Mission: Possible, although…

Jeff Vann

Joshua 1:10-18 NLT

10 Joshua then commanded the leaders of Israel, 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people to get their provisions ready. In three days you will cross the Jordan River and take possession of the land the LORD your God has given you.” 12 Then Joshua called together the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. He told them, 13 “Remember what Moses, the servant of the LORD, commanded you: ‘The LORD your God is giving you rest and has given you this land.’ 14 Your wives, children, and cattle may remain here on the east side of the Jordan River, but your warriors, fully armed, must lead the other tribes across the Jordan to help them conquer their territory. Stay with them 15 until the LORD gives rest to them as he has given rest to you, and until they, too, possess the land the LORD your God is giving them. Only then may you settle here on the east side of the Jordan River in the land that Moses, the servant of the LORD, gave you.” 16 They answered Joshua, “We will do whatever you command us, and we will go wherever you send us. 17 We will obey you just as we obeyed Moses. And may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Anyone who rebels against your word and does not obey your every command will be put to death. So be strong and courageous!”


Outline:

Big Idea: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible, although…

1) Preparation will be necessary.

a) “tell the people to get their provisions ready” (11)

2) Your mission will be a challenge to you.

a) “be strong and courageous!” (18).

3) You will not be able to do it alone.

a) “Joshua called together the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh” (12).

b) “your warriors, fully armed, must lead the other tribes across the Jordan to help them conquer their territory” (14).

c) “Stay with them … until the LORD gives rest to them as he has given rest to you, and until they, too, possess the land the LORD your God is giving them.” (14-15).


Let’s review last week’s message:

Big Idea: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible.

Remember that there are (at least) three things that the Bible instructs us on.

It teaches us how to be saved by explaining the gospel of salvation by grace through the death of Christ on the cross.

It teaches us how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and be sanctified – cleansed from habitual sin, and fit for the Master’s use.

It teaches how to follow the heart of God and be sent on a mission or missions wherever he chooses to send us.

So, last week we talked about why that mission is possible.

1) The Mission is Possible because the presence of the LORD is with us wherever we go.

2) The mission is possible because the grace of God is demonstrated in our lives.

3) The mission is possible because we have the word of God as our mission manual.

Today’s Big Idea is the same, except I’ll be using the word although instead of because.

It is important to see both sides of an issue. We need to have the courage to do what we are called to do, but we also need to be aware of the challenges we face in doing so.

This is particularly important because believers often get inspired to serve the LORD in some particular way, but then reject that mission at the first sign of difficulty or conflict.

The Book of Acts records stories of the missions the first century Christians went on in attempts to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and reach their world with the gospel. They faced trouble and opposition all the way.

Our Old Testament mission manual, the book of Joshua, tells a similar story. The mission was different, but there are a number of similarities as well.

Joshua 1:10-18 begins to reveal some of the challenges God’s people face when following him into missions.

Big Idea: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible, although…

1) Preparation will be necessary.

a) “tell the people to get their provisions ready” (11)

This is God’s way of saying “get yourselves ready because what I’m calling on you to do is not going to be easy.

This was Joshua’s way of telling the Israelites that they were not just going to parade into Canaan and get all they wanted handed to them.

The WWI soldier would hear this command: “lock and load.”

He’s telling the Sampsons to get their donkey’s jawbones ready.

He’s telling the Davids to get their slings ready and pick up their stones to sling.

He’s telling the Daniels to prepare for some quality time with the lions.

He’s telling the Jeremiahs to get ready for a long mudbath.

He’s telling the Elijahs to get ready for conflict with the priests of Baal.

He’s telling the disciples to get ready to face the cross.

He’s telling Peter and Paul to get ready to face the sword.

What he is not saying is what we often hear from television and radio pulpits: that if God calls you to himself, it is not going to cost you anything. In fact, the implication is that following Christ will only make you richer, healthier, and handsomer. Poppycock!

God calls you to himself by his grace, but when he sends you into this world as his representative, it may cost you everything you’ve got.

It may cost your reputation.

It may cost your family.

It may cost your job.

It may cost your health.

It may even cost your life.

Jesus put it this way:

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NLT).

“If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine” (Matthew 10:38 NLT).

Taking up the cross was a sign of only one thing: you were about to die. You were about to face the greatest challenge a person could ever face.

Following Jesus where he sends us, and doing what he calls us to do is going to be the most difficult thing we ever do.

He’s going to ask us to step way outside our comfort zone, and operate way outside our gifts and talents.

He’s going to ask us to befriend and associate with and love people we don’t like.

Jesus taught about this kind of commitment:

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? 29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you” (Luke 14:28-29 NLT).

Your resources are limited. You do not have enough to follow Christ, AND do what you want.

One problem we have with modern Christianity is that we have a lot of people who join Christ’s kingdom, but still want to invest all their resources in their own. It does not work that way.

Big Idea: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible, although…

2) Your mission will be a challenge to you.

a) “be strong and courageous!” (18).

As foreign missionaries, we often found ourselves praying, “LORD, we know you want to do this. Why is it so hard?”

Part of the answer to that question is that it has to be hard for us, so that God gets the glory when it is accomplished.

· Picture Samson on a mound of a thousand Philistine bodies. He had to be saying “there’s no way I could have done all that.”

· Picture David with Goliath’s severed head in his hands. Hundreds of Philistine soldiers rubbing their eyes and saying “did that just happen?”

· Picture Daniel confidently walking out of the lion’s den without a scratch. You can hear the soft growls of hungry lions.

· Picture Jeremiah being pulled up from the muddy pit. People mumbling in the background, saying, “there’s no way he survived that.”

· Picture Elijah on Mt. Carmel. He soaks his altar three times. He wants to make it unburnable, because God is going to burn it.

· Picture a handful of disciples turning the world upside down for Jesus Christ. People look at them and see ignorant fishermen.

· Picture Peter and Paul in Rome, each has a date with a chopping block. 2000 years later, imperial Rome is gone, the executioners are gone, but Peter and Paul’s influence lives on.

Someday you and I will see all these saints of God, and get the chance to talk to them about what they faced. Not one of them will say that following the LORD was easy. But all of them will say that it is worth it.

3) You will not be able to do it alone.

a) “Joshua called together the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh” (12).

b) “your warriors, fully armed, must lead the other tribes across the Jordan to help them conquer their territory” (14).

c) “Stay with them … until the LORD gives rest to them as he has given rest to you, and until they, too, possess the land the LORD your God is giving them.” (14-15).

Joshua’s instruction to those tribes who had already received their land on the east side of the Jordon was this: you have to join with the others because the mission is yours as well as theirs.

There are reasons that God in his wisdom saves us by grace as individuals and then enfolds us into his church by having us join his churches. We come to the cross alone, but we cannot go into his mission field alone. He will not have it.

Some years ago, I was studying the ministry of Paul. I had the impression that Paul was the “lone ranger” of missions. I discovered that my impression was false. Paul had an enormous team of people who assisted him, served with him, helped him, supported him and blessed him as he carried out his mission.

That team included Aristarchus, Artemus, Aquilla, Apollos, Barnabus, Crescens, Demas, Epaphraditus, Erastus, Gaius, Jason, Justus, Mark, Lucias, Luke, Priscilla, Secundus, Silas, Sosipater, Sosthenes, Tertius, Timothy, Titus, Trophimus, Tychichus, and Zenas.

As we join together in teams to do what God calls us to do, he gets the glory, he sets the standard, and he empowers us to do more as a team than the sum total of our individual efforts.

Last week’s message was designed to encourage us all to do missions – here, there, and everywhere.

This week’s message is designed to warn us not to dive in without first checking the depth of the pool. Both messages are biblical. Both are needed. The LORD has called us and is sending us out like sheep among wolves. So he instructs us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

He wants us to make a difference for his kingdom, and the message of Joshua 1 is that we can… but it’s going to cost us.

Mission: Possible, because…

Jeff VannJoshua 1:1-9 NLT

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. 3 I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you– 4 from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ 5 No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. 6 “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9 This is my command– be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”


Recently Pastor Travis finished a sermon series encouraging us to read our Bibles consistently because God has given the Bible to us as a “text message” directly from him. I have been a student of the Bible for about 40 years, but I have not always been faithful at doing that. A few years ago, I (once again) committed myself to going through the Bible every year. I lucked up on a website that reads the text for you and the comments on it, and prays. All I had to do was show up and stay awake. I did this for two years straight. It was awesome.

In 2011, I decided I no longer needed someone to read to me. I also started a four year project of blogging my daily devotions. At the end of the four years, I will have covered the whole Bible, and essentially written a commentary on it. You can follow my progress at marmsky.com.

I am learning some things along the way. One thing is that any passage of Scripture is going to give instruction on one or more of three purposes. In other words, God has three reasons to communicate to us. He either wants to SAVE us by his grace through Jesus Christ or to SANCTIFY us by his word through the Holy Spirit or to SEND us on a mission.

Last year – when I was reading and blogging through the New Testament, I found that each book of the new Testament highlighted one of those purposes. The Gospels helped to explain who Jesus was as our Savior, or helped us understand how to be his disciples. The epistles usually explained sanctification (in other words, “I’m saved, now what?”. The Book of Acts is the mission manual of the New Testament.

This year, reading through the Pentateuch and other historical books of the Old Testament, I am encountering the same categories. Genesis and Exodus – up until the Passover event is all about rescue, deliverance, salvation. But then Exodus changes into a law book. The reason is simply this: the first 15 chapters are about salvation by grace: getting us out of Egypt. The rest of the book of Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers is about sanctification: getting Egypt out of us. Then we come to the book of Joshua. Joshua is the mission manual of the Old Testament. It helps us understand and accomplish the missions that God gives us.

God is not calling us to fly to Israel and do battle with the Canaanites. That was the mission he gave Joshua and his generation. The missions he gives you and me are different than that. He wants us to make disciples of all nations, to love him with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But I have discovered that the lessons we learn from the book of Joshua are just as valid and helpful for my missions as they were for Joshua’s.

Today’s Big Idea is this: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible.

Some of you know that I am a fan of the old 1960s TV series Mission: Impossible. I have been watching the whole series on Netflix, usually by myself on my Kindle because nobody else in my house shares my love for the show, and we don’t own a TV. Every episode, the team leader – Jim Phelps – goes into some strange place and finds some photos and a tape recorder. The tape describes the mission, and gives Jim the choice to accept it or not. The thing I like the most about shows like that is that they involve the whole team working together to accomplish the mission.

Most of the missions God gives us are like that as well. He did not just send Joshua into Canaan to conquer the whole Holy land. It took the whole nation to accomplish the mission. Likewise, when Jesus wanted to make disciples of every nation, he did not just send one representative. He sent the whole church. He sent us all the Holy Spirit, who distributes gifts to each of us so that together as a team we accomplish the mission.

One of the lessons Joshua teaches demonstrates this. Joshua’s team had a tremendous victory at Jericho. He had given specific instructions for them not to take anything, but to destroy everything. Afterward, Joshua sent a small army to take town of Ai. But one man in the team that had captured Jericho had taken some of the spoils. As a result, Ai – which should have been a cake walk – was a defeat. It takes the whole team following instructions to accomplish the mission.

The first chapter of Joshua speaks to that big idea: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible. It gives us the grounds for that assertion. It gives reasons that we can expect to accomplish whatever mission God gives us.

1) The Mission is Possible because the presence of the LORD is with us wherever we go.

a) “I will be with you as I was with Moses” (5).

b) “I will not fail you or abandon you. ” (5).

c) “the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (9).

The mission is never about how smart we are, or how talented we are, or how brave we are. We are going to face challenges that put all those things to the test. In fact, most of the things we encounter are going to be too much for us. That is the way the missions are planned. They are designed to break our dependence upon our own wisdom, skills and courage.

Joshua had his armies, but that was not what brought about victory in the conquest of Canaan. The victory came because God was with them. That is why the LORD wanted to reassure Joshua from the outset that he would be with them and not forsake them.

Jesus told his church the same thing. Remember his Great Commission?

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT).

The presence of the LORD with us makes the mission of the LORD possible for us. The mission gives us an opportunity to display and prove the presence of the LORD.

2) The mission is possible because the grace of God is demonstrated in our lives.

a) “the land I am giving them” (2).

b) “’Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you” (3).

c) “all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them” (6).

Just because we are now talking about the mission that God called on Joshua to accomplish does not mean that we have moved from grace to works. The mission is also about grace. You have to understand, there is nothing we ever can achieve for God that is not a result of the grace of God.

The Great Commission challenges us to make disciples of all nations, but not one soul ever comes to Christ apart from the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit upon his or her life. As Paul put it…

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory” (Romans 8:28-30 NLT).

There’s the whole story of salvation presented as God’s work from election to glorification. It’s God’s mission. Now, there are two possible responses to that. You can either say, OK, if God wants to do it all he can do it. Such a response is like telling Jesus “No thanks, I’ll pass on this making disciples thing.” The correct response is “Since it’s God’s mission anyway, I’m going to attempt great things.” “His presence is here to help me, and his sovereign grace is going to make it happen!”

3) The mission is possible because we have the word of God as our mission manual.

a) “Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you” (7a).

b) “Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do” (7b).

c) “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it.” (8).

Lots of people have tried to read the Bible and have wound up confused and disappointed. I think part of the reason is that they fail to see the significance of what’s there and what is not there. Part of the problem is that we preachers have convinced them that the Bible is simpler than it is. It cannot be reduced to a few slogans or spiritual laws. It is complicated because it is meant to do a number of things for us.

1) It introduces us to our Savior and gives us a chance to respond to his gospel and be saved.

2) It explains how the Holy Spirit wants to change us from the inside out once we have become believers, sanctifying us and preparing us for a righteous eternity.

3) It instructs us on how to live under the authority of our new king, and how to accomplish his will, including and especially his will to draw others to himself.

All Joshua had was a “Book of Instruction” – a collection of the laws and words of Moses. But that was enough to instruct him on accomplishing God’s mission. We now have the whole thing – Genesis to Revelation. Paul said…

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

That sounds like a mission manual to me. I am convinced that this is a crucial era of history. We will have more opportunity to advance the kingdom of God and share the gospel of Christ than any generation in our past. It remains to see whether we will follow Joshua and take up that challenge. He challenged the rest of the Israelites to follow his example:

“choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 NLT).

What he was saying was that his generation had three choices: old gods, new gods or the LORD God. The LORD challenges us to make his name and his kingdom our mission in life. We have all we need to make that mission a success. It is possible.


This message was preached Sunday, June 24th, 2012 at RELEVANT CHURCH, Williamsburg Virginia, USA.

the heart of Daniel

Heart-Centered Human_thumb

Daniel 4:34-37.   

The book of Daniel is kind of an odd bird.  Everyone recognizes it as a prophecy, or group of prophetic visions – centered around the person of Daniel.  But most of us first encounter Daniel in the Sunday School stories taken from the book. 

There’s Daniel, thrown into the lion’s den because he refused to pray to anyone but God – even though it had become illegal.  There’s the similar story of Daniel’s three friends – Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – rescued from the fiery furnace.  We know them better by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

When the Jews got together to compile and categorize their Scriptures they chose to put the book of Daniel in the writings category – even though it has many prophecies.  It was obviously different enough from the Nevi’im (prophets) that the choice was justified.

But when the Greeks got together to compile and categorize the Scriptures, they placed Daniel in the category of Major Prophet.  That choice was also justified.  God is speaking through Daniel – not just in the apocalyptic visions – but also in the historical stories.

The text from Daniel that I want to highlight is the portion of the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation where the great king comes back to his senses.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:34-37 ESV)

This was the great king who had built the neo-Babylonian empire.  His people thought he was so great that they literally worshipped him. Those who refused to do so were destroyed.  This was what Nebuchadnezzar had planned to do with those three Hebrew officials with his fiery furnace.  God rescued them, and the king was put in his place for a while.  But before long, he was full of himself again.

Next, God struck him with insanity.  “He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws” (4:33).  He stayed like that for “seven periods of time.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

and seven times shall pass over thee; which some understand of weeks, others of months, others of the seasons of winter and summer; but it is best to interpret it of seven whole years

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What I wanted to look at was the testimony that came out of Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth that day – the day his reason returned to him.  I think his words can give us the kind of perspective we are looking for.
 

PERSPECTIVE ON GOD (34c, 35b).

 
God is sovereign.  No, I really mean it.  He has both the right to choose what happens and doesn’t happen, and the ability to enforce his choice.  The buck doesn’t really stop at the white house.  It stops at God’s house.  Prayer doesn’t really change things – God does.  If God wants to do something, prayer is not going to change his mind.  I’m talking about absolute sovereignty here. 
 
Have you heard the story “Big John is coming” ?
 

[read the story here, then come back!]


That story reminds me of this incident with Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar was everybody’s “Big John”  But God was Nebuchadnezzar’s “Big John.”  His sovereignty is absolute.  His power and authority are absolute.  That was the perspective that the great king learned by his time of humiliation. 

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (34c).

and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (35b).

You see, you might be under the mistaken notion that the most important question in life is “who am I?”  It is not.  The most important question in life is “who is he?”  — “Who is God?”  Your life is never going to get set in order until you have the right perspective on who God is.
 

PRAISE FOR GOD  (34b, 37a).

 
True praise of God emerges from that awareness of his sovereignty.  Until you and I come to grips with the reality that God exists and his sovereignty is absolute—our attempts at worship will be lacking something.
 
The very first thing that Nebuchadnezzar did after his sanity returned is …
 
I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever” (34b).
What had gotten Nebuchadnezzar in trouble was looking around at all the great marvels of his kingdom and saying “look what I did.”  We are always on dangerous ground when we focus on ourselves.  It took a major crisis in his life for Nebuchadnezzar to get his eyes off himself and see clearly where the greatness is.
 
His awareness of God extended beyond the realm of “God is great.”  It included the reality that this great God is also a good God.
 
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just” (37a).
 You see, this story could have ended differently.  Nebuchadnezzar could have been restored to sanity and still choose to judge God.  Many people are like that.  They go through some major crisis in their lives and because God did not do things the way they wanted – they turn their backs on him.  Don’t do that.  Learn the lesson that the great king did.  There is an even greater king, and he always does what is right   — even if we cannot understand it.  He deserves our praise.
 

PERSPECTIVE ON US (35b, 37b).

 
A final perspective I see in this story from the life of king Nebuchadnezzar is a reflection on humanity.  He learned something about himself and every other human being that has ever lived.
 
none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (35b).
We all need to learn this lesson.  I suspect that this is why God allows us to keep getting into impossible situations.  We have to learn that we cannot fix all our problems.
 
The analogy that Nebuchadnezzar uses is very helpful.  He pictures the hand of God raising to strike.  There is no hand that comes up to stop it.  None can stay his hand.  There is no voice raised in judgment asking God what he thinks he’s doing.  Nobody is qualified to do that.
 
If anyone dares to think she is qualified to judge God’s actions, she will soon learn otherwise.
 
those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (37b).
You have probably gone through several incidents like the one we read about here – probably not as drastic.  But you got the point.  It’s not about you. It’s about him.  There’s only room for one on the throne.
 
There was once a man who had everything  — and lost it all because he failed to look up and recognize that God had him.  What is it going to take for this generation of supermen to stop looking down and start looking up?
 

the heart of Jeremiah

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Jeremiah 1:11-19

I would have hated to be Jeremiah.  He was a prophet during a time when people were actually listening to prophets. But he did not have much to say about his generation that was positive.  He had access to the divine will, and what he found out is that God was angry at his people, and things were going to get very bad, and then get worse. 

I hate reading books or watching movies where everyone dies in the end. 

220px-Knowingposter08

I was really excited to watch the Sci-Fi film, KNOWING, starring Nicholas Cage.  I was fascinated with the idea of (spoiler warning) finding a time capsule with information about all the major disasters that will happen in history.  But then the movie turned me off.  It was not going to have an ending where somebody discovers how to make things better.  The whole human race (except for a couple of kids) was going to be destroyed.  Oh, come on.  Something inside me says that is not fair.

I can imagine that there was something inside Jeremiah who felt the same way when he read the script that God gave him. 

God gave Jeremiah a vision with some visual aids. 

“What do you see, Jeremiah?”

almond

 

“I see a SHA-KED — an almond branch, LORD.”

 

 

“You, have seen well, Jeremiah, for I am SHO-KED – watching to see that my word will be fulfilled.”

That may sound like good news, but in Jeremiah’s case it was not. God’s word was about judgment upon his own people. 

“What do you see now, Jeremiah?”

michelangelo_jeremiah  “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.”

“Right again, Jeremiah. I am going to send invaders from the north.”

“Really, Lord. Is that what I have to tell the people who are looking for good news?”

 

“But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.  And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land.  They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:17-19 ESV).


 God’s message to Jeremiah was that there was going to be no rescue in his lifetime.  That had to hurt. 

What kind of faith stands up after a calling like that and says OK Lord, if that’s what you want, I am going to do it!  (?)

Answer: the kind of faith that God is looking for in his people today.  What if you preach revival and it does not happen in your lifetime?  What if people accuse you of just spouting a lot of religious nonsense? 

What really matters is that the message that we are called to preach (the gospel of Jesus Christ) is our calling.  It does not matter if nobody listens, as long as we are are being faithful in proclaiming the message.  That is not an excuse for being outdated or inefficient in our communication.  It is merely an acceptance that the Holy Spirit is going to regenerate whomever he decides to reach.  Our job is to be faithful so that he can use us when he wants to. 


The long-term message of Jeremiah is much more comforting.  He predicted that God would make a new covenant and that his new people would follow him.  Jeremiah never lived to see that part of his message come true.  Those of us who have been born again through faith in Christ now celebrate Jeremiah’s words.  His own generation largely resented his words. 

Thank you LORD for prophets like Jeremiah, who dared to proclaim an unpopular message, because they knew the message was from you.

 

 

 

the heart of Habakkuk


I promised a friend that I would post the rest of this series when I started preaching regularly again.  Well, it looks like that may be a while from now.  So, I have decided to finish the series as blog posts.  I hope that you get as much out of reading these sermons as I am getting from writing them – JV.


Heart-Centered Human

Habakkuk 1:1-12.

You might think that it would have been great to be a prophet – to have the very words of God come out of your mouth.  But it was not easy for these guys.  Their gift was a burden as well as a blessing.  They could not just say what their listeners wanted to hear.  More often than not, they were saying the very things their culture did not want to hear.  They did not have the luxury of editing out the offensive parts.

Also, they didn’t always understand what God was saying through them.  And when they did understand it, they often wished that they didn’t.

THE PROPHET

Consider, for example, Habakkuk.  He is probably known best for a statement he made that the New Testament quotes: “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). 

Paul quotes that when he talks about how the gospel is for everyone.  All it takes is faith in Christ whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, because faith in Christ is what God wants (cf. Rom. 1:17). 

He explains to the Galatians that access to God is not through the Law, because the Law is about doing good things.  Salvation comes through putting your faith in a good God (cf. Gal. 3:11).

The author of Hebrews uses Habakkuk’s slogan when he talks about how we must endure through this time while we wait for our Savior to come, and live by our faith in him (cf. Heb. 10:38). 

I think that in each of these cases, the New Testament authors accurately understood what Habakkuk wanted to say, and quoted him in context.

THE PEOPLE

Let’s look at Habakkuk’s context more closely.  He probably wrote between 640-615 BC.  That means that when he was writing Israel had already been taken over by the super-power of Assyria.  Judah alone was left to represent the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

The people of Habakkuk’s day were probably very interested in knowing why God had allowed that to happen.  Habakkuk and the other prophets had told them that God was all-powerful.  Now, he sits in shame because it appears that the gods of Assyria were more powerful than him.  The people are ashamed of what has happened, and they want answers.

THE PROCLAMATION

They are not alone.  Habakkuk himself begins his prophecy from God with an earnest prayer to God.  He says…

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

God’s people had witnessed the collapse of Israel.  Moreover, the evil empire of the Assyrians seems unstoppable.  No law and no power seemed able to stop them.  Habakkuk is living in a time when “justice goes forth perverted.” 

Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever read about some crime being committed and ask “Where is the God of justice?”  That was where Habakkuk was.  That was where his heart was.

Personally, I am glad that he was allowed to ask that question.  If God never wanted us to ask questions like that, he would never have had one of his prophets ask a question like that. Since God, by his Holy Spirit inspired Habakkuk to ask a question like that, I feel much better confessing to you that my prayer life is often riddled with similar questions.

It might be that for our spiritual lives – Habakkuk’s questions are more important than God’s answers.  They reveal that life is going to be filled with things that happen that we do not expect.  Living by faith does not mean ignoring the unfortunate realities around us.  Living by faith means being able to cope with those unfortunate realities because we have someone to go to who has answers.

That does not mean – however – that the answers are going to be easy to take.  Notice God’s specific answer to Habakkuk’s prayer:

Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!  (Habakkuk 1:5-11).

The short answer is that God intended to defeat the Assyrians by bringing in the Babylonians, who will swiftly destroy the Assyrian empire and take control of its lands.  These were not godly men.  They were a people “whose own might is their god.”  But God was going to use them to do his bidding and bring justice.

It was going to take about three decades before this took place.  We know from the Bible, and from history, that it did.  Habakkuk probably never saw it.  It was going to have to be enough for Habakkuk to know that God – in his time – would bring about justice against the Assyrians.  Meanwhile, God’s message to him and to the people he ministered to was something like this: “Keep believing in me, even if you are not living in a time when I choose to manifest my power.” 

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Are you willing to trust in God even if you don’t get the answer you were hoping for, or if it does not come in your lifetime?  Are you willing to let God be in charge of how he answers your prayers?  That is hard.  It is not easy to surrender control of your destiny, but God often requires that we do it – to manifest our faith in him.  His message to Habakkuk was:

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

And Habakkuk’s words of faith in response were:

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:16-18).

No matter what happens.  No matter how contrary life seems to be compared with God’s vision of the future – faith trusts that God will fulfill his promise.  That is faith in Christ.  That is the heart of Habakkuk.


LORD, we choose to trust in you. We choose to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is going to return and bring about true and complete justice upon this earth.  Until that happens, we choose to endure this age of uncertainty with faith in you. We choose to quietly wait for our Savior, and rejoice in the LORD.