeed competent. But this is not all he has to say; his answer continues on into the next chapter. Paul is guarding himself against misunderstanding. This is not a question to which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. He gives a nuanced answer; he qualifies his answer. What characterizes his ministry?

Not Peddlers of the Word of God

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word,

Notice that the word of God is central to what it means to be a minister. He starts with the word of God, and he ends this verse with the verb ‘we speak.’ As an authentic minister, he speaks the word of God.

But others are speaking God’s word, and he draws a contrast here. It matters how the word of God is handled. Later in this book, chapters 11-13 he confronts the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel. It matters the content of the message. But it also matters the motive of the messenger. Paul says he is not like so many others who are not competent, who peddle God’s word. This is a common word for retail shop vendors, who take a product made by someone else and sell it for a profit. This term has very negative connotations, implying underhanded shady business practices, false advertising, dishonest dealing, diluting the product. These were often con artists, expert at ripping off the unsuspecting public.

We have to balance this with what he said in 1 Corinthians 9. In that whole chapter he strongly defends the right of a minister of the gospel to be paid for that ministry. He says:

1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

It is the right, it is the command of the Lord Jesus that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

So what is Paul saying that he is not like so many peddlers of God’s word? Although Paul adamantly defends his own and others’ right to make a living by the gospel, he chooses not to make use of that right. But he has nothing bad to say about the other apostles who do make use of that right. What is he saying here?

Listen to Paul’s requirements for Christian leadership of any kind:

1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, … 3 … not a lover of money.

1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be …not greedy for dishonest gain.

Titus 1:7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be … greedy for gain,

Peter exhorts:

1 Peter 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

This is a heart issue. What is the motive? What is the focus? ‘We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.’ Some, Paul says in Philippians 1 ‘preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.’

So many are peddlers of God’s word, seeking to make a profit, seeking gain out of selfish ambition. Those are not fit, not competent, not sufficient for gospel ministry.

The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; the gospel is the power of God to transform lives. Like strong medicine in incompetent hands, that which is meant to bring life can bring about death. Who is competent for these things? Not those who are pursuing personal gain.

Of Sincerity

That is the negative. Now he lists 4 positive criteria of competency for ministry. ‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

Paul operates out of sincerity. This is not the first time we have encountered this word. This verse is a bookend connecting back to 1:12, where Paul 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.

Paul’s conscience bears him witness. He conducts himself always with sincerity. This word is a compound word that literally means judged by the sun. Paul’s conduct is out in the wide open, in the full light of the sun; he has nothing to hide. No secrets. No bait and switch. He is not duplicitous. There is no question of motives. He shoots straight. He says what he means and means what he says. You don’t have to read between the lines. What you see is what you get. He has integrity, not only in relation to ministry, but to all of life. He is transparent. Transparency is not something he strives for; it is simply who he is. And it is out of that open transparency that he speaks the word of God. Competent ministry must be sincere ministry.

Of God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God.’ Paul is speaking of the source of his speaking and his authority. It all comes out of God. His authority comes from God, and he speaks God’s words. The ESV fills in the sense of this brief phrase; ‘as commissioned by God.’ The NIV has ‘as those sent from God.’ The only source of authentic ministry is God. Paul’s authority and Paul’s message is not self-originated; he is not at liberty to make stuff up. Remember, he is a conquered captive, led in triumphal procession, and he spreads the scent of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. He is a glad slave of God, and it is his joy to make much of Jesus. The content and the power of his message come from God. Competent ministry must originate in God.

Directly Before God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God.’ Paul is over against God, directly in the presence of God. He is always before God or ‘in the sight of God.’ Now if we know the Bible teaches that God is everywhere present and knows everything about everyone everywhere all the time, how is this a qualification for competent ministry? It is one thing for God to know everything about you, and it is quite another thing for you to be constantly aware that God is constantly aware of you.

Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 says.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

We all must give account to the Lord, who knows all and sees all. James cautions:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

A key component of competency for ministry is an awareness the weighty responsibility of living in the light of God’s presence.

In Christ

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

In Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. This is a favorite description of the believer. It speaks of our position, our identity, our relationship. Salvation, forgiveness, justification, redemption, sanctification, reconciliation, adoption, eternal life, is all in Christ. Grace, love, peace, freedom, hope, unity, encouragement, approval, blessing, all come to us in Christ. We are alive in Christ; there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s identity in Christ. For Paul everything is rubbish compared to knowing him and being found in him (Phil.3:9-10). There would be nothing worse than to be outside of Christ, apart from Christ.

There is no competency for ministry outside of Christ. Our only sufficiency comes from our union with Christ.

It is out of his union with Christ that Paul is able to speak.

Summary

Who is sufficient for these things? Who is sufficient to be the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus, who is competent to speak the word of God that to some becomes the smell of life to life, and to others is the scent of death to death? Not those who are in it for personal gain. Only those who operate out of a transparent sincerity, only whose only source is God, only those who live constantly in the light of God’s presence, only those whose only sufficiency is in union with Christ.

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

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April 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience

04/30 Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170430_leviticus-26_14-39.mp3

Leviticus is a covenant document between God and his people. Leviticus 26 gives the terms of the covenant agreement. Verses 1-2 are a reminder of the central demand of the covenant, that by entering into this covenant, Israel is promising to have no other gods but the one LORD. They are to trust him by honoring his time and his place. God’s instructions are to be kept and his presence is to be feared. Verses 3-13 list the blessings that accompany obedience; blessings of produce and peace and progeny and most importantly the gift of God’s presence with his people.

But the blessings of the covenant are conditional:

Leviticus 26:3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you …

Verses 14-39 are the consequences of a refusal to follow the terms of the agreement.

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you:

Notice in both cases, it is God himself who is active in fulfilling the terms of the covenant. If you do what I command, I will give you… If you will not listen to me and do… then I will do this to you. God takes his covenant seriously, and will personally bring about either blessings or the curses.

Notice the blatant disobedience that is warned against in these verses; “if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant” A refusal to listen to God’s instructions, a refusal to do what he commands, is followed by an emotional reaction against God’s truth; ‘if your spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules’. This revulsion at God’s commands results in a refusal to obey, and a violation of the covenant contract.

This chapter is essential for understanding the rest of the Bible. This passage provides essential context for the rest of the Bible. It gives the covenant context for the history of God’s judgment on Israel. What happened under Joshua, and then in Judges when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ and ‘the LORD gave them into the hand of’ their enemies, and ‘they cried out to the LORD and he sent’ a deliverer; what happened under the kings who disobeyed and under those who tried to turn the people back to the LORD, what was spoken by the prophets who were sent to confront idolatry and turn the hearts of the people back to the LORD, what happened in the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests and captivities, what was said in the prayers of the captives like Daniel and Nehemiah, even what we today enjoy as New Covenant believers, all find their root in the terms of this covenant agreement between God and his people.

This section of consequences for covenant treason is structured in 5 cycles of escalating discipline. Each section begins with ‘if you will not listen; then I will…’

14-17 general curses – illness, famine, defeat

18-20 Drought and bad harvest

21-22 Wild animals

23-26 War, leading to plague and famine

27-39 War, leading to cannibalism, devastation and deportation

First Stage

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.

God promises to visit the covenant breaker with panic, disease and fever, with stolen productivity, with defeat and oppression, with paranoid fear. God says ‘I will visit you …I will set my face against you.’ God is not absent in the sense that he has merely withdrawn his hand of protection and is allowing bad things to happen; no, he promises to be actively engaged in bringing about these consequences. Hell is not the absence of God; God is everywhere present. Hell will be the presence of God in righteous anger and punishment against those who have rejected him.

Second Stage

Leviticus 26:18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

God here promises to escalate the punishment for continued disobedience. Notice, ‘If in spite of this you will not listen to me.’ There is a hope held out here. At any stage in this discipline, if his people will turn to him and listen to him, the discipline does not have to go any further.

Discipline

This is discipline; discipline is meant to teach, to train, to correct. Discipline is meant to confront, to protect, to restore, to bless. God is saying ‘I want to bless you, but I cannot bless your disobedience, so I promise to do whatever is necessary to bring you around and create in you a heart attitude that I can bless.’ Remember, God loved Israel. God chose Israel. Not because of anything in her, but rather because he loved her (Deut.7:6-8; 9:6). Proverbs reminds us:

Proverbs 3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Discipline is rooted in love. Moses tells the generation about to enter the land that God:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled you …that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. …5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.

Psalm 94 tells us:

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,

Blessed, happy, is the one you discipline; because discipline is for our greatest good. Hebrews 12 lays this all out.

Hebrews 12:5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Discipline is not pleasant, but it is for our good. The things in this chapter are horrific, but that is intended to teach us that there is something worse. A slap on the child’s wrist is painful, but it is nothing compared to the pain of the emergency room visit that it is intended to prevent. The things in this chapter; disease and death and cannibalism and captivity are nothing compared to what they are meant to keep you from; an eternity separated from a good God who loves you.

Greater Accountability

Notice, the discipline of this chapter is promised to God’s covenant people, not to the nations. God has a special relationship with his own people, and these are the consequences for treating carelessly that relationship. Those who have experienced grace; those who have seen the truth and rejected it are judged much more severely than those who have not; Peter warns:

2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

Because those who have been offered grace will be held more accountable, God relentlessly pursues us with his discipline in order to bring us back.

Pride

In this second section, to those who have refused to respond to the first stage of discipline, God promises to ‘discipline you again sevenfold for your sins’. This is an escalation of discipline toward those who refuse to listen. God says ‘I will break the pride of your power’. He will prevent the land from producing. So often our hardness toward God is a result of pride. The prayerless person is a proud person. I will not cry out to God for help, because I can handle this without him! God did not create us to be independent, but dependent. We are not to stand on our own; we are to rely on him, to depend on him, to lean into him, to trust him. We are not self-sufficient; he alone is self-sufficient. We are to lean on his all-sufficiency. Repeatedly we hear the warning, when things go well for you, do not thing it is because of your own greatness, but because God has blessed you. Do not become proud, but recognize that every good thing is a gift from God.

O Lord, whatever it takes, break our foolish pride!

Third Stage

Leviticus 26:21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

The third stage is an escalating progression in disipline. If you will listen, I will use the least severe means of discipline available. If you choose to harden your heart, I will be required to use more severe forms of discipline. ‘Then,’ after the first two stages, ‘if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me.’ I will let loose the wild beasts against you’ bereave you of your children. This is opposite of the blessing in verse 6 ‘I will remove harmful beasts from your land’.

‘Wild beasts which shall bereave you of your children’ seems severe, but remember, this is the third stage of rebellion, having refused to listen to the first two rounds of discipline.

Fourth Stage

Leviticus 26:23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

Here the goal of all this is clearly stated; ‘if by this discipline you are not turned to me.’ Hear God’s heart in all of this. His heart is toward you, not against you. He knows that there is no good apart from himself. So he intends to turn your heart back to him, whatever it takes.

This is a response to active disobedience. ‘If you walk contrary to me, the I also will walk contrary to you. I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.’ ‘I will …execute vengeance for the covenant’. This is a breach of a covenant that they agreed to. Going after false gods is both foolish and treasonous. God must defend the honor of his glorious name. He will execute vengeance for the covenant. Sword, pestilence, famine. Ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven. It seems polygamy is a curse, not a blessing. You shall eat and not be satisfied. True satisfaction comes only through walking with God, enjoying the good of his presence. Seeking satisfaction anywhere else will leave us eating without ever experiencing satisfaction.

Fifth Stage

Leviticus 26:27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

‘If in spite of this,’ having hardened your hearts through the first four stages of discipline ‘you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.’ This is escalating discipline due to the callousness of the people’s hearts. It takes severe consequences to rip the callouses off and expose their hard hearts to the gravity of their situation. Cannibalism. When Syrian king Ben-Hadad beseiged Samaria and caused a great famine,

2 Kings 6:26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” … 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body—

This is a heart-wrenching story, and the king tore his clothes. Tearing clothes is a sign of repentance and mourning. But even this horrific event did not turn the kings heart back to the LORD. Instead he sent messengers to kill the LORD’s prophet Elisha, who had been calling Israel to repentance.

God says ‘I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.’ The way to desecrate a place of worship was to scatter it with bones. This is an ironic promise that God will desecrate the false worship of his people with the corpses of those who trusted in these false gods. And he says ‘my soul will abhor you’. We often hear it said that ‘God hates the sin but loves the sinner.’ But here God himself says to the one who persistently violates the terms of the covenant and refuses to repent after extended discipline ‘my soul will abhor you’.

All this sounds horrific, but remember, the punishment fits the crime. The level of horror we have at these punishments, should alert us to the gravity of disregarding the word of the LORD, and turning away from God, spurning his patience and discipline that is meant to bring us to repentance.

Sabbath Rest and Hope

Leviticus 26:34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

God promised that the land would enjoy its Sabbaths while his people are in captivity. God’s people ought to have enjoyed the Sabbath rest God provided for them. Instead the land would enjoy that rest without them. We read in 2 Chronicles

2 Chronicles 36:15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

…20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

But even in this there is hope. There is an end in sight. The prophet Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 54:7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.

Law and Gospel

God’s heart is to turn the hearts of his people back to himself. In the Old Testament this was rare. Except for a small remnant, the people persisted in their disobedience, hardened their hearts, and refused to respond to his loving discipline. Although there were amazing blessings promised, the law brought a curse. We read in Galatians 3:

Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

The law is based on performance, perfect performance, and because no one can ever keep the law perfectly, we are all under the curse. Everything written in this chapter addressed to covenant breakers belongs to us, because we are covenant breakers. None of the promises belong to us, because we have failed to walk in obedience. But once we feel the weight of this, there is amazingly good news here for us!

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

On the cross, Jesus experienced the curses of Leviticus 26 for us. God executed vengeance for the broken covenant on Jesus; The Father turned in abhorrence from the one who had been made sin for us. Why? So that all the promised blessings might come to us who believe in Jesus!

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

May 2, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Sovereign and Free

11/22 God Sovereign and Free [omnipotent] ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151122_god-sovereign-free.mp3

Allow me to read a letter

By the president of the United States of America. A Proclamation.

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

G. Washington.”

[http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=3584]

Washington mentions the providence of Almighty God – God’s preserving and governing of all things – as a primary reason for our thanksgiving.

We are studying who God is, what he is like, what God says about himself, how we can honor and worship him as he really is.

God is God. What does it mean for God to be God? The most common Hebrew word for God is El, Eloah, Elohim, which at its root means to be strong. He is God Almighty. God is the supreme ruler over all, he is the sovereign authority of the universe.

Let’s look at some of the things the Bible tells us about God.

Power in Creation

Psalm 33 says:

Psalm 33:4 For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. 5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. 6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. 10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 ​The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. That is unfathomable power!

Have you ever made something? I worked for a time in the engineering department of a manufacturing firm. When we were developing a new product, there were countless hours of meetings discussing the concept and planning the product. There was much thought and effort put in to the best design. There were sketches and conceptual drawings, calculations, reviews, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, more discussions, schematics, blueprints, fabrication drawings, solid modeling, prototyping, testing, reviews, more meetings, adjustments, revisions to the drawings, more testing, more meetings, lots of head scratching… And then there was the parts sourcing. What kind of materials should we use? How long will they last? Where can we get them? How much do they cost? Will they arrive on time? Can we get enough? How will we make sure the parts are correct? Once we have all the parts, how long will it take to build? Who has the skill and training to assemble it correctly? How do we make sure it works? Will it actually do what we designed it to do?

Imagine this kind of power! He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm! Some of our higher executives thought they had this power. They would march into the engineering department and demand: “I spoke, why isn’t it done yet? I commanded, why isn’t it in my hands?” The answer was often “You haven’t given us the proper resources to complete what you requested. We need more time, more money, better technology, more manpower.”

But think of this. God didn’t have anything outside of himself to work with! God didn’t start with any raw materials. Into nothing he spoke and something was immediately there at his command!

Power in Fulfilling His Purposes

We are told in verse 11 ‘the counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations’. This is in contrast to the counsel and plans of nations and people. Have you ever made plans that came to nothing? You spend time and energy and resources and you are excited and it just doesn’t happen the way you had hoped. Maybe it doesn’t happen at all. Your plans come to nothing. How often are your plans frustrated? How often are you frustrated? How fun is it to be around you when you are frustrated? Something comes up, things get interrupted, you run out of time, something doesn’t work out, someone you were counting on forgets or lets you down. Imagine, God is never, ever frustrated! There is never a plan God makes that doesn’t work out exactly the way he had planned. We get frustrated because we didn’t plan well enough, or we made plans based on inadequate information, or we were unable to carry out our plans, or our plans were contingent on someone else who didn’t do what we were depending on them to do. God runs into none of these problems; he has all knowledge and all wisdom, he has unlimited resources within himself, his plans are dependent on no one outside himself. God is not limited by any of the things that we are limited by. God has never ever had his plans frustrated. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. ​The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” Our response ought to be fear of the LORD and awe filled worship.

Psalm 148 says:

Psalm 148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. 6 And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, 8 ​fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! 9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! 10 ​Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! 11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! 12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!

He commanded, he established, he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. Romans 4 describes God as the one who:

Romans 4:17 …—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

God calls into existence the things that do not exist. He creates something out of nothing.

Psalm 115:2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” 3 ​Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

God does all that he pleases. Whatever he wants to do, whatever he wills to do, whatever he desires, that he does. There is nothing that God wants to do, wishes he could do, but is thwarted or frustrated in his plans or desires. We worship a happy God, not a frustrated God. He does all that he pleases and he is pleased with all that he does. This is what it means to be God. He has the right to do all that he pleases, and what pleases him is always what is best.

God says in Isaiah 45

Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. 8 “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. 9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’or ‘Your work has no handles’?

God does all that he pleases, and all that pleases him is right and good. God is the Creator of all things, and as Creator, he has the right over all his creation to do with it what pleases him. He can punish, and he can make alive, he is free to show his mercy or his justice. He is sovereign. He has authority to rule and govern his creation in the way that is right and best.

God Cannot…

We need to pause and clarify here. Is there anything that God cannot do? The Bible actually lists several things that God cannot do. Because God is truth, God cannot lie (Heb.6:18). Because God is good, he cannot be tempted by evil (Jas.1:13). Because God is all-wise, he cannot change his mind (Num.23:19; 1Sam.15:29). Because God is perfect, he cannot change (Mal.3:6). Because God is just, he cannot condone sin or let sin go unpunished (Ex.34:7; Prov.11:21). Because God is sovereign, he cannot fail to accomplish all his good purposes (Is.46:9-11). Because God is all glorious, he cannot share his glory with another (Is.48:11). Because God is God, he cannot deny himself (2Tim.2:13). God cannot act contrary to his own nature. God cannot be other than he is. None of these ‘cannots’ limit the power of God. To say God can act contrary to his own nature would be a weakness, not a strength.

Free

God can do more than he does. Creation has not exhausted his abilities. We could conceive of other things which God has the power to do, but that he has not done. Picture a bodybuilder with his wife who has given birth to their tiny baby. As he holds this fragile life in his muscular arms, he has enough power to crush this baby. The fact that he does not is not a limitation to his power. Although he can do it, he is not compelled to do all he is able to do. When we say that he can do it, we mean that he possesses sufficient strength and ability. Although he has the strength, he does not want to do it. We would even be right to say that he cannot do it, not because he lacks the strength, but rather because it is against his will and his desire. He wills to use his strength to protect the infant rather than to destroy it, and he cannot use his strength do do something that violates his own will and purposes.

Psalm 135:4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession. 5 For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. 6 ​Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. 7 ​He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses. 8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and of beast; 9 who in your midst, O Egypt, sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants; 10 ​who struck down many nations and killed mighty kings, 11 ​Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan, 12 and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel.

God is omnipotent, or all-powerful, but God is also free, free to use his power in the way he chooses. “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does.” He is not obligated or bound in the way he uses his power by anything outside of himself. The only way we can say God is not free is when he has freely bound himself by his own word and promises.

Power to Sustain

God’s power and authority is seen in his creation, but it does not end with creation.

Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jesus is sustaining all things. Every sub-atomic particle is directly governed by God. Not one molecule in the universe is out of its proper place. God’s power not only created all things that are, but also sustains and maintains those things.

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. …

Jesus is upholding the universe by the word of his power. He is ensuring that every orbit of every planet around every sun or star and every orbit of every electron around its nucleus is precisely in the course he intends for it. God actively and sovereignly sustains his creation. Speaking of his creatures, Psalm 104 says:

Psalm 104:27 These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30 When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

God gives life, sustains life, and takes life away. Psalm 3 says:

Psalm 3:5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

Do you consider that when you wake up? Every morning that you wake up, thank the Most High God that he sustained you through the night. He gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25). He is active, intimately involved in sustaining his creation. This should bring us freedom from anxiety. Jesus said:

Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

God vigilantly watches over the most insignificant of his creatures. This should not only give us freedom from fear and worry, but also clothe us with boldness for daring and dangerous advances of the gospel.

Psalm 118:6 ​The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom.8:31).

Romans 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Power to Redeem

God is able to bring something out of nothing, he is intimately active in sustaining, providentially preserving and protecting what he has created, and he is even able to conquer the hard hearts of his enemies and make them his own.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

God is demonstrating his power in the gospel.

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The same God who spoke light into existence can create life in hearts that are blind toward him.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 19, a young man approached Jesus asking what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus pointed out to him that he loved his possessions more than he loved God.

Matthew 19:22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a person whose heart is set on the things of this world to embrace God as his greatest treasure. “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are folly to him” (1Cor.2:14). The disciples recognized the impossibility for a person who is clinging tightly to this life to release his grip and reach out for God. Impossible, not so much because he cannot, but, like this rich young ruler, because he will not. Yet Jesus speaks hope for salvation, hope even for this rich man.

Matthew 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. God can open blind eyes to the beauty of the gospel. This is what the new birth is all about. God says I will “remove the heart of stone from from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezek.36:26-27). This is great hope for evangelism even in the most unlikely places, even among the hardest people, for ‘what is impossible with man is possible with God’.

We should stand in awestruck wonder at a God like this. Our hearts should resonate with thanksgiving to our Almighty Sovereign. We should stand in worshipful fear at a God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. We should enjoy the happy presence of a God who is never frustrated, who does all that he pleases. We should fearlessly obey this God in whose hands we are, and boldly go to the unreached peoples, confident that our God is mighty to save!

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

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Everywhere and Nowhere; Psalm 139

09/27 God Everywhere and Nowhere; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150927_god-everywhere.mp3

We are studying God, what he says about himself in his word. We are seeking to know him, to enjoy the relationship with him that he purchased for us with the blood of his only Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Psalm 22

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

…11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

…19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

Isaiah 64

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.

We want to know you God. We long to be near you, to enjoy your presence, to be with you. We want to believe truth about you and flee from the idolatry of imagining that you are like us, from the sin of bringing you down to our level. We want to listen to what you say about yourself. To believe you. To stand in awe and wonder at a being so supreme, so awesome, so uniquely other. We were made to worship. To worship you alone. Guide our thoughts. Stir our hearts. Capture our affections. In Jesus’ name and for his glory we ask, Amen.

Do you sometimes feel like God is far off, he is not listening, like he is not even there? Do you sometimes experience the nearness of God, and other times feel abandoned?

God Unlimited by Time or Space

Last time we looked at the infinity of God in relation to time. God is unlimited, unconstrained by time, or by the sequence of events. He is not a temporal being, he has no beginning and no end, he is, he exists independent of anything outside of himself. Yet he interacts with us, his creatures, in time.

Today we will look at God’s infinity as it relates to space. Just as God is not limited or constrained by time as we understand it, so God is not limited by the material universe, by space or distance or size. Sometimes this is referred to as the immensity of God, the ubiquity of God, or the omnipresence of God.

If we ask ‘What is God like?’ we could look to the tabernacle. God gave Moses specific instructions on building him a sanctuary.

Exodus 25:8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. 10 “They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height.

If we understand the ark to be a kind of a throne, it is a box about 27 inches high by 27 inches deep by 45 inches wide. You would have to be a bit taller than me to sit on a throne that tall without your feet dangling awkwardly. If we keep reading, we see that the cover of this golden throne is complete with angelic figures ;

Exodus 25:22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

God would meet with his people in most holy place, which was about a 15 foot cube. If God were 10 feet tall, he could safely hover above the cherubim without bumping his head on the ceiling. Is this how we are to think about God?

God Uncontainable

If we jump ahead to the time of the kings, David made preparations for his son Solomon to build a temple in Jerusalem to replace the portable tabernacle, now that God had given them the land. In 2 Chronicles 2, Solomon wrote to make arrangements with the king of Tyre, who would supply skilled laborers and materials. He said:

2 Chronicles 2:4 Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the LORD my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the LORD our God, as ordained forever for Israel. 5 The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. 6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?

Listen to parts of Solomon’s prayer of dedication in chapter 6.

2 Chronicles 6:14 and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,

…17 Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David. 18 “But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! 19 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, 20 that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 21 And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

Solomon understood that heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God. So just how big is God? Solomon speaks as large as he can. Heaven cannot contain him; the sky above cannot contain him. The highest heaven cannot contain him – what we think of as outer space cannot contain him. The biggest space you can imagine cannot contain him. God is uncontainable. The God who made the universe cannot be contained in the universe. Some scientists conjecture this universe is at least 28 billion light years in diameter. Remember that one light year is the distance that light can travel in one year, which is about 5.8 x 1012 miles (that’s twelve zero’s), or 5.8 trillion miles. And then times that by 28 billion light years. Heaven, even the highest heaven cannot contain him. God existed before the universe existed. God spoke the universe into existence. God created space, and space cannot contain God.

The Lord asks Isaiah’s generation in Isaiah 66:

Isaiah 66:1 Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. …

Heaven is what I sit on. Planet Earth is the little thing I pull up to rest my feet on. Heaven and Earth exist because I brought them into existence. I am not contained by them. Paul says in Acts 17:

Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

God made everything and cannot be contained by anything he has made. This is the danger of sacred places. They tend to give us the impression that there are places we can go to be in God’s presence, and there are other places that are exempt from God’s presence. We come to church to meet with God, and then we leave God in the church building and go do other things.

God in Heaven and Hell

Look with me at Psalm 139. The Psalmist cries out in amazed worship:

Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

You Lord know everything about me. You are ahead of me, behind me, all around me. Your hand is always on me. The Psalmist asks ‘where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?’ Is there anywhere that God is not? Of course, we expect we would find God in heaven. That is what makes heaven heaven. ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore’ says the Psalmist (16:11). But what about hell? Isn’t hell the absence of God? Isn’t that what makes hell hell? Isaiah says

Isaiah 59:2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

But the Psalmist says ‘If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!’ No one can hide from the presence of God, not even in hell. Sin separates us from God, not spatially, not by distance, because God is everywhere. Sin separates us relationally from God’s favor. I might be in the same room, looking one of my daughters in the eye and say ‘I feel like there is a huge distance between us’. I don’t mean that she is on a different continent. I mean that there is something that has driven a wedge in our relationship. Heaven is not so much a location as an experience of God’s pleasure, God’s favor, enjoying the intimacy of relationship. Hell is not so much a place as the experience of a relationship with our good Creator broken, the experience of his displeasure, his anger. God is eternally present in hell to ensure every sin is justly and fairly punished.

If I fly across the sea, if I attempt to hide in darkness, you are there. There is no place we can go that God is not already there.

God Filling Space

God says to the prophet Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 23:23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?

24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.

God is both near and far. There is no place that he is not. He fills heaven and earth. How does he fill all space? Is he like that expanding foam that when you spray it in a crack it expands to fill whatever space is there? Or should we think of him as so incredibly huge that his big toe is in Canada and his heel is in South America? He is present here in Utah, but only by the sole of his foot? These are all flawed ways of thinking about God that are limited to the material universe. God is not a man. God is not like us. God is spirit. He is immaterial. He is. And there is nowhere that he is not. His being is fully present everywhere. He is fully present in this room with us today, giving us his undivided attention, and he is fully present in Provo and Payson and Salt Lake City. He is fully present in Thailand and Azerbaijan and South Africa, and he is fully present with the believer praying in secret in Iraq. He is not more present in one place than another, he is not limited to being in one place at one time. His being is unlimited by space or time. It would be just as correct to say that God is everywhere as to say that God is nowhere, because where is the wrong question. In asking about the whereness of God, we are looking for physical boundaries. God has no physical boundaries. He is not physical or material. Just as God is not a creature of time but the Creator of time, independent of time and outside of time, God is not a creature in space but the Creator of space, independent of space and outside of space. He contains all space and yet is fully present in every point of space.

Immensity and Incarnation

What do we do with this when we look to Jesus and the incarnation? Jesus, eternal God, who possesses all the characteristics of God, took on flesh and became human. Did God the Son become confined in time and space to a limited human body? Did he cease to be unlimited during his time on this planet? And we believe that his humanity continues on forever, so is he still limited now? There are many hints throughout the Gospels that although Jesus really and truly took on a real human nature, and in that human nature he was confined to be in one place at each moment, that he never ceased to be fully God, and as God he continued to fill heaven and earth. Speaking of the incarnation, one of the old theologians said ‘remaining what he was, he became what he was not’. Continuing as infinite eternal measureless God, he took on an additional nature, a human nature. In his humanity he is limited; in his divinity he is unconfined.

Speaking of the Son of God in his incarnation, the author of Hebrews writes:

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Jesus, while in his humanity he was confined to his mother’s womb, was all the while upholding the universe. Colossians tells us:

Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

While asleep in a boat from exhaustion on the sea of Galilee, he was holding every molecule of the universe together. Jesus said to his disciples, before his human body ascended into heaven,

Matthew 28:20 …And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus, physically, bodily, is seated at the right hand of his Father’s throne, as eternal God Jesus is ever present with every one of his followers to bless and care for us. Hebrews says:

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Use of Doctrine

What are the implications of this truth for us? What does it matter? All biblical truth is intensely practical. It affects how we live, it affects our attitudes, our actions, our responses to difficult circumstances.

The truth of God’s omnipresence is a great comfort to believers. This means we are never alone. God is always with us. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. Whatever we are going through, whatever trials we face, God is with us. He is for us. He will see us through.

This truth has implications on how we pray. We don’t have to take a number and wait in line for someone else to finish before we can talk to God. We don’t have to wait for God to make the rounds to our neighborhood before we can talk to him. Whenever we want, as often as we like, for as long as we desire, we have God’s full and undivided attention. Take a moment for that to sink in. The God of the universe, the God who spoke all creation into existence, the God who governs every king and president and ruler, the God who is sovereign and supreme over all spiritual forces good and evil, is eager to listen to you. He counts your prayers as significant.

This gives us great confidence when we pray for others. God is fully present with us to hear our prayers here for our brothers and sisters who are in a different town or on the other side of the planet, and at the same time (or even before we ask) is fully present there to answer that prayer wherever they are.

The infinite presence of God is a great comfort to believers, but a great terror to unbelievers. In Revelation 6, we are told:

Revelation 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

Hebrews 4:13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

There is no place we can flee from his presence. Not heaven, not hell, not the depths of the sea, not the farthest reaches of space. Augustine writes “there is no place whither thou mayest flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither thou mayest flee. Wilt thou flee from him? Flee unto him.” The only safe place to flee from the wrath of God is to flee into the outstretched arms of Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me” Jesus said (Jn.14:6). Herman Bavinck writes “approaching God and seeking his countenance does not require pilgrimage but penitence and humiliation.” [Bavinck, p.163]

Isaiah 66:1 Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

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

September 27, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 20:4-6; Word #2 – How to Worship

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20110717_exodus20_4-6.mp3

07/17 Exodus 20:4-6 Word #2 How to Worship

Who We Worship / How We Worship

The first of God’s ten words specifies that we must worship the correct God. The true God and God alone must be worshiped. YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the I AM, the one who is, the self-existent one; the God who has saved, redeemed and delivered us; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit must alone be the object of our affection and adoration. This one God demands our exclusive devotion. Our hearts are not to be divided. We must worship the correct God. His second word to us is that we must worship the correct God correctly. As the proverb says:

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 16:25; 21:2)

We were created to worship and we were redeemed to worship. There is a right way to worship the right God, and there is a wrong way. Nadab and Abihu (Lev.10) are eloquent witnesses to that fact, as are Uzzah (2Sam.6; 1Chr.13) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). God takes himself and his worship seriously.

Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 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 the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Image Worship not Artwork

God’s people are prohibited from making images or likenesses of anything for worship. This is not a prohibition against artwork. Later in Exodus, as we will see, God himself proscribed the details of the tabernacle, including golden winged cherubim, embroidered pomegranates, and golden almond blossoms. God filled the artists with his Spirit. So how is making a likeness of something in heaven – cherubim; or making likenesses of things on earth – pomegranates and almond blossoms; as proscribed for the tabernacle acceptable, and what exactly is forbidden in this command? The pomegranates and almond blossoms and cherubim in the tabernacle were not intended to represent God. They were not to be worshiped. God’s presence was not physically represented in any way in that structure. God said:

Exodus 25:22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (cf. Numbers 7:89)

God met with his people in the space between the two cherubim, above the mercy seat. The tabernacle was to be a symbolic space, a space appropriate for God’s presence. But nothing in the tabernacle represented God himself. God spoke out of the space above and between the objects that were there. The stuff in the room was furniture and decoration. Solomon made this clear when he built the permanent version of the tabernacle. He said:

2 Chronicles 2:5 The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. 6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?

In his prayer of dedication of the temple he said:

2 Chronicles 6:18 “But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!

Solomon understood the omnipresence of God. God is everywhere, and cannot be limited or contained, as the psalmist writes:

Psalm 139:7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

Invisible God

When Moses met with God, it says:

Numbers 7:89 … he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.

It doesn’t say Moses saw anything. It says he heard the voice coming out of the space above and between. God is not physical or material. God is invisible.

1Timothy 1:17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 11:27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God…

Jesus taught, in regard to true worship of God:

John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus taught that God is not physical. God is spirit. In the retelling of the Law in Deuteronomy 4, we are given elaboration and some of the reasons behind God’s command to make no images. Turn to Deuteronomy 4:

Deuteronomy 4:9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children–– 10 how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ 11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess. 15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. 21 Furthermore, the LORD was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance. 22 For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. 23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. 24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. 25 “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 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. 32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

The explicit reasons given for the second command in Deuteronomy 4 are

Deuteronomy 4:12 …You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice… 15 …Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure.

Don’t make physical representations of God because God has no form. Every image or likeness falls short of communicating what he is really like. When Aaron made the golden calf, he was not intending to lead Israel astray to worship other gods. He was giving them a representation of the true God to assist in their worship. The calf symbolized God’s strength and power and might, but it also wrongly symbolized God as localized and inanimate and sexual, and this improper worship led to a breakdown in society and morality. This is what Romans lays out for us:

Romans 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. …28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind …

God is Creator. Everything else is created. Any representation we make of God insults him and brings him down to the level of his creation. Someone has said that ‘in the beginning God made man in his image, and ever since, man has been trying to return the favor.’ Whenever we conceive of God as if he were like us, we are exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images, and we are not honoring him as God.

Worship and the Word

So, how do we honor God as God, worship him as Creator, and preserve the truth about God, the glory of the immortal God? How do we keep from making images of him either physically or mentally? Over and over in the Deuteronomy passage, we see the contrast drawn between seeing no form and hearing his voice. God spoke. God revealed himself, not visually, but audibly. God reveals himself in words. If we will honor God as God, then we will listen to his self-revelation. We will let him define himself. We must listen to all that he says about himself, all that he says in his word. We are inclined to cling to one attribute of what God is like to the exclusion of other attributes. When we do this, we are exchanging the truth about God for a lie and creating an image of him that resembles ourselves. For instance, ‘I like to think of God as Love. How could a loving God ever send anyone to hell?’ This is a false image of God that distorts what love really is and excludes the reality that God is also just. It takes one thing that God has told us about himself and throws out the rest. Or ‘I don’t get the concept of the trinity, but I just love Jesus so much!’ Friends, God doesn’t expect you to ‘get’ him, to understand him. He expects you to worship him! We so desperately want to bring God down to our level so that he is more comfortable to comprehend. When we do, we have traded the truth about God for a lie. We exchange his immortal glory for images. What we are left with is no longer worthy of worship. We must fight to continually tear down our mental image of God and listen to God as he defines himself for us!

The Image of God

1Timothy 6:15 …he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

We were created to bear God’s image. Humans were to be the visible representation of the invisible God. We have failed miserably at this. God is love and we hate. God is righteous and we lie and cheat and steal and deal falsely. God rules justly and we are selfish and greedy for gain. We have grossly misrepresented what God is like. But God reveals himself accurately in his Word.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. …14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Jesus, being fully God and fully man, perfectly bears the image of the invisible God for us, accurately represents God to us. Jesus…

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God

As much as we have written about Jesus by the eyewitnesses, we have no physical description of what he looked like. There is an unhealthy obsession by many today to try to identify the facial features, build, stature, hair and eye color of Jesus. The eyewitnesses could have told us, but they did not, because the image of God is not in physical features.

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

If we want to worship the correct God correctly, we will listen to all that he has to say about himself in his word.

This Matters

It matters that we worship the correct God correctly, because God claims to be a jealous God.

Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 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 the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

This is not jealous in the petty sense of suspicious fears and envious resentment, but the holy jealousy of a husband who will not share his beloved wife with another man. God says ‘you shall have no other Gods before me.’ God has rescued his people and he is giving himself in a covenant relationship (like the marriage relationship) to be exclusively their God. The consequences for betraying the exclusivity of this relationship are far-reaching. This does not mean that God punishes innocent children for their father’s sins. Deuteronomy 24:16 clearly states that is not the case. Rather, children often learn and repeat the sinful behavior of their parents. God will not say ‘I won’t punish this generation for their sins because they just learned it from their parents.’ If children repeat the sins of their parents, they will be punished for those sins, just like their parents were punished. God is just. But the great mercy of God is highlighted in the greatest numerical contrast in the bible. Third and fourth to thousands! God shows up to judge for three or four generations, but his steadfast love is for thousands! God will show his covenant faithfulness to thousands of those who love him by keeping his commandments.

1John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

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

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Exodus, occasional | , , , , , | Leave a comment