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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Daniel 3:19-25; With Us In The Fire

08/15_Daniel 03:19-25; With Us In The Fire; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210815_dan03_19-25.mp3

We left Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego last time counting the cost and standing firm in their faith in God. Facing the fiery furnace, they ‘considered the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Rom.8:18). They looked into the flames, and counted it ‘light, momentary affliction that is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison’ (2Cor.4:17). They ‘did not account their lives precious’, but only to remain faithful to the Lord and discharge the ministry he entrusted to them (Act.20:24).

Conspiracy or not, they were accused of paying no attention to the king, refusing to serve his gods or worship the golden image that he had set up. We’ll pick up in verse 13 of Daniel 3.

Daniel 3:13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made… . But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Actions Louder Than Words

Who is the god who will deliver out of my hands? They could have stalled for hours answering his question with history and a theology lesson, lecturing Nebuchadnezzar on who God is and how he had been faithful in the past. But sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

They had unshaken confidence even in the face of the flames and the fury of the king that their God was able. He is able to deliver from even the most powerful king (like he rescued his people from the hand of the Pharaoh), and he is able to deliver from the burning fiery furnace (like he rescued his people out of the iron furnace of Egypt; Deut.4:20). They knew that God is sovereign over all things.

But they also knew and understood that God is not obligated and does not always rescue his people from present circumstances. Our hope is not ultimately in this life. They had counted the cost, they had thought through the ‘but if not’; they were willing to seal their testimonies with their own blood (Rev.6:9).

Knowing God

Who is the god who will deliver out of my hands? These three could answer that question. They knew God. They enjoyed relationship with their God. These three knew the God who is. They knew a God worthy of living lives to serve him, to please only him, and they valued their relationship with this God more than they valued their own skin. These three knew a God who made the 90 foot image of gold seem small and valueless; they knew a God who made the blazing fire and the wrath of the king seem powerless and weak.

It is only if you know God, if you really know him, that you will be able to stand in the face of adversity. Do you know him? Do you know this God? Are you walking with him today, so that when you are faced with the fire, you know him and your confidence is in him?

Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace.

It’s important for us to pause and recognize that God did not rescue them. He did not rescue them from the king or from the burning fiery furnace. They took a stand for truth, and they were bound and thrown into the fire. In fact their resolve to refuse to worship all but the one true God so infuriated the king, that he had the furnace superheated, just in case their God might be able to rescue them from a regularly heated furnace.

The Folly of Fury

This demonstrates the foolishness of fury. If the king really wanted to see them suffer, he should have cooled the furnace to prolong their agony, not have it superheated it to accelerate their deaths. But he was not thinking clearly. In his proud rage he wanted to make a spectacle of any who would defy him, and he did succeed in creating a greater spectacle which put on display the glory of God.

Daniel 3:22 Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.

The king lost some of his strongest, his best soldiers that day. No skeptic could argue that the physics of the furnace weren’t working that day; this was not smoke and mirrors; it proved lethal for Nebuchadnezzars’ mighty men.

Daniel 3:24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

The king was incensed by the audacity of those who would dare defy his command. In ironic reversal, those who obeyed the king’s command die in the flames; those who refused to bow in obedience to the king survive. The executioners executed; the captives freed, unharmed.

Freed From Sin

Notice that the three were thrown bound into the flames, but the flames only succeeded in freeing them from their bonds. There is a picture for us in this. God may not spare us from adversity, instead he may use adversity to set us free us from our bondage to sin. Later in Daniel we read of those who ‘stumble so that they may be refined, purified, and made white’ (Dan.11:35). In Zechariah 13, the Lord says:

Zechariah 13:9 And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name,

and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”

The path to holiness is often not escape from the flames, but passing through the flames. Peter says:

1 Peter 4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

Suffering has a way of refining us, of setting us free.

Romans 6:6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

We want to escape suffering, and it is right for us to pray for rescue. But God’s rescue may not be escape from the fire, but escape from the ‘sin which clings so closely’ (Heb.12:1). He may bring us through the fire for our good, for our sanctification. True freedom comes through the cross, through our death, through dying to self, not apart from it.

Charles Spurgeon said it this way:

“Into the central heat of the fire doth the Lord cast his saints, and mark you this, he casts them there because they are his own beloved and dearly loved people. I do not see the goldsmith putting dross into the furnace — what would be the good of it? It would be a waste of fuel and labour. But he thrusts the crucible full of gold into the hottest part of the fire and heaps on coals till the heat is terrible. … the pure gold is put into the furnace to make it purer still.

…The fire did not hurt them, but it snapped their bonds. Blessed loss this! A true Christian’s losses are gains in another shape.

…Have not you, dear friends, frequently experienced that trouble cuts the cords which bind us to earth? …Happy trouble that looses our care of earth!”

[https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/consolation-in-the-furnace/]

Nebuchadnezzar observed that the fire, rather than destroying his captives, had only served to set them free.

With Us In The Fire

The thing that astonished Nebuchadnezzar more than the death of his soldiers, more than the freedom of his captives, was that the count was off. He remembered throwing three men in, and now he sees four. “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

Psalm 34 says:

Psalm 34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. 8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 9 Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!

Taste and see that the Lord is good. There is a sweetness, an intimacy of fellowship with the Lord that is only found in the midst of the fire. These three learned first hand, they experienced something that up until this point had been only something they had heard, something they had read, something they believed but had yet to experience. In Isaiah they read:

Isaiah 43:1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. …4 Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, …. 5 Fear not, for I am with you;

Isaiah had prophesied about those who four times over belong to God; those who were created, formed, redeemed, called; those owned by the Lord. Those to whom God says ‘you are mine’. The Lord God, the Creator and Redeemer promises his presence through deep waters, through the fire. “I will be with you.” “Fear not, for I am with you.” These three experienced his presence with them in the fire.

It is significant that Nebuchadnezzar observed them walking in the midst of the fire. Not writhing in agony, not running in fear, simply walking. Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ (Gen.3:8). Now, in the middle of a blazing superheated furnace, they were walking with the Lord God as if in a garden in the cool of the day. Not hurried, not anxious; at peace. They were enjoying fellowship with their Creator, God the Son, the Word who was with God and who was God, the only Son from the Father (Jn.1:1,14).

Notice, this promise of his presence is directly connected to affliction. When you pass through the waters, when you walk through the fire, it is there I will be with you. The Psalm says:

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

God is with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. But we often are given a special perception of his presence with us when we are in the fire. Do you know him?

In Our Place In The Fire

Jesus is not only with us in our suffering; he enters in to our suffering. We are not alone; he feels what we feel.

1 Corinthians 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

As Christ is the head of the body, does he not feel the hurt when one of his members suffers? We have a compassionate High Priest (Heb.4:15)

But Jesus enters in to our suffering in an even more profound way. On the cross, Jesus experienced the suffering I deserve so that I will never for eternity experience that suffering. Jesus endured the furnace of the wrath of God Almighty so that I can enjoy my relationship with him even in; dare I say especially in the furnace of trials. Do you know him? Do you know this Jesus?

Jesus said:

John 16:33 …in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

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

Resolve it today your answer to ‘but if not’. Our God is able. He is able to deliver you from your present circumstances. But if not? What if he allows the furnace to be heated seven times hotter? What if his plan is not to rescue you from the flames, but to bring you safely through the flames, to refine you, to purify you, to loose you from your bonds and burn away your impurities? What if he desires that you experience intimacy with him that is only found in the furnace of affliction?

***

1 How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,

is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!

What more can he say than to you he has said,

to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

2 “Fear not, I am with you; O be not dismayed,

for I am your God, and will still give you aid.

I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,

upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

3 “When through the deep waters I call you to go,

the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,

for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,

and sanctify to you the deepest distress.

4 “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,

my grace, all sufficient, shall be your supply.

The flames shall not hurt you. I only design

your dross to consume, and your gold to refine.

5 “The soul that on Jesus still leans for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to its foes.

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”

[How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord; Author: K. (1787]

***

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

August 17, 2021 Posted by | Daniel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 3:13-18; Sovereign Over Suffering

07/25_Daniel 03:13-18; Sovereign Over Suffering; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210725_dan03_13-18.mp3

In response to his dream that he was the head of gold, to be succeeded by lesser empires, and ultimately replaced entirely by the kingdom crushing stone, Nebuchadnezzar made an image all of gold, 90 feet high, and demanded that all ‘peoples, nations, and languages’ fall down and worship the golden image. God had given into his hand authority over ‘the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens,’ but he did not give glory to God; rather he attempted to make a name for himself.

Daniel 3:1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2 Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” 7 Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Judging from the parallel event in chapter 6, it is possible that this event was politically motivated, orchestrated or encouraged by the Chaldeans out of jealousy of the king’s appointment of Jews to positions of authority over them.

Daniel 3:8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9 They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

The Chaldeans remind the king of his decree, and of the consequences he established for disobedience. Now they bring to the king’s attention that there are three Jews whom he had appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon who stand in defiance of the king’s decree.

Where Was Daniel?

After Daniel’s revealing of the king’s dream and its interpretation, at the end of chapter 2 we read:

Daniel 2:48 Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

This is likely meant to answer the question ‘where was Daniel in chapter 3?’ Daniel remained at the king’s court. With the king and all his governing officials assembled several miles south of Babylon in the plain of Dura, someone would have needed to remain in Babylon to maintain order in the city in the absence of the king.

There was obvious resentment on the part of the Chaldeans toward these foreigners who had been promoted above them. They maliciously accused the Jews; literally they ‘ate the pieces of’. Their animosity was thinly veiled. They wanted to consume them, to see them destroyed. They even implicate the king in unwise decisions; appointing foreigners to positions of power who are secretly rebels against the king and his authority. They said:

Daniel 3:12 …These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

This is only partly true. Indeed they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. This was not a gray area; the Scripture is clear that:

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…

Their conscience was captive to the word of God, so they could not bow to the image or serve the gods of Babylon.

Christian Work Ethic

But the allegation that they ‘pay no attention to’ the king was false. They were summoned to the plain of Dura, and they obediently came. There is no evidence that they acted with anything short of the greatest integrity in their positions of authority over the province of Babylon. In fact if they had performed poorly, shirked their responsibility or undermined the authority of the king in any way, the Chaldeans surely would have brought it to the attention of the king. They were following the instruction of Jeremiah;

Jeremiah 29:4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: …7 …seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Those who know and follow Jesus should have the greatest integrity, be the best employees, have the highest work ethic, because we know that we are not just working for an earthly boss for a paycheck, but we are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3:22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

We are not told how the three Hebrews refused to bow. There is no evidence that they petitioned the king for an exemption to his decree. We are not told that they drew attention to themselves in their refusal to worship. There is nothing that says they attempted to persuade others to join them in refusal to bow, carrying signs, waving banners, shouting the danger of bowing to false gods. It seems that when the music played and all the peoples, nations and languages fell down and worshiped the image, they quietly stood their ground.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Raging Pride

But Nebuchadnezzar was foolishly persuaded by the flattery of the Chaldeans, he allowed his raging pride to overshadow clear headed judgment, and he took offense against these three Jews.

Daniel 3:13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, … But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

The king, in raging pride, asks if it is true that they do not serve his gods or worship the image he has set up, but he doesn’t give them time to respond. He starts to say that he is going to give them another chance to worship the image, but doesn’t finish his sentence. Instead he reiterates his threat of punishment for refusal to worship.

It is likely that this furnace had been used to refine and melt the gold for the construction of this colossal image there on the plain of Dura. Mesopotamian smelting furnaces had a large opening at the top to add the ore, and a smaller opening at ground level for feeding the fire with wood and charcoal. It was kept burning as a visual reminder of the consequence for failure to worship the king’s image.

King Nebuchadnezzar makes this arrogant and blasphemous statement ‘who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?’ He had learned in chapter 2 that there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, who is all-knowing and wise, but he had yet to learn that this God is also all-powerful and sovereign over all mankind.

Nebuchadnezzar was the god-maker, who set up this image for all peoples, nations and languages to worship. If he could set up the image, it meant that he was in control, more powerful even than the god the image was meant to represent. It was into his hand that God had given dominion, and it was out of his hand that those who opposed him would need to be rescued. The Chaldeans accused, the Jews were apprehended and brought before the king, the furnace was blazing, and there was no way on earth for these three to escape from the alternatives; either bow in worship or be burned in the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar was in absolute control, and he knew it.

Submission to Sovereign Wisdom

Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

No negotiation, no begging for mercy. No discussion, no need to give a reason or argue in their own defense. No need for the orchestra to play the symphony again. They were resolute, and they were willing to suffer the consequences of their stand. They were glad to serve the king and seek the good of the city but they will not serve the gods of the king, and they will not worship the image he has set up.

Compromise would not be seeking the good of the city. God had sent them on mission in exile in Babylon so that the nations would know that there is a God in heaven. They were willing to submit to the king’s God given authority, but they would not compromise their testimony by acknowledging false gods.

Yahweh is Gracious, Who is What God Is, and Yahweh will Help (those are the meanings of their Hebrew names; Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) testify to the God they serve. God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace. God who created all that exists with his word, God who destroyed all life on the earth with a flood, God who rescued his people from bondage in Egypt with displays of his mighty sovereignty over the false gods of Egypt, God who took his people safely through the Red Sea and closed that sea over their enemies, God who brought down the walls of Jericho, God who sent an angel to kill 185,000 Assyrians who had besieged Jerusalem in response to Hezekiah’s prayer, God who had given them favor with the chief of the eunuchs and prospered them, God who answered their prayers and revealed the king’s dream, this ‘God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.’

Our God is able. There is no limit to his power. His hand is not shortened that he cannot save (Is.50:2). Nothing is to difficult for the Lord (Jer.32:17). There is no king too powerful, no furnace too hot, no cancer too advanced, no prodigal too far gone. Jesus spoke into the tomb of his friend who had been dead four days, and Lazarus came out! Our God is mighty to save. Nothing is impossible with God (Lk.1:37). God can deliver people from the burning fiery furnace, God can deliver his people out of the hand of the most powerful king. These three had no doubt about the ability of God to do whatever he pleases (Ps.115:3; 135:6).

But If Not

The next three words are stunning. But if not. There was no question about God’s power, God’s ability. But there was a realistic realization that although God can save, sometimes he does not save, and this is not a lack of either his power or his goodness. God saved Jerusalem from the Assyrians in response to Hezekiah’s prayer (2Ki.19:32-35). God gave Jerusalem into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (Dan.1:2). God could have saved Joseph from his brothers who conspired against him and sold him into slavery. But instead God sent Joseph ahead, into slavery, to preserve life for many people (Gen.45:5,7; 50:20).

So many of us love salvation by grace. God freely gives good to those who do not deserve it. But we don’t want to live by grace. We want to live by works. When bad things happen to us, we begin to ask ‘what did I do wrong to deserve this?’ If we want to live by works, the answer is that I am a sinner, and what I deserve is hell, the eternal wrath of God. I am a sinner, and that’s what I deserve. But to those who live by grace, we enjoy a gift we didn’t earn and don’t deserve, a gift God is free (not obligated) to give. But somehow the works mentality is so ingrained in us that we easily switch over to our default thinking that if we do the right thing, then God is obligated (not free) to reward us with good things right now. We so easily forget that any good we do is ‘not I but the grace of God that is in me’ (1Cor.15:10).

We want to come to Jesus on our terms, not his. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, to all who believe in him? Great! I’ll take that! Reconciliation with God, an all-satisfying relationship with him? Sounds good to me! Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at his right hand? Sign me up! Take up your cross and follow me; in the world you will have tribulation? Wait, I think I’ll pass. God hears and answers prayers? That’s great! Sometimes he says ‘No’? I think I’d rather have a genie in a bottle.

These three give us a beautiful example of bold confidence in the omnipotence of God and humble submission to the sovereign wisdom of God. God is able to save. But if he doesn’t save right here right now, will I walk away? Will I doubt his goodness, his love? “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” When Jesus said some things that were hard to swallow, many stopped following him. When he asked his disciples if they too would go away, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn.6:68). Job in the midst of his anguish and suffering, said ‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him;’ (Job.13:15).

Job 19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

The author of Hebrews celebrates the faith of those:

Hebrews 11:33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. …

Stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire; these are exciting stories of miraculous deliverance; but Hebrews saves the best ‘till last.

Hebrews 11:35 … Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy

Paul said:

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

These are heroes of the faith. Some are rescued miraculously. God is able. But if not… may he find us faithful even unto death.

***

Revelation 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

***

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

July 31, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 1:1-8; Train Up Your Children

05/09_Daniel 01:1-8; Train Up Your Children; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210509_dan01_1-8.mp3

Today is mother’s day, and we are in Daniel chapter 1, where we are introduced to four teens who have been ripped from their homes and transplanted into a society where they will be re-programmed to live and think as citizens of a country who is opposed to God and his ways. We are not told who Daniel’s parents were. We don’t know what kind of upbringing he had. But we can look at what the Bible does say about the essential nature of parenting, and I think we can safely infer some things about the upbringing of these four that we are introduced to here in the first chapter of Daniel.

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. 8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. …

Preparing Your Children to Live as Exiles

How do you prepare your children for captivity and exile? How do you get them ready to live as strangers and aliens in a land full of false gods and deceptive temptations? Let’s say that we could predict the future and could see that America and its leadership will continue to decline, and in five years, a foreign military will march in our streets, destroy our infrastructure, take our children captive, haul them away to re-education camps where they will be taught that it is absurd and naive to believe in the existence of God. How would you parent in such a way as to prepare them to live in a society whose very moral and spiritual fiber is opposed to everything you believe and hold dear?

Or if that seems too far-fetched, lets say that in five years America continues on unchanged, and your child goes off to high school or college, where they will be taught that it is absurd and naive to believe in the existence of God. How are you preparing them to live as strangers and aliens in a land full of false gods and deceptive temptations?

Remind Them Of Their Identity

First, lets look at their identity. Verse 6 gives us their names; ‘Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.’ If you are familiar with Hebrew names, you will hear the names of God; ‘El’ and ‘Yah’ in those names.

Daniel “God is my judge”

Hananiah “Yahweh is gracious”

Mishael “who is what God is?”

Azariah “Yahweh has helped” or “will help.”

We don’t put as much significance in a name, but these boys were given an identity. Every time they were called, they would be reminded of the nature and character of God. God is the ultimate and only judge, before whom we all will stand to give account. Yahweh is gracious; he is generous and gives good gifts to those who don’t deserve it. God is holy, unique, in a class by himself; who is what God is? There is no one like our God; he is most high over all. Yahweh will help; whenever we face difficulties or are in need, it is to him we must look. He is our only unfailing source of help.

Daily they were reminded of their identity, that they belong to God, that God is sovereign over all, that God is to be honored, that God is holy, unique, that Yahweh is gracious and that he will help all who call on him. Do you see how their parents were daily involved in reminding them of the character of God, and who they are in relation to this God?

In Babylon, their identity was stripped away. They were given new names, a new identity that replaced the names of the one true God of Israel with the gods of Babylon, Bel, Aku and Nebo. God is my Judge is renamed ‘Bel-belteshazzar’; Bel, protect his life! Yahweh is Gracious is renamed ‘Shadrach’; command of Aku the moon god. Who is what God Is is renamed ‘Meshach’; who is what Aku is? Yahweh will help is renamed ‘Abednego’; servant of Nebo or Nabu.

Parents Train Up Your Children

But these new names couldn’t erase the faithful training of faithful parents who faithfully taught them who God is, and their identity in relationship with that one true God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Parents, we are to know and love the Lord our God with heart and soul and mind and strength. We are to walk in his ways, and to non-stop train our children. Whenever you’re at home, talk about the Lord. Whenever you’re out and about, talk about the Lord. When you go to bed, when you get up in the morning, love him and keep his word in your heart and in front of your eyes.

The theological training of your children can’t wait until Bible college; that may be too late. And it can’t be handed over to the church; the church doesn’t tuck your kids into bed at night and drag them out of bed in the morning. The church isn’t often in your homes or on your vacations. The church simply cannot do in one hour on Sundays and maybe an hour midweek what it is your job as parents to do day in and day out.

Remember, training is not just passing on information. Your kids will learn from how you live, the choices they see you make, your attitude, the way you respond to circumstances. They will learn from what you do much more than from what you say.

Prepared for Sacrifice

Daniel 1:3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

The requirement of the king was among other things, that these youths must be without blemish. This is a term that is most frequently used in the requirements that both priests and sacrificial animals must be without blemish to be acceptable to God (Lev.21-22). What we offer to God must be our first and our best. What Nebuchadnezzar demanded was young men without physical defect, but this language connects us back to the sacrificial system. A lamb without blemish or spot is fit for sacrifice.

Parents, think about this. Are you preparing your children for sacrifice? Romans 12 uses this kind of imagery.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Are you teaching your children that they should expect the best in this life, an easy life, that they are entitled to blessings? Or are you teaching them that it is often costly to follow Jesus, but that it is worth it?

Circumstances for these families went as bad as could have been imagined. They lived under the reign of kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord. Jerusalem was given into the hand of the enemy. The temple was plundered. Their children were carried off into captivity; although we don’t know for sure, they may have been castrated in literal fulfillment of Isaiah 39:5-7. The hope of any grandchildren was lost. We aren’t told what happened to the parents, but it is likely they never saw one another again. Would this fiery trial come to them as a complete shock and surprise, as if something strange were happening to them (1Pet.4:12)? Would it cause them to doubt their faith and question the reality, the goodness, the power of their God?

Jesus promised us who follow him that ‘In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (Jn.16:33), and he promises us his peace in the midst of adverse circumstances.

What are your expectations for your children? Is your heart set on the American dream, or are you preparing them to present themselves to God as living sacrifices? To endure suffering for the sake of his name?

Show Them Where True Joy Is Found

Sacrifice is difficult, so we must prepare them for suffering, but pleasures often prove more lethal than persecution. Don’t neglect to teach your children where true joy is found.

Daniel and his friends would face great temptations where it was expected they would indulge their flesh. ‘The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank.’ This was the best available. They were far away from home, out of reach of all accountability. This would appeal to all their senses. And it seems no one else was resisting. How could they possibly stand up to this kind of temptation?

The best way to inoculate our children against temptation is to expose them to greater pleasures. Psalm 16:11 says

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore are found in the presence of God. Moses, in similar circumstances,

Hebrews 11:25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

The pleasures of sin are real, but they are fleeting. Worldly treasures are real, but they pale in comparison to the eternal reward, against which ‘all the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom.8:18).

The king of Babylon showed them what they had to gain by allegiance to him. He invited them to feast on the abundance of his house and to drink of his own wine. But listen to Psalm 36

Psalm 36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Is the Lord’s steadfast love precious to you? Savor the preciousness of God’s grace to you in the gospel daily, and it will put your mouth out of taste for the sweets of this world.

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! …

You have got to taste for yourself the sweetness of God. Our kids must see us drinking deeply of the river of his delights. And we must give them the opportunity to taste and see for themselves.

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.

Teach them not to trust their deceitful desires (Eph.4:22); teach them where every truly good gift comes from.

The Wisdom of Humility and a Biblical Worldview

It seems that Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel were equipped with a comprehensive view of God’s sovereignty over all things, even the worst imaginable circumstances, and they trusted that he is judge, he is gracious, he is above all other gods, and he is the source of their help. They must have had a taste of something better, so they were able to resist the temptations that appealed to their deceitful desires.

But they had been selected because they were ‘skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.’ This was greatly flattering. They were to be taught ‘the literature and language of the Chaldeans.’

… They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.

This was a huge boost to the ego, and an incentive to forget their pain and plunge themselves into learning and literature.

But all literature, every story, every song is leading somewhere, engaging the emotions, teaching something. Stories shape our world view. Can these four be immersed in the world view of the Babylonians without losing their own?

In verse 17 we read ‘God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.’ God gave them the wisdom to learn what was taught, to discern what is true, and to hold fast to him.

They had been given the humility to know that what they knew was a gift from God.

Know, Love and Serve Jesus

Parents, teach your kids humility. Show them where true joy is found. Prepare them for suffering and sacrifice. Remind them of their true identity. Remind them whose they are. Prepare your children to live as sojourners, as exiles. This world is not their home. Entrust them to a faithful God who loves them more than you do and who is able to keep them.

More than anything else, here’s what I want for my kids. I want you to know and love and serve Jesus.

Know him, get to know him, enjoy being with him, be in constant communion, in communication, in relationship with him.

Love him; affections inflamed, not motivated by duty but by delight. Look! Look at the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ for you (Eph.3:18). We love because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19).

Serve him; spend your life to bring him glory and praise, to bring others into the joy of knowing him.

The order matters. I want your life and service to flow out of relationship and love, not out of obligation and duty. You have to know him and love him before you can offer any acceptable service to him.

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

May 10, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 1:1-4; Confidence in a Faithful God

05/02_Daniel 01:1-4; Confidence in a Faithful God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210502_dan01_1-4.mp3

Faithful God

Daniel is a book about God. The Lord is the one true God. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, sovereign over the nations. He alone is God over all

And God is faithful to his promises. We can have hope, we can take confidence because God will always make good on his word. He will do what he says he will do, every time. You can bank on it. That is faith. Paul defines faith by the example of Abraham in Romans 4.

Romans 4:20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Promised Blessings and Curses

Back in Deuteronomy 28, before God brought his people into the promised land, God gave his people his word, promises.

Deuteronomy 28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.

God promised to bless his people if they would walk with him in fellowship, in obedience. But he also promised consequences for disobedience and betrayal.

Deuteronomy 28:14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. 15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.

God was very specific with his promises;

Deuteronomy 28:32 Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless. 33 A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually,

Their consequences would even affect the next generation.

Deuteronomy 28:36 “The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away.

God promised to bless his people if they walked in obedient relationship with him. But he warned that he would give them into the hands of idolaters if they chose to go after false gods.

Hezekiah and Assyria

Around 701 BC, we see a specific instance of this playing out, recorded by Isaiah. Sennacherib, king of Assyria had taken all the fortified cities of Judah. On defeating Lachish, he sent word to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem that they were next. He warned him not to trust in an alliance with Egypt, and not to trust in the Lord their God, because the Lord had sent him to destroy the land (Is.36:6,10).

Isaiah 37:14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: 16 “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.”

In dependence on the Lord alone, he asked God to defend the honor if his great name so that he would get glory among the nations.

God’s answer came.

Isaiah 37:33 “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” 36 And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord alone, and God alone wrought a great defeat of the Assyrian army.

Hezekiah and Babylon

But only two chapters and about 4 years later (705 BC), in Isaiah 39,

Isaiah 39:1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.

Assyria was the world power, but Babylon was seeking independence. No doubt word had come to them about the Assyrian defeat at Jerusalem. Babylon sent a present, seeking an alliance. Hezekiah, who responded to the threatening Assyrian letter with prayer and dependence on God, responded to the flattering Babylonian letters differently.

Isaiah 39:2 And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.

Hezekiah missed an opportunity to give glory to God for the defeat of the Assyrians. Instead he flexed his own muscles, showing off his wealth and military might, showing them what they had to gain by a political alliance with Israel.

Isaiah 39:3 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” 4 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

The prophet Isaiah was sent to confront the king over his failure to trust in the Lord, instead seeking the strength of a political alliance with pagan Babylon.

Isaiah 39:5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: 6 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 7 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

God Keeps His Promises

100 years later, in 605 BC,

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

God is faithful to all his promises. He is faithful to discipline his people when they are disobedient to him. The carrying off treasures and captives in 605 BC is a direct fulfillment of the word of the Lord to Hezekiah through Isaiah.

This may seem strange comfort, that the Babylonian captivity was a fulfillment of the promises of God. But when all is chaos and seems out of control, it is anchoring to remember that God is sovereign, he is still in control, he has not forgotten, he is active, he is keeping his promises.

Hebrews 12:6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Daniel and his friends could lose hope and give up faith, responding with bitterness and resentment; asking ‘why me?’ But instead they chose to see God’s hand in difficult circumstances, ultimately for their good and his glory. This is not random chance and accident conspiring against us; this is ‘the Lord giving Jehoiakim into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

Whose God is Stronger?

Notice what is happening here; Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon takes the vessels of the house of God and puts them in the house of his god, in the treasury of his god. This was more than merely taking objects of inherent value, gold and silver. Kings would war in the name of their gods, and they would credit victory to their gods. A triumph in battle meant the gods of the victor proved stronger. They would honor their gods by taking the gods (idols) of their enemies and putting them in the temple of their gods.

This happened back in 1 Samuel 5, when the Philistines captured the ark of God and put it in the house of Dagon their god. If you remember, that didn’t end well for Dagon or for the Philistines.

That is what is happening here; Jerusalem surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar, so he plundered the holy temple. It must have been strange for him to enter a temple and find no images, no statues, but rather a throne with no one seated on it. In the eyes of the world, Marduk had triumphed over YHWH. But Daniel interprets this differently. He understands that this was exactly what was promised. This was the all-mighty YHWH fulfilling his own decree.

The Philistines learned (and Israel should have understood) that Dagon was no match for YHWH. Sennacherib was shown (and Hezekiah should have paid attention) that the angel of YHWH is mightier than 185 thousand Assyrians and Nisroch his god. Daniel understood that YHWH is more than capable to defend himself. His temple could not be plundered unless YHWH had given it over to be plundered. And this produced great hope and confidence. God still sits enthroned unrivaled, not in the temple of Jerusalem, but in heaven above. He is God over all. God is sovereign and does whatever he pleases (Ps.115:3; 135:6).

The Tale of Two Cities

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.

Daniel uses the ancient name ‘Shinar’. This connects us back to Genesis 10; Noah’s son Ham fathered Cush, and

Genesis 10:8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

Nimrod was a murderous warrior who established cities opposed to God. We read in Genesis 11,

Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Babel in the land of Shinar was established in direct opposition to God and his commands. It was the proud attempt of arrogant man united against God to steal glory from God and make a name for himself. ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (Jas.4:6; 1Pet.5:5; Mt.23:12).

Victory Through Defeat

Like Elijah who challenged the prophets of Baal (1Ki.18:21-40), Daniel sets up his story as a competition between the Lord and the gods of Nebuchadnezzar, between the proud city Babylon in the land of Shinar, and the city of Jerusalem in the land of Judah, where God chose to make a name for himself.

But surprisingly, Daniel is the story of God’s victory through defeat; he wins by losing, he gains by giving away his treasures and his people into the hands of his enemies. He infiltrates the highest ranks of government by sending captives, boys of 14 or 15, to be trained in the language and literature of this pagan nation. His foolishness proved wiser than their wisest of men. The simple faith of these helpless young men in their omnipotent God changed the direction of empires and the hearts of kings and nations.

Hebrews recounts their faith;

Hebrews 11:32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of …the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

God demonstrates his supremacy over the nations by the unlikely means of defeat and exile. But this is God’s way, who shows himself victorious by sending his best, his only Son into exile here on earth, not to be served but to serve, to learn our language, to confound the wisdom of the wise by his simple faith in his Father, to suffer for sins not his own, to go through the fire and come out alive as a testimony that whoever believes in him will not be put to shame (Rom.9:33).

God is faithful to all his promises, promises to bless those who walk with him in obedience, promises to curse those who turn from him. And we all have gone astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way, but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Is.53:6). He became a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus all the blessings he deserves might come to us through faith in him (Gal.3:13-14).

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

May 3, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Our Response to Trials

02/21_2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Our Response to Trials; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210221_2cor12_7-10.mp3

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Paul shares his own experience in the third person, distancing himself from this amazing event and bringing it down to our level; it happened to a Christian; to a man in Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul reminds us that supernatural experiences don’t validate ministry. The life and teaching of the minister are what must be looked at to authenticate ministry. And gospel ministry, ministry in the footsteps of Jesus will be ministry that mirrors Jesus. It will be characterized by weaknesses, by sacrificial suffering for the good of others. Paul resolves to boast only in his weaknesses.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to pummel him. This was a gift; it was God’s good gift to him, to keep him from being lifted up with pride, because pride is deadly and dangerous, more dangerous to us than demons.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

Paul didn’t want the thorn, didn’t like the thorn. He didn’t ask for the thorn. In fact he asked for it to be removed. Three times he asked, just as Jesus asked three times of his Father that if there were any other way, for the cup of God’s almighty wrath toward my sins to pass from him (Mt.26:39,42,44).

Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest who understands our trials. He has experienced and endured the same kinds of trials, yet without sin (Heb.4:15). So Paul petitioned Jesus that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken from him.

God always answers the prayers of his children, but not always the way we would expect or hope that he would. Jesus wanted to be spared from suffering as the sin-bearing Lamb. But more than he wanted to be spared from suffering, he wanted his Father’s will to be done, for his Father to be glorified.

Joyful Endurance?

So Jesus joyfully endured the cross for us. Hebrews tells us “For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb.12:2). How do you endure trials, suffering, adversity? Reluctantly? Avoid at all cost? Grudgingly? With grumbling and complaining? Paul’s authentication for ministry was not only that he endured trials for the sake of the Name, but how he endured those trials.

Jesus’ Answer

Listen to Jesus’ answer to Paul’s petition. This is the word of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” …

Sufficient Grace

Sufficient to you is my grace. It is adequate. My grace is enough. In John 6, Jesus tested Philip, asking him were they could buy bread to feed the crowd that numbered 5,000 men, plus women and children. Philip answered him (v.7), “Two hundred denarii (days wages) worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” No one would be satisfied. It would not suffice. There would just not be enough to go around. You know the story. Andrew found a young boy who had brought his lunch. Jesus gave thanks, and after everyone had eaten their fill, as much as they wanted, they gathered 12 baskets full of the leftovers. It didn’t look like it was enough, but in the hands of Jesus it proved to be more than enough. It was sufficient.

This word ‘sufficient’ comes first in the original for emphasis. Christ’s grace is fully sufficient, completely satisfying, abundantly enough.

Jesus says ‘you can be satisfied with my grace.’ You can be content with my grace. It is enough to carry you through adversity, through opposition, through trials. It is sufficient to allow you to withstand the onslaughts of hell. It won’t run out. It won’t come up short or leave you unsatisfied. Sufficient to you is my grace.

Grace. Grace is God’s unearned, undeserved favor and kindness. Grace is the opposite of wages. Wages are payment for services rendered (Rom.4:4-5). The wages we earned by our sin is death. We earned God’s just wrath. We deserve hell. But instead we are freely given a gift we didn’t earn, we don’t deserve. God smiles on us. God’s favor is extended to us (Eph.2:8-9). You may have heard the acronym for Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Jesus paid the price in full, purchasing for us a gift we don’t deserve and could never pay for ourselves. Jesus says that his grace is enough.

Jesus says that his grace is sufficient, for power is made perfect in weakness. Jesus parallels power and grace, as if they are almost synonymous. Christ’s grace is powerful. Grace answers my ill desert. His power answers my weakness, my sickness, infirmity, disability. His grace is divine enablement to endure the pressure.

Power to Endure

Paul asked for the trial to be removed. But God answered by pointing Paul to his all sufficient divine enablement. Paul encouraged in 1 Corinthians 10:13

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God is faithful. He will provide a way of escape, but the way of escape may be that he gives the strength to bear up under it, to endure the pressure without collapsing. He may give the grace needed to see you through.

The Purpose of Power

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His power is made perfect. It finds its fulfillment, it comes to its intended purpose or end, it is completed. Power is intended to answer weakness. Power is not meant to lie dormant; it is meant to be engaged. Power is expressed and finds fulfillment when it overcomes weakness. Our weakness is the playground where God’s power can show off.

So Paul says ‘bring it!’ If my weakness is the place where God’s power and grace is glorified, then I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.

With Great Pleasure

Do you hear how Paul responds to his own weaknesses?

2 Corinthians 12:9 …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

He is not grudging or grumpy. He is glad. This word that he puts up front for emphasis is ‘with great pleasure’, from the adjective ‘sweetly’; its root is where we get our word hedonism, indulging in pleasure and sensual delight (Lk.8:14). With great pleasure therefore, I will to a greater degree boast in my weaknesses. Paul didn’t stoically endure the thorn; he came to take delight in it. Not in the thorn in and of itself; he wanted to be rid of it. But understanding that his weaknesses, his thorn, the satanic angel sent to crush his pride provided a platform to put the powerful grace of Jesus on display brought him great pleasure. It became sweet to him.

He took pleasure not only in its pride demolishing effect, but also in its God glorifying, grace exalting, power displaying purpose. If my weakness is the way God is most glorified in me, and if I understand that the ultimate all satisfying purpose for my existence is to glorify God, then I exult in my weaknesses, because Christ is seen to be powerful more through my weaknesses than through my strengths.

Christ’s Power Encamping

2 Corinthians 12:9 …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Paul gladly boasts in his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon him. This word ‘rest upon’ carries a beautiful picture. The word is a compound of ‘upon’ and ‘to tent or encamp’. This connects us back to God’s tent, the tabernacle in the wilderness, where “I will dwell in their midst” (Ex.25:8-9). This connects to the Word in John 1, who was with God and who was God,

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

He dwelt, he tabernacled, he pitched his tent among us. Paul is saying that it is in his weakness that the power of Christ encamps upon him, sets up his tent over him. He finds great pleasure in his weaknesses, because it is in his weaknesses that he enjoys intimacy with Jesus.

Well Pleased

2 Corinthians 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Here again Paul uses a pleasure word. He is content. This is the word the Father used of the Son at his baptism and again at the transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt.3:17; 17:5). Paul is well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. Two of these words he used as credentials for authentic ministry back in 2 Corinthians 6:4;

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

Paul now delights in those hardships and calamities for the sake of Christ, because they display the glory of Jesus more vividly.

Strength In Weakness

Paul concludes “When I am weak, then I am strong.” He does not say that trials and weakness produce strength (he says suffering produces endurance in Rom.5, also James 1). He does not say that strength comes after weakness. He says that the strength is actually in the weakness. He is at the same time weak and strong. When he is weak in himself, weak in his circumstances, it is at that time that he is more transparent and the power of Christ is more evident in him.

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.

Our Response

How do you respond to trials, to oppression, to difficult circumstances? Do you grumble and complain? Do you become resentful and bitter? Or is it sweet to you because the presence of Christ dwells on you and the power of Christ is displayed through you? For the believer who has been justified as an undeserved gift by grace, every bitter thing can be made sweet.

Paul exults in Romans 8

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? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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

February 27, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn

02/14_2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210214_2cor12_7.mp3

It’s valentines day, and providentially we’re in 2 Corinthians 12, the passage about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. So to make the connection I thought I’d use a corny cliché to title this message; every rose has its thorn.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul’s Parody of Boasting

Paul is engaged in foolish boasting to combat the dangerous servants of Satan that were promoting a kind of celebrity leadership based on alleged private (and hence unverifiable) spiritual experiences. God appeared to me, God told me, I had a dream, I experienced a vision, I’ve been entrusted with a word from the Lord; therefore you need to listen to what I have to say, you need to follow me, do what I say.

Private visions, private revelations may benefit the one who experienced them, but they do not establish spiritual authority. Paul does everything he does to be beneficial, useful, to build up the church. He says there is nothing to be gained from boasting in visions and revelations. No benefit to the church. It might sell a book or pack out a room, but it won’t build anyone up.

In this mock parody of the false apostles false boasting, he starts in 11:16-22 by boasting in his own heritage, but then he quickly moves to say that he is a greater servant of Christ, because he suffered more than others in his service to his Lord.

They expect divine supernatural authentication, so he brings up his Damascus experience, but instead of recounting his Damascus road vision of the risen Christ, he recounts his disgraceful and laughable escape from the city, being let down under cover of night through the wall in a basket.

In chapter 12 he lifts our expectations by saying that he will go on to visions and revelations. He gives us his experience, but in the third person; it’s not Paul the great apostle, but simply a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven, to paradise, who heard inexpressible words that he is not allowed to speak. He doesn’t give any description of what he saw, he can’t tell us what he heard. He doesn’t claim that in any way it authenticates his ministry; rather it is an experience that belongs ultimately to anyone who is in Christ.

Paul’s Fear

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul’s fear is that if he were to boast of his supernatural experience, someone might think more highly of him that is warranted. They might think of him as larger than life, more than an ordinary Christian, more than a man in Christ. Paul is afraid that someone might attribute to him some unattainable celebrity status, lift him up because of his exceptional experience as more spiritual than others who are in Christ. Paul insists the criteria of faithful ministry must not be unverifiable visions and revelations; ministry must be judged by the objective criteria of life and teaching. What do you hear taught? What do you see in my life?

Paul’s concern is that they evaluate ministry by the wrong standards and listen to the wrong kind of leaders, who, based on their life and teaching, he calls servants of Satan. He’s concerned, because of his own surpassing revelations, that they will listen to him for the wrong reasons.

Paul’s Danger

Paul is concerned for the church. But he is also aware of another threat. He himself is in grave danger.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was in great danger. The surpassingly great revelations given to Paul created a great threat to Paul. What he saw, what he heard, was so far beyond, so great, so intimate, that he can’t help but conclude that he is special. No one else had this privileged vision. He was lifted up by the Lord to such incomparable heights that he was in danger of being lifted up with pride in his own heart. It would be all too easy for him to think too much of himself. You hear his concern, repeated both at the beginning and at the end of verse 7; ‘to keep me from being conceited.’ This was a real danger for the apostle, and he recognized it.

This word ‘conceited’ is a compound word ‘surpassingly lifted up’ that connects it with the ‘surpassing greatness’ of the revelations he was given.

The only other place this word ‘conceited’ or ‘surpassingly exalted’ appears in the New Testament is 2 Thessalonians 2:4, where:

2 Thessalonians 2:3 …the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This is a real danger. Charles Spurgeon says of Paul,

“He had entered into the nearest communion with God, possible to a man while yet in this life. Should he not feel somewhat exalted? Surely exultation must fill that man’s bosom who has been brought within the veil to see his God, and to hear the unutterable harmonies! It was natural that he should be exalted, and it was not unnatural that he should stand in danger of being exalted above measure. Devout exaltation very rapidly degenerates into self-exaltation. When God lifts us up, there is only one step further— namely, our lifting up ourselves; and then we fall into serious mischief indeed. I wonder how many among us could bear to receive such revelations as Paul had? O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours! We have neither head nor heart to sustain so vast a load of blessing. Our little plant needs not a river to water its root: the gentle dew suffices— the flood might wash it away.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

Pride is the sin that damned the devil. It is dangerous. ‘O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours!’

God’s Good Gift

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

To prevent Paul from falling into this deadly devilish danger, he was given a gift. He doesn’t say who gave this gift, but it is clear from the context. This word ‘given’ speaks specifically of God’s favor bestowed; in Eph.3:8 and 4:7 it speaks of God’s grace given; in 1Tim.4:14 of God’s grace-gifts. God is the giver of every good gift, and if this gift prevents Paul from pride, it is a good gift.

Thorns

What might startle us is what God’s good gift is. Paul says he was given a thorn in the flesh. That doesn’t sound good, and it is certainly not pleasant. Have you had a thorn in your flesh? Inevitably, when pulling weeds, I’ll get a little tiny thorn in my hand. Some of these thorns are so small, so insignificant, I can’t even see them. I can’t see them, but I certainly can feel them! I might not notice it for a while, until I go to pick something up and it irritates the thorn and reminds me that it’s still there. I’ve used a needle or a blade to literally dig a hole in my finger where I think the invisible source of my torment is, trying to root it out.

Thorns aren’t very impressive either. If you ask for my help and I say I can’t help because I was on the battlefield and suffered a gunshot wound to my arm that hasn’t fully healed yet, you might be impressed. But if I say I have this little thorn in my hand, so it hurts me when I pick anything up, you might roll your eyes and come at me with tweezers. And if I tell you it’s no use, it is too small even to see, I’m sure you will be very impressed with my undaunted bravery.

Everyone wants to know what Paul’s thorn was. About every malady, physical or spiritual, every form of persecution or opposition has been suggested. The fact is he doesn’t tell us. We aren’t meant to know. Whatever it was, it was given in response to the heavenly rapture experience 14 years earlier, and it was meant to keep Paul humbly trusting. Spurgeon again has a helpful word:

“we have unveiled before us a portion of the secret life of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. We may not only see his bed-chamber, but learn the apostle’s visions; we may not only see his private infirmities, but learn the cause of them. Let us not, however, be actuated by so low a motive as mere curiosity, while we gaze upon the open secret; let us remember that the apostle never intended to amuse the curious, when he penned these words, but he wrote them for a practical purpose. Let us read them with a desire to be instructed by them, and may the Holy Spirit teach us to profit. This record was not sent to us merely that we should know that this eminent servant of Christ had abundant revelations, or that he suffered a thorn in the flesh, but it was written for our profit.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

We learn from this that pride is more dangerous than thorns, and God may give us the good gift of a thorn to keep us trusting in him alone and not in ourselves or our past experiences.

Satan’s Angel

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul parallels his description of the thorn in the flesh with ‘an angel of Satan to harass him’. The word here is the same one used of our Lord in his treatment at the hands of the Jewish leaders.

Matthew 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

A demonic messenger was sent to strike him, to buffet him. This too is startling; that God’s good gift to him is Satan’s emissary. So who sent this Satanic thorn to pummel Paul? Was it Satan or God? Paul’s answer is ‘yes’. The thorn was sent by Satan, and it was a gift from God. We must remember that Satan is a created being, part of God’s creation, over whom God is omnipotent and sovereign.

We could think of the evil action of Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery,

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The brothers intended evil, but God intended good. We could think of the first chapters of Job, when God instigated Satan to test him. We could even think of Judas; when Satan himself entered Judas, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas, under control of Satan, sold Jesus out to be executed. And we know from Colossians that Jesus death [canceled…]

Colossians 2:14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Satan incited Judas to betray Jesus to the cross, the very thing that secured our forgiveness and disarmed and conquered the powers of darkness. This is clearly a case, as Jesus predicted:

Matthew 12:26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

Satan, in seeking to destroy Jesus, brought about the even that set us free from his power and sealed his own fate.

The early church understood:

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

This proved to be the case for Paul. Satan’s angel no doubt intending to discourage and destroy Paul, actually was a gift of God that crushed Paul’s pride and secured his utter weak dependence on the Lord alone. God wields circumstances, sufferings, even Satan himself to bring about his good ends. As Paul said in the beginning of this book, about his affliction in Asia,

2 Corinthians 1:8 …we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

The devil is a tool in the hand of the sovereign Lord to wean us away from our self sufficiency and trust him completely.

Our self-exaltation is more deadly even than demonic oppression.

Persistent Prayer for Deliverance

Don’t misunderstand; Paul didn’t look for this thorn; Paul wasn’t asking to be abused by a satanic emissary. Quite the contrary.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Here again the apostle demonstrates that authentic ministry is ministry shaped by the cross. Genuine ministry follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus, in dread of the cross, three times

Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Paul pleaded with the Lord Jesus three times about this that it should leave him. This is one of the few places we see prayer directed to Jesus rather than the Father, because Paul found in him a high priest who is able to sympathize with his weakness (Heb.4:15-16). He desired that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken away. Like his Lord, he did not receive the answer he hoped for. Rather, like his Lord, he was strengthened to endure what was necessary for him to endure. Like his Lord Jesus, he would bring glory to God not by escaping the unwanted trial, but by persevering through it. He was promised sufficient grace to meet the trial.

Do we underestimate the danger of our own hearts, of our self-important thoughts? Do we rightly estimate the deadly disease of pride? Likely none of us have had the rapturous experience that Paul had, and yet we allow ourselves to be puffed up beyond measure. It is God’s grace that uses a thorn to deflate our self-obsession so that we embrace weakness as the way to glorify God.

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

February 16, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:4; Another Jesus

10/18_2 Corinthians 11:4; Another Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201018_2cor11_4.mp3

2 Corinthians 11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

Bear with my foolishness. Bear with me, because I feel a godly jealousy for you. You are being seduced. You are being deceived. The snake from the garden is influencing your thinking. You are in danger of being led astray from your simple devotion to Christ.

Bear with me, because you bear with false teachers well enough! You bear with the proclamation of another Jesus; you readily receive a different spirit; you are willing to accept a different gospel. If you willingly put up with the foolishness of false teaching, why not put up with my foolishness?

Paul employs thick irony to rebuke the Corinthians and warn them of the danger they are in. There is satanic deception going on, and they are putting up with it.

What does he mean that they are putting up with the proclamation of a different Jesus, receiving a different spirit, accepting a different gospel?

Jesus and the Spirit and the Gospel

These three go together: preaching Jesus, receiving the Spirit, accepting the gospel. Paul preached Christ crucified; the word of the cross is the power of God to us who are being saved (1Cor.1:18,23-24). He asks the Galatians ‘Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?’ (Gal.3:2,14). He tells the Romans ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Rom.10:17). He also tells the Romans ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Rom.1:16). Christ sent Paul to preach the gospel, and not in a way that the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (1Cor.1:17).

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul reminds the believers of

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

The good news message by which we are saved is the proclamation of Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again. It is the message of the cross. And as he tells the Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:13 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,

When you heard the gospel and believed in Jesus you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Proclaiming Jesus, receiving the Spirit and accepting the gospel are inseparable. If the right Jesus is not preached, it is not the true gospel that is accepted, and it is not the Holy Spirit of God that is received.

Another Jesus

But what does Paul mean when he says that they are putting up with the preaching of another Jesus than the one he proclaimed? Is there another Jesus? We could answer the way he answered the Galatians about another gospel;

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

They were turning to another gospel which in reality is no gospel, no good news at all. The Corinthians were being seduced away from the simplicity of Christ to another Jesus which in reality is no Jesus, or we could say is anti-Jesus, or anti-Christ.

But there were some who preached another Jesus. John, in his letters warned against those who preached a false Christ.

1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.

John warned that some denied that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, fulfillment of the Old Testament. He who denies the Father and the Son, who denies the trinity, is the antichrist. John also points to different spirits.

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist…

There were some in John’s day that were denying that Jesus had come in the flesh.

2 John 1:7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Docetism

Jesus is God come in the flesh. There were some who denied the incarnation, known as Docetists, from the Greek word ‘δοκέω’ – ‘to seem, to think, or to suppose.’ They claimed that Jesus only seemed to be human, he only appeared to be come in the flesh and die. But it wasn’t real human flesh and he didn’t really die. But if God didn’t truly come in the flesh, if he didn’t really become human, then he couldn’t legitimately take our place and die for our sins. Those who deny the incarnation, deny that God came in the flesh to save us, preach a different Jesus.

But this was not the only false Jesus that was being proclaimed.

Sabellianism / Modalism

There was a teacher Sabellius (c.215), who taught that God is not three persons, but one person who appeared in three different forms or modes, first as the Father, then as the Son, and finally as the Spirit. This heresy is known as modalism; that the one God put on different masks or manifested himself in different ways at different times. They deny that the one God eternally exists in three distinct persons.

Arianism

Arius (256-336) taught that Jesus is not eternal God but was begotten by God at a point in time. He taught that Jesus was like God but not the same essence or nature as God.

Adoptionism / Dynamic Monarchianism

Theodotus (c.190) and Paul of Samosata (c.260) taught differing forms of an adoptionist teaching, some of which denied the virgin birth and held that Jesus was merely human, but was adopted by God (either at his baptism, his resurrection or his ascension) and became divine from that point forward. They denied that he was the Son of God from all eternity.

Apollinarianism

Apollinarius (c.361) taught that at the incarnation, God took a human body but not a human mind or spirit, so Jesus was part divine and part human, neither fully human nor fully divine.

Eutychianism

Eutyches (c.378-454) taught that Christ had only one nature and that the human nature was absorbed into the divine nature creating a different kind of nature, neither fully human nor fully divine.

Nestorianism

Nestorius (c.428) taught that Jesus was fully man and fully God, and his divine and human natures were united in purpose not in person, so Jesus remained two separate persons, one human and one divine.

Throughout the history of the church, heresies and cults have re-defined Jesus in ways that contradict what the Bible teaches.

Some have said that Jesus is really the archangel Michael, a created being. Others teach that Jesus was firstborn of many spirit-sons of God, and that he is Lucifer’s older brother.

Why does this matter? Paul says that there are satanic deceptions that proclaim a different Jesus and a different spirit and a different gospel, and a different Jesus cannot save. A Jesus who is not fully God does not have the power to save. A Jesus who is not fully human is not able to substitute himself for humankind. A Jesus who is not a distinct person from his Father could not offer himself to his Father as a sacrifice for our sins. We must neither confuse the persons nor divide the substance (Athanasian Creed, c.500). A Christ who had a beginning, who is less than God is not worthy of our simple and pure devotion and worship. Our conception of Jesus matters. What we believe about Jesus matters.

There is only one God, who eternally exists in three persons; the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Jesus is God from all eternity. At a point in time, remaining what he was he became what he was not. He became fully and genuinely human. Anything else is false teaching.

But our problem is not always theological, misunderstanding the being or nature of God, but more practical. I believe Jesus died for my sins on the cross, but I need to do my part. What we are saying is that what he did was not sufficient. And to say that what Jesus did on the cross is not sufficient is to believe in a different Jesus, a Jesus different from the one who hung on the cross and declared ‘it is finished!’ Paid in full. There is nothing you can contribute.

Many look at Jesus and say ‘I thank God that there is nothing I can contribute. I prayed a prayer and put my trust in Jesus, I have my fire insurance to keep me from hell, but I don’t have to follow Jesus. I don’t have to change the way I live.’ That’s not the Jesus who said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt.16:24). “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Cor.5:17). The Spirit of the living God transforms you from the inside out and you have different desires. We must put to death the sin that so easily trips us up. We must follow Jesus. We can contribute nothing to our salvation, but his salvation freely given changes us. We want to be like Jesus. We want to be holy. A Jesus who leaves us in our sins and does not transform is a different Jesus and a different spirit.

The Other Jesus of the Super-Apostles

But what was the satanic deception being promoted in Corinth? In what ways was their ‘another Jesus’ different than than the Jesus Paul proclaimed? If we simply page through 2 Corinthians, Paul holds up the Jesus he proclaimed in contrast to the Jesus of the false apostles.

Right up front in 2 Corinthians, Paul introduces Jesus as the suffering Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

Christ suffered, and authentic minsters and followers of Jesus share to some extent in his sufferings. This was not a popular message in Corinth. They looked at Paul’s sufferings as evidence that he was not experiencing God’s blessings, that he must not be walking in the Spirit. But Paul makes a point to highlight his sufferings.

2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Paul paints himself as broken and needy, so weak that he considers himself dead. Paul is utterly dependent. He could not rely on himself but on God alone. Paul is weak, and they want power. Paul changed his plans, and they want bold and self-assured leadership. They prize letters of recommendation and compare themselves with themselves.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,

Paul claims no competency for ministry that was not a gift.

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Paul refused to promote himself, except as a slave of Jesus.

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. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Paul argued that authentic ministry is follows in the footsteps of Jesus, who laid down his life for others. Authentic ministry looks like the cross. Jesus triumphed over sin and death and hell by dying. On the cross, Jesus looks broken and hopeless and defeated. All his glory is hidden in his suffering. Infinite treasure in a fractured clay pot.

The Satanic Temptation to Avoid the Cross

If we look back at the gospels, one of the Satanic temptations was to avoid suffering, avoid the cross.

Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus rejected this satanic temptation of a cross-less path for himself or his followers.

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

The false apostles gloried in outward appearance (5:12), promoted a spirit of authority and privilege, and preached a gospel devoid of the cross. Ralph Martin writes:

“another Jesus” for the opponents is the wonder-working Jesus, rather than Paul’s crucified and risen Lord. The alien “spirit” is the spirit of power and ecstasy which these messengers claimed to possess and embody in their ministry, rather than the Spirit of Christ which Paul exemplified. The new “gospel:” is the message of power and present glory, based on demonstrable tokens of the divine and evidences of authority in their lives as Christ’s servants (v.13), rather than Paul’s kerygma of the suffering Christ whose power is displayed incognito and in patient love (13:3,4). [Fallon (94) cited by Martin in WBC p.341]

Much of this remains all too relevant today. Many are pursuing supernatural experiences by the Spirit, seeking power, popularity and the praise of man, and peddling a gospel that promises health and blessing now if we only have enough faith to receive it. Let’s not talk about sin and our need for a Savior. This is not the gospel Paul preached. This is not the offensive message of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor.1:23; 2:2).

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

…21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We do not have the right to create our own Jesus as we imagine him to be. We must believe in the Jesus who really is, the I AM, as he reveals himself to us through his word. Sincere devotion to the wrong Jesus is as empty and worthless as the object of that devotion is non-existent. We must continually be in his word, meeting him there, subjecting our own opinions about him to who he tells us he is.

George Guthrie writes:

“The church in the West stands under the most grave attacks in terms of spiritual warfare, an attack in some ways worse than the physical and social persecution faced by our brothers and sisters around the world. False gospels offered by false teachers thrive in a context of biblical and theological illiteracy. Paul understood what was at stake for the church. The question is, Do we?” [BECNT, 477]

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

October 22, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obey Jesus; Endure to the End

08/02 Endure To The End (Matt.10, 13, 24; Jude); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200802_endure.mp3

Jesus calls us to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples who obey everything Jesus taught, and who pass on everything Jesus taught. What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple?

Did you know Jesus gave us some precious and very great promises? Let’s look at one in John 16

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus promises us peace in him through his word. We love that. He declares that he has overcome the world. Amen! He also promises us that in the world we will have tribulation. Ooof! We don’t like that promise. But following Jesus is a package deal, not a smorgasbord. We don’t get to pick and choose among the teachings of our Lord. We have to take everything, obey everything he said, cling to his every word. And this is a hard word. ‘In the world you will have tribulation.’

Matthew 10:22; Endure to the End

Here’s another promise Jesus gave his followers:

Matthew 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

How’s that for a promise? You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. And here’s the command. Endure! The one who endures to the end will be saved.

This is serious. Your salvation is at stake. You are going to experience persecution. But endure. Remain steadfast. It is the one who endures the world’s hatred, tribulation, to the end, who will be saved. He said this to his 12 apostles when he sent them out. So we can say that this was specific to them, and we don’t need to worry about it, right? The problem with that is that what he says is much bigger than just the twelve on that specific mission he sent them on.

He said in verse 16 that he was sending them out ‘as sheep in the midst of wolves’. He said they would stand before courts, synagogues, governors, kings, even the Gentiles. None of that happened on this original mission. He says in verse 23 that these instructions apply until his return. So that is much bigger than the 12. He says in verse 24 ‘A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.’ This applies to every disciple, every follower of Jesus. He continues in verse 28:

Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Don’t be afraid of the one who can only kill your body. Fear God who can send you to hell for eternity. Don’t be afraid of people, because God knows you intimately, and you are more valuable to God than many sparrows. They may kill you, but you will not fall to the ground apart from your Father and his good purposes for you.

Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Stand firm. Endure to the end. Don’t deny Jesus. Acknowledge him before people. It is those who endure to the end who will be saved.

Matthew 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

If self-preservation in this life is your god, you are not really a follower of Jesus.

Matthew 24:13; Endure to the End

In Matthew 24, Jesus reiterates some of these words he gave to his 12, this time in the context of his disciple’s question ‘what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?’ If there is any doubt in Matthew 10, Jesus makes it clear here in Matthew 24 that he is speaking to us. He warns us to be on guard; ‘see to it that no one leads you astray.’

Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

You will undergo tribulation, you will be hated, you will be put to death. Many will fall away or be led astray, but the one who endures to the end will be saved. ‘Saved’ in this context clearly means saved in the eternal salvation sense, because we are not promised rescue or deliverance from persecution or death.

So what does it mean to endure to the end?

2 Responses to the Gospel; no understanding, no root

Jesus helps us think through what it means to endure in Matthew 13, where he described four different responses to the gospel. The word of God is scattered widely. Some hear without understanding.

Matthew 13:18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path.

Luke records it this way:

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.

They hear the word and do not understand it; the devil takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The gospel as it were falls on deaf ears.

The second hearers immediately receive the word with joy. We often get too excited about those in this category.

Matthew 13:20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.

There is an immediate response with joy. They endure for a while. But when faced with trouble or persecution, they fall away. They do not endure to the end, and they are not saved. There was an initial response to the gospel, a flash in the pan; but there was no root, and when it gets hard they walk away from Jesus. Luke records it this way:

Luke 8:13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

They believe for a while, but under testing they fall away.

Tested Genuineness of Faith

Peter learned first hand about this. Peter learned the hard way. When Jesus predicted that “You will all fall away because of me this night.” (Mt.26:31)

Matthew 26:33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” …35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

That sounds great. He received the word with joy. And he was vocal about his determination to follow Jesus to the end, whatever the cost. But Peter learned the value of pressure. Pressure taught Peter that his faith was not what he thought it was (or more precisely his faith was not in who it ought to be in). And he came to thank God for trials. Listen to what he writes after Jesus’ resurrection, after Jesus restored him to faith and usefulness. And listen for the contrast from his earlier self-confident proclamation ‘I will never fall away! …I will never deny you!’ In 1 Peter 1:3 he writes:

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Peter came to see tribulation as a blessing. Faith that has not been tested may or may not be genuine. It is better to find out now that your faith is false than to find out after it is too late; ‘depart from me, I never knew you’. Persecution turned Peter’s eyes away from himself and his self-confidence to a humble dependence on God and his work.

Paul and James concur that ‘we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance’ (Rom.5:3-5). ‘Count it all joy …when you meet trials …for …the testing of your faith produces steadfastness’ (Jam.1:2-4).

2 More Responses to the Gospel; choked out or endures to the end

Back in Matthew 13 Jesus lists two more responses to the gospel in addition to hearing without understanding and an immediate receiving with joy that is proved to be false through testing.

Matthew 13:22 The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing.

This is similar to the rocky ground, but the source of the testing is different. Genuineness of faith can be tested in different ways. It can be revealed through trials or through ease, through pressure or through pleasure. In the rocky ground faith was proved false by persecution. Here in the thorny ground faith is proved false by competing affections. The cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the desires for other things choke out the word. We see this in the history of Israel. Moses warned:

Deuteronomy 8:11 “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

When Israel had times of pride, excess, and prosperous ease, she forgot the Lord. The cares and riches and pleasures of this life compete with and kill any short lived affections for Jesus.

Here is what Jesus says about the good soil.

Matthew 13:23 But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

This last person hears the word and understands. And the fruit varies, but he bears fruit. Luke records:

Luke 8:15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience [ὑπομονή].

Not only do they hear the word, they hold it fast. They endure to the end and are saved. They bear fruit with steadfastness or patience endurance.

The Steadfastness of Christ

Jesus calls us to persevere in faith, to endure affliction and persecution as well as pleasure and prosperous ease, to not fall away or to be led astray. Jesus commands us to hold fast the word in an honest and good heart, to bear fruit with steadfastness, to endure to the end.

And Jesus gives us himself as an example of endurance.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

2 Thessalonians 3:5 says

2 Thessalonians 3:5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

The Lord is Faithful

We have the command of Christ to endure to the end, and we have the example of the steadfastness of Christ who endured the cross. But how? You might be saying ‘I don’t think I can. After all, I’m not Jesus.’ How can we endure to the end? That verse in 2 Thessalonians gives us a clue; it instructs us to direct our hearts not only to the steadfastness of Christ, but first to the love of God. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul asks for prayer, and then he says:

2 Thessalonians 3:3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

He doesn’t say ‘we have confidence in you’; that would be misplaced confidence. He says ‘the Lord is faithful. He will establish you. We have confidence in the Lord about you.’ Paul’s confidence for their endurance and faithfulness is in the Lord’s faithfulness.

Kept to Keep Yourselves

As we wrap up today, I want to look at the little letter by Jude, just one chapter, the second to last book in the Bible. Jude tells us in verse 21 to ‘keep yourselves in the love of God.’ How do we do that? Jude tells us, and he also frames this command with some truth we need to see. At the opening of his letter, he addresses:

Jude 1:1 …To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

He addresses us as the called, and he says that we are beloved in God the Father, and we are kept for Jesus Christ. Called, loved by God, and kept. Beloved and kept are both passive; describing something being done to us by another. God is the one loving and keeping us.

He starts by addressing us as the called, loved and kept. And then in verse 20-21 he commands us to keep ourselves.

Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Keep yourselves in the love of God. That is imperative. It is a command, something we are to do. Aren’t we beloved in God and kept by him? Isn’t that enough? He even starts verse 20 by reminding us that we are beloved. How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? Can we? Jude surrounds this command with three participles that tell us how; building, praying, and waiting. As the beloved of God, we keep ourselves in the love of God by building, praying and waiting. We are to build ourselves up in the most holy faith. Take positive action to dig deep, with a firm foundation of God’s word, Jesus Christ himself the cornerstone, and anchor your faith on him. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Discipline yourself to pray the Spirit inspired words of Scripture back to him. And eagerly anticipate the full realization of mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. Keep yourself in the love of the triune God; building up, praying, waiting in the Son, Spirit, and Father. This is how we keep ourselves in the love of God.

So which is it? Are we kept, or do we keep ourselves? Yes! God keeps us and he uses means. God keeps us by our building up, praying and waiting.

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

Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Jude closes his letter with this benediction:

Jude 1:24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Endure to the end. Don’t be choked out by pleasure or burned up by pressure. Keep yourselves by building yourselves up in the faith, praying and anticipating. Beloved, keep yourselves in the love of the God who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy!

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

August 3, 2020 Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kept in Perfect Peace (Isaiah 26:3)

03/29 Kept in Perfect Peace (Isaiah 26:3); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200329_kept-in-peace.mp3

As I was contemplating God’s peace in the middle of uncertain times, a familiar verse came to mind. It goes like this:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.’ (Isaiah 26:3)

This is a great verse of encouragement and hope to cling to. Just last week, someone gave me a little laminated scrap of paper with this verse written on it.
Kept in Peace

You keep him in ‘peace peace’, perfect peace. Last week we looked at the peace of Christ; Jesus said ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you’ (Jn,14:27). This is ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding;’ peace that ‘will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Phil.4:7). This is the peace that you are to have ‘rule in your hearts …and be thankful’ (Col.3:15). God is our keeper; the keeper of peace; you will keep him in perfect peace.

Whose Mind is Stayed on You

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.’ In Colossians 3, we saw that this peace is for those who have believed in Jesus, who have been completely forgiven, who have been raised with Christ, who are experiencing new life in Jesus. And we believers are commanded to ‘seek the things that are above, where Christ is’ (Col.3:1); we are to. ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col.3:2). We are to steady the attention of our minds on Jesus, to set our affections on him; our hearts and thoughts are to be captured by him. So many things compete for our affections and our attention, but we are to fix our attention on him.

When we set mind and heart on Jesus, our minds are steadied,stayed on you’. This is passive; God’s word and God’s character have a steadying effect on our minds. God himself maintains and steadies us.

Because He Trusts in You

Because he trusts in you. Here is the means of being kept, being steadied. We are to trust, trust in God alone. Not trust in him and… But trust in him. Period. We are kept in peace because we trust in God. Not because of our act of trust, but because of the object in which our trust is placed. Because God is dependable. Because God is unchanging. Because God is our rock, because God is our security.

Not our health; that may fail. Not our savings; that may evaporate. Not our families; that can be stripped away. Not our jobs; there is no lasting security there. If our hope is in those things, if we are counting on, depending on, trusting in those things, they will fail us. They can all be gone in a moment.

This is what Jesus taught us;

Matthew 19:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What are you treasuring? Where is your hope? Where is your heart? What are you holding on to? Where is your security?

Isaiah 26:3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORDGOD is an everlasting rock.

The Lord God is the only absolute in an uncertain and shifting world. The LordGod; in the Hebrew ‘Yah YHWH’ is an everlasting rock. The Rock of Ages. YHWH, the one who is, the self existent, the absolute, the independent I AM.

Context of Global Judgment

This is a powerful pointer to where we get real peace. This was a verse I was familiar with, and I wanted to chew on this verse and see it in its context, so I looked it up. The verse is in Isaiah 26, tucked away in chapters 24-27, which are sometimes referred to as Isaiah’s little apocalypse.

Isaiah 26:1 …“We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. 2 Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORDGOD is an everlasting rock.

This song is sung by God’s people, because, verse 5 says;

Isaiah 26:5 For he has humbled the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. 6 The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.”

I was a bit surprised by the context. God’s people sing their confidence in God’s salvation as a result of God’s humbling the proud and lifted up of the world.

Isaiah warns of the downfall of Jerusalem because of their disobedience, pride and idolatry. God raised up the enemies of Israel to punish his people. But even in the midst of his discipline, there is hope. God disciplines his people for their good, and will ultimately crush their enemies.

Isaiah 24-27 put this in an end-times global perspective. These chapters give us a climactic vision of God ruling the nations in judgment and salvation. God will lay low everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of him. The lofty city is a picture of self-confidence, independence, and pride.

Look back at chapter 24.

Isaiah 24:1 Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. …3 The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the LORD has spoken this word. 4 The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish.

Notice it is the Lord himself who does this. Why?

Isaiah 24:5 The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. …10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter.

Why does the Lord execute judgment on the whole earth? Because of sin. Because of our rejection of God’s commands. Because we refuse to listen to him, to follow his ways. Because of our guilt. The wages of our sin is death.

Isaiah 24:19 The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken. 20 The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again.

Isaiah 24 ends with the Lord punishing both angels and human rulers because of their guilt and, ‘the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders’ (Is.24:23).

Response of Worship

Listen to the response of God’s people to his just and terrible punishment of the wicked”

Isaiah 25:1 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the foreigners’ palace is a city no more; it will never be rebuilt.

God’s people respond to his justice with worship. They sing his praise because God’s judgment on those who persist in evil and pride and refuse to turn to him is right and good. God is patient, slow to anger, ‘not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (2Pet.3:9). But God ‘will by no means clear the guilty’ (Num.14:18). God’s justice is wonderful, worthy of praise. God’s people praise him for his justice, but it doesn’t stop there.

Isaiah 25:3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4 For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat…

Even God’s enemies will give him glory because of his absolute justice.

Philippians 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Every knee will bow and give glory to God. Some knees will never bow, except under the mighty hand of God’s justice.

Isaiah 26:9 …For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. 10 If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the LORD. 11 O LORD, your hand is lifted up, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people, and be ashamed. Let the fire for your adversaries consume them.

God’s people recognize the sanctifying effect of God’s wrath, and even pray for it. There is a good end to God’s justice. Some may repent and turn to the Lord before it is too late.

God our Greatest Desire

Listen to verses 8 and 9

Isaiah 26:8 In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. 9 My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.

Are you willing to wait in the path of God’s judgments? If that is where God will meet you, is he of more value to you than your own comfort and convenience? This is the true heart of a follower of Jesus. You, Lord are the desire of our soul. My soul years for you. My spirit earnestly seeks you. I want above all for your name to be honored, your will to be done. Above my need for daily bread and personal safety is my desire for you Lord to get the honor and worship that is your due. Does your heart resonate with this yearning? O Lord, make it so!

Resurrection Confidence

Isaiah 26:3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORDGOD is an everlasting rock.

Peace, Jesus’ own peace, perfect peace to the one who is stabilized by the immovable anchor of the unchanging character of God. Trust. Trust in the Lord forever. He is worthy of your trust. He will never leave you; he will not fail you. No matter what happens, you are safe.

Does this imply that nothing bad will ever happen to you, and that if bad things do happen, it is an indication of your lack of faith? No, no no! God’s perfect peace is not exemption from the storms, but peace in the middle of the storms. God’s peace is not seen in circumstances. God’s peace is deeper than that. Times of trial wean us away from temporary pleasures to that which is lasting and true.

Jesus says something that at first sounds contradictory in John 11.

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

In one breath he says that believers will die and live again, and in the next breath he says that believers will never die. Are we exempt from death, or aren’t we? It is clear from history that believers in Jesus still experience death, many in unthinkable ways. But does this contradict what Jesus says in the very next breath that believers will never die? Clearly he is talking about death and life in different ways. Whoever believes in Jesus, though he will experience death physically, yet his body will physically be raised again. And everyone who experiences inward life (or new birth) and believes in Jesus will never experience spiritual death or separation from God. For the believer, to be ‘away from the body’ is to be ‘at home with the Lord’ (2Cor.5:8). Eternal life, Jesus taught, is knowing God and Jesus Christ (Jn.17:3). He taught a similar thing in Mark 8.

Mark 8:35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

He clarifies that he is talking about two different kinds of life when he says something similar in John 12.

John 12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Seeking to preserve physical life in this world at the cost of a relationship with God is folly; but risking this physical life for the hope of eternal life with God is true wisdom.

The peace of Jesus is not exemption from trials or suffering (Jesus actually promised we would experience those); rather the peace of Jesus preserves us through the trials. We will experience physical death, and yet we shall truly live. We see that our ultimate hope is rooted in the resurrection right in the context of this verse in Isaiah 26.

Isaiah 26:19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. 20 Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.

For the one who trusts in the Lord, we have a sure and steadfast hope beyond the grave. Death is not the end. Christians believe in the resurrection. This life is not all there is, to be held on to at all costs. No, if our hope is in Jesus even death can’t interrupt that! ‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him’ (Job13:15)

Listen to our hope in the imagery painted in Isaiah 25:

Isaiah 25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him. The God who swallows up death forever, who will wipe away our every tear. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation! Trust in the YHWH forever, for Yah YHWH is an everlasting rock! Trust him for he is trustworthy. Let your mind be stayed on him. Let him keep you.

***

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

April 4, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gospel Hope in a Broken World

03/15 Gospel Hope in a Broken World; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200315_hope.mp3

Our president announced this week a state of national emergency. The World Health Organization has officially designated the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic; as of yesterday there were 142,539 confirmed cases and 5,393 deaths worldwide [who.int]. There are currently around 2,000 confirmed cases in the US and 41 deaths, and those numbers are expected to rise. In response to identifying the first case of community spread in Utah, our governor announced the ‘dismissal’ of all students K-12, and colleges and universities are closing campuses and moving classes online. There is not a roll of toilet paper to be found in stores. Many people are afraid.

Suffering is Not New

How are we to think about all this? What do we as followers of Jesus do? Today I want to bring a message of hope to a hurting and broken world. But first we need to step back and look at where we are at and how we got here. Before we get to the good news, we should look at some bad news. Let’s give this some historical context. I found this list of 10 of the worst pandemics in history, and their death toll:

165 AD – Antonine Plague – Smallpox or measles? – 5 million

541-542 – Plague of Justinian – Bubonic plague – 25 million

1346-1353 – the black death – Bubonic plague – 75-200 million

1852-1860 – third Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 1 million

1889-1890 – ‘asian/russian’ flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

1910-1911 – sixth Cholera pandemic – Cholera – 800,000+

1918 – flu pandemic – influenza – 20-50 million

1956-1958 – Asian flu – influenza – 2 million

1968 – flu pandemic – influenza – 1 million

2005-2012 (peak) – HIV/AIDS pandemic – 36 million

[https://www.mphonline.org/worst-pandemics-in-history/ ]

These are some staggering numbers. Why point this out? I am not at all trying to downplay this current pandemic. What I want us to see is the prevalence of death throughout human history. Remember this is just a top ten list; it obviously leaves a lot out. Suffering and disease and death is not new. We are not the first to face things like these. And we can learn a lot from history.

The Root of All Suffering

But to put this in an even broader context, I want to look at the global pandemic, the root cause that underlies all of these.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

The Bible has the answers to our deepest questions. Why? Why do terrible things like these happen throughout human history? Sin entered God’s good creation through one man. Death entered this world through Adam’s rebellion. Death spread to all people because all sinned. The wages of sin is death. The spread of contagious diseases that wipe out entire populations are not new. Fear and suffering and death are not new. God warned our first parents that enjoying relationship with him is life, but turning from him to follow other voices results in death. The death rate of COVID-19 is estimated at somewhere around 3.5%. The death rate of sinners throughout human history is 100%. Death is a fact we must face as humans living in a broken, fallen, hurting world. Let me give you a sobering word of encouragement; if the Corona virus doesn’t get you, something else will.

The Good News

We rebelled against a good and loving God. We brought the promised consequences down on our own head. But here’s the stunning thing. God himself came down. God entered into our disease ridden sick and dying world, not in a hazmat suit with a respirator, but in a susceptible, vulnerable human body. He actually took on flesh, he became one of us. In fact, he came so near to us that he contracted our disease. Galatians 3:13 says:

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—…

1 Peter 2:24 tells us:

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, …

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he [the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus himself told us:

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is staggeringly good news. The God who we rebelled against and offended has come down,

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God came down on a rescue mission, to lay himself down, to actually contract our disease, to die our death so we could live.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Just stop and breathe that in. Whoever – believes – has – eternal – life. Eternal life. It will last forever. It cannot be lost or taken away. All who trust only in Jesus will enjoy his presence forever. Let that truth sink in deep and shape your souls and overcome your fears.

Here’s how the apostle Paul responded to this truth.

Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. …23 …My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Genuine Belief

Do you believe this? Do you really believe this? Has this truth sank down deep to the gut level where it influences every decision you make? Is this what you know is the right answer if your pastor were to ask you, or is this a truth that fleshes itself out in the way you live your life day to day? You see, a crisis, a tragedy, a global pandemic shows us what we really believe.

Cyprian (d.258); Dionysius (d.264)

In the plague of Cyprian, 249-262, at the height of the outbreak 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. Cyprian’s (Bishop of Carthage) biographer wrote of the plague at Carthage:

Afterwards there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, every one from his own house. All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. There lay about the meanwhile, over the whole city, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, and, by the contemplation of a lot which in their turn would be theirs, demanded the pity of the passers-by for themselves. No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience. [/wiki/Plague_of_Cyprian; Pontius of Carthage, Life of Cyprian. Transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885. Online atChristian Classics Ethereal Library. ]

One eyewitness of the plague in Alexandria, Bishop Dionysius records:

At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/ ]

While the response of many to the plague was characterized by self-protection, self-preservation, avoiding the sick at all costs, the response of Christians was different. Dionysius recounts:

Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead” [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/; https://erenow.net/common/the-history-of-the-church/8.php]

The conduct of believers so impacted the culture, that a century later, the emperor Julian wrote (AD362) to exhort the pagan priests to imitate the Christians in their charity:

For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort… [https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Julian/Letter_22 ]

1527 – Luther

In August of 1527 the Bubonic plague struck Wittenberg and numerous people fled in fear of their lives. Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, who was pregnant at the time, remained in their beloved city in order to treat the infected. Luther responded to a fellow pastor and friend in another city: [https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/martin-luther-and-the-black-plague/ ]

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together …so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another.”

Luther saw one purpose of an epidemic as

also to test our faith and love — our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. “

He says we ought to:

serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner as St. John teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” [1 John 3:16].

He goes on to address our fears:

When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart. He …takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles.”

[https://blogs.lcms.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Plague-blogLW.pdf ]

It is out of this period that Luther penned his famous hymn:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

1854 – Spurgeon

In 1854 Cholera broke out in London in the Broad Street neighborhood, just across the river from the New Park Street Chapel where Charles Spurgeon was newly called to minister. He was busy preaching, serving his people, visiting the sick and dying. In 1866, amid another cholera outbreak, he gave this charge to Christians:

You cannot stop their dying; but, oh, that God might help you to stop their being damned! You cannot stop the breath from going out of their bodies; but, oh, that the gospel might stop their souls from going down to destruction! It can do it, and nothing else can take its place.

Just now, the cholera has come again. There can be little doubt, I suppose, about it being here already in some considerable force, and probably it may be worse. The Christian need not dread it, for he has nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by death. Still, for the sake of others, he may well pray that God would avert his hand, and not let His anger burn. But, since it is here, I think it ought to be a motive for active exertion. If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad.

I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then. All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face! When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine.

And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that —

There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

Tell them that He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. Tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “to-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

[https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/books/the-autobiography-of-c-h-spurgeon-volume-i#flipbook/380; Autobiography 1:371 ‘in sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, July 29, 1866’]

2019-2020 Wuhan China

On January 24, 2020 Pastor Paul Peng shared the gospel over the phone with a Zhang, a woman from Wuhan who while visiting her son in Chengdu, China, had become ill and was quarantined. Five days after putting her trust in Christ, she became the first coronavirus fatality in Sichuan province. Peng held a memorial service over a videoconferencing platform, preaching to about 100 of her friends and family that ‘calamity should lead people to pray not only for God to rescue them, but also for people to repent and turn to God’ [https://world.wng.org/2020/02/seeking_peace_in_sickness ]

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

I want to close today with the first question from the Heidelberg Catechism, a teaching tool for Christians in the form of questions and answers.

Q1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own (1Cor.6:19-20), but belong—body and soul, in life and in death (Rom.14:7-9)—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ (1Cor.3:23; Titus2:14).

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood (1Pet.1:18-19; 1Jn.1:7-9; 2:2), and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil (Jn.8:34-36; Heb.2:14-15; 1Jn.3:1-11). He also watches over me in such a way (Jn.6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2Thess.3:3; 1Pet.1:5) that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven (Matt.10:29-31; Lk.21:16-18); in fact, all things must work together for my salvation (Rom.8:28).

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life (Rom.8:15-16; 2Cor.1:21-22; 5:5; Eph.1:13-14) and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him (Rom.8:1-17).

***

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

March 16, 2020 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment