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Posts Tagged ‘God’s love’

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 11:14-13:1

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8-13:1, plus Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8-13:1

This morning we’re coming to the conclusion of the story of how Israel came to have kings for leaders. It all began in chapter 8 when Israel demanded a king and amazingly God allowed it.

  • After a time, God chose Saul – and so Samuel privately anointed him as prince.
  • Then Saul was chosen by lots, making God’s choice of him public.
  • Then Saul passed the leadership test by delivering Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites.
  • And finally today he is officially installed as king.

Our passage today is 11:14-13:1. It’s too long to go through verse by verse, so I will summarize parts of it, but I encourage you to follow along in your bibles.

A change from judges to kings

Saul becomes king – 11:14-15

11:14Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” 15So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

In these first verses Samuel calls all Israel together to Gilgal, a central location used for religious and political meetings. And v. 15 says, “There they made Saul king before the Lord.”

And then, after having tried before in chapter 8, Samuel actually gives his farewell speech to Israel.

Samuel’s farewell – 12:1-2

12:1And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day.

He has walked before them as a leader for many years and is “old and gray.” And now Saul walks before them as the new king. Samuel will remain as a priest and prophet, but will no longer be the national leader or judge.

And then he goes on to establish his integrity as a leader – 12:3-6

3Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed (that is, Saul). Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

And in vs. 4-6 they all affirm that he has indeed been a righteous leader.

 4They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” 5And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.” 6And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.

Can you imagine doing this at your work? Or even at church or with family?  This is a challenge to all of us to live godly lives of integrity and character, like Samuel. This is especially important for leaders who have power and can misuse it to take advantage of others.

Samuel is also drawing a contrast here between the role of a judge, who doesn’t “take” things, to that of a king who will “take” things (same word), as he warned them in chapter 8:11-17. (Notice the contrast also between Samuel and his sons – 8:3)

Next, Samuel goes through their history to make the point that God is able to deliver – vs. 7-12

7Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.

  • He recalls how God raised up Moses to deliver them from Egypt
  • Then they sinned by turning to false gods and idols.
  • And so God gave them over to their enemies for instance Sisera, the Philistines, and Moab (as told in the book of Judges).
  • But in each case God heard their cry and delivered them. He raised up Jerubbaal (or Gideon), Barak, Jephthah and Samuel – and delivered them.

God has been faithful to save. And after Egypt, they only needed deliverance because of their unfaithfulness.

Now the point of this history lesson is that a king is not necessary to deliver Israel; God is able. God was their only king and there was no lack in God that they needed a human king. But they asked anyway.

12And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.

It was their lack of trust in God to deliver, that led them to ask for a king. Nevertheless, despite all of this God can use kingship for his own purposes – 12:13-15

13And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.

God can use kingship. This is why he allows it, and tells Samuel to obey their voice (chapter 8).

Instead of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (as the book of Judges talks about) a king has the power to lead the people to obey. Although, just as surely, he can use that power to lead them to disobey.

And besides, even with a king, the question is always the same, “Will Israel follow God or false gods?” Their covenant relationship with God has not changed. And so if they do what is right, God will watch over them; but if they do not, they will be judged.

Next we have a miracle that again establishes the point that God is able to deliver – 12:16-18

16Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

At the time of the wheat harvest there was no rain, so this was unusual. And, of course, Samuel called for it and God acted right away. Also remember, they often looked to false gods who were supposed to be in control of the rain and thunder. But God shows here that he is the only true God.

So both from their history, including under Samuel’s leadership and from this miracle it should be clear that there is no lack on God’s part to save.

But how often do we, in the face of God’s history of faithfulness and our own present experiences of this, still distrust God? God’s faithfulness is beyond question, we are the questionable ones, because we are often faithless. But still we don’t trust God.  We think that there is some lack in God, when God alone is more than sufficient.

This miraculous sign leads the people acknowledge their sin – 12:19

19And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”

Their lack of faith in God and their demand for a king was evil. As Samuel said above “your wickedness is great” in asking for a king when God was already taking care of you. And they confess this here plainly and they ask for Samuel’s prayers to avert judgment.

The next verses speak to Samuel’s continuing role among them – 12:20-25

20And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. 23Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

Samuel is no longer a judge, but he is still a prophet and priest. And as such he admonishes them:

  • He tells them to serve the Lord with all their heart.
  • They are to turn away from “empty things” that is, worthless idols and false gods.
  • And he warns them – If they don’t obey – they and their king will be swept away.

He also promises to pray for them and teach them. In vs. 23 he says, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.”

And then our passage ends with a statement about Saul’s reign – 13:1

 13:1Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. (NIV)

The Hebrew text literally says, “Saul was years old when he became king, and reigned two years.” It appears that the text did not survive intact. Some later versions of the Septuagint have 30 years for his age. Acts 13:21 says that Saul reigned for 40 years. (And in one place Josephus agrees with this). So this would be a rounded number for the possibly original number of 42.

Let me end by taking note of –

How great God’s grace is

God’s patience in this whole episode is truly amazing. The reason they needed to be delivered from various enemies in the first place was their unfaithfulness to God. They sinned and God gave them over to their enemies, just as their covenant agreement stipulated. In other words, it was their fault.

But they had the audacity to blame God for not being able to deliver them. They think God is inadequate to take care of them. They think God is at fault.

But then look at God’s patience and grace. Samuel says in v. 20, “Do not be afraid . . ..” God is not going to judge them for this. They will still be judged for other things, like turning to idols, as Samuel says here, but God doesn’t judge them for this.

And then in v. 22 he says, “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” Despite what they have done, God is still going to be their God and they will be his people.

  • He does this for his own reputation – since they bear his name.
  • And because it pleases him that they be his people. That is, because he loves his people.

They reject him as king, but he continues to accept them as his people. They wrongly look down on him and his ability to save, but he bears with their very real failures here.  They slander his ability to save, but he gives them words of encouragement. This is a truly amazing example of grace.

And in this episode we see God’s heart revealed; a heart of love for his people. And God has this same love for his people today; for us. And in this we can rejoice. What a great God and King we serve!

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Well, there’s nothing to celebrate in the two announcements we’ve just heard. It’s all sadness upon sadness. Yes, we have been through a really hard time.

The title this morning is, “Why, God?” Why do you allow us to go through such difficulties? Asking God why in times of trial is a biblical practice. Here are some examples from the book of Psalms:

  • I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?” – Psalm 42:9
  • Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? – Psalm 10:1
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? – Psalm 22:1
  • Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction . . . ? – Psalm 44:24

God allows us to go through really hard times as individuals and as congregations. So difficult that it seems like God is far away, while we suffer and struggle. But I want to encourage you this morning, by reminding you of five things about the God we serve.

1. God loves us

To be more specific, God loves Cedar Street. Paul says in Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Paul’s point is that if God has already given us his Son to die on the cross to show his love for us, we can be sure that his love to us is secure and will continue. If he has already given that which is most precious to him, he will for sure show us his love in lesser situations.

And just because we are going through hard times doesn’t change this. Paul goes on to say in Romans 8:35, 37 – Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Brothers and sisters, don’t fear. God loves us in the midst of our trials.

2. God knows all about our situation

God has not been caught unaware by any of this.

It may seem like God is far away, as the Psalmists say, because of our troubles. But God knows every detail of what is going on, and every detail of all the pain that has been experienced by each one of us. The psalmist writes in Psalm 56 about his trials, talking about his enemies – 5All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps . . .” He has some serious problems.

But then he goes on to say to God, 8You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” God knows all about it. In the same way, God knows all of our sleeplessness, all of our tears, all of our distress. They are in his book. There is a careful record of our pain and suffering.

Sisters and brothers, don’t be afraid. God knows what we are going through.

3. God is in control

Let me read some excerpts from Isaiah 44:6-8 – Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel . . . “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? . . . Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?”

God has a plan from of old. That’s why he can declare what is yet to come. And it includes each one of us in this congregation.

Don’t think that God is scrambling or that God has to scrap his purpose and plan for us. God knew we would be here today, going through what we are going through. And God is so great that he can even use the actions of those who oppose him or our own failures to accomplish his plans. You can’t thwart God, you can only decide if you want to be a part of what he is doing and be blessed, or not.

I believe that going through our recent difficulties has conditioned us and put us in a place to be able to receive what God wants for us.

Don’t be overwhelmed. God has a purpose and a plan in all this.

4. God always works for our good

A part of God’s plan is that he uses our pain and suffering; he redeems it so that good can come of it. Paul says in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God’s heart and purpose is that good can come of our trials, for us and others.

Don’t be afraid. God can bring something amazing out of all this.

5. God is able to handle things

Jesus said in Mark 10:27 – “All things are possible with God.”

When we are in a trial, it’s hard to see this. All we see is the bad. We want to say, “yes, God you can accomplish anything, but look at this and look at that.” But God is able to accomplish all that God purposes. And so we should pray, “God we know you can do it. Bring forth your will.”

  • Can not the one who created all things out of nothing bless and help us?
  • Can not the one who brought a group of slaves out of the empire of Egypt save us?
  • Can not the one who raised Jesus from the dead bring new life to us?

In all of this I am encouraging you not to fear. Or to say it positively, Have faith in God!

We can’t always answer the question why God lets us go through things. But we can answer the question of who; who our God is. We serve a God:

  • who loves us
  • who knows all about our pain
  • who is in control and has a plan
  • who always works for our good
  • and who is able to accomplish his will

And so because of who God is, we can move forward in faith.

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We are finishing up our “series within a series” on Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus. As we get started here today I would remind you that last week we discovered how it is now possible to be born of the Spirit or receive eternal life – through Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross and then on into heaven and pouring out the Spirit. 

By way of introduction today, let me say that I take verses 16-21 to be the words of John, the Beloved disciple, the writer of our Gospel. John is here, I believe, reflecting on the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, especially vs. 14-15. (Most writers agree).

Let’s take look at our first set of Scriptures –

John 3:16-18

And we begin with the well known v. 16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his beloved (only) Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There are three key themes in this verse – God’s love; God’s purpose to save the world through Jesus; and the role of faith in Jesus as the means of salvation. I believe the reason this verse is so popular has to do with these basic and essential themes, and the way they are brought together in a concise and understandable way here.

First, the theme of God’s love. (The other two will be developed more in vs. 17 and 18.) 1) We learn that God’s love is sacrificial. “God so loved . . . that he gave his beloved, Son.” The extent, the depth of God’s love was such that he was willing to do what it took to save us. It cost him. He sacrificed for us.

Notice the echo here of Genesis 22:2 and the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac:

  • In Genesis, God told Abraham, “take your son . . . and offer him as a burnt offering . . ..” In v. 16 we are told that God gave his Son on the cross as a sacrifice.
  • Abraham’s son is called “your beloved son, whom you love.”  In v. 16 God’s Son is the Father’s “beloved” Son.

Now Abraham did not have to go through with it, God provided a ram. But it presents a picture of what God himself has now done for us and his sacrificial love for us.

2) God’s love includes all. Who does God love? “The world” – speaking of every single person who has ever lived or will live. Who can receive of God’s love? “Whoever” or as it can be translated “everyone.” It is available to every single person. This is not talking about a sub-set of humanity. It is emphatically talking about all people.

3) God’s love blesses us greatly. God acts for our good, to help us in our need, which is what love does. We are in danger of perishing, but God gives us “eternal life,” a gift of inestimable value. 

God’s love for us is so amazing and astounding, especially given our lack of love for God.

v. 17 picks up and expounds on the second theme of v. 16, God’s purpose in giving Jesus is to save the world. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We have two purpose statements here, one negative and one positive. God’s purpose is not to condemn; “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” Positively stated God’s purpose is to save; he acted “in order that the world might be saved.” Again, “the world” is all the people in this fallen world who are in danger of perishing (v. 16).

This teaches us that it is not God’s will to condemn anyone in the world. God’s purpose, God’s choice, God’s will, is the salvation of the world.

  • As Ezekiel 18:23 says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
  • As 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “God our Savior . . . desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • As 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, the Lord does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

It is not from God’s end that people are not saved. There is no limit in what Jesus has done on the cross (1 John 2:2). There is no choice he has made that hinders anyone. He loves all and gives his Son freely for all. If it were left to God, all would be saved. His choice is clear. No, the difference has to do with us; what happens on our end.

v. 18 then, picks up and expounds on the third theme of v. 16, the role of faith in Jesus as the means of salvation. 18The one who believes in him is not condemned, but the one who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the beloved Son of God.”

Now, all of salvation is from God. And without God’s love and initiative, and without Jesus death and resurrection, none would be saved. Not a single person. But as this verse makes clear whether we receive the gift of salvation, or not, has to do with whether we put our faith in Jesus, or not. In this respect our faith in Jesus, or lack of it, is the difference.

God doesn’t force his grace on us; he doesn’t choose for us. The one who believes is saved and the one who does not believe is condemned – v. 18. (They remain under the condemnation they already had. As it says here, “is condemned already” (see also 3:36).

So as I said, the problem is on our end. If we are not saved it is because when we hear the good news of Jesus, we choose not to believe.

But then, why do some choose not to believe? Why don’t they accept of God’s love and gift of salvation? If it is not God’s purpose to condemn them, why are some still judged? This is what our next set of verses speak to.

John 3:19-21

19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” He is saying, this is how judgment works. They don’t believe and they don’t receive because, despite God’s love for them, they “love the darkness.” And they love the darkness because they hide under its cover so they can continue their evil deeds. This is what they want.

John goes on similarly in v. 20, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” They not only love the cover of darkness, they hate being exposed by the light of God so that their wrongdoing is made know. They know that what they do is wrong, but they want to hide this.

So how does judgment work? It is a self-judgment. They choose to reject Jesus because they like their situation and want to keep it. This is why they don’t believe.

But then we have the other side. 21But the one who does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Some have already responded to God’s light prior to the coming of Jesus. They do “what is true.” God has already been at work in them. As it says, their “works have been carried out in God.” And so when the light of Jesus comes, they believe in him. They are not afraid of exposure. The light simply shows that God has already done a work in them.

[Notice that this last section of verses parallels the first section – 2:23-3:2. (See the literary structure handout). The first section of this passage has Nicodemus comes to Jesus, the light, “by night.” And here the light of Jesus comes into the world and people come to him.]

The language of these verses echoes chapter 1, which provides a framework for understanding what’s going on here. Chapter 1 tells us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5); and that this light “enlightens everyone” (1:9).

God’s light has always been shining in the darkness; in the world enlightening everyone. But then, as 3:21 says, “the light has come into the world.” Chapter 1 spoke of “the true light . . . coming into the world.” (1:9). And this light has now come into the world in the person of Jesus.

  • So some, having already rejected the previous light of God and God’s work in their lives – reject the further, brighter light of Jesus. As John said, they need the cover of darkness to do what they love; and they don’t want to be exposed.
  • Others, having already received of the previous light of God and God’s work in their lives – receive the further, brighter light of Jesus. As John said, so that it may be clearly seen that their works have been carried out in God.

Now, this is not to say that those who love the darkness can’t at some point repent and respond to Jesus as his light continues to come to them. Think of the Samarian woman in chapter 4. No, John is simply laying out in general terms why some don’t believe in Jesus; why they are judged despite the fact of God’s love for them and his purpose to save them.

As you hear the good news of Jesus and as God’s light shine forth – Where are you at? Are you open to God? How will you respond?

The message for you today

God loves you deeply. Every single one of you! No exceptions. And he has sacrificed greatly for you.

And God’s purpose for you is salvation, not judgment, but rather that you be born of the Spirit; that you receive eternal life.

And this is what you need to do – believe in Jesus! Believe that through his lifting up on the cross there is no more condemnation and that through his ascension into heaven he pours out the Spirit upon us to give us new life.

Will you believe? Will you receive of this gift of new life today?

William Higgins

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Stacey and I were at a social event a number of years ago, and we ended up seated for a meal at a table with a couple who were involved in obvious and well known wrongdoing, at least from our point of view as Christians. And they knew about our Christian views and that I was a pastor. So . . . we’re sitting across from each other, knowing all this, but where does it go from here?

Have you ever been in a situation like this? You don’t want to give the impression that you agree with or approve of what they are doing, but you also know that God loves them. So there is a tension. As Christians, sometimes we get ourselves tangled up in these situations and end up either cutting off relationship, staying away or being rude (that is, we don’t act in love) or we end up minimizing or excusing the wrong behavior so that we don’t have to feel the tension anymore. What I want to show you today is that you can be clear about your convictions concerning God’s will and still have a loving and kind relationship with those who don’t practice God’s will.

Let’s look to our example here –

Jesus combined two things

1. He was clear about God’s will and that people need to do God’s will. He preached to all who would listen, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 4:17. And he didn’t do this is a vague way. He talked about some very specific things that people needed to give up in order to do God’s will. And he preached that there would be judgment for sin. There was nothing wishy-washy about Jesus.

But also, and at the same time, 2. he related to those who didn’t do God’s will in a loving way. He didn’t stay away from them or avoid them. He didn’t condemn them or see them as beyond hope. He didn’t hat them, call them names or ridicule them.

Rather, he sought them out; he initiated relationships with them. He was kind to them. And he did this because he was genuinely concerned for them. He was trying to open doors for them to be blessed by God because he knew that they would only find freedom and joy in knowing God and in doing God’s will.

He said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” How can he help if he is staying away from them? Or if he simply wants to condemn? Or if he is treating them like a leper?

Let’s look now at –

Three examples of this in Jesus’ ministry

1. Jesus associated with tax collectors. Mark 2:13-15 says, “Jesus saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

Jesus sought out a relationship with these tax collectors. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. In fact, he did this so often that he had the reputation of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” – Matthew 11:19.

And this was scandalous to many. Tax collectors were considered to be traitors working with the Romans. And they earned much of their money by overcharging, thus enriching themselves.

The Pharisees certainly didn’t approve of Jesus doing this. Mark 2:16 tells us that they asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Their approach was to keep separation from sinners. But Jesus associated with them.

But let’s also be clear that Jesus didn’t condone their behavior. In Mark 7:21-23 Jesus said that “theft” is evil and sinful. In Luke 12:15, Jesus teaches against greed and seeking more and more wealth. And as Mark relates here, they are called “sinners.”

And that’s why Jesus called them to “follow me.” That is, leave your old life behind and learn from me a new way to live. This comes out clearly in the story of Zacchaeus, another tax collector, in Luke 19. He stood up at the meal with Jesus and said, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (v. 8). He was repenting of theft (he gave back four times as much according to Old Testament law) and greed (he gave to the poor).

So in this example we see in Jesus both a clarity about God’s will, but also, at the same time, a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will.

2. Jesus associated with the sexually immoral. Luke 7:36-39 says, “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’”

Jesus related to this woman, who was most likely a prostitute. He didn’t scold her or turn her away. He wasn’t embarrassed by her. In fact this encounter is evidence that they had talked before, and she is now returning grateful for his ministry and expressing her devotion and evidencing her repentance.

Well certainly society looked down on prostitutes. And the Pharisees did not approve of Jesus’ association with her, as we see from Simon’s response. One should keep apart from such sinners!

But let’s be clear here as well, Jesus strongly disapproved of her behavior. In Mark 7:21-23 he declares that “sexual immorality” is evil and sinful. And in Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus teaches that sex is reserved for a life-long relationship between a man and woman in marriage.

We find a similar situation in John 4. You know the story. In v. 6 Jesus was weary and sitting beside a well. In v. 7 a Samaritan woman comes and Jesus initiates a conversation with her, asking her to give him some water from the well. And it turns into an opportunity for him to share about the living water that he can give to her.

All the while Jesus knows she is involved in sexually immorality. In v. 18 he said, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” This is probably why she came to the well alone. The other women in her village avoided her.

And as we saw, Jesus does not approve of this by any means. But he related to her anyway. And through this conversation she and many others came to faith in Jesus.

In both of these instances, Jesus has at the same time a clarity about God’s will, but a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will.

3. Jesus associated with people that held different religious views. We are staying in John 4 for this one. This time the focus in on the fact that she was a Samaritan.

The Samaritans came from Jews who intermarried with Gentiles after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. They were seen by Jews as “heretical.” They only adhered to the first five books of Moses and had their own temple for a time on Mt. Gerizim.

Once again, Jesus initiates a relationship with her. He is kind to her and engages in conversation. But the woman brings her religious views up in v. 9. “’How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” She goes on to say in v. – 20, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” There are some real differences here.

Yet Jesus was clear about the truth. He responds in v. 22, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” He was clear but still associated with her. And again, she and many others came to faith in him as the Messiah.

Here we see once again a clarity about God’s will and truth, but a loving relationship with those who don’t do God’s will or accept his truth.

Well what about us?

  • How would you respond to the person who just got out of jail for stealing the local little league’s money and now lives down the street from you, when they wave at you every morning on their way to work? (Like a tax-collector).
  • Or how would you respond to the gay couple next door who has asked you over for dinner and games? (Sexual immorality).
  • How would you respond to your new Muslin neighbor who needs help moving in? (Different religious views).

What Jesus kept together – clarity about God’s will and love for and relationship with those who don’t do this, too often we separate. Sometimes we set aside Jesus’ love for those who don’t do God’s will. We take the route of the Pharisees and seek separation from them. Instead of mercy, we condemn. We express disgust, hatred, call names and ridicule them. And I’m sure that they will just be rushing into our church to find out about God’s love after we do all this.

The simple fact is that, when we do this, we aren’t concerned to express God’s love for them, or to open God’s door of healing and help to them through a relationship with them.

Sometimes we set aside God’s will and the belief that everyone should do this and that there is a day of judgment coming. So we get all vague. Or we outright excuse or even bless people’s sin. Live and let live. Let’s all just get along.

The message today is that we must follow Jesus’ example and keep the tension in place, neither setting aside Jesus’ love or his holding to God’s will and truth. We must follow Jesus’ example and have in our lives, at the same time both a clarity about God’s will and a love for those who don’t do God’s will.

A final thought. We are to have genuine love for those who don’t do God’s will. So even if they don’t respond to our relationship or change their views, we still have love for them and their well-being. We are not offering a pretense of love just to get them converted or whatever.

If you struggle with offering genuine love,  remember these things: 1. You are only a forgiven sinner yourself.  2. Your sin was disgusting in the sight of God. 3. God was patient with you in your sin.

William Higgins

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Today we look at more teaching from the gospel of Mark and we come to the important Parable of the Vineyard Tenants. I say important because it really gives us Jesus’ own perspective on his ministry and what is about to happen as his time of ministry comes to an end. I want us to look at what this parable means, and draw out some lessons for us to remember as we share in the Lord’s supper together.

Overview of the parable

vs. 1-2 – “And he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.’” [Jesus is using portions of Isaiah 5:1-7 which tells a similar story.]

This setup was not uncommon in that day. You have an absentee land owner who leases out the farm to tenant workers. The agreement would go like this:

  • The owner has the land and sets things up, as he does here: planting the vines and building a fence, a pit and a tower: all that you need to produce wine.
  • And the tenants are to work the farm and give the owner a reasonable return when the harvest comes, several years later (Leviticus 19:23-25).

And so v. 2 ends with the owner sending a servant, “when the season came” to collect what’s due.

The first servant: vs. 2-3 – “ . . . he sent a servant . . .. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” There were often disagreements between owners and tenants, just as today.

A second servant: v. 4 – “Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully.”

A third servant: v. 5 – “And he sent another, and him they killed.” [This more than meets the requirement of two to three witnesses of their wrong.]

More servants: And if this wasn’t enough already v. 5 continues, “And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.” He had a lot of servants, but they had all been unsuccessful in collecting what was due.

His son: v. 6 – “He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” “Beloved” means his only son, and so very dear to the father (Genesis 22:2). And this is the only representative the owner had left to send.

Perhaps the owner figured that since his son has full legal authority, and has higher rank than a mere servant – they will have to respect him!

The tenants reasoned differently, however. vs. 7-8 – “But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.”

Maybe they thought the owner was dead since the son came? Or maybe they thought the owner was too old or too far away, or too weak to enforce his claims on the property. By the rules of that day tenants could inherit the land they worked, if the owner and heirs were dead or unwilling to make a claim. So they kill the son and throw him out, without even burying him, a real insult.

Jesus then asks, v. 9 – “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.” The owner is not dead or weak. And there are grave consequences for the actions of the tenants.

The story the parable tells

– is really the story of God and his people and it is the story of Jesus.

  • The vineyard is the people of God – this was a common image in Scripture (Isaiah 5:2, Psalm 80:8-9, Jeremiah 2:21).
  • The owner is God whenever God’s people are seen as a vineyard. The word translated in v. 9 as “owner” is actually “lord,” which has a double meaning, pointing to “the Lord.”
  • The fruit of the vineyard is faithfulness. This is what God’s people owe to God.
  • The servants are prophets, sent by God to call his people to obedience. As Jeremiah 7:25-26 says “From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck.”
  • The tenants are the leaders of Jerusalem. This parable comes in the context of a long argument with the leaders of Jerusalem. And even these leaders, v. 12 tells us, “perceived that he had told the parable against them.”
  • Finally, the beloved son is Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark God calls Jesus this at his baptism (Mark 1:11) and at his transfiguration (Mark 9:7).

First we have, the story that has already happened:

– God did form a people for himself. He blessed them and sought their faithfulness.

– And when they didn’t give it God did send messenger after messenger to call them to obedience. But they refused to listen.

– And now as the culmination God has sent Jesus, his beloved, only Son. The one who has all authority. The one who is dear to his heart.

Then we have the story that is yet to come:

– Like in the parable, the leaders have no regard for Jesus, even though he is God’s Son. In fact, they will soon kill Jesus. And in a shameful way, like in the story.

– But God, his Father, will act. God will “destroy” these leaders, which happened in 70 AD, when Jerusalem was destroyed.

– And God will give leadership of his people to “others,” referring to the followers of Jesus, his Son.

And then we have –

A short Scripture lesson

– attached to our story. Here we switch from the vineyard as an image of God’s people to that of a building or more likely the temple as an image of God’s people.

vs. 10-11 – “Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” This comes from Psalm 118:22-23. Psalm 118 was often sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the festivals. It was well known.

Now, the reason these verses are attached to this parable has to do with the wordplay between – the Hebrew/Aramaic word for son, “ben,” which is the focus of the parable, and the word for stone, “eben,” which is the focus of these verses (Matthew Black).

When it says “cornerstone” it is literally “the head of the corner.” It is referring to the most important stone in the whole building. Perhaps the stone at the peak of the arch, or a capstone on a column or a stone at the top of a building that completes it.

In Jesus’ day this was often seen as referring to king David. He was the one overlooked by Samuel at first, and then by the leaders of Israel. But he became the king of Israel.

This was also read by some as pointing to the Messiah, the coming son of David. When Jesus entered Jerusalem just before this, the crowds quote Psalm 118:26 – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and then interpret it in a messianic way when they say, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10)

The message is clear: Jesus is the stone that was rejected and cast aside by the builders (the religious leaders), but God will vindicate him and raise him up as the chief stone of the whole building. Just as God brought about a marvelous reversal of fortune for David, so God will do this for Jesus, David’s son.

This raising image is an apt one for the idea of being vindicated, as well as for the resurrection of Jesus (Joel Markus).

[These verses also connect to the parable in that they expand a bit on the vineyard being given to others. If David is the original reference in Psalm 118, then Jesus is saying it will be similar now in his case. Just as the kingdom was taken from Saul and given to David and his line, so the leadership of the people of God is now given to Jesus and his followers]

An ironic ending

The passage ends with v. 12 – “And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.” The leaders are seeking to do just what Jesus said they would do, in his parable that they didn’t like!

As we share in the Lords’ supper

– let’s remember some lessons from this passage of Scripture: 1. Let’s remember God’s amazing patience and love. The parable highlights these qualities of God.

God sent three servants. Then God sent even more. God put up with a lot. This shows that he really loves us and wants us to come back to him and for us to be faithful.

Then he sent his son to call us back. Now why would he risk this given what happened to his servants? The only answer is God’s profoundly amazing love for us!

2. Let’s remember the terrible consequences of disobedience. God really does require our obedience. And if we don’t give this, or in this case, if the leaders stand in the way of this – there is judgment. This is what happened in the history of Israel, it is what is predicted in the parable and it is what happened in the fulfillment in 70 A.D.

God is patient and loving, yes. But God will not tolerate sin forever. There is a limit, and a time when we must reap what we have sown.

3. Let’s remember who Jesus is. He is God’s beloved and only Son. He is the one who died, coming to call us to repentance. He is the one who was rejected and cast aside. And he is the chief stone, raised up by God – vindicated and resurrected.

William Higgins

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I want us to look at the theme of God’s love today, as this is reveled to us in the unfolding story of Scripture, and then even up to today. And I want to do this to show us and to remind us that we ought to give thanks for God’s love to us. Whatever else we have to give thanks for in this season, above all we should give thanks for this.

We begin with –

The beginning

God loved us so much that, he brought us into existence. Having thought of us before the foundation of the world, God acted to create us and give us life. And he gave us a place to live, the earth, and provided for our needs.

Psalm 8:4-6 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet”

God loved us so much that despite our wrongdoing, he worked for our salvation and restoration. Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden, but God sought our redemption. Cain ruthlessly murdered his brother Abel, but God raised up another, Seth, through whom salvation would come. At the time of the flood, human wickedness sunk to the depths of depravity, but God chose a remnant and saved Noah and his family. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.

God loved us so much that he called Abraham to be the father of many nations and the source of our salvation. God said to him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” – Genesis 12:3. And God gave him a son, Isaac, and a grandson Jacob, who had twelve sons.

God loves us so much! If you believe this, will you say “amen” this morning?  This brings us to –

The time of Israel

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God brought his people out from Egypt and into the land of promise. As Psalm 136:13-14 says, he “divided the Red Sea in two, and made Israel pass through the midst of it . . ..” As Deuteronomy 4:20 says of Israel, “the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God gave Israel his word through Moses to guide them. Nehemiah 9:13-14 says about God, “You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments . . . and a law by Moses your servant.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God bore with Israel as they rebelled against his will in the time of the judges. The people continually strayed from God’s word doing what was right in their own eyes. And they suffered the consequences. But in mercy, God did not let them perish.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God established David as king to protect and guide Israel. And he became a model of the promised One who was to come, the Messiah and Savior.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God bore with them as Israel’s kings rebelled. Think of Solomon’s idolatry, the divided kingdom, the complete failure of the Northern kingdom, and the many evil kings of the southern kingdom. Yet God was patient and merciful.

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God spoke to them by the prophets to call them back to his will. As judgment loomed, 2 Chronicles 36:15 says, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place.”

Because his steadfast love never ceases, God brought his people out of captivity and brought them home. God had sent them away into exile in Babylon because of their sin. But Nehemiah 9:31 says, “In your great mercies (God) you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” God reestablished them in the land of promise.

God’s steadfast love for his people truly never ceases. If you know this to be true will you say “amen”?  This brings us to –

The fullness of time

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, God sent his son, Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, to save us. As the angel said to Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins” – Matthew 1:21. God knew we could not save ourselves. So he came to us. God became one of us. God did what it took to bring us salvation.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus taught us God’s way. Mark 6:34 says, “Jesus . . . saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”

He taught us to turn away from our wrongdoing – and to live a life of love and mercy. And as Mark 1:22 says, “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority . . ..”

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus healed people of their ills. Matthew 14:14 says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

He healed lepers, the blind, the deaf, the paralyzed – he even raised the dead. And the people said, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:12.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus set people free from the evil one. He cast out demons with a mere word. “And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anyone like this seen in Israel’” – Matthew 9:33.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus laid down his life for us to save us from our sins. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” – John 15:13. And this is exactly what he did for each one of us.

As he said, his death was “for many for the forgiveness of sins” – Matthew 26:28. He died so that our sins could be forgiven.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, the resurrected Jesus gives us new life by the Spirit. As he said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” And he told his disciples, “receive the Holy Spirit” – John 20:22. They received new life and the power to live a different kind of life.

As an expression of God’s deep love for us, Jesus commanded this salvation be offered to all. He said “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” – Luke 24:47. It is for everyone who will receive it.

If you have received God’s deep love for you, will you say “amen”?  This brings us to –

Today

God cares about each one of us, and so he searches after each of us until we are saved. God is not content with the sheep already in the pen. But as 1 Timothy 2:4 says, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

God cares about each one of us, and so he wants us to know what our purpose in life is; what his plan is for us. God want us to walk in this so that we can find true meaning and significance and peace.

God cares about each one of us, and so he provides for our needs and watches over us in our everyday lives. God doesn’t leave us alone, he continues to walk with us and help us in our times of trial.

If you know God’s love and care for you in these ways, will you say, “amen”?

 

And if you know it, how can you not give thanks for it? Such amazing, indescribable, persistent love. Such undeserved love, freely given to us. We must give thanks for such a priceless gift!

If you don’t know God’s love in your life, open up your life to him. As the apostle Peter put it, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38.

  • Ask for and receive the forgiveness of your sins
  • Ask for and receive new life by the Spirit

Receive these gifts of love from God and then you will truly have something to be thankful for. Even if nothing else is going right for you – you can thank God for his love.

William Higgins

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Let’s read the Easter story from Matthew 28:1-8. Easter is a powerful story of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for us – and it also reveals to us that:

  • “it was impossible for Jesus to be held by the power of death” – Acts 2:24
  • Jesus had “the power of an indestructible life”- Hebrews 7:16
  • It is true what Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” – John 11:25
  • Jesus really is “the first and the last and the living one” – Revelation 1:17-18

But today I want us to look a bit behind the scenes of Easter at the one who sent Jesus to die for our sins and to be raised for our salvation. I want us to look at what Easter reveals to us about God. Specifically five things that Easter teaches us about God’s deep love for us.

1. God’s love for us is from eternity

God is the one who planned Easter before time began. God loved us before we even existed.

  • In Acts 2:23 Peter tells us that Jesus’ death and resurrection happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
  • Acts 4:28 says that Jesus’ death and resurrection was what God’s “plan had predestined to take place.”
  • Paul tells us that God gave us of his grace “in Christ Jesus before the ages began” – 2 Timothy 1:9.

This was no afterthought on God’s part. He loved us from the beginning of time.

2. God’s love takes the initiative

He worked throughout the course of history calling Abraham, the children of Israel and the prophets. And when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman. (Galatians 4:4).

God wasn’t sitting back waiting for us to get it straight. God didn’t wait for us to come seeking salvation. While we were busy sinning, pursing our own lusts, without a thought for God – that’s when God acted in love for us.

God saw it as our weakness and had mercy on us. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” – Romans 5:6.

1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God . . .” we were in rebellion against God, “but that he loved us and sent his Son” to die for us. That’s what love is. He took the initiative.

3. God’s love includes his enemies

Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” – Romans 5:8.

He also says, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” – Romans 5:10.

Aren’t you glad that God isn’t like us? When we have enemies we want to harm them and make them pay. We want eye for an eye! Justice! We should be glad because we were God’s enemies and yet God loved us nonetheless.

4. God’s love found a way

It must have seemed hopeless. We were held in the power of our sins, given over to the powers of Satan, Death and judgment. And these said, “God you can’t just let them go free! They are rightfully ours! You can’t be righteous and not punish them!”

But God found a way. He knew that Satan and the powers of evil and judgment would hate Jesus. He used their lust for violence and hatred against them.

For when they crucified and killed an innocent Jesus they were exposed as evil and themselves came under judgment. And so they no longer have a right to us – providing us the chance to escape.

If the powers had only understood what was going on, in Paul’s words, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” – 1 Corinthians 2:8. This is just one more instance of how God “catches the wise in their craftiness” – I Corinthians 3:19.

He went to all this trouble out of love for us. He overcame Satan and the power Death to save us.

5. God’s love is sacrificial

Love requires giving, sometimes sacrificially. God’s love for us cost him dearly. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” – John 3:16.

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” – Romans 8:32.

No cost was an obstacle to give us his love. Not even the suffering and death of his only Son.

When I step back and look at all this I have to say, how can you not receive this love?

How can you refuse the:

  • God who loved you from before time itself
  • God who loved you enough to seek you out when you didn’t care about him
  • God who loved you when you were his enemy
  • God whose love found a way to rescue you from an impossible situation
  • God who spared no cost to save you

Open your heart and receive of this love.

William Higgins

 

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