WHAT BARACK OBAMA HAS IN COMMON WITH JESUS

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Matthew #4 . 2:12-23

Sometimes, at my house, we have leftovers for supper. We often do this on Sunday nights, so no one has to cook, and we can all have a day off. I actually really enjoy this, particularly when we have high-quality leftovers. So, we might get it all out, and then call the family together and say something like:

“OK, everyone, we have some leftover lasagna from when we went out to eat, some spinach pie, and some curry. Take your pick, and dig in.”

Sometimes, I think of bible passages like leftover-night. We’ve got several good things to choose from, and maybe everyone will get something a little bit different from it. That’s how I feel about our text this time. So, I’ll set out the food and let you dig in. Start out by reading the passage, if you haven’t already (Matthew 2:12-23). For those of you who got sucked in by the title, let me offer full disclosure: I’ll get to Jesus and Barack Obama in the second half of this post. That’s part of the “second serving.”

Last time, we looked at the Magi (wise men). Our text this time picks up at the end of their appearance in the bible. On the way to see Jesus, they had stopped first in Jerusalem and asked King Herod about the birth of the Messiah. Herod had pretended to be interested for the sake of worshipping the Messiah himself, but in truth, he asked the Magi to come back and tell him about it so that he could learn the identity of the child, and have him killed.

Herod had become king of Judea through scheming with Rome, and he held the position because he was supported by the Roman army. He wasn’t a Jew, and the Jews resented him. Just a little more than a generation before Herod, the Jews had still been ruled by a Jewish king. As a king, Herod was smart, insecure and ruthless, which was a bad combination for the people he ruled. Most likely, he thought that the child was some kind of descendant of the Hasmonean (Jewish) kings who had ruled the region in his father’s time. He saw the messiah as a real and political threat to his throne and to his life.

God warned the Magi in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they obeyed. After they left, God spoke to Joseph in a dream also, and warned him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape from Herod. Joseph also obeyed. The fact that Jesus spent time in Egypt fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy, the fifth fulfilled prophecy that Matthew refers to:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. (Hos 11:1, HCSB).

After time passed, and Herod never heard from the wise men again, he realized he was not going to learn the identity of the Messiah. He flew into an evil rage, but it was also a cold and ruthless rage. By simple mathematics, he figured out how old the Messiah would be, and had every male child that age and younger in Bethlehem killed. This fulfilled yet another prophecy, from Jeremiah 31:15.

This is what the LORD says: A voice was heard in Ramah, a lament with bitter weeping — Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children because they are no more. (Jer 31:15, HCSB)

After Herod died, Joseph had yet another visit from the Lord in a dream. This time he was told it was safe to return to the territory of Israel. One more dream warned him not to go back to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, however, which were controlled by Herod’s son Archelaus. So Joseph settled the family back in Nazareth, Mary’s hometown. Matthew makes reference to one more prophecy, the seventh so far, that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. This probably comes from one or two sources. Isaiah 11:1 says:

Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. (Isa 11:1, HCSB)

In Hebrew the word “branch” sounds a lot like the word Nazarene. There is another prophecy that does not name Nazareth, but it does name the region (Galilee):

Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future He will bring honor to the Way of the Sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. (Isa 9:1-2, HCSB)

Matthew may have been thinking of either or both of these passages, which were widely regarded to apply to the Messiah.

These fulfilled prophecies are important, not only to the Jews who first read Matthew’s book, but also to us. Let me review them for you, with a reference to where Matthew shows them as fulfilled. The Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of David (1:1-17), but born of virgin (1:18-25). He was supposed to be born in Bethlehem (2:1) and associated with a star (from Numbers 24:17, fulfilled in Matt 2:1). Though born in Bethlehem, he was to come from Egypt (2:14), and there would be lamenting in Bethlehem near the time of his birth (2:16-18). Though born in Bethlehem and called from Egypt, the Messiah was supposed to come from Galilee/Nazareth (2:23).

Even if you took out the virgin birth, the probability of a single individual meeting all these criteria is extremely low. You see, this is one reason that prevented every woman who had a baby boy out-of-wedlock from claiming that she was really a virgin and her baby was actually the Messiah. There were simply too many strange requirements to meet. Only Jesus met them. And Matthew is not even close to finished pointing out all the ways Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. If you were with us on our study called “Understanding the Bible” you know that there is no doubt that all those prophecies were written long before Jesus was born.

That should encourage our faith. This is one of our “meals” this time. Do you need to hear again how unique Jesus was? Do you need the faith-boost of understanding how he fulfilled things that were written about him hundreds of years before he was born? Do you need to be reminded of how amazing and how reliable the bible is? Sink your teeth into these fulfilled prophecies.

There is another one here that is very personal for me. Some of you know that I grew up in Papua New Guinea. When you grow up in a country that is not the home-country of your parents, you experience some very unique things. People who grew up this way are called Third-Culture-Kids (TCKs), because we are not really from the first culture (the home country of our parents), but we aren’t really from the second culture either (the place in which we grew up). By the way, President Barack Obama is one of us.

When I was younger I had to come to terms with the fact that I am a person without a real home culture or home country. Sometimes, I felt like I was from outer space. Even after more than twenty years in the same country, I still feel like this at times. For all my life, I’ve had to deal with being absent from either one home, or the other. I’m not trying to say “poor me,” but the fact is, I’ve found that only other TCKs really understand. When I was coming to terms with all this, I remember complaining a little to the Lord. I said, “You say that you can understand and empathize with our weaknesses, because you’ve been tested in every way just as we have (Hebrews 2:17-18). What about this? What about the strange struggles of being a TCK?”

I thought I had him, until the Lord pointed me to this passage in Matthew, and it hit me like a cement truck: Jesus was a Third Culture Kid. Like me, and like Barack Obama, Jesus was a TCK. He was born in Judea, but raised for some of his childhood in Egypt, a place where his parents were not from. He wasn’t really from there either, but by the time he came back to Nazareth, he would not have really thought of himself as from that place, either. If you had asked him, “Where are you from?” he would have given a typical TCK type answer:

“Well, I was born in Bethlehem, Judea, but I grew up in Egypt. I come from Nazareth, but right now I’m living in Capernaum.”

To make this more applicable to people other than TCKs, let me clarify the main point: Jesus can really, truly identify with you. There are probably only a few hundred thousand TCKs in the entire world (maybe far fewer), but Jesus made sure he could relate to us, and us to him. Whether you are a TCK or not, realize this – Jesus has made it so that he can truly understand you and your struggles. Don’t doubt that he knows and understands what you are going through, and cares about you in the midst of it.

A third “dish,” that I notice in this passage is the way the Lord spoke to people in dreams. In this passage, he did it four times – three to Joseph. Joseph also heard from the Lord in a dream in Matthew 1:20. Dreams are a tricky thing. First, and most importantly, I want to caution that you should never listen to your dreams if they are “guiding” you to do something that the bible clearly says you should not; or if they guide you to refrain from doing what the bible says you should. The bible is our final and authoritative guide. Even so, I do think that sometimes Christians put God in a box – that is they won’t even consider the possibility that he may speak to them in dreams. Joseph’s experience shows us that the Lord can and does lead us directly in choices and directions where the bible is not specific, or in things that the bible does not address. It may be through dreams, or some other method, but the point is, God remains active in our lives.

Yes, it is true, Joseph was the step-father of the Messiah, so his choices were pretty important. But there is nothing in the text that suggests other Christians should be different, or treated differently by God. In fact, the Holy Spirit gave dreams to lead Peter (Acts 10:10-19) and Paul (Acts 16:9-10) and even Cornelius (Acts 10:3-5). Joel, the prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, predicted that the Lord would use all sorts of ways to speak to his people after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit

After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days. (Joel 2:28-29, HCSB)

So, what I get from Joseph’s dreams is that God wants to speak to us, even about our specific lives and the choices that we face. As you face choices, I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and guide you; and then trust that He will. In fact, I trust that he is speaking to you right now. Why don’t you pause and listen, and absorb what he wants to do right now?

~

I want to briefly make you aware of our situation. This ministry (Clear Bible) until recently was supported by our local church. However, we have had some changes there, and we are now a house church. Today, we have about 8 families. Our church cannot fully support me financially any longer.

 

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WHERE IS YOUR HOPE?

David, fleeing from Jerusalem, is cursed by Shimei.  William Hole, Old Testament History (Eyre and Spottiswoode, c 1925 )

Leaders and governments come and go. So do countries and nations. Israel’s hope was not in David’s leadership, but in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. Our hope is the same. If we are shaken by an election, for good or for bad, then to that extent, our faith is not truly grounded in an eternal God who promises us an eternal hope. This isn’t just about elections. This is about anything in life that threatens to shake us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 2 Samuel Part 17

2 Samuel #17 . 2 Samuel Chapter 17

This is not a political sermon, so just bear with me through the first few paragraphs, and you’ll see that there is some rich spiritual application.

I think it is safe to say that the election in the United States this past week reveals that we often deeply divided as a nation. Although the electoral college victory for Barak Obama was clear and decisive, the margin int he popular vote was less than 3%. These division may cause us dismay. Sometimes it may seem that the atmosphere is far to bitter and partisan. Many people are dismayed by politicians themselves — so many of them seem willing to push the envelope of ethical behavior extremely far.

The scripture that we are looking at today is especially relevant in these times. David was good king; in fact, he was God’s choice for king. But Absalom sounded good, looked good and deceived enough good people, and recruited enough schemers, to take power and send his dad David running for his life. Politically, things looked bad for Israel. How could the country be so ignorant as to let this smooth-talking, charming megalomaniac come to power? Obviously, there were still many who supported David, and who felt that Absalom was a very bad choice for king. But they were defeated and silenced. God’s choice no longer mattered. Righteousness and right didn’t matter. Instead, power went to the one who was most ruthless and clever. Those who were wise and aware in Israel, who trusted the Lord, must have been deeply dismayed.

At the end of 2 Samuel chapter 15, we learn that when David fled from his son Absalom, he left behind a kind of spy network. Two priests who were loyal to David stayed in the city – Zadok and Abiathar. Their two sons – Ahimaaz and Jonathan stayed outside the city, ready to relay messages to David. David also had a friend and advisor named Hushai. Hushai stayed behind and pretended to betray David, and so became an false advisor to Absalom, a kind of double agent.

David had another close friend who was an advisor. This man was named Ahithophel. 2 Samuel 16:23 says this:

Now the advice Ahithophel gave in those days was like someone asking about a word from God — such was the regard that both David and Absalom had for Ahithophel’s advice. (2Sam 16:23, HCSB)

This man truly did betray David. He supported Absalom and threw his lot in entirely with him. It is quite likely that when David wrote psalm 55, it was primarily Ahithophel whom he had in mind. He said these things:

Now it is not an enemy who insults me — otherwise I could bear it; it is not a foe who rises up against me — otherwise I could hide from him. But it is you, a man who is my peer, my companion and good friend! We used to have close fellowship; we walked with the crowd into the house of God. (Ps 55:12-14, HCSB)

…My friend acts violently against those at peace with him; he violates his covenant. His buttery words are smooth, but war is in his heart. His words are softer than oil, but they are drawn swords. (Psalm 55:20-21)

When David first heard that Ahithophel had betrayed him, he prayed for the Lord to confound his advice and to defeat him. He says similar things in Psalm 55. There is something here that intrigues me. If you read the Psalms especially, David is never shy about praying for destruction to come upon evil and evil-doers. Whenever I read such things, I cringe a little bit. I think most modern Christians do. It sounds so simplistic to our sophisticated ears. These types of prayers seem to assume that we are good, not bad, and we have the ability to discern who the bad ones are. I don’t think I’ve ever heard modern Christians pray that way. Now, Jesus did say to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. So I think we ought to do that. But have we ever considered that part of our prayers could be asking God to frustrate and confound the schemes of unrighteous and wicked people? Here’s another sample from David:

Let those who seek to take my life be disgraced and confounded. Let those who wish me harm be driven back and humiliated. Let those who say to me, “Aha, aha! ” be horrified because of their shame. (Ps 40:14-15, HCSB)

If we pray in faith, trusting that God knows who truly needs to be confounded frustrated, and who doesn’t I think it is appropriate at times to pray against the success of those who appear to be against God. I’m not saying that we get to judge who those people are – I’m just saying that we can appeal to God to restrain and defeat wickedness, trusting him to judge who is wicked and who is not.

Ahithophel certainly appeared to become a wicked person. His first advice to Absalom was that he publicly violate the women of David’s harem, who had been left behind when David fled. This was a symbolic cultural gesture, expressing contempt for David, and showing the people that he had completely cowed and defeated him. The possession of the King’s wives was a way of solidifying his own claim to be the new king.

Absalom took that advice, fulfilling Nathan’s prophecy that David’s wives would be treated publicly as David treated Uriah’s wife privately. The Hebrew leaves a little bit of room for interpretation. Absalom’s men pitched tents in public view – on the roof of the palace. The text says that Absalom “went in” to the women. It could mean that he raped them. But in the customs of those days, when a married woman was alone with a man who was not her husband, it was a disgrace. Whether or not anything happened, it was assumed that something had. So, whatever happened, from that time forth, those women were treated as if they had been raped. In those days, the custom (not biblical, just cultural) was that no other man would ever again be with them. They would have no place with their previous husband, nor any chance of a new one. However, after the rebellion was all over, David made sure that they were well cared for for the rest of their lives.

Ahithophel’s next advice was cunning and probably would have been effective. He told Absalom to pursue David quickly, to strike and kill him while he was still on the run, and end any doubt about who was king. But Absalom chose to also ask Hushai, David’s secret agent in the palace. Hushai gave advice that sounded excellent. He reminded Absalom that David was a cunning, fearsome old warrior, and that some of the Thirty were also with him. It would be no small thing to take such heroes on without enough preparation or force. David and Abishai (who was with him) had once killed six hundred men in a single battle, just between the two of them. Hushai suggested that Absalom could not risk bad news like a battle gone wrong, so early in his bid for power. The Lord heard David’s prayer, and Ahithophel’s scheme was frustrated.

Ahithophel’s reaction seems completely out of proportion. He goes and hangs himself. The text doesn’t really tell us why. I have a few theories, but they are only guesses. One thought is that Ahithophel reacted a little bit like Judas did one thousand years later, when he betrayed Jesus. Ahithophel may have realized that what he had done was wrong, and failed to believe that he could be forgiven and restored. So rather than repent and trust the mercy of God, he listened to lies of the devil that there was no forgiveness or hope, and destroyed himself.

The text does give us one clue. It says that Ahithophel did killed himself after he realized that his advice had not been followed. It could be that in his wisdom, he realized even at that early stage that if they didn’t kill David quickly, then they would inevitably lose. He may have seen right then that Absalom’s rebellion was doomed to failure. Rather than wait through all the turmoil and then be executed by David, he decided to put his affairs in order and deprive David the satisfaction of doing justice upon his body.

In any case, David’s prayer against evil was answered quite clearly.

Chapter 17 verses 17-29 read like an adventure novel. Hushai didn’t know at this point if Absalom would follow his advice or Ahithophel’s, and so he activated the spy network, warning David to flee across the Jordan river that very night. A servant girl went out from the palace bearing a message to the sons of the two priests. But the activity was noticed, and the two young men were pursued as they carried the message to the fleeing king. They took refuge in the courtyard of a friend, hiding in the well. The woman of the house spread canvas out over the well, and covered it with grain, so that no one even knew it was there. The soldiers of Absalom searched, but failed to discover the hidden well. Afterward, the young men continued on and successfully delivered their message, with the result that David and his household fled further on to safety.

So what do we do with all this? Let me be clear as I offer the first application. I am not saying that president Barak Obama is evil or unrighteous or that he is not God’s choice for president. I am not saying either that he is God’s first choice to be our president. But I know that whether or not he is God’s choice for president, many informed faithful Christians are very concerned that he has been reelected.

I want to point out that people have been following the Lord for thousands of years, and really only in the last three hundred years have human beings had consistent opportunities to choose their own government. Christian faith thrives in freedom. Christian faith thrives in oppression. God is not hindered by unrighteous rulers – if he were, Christianity would never have survived. So if you are thrilled that president Obama has been reelected, good. Just remember your hope should be in the Lord, not in a ruler. If you are dismayed, remember the same thing.

Leaders and governments come and go. So do countries and nations. Israel’s hope was not in David’s leadership, but in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. Our hope is the same. If we are shaken by an election, for good or for bad, then to that extent, our faith is not truly grounded in an eternal God who promises us an eternal hope. David, as he fled from his murderous son, wrote this:

Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)

This isn’t just about elections. This is about anything in life that threatens to shake us. What does it mean, “he will never allow the righteous to be shaken?” When David wrote that, he had lost all that he had worked so hard for decades to attain. He was in danger of losing his life. His own son was trying to kill him. But he says, “the Lord will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Obviously, he did not mean that things would never be hard. Obviously, he did not meant that the future on earth would never look bleak. What he meant is that our faith in the Lord looks beyond the here and now. You may wonder, “am I one of ‘the righteous’?” You are, if you trust Jesus. The promise of scripture is that Jesus imparts his own righteousness to us. This is not based upon what we have done, but rather on our faith in what he has done for us.

I think it is helpful to see David’s heart of faith in his extremely difficult and discouraging circumstance. Paul writes to the Philippians. He mentions people who are focused mainly on what is happening here and now:

They are focused on earthly things,but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)

We are citizens of heaven. We have the same eternal king today that we had two weeks ago, the same leader that our predecessors in faith had two thousand years ago. Our best future is ahead of us, and nothing can take it away. It is difficult when life is unpleasant, or hard, or full of sorrow. But circumstances did not fundamentally shake David. They don’t have to shake your either. Set your hope fully in your eternal future with Jesus.