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Posts Tagged ‘repentance’

We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4-7

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 7:3-17

We are in 1 Samuel again today, chapter 7 if you would like to turn. We have come now to the concluding story of a set of five stories that began in chapter 4 and most of which have to do with the ark of the covenant.

  • In the first, the ark was taken to the battle of Aphek-Ebenezer, thinking that God would help them if the ark was there, even if they didn’t deal with their sin and unfaithfulness.
  • In the second, the ark was captured and the high priestly family of Eli was judged.
  • In the third, Yahweh took matters into his own hands and defeated the Philistines and their gods by means of the ark until they begged for it to leave.
  • In the fourth, the ark came back to Israel, but the Levites of Beth-shemesh were judged for their disrespect to the ark and so the ark ended up in Kiriath-jearim.

At the very end of this fourth story it says, “a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord” – 7:2. After judgment on their high priests and Levites, after Philistine oppression year after year, after seeing God’s power displayed through the ark, but not for them – they hit rock bottom. Things were so bad, for so long that they knew something had to change. And so they reconsidered their ways and began to long for the Lord God.

Well, Samuel saw this godly sorrow, which leads us to –

The story of God’s salvation

3And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 6:12-7:2

This morning we come to the fourth of the four ark stories in 1 Samuel. It’s been a little while so let’s remember together:

  • In the first, the ark was taken to the battle of Aphek, thinking that God would help them against the Philistines if the ark was there, even if they didn’t deal with their sin and unfaithfulness.
  • In the second, the ark was captured and the high priestly family of Eli was judged; he and his two sons died.
  • In the third, the ark wreaked havoc on the Philistines and their gods, as Yahweh took matters into his own hands and defeated the Philistines. They begged for it to leave because of the plagues on them.
ark-travels

The journey of the ark of the covenant

Today, we have the story of how the ark came back to Israel.

Remember from last time the Philistine test. They were sure that their plagues were from Yahweh, but just to be doubly sure they said – if the cart with the ark on it went straight to Beth-shemesh, that would be a sign for them.

And they stacked the deck against this happening by having no one lead the cart, by picking two milk cows that had never carried a cart before, and by locking up their calves in the barn so that the cows would have to overcome their instincts not to go to them, but to Beth-shemesh in Israel.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:11-22

We are continuing on with several stories about the ark of God in 1 Samuel that prepare us for the emergence of Samuel as the prophetic leader of Israel.

As you will remember from earlier in 1 Samuel, God has foretold judgment on the high priest Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt, taking the best portions for themselves. And also his two sons treated the women workers at the tabernacle as prostitutes. 1 Samuel 2:12 says of these two, “They were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

And so an unnamed prophet came and told Eli that his house would no longer be the high priestly line – 2:27-33. And that the sign that this will surely happen is that his two sons would die on the same day – 2:34. And then the Lord told Samuel as a boy, “11Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” – 3:11-14

The title of the sermon is “The other shoe drops.” You know the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” right? It means waiting for something bad to happen. Something bad has happened and something else bad will happen. If these pronouncements of judgment are the first shoe that drops, then waiting for the fulfillment of these words of judgment is the other shoe. And it drops decisively in our text today.

Our story picks up with the fallout of the battle between Israel and the Philistines that we looked at last week, where Israel was severely defeated, even though they brought the ark of the covenant to help them.

Judgment on Eli and his house

4:11And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Not only did the use of the ark not bring victory, it was captured by the Philistines. It was under enemy control.

And just as the Lord had said, Hophni and Phinehas died on the same day as a sign to all that Eli and his house were being set aside as the high priestly line in Israel.

12A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.

So this man ran for some twenty miles from Aphek/Ebenezer to Shiloh, quite a feat. And he comes with torn clothes and dirt on his head as an indicator of mourning for the many who have died.

13When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.

Eli was devoted to God in his own way. We see this in his teaching Samuel about the Lord and here in his concern for the ark. Despite his sin, he still had this.

And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.

As the Lord said to Samuel, God would “do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (3:11). And they must have all been stunned to hear the report. They are crying out not just in general, but because many of their own fathers, brothers, husbands and sons were now dead. And their lives may well be in danger, as we will see.

14When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

So Eli can hear – he hears the city cry out, but he can’t see, which is why he didn’t see the messenger or how he was dressed. He is still wondering what’s going on. So the messenger comes and tells him the report in person.

16And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

The man tells Eli in ascending order of importance about Israel’s defeat, the death of his two sons and then that the Philistines now have the ark of God.

Eli doesn’t seem that concerned about his sons, for the story continues . . .

18As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

His sons are dead and now he dies after hearing the fate of the ark. In a way his own sin is a part of this, for he fell off his chair and broke his neck not only because he was old, but also because he was heavy –perhaps related to his eating the best portions of the Lord’s offerings.

This is the only place that mentions Eli as a judge; he ruled for 40 years. The Hebrew word for “seat” here (and also in v. 13) also means “throne.” So Eli is symbolically dethroned and his reign comes to an end.

19Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

The bad news induced her labor. She was so overcome by what happened that she didn’t even care that she had given birth to a son.

21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Before she dies, in the naming of her son she gives insight into the situation that is going on in Israel. Ichabod is taken by her to mean “the glory has departed.” This a reference to God, who is the glory of Israel (1 Samuel 15:29). 1) God was not with the Israelite soldiers, even though they brought the ark; 2) the leaders of Israel are now dead – Eli and his sons, including her own husband; 3) but above all else, repeated twice here (5x in whole story) the ark of God is now gone. God has truly abandoned them. What was apparent, even when the ark was present, is made perfectly clear with the capture of the ark. God had already left them because of their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the phrase “the glory has departed,” the word “departed” can also be translated, “has gone into exile.” God has gone into exile in a foreign land. God is absent. Why? Israel’s sin drove God away.

If the pattern later was Israel left the land and went into exile, here God leaves the land in exile. And they become slaves in their own land (1 Samuel 4:9; Psalm 78:62-64). (But also see Ezekiel 10:18 where the glory leaves and the people go into exile.)

Psalm 78:59-61 says of this event, God “utterly rejected Israel. He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt with people, and delivered his power to captivity.”

And then we have something that is not recorded in this passage, but almost certainly happened at this time –

The destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh

In Jeremiah 7:12, several centuries later, the Lord says, “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” In other words, God is saying to the people of Jerusalem, “you think I won’t judge you because you have the temple in your midst? I’ve don it before! Just as I destroyed the tabernacle in Shiloh, so I will destroy the temple in Jerusalem. (Also 26:6, 9)

And this fits with what we find in 1 Samuel. Shiloh is never again mentioned as a worship center in Israel; the ark is not taken back there when it is recovered from the Philistines later; and Samuel goes back to his home in Ramah as his center of operations. (Bergen. Even Eli’s descendants are later found in the city of Nob.) 

Given this, along with the capture of the ark, this was surely the lowest point for Israel since their time of slavery in Egypt.

What do we learn from all this?

1. Our sin drives God away from our lives, just as we see in this story. In Isaiah 59:2 the Lord says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Our sin creates a barrier or a wall between us and God. And so we have to deal with our sin through confession, repentance and receiving forgiveness from God, so that we can have a relationship with God. This is what Israel failed to do, but this is what the story teaches us. Don’t be like them! Act and make decisive changes so that you can be reconciled with God and experience renewed relationship and help.

2. God keeps his word. Now we like it when God keeps his word to bless us and help us. But God just a surely keeps his word when it comes to judgment and the many warnings that he gives us about walking in sin and unfaithfulness.

In Eli’s case God spoke it through two prophets – and as Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). And it surely came to pass. And just as surely God will keep his word of judgment if we walk in sin. We may think we are fine because nothing bad has happened yet, so it seems like God doesn’t care or that God won’t act, but the other shoe will drop – whether it is today, tomorrow or on the final day. We will reap what we sow. There are consequences for our unfaithfulness to God. Our sin will find us out. And so this should encourage us all the more to deal with our sin and come back into a right relationship with God.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:1b-10

This morning we are back into our series on 1 Samuel. And today we begin a sequence of four stories that focus on the ark of the covenant, and which don’t even mention Samuel. These stories show Israel’s sad state at this time and God’s judgment on their unfaithfulness. And they also tell how Israel came to a place of repentance that sets up the narration of Samuel’s ministry in chapter 7 and beyond.

Our story today is about a battle between Israel and the Philistines, starting in the last half of v. 1 of chapter 4.

Israel is defeated

1bNow Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle.

The Philistines were settled along the coast in five key cities. They were the archenemies of Israel at this time and were dominating them militarily (some of the Israelites were forced into servitude – 4:9). The battle took place in Aphek about 20 miles north of Philistine territory and about 20 miles west of Shiloh (where the tabernacle/temple was). Israel was encamped at Ebenezer, probably just East of Aphek. Israel suffered a great loss.

3And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?”

When ancient peoples fought, as they saw it, it really involved a fight between the God or gods of the two nations. And so if you lost it meant that your god was defeated, or perhaps it would be interpreted that your god was unhappy with you. And this was certainly the case for Israel’s God, Yahweh – the only true God. The Lord God is all powerful, so he must have allowed this, as the Elders surmised.

So the Elders of Israel come up with a plan.

“Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

(One is justified in wondering why the Elders didn’t consult Samuel.) The ark of the covenant looked something like this.

ark of the covenantIt was approximately 4x2x2 in size and covered in gold. (Exodus 25:10-22). On the top were two cherubim; angel-like creatures. It served as the visible throne of Israel’s invisible God. He sat, as it were, above the cherubim. As v. 4 says, the Lord, “who is enthroned on the cherubim.” (Also, Jeremiah 316-17; Isaiah 37:16; Psalm 99:1-3) In other places it is also called God’s footstool, which is also throne language (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 99:5; 132:7).

Now it wasn’t necessarily wrong to bring the ark. The ark was used in battle, for instance when Israel defeated the city of Jericho (Joshua 6). And the title for God here, “Lord of hosts,” refers to God as the leader of his armies, both human and angelic.

The problem is that the diagnosis of their defeat is too shallow. In truth God allowed them to be defeated because of their unfaithfulness – which is highlighted here by the mention of “the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas.” As we have already seen these two sons of Eli the high priest were publicly known, flagrant sinners. And Eli did not stop them from being priests while they broke God’s law.

The proper course of action would have been to seek the Lord and to repent of their sins, thus restoring God’s blessing to their lives. But they didn’t think the problem was with them. They just thought that if the ark came, God would come and help them. As v. 4 says,  “that it (the ark) may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”

The story goes on,

5As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded (or shook).

Israel has new morale and boldness, because they think that God is now with them. [The shout here and the movement of the earth echoes the story of Jericho – Joshua 6:6-21].

6And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?”

You can feel their concern rising. And they must have sent some people to check out what was going on, because next it says,

And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.

Here their fears are on open displayThey don’t quite get the details right – they talk about Israel’s gods and think the plagues took place in the wilderness, but they have heard of how Yahweh’s power struck the Egyptians. And now here is the visible presence of Yahweh, his throne, in the Israelite camp, which must have been quite unusual for the Israelites to do, at least with the Philistines, since they say, “nothing like this has happened before” – v. 7.

They can only say, “Woe to us, woe to us.” This is certainly what the Elders of Israel had wanted, to put fear into their enemies. But then something suddenly changes, because they don’t stay afraid.

9Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

After having said “Woe to us” twice, here they rally and call each other to “be men” twice. Instead of giving up, they decide that they need to fight harder than they ever have to overcome such a powerful foe, so that they don’t become the slaves of the Israelites.

And then the story ends,

10So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell.

Even though they brought the ark, the Israelites suffered a much worse defeat, more than seven times the losses.

Israel’s problem

The title today is “The futility of lucky charm religion” A lucky charm is something that you think has power to protect you and give you success. In Israel’s time of difficulty – a military defeat – instead of coming to God and repenting and moving into faithfulness, they treated the ark of the covenant as a lucky charm; as an object that would bring God’s power to protect them and give them success. Instead of right relationship with God, they went with a mere object that represents God to bring them the help they needed.

I say “The futility of lucky charm religion,” because we see the results of this – their defeat was increased over seven-fold. 

This just isn’t how a relationship with God works. God and the things of God are not magical. God can’t be manipulated by us. It is God who is important above all else, including the ark that represents him. And right relationship with God is important above all else – and not other things that represent God to us.

Well, there is –

A challenge for us

– in this story. Sometimes we act just like these ancient Israelites. We are not walking in right relationship with God; we are unfaithful to God. And when God disciplines us with hard times for this – instead of dealing with the real issue – our unfaithfulness (hey, the problem can’t be with me!), we look to things that are connected to God and think that these will guarantee that God will take care of us.

  • Perhaps coming to church is a lucky charm for some. You are walking sin, but think, “If I go to church I believe God will take care of me.” Well, going to church is great. But it can’t take the place of repentance and walking in a right relationship with God.
  • Perhaps it’s calling yourself a Christian. You are unfaithful to God, maybe you don’t even have a relationship with God, but you think, “If I identify as a Christian God will take care of me.” Identifying as a Christian is wonderful. But it can’t take the place of having a right relationship with God. Calling yourself a Christian is not a substitute for actually being a real, faithful Christian.
  • Maybe it’s wearing a cross or having a cross or a crucifix on your wall. There is nothing wrong with this. But jewelry or artwork that represents God will not save you in the day of trouble. Only being in a right relationship with God can do this.
  • Maybe it’s your connection to a godly person. You know that you are not walking with God, but if you know someone or have a family member who is godly you think, “God will take care of me too.”

None of these things are wrong, just as it wasn’t wrong to bring the ark. They are wrong only when we make them substitutes for dealing with the core issue of our sin and unfaithfulness. And given our undealt with unfaithfulness, we turn these things into lucky charms which can’t protect us and take care of us.

No, God is patiently waiting for you to turn from your unfaithfulness and come into a right relationship with him through confession of you sins, repentance and finding forgiveness. And then God will make his power and love known to help you and take care of you.

[This is also the message of Jeremiah in chapter 7 to a later generation of Israelites, who thought that God would not judge their sin because they had the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Jeremiah refers back to this episode in 1 Samuel. That’s because, as we will see next time, the tabernacle/temple at Shiloh was destroyed, even as the ark was captured by the Philistines. God brings judgment, not salvation when we turn his things into lucky charms.]

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It is a central truth of our faith that new life comes through brokenness. We all want new life right? But we don’t want brokenness because brokenness is all about humility, weakness, suffering, pain and sacrifice.

I want to share with you today three examples of how new life can come from brokenness:

1. The brokenness of repentance

Turn with me to Psalm 51:17. This is, of course, David repenting for some very serious failures before God. He is confessing his sin and seeking cleansing and renewal. And then he talks about animal sacrifices and how what God really wants comes from the heart. v. 17 – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  This is a description of his repentance.

As Elders we have focused on calling the church to spiritual renewal; on prayer and on seeking God for renewal in our congregation. For our vision we have not focused on a new building or some new defining program. We believe that God is calling us to be renewed and that God needs to come and move powerfully among us to transform us – and then we can talk about these other things.

This is what I would highlight for us this morning in terms of what I am talking about:

  • we are too comfortable as a congregation and set in our ways. We don’t want to take risks for God. Many like things just the way they are, as long as their needs are taken care. There is too much focus on us and not on the needs of others and the work of the kingdom.
  • we have too many walls that separate people in their relationships with each other. Not that people are fighting, but there are wounds, scars and bitterness from the past that haven’t been dealt with, which creates separation. So that we aren’t the close, loving and caring community that we could be.
  • we are too busy, always doing things and overwhelmed with our fast pace of life. Often what gets cut is our local congregation – investing in relationships with each other and doing ministry together. Let’s be clear, we are not victims here. Our lives are like they are because of choices that we make. And we need to make different choices.

And so spiritual renewal is needed. I don’t know if you accept this or not, but I am your pastor and I am telling you that spiritual renewal is needed. And this requires repentance as a first step.

Now if we do have the brokenness of repentance, God can come in and renew us. As David says in Psalm 51:10-12 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” New life comes through the brokenness of repentance.

2. The brokenness of difficult situations

Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. Paul is here talking about various “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (v. 10) that he has gone through. Starting halfway through v. 7  he says, “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” He is most likely talking about some physical ailment or the constant persecution that followed him around everywhere.

Well, we have difficulties in our congregation –

  • people who have physical needs – some long term with no fix.
  • people who struggle with depression, anxiety and more.
  • people who have gone through deep waters.

And as a congregation we have experienced brokenness in our most recent trial . . .

All of our trials are painful, whether our individual trials or our congregational trial. There is definitely brokenness among us.

When these things happen we can despair and give up. Or our suffering can lead us to God; to come to God in our weakness and pain and to find strength through more fully relying on him.

Paul talks about the new life that suffering can bring when he goes on in 2 Corinthians 12 to talk about the strength God gives. In vs. 9-10 he quotes the Lord who said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And then he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” A deeper spiritual life of greater dependence and relationship with the Lord can be ours, because of the brokenness of our trials.

3. The brokenness of serving God

This comes from the verse on the front of your bulletin from John 12:24. Jesus is talking about his own life which he is about to give up, but it teaches the path that we are to take as well. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Serving God is all about walking in weakness. We are called to do things that no one is capable of doing in their own strength. And serving God is all about sacrifice – giving of ourselves to others, laying down our lives – even if people don’t receive it.

But through such death to self comes new life – for ourselves in terms of inner joy and the hope of the coming resurrection, and for those who respond to the ministry. It “bears much fruit.”

That life comes through the brokenness of service to God is supremely illustrated in the Lord’s supper. Jesus’ body was what? It was “broken” on the cross. Jesus’ blood was what? It was poured out on the cross. He laid down his life. But his brokenness led to his resurrection, and it also poured forth new life for all who will receive it.

As we receive the Lord’s supper today let’s remember the three kinds of brokenness:

1. If you need to repent, I invite you to do so, so that you can receive new life from God – a new heart and a renewed spirit.

2. If you are going through hard times, and as a congregation as we go through a hard time, let us throw ourselves at his feet and find spiritual renewal as we completely rely on him, so that in our weakness the power of God will shine forth more powerfully.

3. If you are tired and broken from serving God, I invite you to receive encouragement from God to know that it’s worth it; to receive joy now and remember your great hope for the future.

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Series: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Last week we began looking at the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. We saw how Jesus crossed the social boundaries of gender, morality and religion/culture to speak to her about the living water he gives – that is, the Holy Spirit who brings eternal life. This is why he “had to pass through Samaria” as it says in John 4:4; it was the Father’s purpose.

Today we look at the middle portion of our story  and our focus in on worshiping the Father in Spirit and truth.

John 4:16-27

“16Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’”

So they’ve been talking and Jesus turns the conversation toward her. He wants to get at a core issue in her life. Although she was bold before when she was questioning Jesus, here she becomes evasive. In fact, she wants to hide something from Jesus.

She tells Jesus, “I have no husband.” Now the word that is used here by both Jesus and the woman can mean “husband” or simply “a man.” She uses it to mean that she is not married, making her sound like she is not in a relationship.

But Jesus knows her heart and her story, just as he knows all about each of our lives. As John 2:24 says, “Jesus knew all people . . . for he himself knew what was in a person.”

He knows that she has been married five times. It’s not clear to us why, but there were almost certainly some divorces involved here. By the standards of the day (at least in Judaism) only 3 legal marriages were acceptable. So she has been in and out of a number of relationships, which would have reflected badly on her.

But more importantly, Jesus knows that she is in a sixth relationship. She is in a non-marital sexual union; as we say today, she is living with someone.

Jesus also employs the double meaning of the word husband/man and thereby takes her statement “I have no husband” as a confession of her sin. He emphasizes how true her words are, despite her intention to mislead him. He is saying, ‘Yes, you are right, you don’t have a “husband.” You are living in sexual immorality with “a man” who is not your husband.’

“19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’”

She’s impressed by what he knows and comes to the conclusion that he’s a prophet. So she has a theological question for him about the right way to worship. She asks which mountain is the right place to worship, Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.

Again division raises its head. She says that “our fathers” worshiped on this mountain, most likely referring to Abraham (Genesis 12:7) and Jacob (Genesis 33:10) who worshiped at Mt. Gerizim. And since Samaritans didn’t accept any Scriptures except the Law of Moses – the first five book of the Bible – and these don’t talk about a temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans argued that true worship should take place on Mt. Gerizim (Some of their case: Jacob’s dream took place here, where he said, “God is in this place – Genesis 28:16, and he built an altar here in 33:19-20; Deuteronomy 27:3-5).

But Jews, of course, based on further Old Testament teaching, built the temple in Jerusalem.

mt Gerizim

If you will remember they are talking at Jacob’s well. This is a picture of Mt. Gerizim near Jacob’s well. The Samaritans did build a temple here in 400 BC. But it was destroyed by a group of Jews in 128 BC. Well, the ruins of this temple would have been in sight from Jacob’s well,
 as they were talking.

“21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.’”

With the coming of Jesus things are changing. And his coming transcends the divisions between Jews and Samaritans. From now on neither mountain is key.

Although, for the record, Jesus confirms that prior to his coming the Jews were right about Jerusalem and right about what true worship is. He also acknowledges that “salvation if from the Jews,” both as a matter of God’s historical working through them, and specifically in that he, Jesus is Jewish. (Jesus clearly here affirms that he is a Jew. Most often in John “Jew” is used negatively for Judeans who oppose Jesus.)

“23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth . . .”

Again, things are changing and Samaritans can be a part of this. True worshipers will not be marked by which mountain they worship on, they will be marked by two things. They will worship:

In Spirit – this is worship that is inspired and empowered by the Spirit. (Jesus has just taught her about living waters that refer to the Spirit and so we should take this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, as in almost every other case of the word Spirit in John).

In truth – this is worship that is in accord with what Jesus teaches; which is the full revelation of God’s truth.

What he is doing here is teaching her one part of this, that true worship is not exclusive to a central shrine or temple but is Spirit inspired. If the current worship of Samaritans is not fully true (you worship what you do not know – v. 22 ) they can offer true worship if they worship in accord with what Jesus says.

“ . . . for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

This is an amazing statement. God is on a mission. God doesn’t sit back a wait for people. He actively seeks out people to know and honor him. And this includes this Samaritan woman. God wants her and all people to worship him in Spirit and truth.

When Jesus says, “God is spirit” he means that God is not physical; he is not just found in one place. He can be worshiped anywhere.

Notice that we worship the Father, in accord with what the Son teaches, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

“25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’”

Having heard Jesus’ answer, she isn’t fully committed. She speaks of the coming Messiah who will “tell us all things,” that is, settle this dispute and others. The Samaritans had a different idea of the Messiah. They spoke of the Taheb or restorer based on Deuteronomy 18:15-19 where Moses speaks of God raising up a prophet like him, to whom all should listen. They saw the Messiah as more of a teacher. She is saying, ‘when he comes he will sort out the differences between Jews and Samaritans.’

“26Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’”

At the beginning of their conversation Jesus notes that she doesn’t know who he is. “If you knew who it is that is speaking to you . . .” you would ask him for living water. But now he has clearly told her. This is an amazing revelation of Jesus to her, ‘I am the Messiah.’ It is very unusual for Jesus to be so clear. She is certainly blessed to have him speak this way to her.

Specifically, he is saying that he is the one Moses spoke of and he has just settled the dispute between the Jews and Samaritans as he spoke to her.

“27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’”

So we end today where we began last week, with Jesus crossing the social boundary of gender, and the disciples are duly shocked, but don’t say anything.

Once again I have two questions from the passage that should challenge us:

Do you worship in Spirit and truth?

To use the language of Jesus in v. 23, are you a “true” worshiper of God?

It is not about coming to this building each Sunday, so that you think you have worshipped because you have come to a certain place and sat through a service. Perhaps you are here but you are really distracted about your week to come and all that you have to do, or you are still trying to figure out how to deal with the problems of last week. Or maybe you are here but you are busy talking or texting to others. Or maybe your coming here is more about a weekly ritual than true worship.

True worship is about the Spirit of God opening up your heart to receive from God – as we gather to sing and pray and hear God’s word, or as you do these things during the week wherever you are at. We have to allow the Spirit to move within us and among us so that we connect to God. This is true worship.

And again, as last week, I ask –

Are you a part of God’s mission?

It is so clear in this passage, God is seeking people to worship him truly. God wants them to know him and honor him and to be made whole be recognizing our true King.

Are you a part of this? Do you let God work through you in your everyday lives to fulfill his mission? Being a part of God’s mission includes several things. We saw last week:

1. It includes divine appointments. This is why Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” God wants this woman, with all of her brokenness and failures to worship him truly.

2. It includes crossing social boundaries. In our part of the story today all three boundaries are dealt with – gender, morality and the differences between Jews and Samaritans.

3. It includes a focus on Jesus. When possible division came as she asked which mountain is correct for worship, Jesus focused on how his coming transcends these differences.

And then we also see today two more aspects of God’s mission:

4. It includes dealing with issues:

– her sexual immorality – v. 16. Jesus didn’t shy away from this. It needed to be dealt with.
– her misunderstandings – v. 22. The Samarian errors about worship.

5. It includes leading people to true worship. This is the point of God’s mission. Once we have come alive to God by drinking of the living waters, the Spirit leads us to be in relationship with God through worship.

William Higgins

 

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