Friday, August 31, 2012
“The glory of the Lord rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city.” (Ezekiel 11:23 HCSB)
The glory of God is the outshining of His majesty. It is the visible expression of God’s presence among His people in brilliant light. God’s glory was manifested over the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
But, in Ezekiel chapters nine through twelve, we see that the nation gets what they wanted and that the consequences of what they wanted is what they deserved—the glory of God departs.
They did not want God. They had abandoned Him for other lovers—their idols. So, God gives them what they want; He walks away. That will result in unspeakable horror. When the enemy comes, their lifeless idols will have no power to protect them. That day was coming—fast.
The glory is gradually withdrawn. We see God’s glorious Presence moving from the Holy of Holies to the temple door, “Then the glory of the God of Israel rose from above the cherub where it had been, to the threshold of the temple.” (Ezekiel 9:3a) Then, the glory cloud travels to the Eastern Gate, “Then the glory of the Lord moved away from the threshold of the temple and stood above the cherubim. The cherubim lifted their wings and ascended from the earth right before my eyes; the wheels were beside them as they went. The glory of the God of Israel was above them, and it stood at the entrance to the eastern gate of the Lord's house.” (10:18-19) Finally, the glory removes to the Mount of Olives, “The glory of the Lord rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city.” (11:23)
Gone is the glory!
One cannot help but think of Jesus in His last week in Jerusalem—He who was the incarnation of the glory of God (John 1:14). He goes into a Temple that has become a den of thieves rather than a house of prayer. Driving the moneychangers out, He departs, not to enter it again. He is not welcome. He eventually withdraws to a room with His disciples, and after instituting the Lord’s Supper, goes outside the walls of Jerusalem, to Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. The nation has again rejected God’s glory—this time not manifested in a cloud, but in the Christ. From that mountain, the glorified Christ would ascend.
In grace and mercy, the long-suffering God revealed His glory once more—in the body of Christ, the church. He sent another witness at Pentecost. God manifested Himself to and through His people—we became a glorious temple where He resides—our heart a Holy of Holies! As the light of God’s glory shone from Sinai and inhabited the tabernacle and temple, as Christ, the Light of the World, blazed into the darkness of this world in the days of His flesh, then and today we who are His followers are the light of the world disclosing the glory of God to the nations!
The Father came in glory—and He was rejected and withdrew. He sent His Son, and Christ was rejected and departed. He sent His Spirit and He is being rejected and He could be withdrawn very, very soon!
Now, I understand that God is omnipresent and eternal. There has never been a time when He was not and never will be a time when He will not be. He is everywhere. But, as to the exhibition of His glorious presence and the experience of it—the state of blessedness that comes from His abiding—that can be removed!
What is hell, but the absence of God? Can an omnipresent God have a place where He is not? Yes—and no. Omnipresence is just that, but the blessings that come from that presence can be withdrawn—as God hides Himself, as it were. No grace, no mercy, no love, no light, no joy, no relief—that is hell. It isn’t God absent from a location so much as it is the absence of a relationship with Him.
Hell broke loose in Jerusalem when the glory of God departed. Just read the horror unleashed as described in these chapters. Centuries later, Jesus warned with tears those who dwelt in that same city, of such awful agony coming to them, if they rejected Him. They nailed Him to a tree. In AD 70, Titus and the Roman legions ravaged Jerusalem as Jesus had warned. Now, the Holy Spirit is being rejected and the consequences will be even more severe—and global.
When the church is raptured, the special relationship of the Holy Spirit and His witness through His Body the church will be gone. The glory will once more be departed. All you have to do is read in Revelation 6-19 the dreadful doom that will descend. During the Tribulation Period—those seven years of terrible trial—will God be absent, will the name of Jesus no longer save, and will the Holy Spirit no more convert? Of course, God is present and active and thus a great blood-washed multitude will come to faith. Yet, the special blessedness of God’s witness through the church will no more be there—our light and salt will be taken away.
When the glory is gone, it is the most dreadful thing! Man chooses to live without God, and God says, “Fine. If that is what you want, you may have it.” The world degenerates into bedlam and madness, violence, brutality and perversion. Even nature itself is in upheaval as if to vomit the nauseating population of the godless from the surface of planet earth.
Yet, in the midst of all this darkness, a ray of light shines—the promise of the glory restored!
"Therefore say: This is what the Lord God says: Though I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.
Therefore say: This is what the Lord God says: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.
When they arrive there, they will remove all its detestable things and practices from it. And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God.
But as for those whose hearts pursue their desire for detestable things and practices, I will bring their actions down on their own heads." [This is] the declaration of the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 11:16-21)
This had a limited fulfillment in the exiles who would return to the land from Babylon. But, those historic events by no means exhaust this promise. Instead, its ultimate realization awaits the end times, when God will restore the glory to Israel. The nation will be reborn out of that time of fiery trial and Christ will return in power and glory!
So, we pray:
“Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.”
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matt.6:10, 13b)
Bring back the glory!
Thursday, August 30, 2012
"'Therefore, as I live'--[this is] the declaration of the Lord God--I am going to cut [you] off and show [you] no pity, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable practices and abominations. Yes, I will not spare [you]. A third of your people will die by plague and be consumed by famine within you; a third will fall by the sword all around you; and I will scatter a third to every direction of the wind, and I will draw a sword [to chase] after them.'" (Ezekiel 5:11, 12 HCSB)
SPF--you've seen this on a bottle of sunscreen, haven't you? The letters stand for Sun Protection Factor. The number attached to it indicates the amount of protection provided.
As we examine Ezekiel 5-8, I want to assign another meaning to those letters--and it isn't about protection, but punishment. SPF in this context will stand for Sword, Plague and Famine. God told His prophet to tell the inhabitants of Jerusalem this would be the judgment that would befall them because of their sins.
The theme in chapter five is A SHAVE AND A HAIR CUT.
"Now you, son of man, take a sharp sword, use it as you would a barber's razor, and shave your head and beard. Then take a set of scales and divide the hair. You are to burn up a third [of it] in the city when the days of the siege have ended; you are to take a third and slash [it] with the sword all around the city; and you are to scatter a third to the wind, for I will draw a sword [to chase] after them. But you are to take a few strands from the hair and secure them in the folds of your [robe]." (Ezekiel 5:1-3 HCSB)
Ezekiel's grooming was symbolic. It was a visual of the vengeance God would visit upon the nation: the sword, plague and famine.
We who have lived in a time of relative safety from invasion, plenty of food and healthy lives due to medical advances, find it difficult to imagine what the Jews experienced. To be slashed by a sword was a brutal thing. The pain of a plague ravaging the body with no hope of a cure had to be agonizing. Then, the slow gnawing of hunger, eating away your life because there was nothing to eat to sustain your life, consumed people with despair. In fact, the desperation drove them to cannibalism. It was a real case, "Night of the Living Dead." If we do not repent, it may soon be coming to a city near you!
The theme in chapter six is A SHOUT AND A HIGH COUNTRY.
"The word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, turn your face toward the mountains of Israel and prophesy against them. You are to say: Mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! This is what the Lord God says to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be desolated and your incense altars smashed. I will throw down your slain in front of your idols.'" (Ezekiel 6:1-4 HCSB)
God molded the mountains. They stood--a testimony to the glory of the Creator. Their peaks pointed to the sky toward the Living God whom the people were to worship. But, the perverse heart of sinful man instead erected pagan altars on them, and gave themselves to idolatry. God was going to smash the high places and slay the wicked people. Ezekiel was to shout to the mountains. His voice would be as the rumble of thunder echoing through the valleys.
We live in a time when people do not want to hear a message about sin and judgment. They especially don't want to hear a loud one! Ezekiel would have been classified with the street preachers with a megaphone if he were around today.
Doubtless, there are extremists who do more harm than good with their rabid manner. When they preach about hell, there is a certain maniacal glee as though they are rather glad sinners are going there. Throw in a spiritual smugness--a sense of self-righteousness--and a method of communicating God's message which is millennia old is roundly condemned.
I agree--but not entirely. Almost all of this megaphone messaging is counter-productive. But, there are some exceptions--I think of Whitfield and Wesley with their open air preaching. Though not in their category, I have preached in a public park, in a parking lot, at a ball field and in a school yard--and witnessed the salvation of some--and, of course, the apathy of most and antagonism of several.
Suppose you woke up one night by the flickering light of flames outside your bedroom window. You spring to your feet and see your neighbor's house on fire. You would race across the street, beat on the door, yell as loud as you could, "Wake up! Get out! Your house is on fire!" Yet, those around us face a worse fire than that.
The theme of chapter seven is A SHAME AND A HORRIBLE CRY.
"They will put on sackcloth, and horror will overwhelm them. Shame will cover all [their] faces, and all their heads will be bald." (Ezekiel 7:18 HCSB)
The doom of the nation of Judah was imminent. They were repeatedly warned to repent. Yet, they were steadfastly stubborn in their sin. A Holy God had seen enough. His great patience had come to end. The Judge's gracious offer of pardon, so long extended, would now be taken off the table. They would not humble themselves in sackcloth and cry out in penitence so they might live, thus God would humble them and they would put on sackcloth and cry out in pain for the dead. It was fitting fashion for the funeral of a nation.
The reality is that nations are living things--they are born, they thrive, they age and may not survive. Life is given by the King of kings and if a nation rejects His governance, they do so to their own peril. America is young--compared to many nations--but not too young to die. We have been militarily strong, but are morally sick. The United States has been economically bountiful, but now ethically bankrupt. If we do not swiftly cry out in confession, we will shortly cry out under condemnation!
The theme of chapter eight is A SHAM AND A HEATHEN CULTURE.
"I saw the glory of the God of Israel there, like the vision I had seen in the plain.
The Lord said to me, 'Son of man, look toward the north.' I looked to the north, and there was this offensive statue north of the altar gate, at the entrance. He said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what they are doing here, more detestable things that the house of Israel is committing, so that I must depart from My sanctuary? You will see even more detestable things.'
Then He brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked there was a hole in the wall. He said to me, 'Son of man, dig through the wall.' So I dug through the wall, and there was a doorway. He said to me, 'Go in and see the terrible and detestable things they are committing here.' I went in and looked, and there engraved all around the wall was every form of detestable thing, crawling creatures and beasts, as well as all the idols of the house of Israel.
Seventy elders from the house of Israel were standing before them, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had a firepan in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising up. Then He said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his idol? For they are saying, "The Lord does not see us. The Lord has abandoned the land."'" (Ezekiel 8:4-12 HCSB)
It was the House of God consecrated to His worship--the place where His glory dwelled. The elders--the spiritual leaders who ministered there--were called to direct the people to honor the Lord. But, it was a sham!
They House of God now housed abominable idols. The glory would depart! The priests were secretly giving themselves to demonic spirits. In the darkness they thought they could hide from God. Instead of holiness, there was heathenism. But, God knew--and He poked a hole in the Temple wall, giving Ezekiel a peek into their corrupt practices.
Syncretism is the term for this amalgamation of abominations. It is gaining impetus by the day in our world. Apostasy is sweeping the church. Many members profess the name of Christian, but have departed from that faith. The generation of twenty-somethings are radically unchurched.
Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel--these were of the remnant who resisted the tide. Let us follow their standard. By the grace of God, we can.
SPF! Stand up! Pray hard! Follow on! If enough of us will, things can turn around!
I like that better than this SPF--sword, plague and famine. Don't you?
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
“Now at the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked person, “You will surely die,” but you do not warn him—you don't speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life—that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life. Now if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and practices iniquity, and I put a stumbling block in front of him, he will die. If you did not warn him, he will die because of his sin and the righteous acts he did will not be remembered. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn the righteous person that he should not sin, and he does not sin, he will indeed live because he listened to [your] warning, and you will have saved your life.’" (Ezekiel 3:17-21 HCSB)
There are a number of metaphors used to describe the role of the preacher. He is a shepherd, who leads and feeds the flock of God. He is an overseer who is responsible to guide and guard the servants of God in their labor. He is an elder who is mature in faith and has wisdom to share and a life to emulate as he fathers the family of God. He is a farmer who casts the seed, cultivates the soil, and conserves the harvest. The preacher is a builder who makes sure the church is built on a solid foundation of faith in Christ and is cemented together in love and built in such a way as to display the glory of God who indwells them.
There is a common thread that runs through each of these—the man of God has oversight of God’s people. He watches over the flock, the work, the family, the field, and the house of God.
He is a watchman on the wall.
That is the way God describes the work assigned to the prophet Ezekiel, and as such is instructive for those who preach the Word of God to the people of God today. Twice, God stresses His servant’s grave accountability to warn the people as he watches over their souls—here in chapter three and again in chapter thirty three of the book that bears the prophet’s name. While all of us have a work to do for the Lord, we are given different assignments. How can one know if he is designated for the ministry of the Word—gifted and set apart for this duty? Not all are, but some are—I am and you might be.
Let’s examine Ezekiel’s selection to this special service. While the specifics of his experience are not likely to be identical with ours, there are general principles that do apply to each preacher.
He is CALLED (1:1-2:4).
“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth [month], on the fifth [day] of the month, while I was among the exiles by the Chebar Canal, the heavens opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth [day] of the month-it was the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's exile—the word of the Lord came directly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar Canal. And the Lord's hand was on him there.” (1:1-3)
The preacher has a divine calling. He knows what he must do and has no doubt that is his assignment. It is not of his choice, but God’s. Ezekiel did not decide on being a prophet as one of several vocational options. It was God’s call.
Ezekiel’s call was dramatic—a vision of God’s glory, an experience of celestial beings, an audible voice speaking to him. Those were things unique to Ezekiel’s call. But the main point and one that is consistent throughout the Scripture is that it is an unmistakable call, confirmed by God.
Moses had the experience of the burning bush. David had the duty of caring for sheep as a boy and Samuel anointed him to shepherd God’s flock. Isaiah saw the Lord and heard His commission while worshipping in the Temple. Jesus came to Peter, James and John and summoned them to follow Him. Paul was knocked to his feet by Christ, the Light of the World, and raised up to preach the light of the Word.
God still calls. It is not for me to say how God will speak to you, but He will! Sometimes it is a sudden summons, as one flips a light switch, and for others a gradual dawning of understanding as a sunrise. My call was more like the latter. Irrespective of the unique manifestations, there is the universal mandate—the call of God is clear—like the sounding of a trumpet.
His hand rested on Ezekiel and His hand will rest on you, if He has reached out for you to be a watchman. You have this awareness of an unseen hand that is placed on you—the call of God to preach the Word. It isn’t the supernatural signs that indicate the call, but the spiritual sense that is undeniable.
The call is CONFIRMED (2:5-6).
“Whether they listen or refuse [to listen]—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. But you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words, though briers and thorns are beside you and you live among scorpions. Don't be afraid of their words or be discouraged by [the look on] their faces, for they are a rebellious house.” (2:5-6)
Not only would Ezekiel know that he had been set apart as a watchman, but the people would know. His message and his manner would communicate his call and they would confirm it. They might not want to hear what he had to say, and refuse to accept it, but in their heart of hearts they would know he had been sent by God. When they looked on the wall, they saw a watchman. They recognized it was Ezekiel.
We note this confirmation by God’s people throughout the Sacred Volume. The nation of Israel welcomes Moses as their deliverer. The people of God submit to David as their King. The sons of the prophets affirmed that the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha, as the man of God. James and the other Apostles affirmed the Lord’s call to Paul. The church laid hands on men like Barnabas and Timothy, expressing their conviction of God’s selection for this ministry. This was the attestation of the people of God to the designation of the preacher by God.
I was not called by the church. But, when I announced my call, it was affirmed by them. Several came to me and said how they had seen God at work in me. They commended me to the ministry. They licensed me to preach and later I was ordained as a pastor, then installed by the vote of the congregation after being thoroughly examined as to my call. This confirmation has continued again and again as I have served the Lord through the years.
I have heard those who say they are called to preach, and after listening to them it was obvious they missed something somewhere! I have watched some who said they had this call, but their lifestyle denied it, and eventually moral failure or doctrinal error—sometimes both—manifested the sham.
The one called and confirmed has a work that is CONSUMING (2:7-3:3).
“’And you, son of man, listen to what I tell you: Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.’ So I looked and saw a hand reaching out to me, and there was a written scroll in it.” (2:8-9)
“He said to me: ‘Son of man, eat what you find [here]. Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and He fed me the scroll.
‘Son of man,’ he said to me, ‘eat and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.’ So I ate [it], and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (3:1-2)
You cannot speak for God unless God has spoken to you. The watchman had a warning to share, and that word had been given to him by God. His authority would be divine, for the source of his message would originate in heaven. He is not like the boy who cried, “Wolf!” when there was none.
The preacher is a man who hungers for truth and feeds his own soul on the sweetness of Scripture. He consumes it as the sustenance of his spiritual vitality and is then consumed with sharing it as his Scriptural ministry. Unless you are constrained to get alone with God and meet Him in His Book, then you are not suited to go before men on His behalf. People don’t need your opinions—they need God’s Word.
Moses alone in the desert hears from God. David alone in the fields with his father’s sheep communes with God, preparing his life work and message. Isaiah is alone in the Temple when God appears to Him. John the Baptist is alone in the wilderness before his public ministry begins. Paul went away into the isolation of Arabia at the outset of his missionary work. We must hear from God in order to speak for God.
There are many demands on the pastor. There are several responsibilities assigned him. But, preeminent over all is prayer and the ministry of the Word. Not even good things must detract from the main thing (see Acts 6:1ff). If he is not responsible in His speaking, then he will never be succeeding. He cannot speak publicly, if he does not spend time with God privately.
Called, confirmed, consuming and the preacher is COMMIITTED (3:4-11).
“But the house of Israel will not want to listen to you because they do not want to listen to Me. For the whole house of Israel is hardheaded and hardhearted. Look, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.
I have made your forehead like a diamond, harder than flint. Don't be afraid of them or discouraged by [the look on] their faces, even though they are a rebellious house.’ Next He said to me: ‘Son of man, listen carefully to all My words that I speak to you and take [them] to heart.
Go to your people, the exiles, and speak to them. Tell them, “This is what the Lord God says,” whether they listen or refuse [to listen].’” (3:7-11)
The preacher must be courageous. His convictions must be solid and though he will be tempted to quit, he resists the urge to run and keeps sounding the alarm. He longs for the people to heed his voice. But, even if they do not, he knows that he will answer to God for staying at his post.
It was a hard-headed congregation that Ezekiel would serve. But, God assured him he would make his head harder than theirs! Every preacher must have a hard head of conviction and a soft heart of compassion. If he gets those reversed, he will be a washout rather than a watchman.
A soft-headed preacher who is squishy in his convictions, will soon compromise the truth. A hard-hearted preacher will drive the sheep and not lead them. He will hurt them and not heal them. His disposition will undermine His declaration. The preacher needs to remember that God is watching the watchman. He wants hard-headed, soft-hearted men.
Called, confirmed, consuming, committed and COMPELLED—that is the preacher of the Word (3:12-4:17)
“Now at the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me.’” (3:16-17)
Ezekiel was compelled to speak. He was literally borne away by the Spirit (3:12-15) and bound up in his service (4:1-17). The man of God was carried, captivated—and thus, compelled.
Why would a man preach the Word? Because he cannot do anything else!
Now, don’t read that as a lack of capacity for other vocations. In fact, most are engaged in other lines of secular work—and rather successful in it—when they are called to spiritual service. Tending sheep and mending nets—God’s call doesn’t come to the lazy but comes to the laboring.
But, despite the ability to do other things, the man of God has been set on the wall, given an assignment by God—and is compelled under heaven’s authority to do his job. His call is clear. His call has been confirmed. He is consumed with it and committed to it. Roll all this together and it equals—compulsion.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel were contemporaries. Jeremiah’s congregation was the Jews in Jerusalem and Ezekiel’s was those in Babylon. Both men had difficult duty and were tempted to give up, but they did not, because they could not. There was a fire in their soul that could not be extinguished—a compelling force that had to be released. A preacher must preach! If you can’t do anything else, then do it! God has called you. This is the work of the watchman.
Without Christ, there is no salvation. Run to Him and be saved. Repent of your sins and receive Him as your Lord. Trust Him to make you a new person. Flee the wrath to come.
Oh, Christian! Are you living outside the will of God? Your Father will correct you. His discipline is done in love, but may be painful—for you and for others. Confess your sin. Call out for mercy. Commit your way to His direction.
The blood is off my hands. I pray it will be on your heart, and not on your head. I have sounded the warning, will you heed it?
“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone's blood…” (Acts 20:26)
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
“The punishment of my dear people is greater than that of Sodom, which was overthrown in an instant without a hand laid on it.” (Lamentations 4:6 HCSB)
Sodom is a name synonymous with excessive sin that was practiced by its residents and an extreme sentence that was passed on them. Yet, the wickedness of Jerusalem and the wrath of Yahweh resulting was even worse!
We are judged according to the amount of light we have. The more we know, the more responsible we are. Jesus echoed Jeremiah’s words:
“Then He proceeded to denounce the towns where most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago! But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’" (Matthew 11:20-24)
I recall reading a book by Leonard Ravenhill years ago called, “Sodom Had No Bibles.” In its pages, he made the point that those wicked people who dwelt in Sodom didn’t have the Scriptures as we do. They had no churches. There was only one preacher and he was a backslider named Lot. Still, the city and its inhabitants were incinerated because of their iniquity. It was total—but it was quick. The fire fell and so did the city. That message by a prophet to our generation has haunted me ever since. What about America? How will God judge us?
Jerusalem is a solemn signpost. The people had received the Word of God in a clear and comprehensive manner. The House of God held the prominent place in the city. Men of God had preached—prophet after prophet sent to call them to repentance. Yet, they treated them with disdain. It had been Jeremiah’s experience. He recalls some of that rejection:
“You defend my cause, Lord; You redeem my life. Lord, You see the wrong done to me; judge my case. You see all their malice, all their plots against me.
Lord, You hear their insults, all their plots against me. The slander and murmuring of my opponents attack me all day long. When they sit and when they rise, look, I am mocked by their songs.
You will pay them back what they deserve, Lord, according to the work of their hands. You will give them a heart filled with anguish. May Your curse be on them! You will pursue [them] in anger and destroy them under Your heavens.” (Lamentations 3:58-66)
Because of the gracious opportunity they had, the accountability the Jews had was greater, and thus the gravity of their sins was more grave and severity of their punishment befitting.
If you are seated on death row, you do no look forward to execution. However, if it is swift, it is not as bad as it would be if prolonged. Sodom was “here today, gone tomorrow” tuned to ashes overnight.
That was not the case with Jerusalem. They slowly starved to death. Besieged by the enemy, it was a torturous end.
“Those slain by the sword are better off than those slain by hunger, who waste away, pierced [with pain] because the fields lack produce.
The hands of compassionate women have cooked their own children; they became their food during the destruction of my dear people.
The Lord has exhausted His wrath, poured out His burning anger; He has ignited a fire in Zion, and it has consumed her foundations.” (Lamentations 4:9-11)
They thought that the city could not fall. In their pride, they believed that things would turn around—a new ruler, an economic recovery, they would soon be singing, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
“The kings of the earth and all the world's inhabitants did not believe that an enemy or adversary could enter Jerusalem's gates. [Yet it happened] because of the sins of her prophets and the guilt of her priests, who shed the blood of the righteous within her.” (Lamentations 4:12-13)
They had degenerated to the point where those who should have been calling them to fall on their knees in humility were preaching for them to stiffen their necks in haughtiness. The priests and prophets who ought to have been shining lights were leading the people into darkness—blind guides of the blind.
“Blind, they stumbled in the streets, defiled by this blood, so that no one dared to touch their garments.” (Lamentations 4:14)
That is what is heard more and more from America’s pulpits today. Happy boys give people a pat on the back on their way to hell. The call to repentance has been forgotten. A message of judgment and warning of the end of the age has been shelved. Words like “sin” and “holiness” are no longer found in the vocabulary of many “Christians.” Hell is taboo. The cross has been removed from the sanctuary and steeple, and the references to the blood banned from the hymnbook—all too offensive to contemporary culture.
A few lone voices cry out like John the Baptist in the wilderness, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!" (Matthew 3:2). The reaction of the audience has changed over the last decade from a hand covering a yawn in apathy, to fingers stuck in the ears in mockery, and increasingly to a fist raised in hostility.
How much longer can this go on?
I remember some occasions of showing up at school unprepared for the test that was placed on my desk. The teacher had given an assignment. There were pages in the textbook to read. A warning of a coming test was given. But, I had rather play and goof around. I would study later. Suddenly, I was staring at a test, with a blank look on my face that matched the empty space between my ears. “You’ve got thirty minutes!” she said. The hands of the clock began to move toward the inevitable deadline. All too soon, the teacher said, “Time’s up! Turn in your papers.” It might be a few days before I got mine back, but I knew what was coming, marked up with red ink—a big “F” on the paper. F is for failure. Usually, there was an addendum in the teacher’s handwriting, “You are capable of better work than this.”
There is a day for the final exam. We must be prepared. There will be no retaking the test. Failure will be fatal. The Teacher has given the warning. Yet, as we look about us, few seem to take it seriously.
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man: People went on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah boarded the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: People went on eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building. But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:26-30)
In America, God expects better of us. We have Bibles by the millions. We have myriads of churches and multitudes of preachers. The Gospel is proclaimed twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, year after year. It is accessible in our cars, our homes, everywhere and is delivered in a plethora of ways—radio, TV, CD, MP3, podcast, print, and so forth.
Like ancient Jerusalem, when judgment comes to America, it will surpass that of Sodom—and none can say God would be unjust to do so, with the darkness we have chosen despite the light we have been given.
“Why should [any] living person complain, [any] man, because of the punishment for his sins?” (Lamentations 3:39) We cannot say that we have not been warned.
Monday, August 27, 2012
[This is a message I delivered yesterday. Some may not have been there to hear it. Some may have been and need to reflect on it again.]
“What can I say on your behalf? What can I compare you to, Daughter Jerusalem?
What can I liken you to, so that I may console you, Virgin Daughter Zion? For your ruin is as vast as the sea. Who can heal you?” (Lamentations 2:13 HCSB)
You have probably never met Monroe. He was a nice old fellow who attended a church I pastored years ago. He never had much to say. Monroe was just there. There is one thing I will always remember about him though. He washed his hands continually. One might think he was a germaphobe. Perhaps he was just cautious.
Disease is easily spread and some of those germs are lethal. It seems we hear about this sort of thing more and more—flesh-eating bacteria and such. I just read about how the National Institutes of Health are warning that while these “super bugs” are developing, the pharmaceutical industry is not developing new antibiotics to fight them. Scientists predict it is only a matter of time until we have a pandemic.
That’s bad enough, but such would only affect the body. I am more concerned about a disease that affects the soul. It is the sorrowful sickness of sin—highly contagious and extremely dangerous. Jeremiah saw it spread through an entire nation with devastating effect. The weeping prophet mourns the tragedy that could have been prevented.
This is what Lamentations is all about. You might have noticed the Hebrew letters inserted between each verse. This is an acrostic, as Jeremiah takes each of the twenty letters in the Hebrew alphabet and begins that section of Scripture with them. It was a means of aiding in memorizing the book, and the truths were that important to remember!
Jeremiah points first to THE SOURCE OF THE SORROWFUL SICKNESS OF SIN.
Speaking of the city of Jerusalem, the prophet personifies her and declares:
“She weeps aloud during the night, with tears on her cheeks. There is no one to offer her comfort, [not one] from all her lovers. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.” (1:2)
Yahweh was to be the exclusive recipient of Judah’s affections. As such, she would be the chosen recipient of Yahweh’s attentions. Yet, they had become spiritual adulterers, giving their hearts to idols.
To be guilty once of infidelity would be serious, yet their scandalous behavior was persistent and plural—note the word, “lovers.”
Are we guilty? This is the sin of the divided heart. Scripture warns us about loving the world with its material possessions, carnal pleasures and even loving our own person—materialism, hedonism and egotism—an unholy trinity of idols supplanting the Triune God.
Unfaithfulness is unhealthy. As you know, a number of diseases, and some deadly, are sexually transmitted. Do you think God is trying to tell us something? Violating God’s laws brings dire consequences. Sin is disobedience to God and disobedience to God will bring sickness, sorrow and death.
Spiritual adultery is the source of the sorrowful sickness of sin. Jeremiah also detects THE SYMPTOMS OF THE SORROWFUL SICKNESS OF SIN. (1:1-16)
When you are sick and go to the doctor, one of the first things he or she does is find out the symptoms. That will enable him to make the proper diagnosis. There are clear symptoms to indicate that the virus of sin is ravaging us.
“How she sits alone, the city [once] crowded with people! She who was great among the nations has become like a widow. The princess among the provinces has been put to forced labor.” (1:1)
A city once full of life was now a ghost town. Sin had brought this solitude; iniquity had resulted in isolation. It was evil that yielded emptiness.
Do you remember a time when you were full of joy, full of faith, and full of the Holy Spirit? Now, there is emptiness. What happened? If our heart begins to fill up with the pursuit of the things of earth, it crowds out the passion for the things of eternity. We will eventually become full of sin or full of the Spirit—there is no room for both.
“She weeps aloud during the night, with tears on her cheeks. There is no one to offer her comfort, [not one] from all her lovers. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.” (1:2)
There was none to comfort them. The Jews had abandoned God for their idols, so now in their time of trouble, He abandons them.
It is still the case, that sin puts us out of fellowship with God. Of course, He is there—He has promised to never leave us, nor forsake us. That is a theological truth. The experiential reality, however, is that we can lose the awareness of His presence.
Maybe as you consider this symptom of the sorrowful sickness of sin, you can recall a time when you felt God so near, but now He seems a million light years away. What happened? God didn’t leave you, but you walked step by step away from Him.
“Judah has gone into exile following affliction and harsh slavery; she lives among the nations but finds no place to rest. All her pursuers have overtaken her in narrow places.” (1:3).
Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." Another prophet, Isaiah, pictures the wicked as a restless sea—the force of a storm turning it into a foaming, frothing cauldron of water whipped by winds.
At the moment I type these words, there is a storm named Isaac, churning in the Gulf of Mexico. You do not want to be at sea in such a storm. I have experienced four hurricanes up close and personal—having to evacuate the beach twice, another time sleeping uneasily while one skirted the coast, and then having one roar across our home like a beast. If you have not had that experience, you have likely witnessed the windswept waves in television images. It is also a description of the soul in turmoil. Would that describe your restless heart?
“The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the appointed festivals. All her gates are deserted; her priests groan, her young women grieve, and she herself is bitter.” (1:4).
You encounter bitter believers all the time. Once they were joyful, but now they are surly. The Word of God that used to taste so sweet to hear and read, now has become bitter to swallow. Such sour saints have been pickled in the vinegar of disobedience.
“Her adversaries have become [her] masters; her enemies are at ease, for the Lord has made her suffer because of her many transgressions. Her children have gone away as captives before the adversary. All her splendor has vanished from Daughter Zion. Her leaders are like stags that find no pasture; they walk away exhausted before the hunter. During the days of her affliction and homelessness Jerusalem remembers all her precious belongings that were [hers] in days of old. When her people fell into the adversary's hand, she had no one to help. The adversaries looked at her, laughing over her downfall.” (1:5-7).
Instead of being victorious over evil, they were vanquished by it. Deliberate, determined disobedience short-circuits our spiritual power and we dwell in defeat.
There is more, but time would fail us to examine all the symptoms listed here. It is an extensive list. I think you get the idea. From diagnosis, we turn to prognosis. Understanding the source, and the symptoms, it is crucial that we find THE SOLUTION TO THE SORROWFUL SICKNESS OF SIN.
“Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and [our] hands to God in heaven: We have sinned and rebelled; You have not forgiven.” (3:40-41)
What we need most is a cure! The prescription is given by the Great Physician. This is nothing more, nothing less and nothing else than repentance! It is when we turn back to the God whom we have turned our back upon. There had been no forgiveness experienced because there had been no repentance expressed.
The church corporately and the church member individually needs to seek the Lord—“let us” is twice used to convey this. Let us—each one of us—conduct a spiritual examination with a view of taking our medicine—whatever God should diagnose. Let us—every one of us together—lift hearts and hands to God in sincere petition for His mercy.
That mercy is available. In the midst of a book about the punishment of unfaithfulness in God’s people, there is also the promise of the faithfulness of God Himself. These verses are the literal center of Lamentations:
“Because of the Lord's faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion,
therefore I will put my hope in Him.” (3:22-24)
You may find them familiar for they are conveyed in the lyrics of the grand old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It is something to sing about—such a precious truth—God’s prescription for the sorrowful sickness of sin!
Imagine with me that you have gone to your doctor. He or she tells you that the disease you have is terminal—if left untreated. But, the physician goes on to say there is a cure for what afflicts you. You leave with a prescription for a life-giving medication. Yet, you go home and put it on the shelf, never taking it, and you die.
What killed you? Was it the disease? More than the sickness, it was the stubborn refusal to take the medicine.
Repentance is the cure for the sorrowful sickness of sin. The unbeliever is dying in sin and will find themselves in a state of separation from God called the Second Death, if they refuse to repent. The backslider who is saved but sin-sick will know the death of their testimony for God, their intimacy with God, their joy in God, and the like as did the Jews, if they do not repent. A family, a church, and a nation can die from sin-sickness.
Take your medicine!
Saturday, August 25, 2012
“By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1 HCSB)
God has given us a time machine. By it, we can travel back to our childhood with its simple pleasures. We can journey to our teen and young adult years which were filled with hopes and dreams. Entering this time machine, we can go to places where we have laughed and loved—reliving spectacular scenes we have observed and special sensations we have experienced—our bride coming down the aisle, our baby coming into the world, a ball game that brought a thrill, a bite of steak that still makes us salivate--all that, and more. The time machine we have is called memory. Entering it, we can recall seasons of life which brought great joy.
But, that can also bring the tears. What if we recall the wedding, but also the betrayal and broken vows which brought a broken home? Perhaps a dark shadow passes over the memory of life and laughs shared in the season of summer with our spouse, when we also remember the autumn of cancer, ending in the winter of the casket and cold wind that swept our loved one from our arms. We may reflect on the nice house, and well-groomed yard, but also recall the lost job, struggle for financial survival, the foreclosure and bankruptcy with its stigma. There are many other sad stories we could review. Not all memories are happy ones.
That is where the Jews found themselves—living in the Land of Regret. It was otherwise known as Babylon. The Psalmist sings this dirge—a song appropriate for a funeral. It was the music of mourning, a tune written in tears. I have heard it before—sitting on the platform during a memorial service for a church member, a special song selected by the family is shared. I have watched as the moment the song begins to play, loved ones grabbing each other, faces twisted with pain, and I have listened to the painful weeping wrung out of broken hearts. It is possible, yet very difficult to look ahead with rejoicing in the prospect of heaven, when you look back with remorse in the pain that feels like hell.
That is a question that dogs us. What if we had done this, or that—might things have been different? What if this had not happened; what might have been?
You are living in the Land of Regret. The key term hanging like a funeral shroud over this psalm is “remember,” with those dark threads woven throughout the fabric of the text. It is found in every stanza of this song.
A MEMORY THAT BROUGHT LAMENTING.
“By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How can we sing the Lord's song on foreign soil?” (Ps.137:1-4)
Sorrow can shut up speech and sobs can swallow up songs. Have you ever been at a place in your life where you tried to talk, but your throat was choked with the pain of loss? I have—and it hurts. It feels like strangulation.
That is what happened to the Jews. Memories led to mockery. The Babylonians taunted them: “Lets hear one of those good old songs of Zion.” But, the people of God were in no mood for melodies of mirth, for they were in mourning. So they hung up their harps in the Land of Regret.
It was a memory that brought lamenting, and also A MEMORY THAT BROUGHT LONGING.
“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem as my greatest joy!” (Ps.137:5-6)
It is the heights of joy that we have scaled which brings such brokenness when we plunge into the valley of sorrow. When you are living in this land called Regret, you long for a better time—a time of walking in sunlight before you entered this Shadowland.
My wife and I attended a concert by Alison Krauss and Union Station as one of the things we did on our wedding anniversary. They are such talented musicians, and her voice is as smooth as silk. But, they joked about the darkness that dominates the lyrics of their music. Alison Krauss told the audience that they sing about all kinds of sorrowful stuff—songs filled with calamity! We laughed because of the truth of that. This is the nature of a lot—though certainly not all—bluegrass and country music.
One example we heard them express in concert was written by Hugh Prestwood, entitled “Ghost in This House.” Here are the lyrics:
“I don't pick up the mail,
I don't pick up the phone,
I don't answer the door,
I just soon be alone
I don't keep this place up,
I just keep the lights down,
I don't live in these rooms,
I just rattled around
I'm just a ghost in this house,
I'm shadow upon these walls,
As quietly as a mouse,
I haunt these halls,
I'm just a whisper of smoke,
I'm all that's left of two hearts on fire,
That once burned out of control,
You took my body and soul,
I'm just a ghost in this house
I don't care if it rains,
I don't care if it's clear,
I don't mind stayin' near,
There's another ghost here,
He sits down in your chair,
And he shines with your light,
And he lays down his head,
On your pillow at night
I'm just a ghost in this house,
I'm just a shadow upon these walls,
I'm living proof of the damage heartbreak does,
I'm just a whisper of smoke,
I'm all that's left of two hearts on fire,
That once burned out of control,
You took my body and soul,
I'm just a ghost in this house
That once burned out of control,
You took my body and soul,
I'm just a ghost in this house”
How haunting and depressing! So, why would we listen to it? Because it is so bloody real. At some point we have all found ourselves living in the land of regret. We do not want to be there. We long for better days.
Furthermore, there was A MEMORY THAT BROUGHT LOATHING.
“Remember, Lord, [what] the Edomites said that day at Jerusalem: ‘Destroy it! Destroy it down to its foundations!’ Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who pays you back what you have done to us.
Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.” (Ps.137:7-9)
Now, there is brutal honesty! We know we shouldn’t think like that and talk like that, but inside us sorrow can give way to bitterness and bitterness can ignite a flame of fury. It might even consume us. Scripture encourages us about how we should think and talk, but it also exposes us for how we do think and talk. It is a mirror—and we do not always like what we see when we look into it.
To their credit, the Jews do not take matters into their own hands, but call upon God to do something. Vengeance belongs to God. He will see to it that people reap what they sow. As Edom had destroyed Jerusalem with delight, so it would be done to them—that is justice.
Are you living in the Land of Regret? Submit to God. He sees the tears. Be still and wait in faith.
It might be that it is a place of refining. God has placed you there for a season—not to make you bitter, but to make you better. It isn’t that you have chosen this place, but an all-wise and, indeed, all-loving God has chosen to put you there. I think of Joseph in Egypt, Moses in the wilderness, Job in the ashes, and David in the caves—all for a season living in the crucible, from which God would one day display the pure gold of their faith for His glory. The supreme standard of one who was sinless, yet had His season of sorrow, is Jesus Christ. Here is what the Scripture says of the time He lived in this world of woe, the land called Regret:
“During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Though He was [God's] Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. After He was perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, and He was declared by God a high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:7-10)
But, it could be that it is a place of repenting. Your choices have brought consequences—sinful actions that took you on the road to a city called Ruin in a country called Regret. Samson lost his powerful service for God when he pillowed his head in Delilah’s lap. David lost his joyful songs when he wrote sheet music with Bathsheba. Solomon lost his heavenly wisdom when he delved into the ways of the world. Peter lost his loyal courage when he warmed his hands by the fire of Christ’s enemies. They each entered the Land of Regret, but it became the Land of Repentance, and God gave back the strength, the song, the wisdom and the witness. He will do that for you. Let the pain drive you to your knees and to the Lord.
There were Jews who were examples of both dimensions, living in Babylon—the Land of Regret. There were those being refined like the three Hebrew youths cast into the fiery furnace. They were not there because of their sinful choices, but by the choice of a Sovereign God. Others made choices to do them bad, but God had chosen to turn the bad to good. This is the Romans 8:28 principle, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”
We could speak of how God prepared and preserved a Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther while they lived in that foreign land. Then, many of the Jews in exile were carried away, as God’s discipline, due to their rebellion against Him. They had given themselves to idolatry. The Lord would take them into a pagan land where they would become gorged with it, and sick of it, and would never crave false gods again.
Why are you in the Land of Regret?
Don’t try to run away prematurely. God put the Jews there for seventy years. We may seek to engineer an escape. Other well-meaning people may try to bail us out. Consider this quote from Pat Morley, “"If you artificially shorten the hard times without learning everything God has for you, then you will (probably) have to travel this road again."
You didn’t like living there before. You won’t like it the next time, either.
Friday, August 24, 2012
"Look, it will be like a lion coming from the thickets of the Jordan to the watered grazing land. Indeed, I will chase Babylon away from her [land] in a flash. I will appoint whoever is chosen for her. For who is like Me? Who will summon Me? Who is the shepherd who can stand against Me?" (Jeremiah 50:44 HCSB)
How frightening it would be—you are by the river, getting a drink of water, when you hear a rustling in the bushes nearby—and as you look up, you look into the face of a powerful beast! He lets out a roar that shakes you to the core of your being and makes your knees buckle. The lion pounces. There is nowhere to run.
One day, the Lion of Judah will roar. He will devour the world in judgment. There will be no escaping the jaws of justice.
In rapid-fire succession, Jeremiah takes us on a tour of nations in the closing chapters of his prophecy. Irrespective of the metaphors used to describe their judgment and no matter the designation of those judged—the results are the same: the Holy One takes vengeance on those who have forsaken His worship and flaunted His will.
The Lion of Judah may be crouching, just beyond our sight—the moment His powerful muscles hurtle Him to earth upon His prey is imminent. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow—it is a Day that is coming. It seems that it is very near.
If you understand this—and you have not run for refuge before He strikes—then I beg you, do not delay a minute more! Do you not know, that before this day dawns, the Judge might decide this will be the breaking of the Day of Wrath? If He should spring upon you in judgment, there will be no more opportunity to get away.
There is a choice. Although we are sinners, we do not have to pay the penalty for our crimes against God. In the midst of these multiple pronouncements of judgment, God holds out the one way of escape.
“In those days and at that time--[this is] the Lord's declaration--the Israelites and Judeans will come together, weeping as they come, and will seek the Lord their God.
They will ask about Zion, [turning] their faces to this road. They will come and join themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.
My people are lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, guiding them the wrong way in the mountains. They have wandered from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place.” (Jeremiah 50:4-6)
Let there be the godly sorrow that produces repentance. Jesus promised that those who mourn will be comforted—the mourning over sin that brings the comfort of forgiveness. Seek the Lord and bow to Him. For now He manifests Himself as the Savior, but tomorrow He may reveal Himself in fire from heaven as the Judge.
Now, you may run to Him. Then, you can’t run from Him.
God offers an everlasting covenant—a covenant of unconditional grace. He extends the promise of mercy, and to refuse it is to experience the punishment of misery. As enduring as heaven’s happiness, will be hell’s horror.
We are lost, and our hearts long for home. We wander through this world searching, trying to find our way back to God. Listen! The Shepherd’s voice is calling. Do you want to know Him as a Good Shepherd or as the Lion of Judah? You will meet Him, one way or another.
How can a Just God justify sinners?
“In those days and at that time--[this is] the Lord's declaration--one will search for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for Judah's sins, but they will not be found,
for I will forgive those I leave as a remnant.” (Jeremiah 50:20)
There is no evidence of sin for those who have come to the Lord. It is forgiven and forgotten! It is buried where it can never be found, under the blood of Jesus!
He came as a Lamb the first time—the Perfect Sacrifice dying in the place of straying sheep. He will come the next time as a Lion—the Righteous Judge passing sentence on those who have steadfastly refused His salvation.
What would cause someone to walk into a path, knowing that a lion lurks nearby? Arrogance—the one who scoffs at judgment is the one who falls.
“Look, I am against you, you arrogant one--[this is] the declaration of the Lord God of Hosts--because your day has come, the time when I will punish you.
The arrogant will stumble and fall with no one to pick him up. I will set fire to his cities,
and it will consume everything around him." (Jeremiah 50:31-32)
The judgment that befell Babylon is symbolic of the fire that will fall on all those who refuse the offer of salvation. Those who do not want God to reign over them can have their way—and you will be shut out of the Kingdom of Heaven, forever.
Christ will be our Defense Attorney to gain our acquittal or He will be the Prosecutor to demand our punishment. This is the language the prophet uses:
“Their Redeemer is strong; Yahweh of Hosts is His name. He will fervently plead their case so that He might bring rest to the earth but turmoil to those who live in Babylon.” (Jeremiah 50:34)
Redemption or retribution? There are no other options.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
“You have said, ‘Woe is me, because the Lord has added misery to my pain! I am worn out with groaning and have found no rest.’” (Jeremiah 45:3 HCSB)
I was thinking the other day about the word, “disappointment.” It is a composite word. The root word is appointment. An appointment is an arranged time and place to meet or the selection for a position or job. When you put the prefix, “dis” in front of a word, it negates it. We may have in our minds that we have an appointment to marry and have the position of being a spouse, but now the years have passed and we are still single—that is disappointment. We long for a child, to be a father or mother, yet we advance beyond the child-bearing years and still no baby—that is disappointment. We work hard at our job, and expect a promotion, but others are chosen while we are passed by—that’s disappointment. We preach our heart out and yet the church doesn’t grow, but the church down the road does, even drawing some of our members—that’s disappointment.
We all have to some degree had the experience. You will not escape life on planet earth without knowing disappointment. Sometimes the disappointments are much—they may be a lot, they may be large—they might be both!
So, the question is not whether life will deal me disappointments, but how will I deal with the disappointments life deals?
Baruch had to deal with disappointment. What he learned provides us with valuable lessons.
We may face UNRELENTING DIFFICULTY.
“[This is] the word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch son of Neriah when he wrote these words on a scroll at Jeremiah's dictation in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: “You have said, ‘Woe is me, because the Lord has added misery to my pain! I am worn out with groaning and have found no rest.’” ‘This is what you are to say to him: “This is what the Lord says: What I have built I am about to demolish, and what I have planted I am about to uproot-the whole land!”’” (Jer.45:1-4)
These verses feature words like “woe,” “misery,” “pain,” “worn out,” “groaning,” “no rest,” “demolish,” and “uproot.” Individually, those terms convey difficulty, but pile them one on top of the other and you have a disaster! We might wobble when a problem blows up around us, but when you are bombarded with one after another, how can you stand up? That is unrelenting difficulty. You can’t relax. You can’t even catch your breath. Baruch was feeling like that—so he complained. He expressed his disappointment with God. We understand. All of us have been there. Some of us are there right now.
God did answer him. That was good, wasn’t it?
God told him, “You think it’s bad now? It’s going to get worse.” That was probably not what he wanted to hear.
Several years ago, I had a persistent staph infection in my leg. Oral antibiotics, and even a shot, weren’t helping, so I went to the hospital, burning up with fever and would be admitted for treatment. While I am no celebrity, there are a number of people who know me because of my position and sure enough, I ran into some church folk who were in the waiting room. They inquired what was wrong. When I told them, a lady looked at me and said, “My mother died from that.”
Just what I wanted to hear.
Now someone might think, how can you a man of God have to be hospitalized for a week? Where is your faith to claim your miracle? We may think we are appointed to health and wealth just because we are servants of God, and when we find out otherwise that brings disappointment.
You are not immunized from the disease of difficulty because you are a faithful servant of the Lord. Baruch certainly was. He had stood by Jeremiah when it was dangerous to do so (review Jeremiah 36). Baruch had delivered Jeremiah’s message to King Jehoiakim knowing full well it would anger the sinful despot. He stayed true to his task when it was difficult to do so. Jehoiakim’s response to all that Baruch labored to write was to cut it into pieces and burn it! Then the scribe had to write it all over again—and then some.
Life in Jerusalem had not gotten better. The city was like a plane in a death spiral plunging toward impact. One difficulty after another—unrelenting pressure—he was finally worn out, spent in disappointment.
It is a brutal reality. Life is tough. It can be very tough. The sooner we accept that fact, the better. Little Orphan Annie sang, “The sun will come out tomorrow.” Right, Annie, and a fair-skinned red-head like you may get a severe sunburn! Unrealistic expectations compound unrelenting difficulties.
There was only one perfect Servant, one stainless Son of God—and what did He face? He suffered as no man ever did, or will, or can. Do we think we deserve better than Jesus? We are appointed to carry a cross and share His suffering.
Listen to this exhortation, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won't grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)
Disappointments are His appointments.
We may fight UNFULFILLED DESIRE.
“But as for you, do you seek great things for yourself? Stop seeking!” (Jer.45:5a)
Baruch had ambition. He wanted to go places. Being committed to the Lord, he was convinced that God would honor that. By delighting in the Lord, God would give him the desires of his heart—wasn’t that a promise? God won’t break a promise, will He?
Of course God cannot lie. The sticking point is—was Baruch delighting in the Lord, and thereby his desires were submitted to God’s designs? Or was this man, struggling with selfish ambition and wanting to use God as his servant to fulfill it? Lest you think I am being judgmental toward Baruch, I want you to know that I recognize this attitude because I strive against it and sometimes surrender to it.
We want a “quid pro quo” relationship with God. I’ll do this for you God, if you’ll do this for me. So, we look for the appointment. We run to the mailbox everyday to claim our reward…and only find it empty. The Post Office didn’t deliver. Neither did God. All we got was disappointment.
Is that fair?
What do you think?
Jesus asked His disciples that question when they were being overwhelmed by unfulfilled desire.
“Which one of you having a slave tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink'? Does he thank that slave because he did what was commanded? In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, 'We are good-for-nothing slaves; we've only done our duty.'" (Luke 17:7-10)
We aren’t just appointed to suffer for Him, we are appointed to serve Him. That’s what slaves do, and that’s what we are. Do we want a pat on the back for doing our duty?
Ours is an entitlement culture. We want what is coming to us. I deserve better than what I have. Class envy is a real issue. The current political landscape is shaped by this debate—how can I get more than I have? Will I look to the government to take from the rich and give it to me, or will I trust in the marketplace and know that if I work hard, I’ll get what I deserve? The former has never worked, and the latter may not always. It gives better opportunity, but doesn’t guarantee success.
So, what do we do? Give your expectations to God. Submit to His will. Do the right thing and leave the results to God. Trust Him, even when you don’t understand His ways. Disappointments are His appointments.
That brings me to the final consideration. We can find UNDESERVED DELIVERANCE.
“For I am about to bring disaster on every living creature'-[this is] the Lord's declaration-'but I will grant you your life like the spoils [of war] wherever you go.'" (Jer.45:5b)
Baruch might not have relief from his burdens; he might not have riches in material blessings. What he would get is the redemption of his being.
We should really be glad we don’t get what we deserve. If God actually gave us what we were entitled to, we would all be in hell—and I would be in one of the hotter parts, sinner that I am. The next time you are tempted to complain about your suffering, just remember, “This is a lot better than suffering in hell!” The next time you are tempted to complain about being a slave, just think, “This is a lot better than being in the chains of outer darkness!”
Is heaven enough? Is present deliverance of your soul and a promised destiny in glory sufficient reward in itself? Is Jesus our all—our everything? Or do we still crave more?
When the disciples returned from a fairly successful mission trip, Jesus essentially told them that it was a victory to celebrate, but what was far better was to rejoice that they were saved. Winning a game is good, but winning the championship is the ultimate—and that trophy is presented in heaven.
“The Seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.’
He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash. Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will ever harm you. However, don't rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’" (Luke 10:17-20)
They could not always count on success, but they could always count on salvation!
Some of the best people have been disappointed with God. John the Baptist was. He had been a loyal preacher and all it did was land him on death row. He waited for his miracle and what he got was martyrdom. Before he lost his head, he expressed his disappointment:
“When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent [a message] by his disciples and asked Him, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
Jesus replied to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.
And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.’” (Matt.11:1-6)
Disappointments are His appointments, and God had appointed John to a special task. It cost him everything, but he would gain far more—on the other side. But, so do all who follow Christ.
“As these men went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings' palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet.
This is the one it is written about:
Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You; he will prepare Your way before You.
‘I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’”
It’s great to be willing to suffer for the Lord. It is great to serve the Lord. It is the greatest thing of all to be saved by the Lord! We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. Jesus gave it, and at such a price!
Disappointments are His appointments—and here is the appointment which is best of all:
“When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and glorified the message of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
Rejoice in that!
“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.
This hope will not disappoint [us], because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
You will not be disappointed!
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
[This is a message I preached last Sunday. It is a truth important enough to be shared with a wider audience than those attending and worth repeating to those who were present. May God’s Spirit speak to you through these words.]
“The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Lord God has said about Edom:
We have heard a message from the Lord; a messenger has been sent among the nations: ‘Rise up, and let us go to war against her.’
Look, I will make you insignificant among the nations; you will be deeply despised. Your presumptuous heart has deceived you, you who live in clefts of the rock in your home on the heights, who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’
Though you seem to soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, even from there I will bring you down. [This is] the Lord's declaration.” (Obadiah 1-4 HCSB)
The letter “I” is at the heart of the word pride: p-r-I-d-e. The universal affliction of the human race is “I” trouble. “I” trouble is a problem of focus--our focus is on ourselves.
Obadiah has a lot to say about the problem of pride.
His name means, “Servant of Yahweh.” How fitting! We know almost nothing else about him—no movies have been made about him, no TV documentaries and no biographies.
A lot of kids have Bible names like James, John, Peter and Paul. I doubt you’ve met many Obadiahs!
Obadiah and obscurity both begin with the same letter and have the same number of syllables. Isn’t that appropriate?
He was content to be a servant, not trying to be a superstar. Obadiah felt no need to be in the spotlight—just part of the supporting cast. Jesus taught this as the path to genuine greatness.
“Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)
That is the message Jesus shared and the model Jesus showed. Obadiah was of the same humble spirit. We need to hear what he has to say about the problem of pride.
EDOM’S PRIDE (v.1-9)
“The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Lord God has said about Edom:
We have heard a message from the Lord; a messenger has been sent among the nations: ‘Rise up, and let us go to war against her.
Look, I will make you insignificant among the nations; you will be deeply despised.’” (v.1-2)
The Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. You may recall that Esau was a man brimming with self-importance and self-confidence. Pride marked him and his offspring—and God hates pride.
There are six things listed in Proverbs 6:17 that God hates and the first enumerated is, “arrogant eyes.” James 4:6b states, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Do you want God’s resistance or His grace?
Pride is so despised by God because it is the original sin, and is at the core of all sins. This matter of egotism, that puts self on the throne, usurping God’s authority—that seeks the glory that belongs to God and God alone—is the polluted fountain from which flows every vile philosophy, passion and practice. It is how an angel became the devil, and how Eve unleashed evil. The curse plaguing this planet came from eating that forbidden fruit—out of a desire to be as God: the arrogance of autonomy.
PRIDE IS DECEPTIVE.
“Your presumptuous heart has deceived you, you who live in clefts of the rock in your home on the heights, who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’” (v.3)
Because of the natural defenses of Edom, they deceived themselves and thought they were invincible. The capital city of Petra is still standing—a fortress carved from solid rock. The only entrance was through a ravine which at some points is only 12 feet wide, with sheer cliffs towering to 100 feet. The cliffs jut out over Petra, virtually creating a roof and making them impossible to climb. It would be extremely difficult for a modern army with all its advanced equipment to capture the city, much less an ancient army. But God brought them down. Petra today is a ghost town, only a tourist attraction. It haunts the region as the specter of the deception of pride.
PRIDE IS DESTRUCTIVE.
“Though you seem to soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, even from there I will bring you down. [This is] the Lord's declaration.
If thieves came to you, if marauders by night—how ravaged you would be!--wouldn't they steal only what they wanted? If grape pickers came to you, wouldn't they leave some grapes?” (v.4-5)
Scripture declares that, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” (Prov.6:18). Edom is a testimony to that truth. The Edomites were destroyed, and so will all nations be that defy God. That demonic spirit permeates our world. Sadly, it has also penetrated the church.
The arrogance of the church at Laodecia sounds like a description of many modern churches:
“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I'm rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,' and you don't know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev.3:16-17)
God is serious about judging pride, wherever He finds it. It nauseates Him.
Not only do we see Edom’s pride, but Obadiah speaks of JUDAH’S PORTION.
“You will be covered with shame and destroyed forever because of violence done to your brother Jacob. On the day you stood aloof, on the day strangers captured his wealth, while foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were just like one of them. Do not gloat over your brother in the day of his calamity; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction; do not boastfully mock in the day of distress. Do not enter the gate of My people in the day of their disaster. Yes, you—do not gloat over their misery in the day of their disaster and do not appropriate their possessions in the day of their disaster.
Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off their fugitives, and do not hand over their survivors in the day of distress.” (v.10-14)
Don’t miss that Judah had a portion of God’s judgment to face, also.
These verses describe THE DISCIPLINE OF JUDAH. God deals with the sins of His children too. But, He deals with them differently than the sins of the lost. For His children it is the rod of correction, but for sinners it is the wrath of condemnation. He chastens us as a loving Heavenly Father. God may cast us down, but He will not cast us out. Straying sheep will be broken by the Shepherd’s staff to stop them from wandering—that is their portion. Goats, however, will be sentenced to perdition.
In these verses, we also observe THE DELIGHT OF EDOM. They rejoiced in the sufferings of their cousins and assisted with it. They plundered the Jews. God is just in His judgment.
One must be cautious, however, in finding pleasure in the punishment of others. Judah’s misery made Edom merry. Hear God’s warning in Proverbs 24:17-18:
“Don't gloat when your enemy falls, and don't let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will see, be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him.”
Obadiah speaks of Edom’s pride, Judah’s portion and of GOD’S PUNISHMENT (v.15-16).
“For the Day of the Lord is near, against all the nations. As you have done, so it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head. As you have drunk on My holy mountain, so all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and gulp down
and be as though they had never been.”
Edom is a type of all the nations that rebel against God. Listen to the Psalmist:
“Why do the nations rebel and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and His Anointed One:
‘Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints.’
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them. Then He speaks to them in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath:
‘I have consecrated My King on Zion, My holy mountain.’
I will declare the Lord's decree: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son; today I have become Your Father. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your inheritance and the ends of the earth Your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron; You will shatter them like pottery.’
So now, kings, be wise; receive instruction, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling.
Pay homage to the Son or He will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for His anger may ignite at any moment. All those who take refuge in Him are happy.” (Psalm 2)
Perhaps very soon, a global alliance of nations, led by the Antichrist, will form. Things around our world are moving toward the consummation of the Psalm 2 spirit of rebellion.
“For the Day of the Lord is near…” (v.15a).
If it was near then, how much more is it now? Remember that God stands outside of time; His frame of reference is eternal. But, for us, time brings another perspective—and the sands of the hour glass of human history seem to be running out.
“against all the nations…. (v.15b)
This is a universal principle. They reap what they have sown—not just Edom, but “The wicked will return to Sheol—all the nations that forget God.” (Ps.9:17)
“As you have done, so it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head. As you have drunk on My holy mountain, so all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and gulp down and be as though they had never been.” (v.15c-16)
They will drink the cup of God’s wrath. The nations may boast of their great name, but they will become as though they never existed. Churches can too! Where the light of the Gospel once blazed, the light can be extinguished. A church that arrogantly rests on the accomplishments of the past, boasting of their buildings and budget, may find the building becomes a mausoleum. All over Europe, now in the American Northeast and increasingly in the Bible Belt, church buildings are converted into barns, coffee shops and museum pieces. They sought a name and claimed a fame, and God stopped their boasting and brought them shame.
Obadiah presents Edom’s pride, Judah’s portion, God’s punishment, but on a brighter note, GOD’S PROMISE (v.17-21).
“But there will be a deliverance on Mount Zion, and it will be holy; the house of Jacob will dispossess those who dispossessed them.” (v.17)
Here was hope extended in the promise of God.
It is a promise of PROTECTION FROM LOSS.
“But there will be a deliverance on Mount Zion…” (v.17a)
The Antichrist’s reign of terror will reach its zenith at the end of the Great Tribulation Period. Jerusalem will be encircled by Gentile armies bent on the genocide of the Jews. But, Christ will return with His saints to deliver Israel.
It is a promise of PURITY OF LIFE.
“it will be holy…” (v.17b)
It won’t be just physical deliverance, but spiritual salvation. None enter the Millennial Reign of Christ unconverted. The biological seed of Abraham, will become the spiritual seed of Abraham—with the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ. Israel will be transformed into the holy people God called them to be.
It is a promise of POSSESSIONS OF LANDS.
“the house of Jacob will dispossess those who dispossessed them.
Then the house of Jacob will be a [blazing] fire, and the house of Joseph, a [burning] flame, but the house of Esau will be stubble; Jacob will set them on fire and consume Edom. Therefore no survivor will remain of the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken.
People from] the Negev will possess the hill country of Esau; [those from] the Judean foothills will possess [the land of] the Philistines. They will possess the territories of Ephraim and Samaria, while Benjamin will possess Gilead. The exiles of the Israelites who are in Halah and who are [among the] Canaanites as far as Zarephath as well as the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the cities of the Negev. Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to rule over the hill country of Esau, but the kingdom will be the Lord's.” (v.17c-21)
The land is theirs! God’s promises are bound up with that sacred ground. It doesn’t matter what the United Nations may proclaim, God has given the Jews that land as their possession.
Obadiah has much to say about the significant sin of pride.
Pride can doom us—we must admit our sin and call out to the Savior. We must humbly acknowledge we are helpless to save ourselves.
Pride can defeat us—it is a weapon Satan uses. Many a church that has stood against liberalism has become, “holier-than-thou” types—proud Pharisees—and God turned the lights out.
Pride can disqualify us—God won’t share His glory. It is not likely that you can ever be too little to use, but you can be too large. If you are swollen with self-importance, God will burst your bubble. Just ask an Edomite—if you can find one. Don’t bother looking in Petra. Nobody’s home.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
“All who resolve to go to Egypt to live there for a while will die by the sword, famine, and plague. They will have no one escape or survive from the disaster I will bring on them.” (Jeremiah 42:17 HCSB)
It is so disappointing to be travelling, and turn down a road which seems to go in the direction you think you need to go, and then see the sign, “No Exit.” It is a dead end road. But, what can cause a delay on a trip, can bring disaster on our spiritual pilgrimage.
Many are heading into a spiritual cul-de-sac. They are ignoring the warning signs, “No Thru Street” and speeding right on, convinced they are going the right direction, and that the one who designed the highway and posted the sign is the one mistaken.
Scripture warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 HCSB). That verse is given twice in Proverbs—perhaps repeated to stress its importance, but, even more, underscoring our stubborn resistance.
The story that unfolds in chapters forty one through forty four of Jeremiah illustrates this dead end road. God has placed it there to warn us to turn around while we can.
How do people come to such a dead end?
FIGHTING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE SUBMITTING (Jeremiah 41)
“In the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family and one of the king's chief officers, came with 10 men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah. They ate a meal together there in Mizpah, but then Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the 10 men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, with the sword; he killed the one the king of Babylon had appointed in the land.” (Jer.41:1-2)
There was a reason why Jerusalem had fallen and a Babylonian puppet had been installed to rule over the remnant of Jews that remained. It was the discipline of God for His children who had persistently rebelled against His will, refusing to submit to Him.
Ishmael and his band of thugs thought they knew better. Whether their motives were “patriotic” intending to stick a finger in the King of Babylon’s eye, or just selfish, seeking to advance his own cause, is really beside the point. The man was a mercenary, hired by the Ammonite king, Baalis, to assassinate Gedaliah. Gedaliah had been warned (Jer.40:13-16), but he thought he knew better. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
It was a dead end for Gedaliah—and many others. The pitiful few left in Jerusalem were now in peril because of this slaughter. It amounted to an attack on Babylon’s authority since they had placed Gedaliah there as their surrogate.
A remnant of Jews understood the threat.
“Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies with him then took from Mizpah all the remnant of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael son of Nethaniah after Ishmael had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam-men, soldiers, women, children, and court officials whom he brought back from Gibeon. They left, stopping in Geruth Chimham, which is near Bethlehem, in order to make their way into Egypt, away from the Chaldeans. For they feared them because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed in the land.” (Jer.41:16-18)
This is the danger of resisting God’s authority. Although the Jews will not literally take up a sword as Ishmael had done, they will continue to fight against God’s purposes in their rush down the dead end road. Fighting against God’s will is never a winning strategy. Submitting to His Word is the path to His blessing. But, we just don’t like to surrender. It’s not in our nature—the fallen nature of Adam. That didn’t work for him, and it won’t work for us, either.
FLEEING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE STAYING (Jeremiah 42)
“The Lord has spoken concerning you, remnant of Judah: 'Don't go to Egypt.' Know for certain that I have warned you today! You have led your own selves astray because you are the ones who sent me to the Lord your God, saying, 'Pray to the Lord our God on our behalf, and as for all that the Lord our God says, tell it to us, and we'll act accordingly.' For I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in everything He has sent me to [tell] you.
Now therefore, know for certain that by the sword, famine, and plague you will die in the place where you desired to go to live for a while." (Jer.42:19-22)
Wisely, they sought the man of God for guidance on which way to go.
“Then all the commanders of the armies, along with Johanan son of Kareah, Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached Jeremiah the prophet and said, ‘May our petition come before you; pray to the Lord your God on our behalf, on behalf of this entire remnant (for few of us remain out of the many, as you can see with your own eyes), that the Lord your God may tell us the way we should walk and the thing we should do.’" (Jer.42:1-3)
They let off the throttle momentarily. They read the sign, “No Exit.” The GPS (God’s Prophetic Servant) told them a different direction. But, they would decide to go anyway. What did an old preacher know? “Make a U-Turn; make a U-Turn,” the GPS shouted. They put their fingers in their ears and hit the gas.
I have found that sometimes people come to me for counsel, not because they want you to tell them what they need to hear, but what they want to hear. They don’t want direction on the path they should take, but seek validation of the path they have taken. My experience is they often say, “I know what the Bible says, but…” and go on to elaborate all the reasons why their case is the exception to the rule. Some will nod their heads in agreement with what I have to say, and then walk out of my office and do the exact opposite. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
FITTING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE SEPARATING (Jeremiah 43)
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah at Tahpanhes: ‘Pick up some large stones and set them in the mortar of the brick pavement that is at the opening of Pharaoh's palace at Tahpanhes. [Do this] in the sight of the Judean men and tell them: This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I will send for My servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and I will place his throne on these stones that I have embedded, and he will pitch his pavilion over them. He will come and strike down the land of Egypt-those [destined] for death, to death; those [destined] for captivity, to captivity; and those [destined] for the sword, to the sword. I will kindle a fire in the temples of Egypt's gods, and he will burn them and take them prisoner. He will clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd picks lice off his garment, and he will leave there unscathed. He will smash the sacred pillars of the sun temple in the land of Egypt and burn down the temples of the Egyptian gods.’" (Jer.43:8-13)
The connection between God’s judgment on the Jews who fled and the judgment of Egypt’s gods is significant. This was at the heart of God forbidding them to go down to that heathen land. He knew they would be sucked back into idolatry. They were.
“You are provoking Me to anger by the work of your hands. You are burning incense to other gods in the land of Egypt where you have gone to live for a while. As a result, you will be cut off and become an object of cursing and insult among all the nations of earth. Have you forgotten the evils of your fathers, the evils of Judah's kings, the evils of their wives, your own evils, and the evils of your wives that were committed in the land of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?” (Jer.44:8-9)
We have heard the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Fit in. Conform. That is the way of the world. Go along to get along. It seems so right. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
God has called us to separation—to be in the world, but not of the world. Satan’s strategy is assimilation. That is what happened to the Jews who journeyed to Egypt. It was a dead end—literally.
“And I will take away the remnant of Judah, those who have resolved to go to the land of Egypt to live there for a while; they will meet their end. All of them in the land of Egypt will fall by the sword; they will meet their end by famine. From the least to the greatest, they will die by the sword and by famine. Then they will become an object of cursing, scorn, execration, and disgrace. I will punish those living in the land of Egypt just as I punished Jerusalem by sword, famine, and plague.” (Jer.44:12-13)
How stubborn we are! What fools to run from the arms of God and into the arms of temptation! You have heard the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Prophet after prophet had warned them not to seek after false gods, but they wouldn’t listen. Neither would they listen to Jeremiah.
“When Jeremiah had finished speaking to all the people all the words of the Lord their God-all these words the Lord their God had sent him to give them—then Azariah son of Hoshaiah, Johanan son of Kareah, and all the other arrogant men responded to Jeremiah, ‘You are speaking a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, “You must not go to Egypt to live there for a while!”
Rather, Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Chaldeans to put us to death or to deport us to Babylon!’ So Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies did not obey the voice of the Lord to stay in the land of Judah. Instead, Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies took the whole remnant of Judah, those who had returned from all the nations where they had been banished to live in the land of Judah for a while—the men, women, children, king's daughters, and everyone whom Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, had allowed to remain with Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan, along with Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah—and they went to the land of Egypt because they did not obey the voice of the Lord. They went as far as Tahpanhes.” (Jer.43:1-7)
We’ll just go this far, they thought. We’ll just stay this long, they said. But, as has been said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
Remember Lot? Choosing the rich pastures near Sodom to graze his flocks and herds, then pitching his tent in close proximity to Sodom, and at last living in that wicked city—that was the road to ruin, for him and his family. What a price he paid! But, at first, it seemed the smart choice. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The remnant of Jews found that out.
FAILING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE SUCCEEDING (Jeremiah 44)
“Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, all you Judeans who live in the land of Egypt: 'I have sworn by My great name, says Yahweh, that My name will never again be invoked by anyone of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, "As the Lord God lives." I am watching over them for disaster and not for good, and every man of Judah who is in the land of Egypt will meet his end by sword or famine until they are finished off. Those who escape the sword will return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah only few in number, and the whole remnant of Judah, the ones going to the land of Egypt to live there for a while, will know whose word stands, Mine or theirs!’” (Jer.44:26-28)
God would have prospered them had they remained in His will. Would it be a smooth road—with never a pothole? No—in fact that is why they rejected the Lord’s way. It was a narrow road. It was steep and rugged. Nobody else was travelling it. But, the other road was downhill. It was smooth and wide—an interstate highway. The majority said, “Let’s go!” But, it was a dead end. The important thing about a road is where it takes you. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Though the remnant that remained had begun to sample some peace and measure of prosperity in Jerusalem, they were still surrounded by rubble. The smell of smoke from the ashes left from the temple’s destruction, the piles of broken blocks that had to be negotiated at every turn, and the struggle of living in such a state had its challenges. Yet, this was the right way, the good way—and after a season of plowing hard ground, pulling many weeds and waiting tenaciously, a better harvest would have replaced the bitter one. But, they were impatient and intransigent. They sought the path of least resistance. But, it was a dead end.
When God marks a road as a dead end, believe it. Turn around—now!