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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 4:7 Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels

08/26_2 Corinthians 4:7; Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180826_2cor4_7.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 2 and 3 Paul displayed the surpassing glory of New Covenant ministry. It is ministry where ‘God through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’ (2:14). It is self-authenticating ministry, where God writes Christ on the tablets of human hearts by the Spirit of the living God (3:3). It is the life-giving ministry of the Spirit (3:6). It is ministry more glorious than that of Moses, whose face radiated glory and had to be veiled (3:7-13). It is ministry that brings righteousness (3:9); it is permanent (3:11). It is ministry that removes veils (3:14-16), that brings freedom (3:17). It is ministry that beholds directly the glory of the Lord, ministry that brings about transformation (3:18).

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul has been giving us the characteristics of authentic Christian ministry; ministry that does not lose heart. Authentic ministry is ministry by mercy; it is not deserved. It is ministry with integrity; it isn’t secretive, it doesn’t tamper, it doesn’t use every means possible. It is engaged in spiritual warfare; the god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers. It is the plain proclamation of the gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners; Jesus Christ as Lord. Authentic ministry is accompanied by the creative power of God; God speaks in and through our speaking to create life and light, to reveal Jesus, to remove blinders. In the middle of our ministry God’s creative word flashes out and shines light in the dark hearts of unbelievers to create seeing and believing in Jesus.

This is exceedingly glorious ministry! And to think, this ministry has been entrusted to us! We do not lose heart. We can have confidence. We can be very bold.

But

But… In verse 7 we run in to a big ‘but’.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Woven throughout this passage are warnings to keep us humble. But here in verse 7 Paul illustrates the truth graphically to prevent us from becoming puffed up. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, jars of clay.

Earthen Vessels

We hold a great treasure, but it is placed in ordinary, unimpressive containers. Clay jars were about the equivalent of plastic or styrofoam cups. They were cheap, ordinary, fragile, disposable, and the landfills are full of them. They couldn’t really even be recycled. Many sites in Israel you can hardly walk without stepping on fragments of broken pottery [show examples]. There are even pits in the ground filled full of broken fragments. If a vessel made of glass broke, it could be melted down and re-blown into something useful. But not clay pots. Under Levitical law, bronze or even wood or leather or cloth containers that came into contact with something unclean could be washed in water and cleansed, but an earthen vessel must be broken (Lev.6:28;11:32-35; 15:12).

In Isaiah 30, God describes the consequences to his people of rejecting and distorting his word:

Isaiah 30:14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

A clay pot’s usefulness comes from its form. It does not come from the inherent worth of its material.

The Potter and the Clay

When it comes down to it, a clay pot is essentially dirt. Mud. Clay that has been formed for a specific purpose. And that is exactly what we are. According to Genesis,

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Formed by God of dust from the ground. Then after our rebellion, we are told:

Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lest we begin to think we are something, we are reminded that we are but clay jars, formed by the hand of our Master for a specific purpose.

This is an analogy that is used several places in scripture. In Isaiah 29 the Lord says:

Isaiah 29:16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

How dare a created thing reject its creator! How dare something formed insult the one who formed it! Again in Isaiah 45:

Isaiah 45:9 “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’?

I looked up how to make usable clay for pottery out of regular ordinary dirt. It is a simple but labor intensive process. It is basically a process of washing and screening and sifting to removing the impurities so that the clay will hold together.

Isaiah 64 describes us:

Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

We are full of impurities, and in order for us to be useful, God must remove the contaminants.

Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

For us to even make it on the potter’s wheel, there must be an intensive process of cleansing.

Paul picks up this theme in Romans 9

Romans 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

God as creator has rights over the clay. He can do with it what he chooses.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is given an extensive object lesson with clay pots.

Jeremiah 18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

The potter is at liberty to do with his clay what seems best to him. God goes on to warn:

Jeremiah 18:7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

The point of these illustrations is that God is the potter. We are the clay. The potter has the right to make what he wishes with the clay. It seem ridiculous for a clay pot to take issue with the potter over the way it has been formed, especially when we spoil ourselves in his hand. Yet that is just what we so often do. The Potter is wise. Our Potter is good. He knows what he is doing. We can trust him.

Another thing to note about clay pots, is that they can be molded and shaped into something that looks great, but they are useless until they are fired. They have to be put in the furnace or kiln to become usable. I don’t know if Paul had this in mind when he calls us earthen vessels, but it certainly fits with what he goes on to say in the rest of this chapter. The furnace of affliction and trials proves character. It makes a soft pliable wet lump of clay into a functional container. It becomes useful. And it can last a long time. Many of these pieces of pottery are thousands of years old.

In Jeremiah 32, during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, God instructed Jeremiah to buy a field to demonstrate God’s promise that after the exile, fields will again be bought and sold in the land.

Jeremiah 32:14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd discovered some clay jars in a cave near the Dead Sea. The jars contained great treasure, manuscripts of the Bible and other writings preserved in the jars for over 2000 years! Indeed, treasure stored in an earthenware vessel can last a long time.

This Treasure

The point of Paul’s contrast is between the nature of the jar and the nature of the treasure it is meant to carry.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We have some fancy vases in our house that we don’t ever put anything in. They are beautiful, and they are completely for show. If I were to put even a flower in it, the beauty of the vase would detract from the beauty of the flower. The simplicity and plainness of a container allows the beauty of the treasure to be seen and treasured for what it is. That is what Paul is warning here.

We contain treasure. We have been entrusted with New Covenant ministry. The ministry of the gospel; the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. We proclaim Jesus Christ the Lord. God’s creative word has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The container is not meant to compete with the glory of the treasure. We want nothing to detract from the treasure. Fancy pots won’t do!

The Power is God’s

This verse could be translated literally ‘but we have this the treasure in earthen vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.’ The verb is not ‘to show;’ rather the verb in this phrase is ‘to be.’ God’s purpose in putting his infinitely valuable treasure in these fragile human containers is that the power would be his and not ours.

If the container were impressive, attention would be drawn to the container. With containers this earthy, this ordinary, this vulnerable and common, there is no question whose the power is.

Paul may have had in mind the simple oil lamps that were so common in Corinth. Made of clay, they were inexpensive, yet functional. No one would question if the clay were giving off the light of itself or if it was the oil that was inside. It is the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; it is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God creatively spoke this light into existence in our hearts. When this light shines out in such a way that others begin to see the light, it is evident that the extraordinary degree of the power is from God and not from us.

Paul was accused of being unimpressive. The Corinthians wanted someone powerful, someone eloquent, someone with a commanding presence. Paul said here I am; a simple clay pot, worn, tattered, vulnerable, broken, but containing a power not his own, a divine and supernatural light. The power of forgiveness. The power of knowing Jesus. The power to transform lives.

When Jesus blinded Paul’s physical eyes, and opened his spiritual eyes to who he is, he called a man named Ananias to go speak to him.

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument [vessel] of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul was a vessel, a container in which the name of Jesus would be carried around to all people. In the coming verses we will see how this treasure in earthen vessels connects with the necessity of suffering.

In Matthew 5 Jesus talked about light of a lamp that shines and gives light to others. He said:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How is it that we are the light of the world, and that we are to let our light shine in such a way that people see our good works, but they don’t praise us; rather they give glory to our Father in heaven? How do we let our light shine in such a way that God gets all the attention?

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers…

2 Corinthians 4:6 It is God who said ‘out of darkness light shine! … 7 [lit] But we have this, the treasure in earthenware vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.

You and I are really not all that impressive. God is.

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

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August 27, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:3-4; When Authentic Ministry Seems to Fail

08/05_2 Corinthians 4:3-4; When Authentic Ministry Seems to Fail; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180805_2cor4_3-4.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul is describing authentic Christian ministry. We have been entrusted with ministry by God’s mercy, God’s pity and compassion that moves him to action to help the desperate. We have this ministry by his mercy, so we do not lose heart. We renounce hidden things of shame. We refuse to use every means possible; we refuse to adulterate God’s word (if we adulterate the one thing that has the power to transform, then what hope is there?) Instead, we plainly proclaim the truth. It is by the open declaration of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience. All this happens under the watchful eye of God.

So we do not lose heart, grow faint, get discouraged, burn out, give up, quit. We do not lose heart in the face of opposition. We do not lose heart in the face of criticism. We do not lose heart in the face of discouraging circumstances. We do not lose heart in the face of ministry failures.

How can this be? How can we not lose heart, how can we not give up persevering in ministry when we fail in that very ministry? When that ministry fails to produce the intended results? How do we explain ineffective ministry?

Spiritual Blindness

I’ve seen a lot of different types of ministry, and I have seen some very different responses to gospel ministry. In our very active student ministry in high school, we did everything from stranger evangelism on the streets to concert events where we invited people and the gospel was presented. I remember many fumbling conversations where I just couldn’t seem to find the right words or know how to respond to questions, and the frustration of feeling like a failure. I remember one particular event where we had invited friends, and the speaker gave a captivating presentation, and explained the gospel more plainly and clearly than I had ever heard before. It was so clear, so compelling, you just had to trust Jesus! I couldn’t imagine an unbeliever hearing that, who wouldn’t be eager to respond with faith in Jesus. I looked over at the friend I had brought. Nothing. I was looking forward to the conversation on the way home. Nothing. So I asked, ‘what’d you think?’ ‘It was ok.’ ‘What did you think of the speaker, what he said?’ ‘It was all right I guess. I’m not really that in to all that religious stuff.’ I sat there in stunned disbelief. How could you possibly sit there and hear what we just heard and be totally unaffected? It was like we must have heard different speakers. What room were you in? Were you even listening? It was all right?! He told you you have sinned, and sin separates you from a holy God who made you and loves you. But Jesus came to pay the debt you owe so you could have a relationship with him. Religion? He didn’t say anything about religion!

This was an eye-opener for me. How could you listen to that clear a proclamation of the gospel and not get it; totally miss it? It was like my friend was blind to what was said.

Listen to what our passage says:

2 Corinthians 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Spiritual Warfare

The fault is not always in the messenger or the presentation. Sometimes it is. We can work to improve our communication skills. We can always grow in our ability to lay out the gospel plainly. But the fault is not always in the messenger. There is a supernatural battle going on. There is a spiritual dimension to evangelism.

We are not talking about math; two plus two is four – do you believe that? We are proclaiming that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave alive – do you believe? ‘Wait, are you telling me that I am a sinner? I don’t think it’s right that God would kill somebody over some minor offense. Jesus, yeah, I believe he existed and was a great moral teacher. It’s really unfortunate what they did to him. But this nonsense about rising from the dead – I’m not so sure.’ When we say ‘do you believe?’ we are not asking if you agree that it is true or that it really happened; that is only a part of it. We are asking ‘do you trust him? Are you relying on Jesus, depending on him completely?’

There is a spiritual battle going on in the minds of unbelievers. The god of this world; when we chose to listen to, to obey the word of the serpent over the word of God; we gave our allegiance to the devil; we made him our god. Jesus calls him ‘the ruler of this world’ in John 12:31. 1 John 5:19 says that:

1 John 5:19 … the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

Ephesians 6 tells us to put on the whole armor of God that we might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil; against the rulers and authorities; the cosmic powers; this present darkness; the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Put on truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, with all-prayer. Paul ends this description of our spiritual battle with a very specific request:

Ephesians 6:19 …that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 … that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Stand equipped in gospel truth, gospel righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, gospel dependence, gospel defense; speak the word of God with all prayer and petition at all times in the Spirit with all perseverance.

Confidence Even In Ministry Failure; God’s Word Never Fails

Paul has been talking about veils that obstruct the real purpose from view, minds that were hardened, veils that lie over their hearts when God’s word is read. He said ‘only through Christ is it taken away’ (3:14); ‘if one turns to the Lord the veil is removed’ (3:16). ‘This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’ (3:18).

Paul is defending his ministry; he doesn’t adulterate the word; he doesn’t use tricks to manipulate or deceive. He plainly and simply proclaims the truth of the gospel. And even with the right message and the right methods, that open statement of the truth sometimes seems to fail.

I say ‘seems to fail’ because it never really fails. God’s word always accomplishes its purpose, always.

Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God’s word always accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it. But we tend to think that the only goal of ministry is conversion. When God sent Isaiah back in chapter 6,

Isaiah 6:9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

God told Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 7:27 “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.

This is not the kind of promise we are looking for in ministry. We would love it if everyone responded positively to the gospel. But Paul recognized two categories of people, two responses to the gospel.

2 Corinthians 2:15 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. Who is sufficient for these things?

Back in 1 Corinthians he said

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.

Paul divided humanity into two categories; those who are perishing and those who are being saved. The gospel, and the messenger of the gospel comes as a fragrance to both. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom.1:16). And the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men …so they are without excuse (Rom.1:18-20).

God always accomplishes his purposes. He sends us to warn some in their rebellion, to heighten their accountability; to others he uses us as his instrument to give life and set them free. To one a fragrance of death into death; to the other a fragrance of life into life. Although our desire, as God’s is that none should perish and all should come to repentance, we should not gauge success in ministry by the number of professions of faith. We talk about successful ministry; instead we should pursue faithful ministry. We would not consider Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel successful ministries; but we would call them faithful ministers.

2 Timothy 2 puts it this way:

2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Sowing Seed

Jesus compared it to a sower sowing seed. He scattered his seed all over.

Luke 8:5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.

Jesus explains:

Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

Notice who takes away the word from their hearts; who blinds the minds of unbelievers? The devil, the evil one immediately snatches away what has been sown in his heart (Mt.13:19; Mk.4:15). Faithful sowing gets the seed out to everyone. Sometimes the word does not even have a chance to germinate in the mind before even the thought is snatched away. The fault is not in the seed. Neither is the fault in the sower. The fault is in the differing soils.

We have been looking at authentic gospel ministry. Faithful ministry can be defined as scattering seed. The open statement of the truth. Don’t tamper with, don’t adulterate the seed. Don’t attempt to genetically modify the seed, thinking you will get enhanced results. The pure word, the simple gospel, is what God uses to produce life.

Don’t get overly critical of methods of scattering seed. Everyone is different, uniquely designed by our amazingly creative God. I have found that if you scatter the seed this way, it works best. Are you an overhand seed scatterer or an underhand seed scatterer. Just don’t be underhanded in your seed scattering. Do you use one of those things with the crank that scatters the seed, or do you push one of those two wheeled seed scatterers? People write books on how to scatter seed. Don’t waste a lot of time evaluating techniques. It doesn’t really matter. Just get it out there!

1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Do you hear that? God gave the growth. Only God gives the growth. Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything. Anything!

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…

We are not sufficient to claim anything, anything as coming from ourselves. God has made us competent. Take great courage in the fact that your competency does not come from your technique or even your success rate. Our sufficiency for gospel ministry is from God.

The Glory of the Gospel

Before we leave this passage today, we’ve got to get to the good stuff! Even in the negative, it’s beautiful. In chapter 3, Paul has been talking about glory, the glory of Moses’ ministry, and the surpassingly greater glory of the New Covenant ministry. He’s been talking about glory that is veiled, glory that is concealed. And he’s talked about beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord. What is it that the god of this world wants to keep us from seeing? What is the glory of the gospel?

2 Corinthians 4:4 …the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

O do not be blind to this today! Do not let Satan blind you to the glory of the good news! He wants to harden your mind and veil your heart and keep you from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ! Jesus said:

John 8:12 … “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The light of the gospel is a person. It is only the blind who cannot see the light. The light of the gospel is the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God. Satan would blind you to the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus is ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb.1:3). Jesus is the word made flesh; God with us.

O ask for eyes to see more of the glory of Christ! Do not be choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (Mk.4:19), and miss the glory of Christ! O press in to see more of Jesus. Turn to the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Turn to the Lord with unveiled face. Gaze on the beauty of the Lord. Look to Jesus! See the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God!

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

August 8, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:20; The Yes and Amen in Christ

11/26 2 Corinthians 1:20; The Yes and Amen in Christ ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171126_2cor1_20.mp3

2 Corinthians 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

This is a rich and deep and beautiful passage, and it is a practical lifeline to hold on to every day, in the good times and in the bad. We are going to look at the promises of God, their certainty, their scope, their sphere, and their goal. And we get to see our essential role in the promises of God.

Free Promises

But the first thing we must see about the promises of God are that they are free. God’s promises are not promises made out of necessity or obligation. There is no bully in the playground holding his arm twisted behind his back demanding ‘I will let you go if you promise to give me the sweets from your lunch every day.’ No, God is under no necessity to make any promise to his creation. He is under no pressure, no obligation. God makes his promises freely; every promise he ever made was made freely and willingly. He wanted to make the promise. He chose to make the promises. He was free to not promise, but he willed to make promises. We are talking about promises of God. No one could force God’s hand to make a promise he did not wish to make.

Certain Promises

And in this we see the certainty of the promises. They are promises of God. They are not promises of man. We expect a man to keep his word, and if he fails to be true to his word, his character is called into question.

Psalm 15 speaks of a man who ‘speaks truth in his heart’

Psalm 15:4 who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

This is rare among people. Often people give their word to get themselves out of a bad situation, or because they think it will benefit them in the end. But when it comes down to it and it’s going to hurt me, to cause loss to me instead of gain, well, I really didn’t mean what I said.

Our culture has cheapened the weight of words. On my cell phone, or on my computer, I want to install software or an app that I need to perform a certain function, and it pops up with this little box that says ‘I accept the terms of this agreement’. By checking that box, you are giving your word. You are making a promise. Who even reads those? ‘Click here to read the terms of this agreement.’ 18 pages of fine legal print that is virtually unintelligible except to a lawyer, including stuff about reverse engineering software and doing illegal things and selling for profit and there is no warranty; if it destroys your device, you won’t complain, and something about privacy and the use of your personal information, and something about your firstborn child… But if you don’t click the box, you don’t get to use the app. So you don’t even read what you’re signing, you just click the box and go on your happy way. I’m not really promising anything; I don’t even know what I just agreed to. I’m just assuming the terms are reasonable. I just wanted a flashlight app for my phone! Our word means nothing!

God’s promises are not like this. When God gives his word, he knows exactly what he is getting himself into. He knows what he is signing up for, what it will cost him. He has read all the fine print.

When God makes a promise, God’s own character is on the line. He is truth. He is unchangeable. He is faithful. To doubt his promises is to question who he is.

Now I might give my word with all good intention, but unforeseen circumstances beyond my control prevent me from following through. I was on my way to meet you but a rock in the canyon fell and crushed the front end of my car and I had no cell service to even call. When God makes a promise, all his sovereign omnipotent power stands behind his word. To him there is nothing unforeseen, there is no circumstance beyond his control, there is nothing stronger than him that could possibly prevent him from carrying out what he purposed to do. God’s promises are his purposes made known.

Hebrews 6 says:

Hebrews 6:13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,… 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, …

God is unchangeable. His word is unchangeable. His promises are unshakable.

Often Jesus gently rebukes his followers for their little faith. There is an interesting event recorded for us in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where Jesus and his disciples are in the boat on the sea. There is a great storm, and the boat is filling with water, and Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. His disciples wake him and ask him ‘do you not care that we are perishing?’ After Jesus silences the wind and the waves with a word, he turns to his disciples and asks ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ (Mt.8:26); ‘Have you still no faith?’ (Mk.4:40); ‘Where is your faith?’ (Lk.8:25). Why did he ask about their faith? Faith in the Bible is not some immaterial force that if we have enough of it, it will overcome circumstances, like the power of positive thinking. No, faith is dependence on, trust in God’s word and God’s character. The disciples were questioning God’s character when they asked Jesus ‘do you not care?’ But they were also disbelieving God’s word, God’s promise. As they were getting into the boat, Jesus said ‘let us go across, to the other side of the lake.’ He did not say ‘let us go out on the lake; let us go half way across and perish in a great storm.’ No, he said ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ We would take a comment like that to express intent or purpose; ‘let’s head in this direction; as long as nothing hinders us, that’s where we plan to go.’ We say this kind of thing all the time. ‘Let’s get in the van and go to Provo.’ I have a destination in mind, but we all know that if the car breaks down or the road is closed, we might not actually get there. But Jesus expects his followers to hear more than that in his word! Where is your faith? Jesus expected their faith to be in his person and in his word. His word is not a casual expression of intent that might be thwarted; his word is the very word of God! “ I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;

I have purposed, and I will do it” (Is.46:11). If Jesus says we are going across to the other side, then hell itself cannot stop us from getting there; no mere storm can stand in our way. We can depend on his word! Where is your faith? For faith to be of any use at all, it must be placed squarely on the word of God, because God will always make good on his word. God’s promises are absolutely certain, because they are God’s promises!

The Scope of the Promises

What is the scope of God’s promises?

2 Corinthians 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, … 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, …in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.

As many as are the promises of God; whatever promise God made, in him is the yes! Has God made a promise? In Christ is the yes. This opens up the whole book to us! Genesis to Revelation we find God’s word, God’s promises, and in Christ is the yes!

There we find promises to every kind of person; to the broken, the despairing, the hopeless, the hurting; even to the sinful, the self-righteous, the hard hearted.

We find promises of every kind. There are promises of rescue, of hope, of security, of provision, of life and resurrection. There is the promise of a new heart. There are promises of righteousness, justification, reconciliation, sanctification, promises of glory. He promises to be with us, to never leave or forsake us. He promises to finish the work he began in us. There are promises of God’s blessing to the nations, that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church, that he will wipe away every tear, that sin and death are defeated and that sorrow will be no more.

When you read God’s word, listen for his voice, his promises. They are firm. They are meant to give us ‘strong encouragement to hold fast tot he hope set before us.’ They are meant to be a ‘sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’. We are meant to ‘flee for refuge’ there (Heb.6:18-19).

The Sphere of the Promises

But there is a specific place where all these promises are yes. Only those who are in that place enjoy the benefits of the promises; those outside are outside the promises. We need to understand where these promises are fulfilled.

2 Corinthians 1:19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.

The promises are ‘yes’ in him. In the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the one proclaimed by Paul and the other apostles. The Yes to all God’s promises is in him. Jesus has become the Yes to all God’s promises. Jesus is the Yes!

This gives us a lens through which to read the entire Bible. The fulfillment of all God’s promises is Jesus. So when we read the Old Testament, we should be asking ‘What is the promise here?’ and ‘How is it fulfilled in Jesus?’

This way of understanding the Old Testament comes directly from Jesus. He said:

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The scriptures bear witness about Jesus. The aim of the entirety of the Bible is to lead us to Jesus. If we miss this, we misunderstand the Bible. It is really all about Jesus. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Jesus did not come to destroy, to dissolve, to throw down or set aside the scriptures. He came to fill them up. He came to fully supply, satisfy, or accomplish the law. It’s as if the law were a beautiful but empty vase. We misunderstood the purpose of the law, we broke the law, we tried to fill it with the filth of our own good works; we tried to stand on it as a step stool to reach up to God. Jesus came as the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley, to fill up the vase, to show us its intended purpose. The law is intended to point to Jesus, to bear witness about Jesus, to put Jesus on display, to show us how far we fall short, and how great Jesus is. Jesus completes it, fills it up, fully satisfies its intended purpose. With his disciples after his resurrection, Jesus:

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

…44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Jesus filled up the scriptures. O that he would open our minds to understand the gospel, the good news of forgiveness of sins through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in all of scripture!

Jesus is the seed of the woman who crushed the head of the serpent. Jesus is the last Adam who walks in perfect obedience and brings life. Jesus the offspring of Abraham through whom all the nations are blessed. Jesus is the righteousness that the law requires. Jesus is the tabernacle, where we meet with God. Jesus is the suffering servant who lays down his life in the place of others. Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is our prophet, priest and king. Jesus is the Word made flesh; Jesus is the one mediator between God and man; Jesus is the long awaited eternal king. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises of God.

As many promises God has made, in Jesus is the Yes. To benefit from the promises of God, we must be in Jesus. This idea of being ‘in him or in Christ’ is something we see throughout the New Testament. We believe in Jesus; trust in him; rely on him; we abide in him. We are buried with him in baptism; we are raised with him through faith. His death is our death; his life is our life. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. We come to be in Christ through faith. We belong to him.

The Yes to all God’s promises is in Jesus. When we are in Jesus, depending on him, trusting in him, all God’s promises are Yes to us!

The Goal of the Promises

We have looked at the certainty of God’s promises (they are God’s promises), the scope of God’s promises (all the promises), the sphere of God’s promises (in Christ), and now we will look at the goal of God’s promises.

2 Corinthians 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

That is why, through him, the Amen, comes to God, for his glory, through us. It is in Jesus that the Yes to all God’s promises comes to us. It is through Jesus the Amen comes to God for his glory through us. Amen is a Hebrew word, often a response to a benediction or a doxology or a thanksgiving. It is a strong affirmation; let it be so. It is through Jesus, through our experience of the Yes of God to all God’s promises in Jesus that the Amen comes back to God for his glory. God is glorified when we experience the Yes of his promises in Jesus and we resonate together the Amen. God is glorified when his people together enjoy his promises and respond together with the Amen in worship. God’s promises are meant to be experienced and enjoyed. The goal of the promises is to resound to the glory of God. As we enjoy together in Jesus the yes to all God’s promises, we respond back to God with the Amen of worship that brings glory to him. This is astounding! That because we are in Christ, because in Christ we enjoy God’s promises, we now have the capacity to glorify God together!

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

November 28, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 1:15-16; Confidence and Double Grace

11/12 2 Corinthians 1:15-16; Confidence and Double Grace ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171112_2cor1_15-16.mp3

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. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Change in Plans

Paul’s travel plans had changed. In 1 Corinthians 4:19, he mentioned sending Timothy to Corinth, and he says “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills.” At the end of 1 Corinthians, he says

1 Corinthians 16:5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.

This plan didn’t happen. Timothy sent word to Paul that the Corinthians didn’t respond well to 1 Corinthians. Paul changed his plans and made an emergency visit to Corinth. This proved to be a difficult confrontation, a ‘painful visit’ (2Cor.2:1). Paul then returned from Corinth to Ephesus.

His plan, as he states here, was to complete his ministry in Ephesus, sail to Corinth, continue up through Macedonia to receive their collection, then stop again in Corinth on his way back to Jerusalem with the collection. Instead, when he received news that things only got worse in Corinth after his painful visit, he sent Titus with a ‘severe letter’ (2Cor.2:3-4). Now, writing to them from Macedonia after meeting Titus, he is aware that some are questioning his integrity and his spirituality. How can he really be spiritual if he’s not in tune enough to lay out godly travel plans? Paul here communicates his heart, what he wanted to do, and why he changed his plans and did what he did. The specifics of why he changed his plans don’t come until the beginning of chapter 2, but he begins by grounding their confidence in the faithful character of God in the gospel.

Confidence

Paul begins by saying ‘Because I was sure of this.’ Sure of what? ‘And persuaded by this’ or ‘and in this confidence.’ What was Paul confident of? Look back at verses 12-14.

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. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

Paul is confident in the testimony of his own conscience. He is sure that he lived with simplicity and sincerity, that he lived by the grace of God. He is supremely confident in the gospel, that it will accomplish its intended purpose, both in him and in the Corinthians, ‘that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.’ The gospel will bring both he and they into the presence of the Lord, where their only boast will be a boast in the amazing grace and faithfulness of God. Paul’s confidence is not in the fickle Corinthians, nor on his own personal reliability in making his plans under the sovereign purposes of God. Paul’s confidence is squarely on the power of the gospel and the faithful character of God.

Second Grace; Help on the Journey

2 Corinthians 1:15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.

Paul’s purpose, based on his confidence in the gospel, was to come to Corinth first in order that they might have a second grace. What does this mean, ‘in order that you might have a second grace?’ Clearly, this second grace is related to the two proposed visits, the first on the way to Macedonia, and the second returning from Macedonia. This language sounds similar to Romans 1

Romans 1:9 …I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

We might read 2 Corinthians in light of this passage in Romans, and read into it a desire to impart grace to them to strengthen them by an apostolic visit. But the language of Romans is quite different from the language here in 2 Corinthians. Actually, the language of Romans 15 is closer to the language of 2 Corinthians than Romans 1.

Romans 15:23 …since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

This word ‘to be helped on my journey there’ is the same word translated ‘have you send me on my way’ in 2 Corinthians 1:16. This is also what we saw in 1 Corinthians 16:6 of ‘helping me on my journey, wherever I go,’ as well as 1 Corinthians 16:11, of ‘helping Timothy on his way in peace, that he may return to me.’ It seems there was a practice of churches partnering with the apostle or his co-workers in his ministry by sending them forward on their way, funding their travel and providing for their needs as they went out to advance the gospel.

No Obstacle to the Gospel

We also understand that Paul did not receive payment from the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 11 he says:

2 Corinthians 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

Paul refused to allow the Corinthians to pay him. The culture in Corinth was a patronage culture, where a wealthy benefactor could sponsor a slave and grant him his freedom, but that freedman would now be obligated to his patron to give honor. A wealthy patron could also hire a scholar to teach, and the more he paid, the more prestigious an education he could claim. Paul refused to play into this cultural climate, refusing to take any payment for his teaching, refusing to become indebted to anyone.

In 1 Corinthians 9, he said:

1 Corinthians 9:11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Paul refused to put an obstacle in the way of the gospel. In Corinth, receiving payment for preaching the gospel would imply that it was a message only for the wealthy who could afford to pay, and would put the gospel out of reach of the average Corinthian. He went on:

1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

…18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Many in Corinth took offense at his refusal to allow them to support him. But here Paul desired to offering them double grace.

Double Grace

What does Paul mean by this second grace? They had experienced God’s grace when they received the gospel. Grace is the polar opposite of earning, as we learned in Romans 4.

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,

Wages are not reckoned according to grace but according to debt. Grace and wages have nothing to do with one another. Wages are earned. Grace is undeserved, freely given. The gospel is the message that God’s favor cannot be earned. No amount of good works can indebt God to us that he must pay us back. God’s righteousness comes only as a gift freely given to those who are unrighteous and undeserving. We cannot merit it; another paid the price in full. Grace is God’s loving and God’s freely giving. When we begin to understand grace, when we begin to see God for who he is, when we see ourselves as we are, we begin to recognize that all of life is grace. Every breath is a gift we do not deserve.

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,

Our salvation from the wages of our sin is all of grace, and every moment is grace, but what does Paul mean here by a second grace linked to a double visit? It cannot be that they experience salvation a second time.

This second grace must be linked to the sending forward of the apostle. Verse 16 spells this out in three movements. Paul’s desire was that ‘through you he would travel through to Macedonia’ His language indicates that his travel to Macedonia would happen through or by means of the generosity of the Corinthians. This was to be his first coming to them and their first grace. ‘And again from Macedonia to come to you.’ This was the second movement. ‘And by you to be sent forward to Judea.’ This was the third movement, and the second grace, to send him forward.

Paul did not allow churches to pay him for his services, but he did allow them the grace of providing for the advance of the gospel as he left them to travel on. This understanding sees grace not as grace to be received, but grace to be given. The Corinthians had received all of God’s grace toward them in the gospel. Now they had been set free from the earning – obligation – debt cycle to freely give.

The Grace of Giving

Paul uses this word ‘grace’ in this sense unmistakably in reference to the collection for Jerusalem in 1 Corinthians 16.

1 Corinthians 16:3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift [grace] to Jerusalem.

The collection the Corinthians make for the poor saints in Jerusalem in called ‘your grace’. They will carry your grace to Jerusalem.’

In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul talks more about this grace of giving.

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor [grace] of taking part [fellowship] in the relief of the saints—

God’s grace was given and they begged for the grace of fellowship in the service to the saints. Notice this grace of giving is an expression of God’s grace given to them.

2 Corinthians 8:6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. …9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

The collection of money is referred to as ‘this grace.’ And it is grounded on knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is the initiating grace that births in us a grace toward others. We have received freely that which we did not deserve at great cost to Jesus. We then are set free to freely give, not in order to earn anything, but out of the eager overflow of what we have freely received. We are ‘set free to meet the needs of others, because God has met our needs in Christ’ [ESVSB note]. God’s grace is a transforming grace. It births grace in us toward others. This is the confidence Paul had in the gospel, that it creates grace in the lives of those who have been transformed by God’s free and undeserved grace. Paul’s confidence was not in the Corinthians, but in God’s transforming grace, that creates grace in all who have truly received his grace, to see his grace freely proclaimed to more and more and more people.

Giving for the Glory of God

2 Corinthians 8:19 …as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will.

This grace is ultimately for the glory of the Lord himself. We do not give to get. We do not give to get recognition or praise. We do not give to get rewards or status. We give only, exclusively to give glory to God. Our giving brings glory to God because our grace in giving is birthed in us in response to his grace freely given to us. Freely you have received, freely give (Mt.10:8 KJV).

2 Corinthians 1:15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.

What is your confidence in? Your faithfulness? Someone else’s faithfulness? Or is it in the gospel alone?

Do you consider giving to advance the gospel an obligation? A burden? Or a grace?

Have you been set free to give to the needs of others because God has met all your needs in Christ?

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

November 14, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fruit and Looking to Jesus; 2 Corinthians 3

09/03 Fruit and Looking to Jesus; 2 Corinthians 3; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170903_fruit-looking-to-jesus.mp3

We have been looking at the fruit of the Spirit, Christian character that the Holy Spirit produces in the life of every believer. Las week we looked at the whole fruit; that all of these characteristics of the Spirit controlled life will be growing in a balanced symmetrical way in the follower of Jesus.

Sovereignty and Means

Last week I also mentioned that although it is the Spirit’s work to produce the fruit in our lives, we are also commanded to do things that facilitate his work in our lives. We can say that God sovereignly works in our lives, but he often chooses to do his work through means; often ordinary means. The Bible tells us that Jesus ‘upholds the universe by the word of his power’ (Heb.1:3), and we are told that ‘in him all things hold together’ (Col.1:17). Jesus tells us not to worry about what to eat or drink, he tells us that we are of more value than the birds, ‘and yet God feeds them’ (Luke 12:24). But when we look at the birds, we see them spending time flying around in search of food. And the clear teaching of the New Testament is that ‘If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat’ (2Thess.3:10). They are commanded to ‘do their work quietly and earn their own living’ (v.12). So God sustains, but he sustains through his appointed means. He can sustain supernaturally, as he did on occasion, sustaining the Exodus generation with bread from heaven in the wilderness, and commanding the ravens to bring bread and meat to Elijah east of the Jordan (1Kings 17). God can sustain supernaturally, but normally he sustains us naturally. We work and earn wages. He gave us the ability to work. It is he that ultimately causes the crops to grow. He gives us the breath in our lungs. He causes our digestive systems to draw sustenance from the food we eat. He causes our cells to carry these nutrients to the parts of our bodies that need them. He sustains us, but he sustains us through his ordinary appointed means like working and eating.

This is the same with the fruit of the Spirit. God the Spirit produces the fruit in our lives, but he chooses to do this through his appointed means. God gives us means of grace. Today and next week I want to look at two of the primary God appointed means God employs to produce his character in our lives. Today we will look at 2 Corinthians 3:18 and the chapters that surround it.

Spiritual Transformation through Beholding

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This passage says that spiritual transformation comes through ‘beholding the glory of the Lord with unveiled face.’ This transformation is ‘into the image of our Lord’. First, I want to look at the context to see if it is right for us to link this transformation to the fruit of the Spirit that we have been studying in Galatians. Then I want to ask what it means to behold and how it is that we behold.

Transformation and the Fruit of the Spirit

First, to show that this is talking about the fruit of the Spirit, we need to look at the context. Verse 17 links this to the Spirit of the Lord producing freedom, and verse 18 reminds us that this transformation comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. So there is a direct link to the Holy Spirit in this passage. The transformation we are talking about comes from the Lord who is the Spirit, so the Spirit produces this transformation in us, just as the Spirit produces fruit in Galatians 5.

But if we back up and look at the broader context, we see from the beginning of this chapter that Paul is defending his ministry by pointing to fruit in the lives of the believers he has served.

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Paul is saying that the authentication for his ministry is the transformed lives of the Corinthians. He says that they are a letter of commendation ‘written with the Spirit of the living God on the tablets of their human hearts.’ This is the New Covenant transformation that was promised in the Old.

In chapter 4, he describes how this transformation takes place, and what hinders this transformation. He describes this transformation in verse 10 as ‘so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies’ and again in verse 11 ‘so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.’ The Spirit’s transformation displays the life of Jesus in us. As we studied love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, we saw that it really is a picture of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit puts Jesus on display in our bodies, in our interactions with others.

Verse 16 reminds us that the Spirit’s fruit grows gradually. It says ‘our inner self is being renewed day by day.’ This is inner character; fruit that grows slowly, one day at a time.

In chapter 5, he points us to our eagerness to ‘make it our aim to please him’ (v.9). In verse 14-15 he says ‘the love of Christ controls us …that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him…’ The Spirit controlled life is a life lived to please Jesus. Then he says in verse 17

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God…

A new creation in Christ. The old life controlled by the flesh is gone. The new life, the Spirit controlled life is here.

I think it is safe to say that this transformation in 2 Corinthians that comes from the Spirit is the same thing that Paul talks about in Galatians 5 as the fruit of the Spirit.

Freedom in the Spirit

How does he say this comes about? What is the means of grace he points us to that God works through to produce this fruit in us?

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Notice first, that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom, not bondage. This is not a legalistic pursuit of moralistic personal character, but a spiritual pursuit of the character of Jesus and the Father produced in us by the Spirit. This is not obligation and debt but transformation and delight. In the Spirit we find true freedom. This is freedom to look and to enjoy.

Unveiled Faces

The freedom comes with unveiled faces. What does this mean? Paul is contrasting the New Covenant, of which he is a minister, with the Old Covenant, of which Moses was the minister. In 3:3 he contrasts the tablets of stone, the document of the Old Covenant, with the tablets of human hearts. In 3:6 he says the Old was of the letter, and it brought death; the New is of the Spirit and it gives life. Verse 9 contrasts the ministry of condemnation with the ministry of reconciliation. Verse 11 contrasts the temporary and fading with the permanent

Beginning in verse 7, he contrasts the glory of the shining face of Moses after coming down from meeting with God, with the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit. He has in mind Exodus 34, where Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the second copy of the covenant documents that Israel had broken. He asked God to show him his glory, and God responded:

Exodus 34:6 “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 revealed his character to Moses. Steadfast love, patience, merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, just. God’s glory, God’s character.

Exodus 34:29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.

God’s character, God’s glory changed the face of Moses. Being in the presence of God changed him. After speaking God’s words to Israel, he would put a veil over his face to keep them from seeing the glory fade. Paul picks this up in 2 Corinthians 3.

2 Corinthians 3:13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

The veil Paul is talking about is the hardness of mind and heart; an unbelieving heart that fails to see Christ as Lord. The veil is removed only through Christ.

In the next chapter Paul explains.

2 Corinthians 4:2 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. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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.

Paul says that the veil is a Satanic blinding of the minds of unbelievers to keep them from perceiving the truth of the gospel. This spiritual blindness is only overcome through the plain proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord, as Creator God speaks light into the dark hearts of unbelievers overcoming their spiritual blindness. This is the unveiled face that beholds the glory of the Lord. This removal of spiritual blindness, this shining the light of the knowledge of God in Jesus, is another way of talking about the new birth. When we were dead, God made us alive in Christ Jesus by grace. When we were blind, God said ‘Let light shine’.

Transformation by Beholding

So a primary evidence of the new birth or regeneration or being saved is being able to see Jesus with new eyes, being able to see the light of the good news of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Recognizing Jesus Christ as Lord. Being able to perceive with spiritual eyes the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus. This is what Paul is talking about when he says back in

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Just like Moses asked to see the glory of God, and God revealed to him his character, so we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus, who is God in the flesh. We see the glory of God in the gospel. We behold the glory of Jesus in the gospels as his character is portrayed through his interactions with sinners. We see the glory of God in his plan of salvation unfolding as the Son of God is born in a cave in Bethlehem. We see the glory of God culminate at the cross, where the innocent Jesus is condemned to die in the place of guilty sinners. We see the glory of a holy and just God as he pours out his wrath on the substitute, so that through his death we might live. We begin to treasure this God who is

Exodus 34:6 “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.”

In the face of Jesus we see the glory of God who is

Galatians 5:22 …love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control…

And when we see it, when God gives us eyes to see Jesus, we are transformed. Beholding the glory of the Lord, beholding Jesus and the gospel, we are being transformed. Just like Moses didn’t know it, but others could see it, when we spend time gazing at Jesus, meditating on the good news of Jesus Christ and him crucified, treasuring Jesus, we are being changed. Often others will notice before we do.

2 Corinthians 4 tells us that this transformation is often accompanied by suffering. 4:16 tells us:

2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We are being renewed day by day, even in the face of suffering as we look to the things that are unseen.

2 Corinthians is not the only place we see this means of transformation. 1 John says:

1 John 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image.

Gaze on His Beauty

So what is the means of grace that the Spirit of God chooses to utilize to bring about the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer? ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord we are being transformed!’ Transformation by beholding. The Spirit’s fruit grows, Jesus is put on display in my body as I look!

Ask God for eyes to see! Ask him for eyes to see Jesus for who he is. Ask him to break your hardness and resurrect your deadness and overcome your darkness with the marvelous light of his glorious gospel!

This is the one thing the Psalmist pursued

Psalm 27:4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

One thing I ask. One thing I seek. To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. To see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, the image of God. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

So look! Take time to look. To behold. To enjoy. To savor. To treasure. And as you spend time with Jesus, you will be transformed.

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

September 4, 2017 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, Fruit of the Spirit, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 25:23-38; Jubilee – Redemption of the Land

04/02 Leviticus 25:23-38; Jubilee; Redemption of Land; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170402_leviticus-25_23-38.mp3

The chapter divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase “I am YHWH your God.”

The first section of Leviticus 25 extends the calendar begun in chapter 23 and deals with the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. Every seventh day, people and animals were to rest from their labors. There were certain holy times each year that were set apart for specific purposes, days in which no work was to be done, days of rest and worship. Every seventh year, the land was to keep a Sabbath rest. This was the Sabbath year. After seven weeks of years, after 49 years, the fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee. Liberty was proclaimed and a return to property and to families. Rest was required. God’s provision was promised. There was a warning not to wrong a neighbor. The focus of the first section is the cycle of work and rest, even rest for the land, and the promise of God’s provision.

The second section, verses 23-38, begins with God’s claim that the land belongs to him, and concludes with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” The focus of this section is land, its sale and redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

Verses 39-55 address the situation where a person would sell himself to pay off a debt. In verse 42, God asserts his ownership over the people whom he brought out of the land of Egypt be his servants. This section concludes with “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The focus of the final section is God’s people, their sale, and their redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

1-22 rest for land; Sabbath year and Jubilee

23-38 redemption or release of land

39-55 redemption or release of people

Our focus today will be the second section of this chapter.

God Owns the Land

God begins in verse 23 with his assertion of ownership over the land.

Leviticus 25:23 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.

This sets the parameters for the discussion of land ownership and sale and release. This speaks to the rest for the land every seventh year and every fiftieth year. God’s people would be tempted to argue ‘but I can’t stop working the land for a whole year! How could we survive?’ When we are entrusted with something, especially if it is for a long time, we begin to feel like we own it. We have had access to it for so long that we begin to think of it as belonging to us. God reminds his people ‘the land is mine.’ The land does not belong to you. I can tell you what you can and can’t do with the land, because the land belongs to me.

Tenant farming was a typical arrangement in the ancient world. We see this under Joseph in Egypt. The severity of the famine forced the Egyptians to sell their land to the Pharaoh in order to survive.

Genesis 47:18 …“We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. …23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.”

So all the land in Egypt was owned by the Pharaoh, but he allowed the people to live on it and work his land in exchange for 20 percent of the produce.

Several of Jesus’ parables used the illustration of stewardship; money or a vineyard was entrusted to someone’s care, and at some point the owner returned and expected his portion of the harvest or a return on his investment.

God reminds his people “the land is mine.” I’m allowing you to squat on my land, to live on it, to farm it, to use it. But don’t forget, it belongs to me. “You are strangers and sojourners with me.” In Leviticus we have heard a lot about the strangers and sojourners in the land. This typically refers to non-Israelites, foreigners. Here God reminds his people, Israel ‘you are aliens, strangers in a land not belonging to you. It is my land. I am the King, the great landlord. I set the terms of your occupation and your tenancy. As the landowner, he reserves the right to evict any tenants who refuse to follow his rules. He has done this before. In Leviticus chapters 18 and 20, where God lays out the code of conduct he requires of his people, he reminds them

Leviticus 20:22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. 24 But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples.

God is the landowner, and he is evicting the former tenants after excessively generous notification. But this is a warning to his own people. If they refuse to follow his rules, they too will be evicted. God’s people are always to keep in mind that they are sojourners and strangers living on God’s land.

As such, “the land shall not be sold in perpetuity.” God’s people living in God’s land are allowed to sub-lease the land to others. But no sales are final, because the land belongs to God. In the first section, introducing the year of Jubilee, God clarified that what is being sold is not the land itself, but the number of harvests until the year of Jubilee, when the land would return to the ones God allotted it to.

Redemption and the Kinsman Redeemer

Leviticus 25:24 And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. 25 “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.

Here we are introduced to the idea of redemption. This noun shows up 9 times in this chapter, twice in Ruth 4, twice in Jeremiah 32, and once in Ezekiel. Leviticus 25 is key to understanding what redemption means. The verb form shows up 10 times in this chapter, and 12 times in Leviticus 27, a handful of times scattered through the rest of the Pentateuch and the other historical books; 21 times in Ruth, twice in Job, 10 times in Psalms, once in Proverbs, 24 times in Isaiah (x24); and several other occurrences in the prophets. The noun is gullah (gheh-ool-law’), from the verb ga’al (gaw-al’), kinsman redeemer. The same verb is translated ‘avenger’ in the phrase ‘avenger of blood’ about 12 times in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 2 Samuel. As we learn from Leviticus and from Ruth, the kinsman redeemer was a near relative who had the ability to right what was wrong in the family. If a brother was in financial trouble, his nearest redeemer had the responsibility to keep the land in the family. In the next section we will see a brother who sells himself into slavery can be redeemed by his kinsman redeemer. In Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, the kinsman redeemer had the responsibility to defend the rights of his kin and avenge his murder. In the poetic and prophetic books, God is the kinsman redeemer of his people. This is the foundation for the concept of the redemption we have in Jesus in the New Testament.

Leviticus 25:26 If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27 let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. 28 But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.

The one who sells his own land may redeem it himself if he becomes financially able. This would be highly unlikely, apart from receiving an inheritance. The redemption price is to be a fair price, the price for which the land was sold, less the amount of harvests that have benefited the buyer after the sale. So if there was 30 years until the Jubilee, and the land could generate 1,000 a year, it would be sold for 30,000. If ten years into the contract, a kinsman redeemer came forward to redeem the land, he would pay 20,000, in effect refunding the value of the 20 remaining years. The buyer should have gotten his 10,000 out of the land in the first ten years of his lease.

If there is no one able to redeem the land, it must remain in the possession of the buyer until the Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee, the land reverts to the one God had entrusted it to.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to these general rules of redemption and release covered in the rest of this section.

Leviticus 25:29 “If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption. 30 If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong in perpetuity to the buyer, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31 But the houses of the villages that have no wall around them shall be classified with the fields of the land. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee.

Houses in walled cities were an exception to the rule. The seller retained the right to redeem it for one year, after which it became the permanent possession of the buyer. Houses in unwalled villages were counted as land, and were subject to the same redemption and release in the Jubilee.

Then there is an exception to the exception.

Leviticus 25:32 As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites may redeem at any time the houses in the cities they possess. 33 And if one of the Levites exercises his right of redemption, then the house that was sold in a city they possess shall be released in the jubilee. For the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34 But the fields of pastureland belonging to their cities may not be sold, for that is their possession forever.

The Levites, remember, were not given any land inheritance, only cities scattered within the other tribes of Israel; cities of refuge. Dwellings given to the Levites in these cities could always be redeemed, and they would be released back to them in the Jubilee.

Hospitality to a Brother

Verses 35-38 conclude this section with an exhortation to take care of your brother, and a warning to fear God.

Leviticus 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

Leviticus 19 told us to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love the stranger as yourself. But we may not feel that this extends to a near relative. We know them. They knew better. ‘I’m willing to help my neighbor, and the guy I don’t know, but my brother, well, he got himself into this mess. I warned him and he didn’t listen. He needs to learn his lesson. I’m not going to bail him out; he’ll just do it again.’ God says, don’t harden your heart to your relative. Treat him at least as well as you would treat a stranger. Take him in. Help him out. Help him get back on his feet. Show hospitality. Don’t enable him, but don’t take advantage of his vulnerable situation either. We see a similar warning to what we saw in the first section of this chapter.

Redemption is to be a blessing to those in need. Don’t turn the blessing into a curse. Don’t hold it over his head. Don’t take interest from him. Don’t capitalize on his misfortune. Genuinely seek to help him get back on his feet. Do for him what you would want him to do for you if it was you who fell on hard times. Do not take advantage of him, but fear God. You were slaves in Egypt. God brought you out and gave you the land. The land you possess is a gift from God. Give a gift to your brother in need.

Application

How do we apply a passage like this? We must remember, this was written to Israel after God rescued them from Egypt and was preparing them to enter Canaan. The land promises were a big deal. But we are not Israel, this is not Canaan, we don’t have Levites or walled cities, our property was not apportioned by God, and we don’t release property back to its original owner in the year of Jubilee.

Care for your Brothers

But we can draw some principles that do apply to us today. We are not under the kinsman redeemer laws, but it is right to look out for our relatives.

1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 John asks:

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Acknowledged God’s Sovereignty

We may not be in the promised land, but we should recognize God’s absolute ownership and right over all that he has made. Psalm 24, quoted in 1 Corinthians 10, says:

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,

God is the Creator of all that is. He made it and he can do with it what he pleases. He retains the authority to make the rules and enforce them. Everything belongs to him and it exists to please him.

We need to be reminded that we have been entrusted with a stewardship, and that we will be called to account for what we have done with what we have been given. We are sojourners and strangers in a land that belongs to another.

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Look to the Redeemer

Most importantly, we understand from this passage a little more clearly what redemption is all about. It was the responsibility of a near relative to redeem the one in trouble. Jesus,

Philippians 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus became related to us, became one of us, became human, so that he could be our Kinsman Redeemer. Hebrews says:

Hebrews 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

He had to be made like his brothers, so that he could redeem us as brothers. Isaiah even goes so far as to say:

Isaiah 54:5 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.

Our Creator became our husband to redeem us. Jesus is our Redeemer, our near kinsman, the one who comes to our rescue when we are poor and desperate and beyond all hope. Jesus is our rescue when all other hope is lost.

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

April 4, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 14:33-57; Cleansing the House

09/11 Leviticus 14:33-57; Cleansing the House; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160911_leviticus-14_33-57.mp3

Chapters 11-15 of Leviticus deal with what makes a person unclean, unfit to enter God’s presence, and how a person can be cleansed and restored to fellowship with God. Chapter 11 deals with categories of creatures that were or were not permitted for food, and the consequences of contact with the carcass of an animal. Chapter 12 addressed the issue of uncleanness resulting from the blood involved in childbirth. Chapters 13-14 deal with various skin diseases and how to be cleansed. In addition to human skin ailments, Chapter 13 also deals with diseases in leather or fabrics. Chapter 14 also deals with diseases in the stones of a house. That will be our focus today. Then chapter 15 deals with normal and abnormal bodily discharges. We plan to take that up next week.

Leviticus 14:33 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 34 “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, 35 then he who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, ‘There seems to me to be some case of disease in my house.’

As we have seen so often, Leviticus is a word directly from the Lord. ‘The LORD spoke, saying…’ ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (2Tim.3:16).

May we find here today appropriate reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Notice this section looks forward to the time when Israel will be settled in the land. So far, all the other instructions had the flexibility to apply equally to Israel in the wilderness camped around the tabernacle and Israel in the promised land with the temple in Jerusalem. But this section specifically addresses ‘when you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession.’ This deals not with tents camped around the tent of the Lord, but with houses of stone and timber and plaster in the land. As a side note, this is a confirmation that Leviticus was written early, spoken to Moses and Aaron before Israel left Sinai.

God the Sovereign Source of Blessing and Disaster

This is a confirmation of God’s promise. Not ‘if you come into the land of Canaan,’ but ‘when you come into the land of Canaan.’ God takes credit. You will enter in, because I will give it to you for a possession. God is reminding them here that every good thing comes from God. Every good thing is a gift from the Lord.

But this is also a sobering reminder that bad things also come ultimately from the Lord. ‘And I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession.’ God takes credit for both good and bad. God will bring his people into the land. God may also put a disease in a house, and it may lead to the house being condemned and destroyed as a complete loss. Nothing is said here why God would do this. Could it be discipline for sin? Perhaps… Perhaps not. We are not told. We tend to look for reasons. Why did my car break down? Why did my sewer back up? Why cancer? Why has disaster overtaken me? What did I do wrong? What did I fail to do that I ought to have done? Is God angry with me? Or is this the evil one attacking me? Notice the common denominator of these speculations is a desire to justify oneself. Did I do something wrong and God is upset, or did I do something right and the devil is upset? And the focus is on me and my comfort. This text says that God might cause something really disastrous to happen to you, and it doesn’t say why.

In Isaiah 45, God is calling the Persian king Cyrus to rebuild his temple in Jerusalem. God says:

Isaiah 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity [ra; evil], I am the LORD, who does all these things. (cf. Lament. 3:38; Amos 3:6)

God is shifting our focus from us to him. We are concerned with our own well-being. I want things to go well for me, and I want to avoid calamity. God is lifting our eyes from ourselves to himself. ‘I am the LORD, there is no other. That people may know across the globe that there is none besides me; I am the LORD and there is no other.’ I am sovereign over sickness, over sorrow, over suffering, over disease, over disaster. I am the great Creator and I have rights to do what I will with my creation. ‘I am the LORD, who does all these things.’

Of course, it is wise to ask ‘is God trying to get my attention? What am I supposed to be learning from all this?’ But it is not necessarily about me. It might be bigger than me. We get that kind of bigger perspective from the book of Job. Horrible, unimaginable things happened to Job. He lost all that he had in a single day. His 500 yoke of oxen and 500 female donkeys were stolen by the Sabeans and all his servants were killed. Fire from heaven fell and burned up his 7,000 sheep and all his servants attending them. A Chaldean raiding party stole his 3,000 camels and killed those servants. A great wind collapsed his oldest son’s house and killed all 7 of his sons and his 3 daughters. Only four servants, one from each disaster scene survived to bring him the news. Why? What did he do? The book introduces Job as a man ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.’ Then it must have been a Satanic attack! Yes, that is true, to an extent. It was a Satan who ‘went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job.’ But we could also say that the LORD incited and then allowed Satan to attack. ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ In chapter 2, God again says to Satan ‘have you considered my servant Job? …He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.’ This time Job was struck ‘with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.’ Job’s response? ‘Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?

Job 1:20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Job understood that ‘the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away’ and that in the midst of it all, God is worthy of worship. 42 painful chapters later, Job says:

Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. …5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;

Sometimes it doesn’t help to ask why. We need to simply trust and rest and cling to the LORD. We can confidently and expectantly hold on to Romans 8:28.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

I can be confident that whatever difficulty I face today, God is in complete control, and he is working in it for my good. For those who love God, for those who belong to God through faith in Jesus, for those who are called according to his purpose, we know that all things work together for good.

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

So if God puts a case of leprous disease in your house and it is condemned and destroyed, you can trust that God is in control and he is working even in that for your good.

A Diseased House

Leviticus 14:34 “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, 35 then he who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, ‘There seems to me to be some case of disease in my house.’ 36 Then the priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, lest all that is in the house be declared unclean. And afterward the priest shall go in to see the house. 37 And he shall examine the disease. And if the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, 38 then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house and shut up the house seven days. 39 And the priest shall come again on the seventh day, and look. If the disease has spread in the walls of the house, 40 then the priest shall command that they take out the stones in which is the disease and throw them into an unclean place outside the city. 41 And he shall have the inside of the house scraped all around, and the plaster that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city. 42 Then they shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other plaster and plaster the house. 43 “If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, 44 then the priest shall go and look. And if the disease has spread in the house, it is a persistent leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. 45 And he shall break down the house, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them out of the city to an unclean place. 46 Moreover, whoever enters the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening, 47 and whoever sleeps in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes.

Deep, Spreading and Persistent

We have been looking at skin diseases in Leviticus. Chapters 13 and 14 deal not only with surface issues on people, but also on cloth or leather articles, and on houses. As we have seen, the priest is to inspect the issue to see if it is a serious issue, if it is something that makes one unfit to enter the presence of the Lord. The evidence of a serious issue is ‘if it appears to be deeper than the surface’ and ‘if it spreads’. The priest is looking for deeper issues, persistent issues, things that tend to spread and grow. The diseased house is to be evacuated and sealed up for a week, and re-inspected. If the house is ultimately condemned, it is to be destroyed and none of the building materials are to be reused. The danger of an unclean house is that it hinders the ability of the one who has contact with it from entering the presence of the Lord.

The Kindness and Patience of God

Although this is a very serious issue, notice the kindness and patience of God. First, all the belongings are to be removed before the house is inspected. This allows the homeowner to keep his possessions out of quarantine and ultimately from being destroyed. And at the first sign of an issue the house is not immediately condemned and destroyed. A waiting period is established. The house is re-inspected Then the least invasive means is employed with the intent of preserving the home. Infected stones are removed, the house is scraped and re-plastered. Only if all this fails to resolve the issue is the entire house condemned.

Verses 48-53 give instructions almost identical to those earlier in the chapter for the curious ritual of cleansing a leper for making atonement for a house that has been cleansed, and then verses 54-57 serve as a concluding summary of chapters 13-14.

Jesus The Great High Priest and the House of God

I invite you to look with me to Jesus, our Great and Gracious High Priest. Let’s look at some of Jesus’ actions through the lens of Leviticus.

In John 2, after Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana, at the beginning of his ministry, we are told:

John 2:13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Jesus, if you will, as our Priest, is inspecting a house. It is the temple, which he calls his Father’s house. And he finds it diseased. So he scrapes the inside of the house. He drives all that is corrupt out of the house. And he leaves. But he does not shut the house up. Instead he returns and fills the house with his teaching. For over 3 years he is in and out of the house, spreading healing and his life giving good news. Then we pick up the story in the last week of his life,

Luke 19:37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives— the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” 41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” 45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” 47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. (cf. Mt.21:12-16; Mk.11:15-18)

Jesus came back to inspect his Father’s house. The disease had returned and spread. It was indeed deeper than the surface. Once again he scraped the house clean. But instead of submitting to the authority of the Great High Priest, the chief priests and scribes were seeking to kill him. The next day,

Mark 13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (cf. Mt.24:1-2; Lk.21:5-6)

The house is condemned. It must be torn down and destroyed. There was a persistent disease in the house.

A New Temple

But Jesus will build a new kind of house. In Ephesians 2, Paul tells the church, those blood-bought believers from every ethnicity that you are:

Ephesians 2:19 …members of the household of God 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Peter tells those who have been born again through the living word of God that:

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Paul tells the Corinthian church:

1 Corinthians 3:9 …You are God’s field, God’s building. …16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

We as Christ’s church are being built together into a dwelling place for God. And God still cares about the purity of his temple. From the seven letters to seven churches in Revelation, we see that Jesus is still inspecting his church. Jesus is involved, aware. Jesus is patient, he is gracious. But he will purify and perfect his church.

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

September 11, 2016 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Good Good God

01/31 Good Good God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160131_good-good-god.mp3

Review of Attributes

We are going to jump back into a study of who God is for the next weeks. We have been studying what God is like, what he says about himself in his word, not merely to satisfy our curiosity or to promote our own wisdom because we know more about him, but because we want to know him, to enjoy relationship with him, so that we can worship him in truth, as he is, not as we imagine him to be. We have seen that God is incomprehensible, yet knowable. He is infinitely far beyond our ability to know exhaustively, yet he is a God who desires to be known, and has made himself known. He is self-existent, not dependent on anything outside of himself for his own existence. He had no beginning and will have no end, he is eternal. He is unchangeable, consistent, he will not be different tomorrow than he is today, he is perfect and cannot improve. He is unlimited by time and space, fully present everywhere. He is spirit, not subject to the limitations of the material universe which he brought into existence with his word. He is unlimited in power; nothing is too hard for him. He is the absolute authority over all things, he is free to do what pleases him, he is unlimited in knowledge and wisdom. He is utterly unique, there is no other being like him, he is in a class by himself, yet he reveals that he eternally exists in the three distinct persons of Father, Son and Spirit, in satisfying relationship with one another.

These are some of the things God has revealed to us about himself. This is a terrifying being. He possesses all authority, all power, he is the uncaused cause of all things, he knows all, sees all, is invisible yet present everywhere, and answers to no one outside himself. If the maxim is true without exception that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then God would be the most unfathomably terrifying tyrannical despot, a sheer horror, a monster. But this is not how he reveals himself to us.

God is Good

The Bible tells us that God is good. In Exodus 33, Moses made a bold and startling request.

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.”

Moses asked to see God’s glory. A full revelation of all that God is would undo any mortal man, but God offers to give him a glimpse of his name, his character, who he is. He says ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you’. God defines himself as good. In the next chapter we see God’s goodness declared:

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, his very nature is described as the perfect blend of mercy, grace, patience, steadfast love, faithfulness, and justice. God is good. Psalm 25:8 says:

Psalm 25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

Psalm 100 says:

Psalm 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

God’s goodness is worthy of praise. Psalm 106 says:

Psalm 106:1 Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (cf. 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1)

God is good, and his goodness is cause for worship and thanksgiving.

Jesus, in Mark 10, was approached by a rich young man.

Mark 10:17 …a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (cf. Luke 18:18-19)

Jesus claims that God is exclusively good. He is challenging this man to consider what goodness is and the true identity of Jesus.

Defining Good

But what does it mean that God is good? That might sound like a silly question at first. Of course, everyone knows what good means. Until you try to articulate a definition. What exactly do we mean when we say ‘God is good?’ Stephen Charnock, a puritan minister who died in 1680, citing an older work, defined God’s goodness this way “the goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures” (Stephen Charnock 1628-1680, vol.2, p.219, cited from Coccei, sum. p.50)

God’s goodness is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with us. He deals well with us. He deals abundantly, bountifully with us. And he is inclined to do so. He prefers to be so with us.

Romans 5:7 helps clarify for us what good means. In this verse, a contrast is drawn between a good person and and a righteous person.

Romans 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—

It is more likely that a person would voluntarily die for a good person than for a righteous person. A righteous person is just, keeps the law, does what is right. The righteous person is self-focused, making sure they do everything right and are perceived as righteous. A good person, on the other hand, may not be quite so conscientious about his own righteousness, but he is others focused. He is generous and kind, goes out of his way to bless others. Someone might dare to die for a good person. Of course the real contrast shows up in verse 8,

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Our God is the kind of God who lays down his life for his enemies.

A. W. Tozer, in his ‘Knowledge of the Holy’, expands on Charnock’s definition. He writes: “The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.”

He goes on to say: “The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty is eager to be friends with us. But sin has made us timid and self-conscious, as well it might. Years of rebellion against God have bred in us, a fear that cannot be overcome in a day. The captured rebel does not enter willingly the presence of the king he has so long fought unsuccessfully to overthrow. But if he is truly penitent he may come, trusting only in the loving-kindness of his Lord, and the past will not be held against him.” (Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, p.57-58)

Mark 10:17 … “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

If God is truly inclined to deal well and bountifully with us, is it too much to imagine that God would be inclined to give us the free gift of eternal life, rather than require us to earn it? Is it even possible for us to earn it? Jesus, like the Psalmist in Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, encourages this man to re-evaluate his standard of goodness. “There is none who does good, not even one” (Ps.14:1, 3; cf. 53:1, 3) Could it be that Jesus might himself be God’s ultimate expression of his inclination to deal bountifully with us, paying a price we could never pay, in full?

God is Good to All

Psalm 145:9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

God is good to all. There is no part of his creation that escapes his inclination to do good. The context of this statement in Psalm 145 spells this out.

Psalm 145:5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. 6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. 7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. 10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you! …13 ​…[The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] 14 The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. 16 You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. 17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. 21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

God is not obliged to extend the same level of goodness to each of his creatures. We tend to suffer from the disease of entitlement. We assume that God owes us all equal benefit and privilege. God is free.

Matthew 20:15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

He is not obligated to extend his generosity to any. But he does give to each one better than they deserve. He could have sent Jesus to Sodom and Gomorrah, and they would have repented. But instead he sent righteous Lot. And it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those to whom Jesus came. (Mt.11:24).

Jesus said in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

God is good even to his enemies, to the evil and unjust. Listen to the abundant bounty of God poured out on his creation in Psalm 104.

Psalm 104:10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; 11 they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. 13 ​From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

God is indeed good to all.

God is the Source of All good

All good comes from God.

Genesis 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

In the beginning, God made all that is, and all that he made was very good. His inclination to deal bountifully was expressed in his creative acts. He gave existence to that which did not exist. And he blessed everything he made.

James tells us that

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God is the source of all good. All good that we experience ultimately comes from God. Any goodness in us or in our fellow man does not originate within us. It is a reflection of his image in us. It is a gift.

God is the one who equips us for every good work. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, God makes all grace about to us, so that we may abound in every good work. In Ephesians 2:10, we are God’s workmanship, created to walk in the good works he prepared in advance for us. In Colossians 1:9-10, we are filled with the knowledge of his will so that we can bear fruit in every good work. In 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, we are given good hope through grace to establish us in every good work and word. In 2 Timothy 3:17, we are given God’s word so that we may be equipped for every good work. In Hebrews 13:20-21, we are equipped with everything good that we might do his will, and he works in us that which is pleasing in his sight. God’s goodness is the source of any goodness in us.

God is Good In and Of Himself

Psalm 119:68 says:

Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.

We defined God’s goodness as his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. God does good because God is good. God is good in and of himself. God would be good if he had never expressed the overflow of his goodness in creation. God would remain good if he never demonstrated his goodness in redemption. Any goodness we experience from God is a free and unnecessary overflow of his goodness. Because God is inclined to deal bountifully, it does not necessarily follow that he must deal bountifully. For his own wise and good purposes, he is free to restrain his inclination to deal bountifully and instead give us what we have asked for. Hebrews 2:16 tells us that he chose not to rescue the angels who sinned. God makes it clear that his inclination is to forgive. Ezekiel 18:23 says:

Ezekiel 18:23 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? (cf. Ez.18:32; 33:11)

2 Peter 3 says:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God’s inclination is that we turn and find forgiveness. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and our God is mighty to save. But we know that not all people will be saved. God is free to restrain his inclination to deal bountifully with us for his own good purposes.

The prodigal’s father was clearly inclined to deal bountifully with his son, and he could have pursued his son into the far country, but he restrained his inclination and waited for his son to come to his senses and return. He was inclined to deal bountifully with his older son, and could have given him a calf to kill and make merry with his friends in spite of his hardness of heart toward his younger brother, but this inclination was restrained by a greater purpose. The son must come in to experience his bounty.

God is the Ultimate Good we Seek

God does good to all, he is the source of all good, God is good in and of himself, and God is the supreme good of every creature.

Psalm 16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” …5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. …11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Psalmist cries out that there is no good apart from God. God is our supreme good. To be contented with God’s good gifts and not pursue him, a relationship with him, is to settle for something fleeting and temporary. At the end of Psalm 17, the psalmist prays for deliverance from the wicked men of the world.

Psalm 17:14 … from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants. 15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Their portion is in this life. They, like the rich man in Jesus’ story, received their good things in this life. But far better to accept hardship and persecution in this life, with our eyes fixed on he alone who can eternally satisfy. Jesus said in Luke 9,

Luke 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Psalm 73 says:

Psalms 73:25 ​Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. …28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

What is your greatest good? What is it that you are pursuing? Psalm 34 is an invitation … to you!

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

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

January 31, 2016 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God All Knowing and Wise

11/29 God All-Knowing and Wise [omniscience] ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20151129_god-all-knowing-wise.mp3

We are spending some time savoring together what God tells us about himself. He is the most perfect being, and to know him is to know true joy and fulfillment. We have the pleasure of enjoying a blood-bought relationship with this God who is Father, Son and Spirit. Throughout Scripture, we are pointed back to the character and nature of God as the foundation for our lives, for hope in troubled times, as an anchor for our souls. We are warned of the dangers and consequences of believing false things about God or imagining him to be other than he is. We want to know God, to see what he has said about himself, to worship him in truth.

The Good News of Omniscience

Last time we looked at the power of God, the freedom and authority of God. God is sovereign. God has the right and ability to rule over his creation however he sees fit, and that is good news because he is good and only does what is best.

Today we will look at the wisdom and knowledge of God. The Bible teaches us that God ‘is perfect in knowledge’ (Job37:16); that ‘he knows everything’ (1Jn.3:20); Peter told Jesus ‘Lord, you know everything’ (Jn.21:17); Solomon addresses God ‘you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind’ (1Ki.8:39); the Psalmist declares:

Psalm 147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. 5 ​Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

The author of Hebrews says:

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.

This is terrifying to those who do not know the forgiveness that comes only through a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. He knows my heart, and my heart is ‘deceitful and desperately sick’ (Jer.17:9-10). I must ‘give account for every careless word’ I speak (Mt.12:36). But to those who do know him, this is good news indeed! He knows everything about me, and he loves me anyway?! He will never find out something about me that he doesn’t already know, that would cause him to turn away from me? There is nothing I will do in the future that he doesn’t already know, that would change his heart toward me? Truly, as David said:

Psalm 32:1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity… (Romans 4:7-8)

God who Cannot Learn

We stand amazed at a God who is ‘perfect in knowledge’. There is nothing God does not fully know. God cannot increase in knowledge, because he is ‘perfect in knowledge’. There is nothing God must learn. God will never be surprised, or caught off guard by new information.

So often our decisions are just plain bad. Have you ever made a bad decision? We make the best decisions we can based on the information we have, but we never have all the information. And the information we do have, we do not always know how to best utilize it. Have you ever said after the fact, ‘well that would have been really helpful to know’?

When I was younger, my mom used to make homemade frosting, and put it in these little orange Tupperware containers in the fridge. I would often spread some on a graham cracker for an after school snack. One day I remember coming home from school, opening the fridge, grabbing the little orange container, scooping up a finger full of the ‘frosting’ and popping it in my mouth, only to learn too late that this little orange container did not contain frosting, it was lard! That would have been nice to know before I stuck some in my mouth!

God never makes a bad decision based on incomplete information.

Sometimes our decisions are based on bad information. Did you know that sometimes people will tell you only part of the story in hopes that you will make the decision they want you to make? We have learned this through the challenging process of raising kids. ‘Dad, my brother sat on me and tried to scratch my eyes out! Look what he did to me!’ Your sense of justice is roused and you let the gavel fall. Then, through the tears, you come to find out that there is another side to this story. The ‘victim’ had been ruthlessly taunting and provoking her brother to the point where out of sheer frustration he responded the way he did. There is guilt on both sides. Sometimes people are less than truthful. How do you know who is telling you the truth? How do you know if it is the whole truth? God is never left to wonder. God knows the truth. God sees the thoughts and intents of the heart. God is never duped into making a judgment based on false information. God is perfect in knowledge.

God and ‘Chance’

But even if we had access to all the information, even if we had all the facts, we still can’t know what will happen in the future. Companies spend lots of money on surveys and statistical studies and analyzing trends and data and probabilities, but in the end, they have to roll the dice and take a chance. God never takes a chance. God ‘declares the end from the beginning’ (Is.41:22-26; 46:9-10).

It is true that the Bible talks of God as ‘regretting’ or ‘repenting’ or ‘changing his mind’ (Gen.6:5-7); but should we understand this to mean that God didn’t know what would happen before it happened? Should we understand that God took a chance and was surprised and caught off guard by what happened, and through the experience learned some things, and needed to quickly come up with plan B? God is grieved by the sinful choices of his creatures; he responds differently to disobedience than he does to obedience, but he is not surprised. He does not regret in the sense that he wishes he had had access to better information on which to base his actions.

Proverbs 16:33 ​The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

In fact, there is no such thing as chance. God’s providence rules the world, he determines the outcome of every roll of the dice. ‘Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father’ Jesus said (Mt.10:29). We can take comfort that the things we view as chance are in the omnipotent hand of an all wise God who loves us.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Even tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, even death, even the uncertainties of the future, (Rom.8:35-39) God will work even these things together for our good.

God Aloof or Involved?

In Psalm 139, the Psalmist expresses amazement at the wisdom and knowledge of God.

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.

God knows all my actions, even insignificant ones. God knows all my thoughts. God knows my plans, my habits. God knows how I will respond to any given situation. God knows everything I will ever say before I ever say it.

But is God a passive spectator? An all-wise sideline observer? He never interferes, right?

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.

This word ‘to hem in’ means to bind, confine, cramp, enclose, shut in, secure. This seems to indicate that God is not passively watching, but is actively involved. And the Psalmist responds that this knowledge is wonderful.

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.

God is present to lead, guide, or govern; and to hold, grasp, seize, take possession of, or enclose.

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. 13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 ​My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 ​If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

Every day of my life was written in God’s book before I existed! Every one of my days was formed as a potter forms the clay. There is no room here for the god of the deist, who set creation in motion, and then passively observes from a distance, aloof and uninvolved. God is intimately involved in our lives, leading, holding, hemming in, forming. And this is a good thing. God’s thoughts are incalculably great and precious, treasured, valuable.

The Psalmist concludes with a glad invitation to God’s interference in his life.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

God’s knowing is not a mere distant awareness of facts, but an involved nurturing protecting directing care.

Knowledge of what Might Have Been

God knows all things, even what might have been, had things been different than they are. In Jeremiah 38:14-23, God reveals to King Zedekiah what will happen if he surrenders to the King of Babylon, and warns of what will happen if he does not surrender. In 1 Samuel 23:10-13, God tells David what Saul will do, and how the people of the city he is hiding in will respond when Saul comes to seek him, so David and his men escape from the city.

In Matthew 11, Jesus:

Matthew 11:20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Jesus tells us what might have been if things had been different. If Jesus had done his mighty works in Tyre and Sidon, or in Sodom, they would have repented, and they would not have been destroyed. We are left to ask why? Why, if God knew that they would have repented, did he not send Jesus to them? God did not lack the power to act differently than he did. Jesus could have done his mighty works in Tyre and Sidon, and Sodom. God could have acted differently to bring about different results; however for his own wise and good purposes, he always chooses to bring about the highest good. It is right and good and wise to punish evil, and although God did not do all he could do to bring about their salvation, he also did not leave them without a witness. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, and Zechariah prophesied against Tyre and Sidon. Peter says:

2 Peter 2:6 …by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;

Peter holds up ‘righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)’ (2Pet.2:7-8); Lot who was rescued from Sodom as an example that ‘the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment’ (2Pet.4:9)

This is a sobering reminder that God is not obligated to save anyone. God is able to save, but he is wise and just to punish evildoers, and we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We should thank God that he does not give us what we deserve.

Jesus in the next verses of Matthew 11 responds to this with praise to God:

Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus rejoices (Lk.10:21) at his Father’s gracious will to hide these things from some and reveal them to others. In the same breath he invites all who recognize their need to come to him and find rest for their souls.

Foolish Wisdom of the Cross

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul speaks of the seeming foolishness of the message of the cross, which is in reality the power and wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 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. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The good news of the cross seems foolish to the perishing, but God uses this foolish message to confound the wise and save all who humbly believe. God in his wisdom saves in this way ‘so that no human being might boast in the presence of God’.

Wisdom to the Praise of His Glory

In Romans 11, Paul responds to the wisdom of God’s plan with a shout of praise, his wisdom to show mercy to both Jew and Gentile, even when this means that many Jews will reject Jesus for a time in order to open a door of salvation to the Gentiles, so that God may show mercy to all.

Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

God is deep and rich in wisdom and knowledge. He does not need advice. His ways and judgments are inscrutable and unsearchable. Everything he does wisely moves toward the one overarching purpose of bringing him glory. From him and through him and to him are all things.

Ephesians 1 talks about God’s wise purpose to bring praise to his 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.

God works all things according to the purpose of his will, in all wisdom and insight, to the praise of his glory. Our salvation is according to his wise purpose, according to his wise counsel, to bring praise to his glory. Paul goes on to pray that we might have eyes enlightened to know the riches of our hope, our inheritance, his power toward us who believe; that we might know him.

In chapter 3 of Ephesians, Paul spells out for us what is the mystery of his will, that Jews and Gentiles together are partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (3:6). The many faceted wisdom of God is made know to everyone through the church according to God’s eternal purpose (3:10-11). Paul uses this as motive to not be discouraged in the face of suffering, and he prays that we would have strength to comprehend what is the immeasurable love of Christ to us (3:13-19). He prays:

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.

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

November 29, 2015 Posted by | Knowing God, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment