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Showing posts with label Old Testament. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Old Testament. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2023

Why Christians Follow Some Old Testament Laws But Not Others

Jesus is the most amazing person who ever lived.  His teachings are revered by people all over the world—even by those of other, non-Christian, world religions.  We find His core teachings in chapters 5-7 of Matthew, what is called the Sermon on the Mount. 

In this message series, we are working our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, lesson by lesson.  Today, we come to Matthew 5:17-20 where Jesus explains His relationship with the Old Testament.

Matthew 5:17
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 

What is Jesus talking about here?  What is the Law of Moses and the prophets?  The “Law of Moses” is the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  The “prophets” (sometimes called “the writings”) were all the other sacred Scriptures—which included historical, liturgical, and prophetic writings urging the people of Israel to be faithful to God by obeying the Law of Moses.  Together the Law of Moses and the prophets make up the collection of books Christians call the “Old Testament”.

Some people in Jesus day (as well as some people today) believed Jesus was so radically different that He would throw out the Old Testament all together and make something completely new.  But Jesus definitively clears up that misconception right here.  “No.  I came to accomplish their purpose.”

Jesus did not abolish or throw out the requirements of the Old Testament.  He accomplish them.  Now, if that’s true, the question people today always ask is, “Then why don’t we still follow all those crazy rules in the Old Testament law?  Why do Christians eat pork and shellfish?  Why don’t Christians still stone people to death for certain crimes as the Old Testament Law commands?

Types of Old Testament Law
Part of the reason people misunderstand is they don’t understand the Old Testament Law.  We can put Old Testament law into three broad categories.  Now these are modern ways of categorizing; the lines were more blurry for the ancients.  But I believe these categories can be useful to help us consider the ancient Law and how it applies to Christians today.

First of all there were civil laws.  These are laws to help maintain order in civil society.  We have civil laws today.  We have traffic laws like the speed limit that help keep us safe on the roads.  We have property laws about trespassing.  We have laws about contracts that help protect us in our business dealings.  

And we also have some laws that have become irrelevant.  On the books today in Georgia, there is still a law that says, you can't keep a donkey in a bath tub.  Now I don't know why in the world we need a law that says that. I don't know anyone today who is keeping a donkey in a bathtub.  But apparently, at one point in our history, that was a problem so they made a law about it.  

Residents in Acworth, Georgia are legally required to own a rake.  I suppose at some point in history, maybe there was a problem with people having untidy lawns in Acworth in the fall.  So they made a law that if you were going to move to Acworth, you have to own a rake.

In Gainesville, Georgia, the made a law that you must eat fried chicken with your hands.  Don't be all fancy trying to eat your fried chicken with fork and knife.  Just pick that greasy goodness up with your hands!  Now, there's a reason for that law.  Gainesville has a big chicken industry and they wanted to pull a publicity stunt (I guess to promote the down homeliness of eating fried chicken) and so they made a law that says you have to eat your fried chicken in Gainesville with your hands.

Israel was a civil society that needed rules to live together in an orderly, peaceful manner.  Plus, they had a purpose.  Israel was supposed to represent God to the whole world.  They were to be a royal and holy priesthood set apart as different from all the other nations around them.  So Israel had rules about even minor details of civil life which included:  how to dress, what to eat, how to punish criminals, and even how to treat strangers, foreigners, orphans, and widows.

So why don’t most Christians feel obligated to abstain from eating pork and dress like ancient Israelites?  Because we don’t live in the ancient kingdom of Israel.  That kingdom no longer exists.  Some might say, “Well, Israel still exists.”  Yes, but even that modern country is not the ancient kingdom of Israel.  That do not have the same purpose and mandate from God.

Then there are ceremonial laws.  These were laws about religious rites and festivals for ancient Israel.  How and when to sacrifice a goat.  How to ordain a priest. How to heal a leper.   And there's also a reason Christians aren’t obligated to follow the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.  We believe Jesus fulfilled everything that those laws required.  In simple terms, those laws no longer apply because Jesus achieved everything those laws foreshadowed.  For instance, we don't have to sacrifice a lamb to celebrate Passover because Jesus is THE Passover Lamb and His blood shed on the cross covers our sin once and for all.

Finally, there are moral laws.  These are laws about right and wrong, good and bad behavior.  In this category we could put the laws found in The 10 Commandments--do not murder, do not steal, do not worship idols.  We could also include rules about sexual immorality and prohibitions against the exploitation of widows and orphans.

Now these moral laws are universal.  They apply equally for all humanity regardless of where you live and when you live.  It doesn’t matter if you live in America, Africa, Iran, Russia, or China, it’s still wrong to murder (and everyone knows it).  It doesn’t matter if you’re living in the 1st century with Jesus, the 18th century with John Wesley, or the 21st century in Whitfield County, it’s always wrong to steal, to bear false witness, or to commit adultery (at least according to God’s way of living spelled out in the Bible). 

So these morals laws we find in the Old Testament, that Jesus lived by and taugt his Disciples to follow, still apply to us today.  That is why we believe there’s nothing wrong with eat pork, but we still believe sexual perversion is an abomination to God and harmful to human society and degrades human beings who were made in the sacred image of God.

Matthew 5:18-19
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus Fulfills the Law
Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets.  He came to satisfy the demands of the Old testament and he fulfills everything it pointed to.

The purpose of the ancient kingdom of Israel was to be a royal priesthood to bring all nations back to God.  That was their real purpose.  I’m not making that up.  It’s spelled out throughout the Old Testament—time and time again.  I don’t have time to spell out all the Scriptures.  Let me just share a couple.  Isaiah 49:6 spells out God’s hope that it won’t just be the people of Israel who are reconciled to God, but Israel will be a “light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Another example is the Book of Jonah.  God sent Jonah to preach to the Ninevites—an evil and violent people—to call them to repent.  You see, God wanted everyone—not just the Israelites—to be His people.

Israel was supposed to be a holy nation set apart to represent God to the whole world and to invite everyone everywhere to turn away from sin and let God be Lord of their life.  Yet Israel was self-absorbed and full of sinful pride—thinking God loved them more than everyone else.  All they wanted to do was enjoy their status as the chosen people without ever obeying the Law to actually live as a people chosen by God to reconcile the world to God.

Although Israel failed in that mission because they constantly turned away from God and broke God’s Law, Jesus fulfilled everything the Law said, including the purpose the Law was given.  Jesus is the only person who ever lived who never sinned, never broke a single commandment, never violated the spiritual purpose of the Law.  Jesus life, death, ressurection, and ascension is the fulfillment of even the smallest details of God’s Law.  Everything the Law pointed to, Jesus accomplished.

Matthew 5:20
“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

Jesus ends with a stern warning that’s meant to make us realize how desperately we need Him to save us.  Think about it.  Unless you are more righteous than the Pharisees in the Bible, you can never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Pharisees strived to be absolutely obedient to every single letter of the Law.  When the Law says, “Don’t work on the Sabbath Day,” they wanted to know exactly what that meant.  So they determined you could walk no further than ¾ of a mile on the Sabbath.  And they had rules like this for all 613 of the laws in the Old Testament. And they had them all memorized to help them obey all the laws completely.  They were considered the holiest, most perfect people in Israel.

And Jesus says, unless you are better than them, you will never enter to Heaven.  What!?!?  Here’s the point:  Jesus is pointing out it’s impossible.  You can’t do it. 

You can’t do it.  But Jesus can.  And Jesus did.  Jesus fulfills the Law.  And Jesus paid the penalty for your failure to keep the law.  Jesus offers you grace and mercy.  All He asks is that you repent of your sin and believe in Him. 

To repent means to turn away from your sin.  It means to turn away from your rejection of God.
It means to stop living however you want to live and start living the way God wants you to live.

Believing Jesus means trusting Him.  It’s not just believing it with your head. It means trust Jesus following Him—living the way He teaches you to live.  

So I plead with you, repent of your sin and believe in Jesus today.  

Monday, December 13, 2021

In Between, part 3

This series examines what happened during the intertestamental period of Christian history.  The 400 year period of God’s silence between the completion of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ was a pause that punctuated the greatest Word God ever spoke:  Luke 2:10-11, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” 

Jesus came in peace, offering God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness.  However, many in Israel were hoping for and expecting a military leader who would violently conquer God’s enemies and drive them from the Holy Land.  What accounts for this dramatic difference between God's plan and the hopes of so many? 

Part of the reason they expected and hoped for a mighty conqueror instead of a suffering savior has much to do with the history of Israel during the 4 centuries between the Old and New Testaments.  I want to explore more of that history today.  In particular, I want to focus on the Maccabean Revolt, which is the inspiration for the modern Jewish holiday Hanukkah. 

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was written around 475 BC.  God spoke through the prophet. 

Malachi 3:1-5

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Briefly Explain Passage
Judgment is certainly a theme of this passage.  God says, the “Lord” the people were seeking would judge sinners (and this refers to Jesus, the Messiah).  God says, the Messiah will come to the Temple and purify like a refiner’s fire.  And God also says there will be a trial and judgment against evil doers—in particular against:  sorcerers, adulterers, liars, people who cheat their employees, people who oppress widows and orphans, and people who deprive foreigners of justice.  What many in Israel didn't understand, is that much of that judgment would be of the Israelites, for they continually failed to fulfill their role as God's people. 

What Happened Between the Old and New Testaments?
After Malachi spoke, no other prophet’s words were preserved in the Bible.  Israel was ruled by the Persian Empire.  Then, Alexander the Great of Greece conquered most of the known world—including Persia.  Israel was ruled by Greece for 13 years, and the Greek Empire changed the world.  Greek became the universal language almost everyone could speak.  But when Alexander the Great died unexpectedly, His empire broke into 4 smaller, less powerful Kingdoms—Macedonia, Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucid Syria, and Pergamum. 

The first little Greek kingdom to rise to prominence and rule Israel for 125 years were the Greek Egyptians.  They allowed Israel a certain amount of autonomy, but they encouraged the Israelites to adopt many elements of Greek religion, culture, and language. 

Many Israelites among the upper crust of society accepted these new Greek ideas.  You had to “Hellenize” (become more Greek) if you wanted to succeed and move up the social ladder.  To resist or reject Greek influence was to be seen as backwards, outdated, ignorant, and irrelevant.  

To be sure, there were many positive elements of Greek culture—systems of reason and logic, mathematics, architecture.  If you enjoy using an umbrella or a map, you can thank the Greeks who brought these things to prominence.  However, along with many good things, also came expectations to worship Greek gods and demigods like Zeus, Hercules, Pan, and others.  A rift formed in Israelite society between those who accepted Greek culture in order to move up and those who remained “pure” and faithful only to Yahweh, the God of Israel. 

The second “little Greek” kingdom to rule over Israel were the Greek Syrians.  When they took over from the Egyptians in 198 BC, they started playing hardball with Israel. The Syrians were tired of the stubborn, rebellious Israelites clinging to their Jewish culture and religion.  All the other conquered peoples of the Greek world had welcomed Greek religion.  The Jews were the main hold outs.  The Syrians made it a goal to rid Israel of Judaism and replace it with Greek culture and religion. 

The Syrians tried to transformed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem into a temple to worship the Greek gods.  Jewish sacrifices, circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, and Jewish feasts were forbidden.  Jewish sacrifice in the Holy Temple were replaced with sacrifices to Zeus and included unclean animals, like pigs, that were offensive to Jews.  

One priest in ModiÊ¿im, a small town outside Jerusalem, had had enough.  When a Syrian official tried to enforce heathen sacrifice in his town, Mattathias Maccabeus murdered the Syrian official. He and his sons, the Maccabees, fled into the Judean wilderness and began a 32-year revolt.  They fought against the Syrians and also raided Jewish towns and killed any Jews that sacrificed to Greek gods or who collaborated with the “Hellenists”.  

Little by little, the Maccabee’s guerrilla warfare wore down the Greek Syrian kingdom. The Maccabees recaptured and cleansed the Jerusalem Temple in 165 BC.  Many believed this was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy in Malachi 3:1, where it said, “The Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple…”

The Jews gained independence in 142 BC.  Jewish kings once again rule in Jerusalem. The Hasmoneans dynasty were ruthless kings who were not of the royal line of David.  In 128 BC, they raided the northern territory of Samaria and demanded the Samaritans convert to Judaism.  When the Samaritans refused, the Jews destroyed the Samaritan’s temple in Shechem. This and other events like it led to the bitter animosity between Jews and Samarians we read about in the New Testament. 

The Hasmonean rulers of Jerusalem served as both kings and high priests.  They were not pure or holy or even good and they were not of the royal line of David.  A politically savvy group known as the Sadducees, said it didn’t matter.  The Sadducees preferred terrible Jewish rulers to good pagan rulers.  The Pharisees said a true king must be of the line of David and never accepted the Hasmonean royal line.  This became a bitter dispute that divided the Pharisees (who wanted a return to pure Judaism) and the Sadducees (who were willing to compromise for political expediency).  That division persisted into the New Testament where we read about Christian's interactions with both the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

The reconstituted, independent Israel was not a kingdom to be proud of.  There was no justice.  There was no peace.  Violence and chaos was the order of the day.  Leaders said they worshiped God, but their religion was a lie.  They embodied the sins Malachi 3:5 rebukes--people "who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me."

In 63 AD, a new and more powerful empire marched it's legions into Jerusalem and took over.  The Roman Empire’s rule of Jerusalem had begun and the people still yearned for a Messiah to come save them from oppression and finally bring God's Kingdom on earth.  Would this Messiah be like Mattathias Maccabeus—a priest who murdered oppressive officials, waged war on God’s enemies, and violently cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem?  

Many believed and hoped the Messiah would be like the Maccabees, but God had a much better plan.  He foretold the Messiah’s who would be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).  The true Messiah’s plan is foretold in Isaiah 61:1, where it says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

And Jesus came and read these very words from the scroll of Isaiah and said in Luke 4:18, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” 

As we wait for Christmas, we still don’t know how long we need to wait for Jesus to finally return to judge the living and the dead and right all the wrongs of our broken world.

Waiting is hard.

While we wait, it is tempting to skip ahead and put our hope in people we admire.  We might think, "Perhaps this religious leader is the one we can trust." Or we say, "Maybe that celebrity is someone we can truly admire."  Or we hope, "Maybe the next president will be the one who puts our country back on the right track."

Why do we think our help will come from one of these worldly solutions  and not from Jesus, the true Messiah?  

And while we wait, it is so easy to waiver back and forth between compromising important core values we should never compromise for the sake of practicality or being militant idealists who are incapable of any compromise at all.   

Perhaps the best course of action while we wait is to allow Jesus to fulfill Malachi’s words in us:
To allow Jesus to purify us,
refining us like gold and silver,
burning away all the impurities in us.  

Perhaps it is best, while we wait, that we truly live for God in Christ 
by not cheating employees of their wages,
by no oppressing widows and orphans,
by not depriving the foreigners living among us of justice. 

Perhaps, while we wait, we should be about fulfilling Jesus’ mission when he quoted Isaiah 61:1,
The Lord has anointed me to:
bring good news to the poor
comfort the brokenhearted and
proclaim that captives will be released,
and prisoners will be freed.

Waiting is hard.

But sometimes, God Himself is the One who tells us to wait and be faithful.
And while we wait, we should worship and serve God and God alone
by living out the principles and mission of Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Living In Between

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a season of waiting and preparation.  We are preparing for Christmas—the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  But we are also waiting for the second coming of Christ, for it was promised Jesus would return to judge the living and the dead, and to right all that is wrong with the world.  Then God will recreate the heavens and the earth, and we will live with God forever in Paradise. 

But in the meantime, we are waiting.

Waiting is an important part of God’s plan for His people.  It can feel like nothing happens while you wait, but God is at work. This series will examine what happened to God’s people in the period in between the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament while they waited for the Messiah to be born.  This series is also design to help you in those times when you feel stuck in between, waiting.

Timeline of the Old Testament
The Bible is divided into two Testaments – the Old Testament & the New Testament.  The Old Testament primarily deals with God’s covenant with Israel.  The New Testament primarily deals with God’s new covenant with all people, made possible through God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, who was the Messiah the Jews longed for.

Here’s a quick review of the Bible.  
First there was Abraham (circa 1900s BC).  About 400 years later, one of Abraham's decedents, Joseph, went down to Egypt.  Then the Israelites became slaves in Egypt for 400 years.  Next, Moses delivered the Israelites (circa 1300s BC).  About 400 years later, David was annointed king of Israel followed by David's son King Solomon (900s BC).  After Solomon, there was a civil war between the northern and southern tribes of Israel.  Israel split into two kingdoms--Samaria in the North and Judea in the South (we get the name "Jews" from Judea).  In 586 BC, Judea was conquered by Babylon and all the inhabitants were taken away into captivity in Babylon.  about 70 years later, the captives were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem & the Temple (515 BC).  Finally, the last book of the Old Testament was composed about 475 BC.

Nothing else was added to the Bible until the New Testament detailed the events from the first century AD after Christ was born.  What happened during the 400 or so years between the Old and New Testament?  We find a clue in the Book of Nehemiah, which was written close to the end of the OT.  In particular, Nehemiah 9:36-37 was written about events that happened about 515 BC.

Nehemiah 9:36-37
“So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land. 37 The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.”

Nehemiah Rebuilds Jerusalem
Nehemiah was living as one of the conquered Jewish exiles in Persia when the king of Persia (Artaxerxes) decided to let the Jewish exiles return home to Jerusalem.  The king of Persia  commissioned Nehemiah to govern Jerusalem and help oversee the rebuilding of the city and the Temple.

It was a time of great hope for Jews.  They hoped that Jerusalem might return to the glory of Solomon’s days.  They hoped to achieve religious freedom, peace, and prosperity.  They longed to rebuild and worship in their own Temple once again.

Unfortunately their hopes were never fully realized.  The Temple was rebuilt, but it was a shadow of its former glory.  In fact, the Bible record that the people who had known the glory of Solomon's Temple wept because the new Temple was only a shadow of it's former glory.  The reality is the Jews were “slaves in the land” of Israel (Nehemiah 9:36). They remained vassels, subjugated to the more powerful Kingdoms around them.  Throughout the 400-500 year period between the Old and New Testaments, the Jews were passed around between the various empires that rose to power in the region.  They were not treated with dignity or respect. They were merely pawns in an international chess match. They were disposable, vulnerable, and a commodity to be used by more powerful people.  Nehemiah 9:37 says, “We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.” And that about sums up the Jewish people’s 400 year experience from the time they returned from exile until the time when Jesus was born—the entire period between the Old and New Testaments.

And while in former times, God had sent prophet's like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea and Micah to speak His word to them--words so powerfully inspired people collected them in our Bible--no one spoke inspired words worthy of being included in the Bible for 400 years after the completion of Malachi.  It seems as if God was silent.

This was not the first time God was silent.  It also wasn’t the first time God’s people had to wait.
Remember, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years before God sent Moses to deliver them.  At least during the intertestamental period they were slaves in their own land.

Still, it’s hard to patiently suffer and wait on God when it feels like He is being silent and doesn’t care.  God does care, but sometimes, He has to let us wait and ripen until the time is right to fulfill His plan.

In the meantime, we have to be patient and wait on the Lord.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”

And James 5:7 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return.”

Even if you suffer while you wait, God can use it to bless you when you trust Him & are faithful.  God gives you time to think and grow while you wait for the right opportunities and pass on the wrong ones.  God helps you when you are really hungry and waiting for good food. He teaches you, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God."  Waiting for God gives you time to realize, He is Your only hope.  

Sometimes, people pause for effect before they say something really important.  After the Old Testament, God paused to let people know He was about to speak the most important Word He woudl ever give--the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

The Israelites had to wait for 400 years before their Messiah came, but that 400 years was time for important work in the hearts of HIs people.


First, the pause between the Old and New Testaments gave Israelites time to exhaust all their own schemes and realize, they were hopeless without God.

Israel was a small, insignificant land stuck in between massively powerful empires.  They were never going to have enough resources or a powerful enough army to dominate others.
Their only hope was the Lord.  
Again and again the Jews tried to establish their own kingdom by their own hands, but again and again they failed.  By the time Jesus came, most people realized their only hope was the Lord.  It would only be by the direct intervention of God Almighty that they would find salvation.  The name “Messiah”, means the one chosen by God to save.  Jesus is the Messiah.


What about you?  Do you realize your only hope is the Lord?
Have you been trying to make your own plans work by your own hand?
Don’t you realize, any “kingdom” you build will not stand.  It will fail.
But the plans of the Lord will last forever.  Learn to wait on the Lord.


Second, the time of waiting in between the Old and New Testaments gave the Israelites time to discover their “line in the sand”.

Since Israel had to compromise on many things in order to survive in a hostile world surround by more powerful nations, they really had to learn their core values—the essentials of being faithful to God that they could not compromise.  Not everything is worth fighting about.  But some things are worth dying for.  It's critical to know the difference.

What about you?  Do you know who you really are? 
What are the core values you can’t compromise?  What are the deal breakers for you? 
How do you deal with people who cross the line?
Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” 
How do you live that out?  How do you know if it’s time to compromise or take a stand?
How do you avoid sin and honor God when you take your stand?

Third, the time of waiting in between the Old and New Testaments helped many Israelites grow closer to God.

Waiting for something important can either drive you away from God or draw you closer.  Some Israelites tried to build their own kingdoms.  In the weeks ahead, we will learn about some of the different political and religious groups in Israel and how they tried to build their own kingdoms of Israel.  Thanksfully, there were also many people (like The Wisemen in the East, and Simeon and Anna in Luke 2) who grew closer to God by waiting on God, praying, worshiping, and patiently trusting God's plan.

How about you? 
How can you grow closer to God as you wait faithfully through prayer, study, fasting, and serving?

Closing Thoughts to Contemplate
Contemplate how
you can grow closer to the Lord as you prepare for Christmas?
What will it take for you to finally realize you are hopeless without God?
What are your core values?
What practical steps could you take this season to truly depend upon God, discover who you really are, and prepare for the coming of the Lord?


Monday, November 22, 2021

This Sermon Might Get You Stoned

Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent—a season of waiting and preparation as we prepare for Christmas.  Next Sunday, we will begin a new series titled “In Between”, which considers those times in life when we feel stuck in between; and it also considers what happened to God’s people in the 400 years in between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.

But in order to prepare for a sermon series about the time in between the Old and New Testaments, we need to summarize the Old Testament.  And so, my first thought was, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do a sermon where you cover the entire Old Testament in 25 minutes or less!” Yeah, that was my first thought.

My second thought was, “They’ll kill you.”

A lot of people shy away from the Old Testament.  It’s ancient material and it can be difficult to read.  But the Old Testament makes up 85% of the Bible. 
If you read the entire Bible in one year and you start reading in January, you won’t even get to the New Testament until November and then you’re done at the end of December.

And so I thought, How can I summarize the entire Old Testament in 25 minutes? And if I can, they’ll probably stone you to death like they did in the Old Testament!  Then I realized, there actually was a Christian in the New Testament who preached a sermon that summarized the entire Old Testament today.  And they actually did stone him for it!

And so for today, I want to read this mans sermon to you.  His name was Stephen.  He is known as the very first Christian martyr who died for his faith in Jesus.  According to Acts 6:8, “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.”  Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Christian church, who did pastoral visits and helped run a program to feed the poor, orphans, and widows in the community.  But the Jewish leaders of the town were jealous of Stephens wisdom and influence so they accused him of blaspheme and brought him before the high council of Jerusalem.  This is the sermon Stephen preached in his defense.

Acts 7
1Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”

This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live.

“But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’[c]

“God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation.

“These patriarchs were jealous of their brother Joseph, and they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. And God gave him favor before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God also gave Joseph unusual wisdom, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace.

11 “But a famine came upon Egypt and Canaan. There was great misery, and our ancestors ran out of food. 12 Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons—our ancestors—to buy some. 13 The second time they went, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers,[d] and they were introduced to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, and all his relatives to come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all. 15 So Jacob went to Egypt. He died there, as did our ancestors. 16 Their bodies were taken to Shechem and buried in the tomb Abraham had bought for a certain price from Hamor’s sons in Shechem.

17 “As the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. 18 But then a new king came to the throne of Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 This king exploited our people and oppressed them, forcing parents to abandon their newborn babies so they would die.

20 “At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. 21 When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. 22 Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.

23 “One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. 24 He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.

26 “The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’

27 “But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. 28 ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.

30 “Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, 32 ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’[e]

35 “So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

37 “Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’[f] 38 Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.[g]

39 “But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ 41 So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made. 42 Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,

‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
    during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
43 No, you carried your pagan gods—
    the shrine of Molech,
    the star of your god Rephan,
    and the images you made to worship them.
So I will send you into exile
    as far away as Babylon.’[h]

44 “Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle[i] with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. 45 Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

46 “David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob.[j] 47 But it was Solomon who actually built it. 48 However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
50     Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’[k]

51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen[l] at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

Summary of the Old Testament
In this long passage, we see a short summary of the Old Testament.  It is not all inclusive.  You may have noticed some key stories missing like the creation story, Noah and the Ark, and several others.  You're not going to get everything in the cliff notes version.  If you want the full story, you have to read the whole Old Testament, but Stephen gave a good summary.

The Old Testament is the story of how people turned their backs on God and God began working to restore the relationship.  God chose Abraham to represent God to the world.  Then God raised up a nation from Abraham's descendants, Israel, to bring God Light into the world.  When Israel became selfish and forgot about God, God sent the prophets to remind them.  But ultimately, Israel failed to represent God to the world.  But God would still use this broken vessel to bring about the world’s salvation through Jesus, a Jew of Israelite ancestry.  God would send His Messiah to be His perfect representative, to be all that Israel failed to be, who would restore the broken relationship between God and people.  Jesus is that Savior. 

Acts 7:54-59
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

Some Take Homes for You
What and incredible, tragic, and yet somehow also hopeful story!  From it, I want to give you three practical takeaways for your life.

Don’t stop up your ears. 
If you’re so dead set on drowning out the voice, you might do something terrible.

Stephen’s murders weren’t thugs.  They weren't excons.  They weren’t gang members or murders.  They were religious people, holy men, priests, prophets, and healers.  Unfortunately, they were so wrapped up in their own ideas and passions and politics they would rather murder someone that have their beliefs challenged.

They remind me of a lot of people I see in America today.  We are so divided, with everyone clinging to their own tribes of people who believe just like they do.  And if anyone in their tribe dares to change their mind about something, the people in their own tribe will be the first ones to destroy them, because you can't dare challenge the beliefs of the tribe.

This way of thinking (and not listening) leads people to say and do the most horrendous things.  People are mocking others who don't believe like them, giving death threats to politicians who dare to go against their tribes, and even acting out with violence and domestic terrorism.  People do terrible things when they stop up their ears.

What views do you hold today that are so sacred for you that you won’t give them up no matter what—even if God himself challenged you on them? I implore you to ask God to examine your heart and reveal anything there that is wrong and needs to change.  I I implore you to listen to Him; don't stop up your ears.

When trouble is raging all around you – look up.
Stephen looked up to Heaven and saw the glory of God.

When life has got you beat down or when real trouble surrounds you, look up and find hope and refresh your attitude.  Things are not as bad as they seem.  When you are sad or angry or depressed or overcome by any strong negative emotion, it can darken your perception of reality to the point that you feel nothing is good or right and there is no hope at all.  You can't see clearly to make good decisions and our attitude makes everything seem wrong.  Look up to Jesus and find hope and He will help you put things into proper perspective so you can find hope and make better decisions.

Even Stephen—who was literally surrounded by an angry mob about to murder him—was not as bad off as it seemed on the surface.  Stephen looked up saw the glory of God and it put everything in perspective to the point he could pray for his murders.  If we can do that when things are really bad, we may see God is still in control.  He’s still sitting on His thrown.  We have already won the victory.  And that ay help us find a way out of our bad circumstances.  But even if it doesn't, the worst thing that can happen is we die, but then we enter the glorious eternal life God gives His children through Jesus Christ where there will be no more suffering or sickness or sorrow or pain, forever.  Whatever sufferings we face now is nothing compared to the eternal glory Christ has in store for us.

Pray for your enemies.
Stephen prayed for the very people who stoned him.  That’s what God’s people do.  We should follow Stephen’s example and learn how to live as a Christian in a hostile world.  We should stand up for our beliefs and clearly articulate what we believe and why and even challenge others when they are not  living right.

However, w must resist the urge to become so angry and enraged we act like murders.  The solution?  We must do what Jesus said--sincerely love and pray for our “enemies” and the people who persecute us.  Otherwise, we become no better than the enemies of God.  Some will say, “Well that doesn’t do any good.”  Look at Saul.

Acts 7:58  says the people who stoned Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a man named Saul.  Saul spent the first half of his life on a mission to stamp out Christianity.  He traveled around the world having Christians arrested and killed.  Then, one day, the risen Jesus appeared to Saul in a light that blinded him.  He was unable to see until a Christian prayed for him and healed him (see Act 9).  Saul became a Christian and spent the rest of his life as the greatest Christian evangelist of the New Testament.  That %15 of the Bible people like so much (the New Testament), half of it was written by Saul.  You and I are probably sitting here as Christians today because of Saul.  And this episode of Stephen's murder and the way Stephen prayed for his murders is partially the cause of Saul's conversion.

So, don't stop your ears up to God's voice.  When things get bad, look up to God.  And pray for your enemies.