Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sermon on Genesis 19-21

On December 8, 2013, I preached at Oak Grove Congregational Christian United Church of Christ in Pine Mountain, GA. You can read and listen to the sermon here.

Genesis 19:30-21:21    

Today’s text may be somewhat obscure for some in this room, but it contains important truth for us today. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed, so these words we have before us come with the same authority as if Jesus himself were here speaking them to us personally. I was assigned two chapters of narrative text, so for time’s sake, I will not be able to read it all to you, but I will teach it to you like the original author taught it to his people, as a narrative.

As I tell the story, I want you to listen for the main point: Lot’s daughters, Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, and Abimelech are all concerned with preserving a lineage to make their names great. And also notice that, in God’s sovereign providence, He preserves the lineage of Abraham and makes His name great.

Lot and His Daughters - Genesis 19:30-38

Lot, the nephew of Abraham was afraid to live in the town of Zoar, so he and his two daughters lived in a cave on a mountain outside of town. The daughters became worried that the family line would not continue because they weren’t married, and they didn’t have any prospective suitors because they lived in isolation. So the two daughters made a plan to get their father drunk and sleep with him without him knowing. So both daughters committed a terrible sin in conceiving children by their ignorant and drunk father. One of the sons was named Moab, from whom came the Moabites, and the other son was named Ben-ammi, from whom came the Ammonites. 

What God is showing us here is that unbridled desire leads to sin. Lot’s daughters had such a strong desire for children that they would do absolutely anything to have them, even if it involved incest. Each of us has a tendency to look at the sinful things that we want and convince ourselves that they are good. It is not uncommon for us to rationalize our sinful behavior as being godly. Lot’s daughters tried to make their sin sound holy by thinking of it as preserving the family line. But rest assured, your sins will find you out. It is important that we are honest about our sin. Furthermore, Lot’s daughters felt no repentance. In fact, they even named their kids in celebration of their sin - Moab means “from my father” and Ben-ammi means “son of my own people.” 

God is also showing us that our sins can sometimes have terrible long-term consequences. The Moabites and the Ammonites are the descendants of Moab and Ben-ammi, and these two tribes are consistently a thorn in the side of the people of Israel. These two tribes hinder the future Israelites from coming into the Promised Land. Your sin may seem like it only affects you, but there may be serious consequences for others in the future. So the call is to repent; turn away from sin and follow Christ. Walk no longer in the darkness and come into the light. Leave a legacy of godliness for your family. 

Ultimately, God can bring beauty from our messes. The most famous Moabite is Ruth. From the line of this Moabite woman comes King David and eventually Jesus himself. God often uses what was intended for evil to bring about His sovereign and good plan. So press on and pursue the Lord; He can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

Abraham and Abimelech - Genesis 20

Abraham and his wife Sarah traveled toward the Negeb desert, and along the way they passed through the city of Gerar. The king of Gerar was named Abimelech. Abimelech was captivated by Sarah’s beauty and demanded to have her as a wife. Abraham knew that if he confessed that he was Sarah’s husband that he would be killed and Sarah would be taken as one of Abimelech’s concubines, so he lied. Abraham told the king that Sarah was his sister and his life was spared. Before Abimelech had time to sleep with Sarah, God came to him in a dream and told him what Abraham had done. Abimelech confessed that he knew nothing of this; Abraham and Sarah had both lied to him. God told Abimelech that He knew that he was innocent and that He had protected Abimelech by not allowing them to sleep together. God commanded Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham because Abraham was a prophet.

So Abimelech obeyed the Lord and scolded Abraham for deceiving him. He questioned Abraham about why he thought he had to do that. Abraham said that he assumed that there were no upright and God-fearing people in the city and that deception was his only way to make it out alive. Abraham said that Sarah is technically his half sister so it wasn’t even a full lie. Abimelech gave Abraham sheep and goats and silver and full access to the land in Gerar. 

Abraham prayed and thanked the Lord for Abimelech’s generosity and understanding. He prayed for Abimelech and God richly blessed Abimelech and his family for his obedience. 

One of the things we are to learn here is something of the far-reaching effects of sin. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength; therefore, the greatest sin is to fail to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Another way of putting it is to say that the greatest sin is faithlessness, to disbelieve that God is worthy of our love and trust. Faithlessness is not just thinking that there is no God, it is also thinking that God is too small to fulfill his promises and that he needs our help. This is Abraham’s chief sin: he does not trust God to fulfill His promise. Abraham knew that God promised to make his offspring into a great nation, but Abraham found himself in a bind, he thought that God had lost control and needed some help, so he lied about Sarah being his sister. 

Abraham not only sinned in his lack of faith, but he also sinned by deceiving Abimelech. The life of faith cannot be maintained by deception. Are you deceiving others into thinking that you are more holy than you really are? Are you deceiving others into thinking that you are a Christian when you know that you really are not? You will be found out because it is impossible to keep up the facade. Come into the light today! Today is the day of salvation!

Much can also be learned from Abimelech’s situation. He was deceived by Abraham and he unintentionally sinned against God by taking Sarah as a wife. Even though Abimelech was ignorant the crime, he was still guilty. Abimelech recognized his guilt, he recognized that God blessed Abraham, and he recognized that he must obey the Lord in making things right. Abimelech repented of a sin that he did not intentionally do. This is a lesson to us that we must have soft hearts that hear the call of God to repent. It is important that we confess our sins to God and turn from that sin to obey Jesus. Pray that the Holy Spirit will illumine you to the sins in your life that you don’t even know about. 

Finally, God is gracious to Abraham in his sin. The whole story depicts Abimelech as the good guy and Abraham as the bad guy, yet God seems to be harsher with Abimelech than with Abraham. The important thing to notice is that God does not deal with Abraham according to his sin, but he lets it slide. Why? Romans 3 tells us that God passed over former sins because He knew that Christ would come to pay for the sins of all of God’s people for all time. The sins of Abraham were placed on Christ at the cross. That’s why it says that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham was saved in the same way that we are. He was saved by looking forward to the Messiah who was to come, we are saved by looking back to the Messiah who has already come. The New Testament says this clearly:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith… 
Galatians 3:7-9

So Abraham received mercy and grace, not because he deserved it, but because he had faith in the promise of God. Likewise, you and I are saved by faith alone in Christ, just like Abraham. Will you trust in the faithfulness of God to keep His promises?

The Birth of Isaac - Genesis 21:1-7

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time in which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” 

God is always faithful to His promises. He promised that Abraham’s offspring would be blessed and would be a great nation. Despite Abraham’s effort to take the matter in his own hands by having Ishmael by Hagar, God fulfills His promise in the birth of Isaac by Sarah. Isaac is the child of promise. But hear the word of the Lord in the New Testament:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise….
Galatians 3:16,18

The bigger picture that Paul shows us is that Jesus is the ultimate child of the promise; he is the true and greater Isaac. All of the promises of the Old Testament are pointing forward to Jesus. He is the one who is the ultimate Blessed One, by whom all the nations are blessed, through his life and substitutionary death. He is ultimately made into a great nation, with its epicenter in the New Jerusalem. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; his Kingdom will have no end and cannot be shaken. Paul goes further:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Galatians 3:25-29

For all who are in Christ, we are children of the promise too. We are adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ. We become partakers in this promise that goes all the way back to Abraham if Christ is our Head. The promise is not limited to ethnic Jews, for we are the true sons of Abraham if we are in Christ. 

God Protects Ishmael and Hagar - Genesis 21:8-21

Isaac grew into a heathy and happy little boy and Abraham threw a huge party to celebrate this “son of the promise.” Ishmael, the son of Hagar by Abraham, laughed at Isaac. Sarah was furious and demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away for good. After all, Ishmael was an illegitimate son and would not get any of the family inheritance. Abraham was upset because of the decision he had to make, but the Lord told Abraham not to worry about Hagar and Ishmael because Isaac would be the “son of blessing.” God promised to take care of Ishmael and to make his descendants into a great nation too. So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away with some food and drink and they wandered in the wilderness. 

They eventually ran out of water and the child began to cry in exhausted dehydration. Hagar went away from the child because she did not want to be present when the child died. She began to cry too. God heard the cries and came to Hagar and promised to make Ishmael into a great nation. She opened her eyes and saw a well of water and they drank. They were saved, and the boy grew into a powerful man. 

Here we see that God has a general kind of care even for those who are not a part of His promises. But the question to ask is this: Are you a child of the promise or a child of the flesh? Paul explains this in the New Testament: 

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”
Galatians 4:22-31

The fact is that we are all born according to the flesh, with a sinful nature, estranged from the promise of God, condemned by the Law of God. But hear the word of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…You must be born again!” There will be a day when we will each stand before our Creator and Judge. We will give an account of our lives. Only those who find their death in Jesus’ death will make it through the judgment. Only those who claim no righteousness but Christ’s will make it. Have you been born again? Are you united to Christ by faith? Have you come to an end of yourself and are you relying FULLY on Jesus for your salvation. Would you repent of your sin and turn to him who loved you and gave himself up for you? Would you cry out to Him in humble prayer and confession? If you are NOT an heir of the promises of God through Christ, I implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

First Sermon - 1 John 1:5-2:2

On December 1, I preached my first sermon from a pulpit. All of my prior preaching has been on street corners to unsuspecting college students. The Word was graciously received by the First Congregational Christian Church of Phenix City, AL. You can listen to the sermon here. 

     1 John 1:5-2:2                      


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 

The beloved disciple, John, is saying that the content of this book is a message from Jesus. And we believe that the Holy Spirit is carrying John along as he writes to ensure a legitimately God-inspired letter. The message of this book as a whole and this passage in particular is an incredibly relevant word for the Western church in America and especially here in the Bible Belt South. 

Today’s passage is particularly relevant for those who struggle with doubt and assurance of salvation. If you really want to grow in understanding who God is, what Christ has done, and how to know if you are in Christ, then hear the word of the Lord. 

John tells us something of the nature of God, what God is like. He says the God is Light. Now light here is functionally synonymous with Truth. Recall our favorite passage from the Gospel that John wrote: 
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And 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. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)
So, there is an association between God’s Light, His Presence, His Truth, and our sinful tendency to distance ourselves from Him. In a way, to say that God is Light is to reiterate that God is Holy. 

John is also saying that God is consistently God. He never changes. A.W. Tozer has said that God is not the perfect balance of parts, He is the perfect absence of parts. What he is saying is that God is not a more loving in one scenario and more just in another scenario. This means that God is not moody. He is always right. This also means that we do not have to pit God against Himself. We do not have to compromise in our love for God. He has no negative qualities, He is good and righteous in all of His ways. We do not have to fear in fully embracing God. When you bite into an apple, you may find a worm, so you eat slowly and hesitatingly. Or when you are married, you never know when your spouse may let you down, so you might withhold your FULL love. We do NOT have to have that kind of uncertainty about following Jesus. HE WILL NEVER LET YOU DOWN. He is absolutely Light, in him there is NO darkness at all. There is no shadow (James 1). He has no ulterior motives. We do not ever have to fear being disappointed. 

Why would you try to hide from a God like this? God is light and God is good. He drives away the shades of night, and death’s dark shadow puts to flight. His light pierces the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Come into the Light of God’s truth today. When we come to an end of ourselves and admit our brokenness, He makes us whole. We all like cockroaches flee for the shadows. Our flesh hates it, but the way to godliness is to be exposed by the light.


John gives three “If we say” statements of error followed by three “If” statements of correction. He diagnoses three sinful tendencies that Christians fall into regarding their own sin. 1) There is a tendency to speak like we know Jesus without actually knowing Jesus. 2) There is a tendency to think that we no longer struggle with sin as a believer. 3) There is a tendency to minimize and cover up our past sins. 

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 

We all know people who “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk.” This is the person that John addresses here: those who claim to have fellowship with God but the pattern of their life is not characterized by the Light of Christ, but rather by the darkness of sin. John says that such people are liars; they deliberately and consciously lie. In the quiet of their own bedroom at night, there is a storm of trouble in their conscious because they know that they are living a lie. 

Salvation is more than knowing the right answers to the questions. Galatians 2:16 says that by works of the Law, no one will be justified. In the same way, by mere profession of faith, no one will be justified. HAVE YOU BEEN CHANGED BY THE GOSPEL? Have your priorities been rearranged? Jacob wrestled with the Lord in the wilderness and he never walked the same way again. How has the truth of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection and ascension impacted your life? If you claim to know Christ but you walk in the same old way of life, you are a liar and you will be judged on the final day. I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God! (2 Corinthians 5:20) If we come into the light of Christ, fully exposed in our need for Him, the blood of Jesus covers us and cleanses us; he makes us pure and blameless before God. And because we have unimpeded fellowship with God, we can have unhindered fellowship with one another. Is your life marked by strife and drama and conflict with your brothers and sisters? Come and walk in the light and he will make your paths straight. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

There are some who deny that they struggle with sin since coming to know the Lord. These people are more than liars, they are self-deceived. They have persuaded themselves that they do not have any sin to confess. They deny that sin corrupts the human heart and needs daily renewal in God’s truth. The confirmation of assurance is NOT that you no longer sin, but that you know where to go when you do. Assurance of salvation can be had as we daily confess our sin and repent, as we daily cast ourselves on the cross of Christ. But these false teachers to not do that. How can they know the forgiving mercy of our Father if they deny their need of Him? If we confess our sins, God is faithful to do exactly as He has promised; HE WILL FORGIVE AND PURIFY. Do not fail to come to God by way of the cross for fear of God’s acceptance. He has promised to be faithful. The new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:34 says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” So I plead with the hymn “Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. Let not conscience make you linger, not of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.”

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 

The third lie of the false teachers is to deny past sins. Romans 3:23 says that all people sin and fall short of God’s glory. We have all inherited a sinful nature and we live in a fallen world. So, to say that we have not sinned is to contradict God and to call Him a liar. I am sure you hear the silliness and danger of disagreeing with God about the reality of sin. 

John changes his tone by addressing his readers as, “My little children.” His tone changes from a professor’s teaching about false doctrines to that of a loving father warning his children of the danger of sin. He states that the whole point of teaching them about sin and false doctrines should motivate them to avoid sinning all the more. But, consistent with his argument, he says that if a Christian does sin, Jesus is there. We have only to cry out to him for forgiveness and grace. We can trust that his grace is greater than all our sin. Moreover, Jesus is our advocate. He pleads for us. He argues our case before the Judge like a defense attorney. And he is Jesus Christ the righteous one, he has never lost a single case. Listen to these precious truths from the hymn:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.
My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Here is the climax of this text, God’s solution to the problem of human sin, the cross-work of Jesus Christ. The word propitiation may sound intimidating, but it is the richest word in all the Bible and is worth the mental effort to understand. In short, it means atoning sacrifice or wrath appeasement. It means that Jesus, by his death on the cross, has satisfied the Father’s wrath that was coming toward sinners. 

God created man in His image so that we might enjoy fellowship and communion with Him. But Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and so has every person since. We all deserve God’s righteous judgment. Away with all the complaining about the doctrine of divine wrath! Of course God loves us, and it is precisely because He loves us that He hates sin and desires to punish it. He has a holy, controlled, and settled antagonism toward all evil. He will not stand for anything that destroys worship. We all deserve the wrath of God for all eternity because of our sins. 

So, when John says that Jesus is the propitiation, he says that Jesus satisfies and absorbs the Father’s wrath toward sin and sinners. Jesus died on the cross in the place of sinners, as our substitute. He makes the Father propitious, or favorable toward those who deserve His punishment. This is what drove Jesus to sweat great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane; it was not mere thorns and nails that caused him to quiver, it was the full fury of the wrath of God that led him to ask his Father to let the cup pass from him. Praise God for Jesus’ resolution to say, “But not my will but yours be done.” Jesus of Nazareth literally endured Hell for his sheep. 

Jesus lived a perfect life that each of us are called to live, and he died a death that you and I deserve. His perfect righteousness is sufficient for the whole world, but is made efficient only for those who turn from sin and trust in him for salvation by faith alone. Would you go on in sin when there is a clear and sufficient way of redemption for your soul? What is there in Christ that you would not desire in a Savior? Praise him for the beauty and glory of propitiation! Go no longer in sin. Come into the light by way of the cross. I implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.