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Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fight Fire with Fire?

Introduction
Today is Palm Sunday—the day we commemorate Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he was hailed by crowds of people from the city as the King of the Jews.  As we remember this remarkable occasion, I want to continue with our series that compares conventional wisdom with what Jesus actually said. 

Today, we consider the popular expression: “You’ve got to fight fire with fire.”  When someone says you have to fight fire with fire, it means to fight against an opponent by using the same methods or weapons that they use.  Fighting fire with fire is an actual fire fighting technique that started in the 19th century to combat forest fires.  A controlled burn of a strip of forest will create a barrier to an oncoming forest fire because it uses up all the available fuel. There is, however, always the risk that the "controlled burn" goes out of control and starts a new inferno. The technique works for forest fires and is still used to this day.  It has its place. 

Usually when people say, “You’ve got to fight fire with fire,” they’re not talking about forest fires.  What they mean is if someone is rude to you, you be rude right back to them.  If someone starts a nasty rumor about you, you start a nasty rumor about them.  In a larger communal context it means if another nation sinks one of your ships, you sink one of theirs (better yet, sink 3!).  If they drop a bomb on your territory, you drop a bomb on them? 

Fighting fire with fire in these contexts seems natural.  “Do unto others what they have done to you.”  But what did Jesus say?  Quoting Leviticus 19:18 (and what has become known as the “Golden Rule”), Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a subtle difference that makes a world of difference.  The world says treat others the way they have treated you, but Jesus says treat people the way your want them to treat you.  That’s the way he lived. 

Jesus had the opportunity to fight fire with fire.  As He entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, crowds of people were shouting his praises.  They’d heard of his wonderful miracles and powerful teaching.  They were looking for a king who would free them from Roman oppression and restore the power and dignity of Israel’s glory days.  Could this Jesus who did so many wonderful things—driving out demons, healing the blind, feeding the multitudes, and even raising Lazarus from the dead—could Jesus be the long-awaited Messiah who would fight fire with fire for Israel against her enemies?  

Jesus had the popular support of the people.  He could have used it to start an uprising, but he didn't.  Let’s look at the story. 

Luke 19:36-44

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Palm Sunday – A Patriotic Scene
This is a patriotic scene.  The people of Jerusalem loved their country—just like many people love America.  They were waving their palm branches like many Americans wave the American flag at a Fourth of July parade.  Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel and were carved on Jerusalem’s Temple walls and doors. Kings and conquerors were welcomed home with palm branches strewn before them and waved in the air.  So as people waved their palm branches for Jesus, they were waving their national symbol of victory.    They were saying, “He’s the one!  He’s the one who will save us from the Romans!”  And they even shouted Hosanna, which originally translated something like: “Please!  Save us now!”

 

How does one save a nation like Israel?  Well, one way would be to fight fire with fire.  You could raise an army to fight the Romans in open battle.  This was nearly impossible.  Rome was the most powerful empire in the world.  They always won their wars.  They were too powerful, too well organized, and too learned in the strategies of war.  No one could defeat them.  Even if they lost a battle, they would eventually win the war.  Israel was a small territory with no organized army and no allies to help fight against Rome.  And outright war would be suicide.

There was always the possibility of guerrilla warfare, where individuals or small cells of freedom fighters ambushed Roman soldiers or assassinated pro-Roman leaders.  There were many who were already doing this in Jesus' day.  One person mentioned in the Bible--Barabbas--many scholars believe was a freedom fighter.  You may recall that when Jesus was on trial, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Guerrilla warfare is brutal and takes a long, long time to wear down the enemy.

Many of the political leaders in Jerusalem--like the Pharisees and Sadducees--begrudgingly worked with the Romans and bided their time until the day they felt it was possible to break free.  These were the people who felt especially threatened by Jesus' popularity and wanted him killed.  They were afraid he would upset the delicate balance of power in their world.

Jesus had a different plan.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  Even though Jesus had the unlimited power and resources of God at his disposal, he chose not to fight the Romans. He could have defeated them, but what would that accomplish? It would just set up another earthly kingdom by earthly means with all the same problems that plague all the earth.  There would still be corruption, abuse of power, injustice and oppression, and we would still have the core problem of sin that separates us from God.  

Jesus wanted something better and He offered Jerusalem a better choice.  He said, "Repent of your sin and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  He said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me!" because chasing after our own selfish ambitions is what leads to all the world's problems.  He preached, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you!" because His Kingdom is not just for the Israelites, it's for the Romans too (and for Americans and Russians and Egyptians and Koreans and everybody everywhere).  Jesus said, "If a Roman soldier demands you carry his pack one mile, carry it a second mile without even being asked.  And if someone demands you coat from you, give them your shirt too."  And then Jesus commissioned all His followers to "Go into all the world and encourage everyone to live this way."  For when the whole world finally lives by Jesus' principles, their peaceful Kingdom of Heaven will finally come upon the earth.


Jerusalem’s Brief Independence
Even as Jesus gave Jerusalem the option, He knew the tragic choice they would make.  They would choose to fight fire with fire instead of love and they would reap the consequences.

I want to share with you the story of how Jerusalem won independence from the Roman empire.  You probably don’t know this story, but it’s true.  In 66 AD (about 30 years after Christ came to Jerusalem and was crucified), religious tensions worsened in Jerusalem and lead to open rebellion.  After Jewish worshippers witnessed Greek civilians sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue, they were incensed and complain to the Roman authorities.  Their complaints were ignored, which led to am uprising.  Roman soldiers tried to put down the riot, but there were too many people.  Civillians joined with the rioters and attacked and killed the soldiers.  Surviving soldiers fled the city along with the pro-Roman King Agrippa II.

 

Jerusalem was free!  But for how long?  A Roman legion soon arrived from Syria to restore order, but was somehow defeated and Jerusalem remained free!  Jerusalem’s success inspired many other towns in Judea to throw their lot in with the rebels.  There was growing sense that finally the Jewish people would restore their nation to its former glory.

 

In 66 AD, the Judean Provisional Government was formed and  Ananus ben Ananus, the former High Priest of Israel, was appointed one of the heads of the government.  They even minted their own coins, an important symbol of freedom because the money no longer bore the image of a Roman emperor. On the coins were inscribed in Hebrew “the Shekel of Israel” and “the Freedom of Zion”.

 

Jerusalem was ruled by the Judean Provisional Government from 66 – 68 AD.  Unfortunately, infighting led to the killing of most of its members as all the different factions fought against each other and vied for power.  From 68-70 AD, various despots rose to power, but there was no attempt to restore civil government.

 

On April 14 in 70 AD, three days before the beginning of Passover, the Roman army arrived and laid siege to Jerusalem.  The city was bloated with Jews from all over who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Three Roman legions surrounded the city—allowing no one in or out.

 

The Jerusalem defenders, made up of vicious gangs and factions who had been at war with each other for years, now found themselves surrounded by an overwhelming and organized Roman force.  They had no idea how to work together to defend Jerusalem.  Among one of their ludicrous plans was to destroy all the food stored in the city, "a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God's intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews, or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army.”[i]

 

The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem for 5 months, hoping to starve the inhabitants of Jerusalem into submission.  Inevitably, the Romans built siege works and breached the city walls.  Soldiers swarmed the city and destroyed everything—included the sacred Temple--fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, in Luke 19:44, "They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”  


Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that 1.1 million people died in the siege—either by famine, disease, or sword.  After the Romans killed all the armed men, they also murdered the elderly becuase they had no use for them.  Jerusalem’s remaining citizens--91,000 people--became Roman slaves.  Thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena.  The Romans celebrated by parading the sacred Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets of Rome. Up until then, these items had only ever been seen by Jerusalem's High Priest in the Holy Temple.

 

Conclusion
Abigail Van Buren (who started the “Dear Abby” column in 1956) once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” 

 

Jesus has a better way.  He offered Jerusalem his better way.  They refused it.  Instead, they chose Barabbas and crucified Jesus.  History shows what came of their decision to try and fight fire with fire.

 

How about you?  What will you choose?  Will you choose what seems most natural to sinful human nature—to fight fire with fire?  Or would you instead choose the narrow path—the one few take, but the only one that leads to life, to healing, to peace, and to eternal salvation?

 

Jesus pleads for you today as he pleaded for Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago.  Luke 19:41 – “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.

 

You can.  You can turn away from the fire to Jesus today.  You can choose His way over the ways of the world. 

 

Will you? 

Monday, March 1, 2021

What Happens in Vegas

Introduction
In February of 2003, an ad campaign began that USA Today named the most effective of the year.[i]  “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  Since then, the slogan has become a mainstay pop culture, inspiring two Hollywood movies, a song by Usher, and even First Lady, Laura Bush got in on the action, using the tagline in a discussion with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in 2005. 

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  I guess that’s a good thing.  Vegas has made a name for itself as an immensely popular getaway destination.  You can eat, party, gamble, see the sights, see the lights (and see some things you shouldn’t see!).  There are concerts, magic shows, and entertainment of all sort—both of the wholesome and unwholesome kind.  All this entertainment draws nearly 50 million people to “Sin City” every year.  People come from all over to forget about the worries of life for a little while, let their hair down, and have a good time. 

Vegas also hosts around 20,000 meetings and conventions annually.  It was just such a convention that attracted my wife and I to Vegas a few years ago.  Kelly attended a Neonatal nursing convention and we decided to extend the trip a few days and make it a nice getaway.  However, we were much more interested in the sights outside of Los Vegas in the surrounding dessert.  We went hiking in Red Rock Canyon.  We drove over to see the Grand Canyon.  While Kelly was attending her conference, I drove out and saw the Valley of Fire State Park and also part of Death Valley (one of the hottest places on earth that is 282 feet below sea level).  We did walk around the city together one night.  It was interesting to see the neon lights, the crowds, the architecture, the water fountains.  But to be honest, Kelly and I are not huge fans crowded cities.  We like peace and quiet. 

Well, the slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is quite popular.  People like to have a place where they can do whatever they want without anyone else know about it.  And who hasn’t done something at one time or another they would prefer to keep secret?   

The truth is you don’t have to go to Vegas to live out a secret life.  In the internet age, all you need is a few clicks and you can find almost anything you want and no one has to know about it. Maybe we should change the slogan to: “What happens on the internet, stays on the internet.” 

The internet is the default place now where people go to live a secret life.  You don’t have to get on a plane and fly to Vegas.  You don’t have to spring for an expensive hotel room.  All you need is Google.  Stats from my Google search this morning revealed 35% of off all downloads from the internet are pornographic.  Who knew?  “What happens in Vegas (or on the internet) stays in Vegas.” 

In this series, we take what the world says and compare it to what Jesus said.  So, what did Jesus say?

Luke 12:2
The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.

Human nature hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years.  In Jesus day, the Pharisees were the most popular, well-respected religious/political groups in Israel.  Pharisees were known for their religious devotion.  They believed in God and taught people to follow God with extreme devotion.  They tried to lead by example.  They studied the Bible “religiously”—many having memorized the first five books of the Bible by age 12![ii]  Can you imagine?  (And that includes Leviticus and Deuteronomy, what many consider two of the dullest books in the Bible!) 

Pharisees believed the way to earned God’s blessing and inherit eternal life was to live the Torah perfectly--only then did a person deserve the right to be called God’s chosen.  So, the Pharisees tried to live holy lives.  They tried hard.  By outward appearances, the Pharisees it appeared to many they were perfect. 

Romans 3:23
Unfortunately, there is a dark truth about human nature that no one can escape.  Romans 3:23 spells it out in the New Testament.  “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” 

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to live a perfect life, we all fail.  You fail.  I fail.  Even the pope fails.  (And that’s if we are really, really trying!  A lot of people aren’t even trying to be good!)  The Pharisees did try.  They tried really hard, but even the Pharisees failed.  However, they had an image to uphold.  Their reputation ensured they stayed in power.  Even thought they knew themselves well enough to know they were not perfect, they had to keep up appearances to maintain their position in society. 

So, Pharisees did a lot of things to support the image of being religious and devout.  They would gather a crowd on a street corner and pray long, religious prayers for everyone to see.  They would go through town and ring a bell as they handed out money to the poor.  They would wear long, flowing religious robes that made them stand out as holy. They sat in the places of highest honor in the synagogues and at religious festivals.  All these things Jesus pointed out and condemned because they were only for show—to make people think the Pharisees were more perfect than they were. 

Of course, a lot of people already knew the Pharisees weren’t so perfect.  No one can maintain a fa├žade of perfection.  There’s always someone, somewhere who knows the truth.  And ultimately, God knows the truth.  Nothing is kept hidden from Him—even what you do in Vegas

The Pharisees couldn’t fool God and neither can you.  One day, Jesus said, everything “that is secret will be made known to all.”  What you did in Vegas, what you did on the internet, even your deepest secret thoughts that no one else knows about will be revealed. 

Closing
But there is Good News.  You don’t have to be perfect in order to earn God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation.  God already loves you!  God loves you so much, He came down to our broken world and laid down His own life for us on the cross.  This proves that God doesn’t want to condemn us, but to save us.  For while we were still sinners, Christ came and died for us. (Romans 5:8)

And as 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

And so, God says to us all, “Come now, let’s settle this. Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.”   (Isaiah 1:18) 

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

Won’t you turn from your sins and turn to God today and let Him wash you clean.  What happened in Vegas (or whatever) doesn’t have to stay in Vegas.  It can be forgiven and washed away completely, forever! 

So “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”  Live for God from this day forward.  Leave the past behind and press on toward the future God has for you, and the eternal life that is the hope and reward of all who follow Christ as Lord.

  

Monday, November 30, 2020

Epochs of Israel - The Conquest of Canaan

Series Introduction
Today, we begin a new series for the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas.  We will consider the four Epochs of Israel.  An epoch is a period in history, typically one marked by notable events or characteristics. 

The Bible is the great story of God’s rescue plan for humanity.  It is marked by many great epochs.  There is the epoch of creation and the fall of humanity when Adam and Eve sinned against God.  There is the dark epoch that followed as humanity descended so far into sin that the most

merciful thing God could do was destroy the whole earth with a flood and start over with Noah.  Then there is the epoch of God’s covenant with Abraham, where God chooses one man’s family to represent Him to the whole world. 

Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, migrated to Egypt where they were enslaved.  God rescued them in the Epoch of the Exodus.  At my church, we used this responsive reading to review that Epoch  and set up the topic of this blog.  

Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! He rescued to Israelite slaves from Egyptian Empire. 

People:  Through 10 plagues, He judged Egypt’s gods and proved they were nothing. 

Pastor:  Moses led the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea,

People:  But the Egyptian army came to destroy them.  The Lord rescued Israel again.

Pastor:  He parted the sea so Israel could walk through on dry ground,

People:  But the Egyptian army drowned in the sea.

 

Pastor:  God led Moses and the Israelites to Mount Sinai to make a sacred covenant.

People:  The Lord gave Israel the 10 commandments and the Law.

Pastor:  If they would trust God and be faithful to obey to His Law,

People:  The Lord would protect them, prosper them, and give them peace.

Pastor:  But if Israel was unfaithful,

People:  The Lord would punish them with plagues and war and defeat.

 

Pastor:  The Lord promised to lead Israel into a land flowing with milk and honey,

People:  But Israel still did not trust the Lord to do it. They wanted to go back to Egypt and be slaves again.

Pastor:  So God made them wander in the dessert until that unfaithful generation passed away.

People:  Only Joshua and Caleb were left because they were the only ones who believed the Lord.

Pastor:  Then the time came for the Lord to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

People:  Joshua and Calab and the people of Israel were ready to obey the Lord.

 

All:  And so the first Epoch of Israel begins—The Epoch of Conquest.

The rag tag rabble of slaves that left Egypt has been transformed into an army of God’s faithful, harden by 40 years of nomadic dessert living.  They are thirsty to finally take possession of the Promised Land and begin their life as God’s Kingdom on Earth.  But to do it, the Israelites must first conquer the Canaanites who live in the land.  Moses is dead; so God appoints Joshua as the new commander and chief.  (By the way, Joshua is the same name as Jesus…)  And in Joshua 1:6-9, we read God’s instructions to Joshua.  They will be the war cry of the entire book and the entire epoch of the conquest of Canaan.

Joshua 1:6-9
6“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Conquest of Canaan
Canaan was a land full of cruelty and debauchery that had persisted for hundreds of years.  You can be sure, God gave the Canaanites every opportunity possible to repent and be saved.  However, there comes a moment when your time runs out.  That time had come for the Canaanites.

The Canaanites lived in fortress cities, like Jericho, surround by impregnable walls.  Israelite spies had described them as giants who could not be defeated.  But if the Lord can defeat the mighty Egyptian Empire, He can defeat the Canaanites.  And that’s just what God does in the book of Joshua.  

In battle after battle, the Lord God of Israel defeats every king in Canaan.  No one can stand against Him.  But here’s the thing you may miss if you aren’t careful.  The victory in battle is never won by the Israelite army.  It is God who is doing the fighting.  As it says in Joshua 23:10, “Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as he has promised.”

Perhaps the best example of the Lord fighting from the Israel is the famous Battle of Jericho.  God told the Israelites to march around the city every day for seven days.  Then, on the seventh day, God told His people to march around the city seven times.  Then the were to blow trumpets and shout.  And when they did, the walls of the city came crashing down.  Now this is a ludicrous battle plan.  No military strategist in their right mind would suggest this as a viable plan, but it worked!  And the point is, this is God's work, not the soldiers.  Incidentally, their is archeological evidence in Jericho of an ancient city from around the time Joshua would have been there that shows a walled city where the walls have collapsed outward.  If this is the same city, it would be string evidence for a supernatural defeat of a walled city (walls don't collapse outward if they are being sieged by an army on the outside of the city).

It is God who does the fighting.  The Israelites just have to be faithful and trust God and be obedient.  Whenever they are faithful and obedient, God wins the victory for the Israelites.  Whenever the Israelites lose faith and are disobedient, they are defeated.

Three Important Lessons
There are three lessons we can learn from Israel’s conquest of Canaan.  We learn the first lesson from the sad demise of the Canaanites.  Judgement will come.  God is patient when we sin.  The Canaanites lived in sin for hundreds of years.  In Genesis when Abraham visited Canaan, we read some of the terrible things they did.  In addition to rejecting the one True God for idols, the Canaanites raped and murdered.  They were sexually and morally depraved.  They sacrificed their children to idols.  I was watching a documentary last week about the Canaanites that explained how their kings would defeat and capture a city and skin the defeated people alive and hang their corpses up for everyone to see.  And all this evil persisted in Canaan for well over 600 years until God finally said, enough is enough.  At just that time, the Israelites showed up at the door of Canaan to execute God’s judgment. 

If you are clinging to your sin, refusing to surrender to God repent, you need to understand: time is running out.  God is patient, but He will not delay judgment forever.  You will have to face God’s judgment one day soon.  Jesus is either going to come back for the whole world all at once or he is going to come for you as an individual when you take your last breath.  What will you say when you stand before Him face to face? How will you answer for your sin? 

When Jesus came the first time, he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Paraphrased from Mark 1:15)  And Romans 8:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”  The believing that Romans mentions is not mere intellectual assent.  If a person really believes Jesus is Lord and He is coming again. they will act accordingly and it will result repentance and righteous living.  Time is running out.  Repent today.

The second lesson from the conquest is that God fights for those who are faithful and obedient.  When we trust God through Jesus Christ we are in a new covenant with God.  He becomes our Lord  and we become His people.  He promises to fight for us.  As Isaiah 54:17 promises, “No weapon that is formed against you will succeed; and you will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord…”  What a great promise we have in the Lord. 

Therefore, the third lesson for us today is be strong and courageous.  The conquest was a test for the Israelites.  God did the fighting, but the Israelites had to step onto the battlefield.  There are tests in our lives too.  God does the fighting, but we still must trust Him enough to show up for the fight.  We must step out on the battlefield.  We must be vulnerable and trust He will be our strength and shield.

Conclusion
What battles lie between you and the blessing God has for you? 

One battle may be fear.  You may be afraid to repent.  You may worry, "What will people think of me if I decide to follow a God you can't even see."  The Israelites were accused of something similar.  Everyone around them worshipped idols.  Now, today we would thin it silly to worship a statue made by human hands. Ironically, the opposite was true in the ancient world.  People looked at the Israelites and said, "Where is your God?" And all they could say is, "Yahweh is invisible. You can't see them." And it was ridiculous to non-Israelites because they could see and touch their statue gods.  Today, few people still worship statues, but non-believers make a similar ridicule of Christians.  "You pray to some invisible God," they think while they trust in more tangible things like science, reason, money, a job, power, and politics.  And some people are afraid to put their faith in an invisible God because it would irrational to trust something you cannot see instead of more tangible things.

Others may be afraid to surrender themselves.  They are not sure if they are willing to trade their life and dreams for the life God wants to give them.  They may be afraid to give up control.  But God vcan't fight your fear--whatever it is--if you are willing to step on the battlefield.

Perhaps the battle is something more specific: an illness or chronic disease, a career change, a new stage of life for you or someone you love.  Perhaps change is coming in your life and the fear is palpable.  But I want to encourage you:  Be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged. For [if you have faith in Him] the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Step out onto the battlefield and trust God to fight the battle for you and you will be victorious.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 10 - The Death of First Born Sons

Introduction
The people in the Bible were real people living in the real world.  Don't ever forget that—especially as we consider this terrible 10th plague. Every 1st born through the land of Egypt died as the Angel of Death passed over the land--from the firstborn son of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the lowest servant, even the firstborn among the animals died. (COVID has effected all of us. Most of us know of someone who has had it.  The 10th Plague effected every family personally. In one dark night, every single family had someone die.)

Some would question why would God send such a terrible plague.  Well, I’m not one to questions God’s judgments (nor am I one to lightly blame God for every disaster that comes).  This passage clearly says God is the one who sent the plague.  There is a biblical principle that a person reaps what they sow.  How did Egypt treat the Israelites?  Pharaoh issued a terrible edict that every male child born among the Hebrews must be thrown into the Nile river. Do you remember that?  Moses was one of those baby boys that was to be murdered in the Nile river.  He escaped miraculously by the hand of God.  And now that same Moses is the instrument that God used for retribution against Egypt.  What comes around, goes around and the judgment you use against others is the same judgment that will be used against you. 

This was the most terrible plague of all that struck Egypt as the Lord brought judgment on all of Egypt's false "gods".  It was caused by Egypt's sin (which had persisted for centuries)and arrogance and the stubbornness of their leader, Pharaoh, who refused to surrender to God and let His people go. 

The Consequences of Sin
The first lesson for you today is this:  Your sin and idolatry doesn't just effect you.  The effects of sin spread from you to others like a virus.  Pharaoh’s son died on that fateful night when the Angel of Death passed over Egypt carrying out God’s judgment.  But other Egyptians—perhaps more reasonable people who were less cruel than Pharaoh—suffered the same fate as they watched their firstborn son’s struck down because of their nation’s sins. 

So when you suffer because of your own sin, you may think you are getting what you deserve and the price is paid.  But who is paying the price for the suffering and evil you sin brings on your family and your neighbors?  The sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth (and others) aren’t just deadly to you.  When you sin, it affects everyone around you—especially the people you care about most.  The affects of our sin can continue for generations.  You may still be suffering the affects of some of the sins your parents, grandparents, or great grand parents--alcoholism, abuse, etc.  These sins have a ripple effect down through the generations.  Your sins today, may have a similar affect on your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. 

I believe God is calling people today to surrender to Him—just like He was calling for Egypt’s unconditional surrender through Moses.  The 10th plague shows the deadly consequences when we stubbornly refuse to listen to the Lord--even though He comes to us again and again.  It hurts us and even those we love most.

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Family Idol
Throughout this series, I’ve tried to show you that we have idols in the modern world just as much as the ancient Egyptians.  Whereas they worship gods fashioned after frogs and cows and snakes, many people today worship idols of money, power, pleasure, patriotism and other false gods.  An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”[i] 

Idols don’t necessarily start out as bad things.  They often begin as very good things but become idols to us because we make them the ultimate things.  Then, they become our gods.  Even family can become an idol.  

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, family is on the hearts and minds of many people.  We want to gather with those we love most and most people have a strong tradition of visiting family during the holidays (even if their relatives annoy them). 

Jesus was once teaching when he said something very challenging about family.  “As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.”  Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” (Matthew 12:46-50) 

In Jesus’ Kingdom, family isn’t defined by our genetics—those who are our biological brothers and sister.  Out brothers and sisters in the truest sense are the people who share our common goal to do the will of God (our Heavenly Father).  

Jesus’ earthly family—in the beginning of his ministry—thought he’d lost his mind.  They saw their relative saying things that threatened the political authorities and attracted huge crowds of followers.  They wanted to take him home and shut him up.  They couldn’t see he was doing the will of God.  (Or maybe they were too afraid to care.) 

Some people would argue, “Yes, but the Ten Commandments say you must ‘Honor your father and mother’. (Ex 20:12)”  Yes that is true.  But that is the fifth of the Ten Commandments God gave.  The very first one says, “Do not worship any God but the Lord.” (Exodus 20:3) And the second one says, “Do not make idols of any kind.” (Exodus 20:4)  

When we put our family before the will of God, we turn them into idols and worship them ahead of God.  The results are terrible.  Idols lead us into darkness.  They always disappoint and destroy lives.  We should love our earthly family, but if we hold our children so tight we treat them like our gods, we will crush them under the weight of unfair expectation they cannot fulfill.  If we treat our parents like gods, they will be destroyed by the impossibility of living up to the role of God.  Our brothers and sisters are only our equals.  No mere mortal can ever fill the shoes of God and to expect them to is insane and inevitably leads to suffering.

Jesus is Our The Passover Lamb
The Israelites slaves in ancient Egypt were spared the horror of the 10th plague.  Each family was to choose a perfect lamb or goat without any defects.  They were to sacrifice the animal and smear some of its blood on the sides and top of the doorframe to their home.  The blood would mark their household as belonging to God and everyone inside would be covered by the blood and the Angel of Death would Passover their home without bringing harm to anyone inside.   

The Israelites were no better than the Egyptians.  They were sinners too.  But the blood of their “Passover Lamb” signified they were in submission to God and therefore, God forgave their sins and gave grace instead of judgment.  (Incidentally, the same escape was available to the Egyptians.  They could choose to apply the blood to their doorframes as well and there is good reason to believe some did.  Of course, in doing so, they were turning their back on the gods of Egypt and turning toward the God of Israel.  And if they did, they were spared.) 

So in the morning after the 10th plague, it says “There was not a single house [in Egypt not covered by the blood] where someone had not died.” (Exodus 12:30).  I can’t imagine.  But this is the terrible cost of sin. 

In the New Testament, John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus Christ.  Pointing to Jesus, John said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  In 1 Corinthians 5:7, it says, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”  The Gospels tell us Jesus was arrested and crucified during the Jewish holiday of Passover—the holiday when they commemorated God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt after the 10th plague.  Jesus is the Son of God.  His blood pays the price for our sin.  And when we surrender to God—turning from our sins and idols and false gods and turning to God—Jesus blood, the blood of the Lamb, covers us and delivers us from death and slavery caused by sin. 

Invitation
These 10 plagues are not just stories and myths.  They happened to real people like you and me.  As we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, I pray it has opened your eyes to your own vulnerability and mortality.  I hope you realize how desperately you need the saving power of God in your life.  I pray, it will not take another 9 plagues (like it did for the Egyptians before they surrendered unconditionally to God).  Please turn from your sins and turn to God today.  It doesn't just affect you; it affects everyone. 

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Let’s pause for a moment of silence to reflect on our sin, confess them to God, and allow God to cleanse us with the blood of Jesus, our Passover Lamb. 

You are going to need help to walk with the Lord.  Please contact me and let me know of the decisions you’ve made so I can help you in your next steps. 



[i] pages xvii and xviii of Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters

Monday, September 21, 2020

10 Plagues of Egypt, Plague 1 - Blood Red River

Introduction
Yahweh, the Great “I AM”, the One, True, and Living God commanded Pharaoh: 
“Let my people go…”
Pharaoh was stubborn and arrogant. He said, “Is that so? And who is the Lord?
Why should I listen to him and let Israel go?
I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.”

Well Pharaoh, You are about to find out ‘Who is the Lord?’

The Ten Plagues of Egypt
The First Plague: The Nile River Turns to Blood

Exodus 7:14-25
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn, and he still refuses to let the people go. 15 So go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes down to the river. Stand on the bank of the Nile and meet him there. Be sure to take along the staff that turned into a snake. 16 Then announce to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you, “Let my people go, so they can worship me in the wilderness.” Until now, you have refused to listen to him. 17 So this is what the Lord says: “I will show you that I am the Lord.” Look! I will strike the water of the Nile with this staff in my hand, and the river will turn to blood. 18 The fish in it will die, and the river will stink. The Egyptians will not be able to drink any water from the Nile.’” 

19 Then the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and raise your hand over the waters of Egypt—all its rivers, canals, ponds, and all the reservoirs. Turn all the water to blood. Everywhere in Egypt the water will turn to blood, even the water stored in wooden bowls and stone pots.’” 

20 So Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. As Pharaoh and all of his officials watched, Aaron raised his staff and struck the water of the Nile. Suddenly, the whole river turned to blood! 21 The fish in the river died, and the water became so foul that the Egyptians couldn’t drink it. There was blood everywhere throughout the land of Egypt. 22 But again the magicians of Egypt used their magic, and they, too, turned water into blood. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. He refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had predicted. 23 Pharaoh returned to his palace and put the whole thing out of his mind. 24 Then all the Egyptians dug along the riverbank to find drinking water, for they couldn’t drink the water from the Nile. 

25 Seven days passed from the time the Lord struck the Nile. 

Purpose
God tells us why He sent ten plagues on Egypt in Exodus 7:5 – “When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”  Again and again in the book of Exodus, God repeats the definitive statement, “I am the Lord!” to Moses, the Hebrews, and Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  In fact, God says “I am the Lord!” no less than 36 times throughout the book of Exodus.  God wants everyone to know that He is in supreme command of everything in Heaven and on Earth.  That no king, no Pharaoh, no army, no empire, and no other supposed “god” has any power above Him.  And through the ten Plagues of Egypt, God is going to prove once and for all to everyone that He is Yahweh, the Great I AM, the One True Living God.  My greatest hope as we go through this series about the 10 plagues of Egypt (and as we live through this plague of COVID-19) is that everyone knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is still Lord of all and we need to turn to Him for our salvation through His son, Jesus Christ.

In order to really appreciate what God proved by delivering the Hebrews (AKA, the Israelites) from Egypt, you have to understand a few things about ancient Egypt.


Egypt vs. USA
First, Egypt was a vast and powerful Empire.  Egypt was unified as an empire around 3,100 BC.  It is one of the oldest civilizations on earth.  For reference, Christ lived on earth about 2,000 ago.  Now, that's a long time ago.  However, that's not even half way back to when Egypt was founded.  Egypt unified as an empire in over 5,000 years ago!  That's incredible!  

Egypt was the most successful empires of the ancient world.  Of course, they are famous for the great pyramids, one of the grea wonders of our world.  In this picture to the right, you can see a comparison of the great pyramid of Giza to other
famous structures.  notice the statue of liberty on the chart.  Now that statue is quite grand (if you've ever seen it, you know).  However, look how the sheer mass of the pyramid dwarfs Lady Liberty.  The Egyptians did this without computers, calculators, or mechanized equipment.  Their empire boasted incredible wealth, power, regional influence, peace, and security.  They are know to this day for their music, medicine, philosophy, art, and literature.  They invented hieroglyphics to write down their history, religion, and ideas long before most peoples even knew how to write.  Egypt was the superpower of their day and their influence persisted nearly ten times as long as the Unites States of America has even been in existence.

Egypt had a complex religion of over 2,000 deities. There were gods for everything. Egyptians made gods from what they saw—animals, natural features, and the sun, moon, and stars. Egyptian gods had to be controlled by sacrifices and religious ceremonies. If you did the right magic, the god’s had to do what you asked. It was important to control the Egyptian gods because they didn’t care about humans. This might be hard for modern people, because most of us grew up with a Christian concept of a benevolent God who is holy, righteous, and compassionate.  So when we think of God, we probably think of a good God.  Egyptian gods were not like the Christian God.  Egyptian gods were greedy, selfish, and lustful and just wanted to enjoy the pleasure of being a god—often at the expense of humanity.  Egyptian gods resembled more of what Christians might call demons.  They would lie, cheat, steal, and use people to get what they wanted (or just abuse people for their own entertainment).  

Among the thousands of Egyptian gods, some that were supposed to be among the most important and powerful were Appis (pronounced 'happy'; the god of the Nile River, the source of life), and Isis (the goddess of the Nile and supposed divine mother of Pharaoh), Khnum (the guardian of the Nile. The ten plagues with which Yahweh struck Egypt through Moses, attack the very gods the Egyptians believed were in control of the world. One by one, God shows that He is the Lord; He is in complete control and can do whatever He wants and no other god, no demon, no army, no empire, and no Pharaoh can stop Him.

Look at what God did in this very first plague. The Nile was the most important feature of Egypt. It was the empire’s lifeblood—it made agriculture and civilization possible in the middle of the dessert (not to mention fishing and transportation as boats traveled up and down the river like tractor trailers drive up and down I-75 today).

And so God attacked the most important asset of the Egyptian empire. He turns the Nile reiver into blood. He says, “Ok, you think the Nile River is your life blood. Fine, I’ll turn your river into actual blood! You think you can commit genocide an take little Hebrew babies and drown them in your “amazing” river? Their blood is on your hands and in your river. So, let’s make it official! I’ll show you what your river looks like to me! It is filled with the blood of your murders.”

In the process, God exposes the impotence of some of the most important “gods” in Egypt. Appis was suppose to be the god of the Nile. Isis was the goddess of the Nile. Khnum was the guardian of the Nile. Where were they when God stuck the Nile? There were three of these gods against Yahweh.  Why couldn’t they protect the Nile? Because they are nothing. Exodus 7:14, “I will show you that I am the Lord.”

Egypt’s Experiment with Monotheism
I’m no expert in Egyptian history or religion. However, some very interesting things happened in Egyptian history (and this is according to secular—not religious—scholars).  One is that a foreign people group ruled in Egypt for a number of years.  This group, the Hyksos, ruled in Egypt about the time the Bible says Joseph rose to second in command of the empire when the Hebrews came to live in Egypt.  Could the Hyksos been the Hebrews?  

Another interesting phenomena occurred about the same time.   One Pharaoh, Akhenaten, started to favor one god above all the other gods in Egypt.  Soon he decided that that one god was the only god.  COuld this have been the influence of Yahweh's people living in Egypt?  Could Joseph’s influence have lead some of the Egyptians to reject their idols and false gods toward the One True God? Maybe.

Ultimately, the Egyptians rejected Joseph’s people and his God, and chose to delve back into their idolatry.  When Akhenaten died, Egypt delved back into their traditional pantheism.  This also seems to follow the biblical narrative that says the Egyptians forgot about Joseph and began to resent the Hebrews and eventually made them slaves and turned to genocide.  That is why God is leading His people out of Egypt in Exodus to give them their own land where they will serve as His representatives to the whole world.

God Bless America
Well, Ok, I’m a nerd. I love this stuff! You may not. So, what does all this have to do with you today? I‘m glad you asked!

There are so many parallels for us today. Obviously, we are in the midst of a global plague. I don’t know if God sent COVID-19 on us the same way He sent ten plagues on Egypt (I sure hope not! What if COVID-19 and the all the troubles of 2020 are just the start? What if 2021 gets even worse?) Whether God sent COVID or not, I say we all make sure we turn back to God because I’m tired of this!

There are more parallels between the ten plagues of Egypt and your life in America today. Egypt was a superpower of the Ancient world. Who is the superpower of our times? America. Again and again in the Bible, God is the God who stands up for the oppressed against the powerful. Why is that? One of the biggest reason is because when people get powerful, they often feel like they don’t need God anymore and they turn their backs on Him. They grow selfish. Eventually they may get so bad they are willing to do the same kinds of things Pharaoh did. Thinking he was a god, Pharaoh ordered the enslavement of the Hebrews and then resorted to genocide to wipe them out by drowning their babies in the Nile River.

In America, we are some of the most privileged and prosperous and powerful people in the world. According to Gallup, the median household income around the world is $9,733 per year.[i] What’s the annual income at your house? The average for Dalton is 43,076.[ii] So, there’s no denying we have it pretty good. We’ve worked hard to get where we are. We also owe a lot to our ancestors stuggles, the military for protecting our nation, and many others.  However, I pray we never, ever, ever forget that our blessings and security come from God. Lord, forbid we ever begin to think America’s greatness is due to our businesses or military or system of government or philosophy or anything else.  God forbid we forget He is the one who grants and protects our peace and prosperity.  For when we do, we are going right down the same road as Egypt in Exodus. God might have to come in and remind us, all our “gods” are nothing! God, and God alone, is the Lord.

Whether or not God specifically sent COVID-19, I pray it wakes us all up to the truth that we are not in control. We never really were. A tiny little virus shut down the entire world. Do you still think you are in control?  How many plagues will it take to convince you otherwise?

Conclusion
This is the Lord’s word to you today. Repent of your sin and arrogance and idolatry and turn to the Lord through Jesus Christ. 

Well, what Pharaoh did is indicative of the way some people will respond to the Lord.  Exodus 7:23, “Pharaoh returned to his palace and put the whole thing out of his mind.”  You see, Pharaoh  hardened his heart.  He was stubborn.  He said to himself, “It’s just a thing, a coincidence.  It will pass.  I’ll be fine.  Life will return to normal.  I’ll still be in control.”  And unfortunately, that’s the way some who read this message may respond.  You will be stubborn and harden your heart.  You’ll say, “I’m not gonna change.  This ain’t that big a deal.  I’m still in control.  I’ll be fine.”  And you will return to your “palace” and put the whole thing out of your mind.

But, I pray that will not be your response.  I pray you will recognize the Jesus is Lord.  I pray you will repent of your sin and turn to Him.  Get down on your knees and pray for forgiveness.  And start today to follow Jesus with your whole heart.  For Jesus said in Matthew 4:17, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”