Saturday, September 29, 2012
“All the people gathered together at the square in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses that the Lord had given Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:1-3 HCSB)
Multitudes will also gather this Sunday to sit in a pew and listen to a preacher in a pulpit.
What’s the point?
Tragically, for some, they will fail to get the point because the sermon has no point. The man on the platform may see himself as an entertainer—there to keep the people happy. He might see himself as an educator—dispensing information without any practical application. The preacher could be an elitist—too smart to believe what is in that old Book, as he subtracts from it based on his reason. He will comment on current events and speak against the injustice of society—as liberals do. The preacher could be an enthusiast—passionate about what he believes, but adding to what is in the Bible based on his opinion. He will scream about cultural evils and speak against the iniquities of society—as legalists do.
What’s the point?
For many, Sunday mornings at 11 AM, is about a group of people gathering with other people they already know, to listen to things they have already heard, about which they intend to do nothing about. That misses the point.
The Jews who had returned from exile got the point. We read in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah of preaching that was far from pointless. The first half of this book focuses on the reconstruction of the walls, and the second half on the reinstruction from the Word. It is that latter matter that we have come to in our study.
I shamelessly announce my intention to give you a reason to take the time to get up and come to the house of God, to listen to the sermon and experience the transformation that eternal truth brings. You will find one waiting for you who is not an entertainer, an educator, an elitist nor an enthusiast—but rather an expositor—one who takes the Word of God, reads it, explains it and applies it by the help of God.
THERE WAS A DESIRE FOR THE WORD OF GOD.
“All the people gathered together at the square in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses that the Lord had given Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law.” (Neh.8:1-3)
It wasn’t that the people came from duty, out of a sense of obligation, but with delight, out of a sense of passion. There was a heart hunger for the Word of God, and they assembled with anticipation and listened with attention.
Physically, from the time we enter this world, hunger is hard-wired into us. We instinctively know we need to be fed and demand it. We cannot survive and thrive without ingesting and digesting nutrition.
Spiritually, from the moment we are born again, the Spirit of God puts a hunger into us for the Word of God. This is the Bread of Heaven for our soul. We will not grow and be strong without being fed from Scripture.
I take my responsibility as a shepherd (for that is what the term “pastor” means) seriously—and a shepherd who does not feed the sheep has failed, whatever else he does. When you listen to me, you will be fed the Word of God. There will be the exposition of truth—explanation of what the text means, and exhortation of how the text applies. You can depend on it. As I have heard the late Adrian Rogers say several times, “Some may preach the Gospel better than I do, but no one preaches a better Gospel than I do.”
THERE WAS A DECLARATION OF THE WORD OF GOD.
“Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform made for this purpose. Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah stood beside him on his right; to his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Ezra opened the book in full view of all the people, since he was elevated above everyone. As he opened it, all the people stood up.
Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and with their hands uplifted all the people said, ‘Amen, Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, who were Levites, explained the law to the people [as they stood] in their places. They read the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.” (Neh.8:4-8)
I heard the gifted preacher, Alastair Begg, recall his boyhood days attending church in Scotland. He would watch, as a few minutes before the worship hour, the side door would open, and the beadle (an official in the church who oversees the order of the service) would come in with great dignity, holding an enormous Bible in front of him. He would proceed to the pulpit and up the stairs, where he would enter the pulpit and situate the Bible, placing the ribbons to mark the day’s texts, and then retreat back down the steps and out the door. Next, the beadle would open the door and the preacher would enter, the beadle would escort him to the pulpit and shut him in there. Begg, said that he thought, “Something special is about to happen—and whatever it is, it involves that Book!”
Indeed—that’s the point of preaching isn’t it? God has chosen this method to convey His message to the world. We might think there are better ways, but God says this is His way. A modern world might lean on video, dialogue, drama, and other technological advances to communicate the truth—and there is certainly a place for all of that in its proper place—but there is no substitute for preaching.
There was a reverence for the Word of God conveyed by the response of the people to its reading. As Ezra opened the Book, the people stood up, then Ezra offered, “a pastoral prayer” and all the congregation said, “Amen, Amen!” This is the Scriptural pattern I have followed Sunday after Sunday for over three decades of preaching. I announce the text, the people stand as the Scripture is read, and I call out to God.
It is instructive that the people are said to be worshipping. We may have heard this thought, “In our services, we have about thirty minutes of worship, followed by the preaching.” God have mercy! I know what they mean by that—a half hour of songs, followed by a half hour of sermon. That misses the meaning of worship and the point of preaching! Worship isn’t just confined to singing—the sermon is an act of the pastor offering himself, poured out as a living sacrifice to God and calling for the congregation to do the same. As the singing is meant to also present truth and the music leader to direct our hearts to join together in response, so the sermon is meant to do likewise as the preacher directs us to God and calls for a response of faith and obedience. Amen? Amen!
They read the Scripture. It wasn’t a text meant for a pretext. Some preachers imply by their manner that the reading of the Scripture is a preliminary ritual to get to the important things they want to say. The reality is that the sermon is in subjugation to the Scripture. It is more important to hear what God says than what the preacher says about what God says. When the Scriptures speak, God speaks!
They explained to all who could understand. Babies and the very young need to be provided for—so the little one can learn that the church is a place of warmth and love, while the congregation can then concentrate on the message without distraction. A baby doesn’t have to be crying to cause a distraction—cooing will do. Naturally, you had rather gaze into the cherubic face of a smiling infant than look at the weathered face of an old preacher! But, when children are old enough to understand, they should hear the preaching. The teenagers don’t need to be segregated either—they can learn to listen, even in this age of video games. It is a challenge for both the pastor and the people—adults included—in this sound-bite culture to really hear what is being said. But, we need that guidance.
The Ethiopian eunuch was reading the Word of God, but had him puzzled as to its meaning. Notice what was needed:
“The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go and join that chariot.’
When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you're reading?’
‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone guides me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:
He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so He does not open His mouth.
In His humiliation justice was denied Him. Who will describe His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.
The eunuch replied to Philip, ‘I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or another person?’
So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.” (Acts 8:29-35)
That is the preacher’s task, but is he hitting his target?
How often do people sit in the pew and wonder, “What’s the point?” The preacher sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Waaah, waaah, waaah, waaah…” and the congregation becomes comatose through the skills of the anesthesiologist in the pulpit!
If the pastor isn’t excited about what he says, then we may be sure the people will not be.
We do not have to make the Bible relevant. Its truths are as timeless as the eternal God who inspired them. But, it is the task of the preacher to accomplish two things:
1) To say, “This is what the text means”—interpretation—so the authority of the sermon rests in an accurate understanding of what God has said;
2) To say, “This is what we need to do about it”—application—so the practicality of the sermon challenges the listener to submit to what God has said.
Paul instructed the young preacher, Timothy, “Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.” (1 Tim.4:13) God has not rescinded that command.
THERE WAS THE DYNAMIC OF THE WORD OF GOD.
“Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all of them, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go and eat what is rich, drink what is sweet, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, since today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.’ And the Levites quieted all the people, saying, ‘Be still, since today is holy. Do not grieve.’
Then all the people began to eat and drink, send portions, and have a great celebration, because they had understood the words that were explained to them.” (Neh.8:9-12)
The preaching of the Word had powerful effect on the people. They were broken by conviction—the weight of their sin was felt as they compared the standard God had set, and their failure to measure up. But, the Word was meant to be “the message of His grace” (see Acts 14:3, 20:32). Grace is the power of God to do for us what we could never do ourselves. It is His effective work in us.
Bible preaching heard and heeded will change your life! I have seen it. It’s happened—and is happening to me. The seed of Scripture is broadcast across the soil of the souls of men and women. Some is snatched away by Satan as soon as it strikes the person. Some brings an emotional response but is quickly forgotten as soon as they walk out the door. Some leads to an outward commitment, but becomes choked out by the weeds of the world. But, others receive the Word and fruit is produced—a soul is saved, a marriage is put back together, a call to service is embraced, a grief is supplanted by peace, and in many other ways a life may be changed.
That’s the point!
It was Saturday night, November 11, 1992, that I was struggling with how often I had preached and yet people seemed to be unaffected. I prayed this prayer, and it is still written down inside my Bible:
May my preaching provide more than information—more than cold, sterile truths to be mentally agreed to, only to be filed away and forgotten;
May my preaching cause more than inspiration—more than superficial, sentimental truths that merely arouse emotions, only to be lost when the feelings fade;
May my preaching bring transformation—living truth energized by the unction of the Holy Spirit,
A burning fire that cannot be quenched,
An irresistible force that cannot be stopped,
Truth that penetrates like a two-edged sword to the very heart,
Bringing a mortal blow to our wicked wills,
Yielding deep, lasting, genuine change to the glory of God!
Would you join me in that heart cry? If we do, then we will get the point!
Friday, September 28, 2012
“There was a widespread outcry from the people and their wives against their Jewish countrymen. Some were saying, ‘We, our sons, and our daughters are numerous. Let us get grain so that we can eat and live.’ Others were saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, vineyards, and homes to get grain during the famine.’ Still others were saying, ‘We have borrowed money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards.
We and our children are [just] like our countrymen and their children, yet we are subjecting our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters are already enslaved, but we are powerless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.’
I became extremely angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints.” (Nehemiah 5:1-6 HCSB)
Perhaps you’ve heard this definition, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.”
Money talks, and mine usually says, “Goodbye!”
Businesses are struggling, property values have fallen, houses are “under water,” unemployment is high, inflation is creeping in, and I could go on with the misery index. The gravest peril, however, is that our nation is drowning in red ink—owing more than 16 trillion dollars. That is a mind-boggling amount. Serious people say that we are on the edge of a fiscal cliff. If America’s financial system fails, we will experience a global meltdown that is unprecedented in scope. There is a lot of hot air in Washington, but no backbone, it seems, to deal with the crisis.
As we continue in our reading in Nehemiah, we come to chapter five. There we see the kind of leadership needed to rescue us from drowning in red ink.
Let’s understand THE PERIL.
Their economic evils were brought on by UNBRIDLED GREED.
“There was a widespread outcry from the people and their wives against their Jewish countrymen. Some were saying, ‘We, our sons, and our daughters are numerous. Let us get grain so that we can eat and live.’ Others were saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, vineyards, and homes to get grain during the famine.’” (Neh.5:1-3)
Do you see the peril God’s people faced? During the days of the effort to rebuild Jerusalem, economic disaster loomed on the horizon. Nehemiah would have to provide strong leadership through this dangerous time.
The outcry of the laborers resulted from their unjust treatment, brought on by unbridled greed. Bible teacher, Chuck Swindoll calls this a strike by laborers who had been working on the wall. While they didn’t picket, they did create problems.
Perhaps we think that labor problems are something relatively new. They are not. They are caused by greed--the greed of management that doesn't care for the employees concerns, such as we see in this text, and the greed of workers who want a bigger slice of the pie than they deserve.
Yet, the Scripture enjoins that laborers be dealt with justly and compassionately and that laborers work submissively and eagerly. Numerous passages could be cited, such as Colossians 3:22-4:1.
Think about the transformation that would occur in the workplace, if these principles were placed in effect. The increase of productivity would create such a tide of prosperity that would drive down the deficit and lift all aspects of the economy. Workers who do their job at peak efficiency, not just when the boss is watching, but as a service to God and employers who pay as much as they can, instead of as little as they can, who create good work conditions, and provide benefits to the greatest degree possible will fuel an economic powerhouse. That’s the way to run a business.
We like to think of America as being a free nation. But today we are in bondage to foreign governments who help keep our economy afloat by funding massive debt. We are the largest debtor nation in the world.
Israel, during Nehemiah’s time, was also in trouble because of UNLIMITED CREDIT.
“Others were saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, vineyards, and homes to get grain during the famine.’” (Neh.5:3)
Simply put, these were in debt over their heads. They had borrowed beyond their ability to repay. That is a recipe for disaster.
Did you know that many commit financial suicide with the edge of a credit card? Easy credit will ruin you. An escalating cycle of debt inevitably marches one toward the day of reckoning. What is true of a family will also be true of a nation. The day of reckoning may be postponed delayed because of the abundant resources of our nation, but eventually there will be a day of reckoning.
The federal government is spending money like there is no tomorrow. If we keep it up, there will be no tomorrow! We have loaned billions to other countries that have neither the means not intention to ever pay it back. Entitlements are growing at break neck speed. The national debt is like a hungry monster gobbling up all the capital that might have been used for investment. Washington, DC is a black hole where trillions of dollars disappear.
If we could travel back through time and interview the Founding Fathers--those brave souls who were willing by blood, sweat and tears to liberate a nation from tyranny, who spent their financial resources to establish America, what would they say about what we have allowed America to become? Could they believe we would permit such domination and intrusion of the federal government today?
Many times we feel helpless to change the course of our country—it seems so out of hand. But, we must try.
Let me suggest a place to start. Get your own financial house in order. Stop borrowing money. Perform plastic surgery and get rid of the credit cards, if necessary. Begin to work to get out of debt. Make a budget and stay on it.
How many people are hindered in God’s service because of debt? For instance, say there is a young couple who believes they are being led to go to the mission field, but they owe so much money they can’t afford to go. Here is a middle aged couple who know they should be tithing and giving to the Lord’s work, and yet they owe so much and the financial strain is so great that their giving is paltry.
Let us be wise stewards of the money God has permitted us to have. Then let us demand such stewardship from our elected officials. When fundamental financial principles are violated, no amount of money manipulation by the Federal Reserve or political programs from the President will solve the economic misery that results. The only answer is to return to sound fiscal policies.
The Jews of Nehemiah’s day were suffering a monetary malady brought on by unbridled greed and unlimited credit. There was also the problem of UNUSED RESOURCES
“Some were saying, ‘We, our sons, and our daughters are numerous. Let us get grain so that we can eat and live.’ Others were saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, vineyards, and homes to get grain during the famine.’ Still others were saying, ‘We have borrowed money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards.
We and our children are [just] like our countrymen and their children, yet we are subjecting our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters are already enslaved, but we are powerless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.’” (Neh.5:2-5)
People were having to borrow to eat because others owned the land. Today foreign investors are gobbling up chunks of America. They are buying industry and property. One day we are going to wake up and find that we have signed the title deed to America over to foreign domination.
This chapter speaks of how the children were in bondage because of the economic conditions. We are shackling our children with such massive debt so as to enslave an entire generation to come. What we are doing to our children and grandchildren is criminal!
There was famine in the land, but it was because of violation of God’s principles—not because of “global warming.” Thus, the people had come under judgment. If you read your Bible carefully, you will discover that drought and famine indicate God’s judgment on a nation. Last summer, America’s heartland baked under the heat. Food prices are bound to reflect this come winter. Just another year like that—and famine could come to America.
As we look around the world and television brings us horrific pictures of starving multitudes, and we ask ourselves, “Why?” The so-called experts today warn us of the population bomb, that unchecked control of the population is the reason for poverty and starvation. These famines are but harbingers of worse to come if we don’t control the population, they say. The world’s resources are running out, we are told.
This is nonsense. The problem is not overpopulation. You should go on YouTube and search for the clip, “Demographic Winter” and you will see that declining birthrates in the West threaten civilization.
The real problem is a rejection of God’s truth. For example, we are often confronted with the starving masses in India as a need for population control and redistribution of wealth. Yet India grows enough grain to feed its people. The problem is a false religion that believes mice should not be killed, for it could be the reincarnation of your mother-in-law, so the mice eat enough grain to feed the people. Sacred cows wander the streets. Those cows could be slaughtered to feed the hungry, except the heifer might be grandma. Sin is the reason that people starve.
Then, another folly was UNFAIR TAXES.
“Still others were saying, ‘We have borrowed money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards.’” (Neh.5:4)
Taxation is not a new problem. When Israel decided they no longer wanted to be a theocracy, with God as King, but desired to be a monarchy like other nations, they were warned of the heavy burden of taxation the king would place upon them. We see such monetary misery in Nehemiah’s time.
Their burden of taxation was so great they were having to mortgage their property just to pay their taxes. That is unfair, and that is what we can say about the tax system of the United States. We are taxed at ridiculous levels. If an individual did what the government does they would be arrested. We call it stealing—taking that which doesn’t belong to you. Each year the local, state and federal governments confiscate the hard-earned dollars of the American worker at excessive levels and give it to many who will not get off their back-sides and work, as well as fund a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy, where we hear of news reports about extravagance and waste funded by tax dollars.
Our Declaration of Independence relates the causes of the colonists’ decision to separate from England. It states how King George (and here’s a direct quote), “has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”
How ironic that this is what the federal government is doing today. It seems King George now sits in the White House.
Can you imagine our Founding Fathers tolerating such? Don’t you remember the Boston Tea Party? A number of people have decided they will form a modern, “Tea Party” and I am part of that. I love my kids and grandchildren too much, and I appreciate this nation too much, to just go quietly in the night.
If America is going to survive, wasteful spending must be checked and tax rates cut so that the productive members of society have the money to keep the economy moving. We hear a lot of talk about taxing millionaires and billionaires, when the tax hikes planned will cripple small business, and bring down the economy.
From the peril we turn to THE PROVISION. There is a provision from God to meet our economic peril. Scripture tells us here how Nehemiah was able to lead his people out of their monetary miseries.
His solution, first of all, involved ANGER.
“I became extremely angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints. After seriously considering the matter, I accused the nobles and officials, saying to them, ‘Each of you is charging his countrymen interest.’ So I called a large assembly against them and said, ‘We have done our best to buy back our Jewish countrymen who were sold to foreigners, but now you sell your own countrymen, and we have to buy them back.’ They remained silent and could not say a word.” (Neh.5:6-8)
Nehemiah got hot! There is a proper time for anger, channeled in a productive way. Listen friend, this country we love is about to drown in red ink. You have a government that is bleeding us to death. Our leaders are enslaving our children and grandchildren. They are causing America to be sold off piece by piece to foreigners.
The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Anger can be sinful. It is sinful, when it is selfish. But anger towards injustice and iniquity is needful.
There came a day when Jesus Christ came into the Temple. There He saw the greedy leaders had turned His Father’s House into a house of merchandise. He saw this as an affront to God. The Lord also saw how this was an impediment for those who wanted to know God, so he turned over the moneychangers’ tables and took a whip and drove them out. Jesus was angry, but without sin.
Nehemiah called a great assembly against the leaders. I am calling for such an uprising--not with bullets but ballots. We have that privilege and responsibility. It is our patriotic duty to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. As long as we are apathetic, we will do nothing.
Nehemiah was just one man, but he made a difference. You can too, if you are willing to take a courageous stand. Nehemiah was a government leader as a man of God. That’s the kind of folks we need in office.
Nehemiah not only got angry, but he made an APPEAL.
“Then I said, "What you are doing isn't right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God [and not invite] the reproach of our foreign enemies?” (Neh.5:9)
Nehemiah appealed to them, by reminding them, that they must one day answer to God. That is a reminder the politicians need. There is a higher court than their constituents that they will stand before. The way of opinion polls may make for re-election, but principles make for sound governance. It is the difference between a democracy, where the majority rules and a republic, where principles rule. We are in danger of becoming the former, when we were established to be the latter.
Nehemiah also appealed to them to get their act together because of their enemies. There were enemies then--there are enemies today. As long as America exists, she will have enemies. There will always be those waiting and ready to prey upon us in a time of weakness.
If the economy of a nation deteriorates, its ability to defend itself will weaken, likewise. Bullets and bombs won’t save us. Should an economic disaster befall America today, on the scale of the Great Depression, can you imagine the civil strife and chaos in our cities? In the 1920’s, we had a populace that by and large was industrious and ethical. They were able to help each other and get through those desperate days. Those used to living off the government today would rise in armed rebellion, loot and burn and pillage and plunder if their entitlements were shut off. This nightmare scenario is on the verge of unfolding.
Anarchy would spread like a plague. The chaos would be so great there would be a call for military intervention, and likely out of that climate a dictator would arise with a desperate people subjugating themselves willingly under his iron grip. In fact, executive orders have been recently signed by the President to seize power in such a crisis. Our military has recently had training exercises in some of our cities. Preparations have been made for this.
That’s what happened in Germany. I have been reading about it in Churchill’s, “Memoirs of the Second World War.” It sounds like reading today’s newspapers as we head toward World War III.
After the first World War, Germany was bankrupt and the currency worthless. Enter Hitler, a charismatic leader who promises Germany will be reborn. You know how that worked out. Don’t say it couldn’t happen here. Those Germans were educated, sophisticated and yet in their plight were willing to believe the lie.
Nehemiah called upon the people to ADOPT sound economic principles.
“’Even I, as well as my brothers and my servants, have been lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop charging this interest.
Return their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses to them immediately, along with the percentage of the money, grain, new wine, and olive oil that you have been assessing them.’
They responded: ‘We will return [these things] and require nothing more from them. We will do as you say.’
So I summoned the priests and made everyone take an oath to do this.
I also shook the folds of my robe and said, ‘May God likewise shake from his house and property everyone who doesn't keep this promise. May he be shaken out and have nothing!’
The whole assembly said, ‘Amen,’ and they praised the Lord. Then the people did as they had promised.” (Neh.5:10-13)
Nehemiah was going to hold the feet of the politicians to the fire. He said, ‘You do the right thing or you’re out of here!’
Nehemiah not only demanded statesmanship, he demonstrated it. He set an example of sacrifice:
“Furthermore, from the day King Artaxerxes appointed me to be their governor in the land of Judah—from the twentieth year until his thirty-second year, 12 years—I and my associates never ate from the food allotted to the governor.” (Neh.5:14)
Nehemiah was an example of service. We need such a spirit in our day. What we don’t need are leaders living as princes, while they make the people into paupers.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
“So I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let's rebuild Jerusalem's wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.’
I told them how the gracious hand of my God had been on me, and what the king had said to me. They said, ‘Let's start rebuilding,’ and they were encouraged to [do] this good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18 HCSB)
Before an artist paints a picture on the canvas, he creates it in his mind. The shape of a sculpture takes form in the sculptor’s thoughts, before a hammer and chisel go to work in his hands. In the same way, God inspires a vision in the hearts of the pastors and the people to guide the church into the future. God wants to paint a masterpiece of ministry in His church. He wants the picture to form in our minds to move us forward together in achieving of the vision.
How do we get such a vision? How can we be sure that it is not just something we’ve dreamed up or borrowed from some other church, but is God’s will for us? What is required for a masterpiece of ministry? Nehemiah has lessons for us—timeless truths that still apply today.
A masterpiece of ministry is determined in part by THE NEED AROUND US.
“The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: During the month of Chislev in the twentieth year, when I was in the fortress city of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, arrived with men from Judah, and I questioned them about Jerusalem and the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile.
They said to me, ‘The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem's wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down.’” (Neh.1:1-3)
This is THE SITUATION REQUIRING VISION. The people of God were in a bad way. The situation was bleak. God often shows us a need as the initial step in giving us a vision to meet that need. Although this principle transcends time and space, its application will be in time and space—a universal truth that has a local application.
What do I mean by that?
There is a reason God has placed a local church in a particular place. Its ministry is to be specific to the strategic opportunity presented in that spot of soil.
What needs do we see around our church field?
John Wesley said, “I look on all the world as my parish.” Indeed, the church’s mission involves a global mandate, but in reaching to the uttermost parts of the earth, we must not shirk our Jerusalem and Judea and shrink back from our Samaria near by. What particular needs are in your church community, crying out to be addressed? Your church family does not live at its current address by accident.
A masterpiece of ministry is inspired by THE GOD ABOVE US.
“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Yahweh, the God of heaven, the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps His gracious covenant with those who love Him and keep His commands, let Your eyes be open and Your ears be attentive to hear Your servant's prayer that I now pray to You day and night for Your servants, the Israelites. I confess the sins we have committed against You. Both I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted corruptly toward You and have not kept the commands, statutes, and ordinances You gave Your servant Moses. Please remember what You commanded Your servant Moses: ‘[If] you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples. But if you return to Me and carefully observe My commands, even though your exiles were banished to the ends of the earth, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I chose to have My name dwell.’ They are Your servants and Your people. You redeemed [them] by Your great power and strong hand.
Please, Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to that of Your servants who delight to revere Your name. Give Your servant success today, and have compassion on him in the presence of this man.
[At the time,] I was the king's cupbearer.” (Neh.1:4-11)
He is THE SOURCE INSPIRING VISION. Our tendency, oftentimes, when faced with a need, is to run away from it, because we think the need is too great, or we run out and try to fix it, thinking we can handle it. We should do neither, but instead run to God and hear from Him.
There are many things we can do after we pray, but nothing until we pray. The vision that God has for His church is not a product of our best reasoning or the expectation of others. Rather it comes down from above. Acts 16:6-10 gives us an example:
“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, ‘Cross over to Macedonia and help us!’
After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.”
Now, the vision we have for what God is calling us to do will not likely be so dramatic in its delivery as that, nevertheless, it will be the Holy Spirit guiding us through Scripture, summoning us to meet the need we have found in His direction and power.
Then, the masterpiece of ministry develops by THE PASSION WITHIN US.
“During the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was set before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence, so the king said to me, ‘Why are you sad, when you aren't sick? This is nothing but depression.’
I was overwhelmed with fear and replied to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’
Then the king asked me, ‘What is your request?’
So I prayed to the God of heaven and answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah and to the city where my ancestors are buried, so that I may rebuild it.’
The king, with the queen seated beside him, asked me, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you return?’ So I gave him a definite time, and it pleased the king to send me.
I also said to the king: ‘If it pleases the king, let me have letters [written] to the governors of the region west of the Euphrates River, so that they will grant me [safe] passage until I reach Judah. And [let me have] a letter [written] to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so that he will give me timber to rebuild the gates of the temple's fortress, the city wall, and the home where I will live.’
The king granted my [requests], for I was graciously strengthened by my God.’” (Neh.2:1-8)
This is THE PASSION SUSTAINING VISION. What was in Nehemiah’s heart registered on his face. Even though it was punishable by death for a cupbearer to enter the king’s presence with a sad countenance, he just couldn’t help it. Not only did he disclose the need to the king, but he boldly asked for help to do the job.
He took a deep breath—a whispered prayer—and then he “spilled the beans.” Not for a moment did he waver. There was a fire in his soul—a passion for his God and his people that inspired Nehemiah.
If we are ever going to achieve what God has for us, it will be that a sacred fire burns within. We can’t just go through the motions. It can’t be business as usual. We can’t play church. The Spirit of God must stir us. He will, if we will but open the door and make Him welcome!
Creating a masterpiece of ministry requires a passion fueled by the needs of people and inspired by a vision from God because we will most certainly engage THE ENEMY AGAINST US.
“I went to the governors of the region west of the Euphrates and gave them the king's letters. The king had also sent officers of the infantry and cavalry with me.
When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard that someone had come to seek the well-being of the Israelites, they were greatly displeased.” (Neh.2:9-10)
This is THE PROBLEM FACING VISION. Here we have the first, but not the last time these two are found opposing the work of God. One way we can know we are moving forward in God’s will is that we run head on into the devil! When heaven is at work that’s when it may seem all hell breaks loose.
Satan knows there is only one force that can defeat him, only one power on earth that can set those free whom he holds in fetters of sin, dragging them down to hell. That power is the Lord’s army—the militant, triumphant church of the living God! We may wrongly conclude when facing problems that we are out of God’s will. The fact is that often confirms it. Every God-inspired vision has met with significant opposition.
Let us be cautious about running roughshod over church members who may be slower to catch the vision than those in leadership—being out in front and bringing people along are essential to what leaders do. Just because someone has questions and is wrestling with doubt doesn’t mean we should view them as “tools of Satan.” Yet, having said that—we must move forward in the face of opposition graciously, yet firmly, if the need is there, God’s Word aligns with the way to meet that need, and the Lord has built a passion in us to do so.
Let me expand on that by noting how a masterpiece of ministry comes to the canvas of our community via THE INVESTIGATION BY US.
“After I arrived in Jerusalem and had been there three days, I got up at night and [took] a few men with me. I didn't tell anyone what my God had laid on my heart to do for Jerusalem. The only animal I took was the one I was riding. I went out at night through the Valley Gate toward the Serpent's Well and the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. I went on to the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but farther down it became too narrow for my animal to go through. So I went up at night by way of the valley and inspected the wall. Then heading back, I entered through the Valley Gate and returned. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, for I had not yet told the Jews, priests, nobles, officials, or the rest of those who would be doing the work.” (Neh.2:11-16)
This is THE LEADERSHIP FORMING VISION. The vision first forms in the heart of one man who will lead the way: Nehemiah. He doesn’t consult with anyone else at first, for he has already heard from God. Instead, Nehemiah investigates the task at hand. He is forming a plan for how to get the job done. Once he gets direction, then he is going to influence some others who will help lead the effort.
John Maxwell has said—and every church leader needs to recognize—“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Churches can be crippled by failed leadership. “A leader knows the way, shows the way and goes the way.” (Maxwell) He or she will investigate the opportunities, know the resources and come up with an action plan. He will then inspire others to follow. Getting “buy-in” from the people who will do the work is crucial at this juncture.
A masterpiece of ministry is painted by THE DEDICATION OF US.
“So I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let's rebuild Jerusalem's wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.’
I told them how the gracious hand of my God had been on me, and what the king had said to me. They said, ‘Let's start rebuilding,’ and they were encouraged to [do] this good work.
When Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard [about this], they mocked and despised us, and said, ‘What is this you're doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’
I gave them this reply, ‘The God of heaven is the One who will grant us success. We, His servants, will start building, but you have no share, right, or historic claim in Jerusalem.’ (Neh.2:17-20)
There must be THE LAITY EMBRACING VISION. Nehemiah challenges the people with the vision of building the walls of Jerusalem. They respond by dedicating themselves to the work. Despite the continued negativity of a few, they positively stated their belief in God and dedication to the vision’s fulfillment.
What do we see happening at our church when “the gracious hand of…God” is upon us? Can you see a worship experience where a church building is packed as the people gather in an atmosphere saturated with the presence of God—a place of exuberant praise? Can you picture an evangelistic thrust that brings people to faith in Jesus and then brings them forward every service to confess their new faith? Could you visualize a fellowship that is so warm and winsome that deep friendships are formed that offer encouragement in overflowing measure? Do you dream of a day when people’s lives are genuinely transformed by the Word of God—disciples who mature and have an impact on their home and workplace and school? Have you imagined more people discovering and developing and deploying their spiritual gifts—a breadth and depth of leadership that moves the church forward as member after member becomes a minister? Do you dare conceive of a church where failing marriages are restored and struggling marriages are strengthened—where men become the spiritual leaders of their home and church, so that a generation of children and youth grow up to impact their world as new missionaries and pastors and church leaders?
Then, the church we attend will be a global impact church! That is the indisputable Great Commission our Lord has given and sent the Spirit to enable us to fulfill.
You might scoff and call me a dreamer. That’s okay. Nehemiah was, and look at his statement of faith that became fulfilled to the glory of God, “The God of heaven is the One who will grant us success.”
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
“Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey [it], and teach [its] statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10 HCSB)
“Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” I have heard leadership guru, John Maxwell, say that numerous times. It is true to the Word of God.
Pastors and deacons are, according to the New Testament, the spiritual leaders in the church. We have influence, and that influence makes an impact. Hopefully, it is for good, it may be for bad, but leadership does make a difference.
Our text brings us face to face with an exemplary leader named Ezra. He is a shining model of a spiritual man. He was able to influence a pagan king (see Ezra 7:1,6). The Jews had been in exile seventy years. During that time, the Persians conquered their Babylonian captors. In that era, Ezra persuaded one of the Persian rulers, Artaxerxes, to permit him to lead a group of exiles back to Palestine. That’s the impact of influence.
Ezra’s influence on the Jews is observed in the remainder of the book, as he leads them to experience revival. He was a man of much ability and many achievements.
How did he accomplish so much? God’s gracious hand was upon him (7:6,9)!
That leads us to ask a followup question. Why did God’s hand rest upon this man? I believe Ezra 7:10 is the pivotal verse in this book, “Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey [it], and teach [its] statutes and ordinances in Israel.” He had influence in the world because the Word had influence on him.
We learn in this book how one man made a difference in the lives of God’s people. Let me give you a quick overview of the book and share some practical insight concerning the impact of influence.
The first half of the book displays the leadership needed for THE REBUILDING OF THE SANCTUARY (Chapters 1-6)
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and [to put it] in writing: This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever is among His people, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1-3)
God was leading and the people needed to link up with what God was doing. Leaders are that link that help guide the people in God’s will.
Leaders communicate the potential (Chapters 1-3)
“So the family leaders of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites-everyone God had motivated-prepared to go up and rebuild the Lord's house in Jerusalem. All their neighbors supported them with silver articles, gold, goods, livestock, and valuables, in addition to all that was given as a freewill offering.” (Ezra 1:5-6)
Although Ezra is the central figure of the book that bears his name, he is by no means the only leader found in its pages. Here we read of others who made an impact.
For seven deacades, Jerusalem had been a desolate wasteland. God’s people had been carried into captivity, serving pagans in a heathen environment. The beautiful temple had been destroyed. Nothing short of a miracle could bring them back to Jerusalem and enable them to rebuild. You may feel that desperate about the situation you are in, but, remember that with God all things are possible!
The igniting of a spark of faith came through a group of godly leaders. They challenged the people to see the potential of what could be done, if they would just trust in the promises of God. That’s what leaders do. Their influence inspires by painting a picture of potential progress.
Leaders who have such an impact believe in the power of God and the potential of the people of God. They offer words of encouragement that infuse the people with a vision of what can be.
They will need to continue to call people to courage for there will certainly come the need to confront the problems (Chapter 4).
“When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple for Yahweh, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the leaders of the families and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we also worship your God and have been sacrificing to Him since the time King Esar-haddon of Assyria brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders of Israel's families answered them, ‘You may have no part with us in building a house for our God, since we alone must build [it] for Yahweh, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.’ Then the people who were already in the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build.
They also bribed officials [to act] against them to frustrate their plans throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia....
At the beginning of the reign of Ahasuerus, the people who were already in the land wrote an accusation against the residents of Judah and Jerusalem....
Now the construction of God's house in Jerusalem had stopped and remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia. (Ezra 4:1-6, 24)
If you think that spiritual leadership means smooth sailing, then you’re delusional. The progress of God’s Kingdom is always a struggle. The devil will fight the church for every inch of ground. Don’t be caught off guard. The enemy will use threats and intimidation, as we see here. So, what is a leader to do?
The leader must call for persistence (Chapters 5-6).
“So the Jewish elders continued successfully with the building under the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia.” (Ezra 6:14)
The preachers persevered in presenting the Word and the elders persisted in performing the work. There were setbacks and struggles, but there would be no surrender to the enemy.
During the pivotal Battle of the Bulge, when Hitler launched his last gasp offensive against the Allies just before Christmas, 1944, the American 101st Airborne Division, occupying the town of Bastogne, found themselves completely surrounded by German forces. Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe had been ordered to hold the town at all costs. The Germans demanded that the Americans surrender. It was then that McAuliffe gave his now famous, defiant response in one word: “Nuts!” They held the town against the odds—soldiers inspired by their leader.
That’s the kind of attitude, we need to face our foes! We can make progress even in these difficult days in which we live.
The impact of influence is also seen in the second half of Ezra’s book in THE REVIVING OF THE SAINTS (Chapters 7-10). God does a great spiritual work among His people.
Leaders know that revival is rooted in God’s power (Chapters 7-8)
“I proclaimed a fast by the Ahava River, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us, our children, and all our possessions. [I did this] because I was ashamed to ask the king for infantry and cavalry to protect us from enemies during the journey, since we had told him, ‘The hand of our God is gracious to all who seek Him, but His great anger is against all who abandon Him.’
So we fasted and pleaded with our God about this, and He granted our request.” (Ezra 8:21-23)
Ezra didn’t depend on the flesh for a solution—which we are often so quick to do—but he leaned on the power of God. What we are facing is too large for human solutions. Revival will not come without Divine aid. Yet, God has called us to seek that intervention through intercession. We see the leaders summoning the people to join them in prayer and fasting.
The early church was energized by the Spirit and preeminent among them were leaders—pastors and deacons who were Spirit-filled men. Pentecost was birthed in a ten-day prayer meeting. The church moved forward on its knees. The leaders were praying men who knew how to get hold of God, for God had taken hold of them!
That experience requires godly purity (Chapters 9-10)
“While Ezra prayed and confessed, weeping and falling facedown before the house of God, an extremely large assembly of Israelite men, women, and children gathered around him. The people also wept bitterly. Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, an Elamite, responded to Ezra: ‘We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the surrounding peoples, but there is still hope for Israel in spite of this. Let us therefore make a covenant before our God to send away all the [foreign] wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the command of our God. Let it be done according to the law.
Get up, for this matter is your responsibility, and we support you. Be strong and take action!’” (Ezra 10:1-4)
Sin short-circuits the power of God. It is death to revival. We must be clean vessels—holy men of God, if the Holy One is to use us. The Lord can use a crude instrument, but He will only use a clean one.
When you read the Biblical qualifications for church leadership, there is little said about competence (although incompetence is never commendable). Most of the Biblical requirements for the pastor and deacon are character issues.
So, how can we have an influence that makes an impact for God? Look at what made Ezra tick.
There was a PASSIONATE APPREHENSION OF TRUTH. “Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord...” (7:10a).
If you apprehend the truth, it is because the truth has apprehended you! Apprehension certainly involves comprehension, but more—it means captivation! The church’s leaders must be people who are captivated by the Word of God.
How can we lead the church in the ways of God, if we don’t know the Word of God and are submitted to it? How can we be guardians of true belief and godly behavior, if we aren’t saturated with the Word? Our convictions are formed by being captivated by the truth.
Furthermore, there is to be the PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF TRUTH. Ezra has also determined to “obey it...” (7:10b)
It isn’t enough to believe the Word, our behavior must be governed by it. How can a leader guide someone to a place where they are not willing to travel themselves? My influence makes an impact when there is integrity!
I not only know the way, I go the way, and then I show the way, so there is the PUBLIC ATTESTATION OF TRUTH. Ezra would “teach” the Word of God. Scripture was powerfully and publicly attested to by Ezra.
As apple trees generate more apple trees, and salmon spawn more salmon, so we spiritually reproduce after our kind.
Spiritual leaders should reproduce more spiritual leaders. This is what Paul taught Timothy, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim.2:2)
We see this with Ezra. “So I took courage because I was strengthened by Yahweh my God, and I gathered Israelite leaders to return with me.” (7:28b)
Walter Lippman said, “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind in other men the conviction and will to carry on.” The spiritual health and vitality of a church depends on the spiritual health and vitality of the church’s leaders.
My father was diagonsed several years ago with myasthenia gravis. It makes him weak and unsteady. This auto-immune disorder short-circuits the connecting points between the nerves and the muscles, so that even though a nerve transmits from the brain a message, the muscle may not get it because of a breakdown in that connection.
This can happen spiritually. The Message from the Head—Jesus Christ—won’t move the Body—the church—if the neural paths—church leaders—fail to transmit the message.
We must study the Word, submit to the Word and share the Word. This will enable us to have the impact of influence.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
“’A son honors [his] father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is [your] fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.’ Yet you ask: ‘How have we despised Your name?’” (Malachi 1:6 HCSB)
Christianity is a lifestyle. It is not reserved for special occasions.
Maybe you heard of the Pastor who ended the Easter service with, “Merry Christmas!” because he knew that would be the next time he would see some of them.
Our faith isn’t just to be practiced on Sunday and ignored the other six days. The late evangelist, Vance Havner, used to say that a lot of church folk are like “Sunday morning glories”—they bloom at 11 AM and snap shut the rest of the week!
That kind of superficial spirituality is what Malachi confronted. The Old Testament and the New Testament end in similar fashion—with stern warnings and calls for repentance—and with the people of God nauseatingly lukewarm in their relationship with Him.
Are you a “Sunday morning glory”? There are several signs you may be.
The first one is A PROFESSION THAT IS EMPTY.
“’A son honors [his] father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is [your] fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.’ Yet you ask: ‘How have we despised Your name?’” (Mal.1:6)
These people professed to be God’s sons and His servants, yet their performance was lacking—their confession and conduct did not match. Look at the facts.
THEY DID NOT HAVE RESPECT AS SONS.
“’A son honors [his] father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor?’” (v.6a)
One of the basic commands is, “Honor your father.” I was far from a perfect son, but I knew better than to be disrespectful to my father. Yet, this is how the Jews of Malachi’s time were treating God.
I’ve found that we like the rewards of being God’s children, but don’t want the responsibilities that come with it.
Why were they disrespectful? They took God, “lightly.” He is this immense, infinite Being who is of the utmost gravity, but for many their attitude is He is just a cosmic buddy—a neighbor who is nice to have around when you need him, but most of the time, he’s just there. This is being like a grown child who never comes to visit Dad and Mom unless he needs something. We treat God that way. He doesn’t take lightly being taken lightly!
They did not have respect as sons and THEY DID NOT HAVE REVERENCE AS SERVANTS.
“And if I am a master, where is [your] fear of Me?” (Mal.1:6b)
The reason for a servant is that he or she might obey the master’s wishes. Otherwise, what good are they?
These Jews had lost the fear of God. We have also, I believe. Thus, we do God’s will, if it’s convenient and not costly. Yet, God’s will is not optional; it is mandatory!
Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, Lord, lord, and do not do the things I say?”
I will never forget what I heard a preacher, named Peter Lord, say many years ago, “We practice daily what we truly believe and all the rest is just religious talk.”
“Sunday morning glories” have A PROFESSION THAT IS EMPTY and A PERCEPTION THAT IS DULL.
“’A son honors [his] father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is [your] fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.’ Yet you ask: ‘How have we despised Your name?’
‘By presenting defiled food on My altar.’ You ask: ‘How have we defiled You?’ When you say: ‘The Lord's table is contemptible.’” (Mal.1:6-7)
It is bad to be sick, but it is worse to be sick and not know it. This is one of the reasons cancer is such a dreadful disease. It can be working in your body for a long time undetected—no obvious symptoms—and when we become aware it may be too far spread to cure. The Jews had a spiritual cancer, yet were not even aware of it.
That was the spiritual dullness of the Jews in the period of Malachi’s ministry. Malachi put them into the spiritual MRI to look deep inside them. When the prophet told them their condition, they were shocked. They expected a clean bill of health—after all, didn’t they believe in God, pray, give an offering and so forth? That was good, but not good enough. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they were blind to the evil in their hearts.
That’s what a veneer of religion will do—it looks like the real thing, but it isn’t solid. If you go to a high-end furniture store you might gasp and say, “I’m not paying that kind of money for furniture!” So you visit another store and find a piece of furniture that looks nearly as good, but it is made of particle board—some composite material—and a veneer—a thin layer of wood on the surface. It is a surface easily marred and hardly repaired when you sit a glass of water on it, or spill coffee on it, or get it scratched in some fashion. Then you realize the difference in quality.
There are a lot of church attendees that as you look at them they look good on Sunday. But, let their thin layer of faith become challenged, let the world begin to scratch away at them on Monday and it becomes apparent that their faith is superficial.
“Sunday morning glories” have A PROFESSION THAT IS EMPTY and A PERCEPTION THAT IS DULL. We also find in them A POLLUTION THAT IS PRESENT.
“’By presenting defiled food on My altar.’ You ask: ‘How have we defiled You?’ When you say: ‘The Lord's table is contemptible.’
‘When you present a blind [animal] for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick [animal], is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?’ asks the Lord of Hosts. ‘And now ask for God's favor. Will He be gracious to us? [Since] this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?’ asks the Lord of Hosts.
I wish one of you would shut the [temple] doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless [fire on] My altar! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord of Hosts, ‘and I will accept no offering from your hands.
For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,’ says Yahweh of Hosts. But you are profaning it when you say: ‘The Lord's table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.’" (Mal.1:7-12)
If you go into a restroom at a restaurant, you should look for a sign that states the law that all employees must wash their hands after visiting the restroom. If you don’t see that sign, run as fast as you can! I don’t want food prepared with nasty hands!
This kind of offering was being prepared for God. Hands that were soiled by sin were holding it out to the Holy One. He was not pleased.
Such moral pollution results in UNACCEPTED WORSHIP.
“‘When you present a blind [animal] for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick [animal], is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?’ asks the Lord of Hosts.” (1:8)
They gave God the leftovers. His people set before him the dregs. They were expected to bring the first fruits, the cream of the crop, the pick of the litter, but no, what they gave to God was inferior.
The Lord challenged them that they would treat an earthly king better than that! They would have had more respect for a government official than for God. The trash they were setting before the Lord would never be put on the table for a man.
Are we guilty of giving God the leftovers of our life? We act like we are doing God a favor by occasionally giving Him an hour of our time. There is an expectation of a Divine pat on the back when we toss a few dollars into the offering plate—not a tithe, but a tip! Such worship is wasted. God only accepts worship which is offered in spirit and truth. The kind described in Malachi was passionless and a pious fraud.
Moral pollution also brings UNACCEPTED PRAYERS.
"’And now ask for God's favor. Will He be gracious to us? [Since] this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?’ asks the Lord of Hosts.” (1:9)
Their prayers rose no higher than the Temple roof. They went up and made a U-Turn. Years before, the Psalmist stated this principle, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The weight of wicked ways and a worldly will is an anchor that prevents our prayers from sailing heavenward.
Moral pollution yields UNACCEPTED SERVICE.
“’I wish one of you would shut the [temple] doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless [fire on] My altar! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord of Hosts, ‘and I will accept no offering from your hands.’” (v.10)
They were showing up to do their duty—and grousing about it. God says, “Why didn’t you just stay at home?” Close the doors—it is a worthless effort when made with such a loveless attitude. God finds no pleasure in our service if what we do is grudgingly given. He is only pleased with what I do, if I find pleasure in doing it.
Moral pollution further leads to UNACCEPTED WITNESS.
“’For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,’ says Yahweh of Hosts.” (1:11)
If the Jews would not offer sincere worship to God and magnify His name, He would seek out among the Gentiles a people who would. If our church doesn’t glorify Him and adore the Lord our God when we meet for worship, He will travel down the road and find a group of believers who will!
There is something more suggested here. God intended for the Jews to be a light to the Gentiles, but instead of being stepping stones, they were stumbling blocks. Their claims of belonging to the Lord were so contradicted by their conduct as being of the world, so as to make their witness unacceptable. I wonder how many have spurned Christ because of the iniquity of some in His church?
“Sunday morning glories” have A PROFESSION THAT IS EMPTY, A PERCEPTION THAT IS DULL, A POLLUTION THAT IS PRESENT and A PERFORMANCE THAT IS LACKING.
“You also say: ‘Look, what a nuisance!’ ‘And you scorn it,’ says the Lord of Hosts. ‘You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?’ asks the Lord.
‘The deceiver is cursed who has an [acceptable] male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective [animal] to the Lord. For I am a great King,’ says Yahweh of Hosts, ‘and My name will be feared among the nations.’” (Mal.1:13-14)
Their performance was lacking due to LAZINESS.
“You also say: ‘Look, what a nuisance!’ ‘And you scorn it,’ says the Lord of Hosts. ‘You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?’ asks the Lord.” (1:13) Or as the New Living Translation renders it, “You say, ‘It’s too hard to serve the LORD.’”
What a lazy attitude!
I know you get tired. I do. But are we weary in well-doing, or too tired from pursuing our agenda that we have no energy for God’s?
After the agonizing prayer of Jesus in dark Gethsemane, and a sleepless night of beatings and being hustled from place to place to be tried, the brutal scourging that came in the morning, and then having a cross beam extended for Him to load on His shoulders, what if He had said, “I’m just worn out!”? We would be still without hope. Carrying the cross was hard for Christ. Thinking about all that He went through, why do we have to beg people to serve when Jesus sacrificed so much?
Our performance is lacking when there is LAZINESS, but also when there is LYING.
“‘The deceiver is cursed who has an [acceptable] male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective [animal] to the Lord. For I am a great King,’ says Yahweh of Hosts, ‘and My name will be feared among the nations.’” (1:14)
God basically tells them, “I’m tired of your games! Who do you think I am?”
This is the curse on hypocrisy. A graphic illustration of this is given in Acts, where a couple named Ananias and Sapphira sold their property and gave a portion to the church—and that would have been acceptable—but they claimed to have given everything—and that was abominable. They dropped dead, judged by God. He hates hypocrisy.
It is a deadly sin. Such a spirit will kill a church! There are those congregations, once fully alive, that began to go through the motions, to give as little as they could, to do no more than they had to. They sang the songs but without any passion. They offered their prayers, but without any conviction. They began to die—and may as well have the doors shut today—and in some cases, that has literally happened.
Don’t think that can’t happen here.
So, what must I do?
I must measure my life by the plumb line of God’s Word. Where it is out of alignment, I can’t expect God to adjust His standard, but I need to straighten up.
I don’t want to be a “Sunday morning glory”!
Monday, September 24, 2012
“Now in the twelfth month, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of Adar when the king’s command and his edict were about to be executed, on the [very] day that the enemies of the Jews had planned for a massacre of them, it was turned to the contrary and the Jews had rule over those who hated them.” (Esther 9:1 HCSB)
After typing in the word, “irony,” I went to the tool bar on my computer and clicked on the research option. Here is one of the definitions I pulled up, which suits my intent in describing the events recorded in Esther 6-10: “something that happens that is incongruous with what might be expected to happen, especially when this seems absurd or laughable.”
While that definition is accurate, it has been well-said that, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So, the illustration of irony portrayed in the epic events of Esther is more profound than any dictionary definition. There are a number of ironic incidents documented for us in the text.
IRONY: THE RECOGNITION DEVISED BY HAMAN WAS THE REWARD THAT WAS GIVEN TO THE MAN HE DESPISED.
“So Haman came in. And the king said to him, What shall be done to the man whom the king delights to honor? Now Haman said to himself, To whom would the king delight to do honor more than to me? And Haman said to the king, For the man whom the king delights to honor, Let royal apparel be brought which the king has worn and the horse which the king has ridden, and a royal crown be set on his head. And let the apparel and the horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes. Let him array the man whom the king delights to honor, and conduct him on horseback through the open square of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor. Then the king said to Haman, Make haste and take the apparel and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have spoken.” (Esther 6:6-10)
Haman had been infuriated by Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him. This burning hate led him to plot the genocide of the Jews, not realizing that the queen, Esther, was Jewish. He is successful in his effort to obtain an edict from the king for his diabolical plot. We find him summoned to the throne room, and Haman swaggers in, full of self-importance and smug satisfaction—then the web of deceit that wicked spider of a man had woven begins to unravel.
King Ahasuerus has had a fitful night, tossing and turning, his troubled thoughts swirling inside a head restlessly residing on a plush pillow. Though I can’t prove it, I wouldn’t be surprised if God sent an angel to gouge him in the side and wake him up. Be that as it may, he knew a sure aid to get back to sleep—the monotonous droning of a voice reading the chronicles of the royal court.
It had the opposite effect. Ahasuerus must have sat straight up in bed when he heard what was read. It just happened (the providence of God, actually) that the annals were opened to the episode where Mordecai had been responsible for uncovering a conspiracy to assassinate the king. Yet, nothing had been done to reward this loyal subject. Ahasuerus would rectify that!
He needed an official to help him, and it just happened (really it was providential) that Haman was in the courtyard of the palace, and he was immediately beckoned to come to the king. When the king proposes to Haman that great honor be lavished on the man he delights in, old Haman thinks that surely he is that man. So, he shares with the king the way that he wants to be honored—and I can just imagine he turned white as a sheet when the monarch said that Haman would lead a parade in honor of Mordecai through the streets of the capital. I wonder if there was an angel sent to wake the king, who lingered there and burst into laughter when he heard that delicious irony!
IRONY: THE RETRIBUTION DESIGNED BY HAMAN WAS THE METHOD THAT BECAME THE MEANS OF HIS DEATH.
“When the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the drinking of wine, Haman was falling upon the couch where Esther was. Then said the king, Will he even forcibly assault the queen in my presence, in my own palace? As the king spoke the words, [the servants] covered Haman’s face. Then said Harbonah, one of the attendants serving the king, Behold, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman has made for Mordecai, whose warning saved the king, stands at the house of Haman. And the king said, Hang him on it! So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s wrath was pacified.” (Esther 7:8-10)
Haman had pouted because Mordecai “dissed” him, but then plotted to kill all the Jews, which would take care of Mordecai. Successful in obtaining a royal decree to slaughter the Jews, he is later thrilled that he has been invited to a big party in the palace with only the king and queen. When he shares the good news with his witch of a wife, she proposes that Haman have a gallows built to hang Mordecai on. As the carpenters began to build it, every blow of the hammer was like sweet music to Haman’s ears. Little did he know that it was actually the drumbeat of his own doom!
His excitement to attend the party evaporated in the bright sunlight as he led Mordecai through the city, announcing the honor of that Jew. Crestfallen, he trudged to the palace party—and things would go from bad to worse. Esther unveils to her husband how Haman has planned her death, since she is a Jew. The enraged king leaves the room to compose himself and decide what ought to be done.
In the meantime, Haman is falling all over the queen, begging for mercy, and so when Ahasuerus walks back in and sees this, he thinks that Haman is assaulting his wife, adding insult to injury! There would be no mercy.
Haman is escorted out and executed on the very gallows designed for Mordecai. How wonderfully ironic!
IRONY: THE RUIN DETERMINED BY HAMAN FOR THE JEWS WAS THE DESTINY OF THOSE MEANT TO BE THEIR DESTROYERS.
“And Esther spoke yet again to the king and fell down at his feet and besought him with tears to avert the evil plot of Haman the Agagite and his scheme that he had devised against the Jews. Then the king held out to Esther the golden scepter. So Esther arose and stood before the king. And she said, If it pleases the king and if I have found favor in his sight and the thing seems right before the king and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces.” (Esther 8:3-5)
A royal decree when issued was the final word. The laws of the Medes and Persians could not be rescinded. So, what could be done—since the destruction of the Jews by those who hated them had been ordered?
A second decree was dispatched—that the Jews would be armed and able to defend themselves against their persecutors. We read of the result in chapter nine of Esther:
“Now in the twelfth month, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of Adar when the king’s command and his edict were about to be executed, on the [very] day that the enemies of the Jews had planned for a massacre of them, it was turned to the contrary and the Jews had rule over those who hated them. The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on such as sought their hurt; and no man could withstand them, for the fear of them had fallen upon all the peoples.” (v.1-2)
Not only are the Jews preserved, but those who sought to slay them are themselves slaughtered. That’s bloody ironic, as a Brit might say.
IRONY: THE REJOICING DESIRED BY THOSE HOSTILE TO THE JEWS WAS THE RESULT CELEBRATED AMONG THE JEWS FOR THEIR DELIVERANCE.
“This was done on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Shushan [Susa] assembled on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and on the fifteenth day they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who dwell in the unwalled towns, make the fourteenth day of the month of Adar a day of gladness and feasting, a holiday, and a day for sending choice portions to one another. And Mordecai recorded these things, and he sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of the King Ahasuerus, both near and far, To command them to keep the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and also the fifteenth, yearly, As the days on which the Jews got rest from their enemies, and as the month which was turned for them from sorrow to gladness and from mourning into a holiday--that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days of sending choice portions to one another and gifts to the poor. So the Jews undertook to do as they had begun and as Mordecai had written to them—Because Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is, the lot, [to find a lucky day] to crush and consume and destroy them. But when Esther brought the matter before the king, he commanded in writing that Haman’s wicked scheme which he had devised against the Jews should return upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the name Pur [lot]. Therefore, because of all that was in this letter and what they had faced in this matter and what had happened to them, The Jews ordained and took it upon themselves and their descendants and all who joined them that without fail every year they would keep these two days at the appointed time and as it was written, That these days should be remembered (imprinted on their minds) and kept throughout every generation in every family, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never cease from among the Jews, nor the commemoration of them cease among their descendants. Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, gave full power [written authority], confirming this second letter about Purim. And letters were sent to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, To confirm that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had commanded [the Jews], and as they had ordained for themselves and for their descendants in the matter of their fasts and their lamenting. And the command of Esther confirmed these observances of Purim, and it was written in the book.” (Esther 9:18-32)
Hell was about to have a party. Satan surely rubbed his filthy hands with gleeful anticipation. The extermination of those Jews would mean the thwarting of God’s plan to bring from the family of Abraham, the Seed of the woman that would crush the Serpent’s head. When Haman secured the death warrant for the Jews, I can hear a fiendish laugh rising up from the Abyss.
But, he who laughs last, laughs best. The Devil had to cancel his party, hellish hilarity giving way hateful howling. But, there was a party among the Jews—a celebration of deliverance that became a perpetual observance.
To this day, you have never met an Agagite have you? But, there are plenty of Israelites, and always will be. A resurrected Son of Abraham who is also the Son of God will in fact reign forever and ever!
God has the last laugh.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
“If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father's house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this." (Esther 4:14 HCSB)
For the child of God, nothing is by accident, but by appointment. This is the great truth Romans 8:28 conveys, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” God works out His purpose to shape us into the image of Christ, “For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” (Rom.8:29-30) This means that even those things we think are against us become God’s way of doing good to us and through us. It cannot be otherwise because an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving God is for us! “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom.8:31)
Theologians call this, “the providence of God.” Providence is a composite word, from “pro” which means “before”, and “video” meaning “to see.” Put together it means, “to see ahead.” God sees ahead of time what will unfold, and guides every act to the fulfillment of His ultimate design. He is never caught by surprise and never has to develop a contingency plan. This does not deny human responsibility for the choices made—people are not mere puppets. But, it does exalt Divine sovereignty—that God’s decrees override man’s decisions. This doctrine is woven through the fabric of Scripture. No book makes it clearer than Esther.
Yet, the name of God is not found once. There is no direct mention of Him. Fasting is referred to multiple times, but never a word about prayer. God is conspicuous by His absence! That is, His overt presence is not indicated, yet we would be hard-pressed to find a story where God is seen more clearly—yet, in this case behind the scenes, directing the drama. The intent of the inspired author is to show God in this way. We are led to ask, “Where is God in this story?” and to answer, “He’s everywhere!”
The old Gospel song called, “The Unseen Hand,” affirms this reality in a powerful way:
“There is an unseen hand to me
That leads through ways I can not see
While going through this world of woe
This hand still leads me as I go
I'm trusting to the unseen hand
That guides me through this weary land
And some sweet day I'll reach that strand
Still guided by the unseen hand” (A.J. Sims)
Esther could have sung those lyrics with great conviction!
When she was born, none would have foreseen what she would become, and how God would use her. Her parents were among the Jews in exile. The gladness of a baby girl cradled in their arms would have been lessened by the sorrow of serving a pagan king in a heathen land. Away from Jerusalem—that Holy Land—and forced to live in the hotbed of idolatry, this would be the spiritually hostile environment she would grow up in—and little did they know, the challenge would become even greater, for father and mother would die.
“Mordecai was the legal guardian of his cousin Hadassah (that is, Esther), because she didn't have a father or mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was extremely good-looking. When her father and mother died, Mordecai had adopted her as his own daughter.” (Esther 2:7)
Everything seemed to be against her. But remember, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom.8:31b)
Esther had been born with a beautiful face and developed a figure to match. Again, our form and features are not just a product of randomness, as we might suppose. We have no right to boast in perceived beauty as if we are responsible, neither become bitter about what we consider flawed about our physical features, as though we are victims. This fits in the providence of God like all other things.
“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know [this] very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all [my] days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.
God, how difficult Your thoughts are for me [to comprehend]; how vast their sum is!” (Ps.139:13-17)
God formed Esther in her mother’s womb, and molded her into one that he could use. That is true of each life, made in the image of God, if we will but embrace the opportunity before us.
Her opportunity came as a result of the first, “Women’s Liberation Movement!” Queen Vashti was summoned by her tyrant husband, Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to display her beauty before a bunch of his drunken friends. She refused to be leered at, and slobbered over by the lecherous men, passions aflame by alcohol.
But, you don’t tell a king, “No.” There are consequences if you do. Vashti was deposed. Another queen needed to be found. What better way than a beauty pageant? Esther, her race as a Jew undeclared, was entered and she was crowned, “Miss Persia.” She became part of the harem and so pleased this Middle-Eastern despot that she was elevated to the status of being the new queen.
There was an unseen hand at work. God was placing her in a strategic place for a sacred purpose.
There would come a day, when the wicked Haman, became fed up with the Jews because of Esther’s cousin, Mordecai. Mordecai refused to grovel before this arrogant beast of a man. Satan put into Haman’s heart the malicious intent to exterminate the Jewish race. The Devil had always wanted to abort God’s intent to bring the Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, into the world. The Serpent knew that He would crush his head. So, he seized on this opportunity to strike.
But, we are not victims of circumstances. Neither are we swept along by fate. Satan is not in charge! Providence overrules all things, turning even bad to good. We may not see it at the time, but in heaven, God will unveil all the answers to the “why” questions that we cannot grasp now.
What we can do is cling in faith to the unseen hand of God! Esther does. Her faith isn’t great, but it is genuine. It is enough to move her to throw caution to the wind and act—though the action would seem far from certain to bring success. What it could mean is death. Yet, she will do the right thing and, “If I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16d)
Here we are. The times are dark and growing darker. The people of God are being hard-pressed on every side. The threat against us seems to rise by the hour. We wonder, “What is going to happen next?” Our concerns extend beyond our own welfare, to alarm for our loved ones.
How shall we respond? Like Esther, we must do the right thing no matter the outcome. It may be that God will work an incredible deliverance as He did in her day, or He might work the greatest deliverance and take us on to heaven—though the path may be perilous and painful.
We were born for this time. God has brought us to this moment. We may have chosen to avoid it, but we cannot. We can wish to have lived in a different age, but we did not. Mordecai’s words to his lovely cousin are as pertinent to us today as they were when uttered millennia ago, “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”
We are in a royal position—children of the King of kings. He is in control. He has appointed us to this hour. He works all things for good. We see that clearly in this story.
You and I would still be hell-bound were it not for Esther. Had she not been in that difficult time called to a dangerous task, the Jews would have faced genocide and then there would have been no chosen race to produce the Messiah, and without Christ there would be no hope.
Would God have raised up someone else to save the Jews?
Mordecai indicates that He would. God cannot fail in His promises. But, people fail to benefit from those promises. Esther might have missed out because she gave in to fear rather than faith. Disobedience would not have terminated God’s intention, but it would have ended Esther’s involvement in it. She would have missed the blessing.
Esther would not have even been a footnote in ancient history. Because she surrendered to God’s purpose for her, Esther became a star in the shining spotlight of Scripture!
I cannot guarantee the applause of earth, if you stand for God, but I can assure you of the approval of eternity!
When I see what is happening around our world today, and think about what might soon transpire, I begin to feel the icy fingers of anxiety tightening around my throat. Dreams of a delightful future are supplanted by nightmares of a dreadful fate.
In Tolkien’s epic, “Lord of the Rings,” we find the hobbit, Frodo, carrying the ring of power, which if falling into possession of the Dark Lord, Sauron, will mean the world will be enslaved by evil. Frodo is on a quest to destroy the ring and must go into the heart of the enemy’s domain to accomplish that mission. Frodo feels the weight of that responsibility and wishes it could be avoided.
He says to the wizard, Gandalf, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
Gandalf’s answer is an illustration of the Providence of God, His name unspoken in this saga as in Esther—but, definitely, the One alluded to in both stories. Now God is adding us to His story, underpinned with the promise of Romans 8:28.
That is an encouraging thought!
Friday, September 21, 2012
"A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided in your presence. I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle. The city will be captured, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be removed from the city.
Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south." (Zechariah 14:1-4 HCSB)
The next event on God’s prophetic calendar is the rapture of the church. At any moment, God could remove all born-again believers from the earth, evacuating them, before He pours out His wrath on a Christ-rejecting world.
No prophecy remains to be fulfilled before the rapture. It is imminent.
Sometimes, the rapture is confused with the second coming of Christ to earth. In the rapture, the dead in Christ are raised and the living saints are translated. Christ comes for His church and we rise to meet Him in the air. Then, seven years of tribulation--a time of horrific judgments--begins. At the climax of this cataclysm, Christ comes back with His church to commence His kingdom reign on earth.
It is the second coming of Jesus Christ that Zechariah describes in chapter fourteen.
Notice THE CONDITIONS OF HIS RETURN.
"A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided in your presence. I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle. The city will be captured, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be removed from the city.
Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle." (Zechariah 14:1-3 HCSB)
There are two important terms that are used to describe the conditions: the "day of the Lord" and the "battle" of Armageddon.
The conditions at the time of Christ's return are indicated by the expression THE DAY OF THE LORD.
"A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided in your presence." (Zechariah 14:1 HCSB)
This is not a 24 hour day, but a period of prophetic significance, signifying the end of human history. When we say, "Back in Lincoln's day, the Civil War was fought," we understand we are not talking about an actual day made up of 24 hours, but a span of time, during which Abraham Lincoln lived. That is the same sense in which the Bible uses, the "Day of the Lord."
Man has had his day, and now God takes over and will have His!
This is the day the Jews anticipate will usher in the Messianic kingdom. This time is portrayed in Scripture as a season of awesome judgments. Here, it mentions the "plunder" taken in battle, for Jesus said it would be a time of "wars and rumors of wars" (Matt.24:6).
The culmination of this bloodshed will be at THE BATTLE OF ARMAGEDDON.
"I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle. The city will be captured, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be removed from the city.
Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle." (Zechariah 14:2, 3 HCSB)
Although Zechariah does not use the word, "Armageddon," this is clearly the battle he is referencing.
From the West, the Beast—the Antichrist—will bring the combined might of the United States of Europe; Russia and her allies will descend as vultures from the North; armies numbering in the millions will march from the Orient; and the Arab and African nations sweep up from the South. They all converge in the Middle East for war.
Jerusalem will fall, and the Jews will be on the verge of extinction, when Christ will appear with heaven’s hosts to conquer.
The prophet also goes on to speak of THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS RETURN.
"On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south. You will flee by My mountain valley, for the valley of the mountains will extend to Azal. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come and all the holy ones with Him." (Zechariah 14:4, 5 HCSB)
Observe THE PLACE OF HIS RETURN.
"On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east." (v.4a)
The Mount of Olives overlooks the Eastern Gate—the sealed Golden Gate of Jerusalem. It overlooks the valley of Jehoshaphat which will be the scene of the judgment of the Gentile nations. Here, Jesus wept over the city that rejected Him and said, “For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, 'He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One'!" (Matthew 23:39 HCSB) The angels told the disciples who watched Jesus ascend from that mountain that when He returned He would come in the same fashion. His feet will land on the same spot!
Further, there is THE POWER OF HIS RETURN.
"The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south." (v.4b)
This is the mighty power of Christ’s return! He came the first time in weakness, as a baby in a manger, but He will come the second time in power, as a king on a stallion! When He comes, the ground quakes. He will shake everything up!
Zechariah also speaks of THE PURPOSE OF HIS RETURN.
"You will flee by My mountain valley, for the valley of the mountains will extend to Azal. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah."
The valley created will provide an avenue for those still in Jerusalem to escape. God will keep His covenant with Israel. If He does not, then we may not expect He will honor the New Covenant with His church--and that is unthinkable! He always keeps His Word.
The circumstances of the second coming are also seen in THE PARTICIPANTS OF HIS RETURN.
"Then the Lord my God will come and all the holy ones with Him." (v.5b)
Christ returns with the angelic host and the raptured church. We will come back with Him to reign beside Him as the Bride of Christ.
THE CONDITIONS and CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS RETURN lead Zechariah to unveil THE CHARACTERISTICS OF HIS REIGN.
"On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. It will be a day known [only] to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening.
On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea, in summer and winter alike. On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth-Yahweh alone, and His name alone." (Zechariah 14:6-9 HCSB)
Christ's reign on earth will be characterized by LIGHT.
"On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. It will be a day known [only] to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening." (v.6-7)
The Lamb of God will be the light. This light will mark the dawn of a new day and dispels the darkness of sin. As Malachi puts it, “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall." (Malachi 4:2 HCSB)
The reign of Christ is also characterized by LIFE.
"On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea, in summer and winter alike. (Zechariah 14:8 HCSB)
The earthquake that splits the Mount of Olives, and forms a valley of escape, will also open the stores of water beneath Jerusalem. These life-giving waters flow out of the rebuilt Temple according to Ezekiel.
The desert will bloom. The paradise Adam forfeited will flower again under Christ's rule. Imagine plucking the stem from a rose bush during the millennial reign, its petals perfect and color brilliant--and with not one thorn!
The reign of Christ is furthermore characterized by LORDSHIP.
"On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth-Yahweh alone, and His name alone." (Zechariah 14:9 HCSB)
Today the name of Jesus is profaned, but not in that day! His cause is scorned now, but not then. His rule is rejected this day, but not in that day! Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Have you bowed? Only those who bow in this present age, will enjoy the blessings of His reign in the age to come.
We have been told in the Bible about the return of Christ--not to satisfy our curiosity, but to get us ready. We are pointed to the future that we might be prepared to meet God.
For the sinner it is a solemn warning. We do not have an unlimited number of days to get right with God. Things appear to be winding up quickly.
For the saved, this prophetic teaching isn't given for information, but inspiration, to calm our hearts and move our feet. It is time to get to work! Jesus said that we must work while it is day, for the night is coming when no man can work. If Jesus comes for His Bride today, are you dressed and ready to meet Him?