COLOSSIANS #15: GRACE FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

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Our lifestyle of being in Jesus is based on exactly the same facts as our salvation. We now live in the same way. We stop trusting in our own efforts to perform well. We trust that Jesus is, and will be, at work within us according to his promises, and that his work, not our own efforts, will make us into the people that God desires us to be. Trust does require a sort of surrender, that is, we need to lean into Jesus, to learn to rely upon him more and more. But we walk in Him the very same way that we came to him in the first place: by trusting in his grace for everything we need.

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Colossian #15  Colossians 2:6-7

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Colossians 2:6-7 is easy to read, but there is a wealth of grace, wisdom and knowledge in this one sentence. It is important for us to pause and understand the huge significance of it says, and what it means.

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.

We have two, almost opposite problems when it comes to verses like this. But the solution to both problems is the same. In the first place, sometimes people act as if receiving Christ as Lord is no big thing. Some people may think of receiving Christ as Lord as sort of like something on our to-do list:

  • Fill the car with gas
  • Reserve Hotel for Vacation
  • Accept Jesus as savior
  • Take out garbage

It is something we have to do, we think, of course. But it’s just one of many things. We have busy lives, after all. So we “walk in him,” the same way as we received him, which is, he doesn’t really have much to do with anything in our actual lives.

My Dad tells a story about when we were living in Papua New Guinea as missionaries. A friend of his was teaching on the Island of Karkar. The island is basically just a large cone-shaped volcano sticking out of the ocean. It was a very active volcano that occasionally killed people with poison gas. While this missionary was teaching, there was an earthquake, and they could see ashes and gasses spewing from the top of the cone. The missionary paused and said, “Why don’t we pray about the volcano?”

The island’s residents were puzzled. “Pray to God? About the volcano? We don’t pray to God about that. For that, we pray to the spirits of the volcano.”

The missionary was puzzled. “Well, what do you pray to God about?”

They shrugged. “White people stuff. Missionary stuff.”

They had somehow got the idea that Christianity was not about real life, not about all of life. Instead, they believed in God just for one narrow purpose. It did not affect how they lived the rest of their lives.

We can laugh about primitive people praying to a volcano, but sometimes, we do the same thing. We believe in God for heaven, and for church stuff. It’s one narrow thing: our eternal future. When we have this attitude, Jesus doesn’t have much to do with the way we live. But that was never the case for the first Christians. It is not the teaching we get from the Bible. Receiving Christ as Lord changes everything. Everything we do is now related to the fact that we have Christ as Lord. Our relationships are now lived out in the context of the fact that we belong to Jesus. Our decisions are deeply influenced by the life of Jesus in us. Life becomes about receiving from Him, and loving him back. Jesus becomes the primary influence in all of life.

Receiving Jesus is a bit like getting married. You don’t get married, and then just go off and live the way you did before. No, after you get married, you do life alongside your spouse. You are no longer just a “me,” you are half of an “us.” Some things remain more or less the same, of course. You still go to work. You still do a lot of the things you used to. But now, another person enters as a major factor in all of your decisions. You can’t just decide to take a job in another state; no, you have to talk to your spouse and listen to what he or she says. You don’t just spend the evening however you please without first talking to your spouse to see how he or she would like to spend the time. Ideally, a lot of that time is spent together. You love your spouse, and you like being close to him or her, and so you try sincerely, but not perfectly, to live with your spouse in a way that make him or her happy. Usually, when I do that, I find that my life is happier also.

By the way, this is one of the reasons that the Bible tells us marriage is so important. It is a picture of our relationship with God. When we don’t value marriage as a solemn, joyful, lifelong commitment, we start losing our understanding of what it means to be in Jesus. Even as I write this, I know that some people don’t “get it” when I use the illustration of marriage. This is a terrible tragedy. Married people owe it not only to themselves, not only to their children, but to all people, to make their marriage more important than anything but God. When we do so, it is a beacon to others, showing what it is like to be loved by Jesus, and to love him.

So it is with Jesus. When you receive him as Lord, you are not longer just a “you.” You are now in the family of God, in a way that only comes with receiving Jesus Christ.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:10-13 NLT)

Now, you no longer just live however you please. You “do life” with Jesus, and with his people, who are now your brothers and sisters. Jesus is now a major factor in all your decisions. You talk to him and listen to him (through the Bible, and other Christians, and His Holy Spirit) before you make major decisions. You love Jesus, and you like feeling close to him, so you try, though not perfectly, to live in a way that makes him happy. Thankfully, doing that also makes you happier.

If you don’t really understand all I have written so far, go back and read it again, slowly. If you still don’t quite get it, please contact me, and we can have a conversation about it. This is vitally important.

Now, there is another, vitally important part to this. Some people do take receiving Jesus as Lord seriously. We know what a big deal it is. But then somewhere we get the mistaken idea that we are saved by grace, but after that it is up to us to perform well. In other words, God gives grace to save us, but daily living in Christ comes about mainly by our efforts.

But once more, listen to what Paul says: As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.

How is it that we received Christ the Lord? There is only one way that people can receive Jesus: by trusting him. When we received Jesus, we stopped trusting in our own efforts to perform well. We stopped thinking that we could somehow manage to behave well enough to please God, or make up for our sins. Instead, we believed that what Jesus did for us was enough, and that it is the only thing that is enough to make us right with God, right with ourselves and right with the world and other people. We gave up on ourselves, on trying to control outcomes, and trusted Jesus with our eternal future, and also our present life here on earth.

So, once we have trusted Jesus in this way, how are we to live? What comes next? The answer is quite simple: we continue in the same way. In the same way that you received Jesus for salvation, now continue to walk in Jesus; that is, continue to live, continue a lifestyle.

Our lifestyle of being in Jesus is based on exactly the same facts as our salvation. We now live in the same way. We stop trusting in our own efforts to perform well. We trust that Jesus is, and will be, at work within us according to his promises, and that his work, not our own efforts, will make us into the people that God desires us to be. Trust does require a sort of surrender, that is, we need to lean into Jesus, to learn to rely upon him more and more. But we walk in Him the very same way that we came to him in the first place: by trusting in his grace for everything we need.

I have said before, and I will say it again, probably until my dying day: belief comes first, and then behavior. In other words, we behave based upon what we believe to be true. If we believe we are saved by grace, then gradually we will begin to become gracious people. We will eventually begin to behave according to character of Christ because we believe that Christ is, in fact, doing his work in us. The more we trust him, the more we become like him.

There are many verses in the New Testament telling us about how Christians should behave. You may not have noticed this, but almost invariably, those verses come only after we learn who Christ is and what he has done for us. This is true in our present book, Colossians. We’ve been taking things slowly, let’s remind ourselves what Paul has already said:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23, ESV, italic formatting added for emphasis)

Christ has reconciled us to himself. We are presented as Holy and blameless. We live as we were saved: by trusting that Jesus has already done it. We have nothing to prove. Jesus has done all of the proving already. The “if indeed you continue in the faith…” comes only after “you…he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

And in this text today, we learn how to continue in the faith: the same way we began it: by trusting in the grace of God given to us freely in Jesus Christ.

For me, there is no greater deterrent to sin than being close to Jesus. When I lean into his grace I don’t have to work hard to avoid sin – I just don’t want to sin so much. Please understand, I am not claiming to be without sin myself. I know I am a miserable sinner, no better than the worst person alive. But I find that this miserable sinner is slowly, imperfectly, sinning less and less as he trusts Jesus more and more.

Let’s think about marriage again, marriage as God intends it. It is a sacred covenant relationship. Marriage is not just finding “the one” who will fulfill all our needs. That idea has led to countless divorces, once one partner stops meeting the needs of the other in the way the other demands. It isn’t a contract that can be broken or renegotiated. I have no idea whether, after 27+ plus years, Kari has done more for me, or I more for Kari. I hope neither one of us ever thinks that way. We love each other. We entered a sacred covenant, and it is not about keeping track of who owes whom.

In love, we do seek to fulfill the needs of the one we marry, but it is because of love, not obligation. Now, it is true, there are times when being married is work. That is because, like following Jesus, marriage requires us to die to ourselves so that we can love another person. We find many opportunities in marriage to do something that is loving and pleasing to our spouse. This sometimes means not doing something we might otherwise be inclined to do. We put their needs in front our own: we die to ourselves. Sometimes, as I have said, this is hard work. But even though it is hard, we do it out of love. Whether we always feel it or not, we recognize that we can help the happiness and well being of our spouse. So we do it. And we are not doing it in fear that otherwise we will be divorced. We work hard out of love. And there is tremendous payoff in living with your spouse like this. After almost 28 years, I can say the joy and satisfaction we have in our marriage is wonderful. Not perfect (no marriage is) but very good. It has been a labor, but a labor of love, and that labor of love has benefitted each of us.

So it is with Jesus. We enter into a sacred covenant relationship with him. We follow him, we do the things that the Bible talks about, not because we are afraid, or because we feel that we owe him (though we do owe him our very existence), but because we love him, and because we are secure in the knowledge that he loves us. We don’t keep score anymore, in order to know if we are doing OK. Instead, we trust his love for us.

And ultimately, we know that he wants us to do these things because he also wants the best for us. And we cannot doubt his love for us. He didn’t just die to his own desires for a moment. He literally gave up his own life for us.

When you are concerned about whether or not you are being good enough, remember: we walk in faith the same way we came to Jesus in the first place. That is, by trusting that he has done all that is required from us. The more we really believe that, the more we will act like we are indeed, in a covenant of grace with God, a special relationship, almost like a marriage. And the more we see it that way, the more we live as God intended.

I need to make sure this is very clear: Even “living as a Christian” comes about not by us trying harder, but by us trusting even more in God’s grace for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COLOSSIANS #14: THE WISDOM THAT COMES ONLY FROM TRUST

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True wisdom comes from trusting Jesus Christ, and anyone can do that. It is a wisdom imparted spiritually, first to our hearts, not our brains. As we trust Jesus, His wisdom and knowledge begin to come out in our decisions, and the way we treat other people, and in our understanding of the Bible.

I don’t mean to say that there is no value in thinking rationally, or getting an education. Those are good things. But we can receive a practical, heart-wisdom from Jesus that the most educated person will never have without Jesus. And our understanding of God, and of his love, begins not when we “figure it out,” but rather, when we really trust him

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Colossians #14  Colossians 2:2-5

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:1-5, ESV)

Last time we concentrated on verse 1, and examined Paul’s struggle, and how his words about struggle might apply to us. The struggle is real, but it also has a purpose, and, according to the scriptures, we can confidently expect that the struggle will eventually accomplish its purpose.

Paul’s struggle for the Colossians (and others) was for this purpose: that their hearts would be encouraged; that they would be bound together in love; that they would absorb the incredible value of Christ himself, and all that is found within Christ. In addition, this purpose results in something else: if we understand and grasp the incredible value of Christ, we will not be easily led astray. We can live in full assurance of faith, firm, and confident, even in times of trouble; even in the face of those who might want to deceive us.

I don’t suppose there was a worldwide epidemic going on when Paul wrote these words. But it wasn’t terribly long after Paul wrote these words that Christians in this area of the world began to be persecuted. Paul is telling us that if we can truly grasp Christ Himself, and all that is found within Him, we can be firm and secure, no matter what goes on around us, no matter what plausible sounding arguments are used to try and sway us from our faith. That’s the big picture, the framework. With that understanding, let’s take it apart and see everything we can today.

Paul believes that our hearts can be profoundly encouraged. The Greek word there includes the idea of comfort and counsel, of someone walking alongside us. When we know Jesus, in something of the same fashion that we know another person that we are very close to, our hearts receive deep, real encouragement. When we take that “trust fall,” and agree with Jesus that no matter what we see or think, He is in control and He has our best interests at heart, then we receive a deep sense of peace and encouragement.

I am in pain as I write this. I don’t know what the future holds: it might be another forty years of pain. But I have taken the leap of trust, and I know, deep in my heart, that he loves me, and that if it is to be forty more years of pain, that pain will be far outweighed by the grace I receive, both during the pain, and also when it is finally over and I stand with him face to face. My heart is encouraged. Yours can be too. I think however, that it is probably necessary, if you want receive that encouragement, to surrender control to him, and trust, often in spite of the evidence, that He loves you, and is doing for you what is ultimately good, ultimately best.

This is the path to grasping all the riches of knowledge and understanding in Christ. If you think about it, it almost has to be this way, otherwise, only smart people could get knowledge and understanding from God. But if the way to get it is simply to trust, then anyone and everyone who is willing to trust can have the same knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

If that sounds foolish to you, read on. Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians:

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”
20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. 27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. 29 As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-29, NLT)

True wisdom comes from trusting Jesus Christ, and anyone can do that. It is a wisdom imparted spiritually, first to our hearts, not our brains. As we trust Jesus, His wisdom and knowledge begin to come out in our decisions, and the way we treat other people, and in our understanding of the Bible.

I don’t mean to say that there is no value in thinking rationally, or getting an education. Those are good things. But we can receive a practical, heart-wisdom from Jesus that the most educated person will never have without Jesus. And our understanding of God, and of his love, begins not when we “figure it out,” but rather, when we really trust him. If you are having a hard time grappling with something in the Bible, the best place to begin might be to make sure you have fully surrendered in trust to Jesus.

Paul does encourage us to use this heart wisdom, and combine it with thoughtfulness. He says that he does not want the Colossians to be easily deluded by plausible arguments – that is, tricked by lies that sound good. I want to identify just two of the plausible arguments that are common to our culture and time in the United States in 2020.

Some of our big “plausible sounding arguments” are quite similar to some of what the Colossians heard in their time and culture. For now, I’ll cover just two. Here’s the first one:

  • Big Lie #1: It is OK to worship Jesus, as long as you don’t claim He is the ONLY path to God, goodness and “heaven.”

In other words, “it’s fine if you choose Christianity as your path, but you can’t claim that it should be the same for everyone.

This was something the Colossians faced, also. Eventually the Christians were persecuted not because they worshipped Jesus – people worshipped all kinds of gods, and they didn’t care. But the culture did care when the Christians worshipped Jesus alone, and claimed that everyone else ought to do so as well. In this day and age, that is also true. People are fine with you being a Christian, as long as you don’t claim that Jesus is the only way for all people. But Jesus himself claims to be the only way for all people.

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:10-12, ESV)

Shortly after these verses, Paul is going to teach about exactly who Jesus is. If Jesus is indeed God in the flesh, then He is the God for all people and all times. If He is not, then He should not be the God for anyone.

It’s almost like saying: “2+2= 4 is not always right, for me. That’s your way of doing mathematics. My way of doing mathematics is different.” That’s ridiculous. If mathematics is what it claims to be, then it is true for all people in all times. If it isn’t, then it isn’t actually mathematics.

  • Big Lie #2

Happiness is found by focusing on yourself, and pursuing the deepest desires you have within you. If you have a desire, no matter how weird or different, you should follow it. If you have an attraction or impulse, you should act on it. Nothing you deeply yearn for should be considered wrong. The only wrong thing is to suggest that anyone should control themselves, rather than giving in to what they want.

This lie is at the root of all the debate about Christian sexual ethics; the arguments about homosexuality, sex-before-marriage, gender identity and so on. We Christians have not always relied upon the wisdom and knowledge that is in Jesus. The wisdom of Jesus teaches us to get to the heart of the issue. And the heart of the issue is this: Is Jesus your King, or isn’t he? Does he have the right to lead you down a path where your sinful flesh would prefer not to go? Does he have the right to lead wherever and however he chooses, or not?

The reason our culture hates Christian sexual ethics is because, even in heterosexual marriage, we are called to surrender our desires to Jesus, and allow him to limit them. Our culture wants no limits, and it even views self-imposed limits with suspicion.

But it is a lie to believe that to live with self-discipline is wrong. It’s a lie to believe that we shouldn’t trust that God wants the best for us when he prescribes limits for us. It is exactly the same lie that led Eve to commit the first human sin. There was one limit in the garden of Eden: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The devil came to Eve and convinced her that God was withholding something good from her, that this limit was evil. Our temptations to live for whatever “feels right” to us are exactly the same temptations, and they come from the same source.

If we surrender to Jesus in trust, that means that he has the right to ask anything of us. It means our choices are defined not by our own desires, but by what Jesus desires for us.

Far too often, people think they want to have Jesus, and also want to run their own lives however they please. They want to have Jesus, but they don’t want to give up things they think are just as important, or even more important (in their minds) than Jesus. Jesus encountered a person like that once. It was a rich young man. He was willing to do a number of things to follow God but there was one thing that he didn’t want to give up. Jesus identified it easily:

22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.” (Luke 18:22-23, NLT)

This isn’t a universal command for every person to sell all they have. But it is an example for us, that teaches us that if we want to follow Jesus, we cannot make anything more important than him. We are called to have Jesus as our greatest treasure, and also as our Lord and King. He is patient with us, but if we ultimately insist on withholding from him something that he asks, we will, like the rich man, go away sad.

What Paul is trying to tell us here is that Jesus is worth far more than anything he asks us to give up for his sake. As we learn to trust Jesus, we also learn to value him more than anything else in the world. Paul says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself spoke in parables about how when we receive him, we get the most valuable treasure in the world, a treasure that is worth more than anything we might give up for it.

 44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
45 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it! (Matthew 13:44-46, NLT)

Paul himself made that sort of trade long before. He told the Philippians how it was for him:

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him (Philippians 3:6-9, ESV)

In Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We get that treasure when we trust Jesus, even when we don’t understand. Often, understanding follows trust, and we gain practical wisdom about how to live. When we are surrendered in trust to Jesus, our hearts are profoundly encouraged, and we have the ability to identify the lies of the world and the devil, and to avoid falling into their traps.

As you reflect on God’s word today, here are some questions for application:

  • What is your greatest obstacle to trusting Jesus?
  • What lies are you tempted to believe?
  • What would help you to remember and believe that Jesus himself is a treasure greater than anything else in the universe?
  • Think about and describe a time when trusting Jesus has led to practical wisdom or understanding that you might not have had before?
  • What do you treasure about Jesus? What would help you to consistently seek him as your highest treasure?
  • What is the Lord saying to you through the scripture today?

WHEN GOD IS GENEROUS WITH SOMEONE OTHER THAN YOU…

 

vineyard workers

The combination of these two things – that God has the right to do as he pleases, and also that he is generous and good – should call us to trust him. We can’t control him, we often can’t understand him, but he is trustworthy.

 

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Matthew #70. Matthew 20:1-16

For those of you who have followed this blog in “real time” you know that we have had a substantial break since the last sermon I posted on the book of Matthew. My health is much improved, though I sometimes still have “bad days,” when I am in a certain amount of pain. The doctors believe they have stopped the cause of the kidney stones which damaged one kidney, and the nerves of the other. Overall, I am feeling much better, and I am back to a completely normal life. I thank you very much for your prayers.

As always, I want to ask you to continue to pray for us and for this ministry. We want the Lord to be at work in and through these messages. Pray for continued healing, for the Lord’s working through me as I continue to preach, for our encouragement, and also for our finances. If you feel led to contribute financially, use the “donate” tab at the top of the page, and you’ll find a few different options. Regardless of whether or not you give financially, we deeply, deeply appreciate your prayers.

We are going to continue where we left off in Matthew, but I want to remind us of the context.

In Matthew 19:16-30, Jesus began speaking with his disciples about rewards. They encountered a rich young man who wasn’t willing to give up what he had in this life in order to follow Jesus. That sparked a discussion about wealth, money and giving up things to be a disciple of Jesus. In the last installment (Matthew #69) we considered the kinds of non-material rewards that Jesus promised in this life and the next.

Jesus continued the discussion with a parable. Christians sometimes call it the Parable of the Vineyard Workers.

1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’

So off they went. 5About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. 6Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing? ’

7“ ‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him. “ ‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them. 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

9“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. 10So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat! ’

13“He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? 14Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I’m generous? ’

16“So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matt 20:1-16, HCSB)

Just before this, Jesus promised rewards to his disciples for their labors, and for the sacrifices they have made. He was speaking, in a sense, of their rights and privileges as his followers. But now, in this parable, he speaking of the rights and privileges of God to do as he pleases. Bible commenter William Kelly puts it like this:

Peter said,’, We have left all, and followed Thee,” and the Lord assures him that it would not be forgotten; but He immediately adds the parable of the householder. Here we find, not the principle of rewards. or righteous recognition of the service done by His people, but God’s own rights, His own sovereignty. Hence there are no differences here – no one specially remembered because he had won souls to Christ, or left all for Christ. The principle is, that while God will infallibly own every service and loss for the sake of Christ, yet He maintains His own title to do as He will.

The idea is this: “Look, you’ve been promised that what you have given up is not for nothing. Your sacrifice will be remembered and even rewarded. At the same time, your sacrifice and your reward should be no basis for boasting, or setting yourself up as better. And there is no room for jealousy if you should feel that God has been particularly generous with someone else. He has also done for you what he promised.

The first generation of Christians to read Matthew’s Gospel would have been immediately reminded of the situation between Jews and Gentile Christians. The Jews were God’s people before any other. The Gentiles were not called until almost two-thousand years after Abraham. But God promises to bless and save both Gentiles and Jews through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, even though the Gentiles are relative late-comers. There is no advantage in being a Jew – all are saved by the same Messiah, as promised originally. This parable would have helped the Gentile believers to realize God’s wonderful kindness and grace to them, and it would have been a warning to the Jewish believers not to resent the Gentiles, or think of themselves as better.

The Jewish-Gentile thing isn’t much of an issue for us anymore, but let’s consider a few ways in which this parable can apply to us.

Let me make this practical in my own life, in the hopes that it might help you see how it applies in yours. I think, over the years of my life and ministry, I have often given things up to follow Jesus. I have given up jobs that would have paid better, or that were more secure. I’ve devoted almost my entire adult life to following Jesus and serving him. I am sometimes like Peter: “Lord, what do I get in return for all that?” I shared a little about some of my experiences in Matthew part #69. But I also sometimes struggle with another feeling: jealousy.

I’m not normally jealous of people who have more money than me (though I’m not immune to that). But I struggle with being jealous of those whom God treats differently than he does me. I have friends and family members who have a different experience of following Jesus than I do. For me, I have often had to struggle through a lot of work and prayer and confusion during transitions in life. But for several people I know, things just always seems to fall into place almost effortlessly. They need a new a job, and the perfect one is offered to them the very day that they realize they need it. That sort of thing has never really happened for me, and I sometimes get jealous of how God treats them.

But this parable tells me that the Lord has the right to do as he pleases with his servants. If he wants me to struggle while he wants to grant others easy transitions, that his business, not mine.

Perhaps for you it’s something different. Maybe someone you know seems to have terrific and easy friendships, while for you, friendship is always a struggle. Or perhaps you look around and everyone seems to be doing better financially than you are. You’ve been faithful with your money, you’ve given generously to God’s work, but still you struggle, while others around you seem able to waste more than you make in a week.

Now, I don’t mean that we never have any part in making our own lives more difficult. You may struggle with friendships because you are self-absorbed or unkind. You may struggle with finances because you have a shopping addiction. These are things we should consider and pray about. But sometimes, it seems like it is just God’s sovereign choice – the Master doing what he chooses to do. If it is, we could stand to remember that he has the right to do those things. This parable certainly encourages us not to engage in envy.

I think there is another important reminder to us. In our Christian culture today, there is a strong movement that seems to think if we speak a certain way, or have enough faith, or do the right things, then God owes us. Some people seem to think of it almost like a law of physics: “If we do these things, then God must reward us in this way.” This parable reminds us that God does not owe us. He doesn’t owe us an explanation, or anything else. He is the Master, we are not. It is His vineyard, to do with as he pleases, not ours.

At the same time, there is another message worth hearing: the Master is very generous. There is no question that the workers who came late did not deserve what they were paid, but the Master chose to bless them with generosity anyway. It was not because of their work, it was because of his generous nature. So, though although God does not owe us, we should trust that he is generous and good.

The combination of these two things – that God has the right to do as he pleases, and also that he is generous and good – should call us to trust him. We can’t control him, we often can’t understand him, but he is trustworthy.

Engaging in the Mission of Jesus (but it isn’t a secret)

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Today, Jesus still involves his disciples (that is, all Christians) in his mission. I am not saying that you should quit your job. But I am saying that all of us should depend entirely upon the Lord in every way as we seek to be involved in his mission.

 

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 33

 

 

Matthew #33 . 9:35-10:15

From the end of chapter 9 all the way through chapter 10, Matthew records how Jesus involved his disciples in his mission here on earth. During this period, Jesus was deeply involved in ministry to many people. It seems that he felt more than ever how important it was to train others to continue his mission after he had fulfilled his purposes here on earth.

Although all of chapter 10 properly belongs together, I think there is too much that may be valuable to skip over it quickly, therefore, we will only go through the end of verse 15 today.

The first, and possibly the most important thing to notice, is that Jesus involves his disciples in his mission. It is the mission of Jesus, but because they have trusted him and follow him, it now also becomes the mission of the disciples. At the end of chapter 9 we see Jesus teaching, preaching, healing, and driving out demons. In chapter 10 verse seven and eight, he tells the disciples to proclaim the kingdom, heal, and drive out demons. He wants them to do what he does. He wants them to get involved in the “family business.”

At this point in time, he has not yet released them to go into all the world. He still has work that he needs to do here on earth before that can happen. So he limits their mission to just the people of Israel. But he is preparing them for what will come. This is, in effect, a training mission.

Here, the mission was given just to the 12 disciples. Luke records that later on, Jesus sent out another, larger, group for essentially the same purposes (Luke 10).

Today, Jesus still involves his disciples in his mission. Biblically speaking, anyone who trusts Jesus is supposed to be a disciple. We don’t have “Christians,” and then “disciples.” All Christians are called to be disciples. And all Christians are called to be involved in the mission of Jesus. Though he involves us in his mission in many different ways, and it isn’t the same for every person, what is the same is that he wants us all involved in some way or another, with what he is doing in the world. Virtually every Christian in the New Testament understood this. Not all of them served Jesus full time. Not all of them left their homes to travel to other places. But all of them surrendered their lives to Jesus, and lived as if they were on a mission for him. He is calling you to do the same.

Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body. (1Cor 6:19-20, HCSB)

For he who is called by the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called as a free man is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. (1Cor 7:22-23, HCSB)

For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10, HCSB)

The New Testament is quite clear. Trusting Jesus involves surrendering fully to him. We are not here on earth to please ourselves. Jesus does not set us free from sin and selfishness so that we can pursue our own ambitions in this life. Now that we belong to him, we are part of his mission. Now, I will say that in my own experience, pursuing the mission of Jesus with my life has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. It hasn’t always been easy, but I can’t imagine living any other way. To put it another way, living for the mission of Jesus, though sometimes difficult, certainly has its rewards.

I don’t think we can simply imitate exactly everything that is here in this text. This was how Jesus wanted his disciples to be part of his mission at that particular time and place. As I have said, he calls us in different ways and in different circumstances. Paul writes about this to the Romans:

Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the standard of one’s faith; if service, in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness. Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. (Rom 12:4-18, HCSB)

So our calling does not have to look exactly like this first training mission given to the 12 apostles. However, I do think there are some principles we can gain from the instructions that Jesus gave to them here in this text.

First, as we’ve already mentioned, Jesus asks them to imitate himself. He tells them to do what he has been doing. I’m not always a fan of the expression “what would Jesus do?” The truth is, none of us is Jesus, and it isn’t always appropriate to behave as if we were. Even so, I think what we can gain here is an important perspective about the mission he has for us. What I mean is, it isn’t our mission, it is the mission of Jesus. We aren’t here to do our own thing, not even to do our own thing for God. We are here to get involved in what Jesus is doing. So as we seek to live our lives in the mission of Jesus, the real question to ask God is not “what is your purpose for me?” Instead, I favor praying more like this: “Lord what are you doing? How do you want to involve me in that?” It may be a subtle difference, but the point is the focus should be on the Lord, and his mission, rather than a self-centered, individualized view of our own particular purpose in life. It isn’t supposed to be my purpose, it is supposed to be the Lord’s purpose.

A second thing I see from Jesus’ instructions to his disciples is that he calls them to rely entirely upon God’s provision. In verse eight, he says “you have received free of charge; give free of charge.” In other words, is telling them not to ask for a set fee for their ministry. They are not to say, “deliverance from demons is 100 denarii; regular healing is $85, healing from leprosy is $97.50.” In verse nine, Jesus tells them not to bring their own money or even to provide anything for themselves. But then he adds “for the worker is worthy of his food.” So if they aren’t to explicitly charge anything, and they aren’t to bring their own provisions, the only thing left is to trust God.

I have met a number of people, (strangely, many of them were quite wealthy), who insist that pastors and church workers should not be paid. They use verses like these to bolster their positions. That’s not what Jesus is saying here. He is telling his disciples not to demand a certain amount of money before they will minister. He’s telling them to go ahead and minister, and especially, to trust God to provide. But he implies that those who are blessed by his mission will in turn give to these ministers (“the worker is worthy of his food”). And I think that is the New Testament model. As Paul explains to the Corinthians, and to others, some people will devote their working lives exclusively to serving God, and God’s people should give money to support those full-time ministers (1 Corinthians 9:13-14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 2 Tim 2:6; Galatians 6:6). But those full time ministers should consider God as their primary resource, even their primary financial resource. In other words, as one of those called to full-time service, I think of God as the one who pays my salary. I rely on him. Now, I’m deeply grateful to those people who support my ministry financially, and I think of them as partners in the ministry. But if I look first and foremost to the Lord as the one who supports me, I won’t get upset when people fail to give, and I won’t treat those who give more with favoritism over those who give little or nothing. If I look at God as my primary resource, I won’t decide to engage in a ministry based upon whether or not I can live on what someone will pay me.

It goes beyond finances as well. It’s true, there are a few Christians called to full time service. But every Christian is supposed to be a disciple, and every disciple is called to participate in the mission of Jesus in one way or another (Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:4-8 [quoted above]; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Most disciples do not make a living by working full-time in ministry. But we all still need to rely on the Lord to accomplish his purpose through us. We need to trust him for the energy; we need to surrender our time to him. We need to believe that he will do everything necessary to fulfill his mission through us, if we will simply give him our willingness. We need to look not at whether something appears feasible, but rather, at what the Lord is inviting us to do.

I am not saying that you should quit your job. But I am saying that all of us should depend entirely upon the Lord in every way as we seek to be involved in his mission.

There is one other point that I want to highlight today. In verses 11 through 14 Jesus describes how his disciples should relate to others as they fulfill his mission. What he tells them is not at all what most Christians have come to expect. In essence, he tells them to look for good people who are open to the message of the kingdom of God. If they receive that message, well and good. But if they do not receive the good news, the disciples are not to waste time with them. In fact, Jesus says that if people will not listen to them, they should “shake the dust off their feet,” when they leave. It was a custom for Jews to shake the dust off their feet as they left Gentile towns. It was a symbol for them that the Gentiles had rejected God, and that they (the Jews) had nothing more to do with them.

We don’t typically think of this attitude when we think about being involved in the mission of Jesus. But as we have already seen in our study of Matthew, Jesus did not come in order to be popular, or to make a lot of friends. His message offended many people, and he expected that to happen. He is sending his disciples with the same message, and it only makes sense to assume that the message will offend others as well. We should take care never to be unnecessarily offensive by how we behave or by how we go about the mission of Jesus. But if the message of Jesus is not received, that is not our problem. Our job is to participate in the mission of Jesus; the results are up to Jesus, not us.

So what is the Lord saying to you today? Have you fully engaged in the mission of Jesus? Have you surrendered your willingness to him? Do you need to learn to trust more? Is the Holy Spirit encouraging you today to rely upon Jesus truly and fully in everything? Do you need to be reminded today that the message of the kingdom of God is sometimes offensive, and not everyone will receive it?

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you now.

IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR STORM, WHERE IS JESUS?

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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 Matthew Part 28

 

Matthew #28 . Matthew 8:23-27

I want to do something different this week. If you normally read this, rather than listening, I want to strongly encourage you to take a little extra time this session, and listen to the sermon, instead of reading it. I also want to encourage you to listen at a time when you can be alone and undisturbed. Basically, rather than teaching about this passage, what I want to do is lead you in a meditation on it. It will help you enter in to the meditation if you can close your eyes and visualize with your imagination, just following the meditation part along with your ears.

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 Matthew Part 28

I am going to provide a written version as well, because I know that some of our blog followers don’t have an internet connection that allows them to stream audio, and others may want to translate this into other languages. But for the rest of you who are still reading, I encourage you to stop, and click on the play button instead. If you insist on reading, please take time to pause and visualize, and then also pause and listen to how the Lord speaks to you.

There are many different ways we can internalize and absorb what God wants to say to us through the Bible. My default approach is to try to understand it thoroughly, and then “listen” for how the Holy Spirit wants to apply it to my life right now. Another way is to memorize portions that seem particularly important to you at this point in your life. Still one more approach, very useful for narrative parts of the bible, is to use your imagination, to put yourself right into the sights and sounds and smells of what is happening in a text. That is what I want us to do, today.

You are one of Jesus’ disciples. The last few days have been both thrilling and exhausting. He preached this awesome, thought-provoking, paradigm-busting sermon up on the ridge just south of Capernaum. Then when he came back to town, the circus started. He healed a leper. Then he healed some guy from a distance – you just heard about that one a few hours ago – a friend of yours who does chores for the Roman garrison heard that the servant of the centurion who talked with Jesus was healed while the officer was talking with him. Then the world went crazy, with crowds of people coming to be healed, and people getting more and more excited all the time. It’s hot and there are people pressing all around you for a chance to look at Jesus, or maybe feel his healing touch. It’s almost a relief to hear that Jesus wants to get away, across the lake the for a while.

Finally, Jesus finishes with the last sick person, and giving him a big smile, turns to you and the others, hops in the boat and says, “Let’s go!”

You never did travel much by boat until you started following Jesus. Peter and James and their brothers were all fisherman, so they are used to it, but it’s still a unique feeling for you – a little exciting, and a little scary too, since you don’t know how to swim. Once you start moving, the breeze across the water is incredibly refreshing, and you feel yourself relaxing. There are hours to go with nothing to do. After talking for a while, Jesus stretches out near the bow. He must be exhausted, after days of giving his full attention to hundreds of people each day. You don’t blame him when you notice he has dozed off.

Now you are a long way from shore. You look around nervously, but Peter, James and the other fisherman seem pretty relaxed, so you sigh and let go. You can smell the fresh water, mixed with the slight scent of fish, but it isn’t unpleasant. You turn and talk with some of the others for a while, wondering what Jesus will do next, and what it might mean for your lives.

Now you are almost in the exact middle of the lake – several miles from shore in any direction. You realize that the breeze has become stronger, without you really noticing. The boat leans over as the wind pushes harder against the sails. Quite suddenly, the sky darkens. John says something sharply to James, while Peter and Andrew scramble to their feet and start doing something with the ropes that hold the sails. They are experienced sailors, you think. They’ll handle whatever it is.

But whatever it is, turns out to be too big. A violent gust pushes the boat far over to the side, and it seems to last forever. The other men are shouting and Peter and Andrew are still trying to fix it with the ropes, and it looks like the boat is going to be turned all way over when with a flat cracking sound, the sail rips right down the middle; in a matter of minutes the wind has torn it to shreds. John shouts something about not being able to steer without any sail, and that is when you notice that the little vessel is starting to heave and buck like a young camel. A big cold wall of spray blasts you in the face. With no way to steer, you can tell that the boat is wallowing sideways and the waves, getting bigger all the time, are now starting to come over the gunwale of the boat. The wind is so loud that people have to shout to be heard. Nathaniel hands you a bucket, and says something you can’t hear.

“What?” You shout.

“Bail!” He shouts back. “Use this to scoop the water out of the boat.”

You jump to it, driven by a sudden surge of adrenaline and fear. For a minute, it looks like you and the other bailers are making progress, and then a big wave pours over the side, and just like that, the vessel is half-full, riding low, a sitting duck for one or two more waves to put it under. Some of the men are madly paddling with oars, trying to position the boat bow-on to the waves in the vain hope of preventing more waves of coming over like that. The others are bailing with all their strength. The wind is screaming across the dark sky, unbound ropes are whipping wildly in the air and the waves heave higher and higher as the boat sinks lower and lower.

And you can’t swim.

Your relaxing afternoon has become a nightmare. This looks like the end. And then the thought comes to you: Where is Jesus?

Where is Jesus indeed?

You glance around, expecting to see him bailing, or maybe helping Peter with the ropes, or paddling. But in between heaving water out of the boat as you bounce up and down like a cork, you notice a dim shape, still stretched out near the front. Jesus is still with you, but it looks like he is asleep.

“Jesus!” you call. “Jesus!” The others hear you, and they start shouting too. James is already in the bow, and he turns with amazement, noticing for the first time that Jesus is there. He drops the rope he is holding and shakes Jesus awake with both hands.

“We’re about to go under! Is there anything you can do?”

Jesus stands up, swaying and balancing with the insane rhythm of the waves, surveying the wild storm and the mad activity of all of you trying to save yourselves. Incredibly, while you watch, he throws his arms open to the wind and laughs.

“Why are you afraid?” he calls in a big booming voice that penetrates the roaring wind. “Don’t you trust me?” Then, in a different voice, he says, “Enough. Be still.”

You are thrown off balance because the next big wave you expected never appears or shakes the boat. The wind fades back into a gentle breeze. In a matter of minutes you are able to empty the boat of most of the water, while the fishermen hoist a new sail. Everything is calm and peaceful again, and you are safe.

Now, keep yourself in the middle of this story. But while you are there in the boat with Jesus, I want you to think about some things. What is the storm you are in right now? What threatens you? What howls around you like the wind? What do you fear like the deep water that will swallow you up and drown you? What security seems about to crumble and disappear like the boat beneath you? What loneliness or hopelessness pulls at you, threatening to suck you under the dark water? Pause and think about this. Be honest with yourself.

Now, ask yourself this: where is Jesus in all this? Have you forgotten that he is right there with you in the middle of it?

Does it seem like he’s gone? You know he won’t desert you, but maybe it seems like he’s…asleep. Go ahead and wake him up. Draw his attention to the storm. Now, how does he respond to your storm? What does he say to the storm? Pause and listen.

And then, what does he say to you? Again, pause, and listen.

To the disciples he said: “Why are you afraid, you of little trust?” What does that mean to you, in your situation right now?

Listen to His voice right now.

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WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT: LOVE OR TRUTH?

 

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The fact is this: Love and Truth are equally important. We need to hold on to both. Love without truth is just meaningless and ineffective sentiment. Truth without love is arrogant and cruel.

 

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 Matthew Part 26

 

Matthew #26 . Matthew 8:5-13

When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony! ”

“I will come and heal him,” He told him.

“Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be cured. For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go! ’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come! ’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this! ’ and he does it.”

Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith! I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus told the centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you.” And his servant was cured that very moment. (Matt 8:5-13, HCSB)

Last time we saw how Jesus reached out and physically and spiritually touched someone who was literally untouchable – a leper. Now Matthew records another incident where Jesus interacted with someone whom the Jewish culture of his time saw as unacceptable. The man in question is a centurion – an army officer. Automatically, this means two things. First, he was not Jewish. The Jews at the time were an occupied people, a people under the oppression of Rome and Rome’s vassals. The Jews were not permitted to have their own army, so any army officer would certainly be a Gentile.

Second, because he was an army officer, not only was this centurion a non-Jew, but he was also one of the oppressors. Part of his job was to enforce laws that the Jewish people had not made, and to keep them from rebelling. He was part of the conquering and occupying army that was kept in the Jewish homeland. He would have been viewed by the Jews much the same way patriotic Frenchmen would have viewed a German officer in the army that occupied France during the Second World War. To put it another way – he was the enemy.

So here is Jesus, heading home with his Jewish disciples, and along comes the enemy. I think it is worthwhile to look both at how the man approached Jesus, and what Jesus said to him and about him.

Let’s begin with the centurion. He was probably in charge of the local garrison of soldiers. Jesus was a young, homeless, Jewish Rabbi with no official standing. The centurion could have come to Jesus and said, “Look, I’m the law in the town. Some officials might consider you a troublemaker. But I could make things easier for you if you take care of me, too.”

Instead, he came to Jesus and called him “Lord.” We’ve already talked about what this word means in Greek. It could mean “sir,” or it could mean “The Lord” as in, God. Even for a Gentile army officer to call a homeless Jewish Rabbit “Sir” is startling. But I think as we go through the text, we’ll see that this Centurion meant not only “Sir” but also “Lord” in the sense that he personally believed that Jesus was The Lord.

Let’s continue to look at the humility of this man. He doesn’t even actually make a request of Jesus. He simply tells him the problem. He says, “My servant is paralyzed with pain.” He doesn’t tell Jesus what to do about it – he just brings his burden to the Lord. I think this is very useful to us when we come to God in prayer. So often I am tempted to tell the Lord how to deal my prayer request: “Sally has leukemia, Lord, would you please touch her bone-marrow and remove the problem, and let those white and red blood cells come into balance?” But this Centurion shows us the way of simple trust. He simply says, “Lord, my servant is ill and in pain.” He figures that Jesus will know exactly what to do about it. He seems to think that simply just bringing the problem to Jesus will be enough. I can learn a lot from this.

Jesus, confronted by this enemy soldier, by a man who enforces the oppression of his people and who, by his cooperation, keeps them in crushing poverty, responds immediately: “I will come and heal him.”

The Centurion again displays both humility and faith. First, he knows that if Jesus enters his house, it will cause trouble for Jesus. Jews were not supposed to go into the houses of Gentiles. In those days, that would make them ceremonially unclean, and they would have to go through a cleansing ritual before they could worship again, or even eat with other Jews.

So the Centurion demurs. He could have said, “My servant is not worth all that trouble,” but what he actually said was, “I am not worthy, and besides, there is no need.” This is where he reveals that he already sees Jesus as the “The Lord.” He describes his own command. He is in Palestine under the orders of the Roman Caesar, and so he has authority to tell his soldiers what to do. He recognizes that Jesus is on earth under the orders of God the Father, and so Jesus has the authority to tell the very creation what to do. He only needs to give the order, and the sickness will leave.

Most of the New Testament was originally written on a paper-like material called “Papyrus.” It was much more rare and expensive than paper and ink today. So Matthew doesn’t take the time to give us this man’s back story. But clearly, he had spent some time around Jesus, and he believed absolutely that Jesus had all the authority of God.

The next line is worth analyzing a little bit. It says that Jesus was amazed. The Greek doesn’t have a direct English equivalent, but it might be best translated, “Hearing this, Jesus marveled at it, and said…” You almost get the sense that Jesus was surprised. But how could Jesus be at the same time the one true omniscient God, and yet also be surprised? I think this question is very important, so we’ll take it as a side-topic for a minute. When Jesus came to earth, though he came in the fullness of his God-nature (Colossians 1:16-20) he chose, for the entire time he was on earth, to set aside all the advantages of being God, and to remain every bit as dependent upon the Father as we are (Philippians 2:6-11). And so, every miracle He did, He did not from His own power as God the Son, but rather, as any human would do – by completely depending upon the Father:

Then Jesus replied, “I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing, and He will show Him greater works than these so that you will be amazed. (John 5:19-20, HCSB)

So Jesus was not using his divine omniscience when he spoke with the Centurion. He had chosen to set that aside, and not use it. Therefore, he did not know the future any more than you or I, except when the Father chose to reveal it to him. This was part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us – that he became like us, even to the extent of setting aside his Godly powers, and depending instead on the Father, just like any other human being must do. Remember the temptations of Satan in Matthew chapter four? They were aimed at trying to get Jesus to use his own power, rather than depending upon the Father. Jesus agreed to live a life that required trust in the Father, so that he was like us in every way.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it is clear that He does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Heb 2:14-18, HCSB)

This business of being amazed at the Centurion is just one example of how Jesus made himself like us, dependent on the Father. He knows what it is like to not know what God is going to do. He knows what it is like to blindly trust that God will do the right thing, the best thing, even when he personally doesn’t know what that will be. He has truly “walked in our shoes.”

With that, let’s get back to the Centurion. Speaking (as always) what the Father leads him to speak, Jesus makes a statement that would have been startling, and even offensive, to many of the Jews around him.

First, Jesus unequivocally makes trust in Him the requirement for entering the Kingdom. Second, he adds, basically, “A lot of non-Jewish people will be there in the Final Kingdom of Heaven – and many Jewish people will not be there.”

Over the fifteen-hundred from Moses to Jesus, the Jewish people went through an difficult and tragic arc in their attitudes toward non-Jews. God’s promise to Abraham was designed to bless both Abraham’s descendants, and the nations around them. The laws given through Moses commanded the people of Israel to be different from those around them, in order to show the nations something of what God was like, and so encourage those pagan people to come into God’s blessing. But the Hebrew people did not really obey those laws. Instead, after they entered the promised land, they embraced the cultures around them and let go of the things that made them unique, the things that would show foreigners the truth of God. They let the cultures around them influence them, and ultimately, lead them astray into abandoning the One true God. They went through many cycles of repenting and coming back to God, and then straying away again. Finally, they were utterly destroyed as nation roughly 587 years before Jesus (587 BC). When the nation was re-formed seventy years later, it seemed they had finally learned their lesson. The Jews after that maintained a very distinct identity. They no longer seemed inclined to mix with the cultures around them, nor worship false gods. But now, they went too far in the opposite direction. Not only did they not mix with the non-Jews around them, but they no longer cared if those outsiders ever learned anything about the One true God. They became self-satisfied, and by the time of Jesus, felt that Heaven was the birthright of all Jews, and all those who were not born Jewish were generally out of luck. It is true, there were still converts to the Jewish religion from other nations, but as whole, at the time of Jesus, Jews did not pursue non-Jews or make much effort to tell them about God. If an outsider expressed a passionate interest in Judaism, he could probably find a Jewish person to help him convert, but in general Jewish folks were not very eager to spread the word, being content to have it to themselves.

So when Jesus states that many Gentiles (non-Jews) will be in heaven, and many Jews will not, this was a shocking and offensive idea. Many people may have felt that they would automatically be in Heaven, just because they were Jews by birth. By the same token, they felt that non-Jews would not be there, simply because they were born to the wrong kind of parents. But Jesus challenges their entire basis for salvation and heaven. He says it is about trusting Him.

There are so many applications to this passage. Let’s go back to the Centurion. He was a soldier in an especially brutal army in an especially brutal era of history. Sometimes we think, “I want to follow Jesus, but it’s really tough to do that in my profession. No one around me understands. It just doesn’t fit my circumstance.” But this man in the Roman Army found it possible to trust Jesus and follow him, even in his exceptionally brutal and profane circumstances. If you find yourself saying, “It’s hard to follow Jesus while I do _______ for a living,” I encourage you to pause and consider this Centurion.

Now let’s think about Jesus welcoming this enemy soldier, this oppressor, when he comes in faith. We Christians struggle with both of the same extremes with which the Jews had difficulties. When Jesus welcomes this outsider, this enemy, it reminds us of his words that we should love our enemies. It challenges us to welcome and accept people who are very different from us, people whom we might even tend to think of as enemies. Have we become self-satisfied and content to believe we are going to Heaven because we go to a Christian church, while meanwhile, we don’t care if our friends and neighbors and co-workers take the road to hell? Too many Christians seem to have this attitude. We think it is about organizational membership, rather than trust in the person, Jesus Christ.

We forget that Jesus Himself tells us to reach out and tell those who don’t know Him yet. Are you willing to tell Muslims about the grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ? What about black folks or white people? Are you ready to show God’s grace and love and forgiveness to gay people and Democrats? Or maybe your problem is with people who oppose gay marriage, or with Republicans, or members of the National Rifle Association – can you show them the love and truth of God?

But there is another side to all this, one that we must not forget. The Jewish people before 587 BC had a problem too, and it was the opposite problem. They welcomed all cultures, regardless of the Truth, regardless of their attitudes toward the One true God; and they let those cultures influence their own beliefs and their own relationship with God. This passage does not teach us that everyone is saved, regardless of their attitude to Jesus. It does not tell us to give up truth or give up the standards of the bible. Instead, it teaches us that we are all the same in our need for Jesus. The Centurion did not come to Jesus and say, “This is who I am and I’m not gonna change for you. You must accept me, but you may not change me or command me.” Instead, as we have seen, the Centurion came to Jesus in trust and humility.

Many Christians these days have difficulty accepting this. They can accept people who are different from them, and even embrace different cultures. But they have a hard time insisting that all people must repent of their sins and receive Jesus in trust. Jesus welcomed this Centurion precisely because he trusted Him in humility. If we welcome people regardless of their attitude toward Jesus, we are not helping them. If we tell people who are sinning that they are not sinning, we ourselves are distorting God’s Word and are endangering our own position of humbly trusting Jesus and what He says.

The fact is this: Love and Truth are equally important. We need to hold on to both. Love without truth is meaningless and ineffective sentiment. Truth without love is arrogant and cruel.

This incident with the Centurion challenges us to hold on to the truth that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must trust Jesus and humbly receive Him and His truth. At the same time, it also challenges us to accept anyone in the world who wants to come to Jesus with faith and humility. It encourages us to bring our burdens to Jesus with humble faith.

Listen to the Holy Spirit today as He uses this passage to speak to you.

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THE BLOODLESS BATTLE

DavidSparesSaul

IT USUALLY TAKES MORE COURAGE TO REFRAIN FROM ANGER AND RETRIBUTION, THAN TO ACT ON IT

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 1 Samuel Part 25

1 Samuel #25. 1 Samuel Chapter 26:1-25

Often when I teach through the Bible, I am looking for tightly focused themes and messages in each passage. That works pretty well in the teaching portions of scripture. But often, when we get to narrative history, I feel like each passage is a box of chocolates: a lot of variety, a few surprises, but all of it is sweet.

I want to point out again David’s precarious situation. He trying to lead and support 600 men who can’t stay in one place. In fact, they can’t stay in any civilized place, because the king has declared him an outlaw, under the death sentence. He is dependent upon gifts from friends and strangers. He is also vulnerable to these same people, if they choose to betray them. We don’t know for sure how long David lived this way, but it was certainly years – maybe even as long as a decade.

One of the reasons I like to point this out is because many churches and popular preachers seem to suggest that if you have faith in God, everything will always go well for you. By implication, if things do not go well with you, it must because you don’t have enough faith, or you are not righteous enough. David was an imperfect human being, but he did live in faith. In fact he had a great deal of trust in the Lord, and always repented from his sins, and was willing to humbly learn to do better.

Even so, for many years, it did NOT go well with David. I just want to make sure that no one reading this ever falls prey to the teaching that if life is tough on you, it is because you don’t have enough faith, or you are a bad Christian or something like that. Also, I want to make sure you don’t believe that you can earn favors from God by being righteous, or saying the right words or having the right kind of faith.

I do want to say, however, that David became the great man he was because of faith. Sometimes things went very well for him and sometimes they didn’t. But how it was going on the outside was not as important to David as the quality of his relationship with the Lord. And because that relationship was more important to David than anything else, God was able to use him in amazing ways, and also to bless David without David thinking he had earned it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive all of life as blessing, whether or not it looks that way outwardly? If we could do that, it wouldn’t matter much to us whether circumstances were good or bad. We would always be experiencing life as blessing. David was getting there.

In chapter 26, David is still in a time of outward difficulty. But we will quickly see that things are very good with his heart. Once more, the Ziphites betrayed David – the same people who almost got him killed in chapter 23. They knew where David was, and they told Saul to come and get him. As far as we know, Saul had left David alone since the incident when David spared his life in the cave. But the Ziphites basically tempted Saul to sin. Having betrayed David once, this group of people probably thought that if David were not killed, he would take retribution on them if he had the chance, so they may have been quite urgent and persuasive in trying to get Saul to start hunting David again.

David can hardly believe it, so he takes a few men on a reconnaissance mission to see if Saul really has come. One of them is Abishai. Abishai is the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, which made him David’s nephew. Since David was the youngest of ten, it is quite possible that he and Abishai are basically the same age, or even that Abishai is a little older. They might have spent a lot of time together as boys. At this point, they are both probably in their early or mid-twenties, in the prime of physical power and maybe a little inclined to try something crazy.

The two of them decide to sneak into the heart of Saul’s encampment at night. This is the desert, so the soldiers probably did not have tents. The picture seems to be that Saul chose his sleeping spot, and then the whole army arranged themselves around him, with his bodyguard closest to him and the rest around them in a rough circle. David and Abishai crept through the entire circle of sleeping men and came to Saul sleeping soundly, along with Abner, the chief of Saul’s bodyguard.

All this appears somewhat similar to chapter 24, but only superficially. Almost every detail is different. Saul doesn’t come alone into the cave where David and his men were waiting. Instead David creeps with only one companion into the middle of Saul’s camp. This time it wasn’t Saul almost finding David where he was hiding, it was David finding Saul where he was camped openly. Before, David was passive. This time he initiated the action.

I think that it is not coincidence that this happened shortly after David’s interactions with Nabal. In chapter 24, we have the record of how David was tested, in the cave with Saul, and he passed that test. But with Nabal, he failed. He fully intended to take matters into his own hands regarding Nabal, and was saved from sin only by the wisdom of Abigail. Now, once more, he gets the chance to take matters into his own hands, or trust the Lord.

Verse 12 says that the Lord put a deep sleep on Saul and the army, which made this whole incident possible. It is almost as if the Lord is giving David a chance to see if he really learned his lesson with Nabal. It isn’t just a test – obviously, God knew what was in David’s heart. But David may not have been sure of himself. He may have had times where he thought about the incident with Nabal, and condemned himself, and wished he had behaved differently. The Lord is giving him a second chance, a “do-over.”

Abishai hasn’t matured in that way at any rate. He asks permission to kill Saul. It would be all over. The good times could begin. The days of wandering homeless, despised by people around, in danger all the time, could all be ended by one swift spear thrust. As before, it was a powerful temptation. Who could blame David? In Saul’s mind, anyway, they were enemies. It would be an act of war. It wouldn’t even be David who struck the blow.

But David has learned his lesson thoroughly. He says:

10“As the LORD lives, the LORD will certainly strike him down: either his day will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 However, because of the LORD, I will never lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” (1Sam 26:10-11, HCSB)

He saw the battle with Goliath as the Lord’s fight. So he sees the struggle with Saul. It isn’t his, really – it is God’s business, and David trusts God to take care of it in His own time and in His own way.

As morning breaks, from a safe distance, David calls and awakens the camp. He shows them the spear and the water jug he has taken from Saul’s side. David is young and strong, and he has accomplished an amazing, bloodless feat of arms. So he teases Abner, Saul’s commander for a moment. I get the feeling he is rejoicing in what he and Abishai just did. But then, once again he respectfully confronts Saul with his wrongdoing. Like Abigail did with David, so David does with his king, Saul. He shows Saul he is wrong; he reminds him of true righteousness in God’s eyes – but he does it all with respect. You might say that David is submissive to the authority of Saul, but he is not subservient or a doormat.

At the end of the discussion, David shows where his trust is:

23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his loyalty. I wasn’t willing to lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed, even though the LORD handed you over to me today. 24 Just as I considered your life valuable today, so may the LORD consider my life valuable and rescue me from all trouble.” (1Sam 26:23-24, HCSB)

He doesn’t ask Saul to treat him the way he treated Saul. Instead, he declares that he trusts the Lord to treat him with righteousness and love.

Throughout this, Saul seemed to be full of remorse. But he was remorseful last time two, after David spared his life in the cave. David has learned something important from Saul: Remorse is not the same as repentance. Saul let his emotions rage through him uncontrolled. Sometimes he was full of murderous fury; sometimes he was full of regret and sorrow. But the regret and sorrow did not lead to true repentance for Saul – they were just feelings he had sometimes. So, even though Saul invites David to come back with him, David does not do it. Saul is in God’s hands, but David is wise enough not to trust him.

It’s another great story, and I love it just for the daring deeds and passion and trust in God. But what does it mean for us now? What does the Lord want to say to us through this passage today?

One of the things that catches my attention here is that David and Abishai accomplished a daring exploit, a great feat of war – yet without violence or bloodshed. If you are a young man, particularly, you may sometimes yearn to do something daring or great. Often it is easiest to imagine doing this in the context of some kind of violence – saving comrades during a battle, or saving your family from the bad guys. There is nothing wrong with the desire to do daring deeds, or with having a warrior-spirit. In fact, it is a good thing, used by god. By trusting the Lord, David allowed his warrior-spirit to be used and satisfied without committing violence.

Along with that, David shows that withholding violence takes more courage than doing something violent. With one violent act, his troubles could have over. It was much harder – it was a much greater deed – to leave Saul unharmed. I think we can all learn from that. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. It takes a lot more courage to do that than to take matters into our hands, and protect ourselves. It takes courage not to reply with harsh words or gossip when someone hurts us. It takes courage to not repay hurt with hurt.

As we read the Old Testament especially, I think it is helpful to ask: “Where is Jesus in this text?” Remember, David is sometimes a “type of Christ.” What this means is that God used David at times to show the world what the real Messiah (Jesus) is like – to people who would never get the chance to know Jesus in their earthly life.

This passage does show us a little bit of what Jesus is like. Like David, Jesus is a mighty warrior, forever in the prime of life, full of bravery and wisdom; ultimately and absolutely victorious over his enemies.

David held back from harming Saul, who, without a doubt, deserved to be harmed by David. In the same way Jesus holds back the punishment that we all richly deserve. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pay back evil with good. David did that very thing. Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him, even as they did the deed.

Here’s something else that I think is very significant. David did not know at the time that the Lord was using him to show the world what Jesus was like. He didn’t realize how significant his actions were. But because he lived in trust and obedience, many people in his generation, and for a thousand years after, had some idea of what the Messiah was like.

We don’t always know when someone has a chance to see Jesus through us. We can’t always tell when the Lord is doing that. Very often the opportunity comes when we least feel like it. There was a huge temptation for David to act precisely opposite of how Jesus is. So in the same way, it may be in our toughest moments that God uses us to show Jesus to the world.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now?

TRUST AND TIMING

When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see you in the dark,  how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him?

engediwaterfall

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 1 Samuel Part 23

1 Samuel #23. (Chapter 23:14 – Chapter 24:20)

This is one of my favorites stories in the entire history of David. I think what David does, and what he refrains from doing in 1 Samuel 24, shows more courage, faith and heart for God than any of his amazing feats in battle. This is David at his best.

I want to briefly summarize the end of chapter 23, since we did not cover it in detail anywhere else. After David left the town of Keilah, he took his men and went into the wilderness on the other side of the Judean mountains. It may have been more green there 3,000 years ago, but these days, it is mostly desert. It was farther away from Saul, and in terrain that was significantly more rugged. Even so, Saul pursued David there, hoping to capture or kill him. During this time, Jonathan came secretly to David, and “encouraged him in his faith in God.” They renewed their friendship.

The people of the region betrayed David, as the citizens of Keilah had done. When you read the Psalms that David wrote, you will often find references to treacherous people, liars and friends who betray. This is because this sort of thing happened to David astonishingly often. In spite of his integrity and the help he brought to others, in spite of his faithfulness to God and respect for Saul as king, people were quick to believe the worst of him, and spread lies about him, and betray him to Saul.

I don’t know about you, but this encourages me. I think my natural expectation is that if I surrender my life to Jesus and have integrity in letting him live through me, people will see it, and like it, and praise God for it. I expect a positive response to God’s life shining through me. I expect good results, and favor with people. But Jesus said we ought to expect the opposite:

18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. (John 15:18-21, HCSB)

He explains that there is blessing for us in this situation:

10 Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 11 “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12, HCSB)

Peter, in his first letter, also talks about this:

19 For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. (1Pet 2:19-20, HCSB)

13 And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, (1Pet 3:13-14, HCSB)

Seeing the life of David, and hearing what the New Testament says, gives me hope. Being a person with a heart for God is not necessarily a way to get a whole bunch of people to like you. It isn’t a road to sure success. It is often the opposite. But I cling to these promises that there is great blessing for us in those sorts of trials, sooner or later. At this point for David, he experienced the persecution, but not the blessing.

At one point, David was almost caught. He and his men were in a valley or canyon, and Saul and his men were coming down another valley on the opposite side of the mountain. They were gaining on David. But before they could close, messengers found Saul, reporting that the Philistines were attacking elsewhere in Israel. Saul had to break off the pursuit. Once again, I want to point out that David did not know what his future held. He didn’t know for sure what God was doing, and he might very well have been caught. In that particular incident, it was merely lucky timing that saved him.

And then comes the incident described in chapter 24. This is later. Saul is back to his new hobby of trying to find David and kill him. He and his men are traipsing around the rugged desert and mountain terrain where, according to rumour, David is hiding. They aren’t having any luck. David appears to be miles away. One day, Saul has to relieve himself, and he goes into a cave alone for privacy. It just happens to be the cave where David and some of his men are holed up.

I want to make sure we understand the scenario. David was anointed by Samuel to be God’s chosen instrument. It was understood along with that, that he was supposed to be Israel’s next king. Israel’s present king – Saul – who is no longer God’s instrument, has been trying for a long time to kill David. Now Saul is alone, unarmed and unaware, standing right in front of David, night-blind, back-turned with his pants down. Saul could not be more helpless.

David’s men believe that this is a gift from God. Now is the time for David to kill Saul, and become king himself. I suspect that nine people out of ten would agree with David’s men. Killing Saul at that moment would have been easily justifiable self-defense – after all, Saul was there for the express purpose of killing David. Saul was acting contrary to God’s stated will and purposes – he was trying to kill God’s chosen instrument. So killing Saul would be not only self-defense, but also protection of God’s work in the world. I don’t believe there was a person living at the time who would have blamed David.

David creeps forward, knife held low and ready. He raises his arm to strike…and then lowers it, and quietly cuts off the corner of Saul’s robe. He creeps back to his men, and a furious but quiet argument ensues. Now David’s men, seeing that he will not kill Saul, are eager to do the deed themselves. Once again, who could have blamed David if he had let one of his men do it? Not only would he have the justifications listed already, but he could always claim that it wasn’t actually him who killed Saul, and he really didn’t want it to happen. But David argues vehemently, and commands his men not to touch Saul. Finally, Saul leaves the cave and the opportunity is lost.

I imagine the cave was up on the slope of a hill or something. After Saul has gone down a little ways, David emerges, and calls to Saul. He shows him the corner of his robe and says:

11 See, my father! Look at the corner of your robe in my hand, for I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. Look and recognize that there is no evil or rebellion in me. I haven’t sinned against you even though you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you. 13 As the old proverb says, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ My hand will never be against you. (1Sam 24:11-13, HCSB)

All this wisdom from a man not yet thirty years old. But of course, it wasn’t really David’s wisdom – it was the Spirit of God at work within David. I think the key is verse 12: “May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you.” David literally refused to take matters into his own hands. Remember when Saul was about to lose the entire southern portion of Israel? His army was deserting him, Samuel wasn’t showing up, and so Saul held a worship service merely for the purpose of getting people to stick around. Saul took matters into his own hands. But David will not do that. His trust is not in what he can do, but in what God will do.

However, there is a natural question. When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see in the dark, facing away from you, how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him? I mean, we’ve already offered many reasons why no one would condemn David for doing it. So how did David know he shouldn’t do it?

I think there are two answers. The first is one that I never get tired of talking about: we need to live in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment relationship with the Lord. The ten commandments told David not to murder, but it could have justifiably been called self-defense, or war, not murder. There is no rule-book that covers this scenario. David, like us, had to rely on a connection of faith with the Lord. Through that faith, the Lord communicated to him that it would be wrong. We might say David just knew it in his heart. The reason he knew it in his heart is because God put that knowledge there through the faith-relationship.

Second, in context of this faith relationship, what God showed David was that to kill Saul at this point would be taking matters into his own hands, rather than trusting. I believe that there are times when God calls us to act speedily and courageously without hesitation. But there are also times when the Lord calls us to let opportunities pass by, and trust Him to bring about his purposes in his own way. Personally, I think the second way is harder, and in our culture we almost never think that way. We typically assume that if we see a means to meet our goals, it is God giving us that chance, and we should take it. Sometimes, that may indeed be true. But sometimes the Lord calls us to wait and trust so we can receive it from him, not get it by our own effort.

Consider this: if David had killed Saul at this point, he might always afterwards wonder if God really wanted him to be king, or if he had made himself king. And there was something that was more important to David than reaching his goal of becoming king. It was more important to him to be right with God than to achieve his ambitions. So he says, “Yes, I’d like God to judge you Saul, for what you’ve done. But my priority is not to judge you, nor to make my goals happen. My priority is to be right with the Lord.”

What’s your priority? Think of something that you really, truly want. Now imagine that the power to make it happen is in your hand. Would you do it, even if you knew in your heart that God didn’t want you to?

Now, I don’t want the message to be that we are just not as righteous as David. David wasn’t any better than us. He just learned to trust God, and he made the trust the primary and most important part of his life. The message is not “you aren’t as good as David.” The message is: Trust God. I’ll say it again: Trust God. The thing that you want so much, the thing that you are convinced is even God’s will for you – God will take care of that. David eventually did become king. It didn’t happen that day. In fact it was still years away. But God did take care of it. He worked it out the best way possible.

So trust him.

TRUST DURING A TIME OF TROUBLE

Saul doubted and feared. David trusted and listened. Which one are you like?

1 Samuel 22:3-23

Doeg1

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The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart. We have already seen why on several occasions. He trusted the Lord to do battle with Goliath. Later he gave Goliath’s sword to the priests, because he saw it as God’s victory, not his own. David ran not to his family, but to the Lord when he was in trouble. His orientation was toward God, and all his hope and trust were in the Lord.

But this does not mean that David was perfect. Most of probably know about his major sins in connection with Bathsheba and her husband. But that wasn’t the only time he screwed up, and it certainly wasn’t the first. Two weeks ago we looked at 1 Samuel chapter 21, and saw that even though David ran to the Lord when he was in trouble, he gave in to fear and lied to the priest Ahimelech. Now in chapter 22, we see the horrible results of that lie.

Before we get to that, however, I want to point out some unrelated positive things. At this point, David was in the cave with some of his relatives, and number of other desperate men. It is unclear whether his parents had also joined him there or not. In any case, he knew his parents were likely to be in danger from Saul, and he could not expose them to the kind of harsh conditions that he would have to bear for the foreseeable future. So he took his parents to the kingdom of Moab.

There are two special things about this action. First, is the relationship David’s family had with the Kingdom of Moab. The book of Ruth is a short history (four chapters) of David’s great-grandmother Ruth. She was the grandmother of David’s father, Jesse, and it is possible that she was alive during the first part of Jesse’s life. It is a sweet story about a family that went through hard times, but still trusted in the Lord. It shows us that David came from a family of people who had a heart for God. But the important thing here is that Ruth was originally from Moab. So David did not just randomly dump his parents on the first foreign dignity he could find. He took them to people who were actually relatives, albeit distant ones.

Second, this highlights something we don’t talk about much in modern western society. Both Old and New Testaments are clear that we have a responsibility to take care of our families, and even particularly, the elderly members.

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn to fulfill their duty toward their own household and so repay their parents what is owed them. For this is what pleases God. (1Tim 5:4, NET)

If any believing woman has widows in her family, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows. (1Tim 5:16, HCSB)

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

David took his responsibility to his family seriously. He could have said, “Look Ma and Pa, I’m just really busy these days. I’m trying not to get killed, I have this band of men to lead, I am God’s chosen instrument in this generation, and oh, by the way, I have a kingdom to win.” Those things might have easily been more pressing than taking care of his parents. But he didn’t feel right doing anything else until he knew that they were safe and well cared for. We sometimes forget that both retirement and social security are relatively new developments. In all of history until about 50 years ago, elderly people did not have these. Instead, they had children. Where I grew up in Papua New Guinea, it is still that way. When someone gets too old or infirm to provide for themselves, their family takes care of them. It may have to be that way again in America before too long. That isn’t the end of the world. It worked pretty well for most of human history. And David managed it, even in his precarious situation. I hope my kids are reading this.

When David leaves his parents there, his words to the king of Moab are very humble: “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, until I know what God will do with me.” He is not arrogant. Even though he knows Samuel anointed him as God’s chosen instrument, and to be the next king, David does not presume upon God. He humbly admits that he is in a pretty uncertain situation. I think this is also important because sometimes we read the Bible and we think faith was easy for the people that we read about. But this shows that David felt he had no guarantee of how his life would turn out, or even if he would survive the next few weeks. It is easy in hindsight to see how powerfully God worked in his life. It seems inevitable to us, reading it three thousand years later. But when David lived it, he had no more reason to trust God than you and I do today. He had no special guarantee. This should help us to have confidence that God is still working in our lives, even when we, like David, can’t be sure how things will turn out.

Now, it appears that he stayed there in Moab for a time. In fact, it says that David himself took care of his parents (they lived with him) while he was “in the stronghold.” Then the prophet Gad (this is the first time we’ve heard of him) says, “Don’t stay in the stronghold, but return to Judah.” It can be confusing, but obviously then, the “stronghold” doesn’t mean the cave, but rather, the stronghold of the king of Moab. “Judah” means the area belonging to the tribe of Judah in southern Israel.

The presence of this prophet is interesting. Samuel the prophet was Saul’s advisor for a time, but Saul never really listened to him. Finally, they parted ways forever. At this point Samuel is very elderly indeed, and would have been unable to live the hard life David was living. So the Lord sent David another prophet – this man named Gad. Fittingly enough, Gad appears to have been one of those original desperate, in-debt malcontented men that joined David. But the Lord has gifted him to speak prophetically into David’s life. And unlike Saul, David listened and immediately responded to the Lord. This wasn’t necessarily an easy choice to make. The Lord was telling David to go back to Israel, where he would be in danger from Saul. David wasn’t going to fight Saul or any Israelites, yet he was supposed to go there and remain in danger. Even so, David didn’t hesitate.

Meanwhile, we get a glimpse into what is happening with Saul. Saul has completely given himself over to hatred and jealousy of David. He verbally abuses his own son Jonathan, as well as his men, accusing them of conspiring against him. He thinks David has bribed them with promises of land and military commands. You can see that Saul has moved from insecurity to almost full blown paranoia.

It is at this time, through Saul, that David’s lie to the priest brings forth its terrible fruit. Doeg, the man from the region of Edom (not a true Israelite) speaks up. He tells Saul what he saw and heard when David came to the sanctuary at Nob. He mentions that not only did David get bread, and the sword of Goliath, but Ahimelech the priest “inquired of the Lord” for David. “Inquiring of the Lord” at the very least meant a brief worship service and then use of the Urim and Thummim (– the “holy dice,” so to speak). It may have included a more thorough time of worship, and a sacrifice. So here is our proof that David went there not only for physical help, but to hear from God and worship in his presence.

Saul summons Ahimelech (the high priest) and all the priests of Nob. He confronts Ahimelech, who protests his innocence. He knew nothing of the rift between David and Saul, because David had lied to him. It may well be that he would have helped David anyway, but David never gave him the chance to do so honestly. Ahimelech freely admits that helped David, and reminds Saul that David has always faithfully served the king – indeed he has been Saul’s most faithful and potent warrior. In a way, I think when Ahimelech confronted Saul with the truth that Saul is being unjust to both David and to himself, he sealed his own fate.

Saul rages, and orders his bodyguards to kill Ahimelech and all the high priests. They balk. This is an abomination. Even Saul’s faithful followers know that he is ordering a horrible murder. I picture Saul screaming and raging, and then Doeg, who is not an Israelite, and who is cunning and ambitious, does the deed. He murders 85 priests that day. He continues on afterwards, and directs the murder of all of their families and the destruction of the village at Nob. With eighty-five men, plus their wives and children Saul, through Doeg and Doeg’s men, murdered two-hundred people or more.

However, they missed one. Abiathar, son of Ahimelech escaped, and he took his priestly garment (called an “ephod”) with him. He fled to David and told him what happened.

Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew that Doeg the Edomite was there that day and that he was sure to report to Saul. I myself am responsible for the lives of everyone in your father’s family. (1Sam 22:22, HCSB)

David’s response is remarkable. Saul is the one who ordered the murder of the priests. Doeg is the one who carried it out and did the actual killing, probably assisted by some underlings. But David says, “this was my fault. I am responsible for the loss of those lives.”

You see David had a heart that God loved. It wasn’t because David was perfect. He lied when he was running from Saul. But he was open, willing, humble and even repentant. When Samuel confronted Saul about the sins he committed, Saul’s response was always something like: well I had to do it. Circumstances demanded it. I was losing men.” David could easily have said, “I had to lie to save my life.” He might have said, “It was an extreme situation, calling for extreme measure. Besides, I’m not the one who killed them. But instead, his response is: “I was responsible for this great tragedy.”

This is not to say that David was blind to the evil of Saul and Doeg. At this time he wrote Psalm 52, in which he castigates the evil of Doeg, and by implication, Saul. In David’s eyes, their biggest sin is this:

Here is the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, taking refuge in his destructive behavior. (Psalm 52:7)

What is even more amazing is what David wrote next. Remember he is still hiding in fear of his life. Remember, he had no more reason to trust the Lord than you and I do.

But I am like a flourishing olive tree in the house of God; I trust God’s faithful love forever.

I will praise you forever for what you have don. In the presence of your faithful people, I will put my hope in your name, for it is good. (Psalm 52:8)

As always, the Lord brings some good out of every terrible situation. David is his chosen servant. Now David has both a prophet and a priest to worship with him, and give him godly counsel. And unlike Saul, David humbly and willingly receives what God says through them.

Now what does all this mean for us today?

Maybe you need to hear the specific practical advice that you should take care of your family, and even your parents when they are unable to take care of themselves.

Perhaps you face the temptation that Saul had, to let your insecurity rule you. Do your fears drive away the people you love, or cause them harm? I doubt anyone reading this has committed murder on the scale that Saul perpetrated that day. Even so, the difference between faith and doubt is huge, and matters a great deal. Without trust in the Lord, if we trust only in ourselves, like Saul, we are doomed to hurt those around us. See how much better it is to be like David and put your trust in the Lord alone.

Like David with Gad and Abiathar, do you have godly spiritual advisors who listen to the Lord and have permission to speak honestly into your life? If not, ask the Lord to send you a few.

There is one last thing. Last time we talked about the concept that in the Old Testament we find people or events that remind us of Jesus, or show us what Jesus is like, or what following him is like. There is another one this week. More than two hundred people lost their lives for helping David. So today and throughout all history, people around the world have been persecuted and killed for following Jesus. It is a reminder that we should pray for those who are persecuted today, and also that we should be ready to make a choice between our own life and our obedience to Jesus.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about all this right now.