Forgiveness, Part I

Luke 17:1-4

Luke 17:1-4 –  Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.  So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

I want to acknowledge that forgiveness is a very emotional issue.  Just the mention of it will send some of us into fits of rage/anger, some will experience great sadness or tears, some feel fear or frustration and many will be tempted to run away or avoid this topic for any number of reasons.

Some of you might cross your arms and say, “Sure I’ll forgive her…When Gehenna freezes over.”  Or, “How dare you tell me to forgive? You have NO IDEA what heinous and evil offences someone else has perpetrated against me or my loved one.”

I’m going to answer this:  “You’re right… I don’t.  If I did it would probably make me just as angry as you are.  It would probably make me sick to my stomach.  

But keep this in mind… I’m not the one asking you to forgive – God is.  And he surely DOES know every detail of every evil act perpetrated by one human being against another, yet he still commands us to forgive.

I assure you, your heavenly father, your savior, your redeemer, your shelter, your rock, your king, is not oblivious to the emotional, financial or physical damage that has been done to you.  In fact, right now, he is waiting for you to turn to him. He desires to heal you, to restore you and to set you free.  

Hebrews 4:15-16 –  For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.

My next post, ‘Forgiveness Part II’ will be dealing with all the emotions that go with forgiveness.  We will find out how to rule our emotions instead of them ruling us.  We will see that God has healing for our emotions.

In the meantime, let’s begin to draw near to his throne.  Let’s receive the grace and mercy we need to guide us through the sometimes difficult mandate of forgiving others.  

 This week, as hard as it may be, I want you to read this post with your intellect, not your emotions.

Let’s start with this question:  Is it permissible for me as a Christian not to forgive?  Is that an option? Is there really a choice to forgive or not?

Matthew 6:14-15 –  For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.   

If we take Matthew 6:14-15 by itself, it may appear that there is no option. On the surface, it would seem that unforgiveness would send you to hell, but that is not the case.

Correct interpretation of scripture requires that all scriptures be interpreted in the context of the Bible as a whole. So let’s look at forgiveness/salvation scriptures in general.

Mark 16:15-16 –  And he said unto them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Acts 16:30-31 – [The Phillipian jailer] brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?   And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Romans 10:9 – That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

So we can see from these three scriptures (and others) that although there are many good reasons for you to forgive, your salvation is not dependent on forgiving others.

 Salvation comes by acknowledging/believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that his blood cleanses us from all sin. Notice the verses below, which remind us that God saved us by his great mercy and the power of Jesus, not by any work which we have done.

2 Timothy 1:8-9  – Be not therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord… who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.

Titus 3:4-6 – But after the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;  whom He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior…

Think of it this way – If you had to forgive every single person who ever wronged you, or if you had to let go of every single grudge you ever held in order to be saved, then your salvation would in part be determined by your own works.  And that is not possible, is it?

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace have you been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.

You may find this shocking, but unforgiveness is not an unpardonable sin that will cast you into hell or cause you to forfeit your salvation. Rather, unforgiveness falls under the category of any other sin we commit, such as adultery, theft, gossip, envy, etc. Like any other sin, it needs to be confessed, dealt with and overcome.

So, you can harbor unforgiveness in your heart and still be saved.  There really is a choice to forgive or not.  BUT (notice the capital letters.  It’s a BIG but)… Just as with any other sin, there will be consequences. There will be a price to pay.  What will unforgiveness cost me? What can I expect if I choose not to forgive?

I want to make you aware of five consequences of unforgiveness:

First, if you choose not to forgive, you are in direct disobedience to God.

Matthew 18:21-22 – Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  Jesus said unto him, I say not unto you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Here’s the deal: Jesus commands us to forgive. If we don’t, we are disobedient. Disobedience is sin.  Sin is not an action against an impersonal set of rules; it is rebellion against God’s personal desires and requirements. Because God loves you, disobedience will always bring correction.

Hebrews 12:5-8 – And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

You consider yourself a child of God, right?  Then at some point you can expect to be disciplined if you do not forgive.  That is not to say that God is up in heaven with a whip giving you 10 seconds to forgive.  The path to forgiveness is sometimes very short and uneventful, but at other times it is a twisting and crooked road that takes a long time to navigate. 

Revelation 3:19 –  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.

Do you want to dwell under the rod of God’s correction? Do you enjoy hardship? Do you want to be permanently grounded? That is where you will live, if you choose not to forgive.

Alternatively, you can choose to walk in God’s ways.  You can choose forgive and live under God’s blessing.  

Psalms 128:1-2 – Blessed are all who fear the Lord; who walk in his ways. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

Don’t suffer because you won’t forgive.  It isn’t worth it.  Choose to actively seek and participate in forgiving others.  God will walk with you and bless you for it.

Consequence number two:  if you choose not to forgive, you damage your relationship with other people.

Matthew 5:25-26  – Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be put in prison.  Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

This parable presents us with two people in an unresolved conflict. Two people in a state of unforgiveness. They either can’t or won’t resolve their issues.

Instead of forgiving one another and trying to work it out, they choose to allow prison to severe their relationship. But here’s the thing… not all prisons are brick and mortar.

Unforgiveness or unresolved conflict can lead to many types of prisons, and can exact penalties you never imagined in your worst nightmares.

In addition to robbing you of time, property, money and peace of mind, prolonged unforgiveness will damage or destroy your relationships.

It can imprison you in a dungeon of self pity, anger, resentment or even worse, bitterness.

Think about the last time someone offended you for any reason. It’s like a wall between you and them, isn’t it?  It damages the relationship.  If you are determined not to forgive, you will go to any lengths not to ask him/her for help. You would rather die than do one nice thing for them. You don’t want to be generous or share with them. You will do anything possible to avoid that person; possibly you will go out of your way to cause them grief. You’ll bad mouth them. You’ll stab them in the back. If we are honest, we cannot deny that an unforgiven offence hinders or even kills our relationship with the one we hold a grudge against.

That is no way to live!  Don’t let your relationships with friends and family be damaged or severed because of unforgiveness. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into unforgiveness to find consequence number three:  if you choose not to forgive, it is more damaging to you than to your adversary.

Think about that wall of unforgiveness. What is that wall made of? The number one building block is anger.  If you have been wronged by another person, or even think you have been wronged by them, 99% of the time, you are angry.  It’s not the only building block in the wall. Anger is never a lone wolf.  It always hangs out in packs with its friends like gossip, deceit, revenge, resentment, envy, rage, hate, hypocrisy, bitterness, even murder.

That is one GIANT burden to carry around. Reality is, you can’t handle it. It will eat you alive. Not only will it kill every ounce of joy and peace that God wants you to have in your life, it will poison and kill all the fruit that the Holy Spirit is working so diligently to produce in your life.

Remind yourself of the fruit of the Spirit:

Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

Galatians 5:25 – If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk.

Think back to the last time you were wronged by another person. Did you feel like loving that person? Did you have an overwhelming desire to show them kindness or goodness? How was your self-control that day, especially your tongue? Were you experiencing joy and peace? [I doubt it!] 

The truth (which will set you free) is this: unforgiveness prevents you from consistently walking in the Spirit.  Therefore, the only choice open to you is to walk according to the flesh.

Galatians 5:16-17  – So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Again, the choice is yours.  You can choose to forgive and walk in the Spirit, or you can choose not to forgive and walk according to the flesh. You can do one or the other, but not both.  If you choose the flesh, be aware that:

Galatians 6:7-8  – Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption….

Corruption is a departure from what is pure or correct.  It is synonymous with depravity, decay, rot, spoilage.

Does a rotten, depraved, fruitless, frustrating life sound good to you?  Do you want to infect not only your relationships but your own self with decay, depravity and evil?  No problem. Walk according to the flesh. Walk in unforgiveness; it will take you there.

Or, do you desire satisfaction and fruitfulness and fulfillment in all of your life?  If so, it’s best to follow Paul’s advice in Ephesians:

Ephesians 4:31-32Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.

Here’s the kicker:  If you are harboring unforgiveness, it will eat you up on the inside, and will eventually spill out and touch your loved ones. The people you love the most will suffer right along with yourself and your perceived enemy.  Your spouse, your kids, your siblings, your boss, your coworkers, your church family, will all suffer to some degree from the unforgiveness you are harboring towards another.  You can’t stop it. You can’t control it.

Luke 6:45  – The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Charles Stanley in his book “The gift of forgiveness” says this: “The destructive nature of an unforgiving Spirit is such that it is not limited to one relationship. Resentment and other negative feelings spill over into other relationships. Unfortunately, people are rarely aware when hostility from one relationship affects their ability to get along with others. Eventually… they hurt people they love the most.”

You may not want to hurt those you love, but that is one of the consequences of unforgiveness.  What will you choose to do?

Consequence number four:  If you choose not to forgive, it makes you unfruitful in the kingdom of God.

This should be obvious, based on what we already examined. If you are walking according to the flesh, by default you are not walking with the Spirit. You are out of intimate fellowship with God. You are putting a wall between you and God. You are blocked from his blessing and he is blocked from using you to your fullest extent in his kingdom.

Remember the parable of the sower? Some seed falls on the wayside, some on the rocky soil, some among the thorns, some on good soil. 

Mark 4:7 – And other fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

Jesus interprets the parable this way:

Mark 4:18-19 – Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word;  but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

We most often consider the desire for other things to mean material possessions, but that is not its only interpretation.

Your desire to hold on to unforgiveness will choke the word in your life, rendering you unfruitful in the kingdom of Christ.  You can deny it all you want, but God himself says it is so.  I don’t care how busy or involved you are in the church. If you are walking the road of unforgiveness, at best you are spinning your wheels. At worst, you are creating strife and division in the church.   

How can we convincingly talk to others about the forgiveness of God when we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us? We can’t!

Joyce Meyer in her book “Do yourself a favor – Forgive” concludes this:  Unforgiveness “renders you unusable by God.”

Is that a place you want to be? Unusable by God?  Then hold onto unforgiveness.

Or would you prefer to be used of God?

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Want to do those good works?  They are on the path or forgiveness.

Finally, consequence number five:  If you choose not to forgive, you will not experience the manifest presence of God. 

Consider the words of Christ:

Matthew 5:23-24 –  Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

  • What are gifts? In essence, they are a form of fellowship. 
  • Do we give gifts to strangers? No, we give them to friends and family. 
  • In what context?  Let’s get together for your birthday, or Christmas, or a graduation party. 
  • What happens when we get together? We visit and communicate and find out what is going on with each other.  We laugh and eat and make new memories. 
  • We give gifts to each other. In short, we fellowship.  

Gifts are also a form of fellowship in our relationship with God (money, worship, praise, time spent in his presence). God desires our fellowship more than we realize. He died in order to attain it.  It is precious to him and important to him.  In fact, it’s the culmination of this age.

Revelation 21:2-4  – I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Fellowship with man is one of God’s ultimate plans. It was his plan in the garden of Eden. It’s his plan at the end of this present age.  And yet, as much as God wants and desires fellowship with us, what did he say back in Matthew 5?  God says: I choose to defer fellowship with you until you are in right standing with other people.  Then and only then, can we have intimacy with him and experience his manifest presence.

When you have been offended or wronged, it hurts you or makes you angry.  God does not always wave his hand and immediately change your painful circumstances. But what he does always do, is sustain us through them. Sometimes you still have to pass through the water or fire, but God promises to be with us.  

As you work through the pain and difficulty of forgiving others as Christ forgave you, you will grow and mature spiritually, and you will be drawn closer to God than you ever have been.

Job lost all he had… children, livestock, money, home, health, all of it.  Then his wife encourages him to curse God and die, and his friends accuse him of sin.  But as we know, Job was innocent. If anybody had an opportunity to be offended, it was him. He had an opportunity to be mad at God, mad at his wife and made at his friends. But at the end of Job’s trials, he makes a very interesting statement about God.

Job 42:5 – My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.

In other words, before this trial, before these offences and hurts slapped me in the face, I knew about God.  But now that I have walked through this experience, now I truly know you in a more personal intimate kind of way. You will experience the same intimacy with God if you choose to walk the path of forgiveness.

Based on the facts presented here today (not on emotion but on fact), are you ready to choose to forgive those who have wronged you?

Let me give you some encouragement:  All things are possible with God.  Eventually, with his help, you will be able to forgive and move on in life.  It may be a long road, but God is with you every step of the way.  Who knows more about forgiveness than he does? 

Let me give you some relief: Forgiveness is often a process. It takes time to release the feelings of anger, hurt and betrayal you may be feeling.  That’s okay.  Lean on God.  Confess to him that you desire or choose to forgive, and the Holy Spirit will guide you.

Let me give you some strength:  Despite what others have done to you, God has a perfect plan for you.  It is his desire to use forgiveness to set you free. He wants you to have life and have it more abundantly. He wants to give you peace that passes all understanding. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.  Healing, blessing, reward and abundant life are waiting for you on the road of forgiveness.

Zerubbabel

Ezra 1-6, Zechariah 4

I suspect Zerubbabel is not on the short list of famous bible characters – but he should be!  If you are not really sure who he was, read on.  His story will encourage you and challenge your faith.

Zerubbabel was a man who had the privilege of seeing the promises of God fulfilled in his lifetime.  Indeed, he himself played a part in God’s plans.  Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of the situation Zerubbabel walked into.

The nation of Israel had a long history of rebelling against the Lord and serving false gods.  God warned them many times that if they did not repent and follow him whole heartedly, he would remove them from the Promised Land and send them into captivity. 

Eventually, due to their continued rebellion, God sentenced them to 70 years of captivity in Babylon.He fulfilled this decree through king Nebuchadnezzar.

Jeremiah 25:8-9 – Therefore thus says the Lord of Hosts: Because you have not obeyed by words, behold I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord,  for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants…

So Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem.  He captured and deported people in a number of phases. Daniel, who would later be thrown into the lion’s den, was actually taken in one of the first waves of captives. The final fall of the nation occurred in 586 BC.  The scripture says that Babylon’s soldiers killed the Israelites indiscriminately and without compassion; they killed not only soldiers but women, children and old people.  It was a very great slaughter (see II Chronicles 36:17-21). 

II Chronicles also reveals that all the temple treasures as well as the treasures of the King of Judah were captured as spoil and taken to Babylon.

The entire nation of Judah (except for the very poorest of the poor people) either died or was taken captive to Babylon.  What dark days these were for the chosen people of God!  They must have been full of despair as they left their homeland and marched to the land of Babylon… their beautiful homes – gone!  All the possessions that they worked so hard for – gone!  Their fields and vineyards – now possessed by others!  Their families – fate unknown! The temple of God – destroyed! 

Let us note that God chastised them; but did not destroy them, nor did they forfeit their place as God’s chosen people.In fact, long before they were taken captive God declared that they would be in exile for 70 years but at the end of that time, he would bring them back to their land.

Jeremiah 29:10 – For thus says the Lord: When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you [the children of Israel], and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

During those dark years, as the remnant of Israel settled in Babylon and began a different life, the promise of restoration must have seemed a long, long way away.  We can easily imagine how that future promise would take a back seat to the immediate needs of the day.  After all, very few of those who marched to Babylon would live to see the restoration of Israel.

All too soon the days turned into weeks and the weeks into years (does that sound familiar?).  The people of Israel married and had children and put down roots and built the best life they could in Babylon. 

Because they were cut off from the temple and its worship practices, the Jews began to put a significant emphasis on prayer and fasting.  Many scholars believe that this was the time that the synagogues were first developed.

To be sure, prayer and fasting are good things.  Nevertheless, the people settled for something that was less than God’s best for them.  They lost their hunger for the land, the temple and its sacrifices.  They were missing out on the divine presence of God dwelling in their midst. Eventually, a generation arose that had never seen the Promised Land or the temple.  Consequently, desire for a life in Judah began to diminish. Clearly, their current circumstances caused them to lose focus on the promise of restoration. 

However, God has always been and will always be, faithful to his promises.  In fact, God says this to us:

Jeremiah 1:12 – …I am watching over my word to perform it.

Did you catch that?  God watches over his promises to make sure that he does all he said he would do.  God is so perfectly faithful in all he has promised!  If he said it, it will surely come to pass!

Were you aware that God named Israel’s deliverer long before he was even born or before they even went into captivity?  That’s right – nearly 150 years before Cyrus ascended his throne, he was named by our God as the one who would deliverer Israel from Babylon!  Look was the prophet Isaiah had to say:

Isaiah 45:1, 4, 13 – Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus…For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name.  I name you, though you do not know me; I have stirred him [Cyrus] up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward, says the Lord of Hosts.

So, while it seemed to the exiles that God was doing nothing and was nowhere to be found, nothing could have been further from the truth.

God is like a conductor.  He is orchestrating multiple nations and events as well as individual people to bring about the fulfillment of all he has promised.

Like a crescendo, he causes new nations to emerge and grow strong, while he allows other nations to slip into decline and silence.  He raises up new rulers with new ideas.  He allows technology and science to advance.  He sends words of encouragement to his people through the prophets.  Here and there he allows super abundant years of harvest, so that supplies can be prepared.  He reignites a longing for himself and his ways in the hearts of his people.  He takes seemingly discordant notes and fits them perfectly into the harmony, making all things ready for the fulfillment of his promise.

And all the while, his focus on the individual person has not diminished.  He sees every injustice.  He hears every prayer.  He knows every need.  He feels the sorrow and the longing in the heart of each of his children.  Each person that God has created is like a perfect note in his symphony; each one is needed to make the melody complete.

As we mentioned previously, the nation of Judah was sentenced to 70 years in captivity. Therefore, according to the promise of God, they could expect to return home in 538 BC.  History proves that God did as he promised.  The Medes and the Persians defeated Babylon in 539 BC, one year before the promise was to be fulfilled. 

Here is an interesting question – who was king of Babylon when it fell to the Medes and Persians?  According to Daniel chapter 5, it was Belshazzar, the same king who saw the supernatural handwriting on the wall that was interpreted by Daniel (again, the same Daniel who was previously thrown into the lion’s den)!

We would expect that Daniel would come into contact with Cyrus.  We would also expect Daniel to share the ancient prophesies that mentioned Cyrus by name.  Particularly, this one:

Isaiah 44:28 – [God] who says of Cyrus, ‘he is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built’, and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’.

So, one year later or exactly 70 years since the captivity, Cyrus made a decree that the people of Israel were free to go home and rebuild the temple of God!

Ezra 1:2-3 – Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem.

At that point, any Jew who wished to return home was free to do so and more than 42 thousand did just that!

Ezra 2:64-65 – The whole assembly together was 42,360 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337 and they had 200 male and female singers.

One of the people in that group was our man Zerubbabel the son and/or heir of Shealtiel. Not only was he part of that first wave of Israelites to go back to the Promised Land, he was their leader!

What inspired him to undertake such a monumental task?  Well, Zerubbabel had not forgotten what God promised.  He meditated on that promise.  He allowed it to burn within his heart and mind.  He did not settle for life in Babylon, even though that would have been much easier in some respects.  He was ready to claim the promise of God and move on to a place of victory.  He wanted all that God had in store for him – and (spoiler alert) he got it!

After the long journey to arrive in Judah, the settlers immediately built an altar and re-established the sacrifices to the Lord.  How good that victory must have felt to the returning settlers!  But there was more to be done.  In the second year, the foundation of the new temple was laid.  What a reason for rejoicing!  Yet, there was still more to be done.

It was at this point that their adversaries came against them.  They pretended to be interested in helping to build the temple, but Zerubbabel, knowing what was in their hearts, refused to allow them to help. This refusal was the first step in a very protracted legal battle, which at times forced a work stoppage.

For fifteen years, the battle raged on.  Sometimes, Zerubbabel and company gained ground.  Sometimes their enemies were temporarily victorious.  Sometimes, they became a bit complacent, and work stopped. 

During those times, God sent words of encouragement (and sometimes rebuke) to Zerubbabel through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.  In fact, God sends a very profound and important message to Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah. 

Zechariah 4:6 – Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts. 

What an amazing truth!  Zerubbabel was going to be victorious, but not because of his own power or military might orlegal maneuvering.  The promises of God would be fulfilled by the Spirit of God!  Victory was assured! 

Just to make things very, very clear God also prophesied this through Zechariah:

Zechariah 4:9 – The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it.

Sure enough, Zerubbabel completes his task – the temple is rebuilt.  The government who opposed him was ordered to provide all the animals needed for the daily sacrifice.  Two more waves of settlers return to the Promised Land.  The walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt and its gates are replaced.  God performed many more miracles on behalf of his people.  In short, God fulfilled every promise that he made to Israel!

If we could speak with Zerubbabel today, what do you think he would want us to understand? 

First and foremost, God always keeps his promises.  Remember, God watches over his word to perform it.  He did it back in the day of Zerubbabel and he is still doing it today. 

So, what promises can you lay claim to?  Did you have a word of prophesy spoken over your life at some point?  Perhaps God dropped a promise into your heart through the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps he is stirring you up to do a work for him, just the same as he did with Zerubbabel.  Maybe you read a promise in the scriptures and as soon as you did, it started taking root in your heart. 

What has happened to these promises?  Have they been fulfilled?  If not, why?

As we studied, the majority of the Israelites settled for life in Babylon.  They allowed the immediate needs of the day to crowd out the promise of restoration.  They missed out on having the presence of God in their midst.  I encourage you not to make the same choice.  Don’t let the immediate and overwhelming tasks of your day crowd out the promises of God.  They are worth fighting for!  Make room for them.

I encourage you to take a second look at your promises.  Write them down or put them in your phone, if you haven’t already.  Look at them in the morning or before you go to bed at night.  Allow the Holy Spirit to reignite a fire in your heart.

If you do, I am sure that God will open a door for you, just as he did for Zerubbabel and the other 42 thousand people who were looking for fulfillment of the promise.  Then, by faith, walk through that door. 

Make no mistake – when you answer that call and walk through that door, it will be a step of faith.  You won’t have all the answers when you begin.  The settlers did not know what awaited them on the journey to Jerusalem.  They did not know how they would make a living when they arrived.  They did not know if they would be welcomed or ostracized.  There was no exact or complete plan for rebuilding the temple. They gave up a life of certainty for a life of faith.  If you want to claim the promises of God in your life, you also must take a step of faith.

The good news is that God has an amazing, 100% track record of faithfulness (Think of it this way: He has 5 full stars after billions of reviews).  If you step out, he will show up and keep his promises to you. 

I think Zerubbabel would also like us to know that when we face opposition to our promises, God intervenes with strength and power.  I bet that Zerubbabel stayed awake some nights worrying (I don’t know that for certain, but it would be human nature to do so).  He probably wondered what his next legal move should be.  He may have fretted over the strength of his enemies or the size of the opposition.  I bet it seemed like it was taking forever to get anything done.  But in the midst of that, God sent Zechariah to encourage Zerubbabel in his work.  Remember, God declares that the victory is won by the power of the Holy Spirit, not the strength or determination of man. 

Whew!  What a relief for us all!  If we will do our part – take that step of faith and diligently do all that we know to do, the Holy Spirit will make the rest happen.  Does that mean that all will be smooth sailing?  Ha!  No way!  When we step out to do something for God, there will always be opposition from our enemy, Satan.  The good news is that we don’t have to rely on our own strength or intelligence or power to fight him.  The Spirit of God will take care of that for us!  He is right by our side, watching over our progress, ensuring victory.

Romans 8:31 –  If God be for us, who can be against us?

This brings up another point – how close is your relationship to the Holy Spirit?  If you are struggling to claim your promises, you might want to seek a fresh infilling of the Spirit.  Ask him to equip you and give you strength for the task.  Ask him for a new spiritual gift.  He will bring you supernatural wisdom and understanding.  He will be with you as your promise is fulfilled!

Let me give you some encouragement:  Don’t let your promises slip away under the burden of your everyday life.  Put some of that stuff aside, and reacquaint yourself with the things God wants to do through you!

Let me offer you some relief:  It’s not your power, your might or your resources that will get the job done.  Don’t try to do God’s part for him.  He already has that covered.

Let me offer you some strength:  Seek the Holy Spirit.  He is standing by to comfort, lead, guide, open doors and bring provision.  He will stay with you as you claim that promise! Then, testify about your victory to encourage others!

Jonah

Jonah 1-4

When we begin to think of our favorite bible characters, Jonah is often mentioned.  Perhaps that is because it was a favorite of ours when we were children.  The story appeals to kids because it has elements of adventure, danger and gross body fluids.  When you first hear the story, it amazes you!  After all, it’s an everyday occurrence when a man eats a fish, but when a fish eats a man, well, the rest of us take notice!  

As adults, we still cherish the story of Jonah.  Let’s take a closer look for some of the lessons it holds for us today.

Jonah 1:1 –  Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

Nineveh was located in the nation of Assyria.  It was originally founded by Nimrod.

Genesis 10:8, 10-11 – Cush fathered Nimrod: he was the first on earth to be a might man.  The beginning of his kingdom was Babel… in the land of Shinar.  From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh…

In Jonah chapter 3 we are told that it was an ‘exceedingly great’ city, meaning that it was large.  Jonah tells us that it was three days journey in breadth.  Since 20 miles was the distance a soldier could travel in a day, commentators assume that the city was roughly 55-60 miles in diameter.  However, not all of the land was densely covered with streets and buildings.  The city also included farm land. Scholars estimate the population to be around 600,000 people.

The sin of the city had reached a point where God decided to act.  Rather than destroy them, he wants to make himself known to them, and give them a chance to repent. This is exactly what we would expect.  God’s holiness demands an accounting for sin, but his mercy always provides a way of escape from judgment, if man is willing to accept it. 

God’s concern for Nineveh and its heathen people is also a foreshadowing of his ultimate plan for all of mankind.  I Timothy 2:3-4 tells us that salvation “… is good and pleasing in the sight of God our savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Our heavenly Father again expresses his desire through the apostle Peter Acts 10:34-35:

 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” 

So, we see that God sends Jonah to the people of Nineveh that they might believe in him, repent and be spared from judgment.

Jonah, however, chooses to completely ignore God.  In fact, he tries to run from God by booking passage on a cargo ship to Tarshish.

Why do you suppose that Jonah overreacted to the command of God?  Go ahead and think about that for a bit.  We will present a likely answer later in the lesson.

God responds to Jonah’s rebellion by stirring up a great storm on the sea; scripture says it threatened to break the ship apart.  Obviously, the crew was afraid and they all prayed to their gods to spare them. 

Meanwhile, Jonah is asleep in below decks until the captain of the vessel wakes him up and instructs him to get on his knees as well!  [So much for the old theory that people with a guilty conscience can’t sleep at night!]

Since the storm seemed to be getting worse instead of better, the crew decided to cast lots and determine who was responsible for their situation.  Guess who comes up as the guilty party – Jonah!

Jonah then confesses everything to the crew.  He explains that he is a Hebrew and he serves Jehovah, the God who made the earth and the sea.  He also mentions that he was running away from God.  This really got their attention.  The seamen then asked what they should do to get the sea to calm down, before they all died. 

Jonah responded this way:

Jonah 1:12 – He said, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

The crew was unwilling to do this, because they feared it would be like throwing him to his death.  So, they vainly tried to get to shore but when they could not, they prayed and then tossed him overboard.

Jonah 1:14-15 – Therefore, they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”  So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

As you recall, God had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah.

I often wonder about the way that happened.  Do you think Jonah saw the fish approaching and tried to get away?   Can you imagine that moment of panic as he saw the gargantuan beast bearing down on him?  What do you suppose went through his mind when he realized he was going to be swallowed? On the other hand, maybe he never saw it coming.  Maybe the fish came up behind him and he didn’t even see it until it was too late.  Or maybe he was drowning and the fish seemed like a safe haven.  Who knows? Perhaps we’ll have the chance to ask him one day!

However, there is no need to speculate what he did after he was swallowed; the scripture tells us that he prayed.

Jonah 2:1-2 – Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me, out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”

I have never been in the belly of a great fish, and my guess is that you haven’t either, but I am imaging a grim situation.  There would be a lot of sea water, plus I bet it would be pitch black.  There might be other fish or sea life that had also been swallowed.  Any air would certainly not be fresh (fish breath – yuck!). You can read Jonah’s description of the conditions in the fish’s belly in the remainder of chapter 2. 

One part of the prayer I want us to take particular notice of:

Jonah 2:7 – When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. 

As a result of that prayer, God had the fish vomit Jonah up on dry land.

Now that God has Jonah’s attention, he again instructs him to travel the 500 miles to Nineveh and tell them to repent or the city would be overthrown. This time Jonah obeys.

The people of Nineveh believed God.  They called for fasting and repented from the greatest among them to the least.  Even the king removed his royal robes, put on sack cloth and sat in ashes as a sign of repentance.  He decreed that no one in the kingdom should eat or drink, but everyone should call out to God and turn from violence and evil so that they might be spared from destruction. 

The result is exactly what we would expect – since the people chose to repent, God’s mercy wins over judgment; the entire city is spared.

Jonah 3:10 –When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Sounds like a great thing to me, how about you?  Jonah would disagree with us.  He was mad that God spared the city!  In chapter 4 verse 2 he actually complains that God is ‘a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster’.  He goes so far as to say that he wishes God would kill him, for it is better to be dead than alive if the people of Nineveh are spared!  

Hmmm… how strange!  When people complain about God, they don’t usually mention his abundant mercy and love.  Normally, those are things we cherish about God.  Clearly, something is bothering Jonah. Did you have a chance to consider what that might be?

The Jewish people had a very strong national identity.  That identity was based upon them being the chosen people of God.  Some of the elements of that national identity were circumcision, possession of the Law of God, sacrifices, prophetic words, signs and wonders, supernatural protection and provision, etc.  Therefore, Jonah was very unwilling that any Gentile nations should find peace with God, because he feared that the Jews would lose their special relationship to Jehovah.  He feared that the Gentiles would infringe upon the special place of the Jews. 

What he failed to realize of course, was that God’s love is much too vast to be limited to one people group.  As prior scriptures have shown, it is God’s will that all mankind be in right relationship with him. 

God will save people from every ‘tribe, tongue, people and nation’.  He has enough love and blessings for the Gentiles as well as the Jews!

Clearly, Jonah did not understand the full scope of God’s plan for mankind.  This explains his great reluctance (rebellion) to share the message of salvation with the people of Nineveh.    

Instead of rejoicing in what God was doing, Jonah has a tantrum and then he builds a temporary booth just outside the city.  He sits down to see what would happen.

Little did he realize, but God had already made a decision regarding the people and animals of Nineveh.  God was now going to deal with his prophet in a very tender way; he is going to attempt to give Jonah a glimpse of how precious the Gentiles were to him. 

To this end, God causes the rapid growth of a giant plant, which provided Jonah with shade to comfort him.

The scripture says that Jonah was not just glad to have the plant, he was exceedingly glad.  I can believe that.  I know how much I love the shade of a tree on hot summer days!  Any relief from the blazing sun is most welcome. 

Jonah had about one day to enjoy that shade before God sent a worm to kill the plant.

As the plant withered and died, God turned up the heat.  There was a scorching east wind and the sun beat down so hot, that Jonah almost fainted.  Keep in mind that God was not doing this to be mean, rather he was using this situation to teach Jonah a very important lesson.

When the plant withered and died, Jonah again becomes bitterly angry.  In fact he makes a second request for God to let him die (chapter 4, verse 8).     

At that point, God confronted him about his attitude.  God said to him “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

To which Jonah responded, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

Then God shares this revelation of his love with Jonah:

Jonah 4:10-11 – And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Fortunately, God’s point was very clear and Jonah kept his zipped up at this point! That ends the book of Jonah.   

While there are a number of useful lessons for adults in this passage of scripture, I am going to limit my comments to two things. 

First of all, there is a message in this narrative about toxic relationships.  Specifically, this applies to romantic relationships as well as ordinary friend relationships between two women or two men.

Notice how selfish Jonah was to those around him, especially the crew of the ship.  We assume that the sailors on the ship to Tarshish were just ordinary men, earning a living for their families, when they make the acquaintance of Jonah.  Immediately afterward, as a consequence of spending time around him, they find themselves in a place of storm and upheaval.  All peace and rest was gone; they were afraid and worried from that moment on. 

At that point, in order to preserve their lives, they begin to toss all the cargo overboard.  So now their peace is gone, their confidence is gone and they are going broke or at least losing a great deal of money, all because of Jonah.  Things are so bad, they are in danger of losing the entire ship.  And how does Jonah treat them?  With utter disregard!  He is busy sleeping in the hold.  He isn’t a bit concerned about the disaster that he is bringing upon all the crew of the ship and their families.  He does not care one bit if they go broke or even die!  

As you know, the captain forces him to get up.  When the lot falls on Jonah and it is determined that he is the sole cause of all the destruction, how does he react?  In a most shameful manner!  He tells the crew of the ship that if they toss him overboard, the storm and upheaval will cease and they will be fine. 

You see, if Jonah was a real friend, he would have taken responsibility for his actions.  He would have asked the crew help him up onto the edge of the ship and he would have jumped in himself in order to save them.  Instead, he puts all the pressure on the innocent sailors to literally pick him up and toss him overboard!

Of course, they are stunned and very unwilling to throw Jonah to certain death; but notice that he does not feel the same about them. Again, he was very willing for these men to die or go bankrupt for his bad choices!

Eventually, after doing everything in their power to ride out the storm, the sailors pray for forgiveness and toss him overboard.  Only then were they able to pick up the pieces of their lives and business. 

Does any of this sound familiar?  Do you have any toxic relationships like the one between Jonah and the crew?  Do you know certain people that always bring upheaval and drama to your life?  Do they somehow sap all your energy, your peace and even your finances?  Are they putting you in a position where you feel like you are fighting for your life? 

Ask yourself this question:  Is that person helping or hindering your ministry and your relationship to God?  Are you so weary from that relationship that you have no time to seek God and his plans for you?  Is your relationship with this person squeezing out the time you should be spending with your family?  As a result of this relationship, do you do things that you would never do otherwise?  Does this person influence you to make poor choices?

If so, you need to break off the relationship.  Just like the sailors, you may balk at the idea.  It may be uncomfortable, because they are not going to leave willingly.  They will make you do the dirty work.  But for your own sake and the sake of your ministry, you may need to do it immediately!

Do not be worried about being alone.  God is standing by to bring you the right spouse; one who will assist you in ministry, not bring you down.  He has plenty of good people who will be glad to enter into a friend relationship with you; a relationship that will bring you closer to the Lord and help you grow spiritually.    

The final thing I want to point out about the story of Jonah is this:  God is sovereign over all things.  Clearly in this narrative God is sovereign over nature (the storm, the fish), but he is also sovereign over your life.  He is vastly greater than all your failures, shortcomings or mistakes.    

Even though Jonah made some poor choices that left him in dire circumstances (the belly of the fish), as soon as he called out to God, God was there.

The same is true for you and me.  There is no mistake we can make that will test the limits of God’s power.  There is no mistake we can make that will thwart God’s plans for the universe.  Even if you made some poor choices, God is ready and waiting for you to call upon him.  The moment you reach out to him, he will be there.  In fact, the bible says that Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart right now. He desires to fellowship with you!

Revelation 3:20 – Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and eat with him, and he with me.     

We have all blown it at one time or another; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  We have all made some bad choices or been rebellious a time or two.  But remember, you are not a finished product.  The Holy Spirit is actively at work in your life, continuously making you over into the image of Christ.  So put your sins under the blood and get back on your feet.  Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.  Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!

Let me give you some encouragement:  Don’t be discouraged about the mistakes you’ve made.  God isn’t finished with you yet.  The Holy Spirit will continue to work in you until the day Christ returns or calls you home.

Let me give you some relief:  If you are in a relationship that is poisoning you, you have the right to lovingly but firmly end it.  You don’t have to continue to carry around people that take all of the life out of you.  Turn them over to God; he has the strength to deal with them.

Let me give you some strength: God gave Jonah the wisdom the opportunity and the ability to speak to the people of Nineveh. So don’t fret – God will also provide all you need to accomplish the good works he has planned for you.

Caleb

Numbers 13:6-33 and Numbers 14

Caleb is a very popular bible hero.  If you named one of your sons after him, you are not alone.  In 2018 Caleb was the 45th most popular boys name in the United States.

We first find Caleb in Numbers chapter 13.  As you probably remember, this is the portion of scripture that tells us about the time that Moses sent 12 men into Canaan to spy out the land that God was giving them.  There was one representative from each of the tribes of Israel.  The scripture tells us that Caleb was the representative of the tribe of Judah.

Numbers 13:6 – from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh;

Moses instructed them to find out about the people of the land.  Were they strong or weak?  Did they live in camps or strongholds?  Where there many people or few?  Was the land rich or poor?  Did it have trees or not? In general, Moses was asking them for an overall picture of the land and its inhabitants.  He also instructed the men to bring back some of the fruit of the land.

So, off they went.  I wonder if they went secretly or if there was a public celebration as they left.  How do you picture their departure?   Either way, I suspect the Israelites frequently thought about them while they were gone. 

Can you imagine the anticipation of the people during that time?  Israel had been in slavery for the past 400 years.  They had waited and waited (and waited!) for God to rescue them and lead them into the Promised Land – a land that was flowing with milk and honey! 

The Promised Land would be the fulfillment of the promises made to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It was to be a place of peace and rest.  A place of prosperity.  A place where they could govern themselves.  A place where they could freely worship Jehovah.  They had waited so long and now it was within their grasp!

I bet you could feel the excitement and electricity in the air as the people waited for the men to return.  I bet that every day they speculated about what the Promised Land was like!

Meanwhile, the spies were hard at work. They traversed the land from north to south and from east to west.  Eventually they came to the valley of Eshcol where they cut down a cluster of grapes that was so big, it took two men to carry it!

Numbers 13:23 – And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. 

Try to picture the scene as the 12 representatives came back into the camp carrying that fruit!  Once they were spotted, news of their return must have spread like wildfire. 

Moses gathered all the people together at Kadesh to hear the report of the spies.  Once everyone was assembled, they began to speak. 

Fact number one: the land was indeed prosperous and wonderful; it was all they could ever hope for.

Numbers 13:7 – And they told him [Moses], “We came to the land to which you sent us.  It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.”

I can picture the people getting more and more excited, like it was Christmas morning. I can feel the anticipation building within them. At last they were coming into their inheritance!

Fact number two:  The inhabitants of the Promised Land were fierce and numerous. There were Hittites and Amorites and lots of other ‘ites’ living there.  In fact, there were even descendants of Anak there. FYI, Anak is the name of a race of people, not an individual.  The Anakim were people known to be of giant stature.  Remember Goliath of David and Goliath?  He was one of their descendants.

Fact number three:  The cities were well fortified and protected.These people were not going to willingly hand Israel the keys to their kingdom and walk away. 

It is interesting to note that all 12 spies acknowledged these facts.  There was no dispute about the situation they faced.  Yet we have two very different responses to the facts.

Numbers 13:30 – Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

Caleb (and Joshua) believed the promise of God. They trusted that God was well able to fight for them and with them; he would defeat their enemies and they would take their inheritance.  If God was for them, who could be against them?  They wanted to claim their inheritance without delay. If Caleb had his way, Israel would probably have attacked that night!

But then, the other ten spies who were trusting in themselves and not God, encouraged the people not to go. 

Numbers 13:31 – Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”

They went on to say that they felt like grasshoppers compared to the giants living in the land. 

Sadly, the whole congregation of Israel sided against Joshua and Caleb.  They grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  Then they turned their backs on God.  They wished they were dead and that they had never left Egypt!  In fact, they talked about choosing a leader and going back!  Can you imagine?

Numbers 14:2-4 – “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey.  Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”  And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Of course, Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb all tried to reason with them.  They begged them not to rebel against God. 

Numbers 14:9 – “Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

You already know how this ends.  Despite the begging and pleading of Caleb and the others, the people rebelled.  They picked up stones intending to kill Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, but God had enough.  He intervenes and eventually sentences them to wander in the desert until everyone aged 20 and over died. 

However, God makes a couple of exceptions:

Numbers 14:24, 30 – But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.  Not one [of the Israelites aged 20 or over] shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

Sure enough, the people wander in the desert for 40 years until the unbelieving generation died.   Joshua and Caleb must have seemed really old to all the rest of the Israelites!

Eventually, just as God promised, he took the next generation into the Promised Land.  Despite the 40 year delay, Caleb had not forgotten the promise of God.  In fact, he brought it up before the people of Judah when Joshua was assigning them their inheritance.  Caleb reminds Joshua that he had been ready, willing and able to conquer his inheritance 40 years earlier, but was unable to because of those around him.  Now he had another chance to claim his inheritance, and he was going to take it! 

Joshua 14:10-12 – And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness.  And now, behold, I am this day 85 years old.  I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming.  So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day…it may be that the Lord will be with me and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said. 

So Joshua gave Caleb Hebron for his inheritance; and Caleb stepped up and took it.

Personally, I love movies and stories that tie up all the loose ends and give the viewer or reader a happy ending.  I feel like that is what God did in this case.  Eventually, Caleb received the inheritance he had been promised. 

What about us?  What can we learn from Caleb?

DON’T GIVE UP:   Have you been waiting a long, long time for God to fulfill a promise for you?  Maybe you have been praying for a spouse or for a child.  Maybe you have been waiting for God to save your loved one or heal your body.  Maybe you are asking God to take your ministry to the next level.  Maybe you are seeking a promotion at work. Whatever it is, does it seem to be taking forever?  If so, you have an example in Caleb. 

Sometimes God asks us to wait.  We don’t always know why.  Perhaps we are not yet mature enough to get what we are asking for.  Sometimes we must wait for God’s perfect timing.  Maybe God is using our lives as a testimony to others.

During the times of waiting, the enemy will come and try to get you to give up.  He whispers things in your ear during your most vulnerable times.  See if any of this sound familiar:

  • God has forgotten you. 
  • You know you are not worthy to receive that.  Obviously, God feels the same way or he would have given it to you by now.  
  • You might as well give up – it’s too late for your promise to come to pass.
  • You are too old (or too young). 
  • Stop kidding yourself – God’s promises are for the spiritual elite.

I imagine that the enemy also spoke similar words of discouragement to Caleb, but he ignored them and held on tight to the promise of God.  Because he did not give up, he eventually got his reward. 

Sometimes, the enemy does not speak directly into our ear, but he speaks through those around us.

Sometimes your best friend or your parents or your spouse are the ones who try to discourage you from standing firm.  Sometimes they are the ones who encourage you to give up and move on.  That was the case with Caleb.  Of the 12 spies, ten of them told Caleb to give up, the Promised Land was just a dream.  After that, more than a million people (literally) said the same thing, yet he put his trust in God and did not give up.

Remember, like the Israelites, those around you have a right to believe that their circumstances are greater than God’s power.  They can choose to believe that God has forgotten them.  They have the right to quit and let go of God’s promises, but they can’t force you to give up, unless you choose to do so!

Be on your guard during the waiting season.  This is no time to give up, even if others tell you to!

Looking for another example?  The same thing happened to Abraham.  God promised him a son, but Abraham went years and years without seeing that promise fulfilled.  The scriptures tell us that he did not give up, but trusted God and stayed strong in his faith.  

Romans 4:20-21 – No unbelief made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of these two men.  Keep your eyes off the problem and on the one who is able to bring the promise to pass!  God is the great I AM.  Remember, nothing – NOTHING- is impossible for him!

Luke 1:37 – For with God nothing shall be impossible.

When you are tempted to quit, remind yourself and your naysayers that nothing is too hard for God!

Then, begin to praise him for his strength, power and glory.  As Abraham knew, praising God strengthens your faith.  It keeps you from giving up.

BEWARE OF BITTERNESS:  Let’s be honest… if there ever was a person in all of history who had the right to play the “LIFE IS UNFAIR” card, it was Caleb. He did all the right things, but wound up suffering because of those around him.  Had he taken his eyes off of God and looked at his neighbors, he could easily have become bitter. 

Can you see how it might happen? 

  • “Well today is my 45th(or 50th or 60th or 70th…) birthday, but it sure isn’t a happy one.  I should be spending this birthday in my new house, but instead I am still here in this stupid desert”
  • “I am so tired this morning! I don’t feel like packing up and marching any more but thanks to my countrymen, that is exactly what I have to do!” 
  • “Manna – again!  If it wasn’t for my fellow Israelites, I could be eating lamb and drinking my own wine right now!”
  • “My life stinks and it’s their fault!”

Can you see how it might happen to you?  Maybe you missed out on some opportunities because you grew up poor.  Maybe a doctor misdiagnosed your condition and you have permanent health issues because of it.  Maybe your spouse left you for someone else.Regardless of what happened, keep this in mind:

Other people cannot negate the promises of God in your life – only you can do that – so don’t be bitter!

The writer of Hebrews warns us against the destructive influence of bitterness. 

Hebrews 12:15 – See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble…

Let me give you some truth – even if you grew up poor and missed some opportunities, God can overcome that and bring to pass his perfect plan for your life. 

Your physical/mental/emotional issues are not a surprise to God, nor are they a stumbling block for him.  God is still in the healing and deliverance business.  Hestill has a divine plan specifically tailored for your life, and he will bring it to pass if (like Caleb) you trust him. 

Let’s take this one step further.  Maybe you are personally responsible for some of the mess in your life.  Maybe you were the one who made some bad decisions and the repercussions are enormous and permanent.

Perhaps you were once addicted to alcohol/drugs or had an abortion or broke some laws and spent time in jail.  Once you stand up and take responsibility for what has been done, then you need to put it all under the blood of Christ and let it go.  None of these things (once they are under the blood of Christ) can negate God’s plan for you!

So again, follow Caleb’s example.  Do not blame others or become bitter.  Instead, forgive and keep your eyes on God.  Unlike humans, God keeps all the promises he makes!

Ps 12:6-7 – The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.  You, O Lord, will keep them…

Hebrews 10:23 – Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

MEDITATE ON THE PROMISE:  I believe that Caleb kept the words of God’s promise close to his heart.  I believe that he rehearsed them in his mind on a daily basis.  Maybe he meditated on them while he marched through the desert each day. Perhaps they were the last thing he thought of as he went to sleep, and the first thing that came to mind in the morning. 

Maybe when his children were born, he held them on his lap and told them not to worry, because the promised inheritance was on the way.  When his family became discouraged, he gave them hope by quoting that promise.  He could rejoice, because he knew his situation would have an ending point.  The trial would not last forever.  The fulfillment of the promise was coming.

Notice that when he finally comes before Joshua to claim his inheritance, he speaks with authority, like someone who has kept a tight grip on a legal contract:

Joshua 14:10-12 – And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness.  And now, behold, I am this day 85 years old.  I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming.  So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day…it may be that the Lord will be with me and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.  

What about you?  Is your promise close to your heart or have you lost it amongst discouragement?  Is it on your mind at bedtime and in the morning or are you busy thinking about the problem?  Do you keep it in prayer?  Do you praise God for its completion even before you see it?  You should.  The scriptures say:

God gives life to the dead and calls and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:17).

Meditate on your promise knowing that someday, in God’s perfect timing, it will become a reality.  Rejoice knowing that your waiting will eventually end.  Rest in the peace of God’s love for you, as he takes you into your Promised Land.

Let me give you some encouragement:  Don’t give up!  God has not forgotten you.  He is still on the throne and actively working in your life.  He loves you more than you can imagine.

Let me give you some relief:  Nothing in your past can disqualify you from God’s will for your life.  God is famous for bringing the dead back to life.  If he has to do that in your situation, he will; you have not surprised him in any way. 

Let me give you some strength: You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.  As a child of the Most High God, you don’t just endure the waiting period – you can thrive in it when you know that he is in control.   You can relish in it, knowing that your faith strengthens others.  At the end of the wait, you will have not only the fulfillment of your promise, but you will have greater faith and a closer walk with your savior. 

Mary – Sister of Martha and Lazarus

Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8

There are several women in the Bible named Mary, but we know that our text refers to Mary the sister of Lazarus because the scripture tells us so:

John 11:1-2 – Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  (It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)

It appears as though this trio of siblings were very close to Jesus.  The scripture tells us that Jesus loved all three of them:

John 11:5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

Therefore, it is not surprising to us that Jesus stops in Bethany to see them when he is on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified.  As we would imagine, they have a dinner for Jesus.  The host of the dinner was Simon.  

Matthew 26:6 – Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper…

Let’s take a small detour in our study.  What do you know about leprosy?

It was an incurable skin disease that caused sores or nodules on the skin.  One of its prominent characteristics is loss of feeling in the part of the body affected by the leprosy.  Because they did not feel pain, lepers would often severely injure themselves. 

Leprosy also deforms the body by causing the hair and nails to fall off.  It destroys or distorts the bones and joints, especially in the hands and feet.  It also caused general muscle atrophy.  It was a horrible disease that had no cure.

Back in Bible times, a leper was considered unclean, and they were required to live outside the city or camp.  If they moved among the people, they were forced to yell “leper” out loud, so people knew they were coming by.  They were essentially outcasts in their society.  Life was hopeless for the leper, because there was no cure for this disease. 

So, why would a leper be sitting at the table eating with healthy men?

The answer is: He wouldn’t!

Therefore, we conclude that at some point in time Jesus cured Simon of his leprosy (he certainly was not cured by medical science).  That would explain why Simon hosted the dinner and why Jesus attended. 

Notice that even though he was cured, the stigma of the disease was still associated with Simon.  They didn’t call him ‘Simon the clean’ or ‘Simon who was healed’, did they?  No, they still referred to him as Simon the leper.

Anyway, they had a big dinner party.

I imagine that as they reclined at the table, they did many of the same things we do.  They probably told stories, shared memories, enjoyed the food, laughed and perhaps discussed the issues of their day.  At this time, the Passover was right around the corner and the city of Jerusalem was overflowing with people who had come to celebrate the feast.  As this was the Passover when Jesus would die, there was a lot to talk about.

In the midst of this celebration, an unusual event occurs.

Mark 14:3 – …as he [Jesus] was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 

The word ‘ointment’ does not quite convey the proper meaning of the text.  This was actually a very expensive perfume; it was a liquid, used solely to give a pleasant fragrance.   What she broke was the seal, not the container itself.  John tells us that the amount of the perfume was a Roman pound, which is about 12 ounces (about the size of a can of soda pop). 

We are not surprised that this perfume runs down his body, all the way to his feet, as noted in the gospel of John:

John 12:3 –  Mary… anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

It is easy to imagine the love and gratitude that motivated Mary.  She sees Jesus at the table and no doubt remembers the hours she spent sitting at his feet, listening to his words about the kingdom of Heaven.  Through his teaching, she found wisdom, forgiveness of sin and peace.  Next to Jesus reclines her brother, alive and well!  The very one who had been dead in the grave for four entire days now sat next to her savior, laughing and eating.  Jesus had resurrected and restored him to Mary and Martha!

Perhaps too, she remembered Jesus’ own words of his impending death.  She could see the hate and fury of his enemies and she may have sensed that time was short for Jesus. 

If she wanted to honor him, now was the time.  If she waited, her opportunity would be lost.

So, having freely received life and goodness from Jesus, she desires to show love in return – no gift could have been too costly or too precious for her savior!

Of course, there were those who did not understand her motivation:

Matthew 26:8-9 – and when the disciples saw it, they were indignant saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

Imagine, for a moment, that you are Mary.  You are acting out of pure, loving motives.  You ‘go out on a limb’ to serve Jesus in a way that no one else has ever done.  You did not hold anything back; you gave of your money, your time and yourself.  You have 100% of yourself invested in this act of love and devotion.

And then…your act of love is publicly scorned and questioned by those closest to Jesus.  I imagine the words of the disciples cut her deeply, probably to her very core.  Maybe she felt her face turning red.  Perhaps she had to choke back some tears at this stinging rebuke. Maybe she wanted to run and hide.  Can you imagine the embarrassment she felt?

Immediately, before she is forced to try and defend her actions, Jesus weighs in on the issue.  He defends Mary in front of the whole gathering.

Matthew 26:10-11  –  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that God does not care for the poor.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Even in the Old Testament law, God made provisions for taking care of the poor. 

Clearly, there is something else going on here. The disciples, who were looking for an immediate end to the Roman government and an equally immediate coming of the kingdom of God, did not seem to fully understand that Jesus was about to die. Jesus uses this opportunity to once again clearly confirm his death.

He then honors Mary by saying that her act of love would be proclaimed to the whole world!

Mark 14:9 – And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.

And so, ever since that time, her story has been shared with generation after generation. 

Which people in this biblical account do you most clearly identify with? 

Perhaps you are like Simon the leper.  Maybe you were once an outcast in your community.  It could have been for any number of reasons.  Maybe you were the one who abused alcohol or drugs.  Maybe you were the one who needed attention and affirmation and you sought it in multiple partners of the opposite sex.  Maybe you were the one who was harsh and judgmental toward others. 

Regardless of the circumstances, know this: like Simon, you can be forgiven and set free! 

There is nothing you can do that Jesus cannot forgive!  He paid the price for ALL sin, even the sins we like to classify as ‘big’ ones.  All you need to do is repent and ask him to forgive you.  He will cleanse you with his blood and make you into a new creature in Christ.   Don’t wait – he is willing to do it now!

What has you in bondage?  There is no chain that our God cannot break!  Don’t wait – ask him now.

John 8:36 – He whom the Son sets free is free indeed. 

This narrative shows that people will remember your past.  At first, that may depress you, especially if you know you are no longer the person who did those awful things.  But what this really is, is a testimony opportunity.  When someone remembered Simon as the leper, he could respond, “True!  I used to be a leper, but Jesus has set me free!  Now I am totally healed.  Would you like to be free of your bondages?  Jesus can do it for you!”

If you past has been washed by the blood of Christ, it is no longer an embarrassment, it is a testimony.  Rather than being ashamed of it, use it as a chance to testify to the goodness of Christ.  Your testimony could really encourage someone else.

What about Mary?  I think we can all identify with her in some regards, which is one of the reasons I believe God preserved this lesson for us three times in the New Testament.

We saw that Mary gave Jesus a precious gift, a gift that no one else could give.  What about you?  What gifts can you offer him?  One thing you can offer is your praise.

Since you have been uniquely made, and you have unique life experiences, you praise and worship God in a unique way.  For example, Mary had her brother raised from the dead and restored to her.  Can you imagine the praise that she gave to Jesus for that? 

I can’t give God praise for resurrection in the same way that Mary did, because no one in my family has ever been raised from the dead.  However, you and I probably have some neat instances of things that God has done for us that Mary did not experience.  As a result, we have reasons to praise and rejoice in God our savior that Mary did not have.  What unique praise can you give him?

What about your talents and skills?  No one else paints like you, welds like you, or nurses like you.  The bible tells us that whatever we do, we should do it with all our might as unto the Lord.

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men

The disciples, particularly Judas Iscariot, felt that Mary’s act of service was a waste.  The truth is, acts of spiritual devotion are often scorned by the world as fanatic or foolish.  Those who do not have a relationship with Christ cannot understand our deep love for him, and they cannot understand that we would do anything for him, even if it seems foolish or embarrassing or illogical to the world. 

Think back to when you were dating your spouse.  Did you do things that seemed silly to others, but they meant a lot to that special person in your life?  You didn’t care what others thought, did you?  The only thing that mattered was the opinion of the one you loved.

Know this:  No act of service to God is a waste.  When you love and serve him, he accepts and cherishes every act of love you give to him. When your service is unique, like Mary’s, that makes it more special, not less!

Did you notice that Mary did not allow others (or their opinions) to keep her from Christ? She could easily have said to herself ‘I’ll wait until there aren’t so many people around’ or ‘What will people say about me if I do this’ or ‘I bet someone else would be better at this than I will be’ or ‘what if something goes wrong’.  She didn’t let any of those thoughts stop her, did she? 

Let me share a biblical truth with you.  Mary served by ministering to Jesus’ body in a physical sense.  Now that Jesus has been glorified, he is the head of the church and we are what…. His body!

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

Perhaps you have been serving the body of Christ and you were criticized for it.  Maybe someone told you that you have no business serving in a certain capacity in the church.  Maybe you did something, but the fruit of it is not yet evident and it looks like a failure.  Maybe you are placing limits on your service to God based on the opinions of others.  If that applies to you, I encourage you to look for affirmation from Christ, not people.  He is the one you are serving.  As he continues to open doors, I encourage you not to give up or to wait – continue serving!

The fragrance of Mary’s devotion filled the entire house, and probably spilled outside.  People noticed it even if they didn’t see it.  Good deeds are like a perfume released into a room.  They affect many more people than you know.  Why don’t you release your acts of service to Christ and let him use them to reach as many people as he wants?  When you get to heaven, you may very well find out that you impacted people you didn’t even know about.

Finally, we find that the apostle Paul had a lot to say about love and service. 

1 Corinthians 13:1-2 – Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angles, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

As Christians, we can get wrapped up in religious activity, without really loving those we are supposed to be serving.   If we serve out of a loving heart like Mary did, we can be sure that we please our Lord and have an impact on our world. 

So, let me offer your some encouragement:  If you are serving the body of Christ in love, continue to do so, even when others criticize.  God will sustain and reward you in the end. 

Let me offer you some relief:  Let guilt go.  Your past is in the past and it has been forgiven and forgotten by your savior.  It has been cast as far from you as the east is from the west.  If others remember the past, don’t be embarrassed – use that as an opportunity for testimony.

Let me offer your some strength:  The love of Christ is so deep and so wide, that we cannot comprehend it.  He loves us unconditionally.  He loved us while we were yet sinners.  He loved us so much that he gave the ultimate gift – his only Son.  In light of such love, can we not fully love him in return?

Zechariah

Luke 1:5-24, 57-66

Today, we are looking at the New Testament priest Zechariah.  You may or may not remember him, but I bet you remember his son – John the Baptist!

The Bible begins by telling us that Zechariah was a priest of the division of Abijah.  This division is not really significant for our purposes, but just by way of interest, back in the era of the monarchs, King David split the priesthood up into 24 divisions based on the names of the adult males descended from Aaron.  He then created a rotating schedule, so that each division ended up serving in the temple for two weeks a year. 

This continued until the people went into captivity.  Upon their return, only four of the divisions remained; the rest died in captivity.  As their numbers once again grew, they again divided themselves up into 24 divisions using the old names.  So we know that Zechariah was, without question, a Levite and a priest, however, he may have been serving under the division of Abijah even though he was descended from another family member (you can read it for yourself in 1 Chronicles 24).

Anyway, in verse 5 Luke also reveals that Zechariah had a wife named Elizabeth, who was also a descendant of Aaron.  So both of them were from the tribe of Levi.  We are told that they both served God in righteousness:

Luke 1:6 – And they were both righteous before God walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.

The people who lived under the Old Testament law had a multitude of commandments to try and keep (seriously – have you read Exodus and Leviticus?).  Keeping them all would be quite an accomplishment indeed!However, the overall meaning of the scripture is not that they were actually perfect people, but that they were faithfully observing both the moral and ceremonial institutions of the law.  They were certainly making Jehovah the center of their lives and they were fair in their dealings with others.

Interestingly, we see that despite their service to God, they had some problems in life.  I bet you can relate to that – I know I can.

Luke 1:7 – But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.

In our society, there is no shame or stigma attached to not having children.  So it is sometimes hard for us to imagine that back in the days of Zechariah,there was a lot of shame and embarrassment associated with being childless.  The couple without children were often considered as being under some judgment from God, leading to speculation that they had sinned in some way. 

To add to their dilemma, they were both ‘advanced in years’.  Every day that passed made it look less and less likely that they were ever going to have a child. 

Luke tells us that Zechariah was serving out his week of temple service when he was chosen by lot to burn incense before the Lord in the Holy Place (since some of the priestly duties were better than others, they used lots to assign jobs).

Incense was burned twice daily.  One priest would go into the Holy Place and remove the ashes from the altar.  After he departed, another priest would bring a pan of fresh burning coals from the brazen altar.  After he left, a third priest (in this case Zechariah) would come and burn the incense before God.  As the smoke ascended, he would make intercession for the people, while at the same time, a whole crowd was outside praying.

So Zechariah is in the Holy Place about to offer the incense and prayers, when all of a sudden, he sees an angel.

Luke 1:11 – And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

The wording here is interesting.  It does not say that the angle suddenly arrived; it says that Zechariah finally saw him.  The angel may have been there for quite some time.  How many times are we surrounded by God’s angels of protection but we don’t see it?

Anyway, Gabriel has a two part message for Zechariah. The first part is for him personally.

Luke 1:13-14 – …your prayer has been heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness…

How amazing is that?  A personal notification that God was going to give Zechariah and Elizabeth the deepest desire of their hearts!  Not only a child, a son!  Their prayers have been answered!  But wait – there’s more! Not only will Elizabeth and Zechariah be blessed, John will be a blessing to the whole Jewish nation!  God is going to use him to prepare the hearts of the Jewish people for the soon coming Messiah, whom they have been waiting for, for literally hundreds of years.

Luke 1:14-17 – …and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord…and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

Now, stop and consider this scenario:  if you saw an angel right this moment and he told you that God was giving you the deepest desire of your heart, what would your response be? 

For most of us, the response would be unbounded excitement and gratitude, right?  We would jump up and down and rejoice and burst out with audible thankfulness.  We would already be making plans.  We would definitely try to get a selfie with the angel.  Then we would tell him to wait a minute, while we either send out a mass text or a tweet, letting everyone know that we were blessed!

The priest, however, does none of that.  Apparently, he has a moment of weakness and unbelief, despite the heavenly message.

Luke 1:18 – And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

For future reference, calling your wife “advanced in years” is a bad idea, but doubting a direct promise of God that comes straight from an angel who stands in His presence is an even worse idea!  What was he thinking?

Luke 1:20 – And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.

So Zechariah is immediately unable to speak. Most scholars believe he was also struck deaf, based on Luke 1:62 which says that when the baby was born, they “made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him [the baby] to be called” (if he could hear, they could just ask him instead of making signs).

Meanwhile, as all this is taking place, the crowd outside is getting restless.  Zechariah has been in the Holy place an unusually long time, and they are wondering what is going on.

Eventually he comes out, but obviously, he can’t tell them anything.  They realize he had seen a vision of some kind, but that is about all they can determine.  He ends up finishing his week of service, then going home.

Are you married?  Imagine what it would be like to live with a spouse that could not speak or hear for the better part of a year.  Be honest – Aren’t there times when that sounds like a desirable condition?  But all joking aside, I bet it was frustrating.

Since communication was difficult, I wonder if Zechariah stopped communicating every little thought that popped into his mind.  I think he began to really consider what he wanted to say before he made the effort to communicate.  I bet that when he did make the effort, he had something meaningful to say.  He sure had lots and lots of time to think about how his words affected his life.

Well, as we would expect, the words of the angel are indeed fulfilled in their time. 

You already know the end of the story; Elizabeth gives birth to a son, Zechariah names him ‘John’ as instructed, and instantly the priest is once again able to speak and hear.  Now he bursts out with vocal praise to God.  People take note of John as a person of future interest; it is clear that the hand of the Lord was upon him. 

So, what can we glean from the experience of Zechariah? 

Answer:  THE THINGS THAT YOU SPEAK MATTER TO GOD.

Let me say it again:  Just as in the case of Zechariah, your words affect your life. God is listening and he wants you to pay attention to what you are saying.

Matthew 10:36 – I [Jesus] tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

When Zechariah responded to the angelic messenger, he spoke words of unbelief, instead of faith and thanksgiving.  Remember, he was living under the old covenant (not the age of grace), which means he spoke unbelief in the very presence of God.  He deserved to be struck down and killed, but God did not do so.  He showed mercy to Zechariah and used him to teach us this powerful lesson about our words at the same time.

The bible has much to say about what you speak.  Here are two of many, many examples:

Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

1 Peter 3:10 – For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile…

We live in an era where communication is astonishingly quick and easy.  No other generation has ever had the potential to speak as we do.  Not only do we speak to people in person, we can call, text, Snapchat, skype, instant message, tweet, Facebook, YouTube and on and on and on… 

But I have to wonder – in this age of constant talking, are we saying things of value?

If our tongue really does have the power to give life and death, shouldn’t we pay attention to what we are saying?  Is it really a good idea to just communicate anything and everything that pops into our minds? Have you ever said/posted/tweeted/shared something that you later regretted?

Do any of these things sound familiar:

  • I’ll never get out of debt. 
  • It’s too late for me to find a spouse.  I will always be alone. 
  • kids are addicted/living in sin/making wrong choices.  I don’t think they will ever change.
  • Nothing every goes right for me.  I never get any good breaks.
  • I’m losing my mind.
  • I probably have Alzheimer’s.   My memory is shot. 
  • I am so stupid.
  • I’ll never have a son, I am too old (that one was from Zechariah)!

The good news is that we can learn from the lesson of Zechariah and going forward, we can change the way we speak. 

First, let’s take a look at how our words function in the spiritual realm.

Joyce Meyer tells us in her book, “Power Words, What You Say can Change Your Life”, that words are like containers of power that you sow into your life. They can contain power to destroy or power to create, depending on what you speak.

When you speak words that destroy, such as ‘I give up, my marriage will never work’, you are sowing destruction in your life in the spiritual realm.  If you speak words that are life-giving such as ‘I believe God is going to is going to heal my marriage’, you are sowing life and blessing into your situation in the spiritual realm.

Now that we have a better understanding of how our words affect ourselves and others, what can we do to ensure that we speak words of faith, encouragement and affirmation instead of unbelief and destruction? 

Once again, the bible has the answer.  Jesus tells us that the words we speak are a product of what we are thinking.

Matthew 12:34-35– You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Matthew 15:18-19 – But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts…

Our thoughts determine what we speak.  The words we speak play a big role in what happens in our lives.  The key, then, is to gain control over our mind and thoughts.

I’m sure you have already figured out that despite your salvation you may still have thoughts of lust, envy or (like Zechariah), unbelief.  [Also, many times we speak destructive words out of pure habit].  That is because your mind/thought life is not instantly regenerated when you receive Christ as your savior.  Rather, it is sanctified over time as you strive to control it.  Gaining control over your thoughts is part of spiritual warfare.

2 Corinthians 10:5 – We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ

You can choose to fill your mind with the things of God like scripture or praises or testimonies of God’s grace and mercy.  You can dwell on stories of triumph and love. When you dwell on those things, you will speak praise, thanksgiving and words of life to yourself and others.

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Stop and do a quick inventory of what you are watching, what you are reading and what video games you are playing.  Which of these things does your mind dwell on?  Do they affect you positively, negatively or not at all? What is coming out of your mouth as a result of what your mind is dwelling on?

Obviously, this little lesson is not an exhaustive study of the power of words and the importance of our thoughts.  It is up to you to look for good Christian sources to further assist you in making changes in your life.  Please do so!

In the meantime, what choices can you make right now that would make your thoughts (and by default your words) more pleasing to God and more beneficial to yourself and others?  Are you willing to take the first step? If you could ask Zechariah, I bet he would tell you to get started, because these issues are vitally important.

Let me offer you some words of ENCOURAGEMENT:  You can do all things (including this) through Christ.  With study and discipline, you can control your thoughts and bring them captive under Christ.  You can speak blessing into your situation. It won’t happen overnight.  There may be some struggles.  You may make mistakes from time to time, but getting your thoughts and words under control is going to make a big difference in your life. 

Proverbs 21:23 – Whosoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles.

Let me offer you some RELIEF:  You don’t have to do this on your own!  There are many, many good sources available to you from other believers who have taken control over this area of their lives.  They can offer you advice and helpful insights.  More importantly, the Holy Spirit is living right there inside your heart and it is his job to sanctify your life – including your thoughts and words!  He is standing by right now to help.

Let me offer you some words of STRENGTH: Speaking words of faith can break bondages in your life.  It can open the door for God to move in miraculous ways.  Even though this may be a long term process, the rewards will be worth it.  Take the first step today!

Jehoshaphat

2 Chronicles 17-20

The kingdom of Israel split into two parts around 930 BC.  The northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah.

Jehoshaphat was one of the kings of Judah.  He ruled in Jerusalem. His reign began around 872 BC and lasted 25 years.  The bible tells us that he was one of the few kings who followed after God.

1 Kings 22:42-43  – Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned 25 years in Jerusalem.  His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi.  He walked in all the way of Asa his father.  He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord…

Jehoshaphat was a successful king, who built a very strong military. He put garrisons in numerous cities and he established store cities in case of war.  1 Chronicles 17:14-19 tells us that he had over a million mighty men of valor in his service. 

Scripture also reveals that because he trusted in God and not in the might of his army, God blessed him.  The nations surrounding Judah had a fear of the Lord and they would not attack her. 

The Philistines (a long-time enemy of the Jews), not only refused to make war against Judah, but brought substantial tribute to Jehoshaphat.

Although Judah and Israel were enemies, Jehoshaphat eventually makes peace with Israel and the two nations join forces to attack common enemies such as Syria, Ammon and Moab.

As impressive as his military was, his true strength was found in his relationship with God.  It is clear that this man served the Lord with all his might. 

2 Chronicles 17: 6 – His [Jehoshaphat’s] heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord.  And furthermore, he took the high places and the Asherim out of Judah.

Let’s talk about the high places for a minute.  In general, this refers to altars that were erected on hilltops for purposes of worship and sacrifice.  While there were instances of these altars being dedicated to Jehovah, they were usually associated with false gods and wicked practices. 

The high places were a constant source of temptation/sin to God’s people.  These places of idolatry were often built up by the wicked kings and more or less tolerated by the more righteous kings; it seemed as though Judah and Israel could never fully stamp them out of existence. That is why it is so significant that Jehoshaphat was able to shut them down during his reign. 

In addition, Jehoshaphat had a great desire to teach the people of Judah about the law of God.  He sent priests and teachers throughout the nation to instruct the people in the ways of God.

2 Chronicles 17:7-9 – In the third year of his reign he sent his officials… and with them the Levites…and with the Levites the priests… and they taught in Judah, having the Book of the Law of the Lord with them.  They went about through all the cities of Judah and taught among of the people.   

He also established a court system based on the law of God, so that justice would prevail in the land.  I wish we had that today!

2 Chronicles 19:5-7 – He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city.  And he said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man, but for the Lord…let the fear of the Lord be upon you.  Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes”.

That is not to say that Jehoshaphat was a perfect man.  He made his share of wrong choices. 

Do you remember hearing about a very wicked king named Ahab?  Do you remember his equally wicked wife, Jezebel?  They were two of the most evil rulers in the era of the biblical monarchs.  Well, at one point Jehoshaphat had his daughter marry one of Ahab’s sons to cement a political bond between Judah and Israel.   Because of this bond, he fought in a war as an ally of Ahab.  Things did not go well for them – in fact, Ahab died in that particular battle! 

Later on, he made another alliance with a wicked king named Ahaziah.  The two of them built a number of ships for trade, but a prophet foretold that the ships would be destroyed because Jehoshaphat had entered into business with an evil man. Sure enough, he lost everything he had invested in that deal.     

But all things considered, things were going very well for Jehoshaphat.

He excelled at leading the nation.  The Lord gave him peace with other countries.  His plans prospered.  He had a good relationship with the Lord.  He had wealth and respect.  He was making a difference in his world by establishing a fair court system.  He brought his generation closer to the Lord through a public teaching campaign. 

I imagine that most of the citizens of Judah were happy to be living in such a peaceful, prosperous, righteous time (I know I would).

Our friend the king is busy doing good, seizing the day, serving God and doing what is right.  Then, all of a sudden, this happens:  

2 Chronicles 20:1-2 – After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Menunites came against Jehoshaphat for battle.  Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and behold, they are in Hazazontamar (that is, Engedi)”.

All of a sudden, the good king is facing an unexpected, unprovoked enemy attack of epic proportions. This was not just some little skirmish.  This was a full out war, with the very real possibility that Judah would cease to exist as a nation and all God’s people would be destroyed.  (Not to mention the painful, humiliating death that waited specifically for Jehoshaphat).   

2 Chronicles 20:3 – Then Jehoshaphat was afraid… 

What do you think was going through the king’s mind at this point? 

I bet one thing was all the horrible death and destruction that would be possible because of this attack.

I bet another thing was the universal thought ‘why me’ or ‘why would God allow this to happen’?  These are both good questions that come to the minds of all Christians who face trying circumstances.

I bet he wondered ‘what am I going to do?’ 

It’s time to see what is truly down in Jehoshaphat’s heart of hearts… will he try to fight this battle in his own strength, trusting in his army or will he seek God for an answer?

2 Chronicles 20:3 – … and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.

And so we find that Jehoshaphat does the thing that most true Christians do – he seeks the will of the Lord, believing that God will deliver him.  2 Chronicles 20:4-12 gives us the earnest, heartfelt, eloquent prayer that the Jehoshaphat prayed on behalf of the entire nation.  It is too long to quote here, but please take time to read it!

As we would expect, God answered his prayer:

2 Chronicles 20:13-15 – Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives and their children.  And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah…and he said, “Listen all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and king Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours, but God’s…”

God reassures his people that He is right there with them.  He also gives them instructions; they are to muster the army, go out to battle, stand firm, hold their position and watch what God will do on their behalf (verses 16-17).

So, the next day the people get ready.  But there was something unusual about the way this battle was fought.  The battle was not led by the infantry or the archers or any of the trained soldiers.  The Bible tells us that men in sacred robes went before the army singing praise to God.  The Bible goes on to reveal that victory came during the praise!

2 Chronicles 20:22 – And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.

God had the enemies of Judah turn on one another, until all of them were destroyed.  Then Judah went and collected all the plunder.  Then they returned to Judah and held another giant praise session to thank God for what he had done. 

Because of this great victory, God was glorified and known to all the other nations around Judah.  What a great testimony – and what great lesson! It is a lesson, because the principles contained in this narrative still apply to us today. 

Let’s switch gears for a moment and look at ourselves. 

I think that you and I are probably a lot like Jehoshaphat. If you are living in America, you can count yourself as prosperous.  You probably have a job that you like and you excel at it (if not, you at least have the opportunity to change it).  You are probably at peace with those around you.  Most likely you have the respect of your family, friends and coworkers. 

I bet you already have a personal relationship with Jesus, and you are probably doing things to influence others for Christ.  You may very well be part of an organization that is striving to bring justice to those who need it. 

Like Jehoshaphat, you may have made a bad decision or two which resulted in some hardships, but overall can you say that things are pretty good?  Can you see how blessed you are? Can you see the parallel between the ancient king and yourself?

Perhaps, like Jehoshaphat, you are facing a battle.  One day you were serving God and doing your best in life, when an unexpected, unprovoked attack comes upon you.  The attack has the potential to destroy you or someone you love.

Maybe the attack comes in the form of a sickness or a financial loss.  Perhaps it comes in the form of an addiction or maybe your house is destroyed in a flood or wild fire.  Regardless of what it is, the source of the attack is clear.

John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I [Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

  • What went through your mind when the enemy attacked?  Did fear come upon you as it did the good king?
  • Did you think of all the horrible consequences that would be possible because of this attack?
  • Did you wonder ‘why me’ or ‘why would God allow this to happen’?
  • Did you ask yourself ‘what am I going to do’?

Although your first instinct might be to try and solve this problem yourself, I suggest you follow the pattern of king Jehoshaphat.

First, seek the Lord in prayer.  Take your situation before God as the king did.  Fast if you feel it is necessary.  Create a time and an atmosphere where you can hear God speak to your heart.  Jehoshaphat took action, but only after he had a word from God.

Then begin to praise and worship your heavenly Father for the victory!

Don’t praise based on your circumstances; praise God based on His goodness and power.  Praise Him for his attributes and mercy.  Praise him for his loving protection and provision.  Praise him for all things!

The scripture tells us that God inhabits our praise.  When we praise him, it is an open door for him to come into our situation and make changes. 

In his book Destined for the Throne, author Paul Billheimer tells us “Praise and God’s presence are on the same wavelength: they attract one another. Though God is everywhere at once, He is not necessarily everywhere in benign influence.  Where joyful, happy praise is expressed, God is powerfully and compassionately active.”

So, let me give you some Encouragement: When you pray, God hears you. God saw the faith of Jehoshaphat and he will see your faith too. When we trust in our Heavenly Father, we are never put to shame. He is all powerful, he loves you and he has your best interest in mind.

Let me give your some Relief: The battle belongs to the Lord, not to you! The pressure is off. Jehoshaphat stood in faith, then sent mighty praises to the God of Heaven. In turn, God moved on his behalf. God defeated the enemy that the king could not. The same is true for you. Offer mighty praises to God and let him fight for you.

Let me offer you some Strength: Stand firm upon the promises of God! Find a scripture that speaks to your situation and put your faith into it. Don’t give up – God wants your test to become a testimony, so stand strong. The battle may take longer than you thought, but God is working all things together for your good. You can make it through this trial victoriously, with God’s help!