Tag Archives: Israel

Simul Justus et Peccatore 2 Samuel 11:26 Luke 7:36 First St Johns June 12, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the grace and joy of forgiveness and forgiving said … AMEN!

Don’t misunderstand what David did was completely repugnant. There is no acceptable reason for what he did. Bathsheba wasn’t totally innocent either. There are those who like to point out the failings of the Old Testament, the vengeful, angry God stuff. By 21st century American standards there are things that we just would not countenance in this day and age. But there is certainly a good deal of hypocrisy with those who make such judgments, a lot of what the critics do are just not acceptable and certainly not by the standards of Israel in 1,000 BC. Those critics certainly never seem to be concerned with what the peoples around Israel did which were just abhorrent. One big difference was the accountability of their leaders, especially their kings. For the rest of the world at that time, the king was the highest authority and could pretty much do whatever he pleased. Take any woman, put anyone to death, take whatever they wanted and could do it with impunity. As the king of Israel David was responsible, as any other person in Israel was to Yahweh, his position didn’t make any difference, if anything he was held more accountable. When he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, any other king of that period could have just ignored Nathan, put him in prison, executed him and no one would have said boo about it. David was always responsible to Yahweh, he did have multiple wives, wasn’t supposed to and especially not a Gentile wife, Uriah was a Hittite and so presumably was Bathsheba. But David did and was forgiven, along with his adultery with Bathsheba and his treachery toward Uriah. But Yahweh was still faithful to David in his sins and is faithful to us in ours. We, by comparison, are graceless to those who offend us, quick to take anything and everything personally and like the Pharisee in our Gospel reading, quick to reject and condemn those who don’t follow our every whim, right down the line.

In our readings we certainly have a stark contrast. We have David who has committed truly abhorrent sin, he has committed adultery and against a man who was probably a friend, or at least a close associate. Uriah is listed among the renowned mighty men of David’s bodyguards, 37 men in all, a sort of elite military Secret Service, these men were all in close contact with David, so David certainly knew Uriah and had to know Bathsheba. David is certainly taken to task for the absolutely repugnant things that he did. The big surprise? He was still forgiven. Doesn’t mean God was justifying or somehow rationalizing David’s sin and as always, when we commit sin, there are usually consequences. David was made to suffer, although you could certainly wonder why his baby son was the consequence. Nevertheless, David was penalized and he knew it deep in his heart. We even have his repentance look up Psalm 51:  A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN NATHAN THE PROPHET WENT TO HIM, AFTER HE HAD GONE IN TO BATHSHEBA. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” David knew the deal, he also knew he was forgiven. Yahweh had been so gracious to David and David knew that he failed, he knew that he had seriously failed God, who had faithfully stood by him. We have all done this to one degree or another. Served faithfully and also let down someone who had treated us with graciousness and generosity. There are people who I remember through my life who treated me kindly, were selfless in helping me and being there for me, and I was not considerate in return. Certainly I have let God down on many occasions and He has faithfully forgiven me. There were penalties and consequences. Often people have told me that they knew they sinned, that as David put it “have done what is evil in your sight”, but on the flipside, turn around and complain that God treated them badly, they resent the fact that their sin caused them unpleasant consequences. We’re really quick to sin, really quick to accept forgiveness, but equally quick to forget that there are consequences. “I asked forgiveness, God said He forgives, so why did these bad things happen to me after I asked forgiveness.” We are forgiven and should be grateful for God’s forgiveness, but instead of copping an attitude because of the inevitable consequences, we need to remember Psalm 51, be grownups go back to God and acknowledge where we’ve sinned, that we’ve failed God and accept, without bitterness, the consequences of what we’ve done, move on in our life, trust that God is going to provide and get over the attitude. It truly astounds me in ministry, there is no room for disagreement, forgiveness, grace, it’s all or nothing. Yes, that’s the way it’s become in our society, but for a people who are forgiven, we Christians seem to have little idea of how to forgive, of how to be gracious, of how to put the best face on things. We just do not seem to understand that we will not always agree, and instead of taking our ball and bat and going home, understand that the ball game is going to proceed and God expects you to play out the game and not just desert because you didn’t get your way. There is no way you could function in business or the military with that kind of mindset, but that is certainly how people in the church seem to feel.

God graciously forgave David and didn’t break off His relationship with David. Imagine if God had the same attitude we often do, “well Jim, you didn’t do what I wanted you to do, so I’m out of here, see you later, you’re on your own.” We couldn’t function with such a fickle God, we would all be lost and condemned. God doesn’t do that. Just because He gives us consequences doesn’t mean He deserts us and leaves us to go it alone, He sticks with us. That is grace! For those who profess to be Christians, they expect grace, from everyone, but they’re quick to pull the trigger on others and ignore the whole grace thing.  As I said, our readings today are a stark contrast. We have David who just messed up royally, pun intended, was forgiven, suffered the consequences, moved on and remembered that God had been faithful to him and he needed to trust God that David would continue to be faithful in return to God. In our Gospel reading we see a woman who is unquestionably guilty, Jesus never tried to deny her guilt, He admitted she had sinned much, but He treated her with grace when the legalistic Pharisee characterized her faults and by extension Jesus’ faults for allowing her to be so loving toward Him. That’s the love of grace, being so thankful that Jesus would be gracious to her, even in her sin, and essentially offering her worship for Jesus’ grace. The Pharisee sitting in judgment of both of them, devoid of grace and forgiveness and as Anthony Cook describes: “…illustrates the woman’s expression of love was in direct proportion to her cancelled sin. She is forgiven much, loves much and he who is forgiven little, the Pharisee, loves little. She is being hospitable to an extreme, while Simon failed to show Jesus the simplest of common hospitality.”[1] Jesus didn’t cut the woman off because of her lifetime of prostitution, the woman is convicted of her sins, shows her gratitude to Jesus, while Simon the Pharisee, sits in bitterness and judgment on both Jesus and the woman. After Jesus forgives her, her sin, Simon and the rest of the men become more angry and judgmental: “who is this guy who presumes to forgive?” Seems like something we all do, Jesus had more than proven who He is and should have been acknowledged as the Messiah. Instead these men immediately jump to condemn Him, God the Son, again.

It’s so easy to take something personally and decide to just walk away and condemn the one you disagree with. Certainly God didn’t even when He had good reason to with David and the prostitute. Jesus certainly didn’t deserve His treatment, being beaten, tortured, humiliated and crucified, but He did it in love for us, when He could have simply decided that those who are without sin, that’s none of us, they are saved, the rest of us, well too bad, eternal condemnation. By the same token, we need to start acting with more grace and forgiveness, remember what is important, forgive the slights, real and perceived, remember the relationships and vows and move on to the Kingdom of God. Help us Father to put the best face on the things that we find offensive, realize that things are not always going to go our way, that in Your gracious will there are times when we have to deal with the things we don’t like and join together with those who we disagree with and keep Your will and purpose in our lives and move together towards the realization of the Kingdom and the eternal resurrection in Jesus.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Dr Anthony Cook Concordia Journal Spring 2016, volume 42, no 2, p 144

God is merciful, but is paying attention Ezekiel 33: 7-20

[for the audio please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who live and turn from their evil ways said … AMEN

We are in the season of Lent, we should reflect on what our life is about all year long and certainly repent at those times when we have sinned and failed God. Reflection, repentance, are the primary focus of Lent. Today’s readings emphasize that. Most of the Bible is very straightforward, very real in the day to day lives of the people it describes. Many people like the mysticism, the mystery of many other beliefs, just for that reason and dismiss Christianity as being a little too prosaic and not mysterious enough. I disagree, the realness of the Bible, from beginning to end, make it totally relatable, real world, it describes the darkness and sinfulness of a fallen world, and it describes in very gritty, earthy ways many of the people in the Bible. There was little mystical about David, Elijah, Peter, they were very manly-earthy-gritty men, even Jesus. The Bible is not about being mystical, mystery, that so many try to make it out to be, but in some respects it is. There are compelling mysteries in Christian theology: The Trinity, the atonement of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection. There are mysteries that we may never understand, but that does not diminish the very straightforward realities of who Jesus is, how we are saved, what the Father does in our lives everyday as we are guided by the Holy Spirit. There are mystical parts to the Bible. Daniel can be, Revelation certainly is, parts of Isaiah. Kenneth Stevenson and Michael Glerup write: “Ezekiel also leaves its mark on the New Testament. The image of Jesus as the Shepherd (Matthew 18: 12-14; John 10: 11-18) finds its inspiration in the prophecy about the shepherds and the sheep (Ezekiel 1: 5-10). Revelation bears several significant traces of the influence of Ezekiel: the vision of the chariot from heaven with the four living creatures (Ezek 40-48; Rev 21-22) … and each book ends with a vision of the new temple.”[1] In our reading today Ezekiel is pretty straight forward, and according to Stevenson and Glerup; “…his teaching about judgment seems at times harsher than the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah.”[2]

Through Ezekiel, Yahweh is pretty tough on Israel and He could be saying essentially the same thing to today’s culture. David Peters writes: “You are no better than the Canaanites. Your father was an Amorite and your mother was a Hittite [reminds me of the Monty Python line Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elderberry –mine] You were such an ugly baby they left you out to die.” (Ez 3: 7-9) Peters goes on to write: “This is pretty rough talk coming from the Lord. God compared them to the people for whom they had the least respect – the Samaritans and the Sodoms. This sarcasm attracted the people’s attention and they protested that God was being unfair to them. God replied, “You say, ‘The Lord is being unfair in his assessment of us?!’ Listen to me! You are the ones being unfair not I.’” (Ez 18:25) In a contest as to who is fair, God will always win.”[3]

The most poignant part of the lessons for me is when Ezekiel takes his foot off the gas in the middle of the reading to remind his audience: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11) Who is the “house of Israel” that God is talking to? … Yes, us, we are Israel. Jesus is Israel, we are in Jesus, even 500 years before Jesus, God, through Ezekiel, is talking to us and almost pleading with us. I don’t want to see people die in their sins, I don’t want to see people lost in Hell for eternity, that is horrible, I want you to fear me enough, to know who I am, what I have done for you and for you to stop resisting and find peace and rest in My grace. God is often practically pleading with us, stop it, get over this ridiculous, rebellious, attitude that only leads to death! We should be in a state of reflection, repentance and prayer all year long, but we have been given this time of Lent to specifically reflect on the reality of the state of our sinful nature. Not as a way to beat you down, but as a way for you to truly live “I am the way the truth and the life…” Jesus tells us. His way, life and life more abundant in the resurrection. The world’s way is sin and death. We may think Ezekiel is being overly harsh, but God, through Ezekiel, is desperately trying to steer us away from our rebellious and sinful nature and find true life, hope, promise and eternal life of perfection in Him. Is there any doubt that when someone repents, stops his rebellious ways that the Father will be joyful? Luke writes: “ESV Luke 15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Because we can’t have it our way, we act as if God is the enemy. We live in a “gotcha” culture. It’s not about what you do, the great ways you serve, the things you accomplish. There are people out there who genuinely think they are serving by waiting in the weeds in order to “gotcha” on the most trivial issues and show what a truly horrible person you are. The world tries to project that mind-set on to God. Nothing can be further from the truth. The “gotcha” God wants is the times when you realize your sin, repent and mourn in ashes over your sin and realize all that He has done to save you and give you eternal life. Is there any doubt in your mind that the Father, on His throne, will be smiling when you realize what has been done for you? Sure He knows who He has saved, but in the middle of the joy of heaven, there will be the Father’s smile of satisfaction, that His plan in that person has come to pass? In the parable of the talents Jesus tells us how our Master, God, “Enter into the joy of your master.” (Luke 25: 21, 23) The world tries to convince us it’s an “us against Him”.

By the same token, He isn’t playing. You want to take the wide road into the wide gate, do it your way? You can’t expect God to be pleased with your destructive behavior. He wants to save you, Jesus came in order to be the salvation of the world. The Godhead knows that most of the world faces destruction, death, the eternal wrath of God, and why shouldn’t they who have rejected God? God takes no pleasure over the death of the wicked, but they made their choice and rejected God. Ezekiel writes: “Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right,…he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ez 33: 14, 15). Through the Holy Spirit, the Father has made the path to salvation quite obvious and doesn’t make us jump through hoops to be in Him, as all other beliefs do. He gives us pure, unqualified grace in His Son Jesus. Jesus did the hard work and the heavy lifting. Jesus died on the Cross the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. God made the road to salvation quite obvious in His Son’s life, death and resurrection. There is nothing we can do to earn it, to justify it, to deserve it, it is given to us to have life and life more abundant.

In our Gospel reading people are asking Jesus if the people who died because of Pilate or an accident somehow deserved such violent deaths because they were bad people. The people asking were somehow “good” and those that died got what they deserved. Jesus replied: “No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Not that a tower will fall on all of them, but Jesus was saying, keep doing what you’re doing and you will all die in your sins, you will be condemned to the eternal fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We do not have a “gotcha” God who is just waiting to condemn us. John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave us His Son to give us a sure and certain way to salvation, everlasting, perfect life in the resurrection. Trust in Him who does so much for us, turn and repent and know that in Him, in His church, in our baptism in Him and in the Lord’s Supper when we eat His Body and Blood, in Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, He has saved you to that eternal life in the resurrection. He wants what is best for you and waits to give it to you. There is no joy in the death of a sinner, there is joy in the man and woman who repents and receives the free gift of grace in Jesus.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

 

[1] Stevenson and Glerup in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Ezekiel, Daniel” p xx

[2] Ibid p xiv

[3] David Peters “The many Faces of Biblical Humor”

Unworthy, yet still saved in Jesus Luke 3 First Saint Johns Dec 6, 2015

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who hear John the Baptist’s words to warn those to flee from the wrath to come said … Amen!

It’s Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year when we remember the coming of Jesus, not just the first coming His incarnation, but we also think about His second coming, when the old will be destroyed and Jesus brings the new perfect world.

John the Baptist, some like to call him John the Baptizer, can well be talking to our generation as well as talking to the generation of the first century. John was an Old Testament prophet, he wasn’t playin’, he was there to make sure that things were set up for the coming of God the Son. He was quoting Isaiah, we often call Isaiah’s book the fifth Gospel. The Greek word Gospel means “Good News” and Isaiah was certainly telling the people of his time, five hundred years before Jesus’ coming, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus’ coming. That the hope and promise of Yahweh, God the Father, would come and that they would have the hope and promise of reestablishing the relationship that Yahweh had with His people. The people of Isaiah’s time had been brought to the bottom. They needed this hope and promise, they were beaten, they were exiled, they had no expectation of seeing their homeland, Israel, ever again. They felt abandoned and lost, and they knew they were exiled for a reason. They knew that they had sinned against God over and over. They knew they deserved to be punished. By the same token, God knew that He couldn’t just leave His people in Babylon with no hope and He gave Isaiah the words to give them the hope and promise that He had not forgotten them and that they would be restored into the relationship they had with Him. But it wasn’t going to be right away. God wanted to make sure the lesson had sunk in. It seems that it had. Israel stopped looking for foreign “gods” we don’t see further evidence of people worshipping Baal or Molech or other pagan “gods”. By the time John made his appearance, they did seem to be patiently waiting for Messiah, the anointed one of God, to restore them.

This doesn’t mean that they were all nicely squared away in waiting. They let a lot of pious kinds of beliefs build up around God’s Word. Jesus certainly criticized them for letting their man-made traditions get in the way of God’s Law. Also the Jews expected that Messiah would come to drive out the Romans which was wrong. Jesus was not some Davidic king who would drive out the Romans and re-establish a Davidic kingdom, the height of the Jewish nation. Jesus came so that all people would know the true God, and to give them God’s Word and Will. Jesus came to live that perfect life, to be the perfect, wholly innocent sacrifice, He would be the payment of our sins. God is truly holy, merciful and just. God’s justice cannot allow sin, there has to be a penalty for sin. The only penalty that would be truly sufficient to pay for the sin of the world, was the sacrifice of His truly holy, perfect Son, who lived the perfect life, in order to be the perfect sacrifice. So the Old Testament preacher, John the Baptist, is sent to fulfill the first prophecy that in the spirit of Isaiah, the one Isaiah said would come to make his, the Messiah’s, path straight. Like Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament prophets, John knew he hadn’t been sent to make nice, pat people on the head, tell them it’s all about “Your best life now” [Joel Osteen book]. John is telling them, no more playin’, it’s time to pay attention and know that God the Son is coming and will lead you back to a relationship with the Father in Him and John is not pulling any punches.

John quotes Isaiah saying: “…Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight … all flesh shall see the salvation of God…” [Isaiah 40:3-5]. His words, 500 years earlier. Now, it’s happening and it’s time to stop floundering around, making things up, living in denial. It’s time to either know who Jesus is and that a new generation, a new era has begun, or resign yourself to hopelessness and loss. There’s no other choice. John says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Let’s take the second part first. John is saying, you’re not worthy to be here, who led you here in order to hear the words of salvation? If we are following God’s script, that’s really kind of a rhetorical question. If you know why you’re here, how do you know that? As Lutherans we know the answer to that. Who leads us to know Christ as our Lord and Savior and leads us to salvation? … The Holy Spirit leads us. We can’t know how to be saved, we don’t make that decision. We are too lost in our sin to know the holiness and salvation of God. John is the first to refer to the Holy Spirit, that Jesus will baptize us in the Holy Spirit.

Too often we read the Bible as being all nice and polite. But John’s first statement is flat out judgmental, oooh, that’s not nice, being judgmental. Yet here it is. Why is this so judgmental? A brood is defined as a family of young animals. So first Johns is saying that you’re just a bunch of not just immature, but animals. Not just any animal, he says they are a brood of snakes. Why snakes, why would that be especially compelling, even insulting to a group of Jews? What was special to them about the snake? … The snake was the form that Satan took to corrupt God’s perfect creation. The snake corrupted Eve and because Eve had fallen, Adam followed Eve and gave in to the temptation offered by Satan. Adam snubbed God and chose to give in to Satan’s temptation. The same with the people John is preaching to.

So John goes on to say. “OK, you may be here as a result of the Holy Spirit leading you here. If that’s the case, then you better start living up to that and repent of all your sins, and start to bear fruit in accordance with that repentance.” In other words, you need to start living your life in a way that glorifies God and justifies the fact that He has sent His Son to save you. Why? Because “…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John is saying that at this point, every one of you here is doomed to Hell. God has already condemned you and judged, oh, that bad word again, judging. God has already condemned your sin and your snubbing of Him will send you to Hell.

The people listening, have completely understood what John is saying and decided that they need to take him seriously. How do we know that? … The crowds started to ask him “What then shall we do?” It’s too early for John to say “you need to know Jesus as Savior.” Neither he nor anyone else there knows how that’s going to play out. But he does say, “start getting your life together”. Stop trying to live just for yourself and live for those around you, so that they will see that things are changing. John answers the crowd saying: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food to do likewise.” Stop living selfishly, if you are in a position to help someone else give them something that they are in need of. The tax collectors and soldiers then ask John what they can do. Remember, these are probably the two most hated groups in Israel at the time. But clearly the Holy Spirit has moved these groups of men, who appear to be far over the boundary of redemption. No one wants them saved, yet John gives hope and promise to even the two groups of hated sinners. He tells them, stop ripping people off, stop trying to intimidate, injure and kill other people.

His listeners are now just breathless with anticipation, “…surely this has to be Him, this has to be the Messiah that God has promised us for centuries.” John sets them straight, that someone who will be much more then him is coming. He promises them that the Messiah to come will be that hope and promise. But in good Lutheran style, John warns them one more time: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” For those who are trying to convince us that Jesus isn’t serious about Hell, John is making it very clear. Jesus will come and gather the wheat, the good crop, gather those who are saved in Him into His “barn”, into heaven, to eternal life in the Resurrection. But, for those who are chaff, those who are not a good crop, not saved in Him, they will burn with unquenchable fire. The only place I know that is “unquenchable fire” is Hell. John makes it very clear, this is the default, which we are all in danger of, which is Hell. Salvation and true life is in the Messiah to come. That is the message I am telling you now. John then goes on to “preach good news to the people”. The Gospel of salvation in Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation, our preparation as those who are saved in Jesus is always to the time when He will return, our resurrection in the New perfect World. Part of that preparation has to be in terms of being someone who will warn those around us who do not know Jesus “to flee from the wrath to come.”

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

The Bible’s authenticity

In his book Walking The Bible, (published 2001 by William Morrow) Bruce Feiler writes about taking a trip, by various modes, through the lands of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). These books describe Moses’ journey through , essentially, the Sinai, Jordan and Israel. Over 400 pages of Feiler going to some of the most challenging sites described in the Bible; walking, all terrain vehicles, jeeps, camel, donkey. It is definitely an interesting read, in which he also includes a lot of the contemporary political situation in the area. As much as I can remember Feiler doesn’t write about any of his personal religious beliefs. Furthermore he regularly contributes to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and also writes for the New York Times, Conde Nast and Gourmet. None of which makes one think of “Christianity Today”, in other words, if he is a Christian or Jewish, he doesn’t make it apparent in 400+ pages.

There is doubt, there are questions, reservations, disagreements, but through it all he interacts with Arabs, Bedouins, Christians all of various stripes and he seems to maintain a respect even admiration for vastly different people. He seems to maintain a good level of professional objectivity (which is becoming very rare in this day and age), and let’s the facts and guidance of various people take him where it seems most reasonable to go. So yes, overall, definitely a worthwhile read.

This leads me to one of his closing observations: “Put tautologically: The Bible lives because it never dies. As a rabbi friend of mine said, it’s like a fungus that can live underground for long periods then pop up and thrive whenever it appears.”

“Though my friend quickly regretted his remark, he actually made a significant point. Easily the most impressive thing I learned during my trip was that the Bible’s ability to be relevant to contemporary life was by no means guaranteed. If anything, over the last two hundred years it has undergone the most concentrated and ruthless academic scrutiny that any written book has ever faced. This scientific interrogation, from every conceivable corner – archaeology, history, physics, metaphysics, linguistics, anthropology – was designed, in many cases to undermine the Bible, to destroy its credibility. But in every case (at least the ones involving historical events, after the primeval stories of Creation), the Bible not only withstood the inquisition but came out stronger, with its integrity intact, and its nuances more on display. The doesn’t mean that the stories are true, but it does mean that they’re true to their era. The bible lives today not because it’s untouchable but precisely because it has been touched – it has been challenged – and it remains undefeated.” ( Bruce Feiler Walking The Bible pp 408-9, 2001).

The Bible, Jesus, have been the most highly scrutinized book and person in history, by far. Does kind of make you wonder why this agenda to so relentlessly and aggressively try to undermine the Bible. If, as most sceptics like to point out, the Bible is a book of fables and myths, why is there this zealous need to take it down. And then ironically, not weaken it, but strengthen the Bible’s scholarly authenticity, in addition to the fact that it is the inspired word of God. So it does stand to reason the more God’s word is scrutinized, the more it would validated, whether that was the intent of the scrutinizer or not.

Angry God Leviticus 18-20

One of the main shots at God is that the Old Testament God is so cruel. How could Yahweh send His people into Canaan, the Promised Land and tell them to kill the people who were already there?

The answer is, yes, in Scripture, But hey, we don’t want to read through those first five books. Yea, Genesis, Exodus (thanks to Cecil B DeMille) Exodus is OK, there’s entertainment value there! But Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy? Boring. Telling us all those thing we can’t do, or we have to do.

Despite the perception, there is interesting history in those books and, come on, if God’s telling us something, it’s not  “boring”! But hey, we want to be entertained, “ESV 2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” (BibleWorks)

The attitude is; If I have to read the bible then at least amuse me, you like how you entertain me at church, referring of course to Sunday morning service, what’s supposed to be worship. But the rest of the world sees as “amuse me”.

God intended His people, the Jews, to be His people, a nation of priests. They were supposed to be dedicated to Him, His chosen people and not be influenced by the people who were in Canaan, who were, according to God “detestable” (Lev 20:23).

As it happened despite all His attempts, His people did not follow His directions (of course none of us do, we all being sinners). The Israelites did leave Canaanites alive because it was to their advantage to keep them alive. But they paid the price.

Through its history, Israel turned to these evil ‘gods’, begin to ignore Yahweh, Yahweh would send an enemy as punishment for Israel turning from Yahweh, they would be conquered, suffer, regret what they did to be punished, and the fact they were ruled by an evil people. They would repent, God would restore Israel, things would go well for awhile and then rinse, repeat. From their escape from Egypt until the time that the Rome destroyed the temple, about 2,000 years. Now we can wag our finger but the same thing happens to us. We are certainly becoming more and more evil as a society, more and more it’s about me and very little about God.

You can’t blame God for not telling us. The Books of the Law, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) certainly give us straight forward ground rules, but hey, it’s about us, remember?

Yahweh lists out some of the more heinous things that we don’t do. Leviticus 18-20 are pretty specific, if not a little graphic (have your attention now?): “ESV Leviticus 18:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. 5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” (English Standard Version, BibleWorks)

Right out of the gate, before they’re allowed into the Promised Land, Yahweh is making it very clear, He is not leading them to Canaan to be Canaanites. He has lead them there to be His Chosen People and not to get swept up in the Canaanites sick, twisted depravity. “God detailed the sexual practices He abhors, in order that the Israelites might live before Him in purity, unlike the Egyptians and Canaanites. Because of their sexual practices, Canaan, the land promised to the Israelites, is defiled and their people will soon be ‘vomited out’ of the land as God leads the Israelites in (v 25).” (Lutheran Study Bible p 191)

This is where God lists out the prohibitions against incest, and yea, does go into detail. Let’s face it, if we’re not explicitly told, someone’s going to look for the loophole and decide that somehow he can’t be saddled with the same woman or be denied his “fun”. When I say the laws against incest, every, heterosexual, possibility. Why did God describe every possible situation? Because the Canaanites were doing every possible incestuous situation. Nice, huh? Next, how about a threesome? “ESV Leviticus 18:17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.” Sweet, huh, again, the Canaanites were doing it. How about this: “ESV Leviticus 18:18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.” Nice people, huh? “OK, babe, think I’m going to set up a little competition, let’s see between you and her who can … oh, perform better?” But these are the people that so many “nice” people are outraged at God for killing them off.
Let’s cut away from sex awhile: “ESV Leviticus 18:21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.” It was a regular practice of these nice Canaanite people to sacrifice their first born son to Molech.

MolechSacrificeAltar

The baby would be put in the idol’s arms which were pitched so that the baby would roll down into the furnace in the idol. Yea, nice people. Oh yeah, not specifically delineated, but let’s not forget temple prostitution. The practice where the men, married or not, would have sex with temple “priestesses”, like the baby sacrifice, all so that Molech would bless them with rain, fertility both in terms of crops, animals and babies. Yeah, nice people, they’d make great neighbors, huh? Yahweh restates His position: “ESV Leviticus 20:2 “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.” Not pulling any punches there are we? But really how could anyone roll their baby son into a furnace? And yet those poor put-upon people were.

Here’s the big one: “ESV Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Hey God’s words, not mine. And again: “ESV Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” One has to think if God restates it, He must really mean it.
This next one is classic: “ESV Leviticus 18:23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.” Yup, those nice Canaanites. And just to make sure we know what we’re talking about: “ESV Leviticus 18:24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, ESV Leviticus 18:25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” The Canaanites did all these things and now, God is telling you, do not do them and make sure there are none left in the Promised Land who have been a part of this culture and will be left to corrupt you. You may not like it, of course there will those who will think that this is all so “unfair”, but that’s too bad. It’s not your world, God created it, it is His, and if He will no longer tolerate such decadence then it’s His call. Like it or not He can do what He wants to. Whether you think it’s fair or not, matters not a whit and I think it’s kind of bizarre that your opinion really carries any weight in this to begin with.
Why do Christians have a problem with all the things these Canaanites did? “ESV Leviticus 18:26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you ESV Leviticus 18:27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), ESV Leviticus 18:28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.”

Yea, Christians will be taken and protected by the Father, we have that hope and promise, in Jesus it’s a done deal. But for those who have to tell everyone how unfair it is, how we should be “free”, everyone do their own thing. It’s just not going to be that way and we don’t want to see those we love and care for be swept away. You can live in any delusion you like, but that’s not going to change who God is, what He has done, and what He will do. Whether you think it’s compassionate or not, it is compassionate. Just as you might like taking the medicine to cure you, let your boss tell you what to do, the reality is, that God has said, He has shown that He has meant it and for those who do have the truth, we do have a responsibility to be compassionate and that compassion is shown in how we tell the truth about Christ.

Here’s another one: “ESV Leviticus 19:9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. ESV Leviticus 19:10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” What this means is that the Canaanites did not perform acts of charity. Israel was told in this verse, that the least you can do is not pick up everything when you harvest crops and leave it for those who don’t have anything else. Yea those nice picked on Canaanites wouldn’t even leave a little food for those who were genuinely starving. Needless to say they didn’t do anything else to provide for the poor, it was all about them and what made them happy, hmmm, sound familiar?

Yahweh lists out pretty much the Ten Commandments, meaning? Yes, the Canaanites violated them all, lying, stealing, cheating ya, regular practice.

How about this? “ESV Leviticus 19:13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” People would fail to pay those who performed work for them. They would also not pay them at the end of the day. In this society, there was no refrigeration, it was hot, dirty. When you received your pay at the end of every day, you went out, bought food and ate. If you didn’t have any money, after an entire day of working, you went to bed hungry. But those nice Canaanites, would literally take the bread right of their brother’s mouths after they did a whole day’s worth of work for them. If they couldn’t pay them, why would they hire them at the beginning of the day?

How about government corruption? “ESV Leviticus 19:15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” If you were poor, you got no justice, the highest bidder got their way. Public Defenders? Haaaaa! Ya right!

Verse 19:20, own a slave woman? Canaanite men could do whatever they wanted to do with them. Israelite men? No way! Slaves in general and women slaves in particular, had to be treated humanely. Nice people, huh? All you high-minded people who think that God was so unfair having them wiped out.

“ESV Leviticus 19:29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.” Prostitute your daughter? Hey, ya gotta do, what ya gotta do.

“ESV Leviticus 19:31 “Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.” Ya, I know, today, Ghost Hunters, palm readers, astrologers etc. What’s the harm? God said stay away from it, and I have no doubt there is serious harm involved. In this post-modern era we are seeing more messing with the demonic, and you would have to be clueless to claim otherwise. Yahweh restates His position on mediums and wizards on Lev 20: 6. And in verse 27 adds that a medium or wizard should be put to death.

“ESV Leviticus 19:36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” These were measurements used in commerce, in this context. They were ripping each other off in the marketplace, ya how nice.

“ESV Leviticus 20:9 For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.” Ya, I know, not a big deal in our highly enlightened contemporary world.

Just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding Yahweh restates His opinion of the Canaanites: “ESV Leviticus 20:23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.” Having God detest you is not where you want to be. And He tells Israel: “ESV Leviticus 20:26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”
You can keep living in your state of denial and think it’s all about you and not about God, but in the end God will make the calls. For those who’ve played their whole lives, will be called to account and there will “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, Jesus’s words, six different times in Matthew. For those who are holy to the Father in Jesus, there is salvation, there is the resurrection. God doesn’t tolerate the absolutely detestable life-style of the Canaanites and neither should you. But that is exactly where we are headed to as a culture, frankly we’re pretty much there. You really expect a completely just, completely holy, completely pure and all- powerful God to just sit back? That’s just not reality.

The Lord is always encouraging us 1 Kings 19: 1-8 First St Johns August 9, 2015

[For the audio of this sermon please click on the above link)

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who make a faithful witness to Jesus said … AMEN!

My last sermon I talked about Noah, how God destroyed all the living creatures. Man had become entirely and irredeemably wicked and God had had enough. These people had gone over the top and God, unlike the world that is just in love with “tolerance” which it very loosely applies, God’s tolerance was exhausted. In today’s Old Testament reading we see the same thing on a lesser scale. Quick back story, Jezebel had become Queen of Israel. She was pretty obnoxious and over the top and her husband Ahab, was pretty much of a milk toast, “yes dear, no dear”. In direct defiance of God, Ahab allowed Jezebel to maintain a staff of 450 priests of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. The Jewish Encyclopedia describes some of this “religion”: “there was placed side by side with the Ba’al a corresponding female symbol, the Ashtoreth (Babyl. “Ashtar”) and the relation between the two deities was set forth as the example and the motive of unbridled sensuality. The evil became all the worse when in the popular view Yhwh himself was regarded as one of the Ba’als.”[1] Of course this violates the first two of the ten commandments, you shall worship God and you shall not worship idols. Baal and Asherah are idols, they aren’t “gods”, some evidence would be that no one worships either of them anymore. If they were truly “god” they would certainly be powerful enough to assert their worship. Baal worship is described as: “This pagan nature worship was purposefully described with such graphic sexual language precisely because cult prostitution and sexual mysticism was a big part of the nature worship process. Sexual fertility cults and the desire for a corresponding agricultural fertility were weaved together into a pornographic nature worship scheme that corrupted the entire nation and its people.”[2] Sound familiar? Sound like the world today? It was, straight up, worship that not only allowed, but encouraged any sort of sexual practice. “in addition to sexual abandon, the worship of Baal also incorporated harsh ascetic practices into their nature worship as well. Ecstatic pleasure and bloody pain were used to propitiate the nature gods for the sake of fair weather (1 Kings 18:25-29). Thus, Baal nature worship was completely indulgent with regard to sexual mysticism on the one hand, but overly strict, harsh, and severe on the other hand with regard to ascetic practices, with occasional bouts of human sacrifice along the way (2 Kings 17:28-41).”[3] Obviously this is a violation of the seventh commandment, thou shalt not commit adultery. The commandment is about marital faithfulness and also about fornication, sex between two unmarried people. Obviously in our day and age, there isn’t a “church of Baal”, but the practices of our age are certainly all about what was practiced in Old Testament times by Baal worshippers.

God gave us the ten commandments. He wasn’t mumbling when He put them on stone tablets and gave them to Moses. God, Yahweh, God the Father of Jesus Christ is unequivocally perfect, perfectly holy and will not tolerate sin. We are all sinners, we all have our personal violations of the ten commandments, but we who are in Christ are forgiven, Jesus died for our sins and when we confess and repent of those sins, we are absolved of those sins, we have forgiveness because Jesus died to pay the price for those sins. But while there are those in the world who feel that any and everything should be tolerated, should be allowed, we who are Christians know that while there is sin, and there is forgiveness, that we also offend and fail God the Father when we commit these sins. God will not tolerate anyone who simply flouts His commandments and chooses to do whatever he or she pleases to do. The world around us, tells us that’s silly, but the world has no hope, no promise, no other way to deal with it’s sin and those in the world die to those sins and are eternally condemned.

So we can wag our finger and cluck our tongue and presume to chastise God when He destroys the world because it has become so consumed with its sins, or we can take Him at His word. He gives us the hope and promise of eternal life, the world simply tells us to do what makes us happy and that’s just ok. When you die, you’re dead whatever happens then, well tough luck! A little back story, you might remember, how Elijah set up a challenge with Baal’s prophets? We each sacrifice an ox, I’m sure you’ve seen how huge an ox is, we lay it on the altar and whichever God completely consumes the ox with fire, then that God must truly be God. Well Baal’s priests dance around for hours, finally drop from exhaustion, and nothing, big old bagel, zero, nada. Elijah had a great time just kicking back and telling the priests of Baal how messed up this is. Hey! Baal’s so great, what’s the problem? How come he can’t just burn up an ox? Finally Elijah takes his turn, says a short prayer of about fifty words, then woosh “…Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil and also licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38) Kind of God’s way of putting an exclamation point on the whole event. Then Elijah, following God’s directions, I’m sure with his own men, drives about 990 priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah down the mountain they were on to a creek and kills them all. A little harsh? Not really. These priests along with the queen Jezebel are determined to impose these enormously sinful practices on Yahweh’s people, the people of Israel, essentially condemning them to eternal death and Yahweh will not tolerate it! No more than He tolerates the same behavior today. But, praise God, we have salvation in Jesus, He is our strength, our power, our Elijah who keeps His people away from these grossly immoral practices. He is our redemption, the One who paid the price for our sin. For homework this week, read 1 Kings 18:16-40.

But it does show what a gross biblical ignorance and illiteracy there is today, when you have people, who probably aren’t Christians, making up stereotypes about Christian pastors and Christians in general. Furthermore you see how they are treated by the world in today’s reading. We aren’t to tolerate the gross immorality that we see around us today, we are to speak out. When non-Christians try to stereotype you and basically tell you to shut up, keep it to yourself, they say Christians are supposed to be meek and humble. Well first off they don’t know what they’re talking about. Jesus had no problems holding people accountable for sexual and other sins. John the Baptist called Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife. Heck by today’s standards, that’s a pretty venal sin.  John the Baptist had no problem calling out one of the most powerful men in the country and he lost his head for it. Paul certainly didn’t pull any punches with churches like the Corinthians.

Elijah was faithful to God and His direction, not to the world’s opinion. Elijah was driven out by the world, harassed by the world, and Christians are and will be today. Not because the world is right, but because the world is hateful and ignorant and will do whatever it takes to shut a faithful person up. But God strengthens and encourages us. Can you imagine how Elijah felt? He had been hounded, driven away, threatened with death. He feels abandoned, alone, feels as if he is the only one of Yahweh’s people left. An angel wakes him up, one of Yahweh’s powerful warrior angels, provides him with food and water and rest, and also to remind him that God is watching over him, just as He watches over us when we take an unpopular stand for His Son Jesus and Jesus’ church. The world loves drama, it loves to spite God, it loves to have its own way and it hates anyone who is faithful to the Lord Jesus. We have to accept that, deal with that and trust that God will provide and protect us as He did with Elijah and continue to be a faithful witness to Him in a world that is increasingly hostile to Jesus.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom.

[1] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2236-ba-al-and-ba-al-worship

[2] http://www.theignorantfishermen.com/2010/12/baalisms-suicidal-nature-worship-and.html

[3] Ibid

Masada

The featured picture is looking down from the top of Masada, in Israel, in the Negev desert. The fortress was built by Herod the Great. Herod earned “The Great”, because of his many impressive structures that he built in many places in Israel. Masada was intended by him as a place of refuge, but ended up being used by Zealots holding out against the Roman army.

The feature right in the center, that looks like a ramp? Well it’s because it is a ramp. The Romans built this ramp in order to get access to the fortress. Which they finally did, only to find that all the defenders had committed suicide. It is staggering to imagine how day after day the Romans are building this ramp, right under the view of the defenders. Equally staggering on the part of the defenders, knowing that day by day their doom was right below them.

14_16The square outlines are where the Roman Army encampments were while they conducted the siege of Masada.

13_15This is a picture of the interior of Masada, at the top of the mountain.

05_7The Negev desert from the top of Masada, in the direction of the Dead Sea.

20_22A storm building over  the Negev and I believe, that this is in the direction of Egypt. While we were there a factory was blown up by a missile fired from the Gaza strip. We could see the smoke, and there were a lot of military aircraft overhead while we were in the area.

04_6I really have a lot of respect for the country and the people of Israel. I still stay in contact with a few people there. They live under tough conditions and I thought this was an inspiring picture, a reminder of those who defended this fortress and their 21st century descendants who defend their tiny country.