Waiting Beyond Death

During this Season of Hope, we are studying texts related to the Advent, or coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Just like ancient Israel had to wait for his coming, we too wait for his second coming.

Isaiah 40 makes reference to this time of waiting.

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
“All people are like grass, 
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
Surely the people are grass. 
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6–8 NIV

In these verses we have a heavenly voice (the speaker is unclear, perhaps Yahweh, an angel, or some other heavenly being) telling Isaiah that humans are like grass and their works like flowers. What the voice is reminding us is that grass and flowers are only around for a season before they wither and fade away. They do not last forever. But the word of God does indeed last forever.

Let’s put this in the context of Israel coming out of exile. They have been away from their homes for a generation, and there is this promise of return. God will make the path easy, he will restore Jerusalem, he will keep his promises. His word will not fail! But humans don’t live forever. We all die. God’s promises, however, do not die.

Isaiah is trying to remind us that we may wait for God to fulfill his promises, and they may not be fully fulfilled in our lifetime before we “wither.” Isaiah wants us to remember that our waiting does not negate God’s promises. Even if we never see them fulfilled, we can rest assured that they will be fulfilled because God’s word endures forever.

Centuries after this text was written, one would come as “a voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.” (Isa. 40:3, Mark 1:3). Mark, as well as the other Gospel writers, want us to realize that God kept this promise fully in the ministry of John the Baptist, “and the glory of the LORD” was revealed in the Advent of Jesus (Isa. 40:5).

Though Isaiah’s words to exiled Israel were not fully realized in their lifetime, God fulfilled his promise through the Advent of Jesus. And though God’s kingdom has not fully come, we can rest assured that God will fulfill his promises through the Advent of Jesus.

Sermon text for 12/8/19: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4 

Awaiting The Promised Messiah

Our faith heritage in the churches of Christ has often shied away from the season of Advent as being “unauthorized in Scripture.” However, the word “advent” simply means “coming.” The OT is full of hope in expectant waiting for the coming Messiah, the only one who could set the world aright.The NT is also full of the same hope as the church expectantly awaits Christ’s return. Advent is a season of expectant waiting for the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. We look forward to Christ’s return through the lens of those who waited for his first coming. 

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.”

Jeremiah 33:14 NIV

This week we turn our attention to Jeremiah 33 and Mark 8, and the promise of the Messiah. God had promised in the Garden that a descendant of Eve would eventually crush the head of the serpent, and in doing so the human would be struck (Gen. 3:15). God promised to Abraham “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). God promised through Moses that he would “raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15). 

This promise from God had been a long time in coming. Centuries of waiting for the one who would defeat evil, bless all nations, be the voice of God that we listen to, and many other prophecies, came at the perfect time, but for humans, the wait seemed endless.

And when the Messiah came, the majority of the people were not prepared.

As Israel and Judah awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise, we also wait for the fulfillment of the second coming of the Messiah Jesus. Many of us have forgotten that we are called to watch, to listen, and to open our hearts in expectant preparation for his coming (Matt. 25:1-13). 

We are called to listen to his Word. We look for signs of his presence in this world…a light in the darkness, a voice in the silence, and a stirring deep within us. We’re good at singing worship songs that reiterate these things, but do we truly expectantly wait and prepare for his return?

All of the Gospel writers want us to realize that the life of Jesus was the fulfillment of promises of old (Mt. 1:22-23; Mk. 1:1-4; Lk. 4:17-21; Jn. 1:45; etc.) and the renewal of promises yet to come (Isa. 65:17; Mt. 14:37; Lk. 12:40; Mk. 13:35; Jn. 14:2-3; Rev. 21:5). In Christ, God has and will continue to fulfill all promises.

And so we wait.

And the question that we all must answer is, “Am I ready for the coming of Christ?”

You Don’t KNOW God!

This week we continue with Great is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the book of Hosea. If you are unfamiliar with Hosea, it should only take about 10 minutes to read through the whole book. I’d encourage you to do so before our Sunday gathering. The focus of Hosea is to remind Israel (and us) of the painful consequences that come from rebelling against God, but at the same time reminding us that God’s love and mercy are far greater than all our sin.

Hosea does this by using two main images. The first is comparing Israel’s idolatry to prostitution/adultery. The second is more subtle, and involves the Hebrew root word yada which is frequently translated as “knowledge” or “acknowledge.” But yada is more than just knowing about someone. It is deeply and intimately knowing someone. In short, it’s true relationship that God desires from us. Over and over Hosea points the reader back to this truth. Let’s look at a few uses of this word in Hosea. (I’ll italicize the related word to yada in each verse.)

  • Hosea 4:1 – “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.”
  • Hosea 4:6 – …my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests…
  • Hosea 5:4 – “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.”
  • Hosea 6:3 – Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him.
  • Hosea 6:6 – For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Did you notice that last verse? Jesus quoted that on several occasions, and Mark’s gospel ties it to the Greatest Commands (Mk. 12:33-34). In Matthew 9:13 Jesus quotes this verse to explain to the Pharisees why he is eating with sinners and tax collectors. In Matthew 12:7, it is in regards to the Pharisees accusation of Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath laws.

It seems to me that Jesus was trying to get the Pharisees to realize that they were acting quite a bit like the northern kingdom of Israel that Hosea was speaking to. They “knew” God, but they didn’t have the kind of relationship that He wanted them to have. They had exchanged relationship for ritual. This caused them to see Jesus’ actions as violations of rules rather than the Kingdom of Heaven on display. They became spiritually blind because they didn’t yada God.

This same sin plagues the church today. Some of us get so wrapped up in the ritual (wanting our worship the way we want it) rather than the relationship our God seeks from us. Hosea’s message is that God’s ultimate purpose is to heal and save. If we aren’t doing the same in our churches, our communities, and our families, then we don’t yada God! I’ll let Hosea have the last word.

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Hosea 14:9 NIV

Sermon Text for 11/10 – Hosea 11; Mark 10:13-15

Give Us A King!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week by looking at the story of King David’s grandson, Rehoboam, and the division of the Kingdom of Israel. But before we talk about the actual split, we need to look at how Israel got to this point. They said they wanted a king like the nations around them, but God warned them what would happen if they chose an earthly king over him (1 Sam. 8). God knew all along the Israelites would choose this path, and even gave them guidelines on what a king should do before they ever entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 17). God’s way was better, but God gave Israel what they asked for.

Saul was the first king, and that went ok for a time. Eventually Saul had to be replaced because of his wickedness by King David (that was last week’s sermon). After David’s death, his son Solomon was chosen as king. Most of us know that Solomon was the wisest because he asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3). Solomon ruled in this wisdom for a while, and did well as king. But pretty soon that all changed!

Deuteronomy 17 gives us 8 qualifications for an earthly king. Some of them are as follows:

  • He must not acquire great numbers of horses, especially from Egypt (v.16)
  • He must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray (v.17)
  • He must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver (v. 17)
  • He is to be a Bible nerd and study it constantly to learn how to follow God (vv. 18-19)

David certainly failed at several of these points (and others not mentioned here), but Solomon is portrayed as the antithesis of Deuteronomy 17!

  • He acquired great numbers of horses, especially from Egypt (1 Kg. 10:28-29)
  • He took many wives and his heart was led astray (1 Kg. 11:1-6)
  • He must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver (1 Kg. 10:2, 14-22, 27)
  • He ignored God even though God appeared to him twice! (1 Kg. 11:9)

The story of Solomon shows us that even the wisest, richest, most powerful and well respected king won’t follow God! And when Solomon’s son Rehoboam goes to be crowned as king, he decides to double down on Solomon’s evil practices (1 Kg. 12:14), the kingdom was divided. The earthly kingdom had failed. If only the people had trusted God, and not trusted in an earthly kingdom.

The northern kingdom has 20 kings that follow the split. According to the record of the Kings, none of them were faithful to God. In the southern kingdom, only 8 out of 20 were good kings, but even they ultimately failed the faithfulness test.

Israel needed a better king. They needed God as their King once again. And God promised just that through his prophets (Isa. 9:6-7). Unfortunately when King Jesus came to them, they once again chose an earthly king over him (John 19:15).

We too have a choice to make. Will we choose our earthly kingdom, or King Jesus?

(Sermon text for 10/27/19 – 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29; Mark 10:42-45)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 84

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 81-85

How happy are those who reside in your house,
who praise you continually. Selah

Psalm 84:4 CSB

Psalm 84, perhaps my favorite of the songs of Zion, focuses on this point. Being in the presence of God, where he resides, is our ultimate goal and longing.

The psalmist begins by proclaiming a desire to be where the presence of Yahweh is, and then moves into an almost play-by-play of a pilgrim traveling to the temple (vs. 5-10). Each verse brings us closer and closer to God’s presence until the arrival in the temple courts.

Better a day in your courts than a thousand anywhere else.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than live in the tents of wicked people.

Psalm 84:10 CSB

The presence of Yahweh dwelt in the temple. In the Israelite context, do draw near to God meant a pilgrimage to the temple. But to the Christian, you and I are now the temple of the Holy Spirit of God because of the atoning blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4ff).

So how do we encounter the presence of God? It starts with Jesus. We can only enter through Christ. His life, ministry, death, and resurrection was the fulfillment of the promised Messiah to Israel. This fulfillment of God’s promise changed the way God interacted with his people! When we commit ourselves to Christ, God’s Spirit dwells within us, and we can and should ask God for his Spirit to be ever present and powerful in our lives. He also promises his presence when we gather together with other believers. (see Rom. 8:9ff, John 14:6-7, 1 Cor. 6:19ff, Acts 2, Luke 11:13, Matthew 18:20)

We should all long for the presence of God daily in this life, to gather in his presence with fellow believers as often as possible, and to dwell eternally in his presence in the next life.

Happy is the person who trusts in you,
LORD of Armies!

Psalm 84:12 CSB

Did God Kill An Innocent Man?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week by looking at the story of the ark of God coming to Jerusalem during the reign of King David. There is a part of this story that seems to perplex and worry many readers, and that is the account of Uzzah. I recall hearing several sermons and teachings in my past surrounding this story, but most of them didn’t fit within the theological narrative of the text. Both 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13 retell this story. 2 Samuel is not as nuanced and detailed as the Chronicler’s account, so I’ll use both texts. Let’s look at it together.

In Samuel’s account, David had become king and had been inquiring of God and operating under God’s guidance (2 Sam. 5:10, 18, 23). After this time David wanted to bring the ark of God, which is the very presence of God, to Jerusalem. This is a noble task because in contrast to Saul, David actually wanted to inquire of the LORD and wanted to be near the ark of God, the presence of God, when he did so (1 Chr. 13:3). The problem is that David did not actually inquire of God how to move the ark! (1 Chr. 15:13)

Careful attention is needed to what the text actually says here. “[David] and all his men” were the ones that undertook the movement of the ark of God (2 Sam 6:2). “They set the ark of God on a new cart” (2 Sam 6:3). As the cart travels along the ox stumbles so Uzzah takes hold of the ark and God strikes him down (2 Sam 6:6-7). 

Now on the surface it looks like God strikes down Uzzah because of a violation of a worship technicality. But keep in mind David and the whole group did this, not just Uzzah, and he is the only one struck down. That’s not what has happened. One might also think a vengeful God struck down an innocent concerned person who was only trying to help. That too is not what has happened. David, Uzzah, and all involved in the moving of the ark violated the law. Why did God only strike down Uzzah? This is where context comes into play.

The Chronicler has set a theme throughout his writings. To quote John Mark Hicks, that theme is “God seeks seekers.”  Chronicles uses the words “seek” more than any other biblical writing, and “heart” more than any except Jeremiah and Psalms. From the Chronicles we learn that to God it is the condition of the heart that matters. There are other clear examples of technical law violations in Chronicles (ex. 2 Chr. 30:18, 23), but God honors these violations (2 Ch. 30:20, 27).

The heart of the matter in this story is a matter of the heart.
-Why was Hezekiah’s unauthorized Passover celebration acceptable? His heart was set on seeking God. (2 Chr. 30:19)
-Why was David not struck down for moving the ark of God on a “new cart”? His heart was set on seeking God. (1 Sam. 16:7)

Why was Uzzah struck down? It’s clear Uzzah had no respect for the presence of God. Apparently his heart was not set on seeking God. Uzzah was struck down while others were not.

More could be said, but I think Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Chronicles summarizes the story of Uzzah, and the Chronicles well.

“May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God – the LORD, the God of their ancestors – even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NIV (emphasis added)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 75

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 71-75

Is the judgement of God a good thing? According to Scripture, yes it is!

The judgement of God is what separates the righteous from the wicked. The judgement of God is the bringing about of God’s justice, to right the wrongs of this world, to remove the wicked from power and to exalt those who are faithful to God.

The judgement of God is a very good thing…unless you are unrighteous.

Psalm 75 begins like a praise song, and then moves into the forthcoming judgement of God. It also includes a divine speech, the words spoken by God himself.

“When I choose a time,
I will judge fairly.
When the earth and all its inhabitants shake,
I am the one who steadies its pillars.
Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn.
Do not lift up your horn against heaven
or speak arrogantly.’ ”

Psalm 75:2-5 CSB

The imagery of God as judge pouring out his judgement is seen in verses 6-8. It’s not something that the wicked can escape. They will judged. But for the righteous God’s judgement brings forth praise! (v. 9)

The final promise of the Psalm is another quote from God himself about justice.

“I will cut off all the horns of the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”

Psalm 75:10 CSB

As you can see from this short Psalm, the righteous have nothing to fear when it comes to God’s judgement. It should cause thanksgiving and proclamation (v. 1), and continuous praise (v. 9) from God’s people. God has promised to judge fairly. (v. 2) God’s judgement is indeed good news!

If the judgement of God does not sound like good news, that’s a good indication that there are some changes that need to be made in your life and relationship with God. Here’s what Jesus had to say about the coming judgment.

“The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

John 5:22-24 CSB (emphasis added)

The judgement of God is good news! And Jesus has told us how not to fall under that judgement! That is very good news!

Now what are you going to do about it?