MESSAGES/SERMONS

 


THE DEMANDS OF DISCIPLESHIP

                          Text: Luke 9:57-62

INTRODUCTION

Jesus of Nazareth was a provocative teacher. Some of His sayings are puzzling, others embarrassing and disturbing. He told stories that turned conventional view of God upside down. What, for example, are we to do with His talk of hating parents or cutting off one’s hand or foot? He set the claims of God’s kingdom above the most sacred of duties and relationships.  The call to discipleship meant that possessions, security, home, and even family were now dispensable. He challenged those who would become His disciples to give up everything they held dear.

As we have seen in our text, Jesus responds to three candidates for discipleship in ways that emphasize the conflict between discipleship and desires for a home and normal family relationships. 

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. He had turned His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. Enthusiasm and excitement ran high. Not even his closet disciples comprehended what was ahead: a lonely figure on the cross between two thieves.

In this passage that we have just read, we can conveniently deduce three demands of discipleship.

First, Detachment. Detachment from what?  Detachment from everything that prevents progress towards God’s ultimate.

The first saying shows that Jesus seeks no flippant, shallow decision to follow Him. Following Jesus means becoming a stranger and exile on earth.

A man approaches Jesus, as they were walking on the road to Jerusalem, and says, “I will follow you wherever you go”—very commendable.  The man was attracted to Jesus.  He had witnessed the miracles of healing. He had seen Jesus feed 5000 people. This man thought all his problems would be solved if he went with Jesus.

 Jesus looked at that man and said: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

This is a challenge to our comfortable lifestyle. Jesus said to you and me that we must detach ourselves from everything that prevents our progress towards God’s ultimate. Jesus tells us here that even the most basic “needs” must be sacrificed in order to follow Him.

Don’t pity Jesus for having “no place to lay His head.” Pity yourself if you have a home that hold you back, when Christ wants you out upon the high places of the world. Pity yourself if you are rooted anywhere, when He would have you move to some other place in your pilgrimage with Him towards the Cross, and for human redemption.

Homelessness has been Jesus’ fate from the start. A disciple of Jesus must realize that following Him means living as a stranger in the world.  “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Think aloud with me: How could our LORD use such an insensitive approach in dealing with a sinner who comes Him?  He was like saying: “You don’t realize who you would be following. I don’t have a home to call my own. I cannot guarantee one for you. I am totally dependent day by day on people giving me a place to sleep; so you will be.” Our LORD was not motivated to humiliate this man. . 

 Jesus’ point to this man is that if you want to follow Me, don’t think your physical life is going to improve.  Don’t think comfort is awaiting you.

He was not discouraging this man, but telling him the truth.  Jesus was making this man to consider the fact that following Him would require commitment and cost.

Foxes have holes and birds of air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.

Jesus want this man to know from the start what he is getting himself into. He did not want this man to turn on Him later on and protest, “You never told me it would be like this . . .”   Just the way with me.

Jesus is not laying down a rule. He is not saying, “Everyone who follows me must sell their houses and give up their possessions.”

Jesus would not have us ignorant that we shall have deadly enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil, and that many will hate us, slander us, and persecute us, if we become His disciples.  He does not wish to discourage us, but He does wish us to know the truth.

IF WE ARE NOT READY TO TAKE PART IN THE AFFLICTIONS OF CHRIST, WE MUST NEVER EXPECT TO SHARE HIS GLORY. Christ does not do away with temptations or trials. His life was full of temptations and trials. Commitment to Christ is not getting away from all problems of the future. BUT HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR US.

That is the first demand: Detachment from everything that prevents progress towards God’s ultimate goal for our lives.

Secondly, ABANDONMENT of our worldly ties.

NEXT we have the man to whom Jesus said, “Follow me.” Matthew tells us that this man was a disciple, so the LORD was calling him, not to become a disciple, but to join Him in the business of proclaiming the Good news of the Kingdom of God.

But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'
Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' " (9:59-60)

Again, let us reason together: Now if the man's father has just died,  what in the world is the man doing hanging around Jesus, walking along with Him towards Jerusalem? He should be home making funeral arrangements! It's obvious that his father is NOT dead at all. Not even seriously ill, or the man would be asking Jesus for healing. Think about it, if his father had died, he would have been busy with family preparing for the funeral.

It is helpful to know the customs and culture of Jesus’ day.  Based on Jesus’ response, it is apparent that the young man’s father was not dead and awaiting burial. His father was not dead, but he was expressing devotion to his father. The young man had employed a common saying of the day which in essence meant, “Let me wait until I receive my inheritance,” then I will follow you.  Knowing this, cast a completely different light on the conversation; the young man was not asking Jesus for permission to bury his recently deceased father, instead he was postponing his obedience to Christ until it was convenient and economically feasible for him.  The young man was depending on his earthly father to provide the necessary security, in the form of his inheritance, that he needed in order to follow Jesus.

He was basically saying to Jesus that he could not possibly go away as long as his father was alive.  He meant: I want to come. I would like to come, but I have home ties and responsibilities that hold me. I cannot follow You while my father is living. I will have to stay until he has passed over, and then I will make the great adventure.

Jesus wants this man to understand the urgency of the mission that He’s called us to.

Jesus' answer seems to run counter to family responsibilities. "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus is saying in the strongest possible terms that following him must come before every responsibility we have -- even those which we hold sacred (see 1 Timothy 5:8).

 Jesus is reminding us how easy it is to make excuses and become distracted.

Let the spiritually dead concern themselves with the physically dead, Jesus says. We have a message of life! Go and proclaim the kingdom of God: it's urgent.

Once again, Jesus is not laying down a rule. He is not saying a Christian should never go to his parent's funeral. That would be absurd. But what he is saying to this man is "Change your priorities!" Don't let the business of this world get in the way of urgently proclaiming God's kingdom.

Don't let career, or comfort, or security or family or any of the business of this world get in the way of telling people about Jesus.

 In refusing the request Jesus describes a demand that is greater than this important family responsibility, even a divine command to honour father and mother. Jesus sees himself as bringing in a new era. With Messianic authority, He is able to set priorities that go beyond the surface of the Ten Commandments. The new Moses has come. So following Jesus is a top priority.  Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that even the “best” excuse – one that is reasonable from a human standpoint – is not an acceptable reason for postponing discipleship. Nothing is to block the pursuit of discipleship, and nothing is to postpone it.  Devotion to others, even those dearest to us, must come second to our devotion to God.

Jesus tells us in Luke 14:26—“If anyone come to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

 I TELL YOU THIS:  PUT GOD FIRST AND LET OTHERS FIND THEIR RIGHTFUL PLACE IN YOUR LIFE.

Jesus’ call to discipleship demands detachment from everything that prevents our progress towards God’s ultimate goal. Second, it also demands abandonment of nearest family and worldly ties.

 

And thirdly, Jesus’ call to discipleship demands Faithfulness or TOTAL COMMITMENT TO HIS CALL.

 Yes, Jesus demands unqualified commitment. Loyalty to Christ supersedes all other loyalties.

The third person says I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.

Once again, Jesus' reply seems harsh, No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.

On the surface his meaning is clear: Jesus is demanding 100% focus and single-mindedness in his followers. The picture is of a farmer guiding a plough drawn by oxen. Unless he focuses completely on his goal, the furrows will not be straight and he's wasting his time.

What Jesus is doing here is making an allusion to an incident in the Old Testament. His hearers, who knew the Old Testament thoroughly, would have known exactly what he was saying.

Let’s go to 1 Kings 19:19-21.    So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. "Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye", he said, "and then I will come with you". "Go back", Elijah replied. "What have I done to you"? So Elisha returned from following Elijah, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then Elisha arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.

Elisha asks Elijah the same thing as this man asked Jesus: Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye and then I will come with you. And Elijah lets Elisha do that. By responding to the man in terms of ploughing, Jesus is making a connection with this event.

But Jesus DID NOT let the man go back to say goodbye to his own family! What's going on?

First, what Jesus is saying here is, I am more important, more unique, more special than Elijah. Elijah was the most important Prophet in the whole Old Testament, and the Jews rightly thought very highly of him. If you come back to Luke 9 you can see that Elijah has already been mentioned four times in this chapter: most recently in verse 30 at the transfiguration.

Jesus is saying, you rightly think highly of Elijah: but I am more important. It was OK for Elijah to let Elisha say goodbye to his parents, but now the stakes have been raised. I am more important than Elijah. I am more significant than anything or anyone you have dealt with before. I am Alpha and Omega.

So Jesus demands that his followers cherish him above all else in the world. Jesus is the one for whom and through whom the universe was created. He is the radiance of God's glory. Yet He humbled himself to death on a cross. How can we not cherish him with all our hearts?

Second, Jesus emphasizes the consequences of disobedience, when he states that the person who looks back not “fit for the kingdom of God.”  The original language here is helpful; the Greek word translated “fit” is “euthetos,” which means useful, fit, or suitable.  The same word is used in Luke 14:35 to describe salt that is worthless, “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out…”  The idea being that a person who looks back, who focuses on anything or anyone other than Jesus renders himself useless to the kingdom of God. 

If we follow Jesus we must always be looking at where He is leading. If we look away we will go astray. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

In verse 61, the man actually utters a contradiction. I will follow you, Lord, but...  If Jesus is Lord, there can be no objections. If we impose our agenda on him, then He is not Lord. Following Jesus is an all-or-nothing commitment.

Conclusion

These sayings are of one piece.  This passage brings out with real force the separation from family that Jesus demands of disciples.  Jesus forcefully places Himself and the reality of God’s rule above the very best of all human commitments and priorities. In the world Jesus is creating for those who follow Him, God’s claim is above all other claims.

Jesus’ call to discipleship is a summon to change, a call to experience the world in a new way, an invitation to a new understanding of God, an appeal to reorder human relationships in the light of this picture of God.

These hard sayings of Jesus remind us that no barrier to our commitment to the work of God’s kingdom may be allowed to stand. That is the essence of discipleship.  Following Jesus has its cost.  It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. It will cost us our sins, our self-righteousness, our easy life, and our worldliness.  All must be given up.  HE BIDS US “COUNT THE COST.”  Following Jesus will cost you your personal comfort: it will cost you your personal security; and it will cost you your personal relationship.

Please ponder these questions with me…

What comfort or possession do you have that you are unwilling to release in order to follow Christ?

What are you depending on for your security; who are you trusting to provide your needs?

What relationships are you placing before your obedience to Christ?

If you are a Christian this morning you may find all this very daunting. However, if you want to follow Jesus, be prepared to die with Him.

I know in my sinful heart that I do not measure up well against Jesus’ demands. But I also know that He will make us fit to follow Him.

Perhaps you are not a Christian, but if Jesus is calling you to follow Him, now you know what it means. Now you know what it will cost. It could cost you everything, but it will gain you everything as well.

If you want to make a make a commitment to follow Jesus, then join me in this prayer.

I

              THE GOOD SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP

                            Text: JOHN 10: 11-18

 

A man was arrested and taken to court for stealing a sheep. The man protested that he did not steal the sheep, it belonged to him. When the case went to court, the judge asked for the sheep to be brought into the courtroom. He ordered the suspect into the hallway and told him to call the sheep. When he did so, the sheep made no response. Then, the judge asked the other man to do the same. When the sheep heard his voice, it ran towards the man. It was obvious that the sheep recognized the voice of its owner. The judge said, “He knows his sheep and his sheep know him – case dismissed”

All of us like to be known. We especially like to be known by persons who have power and influence. But the lament, “Nobody knows the trouble I am facing,” is too often our plaintive cry. The Gospel story proclaims that the risen Christ knows His own, and they know Him.

V. 11-13 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  This passage is describing what God in Jesus will do for us. Jesus is making A REALISTIC statement. He is not only describing what a good shepherd does and will do. He is also making the claim that he is the good shepherd. Therefore, it must have seemed quite strange and troubling for Jesus' friends and followers to hear Jesus tell them that he was the good shepherd. After all, they knew who the good shepherd was -- God. The scriptures were filled with images of God as the shepherd of the chosen people.

 Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the best known references, "The Lord is my shepherd." (Psalm 23:1). The Psalm paints the picture of a loving, caring God the Shepherd providing food, comfort, and shelter. They knew that they were God’s people and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 79:13). Isaiah 40:11, “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock; In his arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom. . .”  The prophet Ezekiel had told them that God was angry with shepherds who took advantage of and abandoned their sheep. God declared, "I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God." (Ezekiel 34:11, 15) How could Jesus say that he was the good shepherd? 

There are really 4 characters in these verses: The Good Shepherd, The Hired Hand, The Wolf and The Sheep. First of all, let’s examine the characteristics of the sheep.

THE SHEEP

• Dirty: Their wool gets dirty and they can’t do anything about it.

• Defenceless: Sheep have no means to protect themselves. Some of us are feeble and sometimes our only defence is to run away from our problems. We are also helpless without a caretaker.

Dependent: Sheep require more attention than any animal. Sheep have no homing instinct and cannot find their way home without a shepherd to guide them.

Dumb: Sheep, if left to themselves, will destroy themselves. To call someone a sheep may allude that they are timid or easily led.

Throughout the Bible the Lord calls us sheep because we too are dirty, defenceless, dependent and dumb, yet He calls himself the Good Shepherd who will take care of us.

THE HIRED HAND

The bible also tells us what a hired hand looks like.

Ezekiel 34- The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill.

The shepherds of ancient Israel focused more on what they can get out of the sheep, the flock of the LORD. The same thing is happening in our days. Many pastors are not serving the church the way that Jesus Christ did.

One of the condemnations that God was giving to these hired men was the fact they took all of the good things from their flock but refused to tend to those who are desperately in need.

A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs from it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.  I visited a Redeemed Church in Luton one time. The invited preacher was telling the congregation that today was the final day for them to bring £100 and he would pray for them and the UK government will issue them their resident permits. Everyone was rushing to borrow from one another to meet up the price. I asked myself: what of those of us who are UK citizens?

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

The Greek word kalos translated “good” suggests nobility or worth. (Jesus is the worthy Shepherd and He is worthy of our praise.)  “I am the Shepherd, the Good.” The good Shepherd dies for the sheep. “I lay down my life for the sheep.” This means more that death; it declares that the life laid down is placed at the disposal of the sheep.  Jesus died in conflict with the wolf; and then through that dying He released His life, that the sheep may share it, and by sharing, possess that which make them also more than conquerors over the destroying wolf.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He does not merely risk his life, He lays it down, in line with the Father’s will. Far from being accidental, Jesus’ death is precisely what qualifies him to be the good shepherd. And by His death, far from exposing His flock to further ravages, he draws them to himself.

Jesus sacrificed His life for us. The sheep are in danger; in their defence the shepherd loses his life; by His death they are saved. That, and that alone, is what make Jesus the good shepherd.

 

The meaning of the wolf: The wolf is the person who is hostile to

the Kingdom of God. The wolf is that Evil One, the devil, acting by means of all the enemies of the Church. All spiritual enemies who are bent on destroying the Church of Christ are wolves. The wolves are the false teachers, pastors and prophets who come in sheep’s clothing. Wolves are those who pretend to be in unity with the sheep just long enough to come in and drag sheep away into sin.  They look and talk like sheep, but they expose who they are by their fruits, false teaching and false prophecies. Jesus spoke of “false prophets” as “ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves).  He sent forth The Twelve “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16); and The Seventy were as “lambs among the wolves” (Luke 10:3). Paul predicted that wolves would try to destroy the flock of God (Acts 20:29). All these wolves are related to the Wolf, the Devil, who waits to snatch and devour the sheep.

But over against the ferocious wolf there is the faithful, all powerful Shepherd protecting His sheep. The believers’ security cannot be broken or destroyed, for with the cross behind us, we know that no enemy can destroy us. None can pluck us out of the Mighty Jesus’ Hand. Our preservation is guaranteed. We shall never perish. 

The Good Shepherd knows His sheep.

Jesus said in vv. 14 & 15, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

The Greek word: ginosko – to know experientially, was used as a Jewish idiom for physical intimacy. This is not book knowledge, but personal knowledge. In the Hebrew, knowledge means EXPERIENCING something. Thus, for the Hebrew people, ‘knowledge of God’ means entering into a relationship with God.

Jesus knows His sheep, and they know Him. There is an intimate knowledge between Jesus and His sheep. “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3 NASB).   God knows everything about us. He knows us by name, individually and personally. He knows us in all our joys and blessings. He knows us in all our trials and sorrows. He knows us in all our wanderings and stumbling. He knows us in all our need and lack.

Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd because he knows the sheep and the sheep know him. The Good Shepherd provides because he knows our basic need; He pilots because he knows our need for direction; He protects because he knows our need for security; He pursues because he knows our need for compassion and how easily we are led astray. The good Shepherd promised us that “goodness and mercy will pursue us . . .” Goodness of God supplies our needs, and His mercy blots out our sins.

 Jesus knows you and wants you to know Him. He knows everything about you – good and bad – and He loves you anyway. You matter to Him.

“I know my sheep and my sheep know me:” This is a reciprocal relationship – He knows the sheep and the sheep know the shepherd. They know His voice, His touch, His compassion, His love, and His discipline – and we experience His leading every day. Do you know this relationship?

We are one with Him as He could say, “My Father and I are one.” We are fully recognized by Him.

Perfect knowledge existed between Father and Son. In the same way the Shepherd has a comprehensive and perfect knowledge of each of His sheep. Nothing is hidden from Him. Psalm 139: 3-4 says: You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You, LORD, know it completely.”

JESUS CHRIST DESIRES ONE FLOCK

   V. 16. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

If Jesus says that there are other sheep, then we must identify the original sheep that the “others” are different from.

True sheep are those who listen to the voice of the shepherd and follow him and know him. Jesus can only be speaking here of the true sheep of Israel because, up to that point, His ministry was confined to the lost sheep of Israel.

In this verse, Jesus refers to the “other sheep,” and those can only be sheep that are outside of Israel, in other words, Gentiles. Jesus makes it clear that the Gentile sheep would also hear His voice and follow Him. Eventually, there would be only one flock and one Shepherd.

The death of the Good Shepherd embraces all people.

The Jews formed one fold, and the Gentiles another fold. Jesus died to gather both into a single flock. The visible Church on earth may consists of many denominational folds, but all who are one in Christ Jesus, form one flock.

THE FATHER’S LOVE

17 “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 Of His own will, the good Shepherd gave Himself up to die. His life was not taken from Him by the Roman crucifiers; His life was willingly given. His death was absolutely self-determined and voluntary. Looking at the crucifixion from God’s perspective assures us that no part of it took place outside’s God’s plan.

Jesus died and rose again by His own volition. He gave His life as

a ransom for sinners and triumphed over death on their behalf. Jesus had no obligation to die. Since He had never sinned, death had no dominion. Further, as He was let out to die, He could have commanded twelve legions of angels to deliver Him from His crucifiers. But the glory of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ, of His own free will, went out to die for sinners like you and I.

CONCLUSION and INVITATION

A little girl named Adejoke walked to and from school each day. Though the weather one morning was questionable and clouds were forming, she made her daily trek to her primary school. As the day progressed, the winds picked up with thunder and lightning.

The mother of the little girl was worried that her daughter would be frightened as she walked home from school, and she feared the electrical storm might harm her child.  Following the roar of the thunder, lightning would rip through the sky.

Concerned, the mother got into her car and drove along the route to her child’s school. Soon she saw her daughter walking along, but at each flash of lightning, the child would stop, look and smile.

One lightning flash followed another, each with the little girl stopping, looking at streak of light and smiling.

Finally, the mother called her over to the car and asked, “What are you doing?”  Adejoke answered, “God keeps taking pictures of me.”

God knows you well. God keeps on taking pictures of you wherever you turn. Before you utter a word from your mouth, God knows it all. Jesus said “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Are you one of his sheep? And if you are not, will you accept him as your Shepherd and become one of His sheep? He will make you lie down in green pasture where you will find food, peace, rest, refreshment, calmness, and satisfaction.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden (burdened), and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Who will you follow, the hired hand or the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd is calling His sheep this morning.   Whose voice do you seek and follow?Do you know the shepherd’s voice? We have a worthy shepherd

If you are making that decision to make Jesus your Shepherd, please pray this simple prayer with me:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and need Your forgiveness. I believe that You died for my sins.  I want to turn from my sins. I now invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my LORD and Saviour. In your name, Lord Jesus, I pray. Amen.


I

      NO EMPTY TOMB, NO SAVIOUR

                             LUKE 24:1-12

When you heard the word “Easter”, what does it suggest to you?

If you are a Christian, it should say to you, ‘the celebration of the risen Lord Jesus from the dead.’ The first century Christians never celebrated “Easter”. They celebrated Pascha or Resurrection Sunday; that is, a feast celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Today is not Easter. Today is Resurrection Sunday. The modern English word “Easter” developed from an Old English word “Eostre” or “Eastre.”  The word “Easter” is derived from the name of an Old English or Germanic goddess of spring, Eostre.

Only in English speaking countries Resurrection Sunday is called Easter. In Latin and Greek, this Christian celebration was, and still is, called Pascha. The word originally denoted the Jewish festival known in English as Passover, commemorating the Jewish Exodus from slavery in Egypt, a festival in remembrance of how the LORD passed over the house of the Israelites and killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast (Exodus 12). KJV gives Easter as a rendering of Pascha, e. g. Acts 12:4.

 In the first century Paul applied the word Pesach (Passover) to Christ and interpreted it as speaking about the death of Jesus and not just about the Jewish Passover ritual. In 1 Cor. 5:7 Paul says: For Christ our Pascha (Passover) has been sacrificed.”  Apostle Paul did not say, “For Christ our Eostre (Easter) has been sacrificed.” In most of the non-English speaking world, Resurrection Sunday is known as Pascha. (French paques; Italian pasqua.)So much for the introduction. Let us come now directly to our text.

THE EMPTY TOMB (vv. 1-3) Jesus is dead, and his followers assume that He remains dead. The women come to the tomb because that is where they saw the body of Jesus was placed after his crucifixion. They bring the spices along to anoint the body of Jesus, to show proper respect for the dead. The discovery of the empty tomb does not lead to an easy change of perspective. It brings confusion, not clarity. People that are dead remain dead. The best one can do is to treat them with respect.

 THE FULFILLMENT OF THE PROPHETIC WORD (vv.4-8)

The women receive a word that runs counter to what they know to be true. "Why do you look for the Living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen."

 This is the first recorded announcement of Jesus’ resurrection.  As the angels pointed out, the news should come as no surprise to anyone who had been the disciples of Jesus in Galilee. On at least three occasions He had predicted His death and resurrection.

Now consider the gentle rebuke given in this verse 5: “Why do you look for the Living among the dead?” Another translation says: “Why do you seek the Living One among the dead?” If you’re looking for someone who is alive why do you go to a cemetery? But the thing was, the women were not looking for someone who is alive. They were looking for their dead miracle worker, their dead Rabbi, to give him a befitting embalmment. They never expected the tomb to be empty. The angels ask a startling question: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" They are in a tomb looking for a dead man. But a grave is no place to find the living Christ, the angels declared. A grave is the last place to look when you are seeking Life. Had these women understood Jesus’ teaching, they would not have come to His tomb to complete His burial. They would have been eagerly anticipating His return from the grave. What is most striking is that the women encounter the resurrection through this message. They are told that Jesus has risen, but they do not see the risen Jesus himself. What they have is a word, a message.

 Jesus’ predictions of His death and resurrection were precise. He said He would be crucified in Jerusalem at the instigation of the Jewish religious leaders, and would rise on third day following His death (Matt. 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:17-19).  Sometimes we marvel that Jesus’ disciples did not anticipate His resurrection.  But we should remember that Jesus often spoke in parables and figures of speech. The disciples could easily think this talk of death and resurrection was some type of parable.  They had always thought the Messiah would conquer and rule; they could not believe He would be killed by enemies.

V. 8. And they remembered His words. Here we see illustrated a key step in the process of developing a faith in Jesus Christ. Faith begins with our focusing upon the Word of God. As Paul declares in Romans 10:17. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Better translation is “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of (or concerning) Christ.”

Jesus had spoken the Prophetic Word of God when He had predicted His death and resurrection. When the angel directed the women back to those divine words, this angel was pointing them to the source of a true faith in the risen Saviour.  If we want to grow in our faith in Jesus Christ, we too need to focus upon the Word we have been given.

 The Challenge of Faith (vv. 9-11)  

The women reported their experience to a number of disciples of Jesus, including the apostles who are now called the eleven because Judas had hanged himself (Matt. 27:5).

Luke 8:2, 3 says many women in Galilee provided financial support and hospitality for Jesus during His ministry in that region. They began this after He healed them with His divine powers. Some of these women faithfully attended to Him even after His death.

The men who had received the most training by Jesus were not prepared to accept the idea of His resurrection. For most of the disciples and apostles, faith did not come until they personally saw the risen LORD.

Why did the apostles not believe the women when they returned with the Good News?  Because women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Jewish culture.  Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they were not even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of law. The Jewish Oral Law reads: “From women let not evidence be accepted because of the levity (carefreeness, tendency to treat serious matter as being funny) and temerity of their sex (boldness, their willingness to do or say something that shocks or upset other people)”. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb and they were the discoverers of the empty tomb showed us that the gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing.

We are all given a message of resurrection, which flies in the face of what we know to be true. The only logical response to such a message is unbelief. Experience teaches that death wins. The Resurrection Sunday message says that Jesus lives. When such contradictory claims collide, it only makes sense to continue affirming what we already know. The women bring the message of resurrection to the others, and they respond as thinking people regularly respond: they thought that the message was "an idle talk, and they did not believe them" (24:11).

Unbelief does not mean that people believe nothing. Rather, it means that they believe something else. People say "I don't believe it" because there is something else that they believe more strongly. (When I became a Christian and the Spirit of the Risen Jesus said to me that I am going to preach the Good News and He would send me to USA to be trained, I did not believe it. I was wearing faded clothes as a secondary school teacher. I was poorer than a church rat. I asked myself: How would I get money to get a passport? How would I get money to buy the flight tickets? Who is going to pay my school fees and up-keeping expenses in the US? All these questions weighed me down. The rest is history.) The Resurrection Sunday message challenged our certainties. Jesus lives. His life for your life, so that you never die. You will rise. And there is nothing uncertain about that. What is the most unbelievable and unexpected thing about Resurrection Sunday morning? That your life and my life will not end in death, because Jesus’ life did not.  Death is real, but it is not final. In Jesus, life gets the last word.

 The Resurrection Sunday message calls you from your old belief in death to a new belief in life. The claim that the tomb could not hold Jesus, and the idea that the one who died by crucifixion has now risen is shockingly outrageous and unacceptable.  “My soul does magnify the LORD and my spirit praise His name. . . .

The apostles seemed convinced that the message was sheer nonsense, rubbish (24:11). Death was death. Yet the message was so outrageous that Peter had to go and take a look for himself (24:12). He had to wonder, "What if it is true?"

Go ahead and tell God that you think it is outrageous (shocking and unacceptable) to expect anyone to believe that Jesus has risen. Go ahead and tell God that you believe that death gets the final word. None of this is news to God. Before I became a Christian I thought it was all nonsense too.

The Verification (v. 12)

While they may not believe that Jesus is risen, they are certainly concerned that his body is missing. Peter runs to the sepulchre.

When he gets to the tomb, he goes inside and bends over the shelf on which Jesus' body had been placed. "Bending over" is the Greek verb parakupto, "bend over," but here it has the added meaning of "to bend over for the purpose of looking, with focus on satisfying one's curiosity, taking a proper look, making sure he does not miss any tiny detail."

What he sees in the new tomb is troubling -- "the strips of linen (Greek othonion) lying by themselves."  Not scattered about the tomb but lying together by themselves.

The Church Father Chrysostom observed, "If anyone had removed the body, he would not have stripped it first, nor would he have taken the trouble to remove and roll up the napkin and put it in a place by itself." As Peter surveys the scene, it becomes pretty clear that the body wasn't stolen.

Something remarkable has taken place, but Peter cannot quite fathom what it is. Not yet. He goes away "wondering to himself what had happened."  "Wondering" in the Greek means "to be extraordinarily impressed or disturbed by something." He is amazed, but not yet believing that Jesus is raised from the dead, as the women already do.

The historical fact of the resurrection is the foundation stone of the Christian faith. Years later, the Apostle Paul declares the same truth:

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The Meaning of the Empty Tomb

The empty tomb means one thing and one thing only – Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Jesus Christ has conquered death. He has conquered death not only for Himself but also for every one of us who calls Him Lord and Saviour. The meaning of empty tomb is the glory of salvation; the glory of life. What we are celebrating is our salvation. No Resurrection, no Saviour. No salvation, no forgiveness.

But what does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us?  It means many things, but this morning I want to focus on the question the angel asked the women: Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

The question is not only addressed to the women, but also to us: Why are you looking for life in places which are dead and empty?

At one level, of course, the women weren’t seeking the Living; they came to Jesus’ tomb to embalm a dead body.   But at a deeper level, they were seeking, just as we are all seeking, to find that which truly satisfies.

It has long been recognised that there is within the human heart a restlessness and a deep longing for something which can satisfy.  We look in all sorts of places for this fulfilment.  Have you ever noticed what happens when you want something very badly, and then you get it?  You have longed for it, such as a qualification, or a new job, or a pay rise.  You think that when you get it you will be satisfied, and that will be enough.  But you find that it doesn’t quite work like that, and your heart is not satisfied, and you want more, and press on to the next goal.  May be the angel’s question is actually God’s question to you today, Why do you seek the living among the dead. He is not here, he is risen!  Why are you looking for satisfaction in places which can never satisfy your restless heart?

 

Our problem is that we seek fulfilment in the thing that cannot satisfy. We must recognise that that which fulfils lies beyond the created thing.  The thing itself can never give life, and is only a dumb idol.   Our partner can never meet this inner longing; we put unrealistic expectations on them, and then wonder why the relationship breaks up; and we are left with a broken heart.  Marriage is of course a great blessing, but our husband/wife cannot meet our inner restlessness.

People seek fulfilment in wealth, and yet never have enough.  Others seek satisfaction in intellectual pursuits, and yet they are not satisfied.

 I admonish all of us to seek the Living One – Jesus Christ the Redeemer of our souls.   He lived as a human being; He was without sin and died for our sins; He is risen from the dead; and He lives for evermore!  Stop looking in empty tombs, in places where there is no life.  We will only find the Living One as we look up and knock at heaven’s door.

It was Augustine who said, “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

 

We are made in the image of God.  This means we have an inbuilt need, and an inbuilt capacity to relate to God.  To be fulfilled is to be filled by God.  But because of our fallenness, our brokenness,  we try to fulfil this need by looking in the wrong places.  We substitute the created thing for the Creator, but the consequence is spiritual deadness and emptiness.   But Jesus, through his life and death was victorious over sin and death, and He is risen!  He is the Living One who fills us.

Therefore for our lives to be fulfilled, we need to look in the right place, to turn from our sin and unbelief, and put our faith in Christ.  As we do we will meet Him, the Living One, the giver of life, who meets our deepest need.

 

Conclusion and Invitation: My conclusion is, if there had been no empty tomb, faith in Jesus would be foolish. Why put faith in a dead Messiah? A dead man cannot save anyone. In Romans 1:4, Paul tells us that Jesus Christ “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.”

Do you know the resurrection power of Jesus Christ? Have you personally accepted His finished work on Calvary as payment for your sin? If you were to die today, do you know for sure where you would spend eternity? You can know it today! The invitation this morning is for you to receive Christ. And will you receive the risen Christ as your LORD and Saviour?

Perhaps I am speaking to some today who have known the power of the resurrection in their lives, but have not walked with Christ for some time now.

Something happened, but no matter the reason or the situation, you can get back in a right relationship with Christ today! Will you humble yourself before God this morning? He will forgive you and restore unto you the joy of your salvation.

He is not a dead Christ to whom I point to you today. No preacher can make a listener believe that the dead rise. But God can. He did mine and He would do yours too. Jesus is risen, and He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him. May Divine grace melt your heart.  May the power of God draw you to Christ, where alone your soul can find satisfaction and peace.

Please pray this prayer with me in your heart, if you have made a decision to follow Jesus or to renew your commitment to Him.

Lord Jesus, thank You for dying for me. Thank You for paying for my sin with Your blood on the Cross. I believe it and I receive it. Now by faith I accept You into my heart, into my life as my LORD and Saviour.

Forgive my sins. Cleanse me; save me. I give my life to You. And I receive You as my LORD and Saviour.

Now LORD Jesus, I belong to You. I will not be ashamed of You.  I will live for You the rest of my life. I am weak. You are Strong. So begin now to make me the person You want me to be and give me the strength now to make this public. In Your Name, LORD Jesus, I pray. Amen.

If you have prayed this prayer with me, please complete the Decision Card and write your prayer request at the back. Please hand it over  to me. Thank you very much. GOD BLESS



 LIMITING THE UNLIMITED GOD     

Texts: Ps 78:22, “Because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in His salvation.”

 1 Corinthians 10:11-15, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

Last week I preached on The Tragedy of Limiting God. Using the examples of the Israelites we learnt what happened to the lot of them for limiting God in what He can do for them and through them. The people of God limited the Creator through idolatry, sexual looseness, testing and grumbling.  

Paul S. Rees, in an article entitled, God in Shackles, writes these words: “It is we who put shackles upon God. We cannot keep Him from managing the stars above us, but we can prevent Him from managing the soul within us.” What a description of what modern man has done with the God who created him and the God who wants to work His will within him.

 

‌We limit the unlimited God. The word “limit” means “to set a mark upon” or “to set boundaries upon.” It is putting God in a neat little box so He won't interfere with the way we live our lives. It is confining Him to a straight-jacket so He can't carry out His divine and dedicated purpose within us. It is drawing a boundary line beyond which He must not pass.

So we have limited God through selfishness.

LIMITING GOD THROUGH SELFISHNESS

When you read the whole of Psalm 78 we would see that the Israelites limited God through their selfishness. They were selfish, base, mean and full of ingratitude. Can this be true of some of you? I know this is true of me. I am selfish, base, mean and don’t always show my gratitude to God.

We expect to be blessed, comforted and forgiven. We hold God to His promises and say almost like Jacob in Genesis 32:26, “I will not let You go, until You bless me.” We demand our rights – and God honours His word and pour out His patient grace. 

God is shamefully limited by the selfishness of His people. Every farthing, every naira, you own is His. Every second you live is His. Every breath you draw is in His hands. We don’t mind taking all that He gives, but we are bitterly slow to respond to His requests. He created us, He redeemed us, we are not our own. But if the LORD needs us and calls for us, we reply, “Look, here am I, send someone else.”

Selfishness always produces an absence of peace. Show me a person who is enjoying the real, deep peace of God, and you will be showing me someone who is unselfish in thought and word and deed.

 

The story of the manger is repeated in many Christian hearts. Luke 2:7  says, “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” They have heard the Good News, the call of God to receive the Lord Jesus. They have opened their hearts to receive Him, but there has been no room in the inn. He has been guided to the manger of the heart, to the outside place. It is so easy to invite the Lord in and put Him in the manger. If He is in the manger no one in the inn will be annoyed, no complaints will be heard. Best of all, if He is in the manger then no one will see Him. No wonder there is so little peace in many a Christian heart today. No wonder God is so terribly limited. Where there is no Jesus’ presence, there can be no power, no peace.

There are many Christians who treat their spiritual life as a democracy.  Christianity is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. There is one LORD only, the LORD Jesus Christ.  If Jesus is not the Lord of all my life, then He is not Lord at all in my life. If He is in the manger, He cannot be on the throne. If Christ is in the manger, then God is limited.

 

Why do we repeat the Bethlehem story in our lives, turning Him away from the inn and leaving Him in the manger? The answer is very simple – because of selfishness. If Christ is kept in the manger it is because we do not wish to disturb the other guests in the inn. The inn of your heart is the place of everyday living, the place where people come and go and where all life’s business is transacted.  Certainly if Jesus Christ leaves the manger of my mind to move into the inn of my heart, many of the guests and inmates will be disturbed by His presence and will have to go.

 

LIMITING GOD THROUGH UNBELIEF

Psalm 78:22, 32 says, “For they did not believe in God or trust in His deliverance. In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of all His wonders, they did not believe.”

 

In these verses we find another characteristic of the children of Israel which can be a warning for us. The children of Israel had seen the hand of God at work in Egypt. They had been most wonderfully redeemed. Their needs had been met and their wants supplied. Yet they did not believe God. In spite of all God had done for them, they still questioned God’s ability and His purpose. “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” they asked in v. 19 of Psalm 78. So they limited God through unbelief. They had enough belief to get themselves out of Egypt, but not enough to get themselves into Canaan.

 

Unbelief is characteristic of many of God’s people, both in the Bible and in the church today. Jacob’s life exemplifies the results of unbelief in the promises of God. In Genesis 27 we have recorded the story of the stolen blessing. Jacob blatantly said he found the animal “because the Lord thy God brought it to me” – what a blasphemy. It is in this story that Jacob lives up to the meaning of his name – deceiver, liar, twister.

The story of deception fabricated by Rebekah was so unnecessary. God had already said that the elder would serve the younger. Rebekah knew all this because the promise was made to her at her request (Gen.25:22-23).

God had made promises. Jacob had to pay the price of unbelief. Galatians 6:7 is true for all time and for all types of deception. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” This verse contains a warning, a truth and a law. The warning – “Do not be deceived.” The truth – “God is not mocked.” The law – “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” 

Jacob was deceived. Jacob mocked God. His very planning was a proof of his disbelief, and disbelief is the height of mockery. Jacob was to reap a harvest of deception through all his life because of his unbelief. His own children grew up to lie to him, to cheat him and to deceive him. He was tricked and deceived by his uncle Laban.

 

Another great character in whose life we can learn the lesson of unbelief is Abraham. We read God’s promise to Abram in Gen. 13:14-15,  “The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring[a] forever.”

 

Again in Genesis 15:4 God promised Abraham a son out of his own body and a succession of seed as many as the stars of heaven. V.6 says that Abraham “believed in the LORD and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham is indeed the father of the faithful, but he was not always so. There was a time when Abraham heard the promises of God and believed them, but then went on to make his own plan. This is called the unbelief of the believer.

 

Let us take warning, lest we fall into the error of Abraham and Jacob. Could you be guilty of planning to get by your own efforts that which is yours by divine promise? Like Abraham and Jacob, we start to make plans of our own. We determine that our lives shall be improved and we work out our own plans for doing so. In spite of God’s promise, we seek to produce by our own efforts that quality of life that God has promised. The price we pay is frustration, bitter disappointment, decreasing effort and a lowering of our standards.  If we look at 2 Peter 1:4 we find that God has “given to us exceedingly great and precious promises.”

 

Pauls tells that these were written for all of us as warnings. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

 

What situation are you in today that you limit your expectations of God because you are human?  How easily do we forget that God is an all-powerful and all-encompassing God?  Look around you today: if God can create ALL this, what can He not do?

I want to close this sermon with this story. On a Sunday morning church service. The service was going great, when suddenly the pastor’s son stood up and began to usher himself out of the service. He was in excruciating pain from a battle with kidney stones and was leaving church to go to the hospital’s emergency room.

 “Let’s pray”, said the preacher’s wife. The whole church prayed and sought God for his hand to heal this situation. As the congregation joined in prayer along with the pastor and his wife, the Holy Spirit began to speak through in unknown tongues and then through interpretation. The words are: “If you believe I will perform a miracle here today… If you do not believe, then leave my house! I cannot perform a miracle where there is unbelief!”

Because we let unbelief overtake our faith, we could not remember the power of God and when we need a miracle, we limit God. When you pray and see the miracle yourself then you will be destroying the unbelief of the believer.

In 1 Corinthians 10:14, Paul tells to “flee from idolatry.” An idol is anything that comes between us and the Lord; anything that we put in the place of God. A habit, a friend, a possession, a hobby, a sport, our loved-one, and even our job could become an idol. Idolatry limits God’s blessing in us and through us.

SOURCE: John E. Hunter, LIMITING GOD (1966)


    THE TRAGEDY OF LIMITING GOD


Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13


Introduction

The OT is the rich and blessed treasure of house of God. There is comfort and challenge, light and guidance, teaching and direction in all its pages. It speaks much of the things to come, it makes many prophecies and promises.  However the NT simply had to be written to show that the Creator God is a faithful and holy God. Without the knowledge of the OT the NT could not make complete sense. Each of the Testaments is wonderfully interwoven with the other.

Before we get to chapter 10, Paul has been telling the Corinthian Christians the consequences of eating food sacrificed to idols, his rights as an apostle and the need for self-discipline. You may want to read chapters 8 and 9 of First Corinthians when you get home.

In chapter 10 Apostle Paul speaks directly to those who are opposing him in his admonition, by severely warning them on the basis of OT examples of the grave danger they are in.

 READ THE TEXT 

Warnings From Israel’s History

10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”[a] We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ,[b] as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it

  1. The Examples of Israel (vv. 1-5)

In vv.1-5 Paul relates Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea and their being sustained by manna and water from the rock in terms of Christian baptism and eating the Lord’s super. But Paul concluded that majority of them fell under God’s judgment in the wilderness.

Thus Paul begins: “All were under the cloud and all passed through the sea”, which he then interprets as their “undergoing baptism into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” The point is: Just as the Corinthian Christians’ life began with baptism, so our fathers’ deliverance from Egypt began with a kind of “baptism”, but that did not keep them from falling into idolatry. They were all baptized “in the cloud and in the sea,” the cloud above and the wall of sea on either side together constituting their “baptism.”  In the Red Sea account the cloud was the means by which the LORD Himself “went before them” to lead them (Exod. 13:21) and then moved behind them to separate them from the Egyptians. This is the presence of God in the midst of Israel comparable to the indwelling of the Spirit in the life of Christians.  

Apostle Paul also said that they ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink which may refer to the Lord’s Super (Holy Communion), the special food and drink of Christians. Paul tells us that the Source of their eating and drinking was Christ. That it was by Christ that they were being nourished in the wilderness. Even though God gave the Israelites “spiritual food”, they rejected God for their idols. Paul stressed the point in order to admonish the Corinthians, who by their idolatry are in the process of repeating Israel’s madness and thus are in danger of experiencing their judgment. God was not pleased with the Israelites and, therefore, “their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” Paul warned the Corinthian Christians that their present idolatry can only have similar consequences. Just as God did not tolerate Israel’s idolatry, so He will not tolerate the Corinthians. We deceive ourselves if we think He will tolerate ours.

  1. B.   Warning Against Idolatry (vv.6-10)

As Paul points to the Israel’s failings and sins, he links us with them in verses 6-10. It is interesting to examine these verses for Paul’s use of pronouns. Sometimes he includes himself as being capable of the specific failure. At other times he points to his readers only as being in danger. In v.6 he says, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” Now Paul includes himself, recognizing his own potential weakness in this area of temptation.

In v. 7 he says, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The People sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry’” (Exodus 32:6, 31). Here in this verse Paul excludes himself. The man who could say. “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21), could never be guilty of being an idolater.

In the next verse (v.8) Paul is again very conscious of his own weak flesh: “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.” And in v. 9 he says, “We should not test Christ, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes (Numbers 21:5-6).” Paul included himself as a possible victim of this sin. And in v.10 Paul says, “And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel (Ex. 12:23; Nu 21:5-6). Paul excluded himself from this sin of grumbling. The man who could say, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, therefore to be content” (Philippians 4:11) would never be guilty of grumbling if things went wrong.

Paul sums it all up by saying that all these things are written for our admonition, showing his sense of his own need of the warning.

  1. C.    LIMITING GOD FOR US

From this passage we have seen how the Israelites limited God for us. Psalm 78:41 says, “Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel (KJV).” NIV says, “Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel”. That these people limited God. The Almighty Creator God was limited by the creature. They, of their own freewill, shut God up in the wilderness. They pushed God into a corner. It wasn’t that God was not strong enough, or powerful enough, but that His people deliberately chose to limit Him.

They limited God in what He could do for them. They lost their vision of the Promised Land. Dissatisfaction, disappointment, disaster and disobedience became the accepted norm of their daily life in the wilderness. God was limited. God’s purpose was to deliver His people from Egypt and to bring them into Canaan. But they limited God in what He could do for them. God’s intention was to take them from the bondage and suffering of Egypt right into the freedom and riches of Canaan. His redemption was not out of Egypt into the wilderness, but out of Egypt into Canaan.

They also limited God in what He could do through them.  They limited God in their possessions. There was so much more that God could do for them, was willing to do for them, but of their own freewill  they limited God. Through their own stupidity, ignorance and disobedience, they insisted on taking their own way. They disregarded all the warnings of a God who loved them and cared for them, whose one desire was to bless them. But they limited Him. They possessed nothing, although everything was theirs in Canaan. All the cities were theirs, cities which contained the houses and furniture they needed. Everything was theirs, the moment they stepped out of Egypt. All they had to do was to possess their possessions. They made no progress and had no possessions. God could have done so much more, so very much more, but they limited Him and suffered the consequence.

  1. D. THE TRAGEDY OF LIMITING GOD

The Word of God in 1 Corinthians 10:11 has been saying to us that we are to look for types of our own behaviour and take a warning. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” We can realize now that what the Israelites did is terribly true of many of us. Just as the Word of God summed up the their behaviour by saying, “They limited God,” so it might also sum up Christians’ behaviour today.  Everything we have considered so far can be a type of our own behaviour. Many Christians are idolaters: they worship idols. Praying to God in the name of Jesus Christ is not enough for them. They visit traditional medicine men to make arms for them to chant while driving to work.  Majority of us commit sexual immorality. We test God and limited Him through our behaviour. We grumble when things do not go our way.

We, too, have been redeemed from Egypt, from a world which held us in bondage to sin. We have been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb of God. Christ our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for us (1Cor. 5:7). God’s plan for us is a deliverance from a bondage to sin, to a completely new life in Christ Jesus. God brought me out of sin that He might bring me into Christ.  He brought you out that He might bring you in. Jesus Christ is our Canaan, the land flowing of milk and honey. But so many of us are stuck in the wilderness. All things are ours in Christ but, like the Israelites, we limit God.

CONCLUSION AND INVITATION

Jesus Christ is all I need. Jesus Christ is all you need. He is made unto me all I can ever want. Whatever problems, fear, anxiety, temptation or frustration comes into my life, it isn’t my job to meet it. My job is to expose the whole situation to Christ Jesus the LORD, and then to walk believing that what He has promised He will also perform.

It is essential that my life should be pure and holy – essential, not optional. If I allow sin, failure, defeat and any other of the “old things” to dominate in my daily walk with Christ, then I am limiting God from beginning to end. If I go on doing this in spite of His warning, I will make a farce of my Christian walk, a fool of myself and a friend of the devil. And this is the tragedy of limiting God in what He can do for us.

God never limits His blessings to us. The measure of God’s unlimited desire to bless us abundantly is recorded for us in John 16:24, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

INVITATION

 

 SOURCE: John E. Hunter, LIMITING GOD (1966)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


LIFE AT THE CROSSROADS

                                             TEXT: 2 KINGS 2: 1-14

INTRODUCTION: Three men were doing construction work on a tall building. At lunch time, the first man opened his lunch box and said, “Amala and ewedu? If I get amala and ewedu one more time for lunch, I’m going to jump off this building.”  The second man opened his lunch box and exclaimed, “Beans and dodo again! If I get beans and dodo one more time, I’m going to jump off, too.” The third man opened his lunch and said, “Yam and egg again!  If I get yam and egg one more time, I’m jumping, too.”

Next day the first man opens his lunch box, sees amala and ewedu soup and jumps.  The second man opens his lunch, sees beans and dodo and jumps too. The third man opens his lunch, sees yam and egg and jumps as well.

At the funeral, the first man’s wife is weeping, she says, “If I’d known how really tired he was of amala and ewedu, I never would have given it to him again.”  The second man’s wife also weeps and says, “I could have given him jollof rice! I didn’t realize he hated beans and dodo so much.”

Everyone turns and stares at the third man’s wife. “Hey, don’t look at me,” she says. “He always made his own lunch.”

We often create our own problems and then look for someone to blame.

Crossroads. What is a crossroads? A crossroads is a point at which a crucial decision must be made which will have far reaching consequences.

Decision determines destiny. Big doors swing on small hinges. In 2 Kings 2:1-14 we have a story of tremendous message. It concerns two men – Elijah, the old prophet of God, and Elisha, the younger man standing on the threshold of life. Elisha makes a series of simple decisions, but without realizing that the decision he makes that day are going to affect the rest of his life.  Elisha lived to serve God for fifty years. God was unlimited in what He could do in and through the life of Elisha. But it all began when a young man made a right decision.  God can use His word to speak to our hearts as we consider this story. Our limitation of God does not depend upon age, whether we are too old or too young; on whether you are male or female,  or profession, whether we are able or gifted. It depends upon one thing only – whether we are prepared to go on with God.

Elijah was a rough and tough man of God. He seemed to lack the quality of gracious kindness in all his dealings with people.  Elijah knew he was soon to depart this life, and he used the events to test the heart and intentions of Elisha. The value of the story is to see and understand the reactions of the young man to these deliberate temptations to “take it easy.” The story is concerned with four separate places.

You may be standing now at a modern Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho or Jordan. Your decision at one of them will determine your location – either in the desert or in the Promised Land.

The Crossroads Is the Place of Beginnings. When the children of Israel moved out of wilderness and into the Promised Land, Gilgal was the first place they came to. So in one sense, Elisha was being tempted to settle down in the very beginning – just like many of us do. We got in the land of promise, we are saved and blessed – and then we settle down because we have arrived. Gilgal was a place of beginnings where so much blessing and strength were promised. But if we settle down here, all we have are promises – nothing is ever proved. No victories were won at Gilgal and no progress was made. It was a place for feeling happy and hearing promises. No wonder Elisha refused to tarry at Gilgal. He wanted to go on and experience more and more of the goodness of God.

The Crossroads Is The Place of Dream. Elisha went on with Elijah to Bethel. Once again Elijah spoke, “Elisha, stay here . . . for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” Bethel was the place where Jacob dreamed a dream of what would happen in years to come. Elisha was invited to stay at Bethel, to join the other dreamers and think about the future. But Jacob did not stop at Bethel, and neither did Elisha. The tragedy is that many young Christians are quite happy to tarry at Bethel and dream dreams about their future. It is wonderful to think of what might be, and to dream about how lovely it would be if God really took your life and used you and sent you forth in His name. But if all we do is sit and dream about the future, we limit God. Prov. 29:18 says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Limiting God, p. 114.)

Bethel would also call to mind the story of Jeroboam. You can read this story in 1 Kings 11 & 12. God had planned to divide the kingdom of Solomon after his death. God sent a prophet named Ahijah to give this information to Jeroboam. He had heard and received the absolute, sure promise of God. But Jeroboam did not believe that God could keep His promise. He reasoned that when the people of his new kingdom went to worship God in Jerusalem they would change their minds, and return to Rehoboam, who will kill him. So Jeroboam thought up a wonderful way in which he could get what God had already promised. It showed an absolute lack of faith in God.  But like so many of us he tried to help God out of His difficulties

Bethel was the place one young man dreamed dreams, and where another young man schemed schemes. No wonder that when Elijah invited Elisha to join other young men also at Bethel, he replied, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you” (2 Kings 2:4). Elisha was more concerned with a living Lord than with a place of promise and dreams.

The Crossroads Is The Place of Beauty and Victory. Verses 5 and 6 tell us what happened when the two travellers came to Jericho. Once again the old man Elijah told his young companion to stay at Jericho and join another group of the sons of the prophets. Elisha was now at the most tempting of the cross-roads of his life.  Elisha is now faced with another and more subtle temptation. Jericho was a beautiful place, much to be desired.  Jericho was the place where Joshua led the people to victory. The children of Israel never forgot the story. But Jericho was the place of past victory. Many Christians today, especially the older ones, tarry at Jericho, the place of past victory and talk about the good old days – and nothing else. “Stay here in Jericho” – the place where you can retire and talk about past victories. And this is exactly what some Christians do in a spiritual sense. We need to remember that God has no old-age pensioners. Nobody is ever retired in God’s service. All that God does is to RE-TIRE us, so that we are capable of further service for Him. Remember that Moses was eighty years old when he began his life’s work for God.

Elisha was now committed to going all the way with Elijah. Leaving Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho behind them, they journeyed on until they came to Jordan.  Elijah left Elisha in the wilderness. True service for God began with Elisha in the wilderness. Elisha stood alone by his own Jordan. He had had no direct personal contact with God, only through Elijah. He was still holding the mantle of Elijah, the symbol of his power. Now was his moment to step out in faith, in a faith he had never known or used before. “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” he cried. This was the experience of Elisha. He came into living vital contact with God. He went down into Jordan symbolizing his break with all the past. He came out of Jordan – God’s man for ever more. In a much later day, Jordan was the place of baptism, where many went down into water to demonstrate a break with the old life, and the beginning of a new experience – a dying to self and a rising to a new life. This was the experience of Elisha.  He had refused to stay at Bethel or Gilgal or Jericho. He wanted God’s best, and he was prepared to pay the price.

CONCLUSION

So, if you want God’s best for your life:    

DO NOT TRIFLE AT THE CROSSROADS

Life consists of the sum of our decisions. Victory comes when the weaving mind sets forth in one direction. We cannot afford to trifle with the choice of a life’s mate, the choice of an occupation, or especially with the choice of a Saviour from sin for eternity. An individual life, career, family, or nation’s welfare may be hanging on the balance. Eternity may be at stake. Do not trifle – life is too short.

OTHERS WILL BE INFLUENCED BY YOUR DECISION AT THE CROSSROAD. Only Caleb and Joshua were permitted to enter the Promised Land (Deut. 1:34-37). No one lives to himself. Little feet may be following in large footprints. Achan’s covetousness (Josh. 7) meant that his family suffered as well as Achan himself. The lost son returned (Luke 15:11-32), but what happened to all friends in the far country whom he by his example and encouragement had drawn into sin?

DECISIONS SHOULD ONLY BE MADE AFTER GOD HAS BEEN TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION. Many of their friends discouraged them (Deut. 1:38), but Caleb and Joshua remembered that the LORD would go with them and light their path for them (Deut. 1:30). One with God is a majority. Is your God too small? If not, how great is your God? Apostle Paul said; “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph . 2:4-5). The mercy of God is rich. Though mercy has been expended for millions of years and billions upon billions of people have been partakers of it, it is still not exhausted. God enters into our experience redemptively because He is rich in mercy. Even while God looks with displeasure upon our sin He looks with mercy upon us. Because of this mercy and because of His great love He rescues us from our state of spiritual death. The love of God is great because we, the receivers of this love, are great sinners.

God in Christ makes all the difference in our decisions. Do not go forward if He is not with you. Do not hesitate to go if you are confident that God is on your side.

Finally, beware of the foolishness of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) who left God out of his thinking, his planning, and his philosophy of life.  In the parable a rich and greedy man, failing to guard himself against covetousness, thinks that success is measured in terms of the abundance of possessions. Although he already possesses more than enough, he can think only of himself and his accumulation of more possession for his personal enjoyment. The fool hoards instead of being concerned for neighbour and for God. Salvation is by grace, and human merit has no standing before God. However, God grants rewards to those who serve Him. The rich fool did not realize that he “owned” nothing. All he had – even his life – was a loan and could be called in at any time. Friend, order your life in accordance with the one thing that is eternal – God.

It is not wise to delay at intervention. (Intervention is an action taken to intentionally become involved in a difficult situation in order to improve it or prevent it from getting worse.) A decision must be made at the crossroad. A very short time elapses between the change of the traffic light from red to green and the blowing of cars behind you, signalling you to get going. Convictions get weaker, desires dwindle, and forces of opposition gather while you delay. Now is the accepted time. Lingering Lot (Gen. 19:16) lost. Many have discovered that they have lost as they lingered. It is Satan who will try to convince you that there is plenty of time. Grace of God be yours in Jesus' name. Amen 

 

 


LIMITING GOD THROUGH PRIDE


TEXT: 1 Samuel 15:1-3, 7-9, 13-15, 22-23

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves[b] and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

22 But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

 

One of the most tragic figures in the Bible is the man known to us as Saul, the son of Kish. He could have been so wonderfully used by God. Instead he completely limited God by his arrogant pride and wilful disobedience. Through a series of unusual circumstances, God brought Saul in touch with the prophet Samuel. Saul came into contact with God in a new and living way. God was going to be with him in the person of His Holy Spirit. The challenge from God was almost overwhelming, and Saul’s response was the silence of an obedient heart. He was a humble man. His humility is even more apparent in  1 Samuel 10:19-21.  Samuel had called all Israel to present themselves for the choosing of a king. Saul was the eventually selected, but “when they sought him, he could not be found.” Saul had hidden himself “among the stuff.” Finally they found him and he stood higher than any of the people. “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen,” Samuel said, “that there is no one like him among all the people?”  “So all the people shouted and said ‘Long live the king’.” (10:24)

Now that he was King, Saul was in a supreme position to honour God, to serve him and to offer unlimited opportunity for God’s will to be done. But from this moment on, there creeps in little by little a spirit of disobedient pride. What could have been a life marvellously used by God became a life where God was limited in every area.

GOD TESTS SAUL THROUGH SACRIFICE

God’s next step was to test Saul (1 Sam. 13). The Philistines gathered themselves to make war on the new king of Israel, and their armies were formidable. God was now going to test the faith of this young king of Israel. Samuel told Saul to wait in Gilgal for at least seven days, and he promised that before the end of seventh day, he would return. When he came, he would make supplication to God, offer the burnt offering and peace offering, and God would give them victory. So Saul was left on his own with his small army – but with the promise of God.

Saul waited as Samuel had instructed him – one, two, three . . . six days. But still there was no sign of Samuel. Finally the seventh day dawned and Saul could stand it no longer. His eyes were now off God, and fixed on the impossible situation around him. In desperation he called for the sacrifices and offerings and, against all the law of God, he who was not a priest usurped that authority. He approached God in his own strength to offer the sacrifice. Just as Saul finished making the offering, Samuel arrived as he had promised – but it was too late.

“And Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly (1 Sam. 13:13).” Saul had been tested by sacrifice but he had failed miserably. God could have won a great victory that day, but He was limited by the pride and disobedience of Saul. God had made Saul king, but he made himself a priest. In doing so he sinned and forfeited the right to receive the blessing of God. Saul had the promise of all the blessing, but he couldn’t wait for God to bring it in His own way.

Is this the way you and I behave? We have been blessed far more than ever Saul was. He had the Spirit of God upon him, but we have the Spirit dwelling in our hearts and lives. We are told continually to wait on the LORD and to trust in Him, but how often, when faced with problems, do we rush out and try to solve the whole thing in our own strength, forgetting to wait for God? So often it could be said of us, You have done foolishly. YES, I HAVE DONE FOOLISHLY.

GOD TESTS SAUL THROUGH FAITH AND OBEDIENCE SERVICE

God tested King Saul again with regard to his faithful, obedience service. Samuel went on to give strict instructions to Saul, telling him to gather an army and lead an expedition against the Amalekites. These people had been a source of constant trouble to Israel, even when they were in the wilderness. If they were allowed to continue they be like a malignant cancer in the life of Israel.  So Saul was commanded to perform spiritual surgery and destroy the Amalekites completely – people and possessions.

So Saul departed to perform the will of the LORD, but when he arrived at the place of operation he completely disobeyed the instructions given to him by Samuel. Why? Because of pride. Some of the people he killed, some he kept alive. (Studying this passage years ago, I said to myself: kindness became a sin to Saul.) Concerning the cattle, he kept all that was good and destroyed the others.

Saul interpreted the will of God to please himself, and in so doing he failed once more. God’s response was immediate. Speaking to Samuel He said, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as King, for he has turned back from following Me . . .” When he was challenged by Samuel, Saul demonstrated his departure from God by his lies and excuses. He blamed the people for the decision he had made. Samuel had to cut Saul down to size, to tell him exactly where he stood. But Saul continue to blame the others, and to suggest that the animals were a sacrifice to God. Samuel replied with these magnificent words: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifices, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (15:22).

Samuel then went on to pronounce the sentence of God upon this proud rebellious man: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination (witchcraft), and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of God, He has rejected you as King.”

Saul’s rebellion and arrogance had limited God, and as a result, Saul was finished. The chapter continues with Saul still on the defensive, still excusing his rebellion, still refusing to bow his proud will. “I have sinned”, he acknowledges to Samuel, “yet honour me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel” (v.30).  A sinner seeking honour for himself and his sin!

What a challenge to us today – to obey is better than sacrifice. How often we will make sacrifices to excuse our lack of obedience, giving our money, our time, when all the while what the LORD really wants is our genuine obedience to what He has commanded us. Notice that this is how we limit God. In the eyes of the world our contributions and enthusiasm may rank high as good examples of Christian living and giving – and all the time what the LORD really wants is to hear us say, “Yes, LORD, Your will be done!”

From this time on, Saul was God’s man no longer. God left him to perish. It could have been so very, very different, but he limited God for the sake of rebellious pride. As I think of this man, my own heart is challenged and humbled. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).”

GOLIATH AND THE YOUNG SHEPHERD BOY

Another prideful and boastful man in the Bible is Goliath. We all know the story of David and Goliath, but there are interesting details which illustrate our present subject, “Limiting God through Pride”, and which contrast for us the characters of Saul and David. Goliath’s cry was not for a battle but for a man: “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together” (1 Sam. 17:10). This was the job for Saul. He was the tallest in Israel and he was the leader.

Jesse sent David to the place of battle to greet his brothers. David arrived just as the Israelites were moving to the place of battle. But suddenly they all stopped and listened once more to Goliath. As Goliath finished his challenge the men of Israel fled before him. David stood and watched an army running away in utter confusion, demoralized, and dispirited.

David was fresh to the battlefield.  His mind was unperturbed by Goliath. His days had been spent with God, taking care of his flock and so he gazed in puzzled wonder.  He began asking questions and making suggestions, expressing his willingness to tackle Goliath. His words reached the ears of Saul who sent for him. David’s words in 1 Samuel 17:32 are most challenging: “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”

Saul speaks of David’s utter inability to meet a man trained for battle, a man who was nine feet, six inches tall! David recounts what God has done for him in previous struggles with a bear and a lion, and then proclaims in absolute faith “the LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of the Philistine.”  The others were all looking at the same problem – Goliath. Saul and all Israel were saying, “Look at him, look at his size, his power, look how much bigger he is than we are!”  David was saying, “Yes, but look how much smaller he is than God!”  Saul, the failure, was helpless and hopeless. All he could do now was to continue to limit God. David, God’s new man, was confident – all his hopes were centred on God.

Saul next attempted to clothe David in the usual armour for battle. He was concerned with making David strong on the outside.  The reality of David’s faith stands out as he replied to the taunting of Goliath:

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (17:45).

David had his priorities right. Goliath was not fighting David but God! So that David could confidently say in verses 46 and 47 of 1 Sam. 17:

This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

The rest of the story is well known – the choosing of the five smooth stones, the use of the simple sling, the crashing fall of Goliath, and the sudden bravery that filled the fearful hearts of the men of Israel. And all because a teenager saw God in the situation.

We often fail to appreciate the matter of the five smooth stones. Why did David choose five when he only used one? Biblical scholars assumed that Goliath had four brothers. The possibility was that when Goliath fell in combat with David, his brothers might have rushed to tackle David. If they had, David had stones for them – however many giants came that day David was ready for them. Here was the perfect example of God being unlimited in the devotion of a teenager.

The great thing to realize here is that David had enough resources to meet every possible situation. It is a wonderful thing to learn that a situation only becomes a problem if I don’t have sufficient resources to meet it. If I have the resources, then the situation becomes an incident. So for David, the situation was not a problem, only an incident. He had all the resources he needed in God.

CONCLUSION AND INVITATION

Do you have any Goliath in your life just now? Situation, or people, or circumstances that have been defying you for days or week or months? Have you been brainwashed into accepting defiance and defeat as the normal life for you? David’s God is your God. David could say, “I will fear no evil: For You are with me.” Can you say that? Can you go forward into the situation recognizing the presence of Christ and believing with childlike faith that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). In this way your situations will cease to be problems and simply become incidents, under the almighty hand of God.

 

 

 JJohn E. Hunter, LIMITING GOD


THE WORD OF FORGIVENESS

TEXT: LUKE 23: 34, “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

 

INTRODUCTION

Human beings had done their worst. The ONE who made the world had come into it, but the world knew Him not. The LORD of Glory had tabernacled among men, but He was not wanted. The eyes which sin had blinded saw in Him no beauty that He should be desired.

The first of the seven cross-sayings of our LORD presents Him in the attitude of prayer. His public ministry had opened with prayer (Luke 3:21), and here, we see it closing in prayer. Surely, He has left us an example. No longer might those hands minister to the sick, for they are nailed to the Cross; No longer may those feet carry Him on errands, for they are fastened to the Cross; No longer may He engage in instructing the apostles, for they have forsaken Him and fled; how then does He occupy Himself?  In the Ministry of Prayer! What a lesson for us.

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

 

  1. Here we see THE FULFILMENT OF THE PROPHETIC WORD  

It had been foretold that the Saviour should make “intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Isaiah 53:12 had reference to His gracious act at the time of His crucifixion. Jesus Christ “was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many. . .” Here was the fulfilment of the prophecy. If Christ prayed for His murderers then surely we have encouragement to pray now for the very chief of sinners. Christians must never lose hope. Does it seem a waste of time for you to continue praying for that man, that woman, that wayward child of yours? Does their case seem to become more hopeless every day?  Perhaps that one you have prayed for so long has been ensnared by one of the Satanic cult of the day, an open enemy of Christ. Remember the Cross. Christ prayed for His enemies. Learn then not to look on any one as beyond the reach of prayer. Christ thought of His murderers. He pleaded for His crucifiers; He made intercession for their forgiveness

 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

 

  1. Here we see CHRIST IDENTIFIED WITH HIS PEOPLE

“Father forgive them.” On no previous occasion did Christ make such a request of the Father. Never before had He invoked the Father’s forgiveness of others. Until now, Jesus has never asked the Father to forgive anyone. He forgave people of their sins. To the man sick and paralysed He had said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2). To the woman who washed His feet with her tears in the house of Simon, He said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). Why then should Jesus now ask the Father to forgive, instead of directly pronouncing forgiveness Himself?

Forgiveness of sin is a Divine prerogative. The Jewish scribes were right when they reasoned “Who can forgive sins but God?” (Mark 2:7). But you say Christ was God. Truly; but Man also – the God-man. He was the Son of God that had become the Son of Man with the express purpose of offering Himself as a Sacrifice for sin. And when the LORD Jesus cried “Father forgive them” He was on the Cross, and there He might not exercise His Divine prerogative. Mark carefully His own words, and then behold the marvellous accuracy of Scripture. He had said “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6). But He was no longer on earth! He has been “lifted up from the earth.” (John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted from the earth, will draw all people to Myself”).

Moreover, on the Cross He was acting as our Substitute: the Just was about to die for the unjust. Hence it was that hanging there as our Representative He was no longer in the place of authority where He might exercise His own Divine prerogatives, therefore He takes the position of a suppliant before the Father. Thus we say that when the blessed Lord Jesus cried, “Father forgive them,” we see Him absolutely identified with His people. No longer was He in the position “on earth” where He had the “power” or “right” to forgive sins, instead, He intercedes for sinners – as we must.

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

  1. 3.    Here we see THE DIVINE EVALUATION OF SIN AND ITS RESULTANT GUILT 

In the book of Leviticus God required that atonement (payment) should be made for sins of ignorance (Lev. 5:15,16). David prayed, “Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).

Sin is always sin in the sight of God whether we are conscious of it or not. Sins of ignorance need atonement just as truly as do conscious sins. God is Holy, and He will not lower His standard of righteousness to the level of our ignorance. IGNORANCE IS NO INNOCENCE. As a matter of fact ignorance is more culpable now than it was in the days of Moses. We have no excuse for our ignorance. God has clearly and fully revealed His will. The Bible is in our hands, and we cannot plead ignorance of its contents except to condemn our laziness. God has spoken, and by His Word we shall be judged.

Sins of ignorance need the Divine forgiveness as our Lord’s prayer here plainly shows.

Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

  1. Here we see THE BLINDNESS OF HUMAN HEART

They did know full well that Jesus had been nailed to the Cross for they were eye-witnesses of the crime. They did know full well that they had cried out “Crucify Him.” What then did our LORD mean when He said, “They know not what they do?” He meant they were ignorant of the enormity of their crime. They “knew not” that it was the LORD of Glory they were crucifying.

Their blindness was inexcusable. The OT prophecies which had received their fulfilment in Him were sufficiently plain to identify Him as the Holy One of God. His teaching was unique, for His very critics were forced to admit “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). And what of His perfect life!  He had lived before men a life which had never been lived on earth before. He pleased not Himself. He went about doing good. (Anywhere he went he was doing good; a mighty Healer He healed the leper; when the cripple saw Him, they started walking. Anywhere he went my LORD was doing good.)

He was ever at the disposal of others. There was no self-seeking about Him. His was a life of self-sacrifice from beginning to end. His was a life ever lived to the glory of God.  His was a life on which was stamped Heave’s approval, for the Father’s voice testified audibly, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” No, there was no excuse for their ignorance. It only demonstrated the blindness of their hearts. Their rejection of the Son of God bore full witness, once for all, that the carnal mind is “empty against God.”

How sad to think that this terrible tragedy is still being repeated! Sinner, you little know what you are doing in neglecting God’s great salvation. You little know how awful is the sin of slighting the Christ of God and spurning the invitations of His mercy. . . . You little know how fearful is the crime of saying “We will not have this man to reign over us.” You know not what you do. You regard the vital issue with callous indifference. The question comes today as it did of old, “What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?” for you have to do something with Him: either you despise and reject Him, or you receive Him as the Saviour of your soul and the LORD of your life. . .  For years you have steeled your heart against Him, closed your ears to His appeals, and shut your eyes to His surpassing beauty. You know not what you do. You are blind to your madness. Blind to your terrible sin. You may be saved now if you will. “Believe on the LORD Jesus Christ, and you will be save.”

Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

 

  1. HERE WE SEE A LOVELY EXAMPLE OF HIS TEACHING

In the Sermon on the Mount our LORD taught His disciples “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44 NIV). Above all others Christ practiced what He preached. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  He not only taught the truth but was Himself the truth incarnate. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). In all things He has left us an example.

Notice Christ did not personally forgive His enemies. So in Matt. 5:44 Jesus did not exhort His disciples to forgive their enemies, but He does exhort them to pray for them. But are we not to forgive those who wrong us? This leads us to a point concerning which there is much need for instruction today. Does Scripture teach that under all circumstances we must always forgive? It does not. The Word of God says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3,4). Matt. 18:15, 21-22.

Here we are plainly taught that a condition must be met by the offender before we may pronounce forgiveness. The one who has wronged us must first “repent,” that is, judge himself for his wrong and give evidence of his sorrow over it.  But suppose the offender does not repent? Then I am not to forgive him. But let there be no misunderstanding of our meaning here. Even though the one who has wronged me does not repent, nevertheless, I must not harbour ill-feelings against him. (This is where it is hardest!!!  How is it possible not to have ill-feeling toward an unrepentant offender?) There must be no hatred or malice cherished in the heart. Yet, on the other hand, I must not treat the offender as if he had done no wrong. That would be to condone the offence, and therefore I should fail to uphold the requirements of righteousness, and this the believer is ever to do. Does God ever forgive where there is no repentance? No, for Scripture declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

One thing more. If one has injured me and repented not, while I cannot forgive him and treat him as though he had not offended, nevertheless, not only must I hold no malice in my heart against him, but I must also pray for him. Here is the value of Christ’s perfect example. If we cannot forgive, we can pray for God to forgive.

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

 

  1. HERE WE SEE THE TRIUMPH OF REDEEMING LOVE

Our LORD might have let loose the thunderbolts of righteous wrath and slain them. He might have caused the earth to open her mouth so that they had gone down alive into the Pit. But no. Though subjected to unspeakable shame, though suffering excruciating pain, though despised, rejected, hated, nevertheless, He cries, “Father, forgive them.” That was the triumph of redeeming love. (When Samson came to his dying hour he used his great strength of body to encompass the destruction of his foes; but the Perfect One, exhibited the strength of His love by praying for the forgiveness of His enemies. Matchless Grace! In all things He has the pre-eminence.)

 

Unsaved persons, it will be dreadful for you to oppose Christ and His truth knowingly. Those who crucified the Saviour “knew not what they did.” But there is a very real and solemn sense in which this is not true of you. You know you ought to receive Christ as your Saviour, that you ought to crown Him the LORD of your life, that you ought to make it your first and last concern to please and glorify Him. Unbelievers, be warned; your danger is great. If you deliberately turn from Jesus Christ, you turn from the only One who can save you from your sins. And it is written: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Finally, the blessed Completeness of Divine Forgiveness. Blessed be God, the forgiveness which He bestows covers all sins – past, present and future. Christians are forgiven people. Says the Holy Spirit: “Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD will never count against them” (Romans 4:8).

References:

Arthur W. Pink, “The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross” (Baker Books, 1984).

                           THE PARABLES OF THE TEN VIRGINS

                                  TEXT: MATTHEW 25:1-13

THE WAITING BRIDESMAIDS:  The parable of the bridesmaids is a parable of sheer joy. Weddings were a time of joyous celebrations. The festivities lasted a whole week. The high point of the week of wedding celebration was when the bridegroom came to the bride’s home to take her to their new home. Great pageantry and drama had become a part of the tradition surrounding this event. The bride would ask 10 of her friends to be bridesmaids. Why this specific number? As seven among the Jews denoted perfection, so ten was the number that made a thing complete. A company was considered complete if TEN were present. In seeking to comfort his childless wife Elkanah said, “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” There was an ancient Jewish law that wherever there were ten Jews, there a synagogue could be built. How wonderfully condescending is the Master who said, “Wheresoever (not, as in the old law, ten Jews, are met together, there shall be a synagogue but wheresoever) two or three are met in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Ten, then is the number of completeness. And as used here implies a complete virgin-choir.  The special task of this complete virgin-choir was to be part of the processional from her house to her new marriage home. Usually this took place in the night, so the major responsibility of the bridesmaids was to carry lamps to light the joyous way of the wedding party. The time when the bridegroom would come was kept secret. It was to be a surprise, and the bride and her bridesmaids were to be waiting expectantly.

The bridesmaids waited patiently for the bridegroom. Soon the exhaustion of the exciting festivities, coupled with the long wait, made them sleepy. One of the things a bridegroom would try to do was to catch the bridal party napping. The bridegroom was required by custom to send a town crier ahead of him shouting, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him” (v.6). The bridesmaids were to be alert and out in the street, ready to meet him. Because the time of his arrival was uncertain, a great deal of humour and fun surrounded the time of his coming.

The parable has a gripping conclusion. The ten bridesmaids had fallen asleep, their lamps burning brightly. They all look alike as we observe them. They all slept, and they all had their lamps aflame. But as the hours went by, five of the lamps began to flicker and went out. Five of the bridesmaids had not prepared for the long wait. When the bridegroom’s crier announced his coming, and all bridesmaids were awakened, five were not prepared to meet him. What to do? How tragic to miss the one thing for which they had planned and hoped for so long?

They could not enter the joy of the wedding celebration. It was a custom to close the door of a wedding banquet after the invited guests had entered and not to reopen it to strangers or drifters looking for a free meal. No amount of frantic rapping at the door would admit the late but now prepared bridesmaids. They had missed the joy!

TO THE JEWS who heard this parable for the first time it had a very special significant. If ever a people should have been ready for the full display of God’s truth it should have been the Jews. Throughout all the years and the centuries God had been preparing them as His people. And yet when His Son came they refused Him and, in the end, crucified Him. Because they had done that they had shut themselves out from the Kingdom. Now, let us note that it was nobody’s fault but their own. God had done everything in His power to open the door to them and they had shut it on themselves.

ABSENCE OF OIL INDICATES LACK OF SALVATION: The majority of expositors take the oil a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and believe that the wise, having oil, represent the truly regenerated. “If any man has not the Spirit of God he is none of His.” Absence of oil indicates the lack of salvation, a Christian profession without possession. The oil of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling Christ, prepares us with expectancy and anticipation for the breakthrough of the Lord in each day’s experiences. Being filled with the Holy Spirit makes us ready. Condemning differences are revealed. Five lamps glowed brightly, because of added oil; five lamps flickered out for lack of supply. The request for oil was refused in words that seem to be selfish. Why did the five wise bridesmaids refuse to share with the five foolish ones? Selfishness? Is there a time when we should refuse to share with another? When it is not enough for you! Ecclesiastes 3:6b “A time to keep and a time to throw away.” Are they selfish? “Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you: but you go to them that sell and buy for yourselves.” Unreadiness was the height of folly. Had the wise shared what they had with the foolish, all ten of the bridesmaids would have been left in the darkness. In the realm of grace, no true Christian can divide his salvation with another. Each must go to God’s market and buy, without money and without price, the necessary oil

THE NECESSITY OF BEING PREPARED

There are wide and wise lessons here for every generation. First and foremost the parable teaches the lesson of the necessity of being prepared. There are certain things which it is simply not possible to get ready at the last minute. Unless they have been prepared long beforehand they cannot be prepared at all. It is that way, for instance, with knowledge. The moment of the examination cannot be the moment of preparation. That must have been done long ago. It is that way with all the skills of life. Knowledge is not something which can be acquired at the last minute. It must have been stored up and prepared long ago. That is why the time of youth must be the time of learning. We are told that it is almost impossible for a man to learn anything new after he is thirty. That is an exaggeration. They tell us that the golden age of memory is from seven to eleven. That’s also an exaggeration. But the fact remains the younger we are the more easily we learn. There are things we will never learn at all unless we learn them when we are young. The foundation must be laid now.

THE LOST OPPORTUNITY

We must be ready to seize opportunity when it comes. Sometimes we read of an understudy in some play who went on to the stage when the principal actor had become ill and who gained a great success; of some player in a soccer game who was reserve and who, through the illness of the first team player, got his chance and seized it with both hands. But the fact remains that the understudy did not leave it until that moment to learn and memorize the part; the reserve did not leave it until that moment to be ready and trained to the last ounce. By diligent and careful preparation he or she was ready to seize that chance when it comes.

If that be so of the ordinary things of life it is still true of the great things. The greatest event of all in life is that someday we will have to stand in the presence of God. For that we must make ourselves ready. It is told of an aged man that, when he was dying, someone offered to read the Bible to him. To their surprise he did not seem very eager for this although they knew that all his life he had nourished his heart and his mind on God’s book. They asked him why he was not eager to hear God’s word then. His answer was that he had thatched his house in the calm weather as any sensible man would do and now he was ready. It was also told of one queen that when she was dying her chaplain came to speak to her about the things of eternity. “My friend,” she answered gently, “I did not leave this matter till this hour.” It is the sensible thing to have things ready for every emergency and for the greatest emergency of all.

THINGS WHICH CANNOT BE BORROWED

This parable lays it down there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The oil could not be borrowed in the moment of necessity. The foolish bridesmaids had not got it and could not get it. There are three things of supreme importance which cannot be borrowed. First and foremost, faith cannot be borrowed. A common charge against this present generation of believers. That we are living on the spiritual capital of those saints of old. We want this world to be a place where human life is safe and respected, a place where virtue is honoured, a place where women and children are safe, a place where men respect and obey the moral law and the law of God. We cannot have a world like that without men and women of prayer who live close to God. When we are faced with some overmastering temptation, or some very difficult task, we cannot conquer that temptation or shoulder that task, in someone else’s strength. We must do so in our own strength. When we are young we may have parents to fall back on. Their guidance and their advice and their influence is our safeguard and strength. It is then the plain duty of life to build up here and now a faith which is our faith and which cannot be shaken.

Secondly, we cannot borrow character. It is pleasant and it is easy always to depend on others. But there are things which are just not borrowable. When it comes to living life we have to live it with ourselves as we are.  And what makes this doubly important is that in the end character is all that we can take with us from this world. And the only character is our own.

Thirdly, we cannot borrow preparedness. Preparedness is an important quality in achieving goals and in avoiding and mitigating negative outcomes. The unprepared bridesmaids tried to borrow oil for their lamps. The decisive reply: “No, there will not be enough for us and you too,” sounds cruel and insensitive. But in reality it is an honest statement about life’s crises. The moral of the lamps is perseverance in faith. “He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved” (Mk. 13:12).  We cannot borrow the power of the Holy Spirit from others; we must be filled by ourselves. Without the indwelling Holy Spirit, the lights will go out at the midnight hour of opportunities and challenge. The time to get ready is before, not during the demanding moment.

So many of us lose our ventures, miss our God-appointed opportunity, because we are unprepared to see and grasp the moment. The Holy Spirit helps us discern what is primary and crucial. He gives us the gift of wisdom to see the Lord’s approach and face life squarely.

THE DOOR WAS SHUT: The parable ends with a sad reality. The moment of opportunity is lost. The Jews had a proverb: “A door that is shut is not so easily opened.” There is a time when it is too late. We must have a care that in life we do not shut doors upon ourselves. “Of all sad words of tongue and pen/The saddest are those, ‘It might have been.’” 

So then we must ever be on the watch lest we let slip these opportunities to win the things we ought to have and to be the people we ought to be.

There is a time when it is too late. Not for God, but for us. The abundant life is offered to us. The tragic unpreparedness of the bridesmaids need not be our condition. It is never too late, not as long as we can breathe a breath and listen to the warning of this parable. Isaiah 30:18, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him!”

Watch therefore, for you know not the day nor the hour…..

References:

  1. “And Jesus Said: A Handbook of the Parables of Jesus” (1952, 1958) by William Barclay
  2. “Autobiography of God” (Regal Books, 1979) by Lloyd John Ogilvie.
  3. “All the Parables of the Bible” (1963) by Herbert Lockyer.
  4. “The Mission and Message of Jesus” (1946) by H. D. A. Major, T. W. Manson and C. J. Wright,

             FORGIVENESS AND PRAYER

            TEXT: MATTHEW 6:12-15; LUKE 11:4; MARK 11:22-26

(Matt. 5:23-26; Matt. 18:15-35; Rom. 12:18-21; Heb. 10:17; Mark 3:28-30 [Matt.12:31-32]; Luke 17:1-6; Luke 18:9-14; John 14:13-14; John 16:23; John 17:9, 20; Psalm 130:3; Mark 9:23).

INTRODUCTION: Forgiveness is the act of rendering null and void the penalty (or punishment) owed by a wrongdoer to an offended party. It denotes a release from a debt. An essential element of forgiveness is the wrongdoer’s awareness of having offended and owing a penalty. At the same time the offended person grants forgiveness unconditionally.

Human forgiveness is central to Christian faith. Human forgiveness has generally been understood as something Christians do and which the Church helps them in doing. The Lord’s Prayer speaks of forgiving our debts and debtors.  Forgiving our brother or sister or wife or husband or child is significantly different from forgiving anyone who is not in that special kind of relationship with us. There is a difference between ‘forgiveness,’ ‘condonation’ and ‘pardon.’ To “forgive” is “to cease to feel resentment against an offender and to give up claim to requital (compensation or retaliation) from or retribution (vengeance) upon one who has inflicted some injury.”  “Condoning is saying that a moral offense does not matter when, in fact, it does. It ignores moral wrong and in effect devalues the person injured by that wrong.” Pardon involves letting a person off from the merited consequences of his/her actions; it is to overlook what he or she has done and to treat him/her with indulgence. INDULGENCE IS THE ACT OF GIVING WAY TO ONE’S DESIRE.

THE LORD’S PRAYER (Human Forgiveness in the Teaching of Jesus)

12. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. . . For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 The petition of the prayer which has to do with our forgiving our debtors is both the most familiar and the most troublesome to persons who have been injured by others.

Who is the person who can pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors?” He is the man who already has a right to say, ‘Our Father’. And the only man who has a right to say ‘Our Father’ is the one who is in Christ Jesus. It is the Children’s Prayer. It is not a prayer for anybody, but only for those who have become the children of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the relationship of the child to the father, and the moment we realize we have offended, or grieve or sinned against the Father, we confess it and ask to be forgiven, and we are sure that we are forgiven.

The text does not say, ‘Forgive us our debts because we forgive our debtors’; it does not say, ‘Forgive us on the ground of the fact that we forgive our debtors’. It says rather ‘even as’, ‘even as I forgive those who are my debtors’. The only way of forgiveness before Christ, after Christ and always, is through Christ and Him crucified.

Does “as we forgave (aphekamen) our debtors” implies that God’s forgiveness depends on human forgiveness? While the Gospel of Matthew seems to think so (Matt. 6:14-15, 18:21-22, 35; 5:23-26) Aramaic specialists say that the Aramaic sense is that God requires Christians to be willing to forgive.

Jesus uses the metaphor of the debtor to explain man’s situation to God. The figure of 10,000 talents shows how irretrievably great is man’s indebtedness (Matt. 18:24).  The same confession underlies the request for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. For Jesus who teaches His disciples to pray for forgiveness, perceives how impossible is the way of compensating for bad deeds by good deeds after the manner of Pharisaic thinking. Jesus does not speak of any underlying human achievements in the form of works, merits, sacrifices, fastings, tithes and offerings, etc. In Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee is congratulating himself. He was not really grateful to God but he was exceptional well pleased with himself. He gave tithes of all his income. Here he is claiming credit. The tax collector claimed nothing: God be merciful to me, the sinner.

In the OT remission of debt (or pardon for sin) were bought from God by the guilt offering. In the NT (Aphienai) “To remit” (to pardon) becomes “to forgive.”  Forgiveness is a matter of grace. Forgiveness of sin is always by God’s grace and based on Christ’s atonement.  A forgiving spirit is made easier for Christians when they consider how much God has already forgiving.

The phrase “as we forgave” in Matt. 6:12 is not to be regarded here as an appeal to our own action with its claim to forgiveness by God. It is simply stating that we should let our reluctance or unwillingness to forgive a brother stands in the way of this petition to God. Similarly, the “for we also forgive” in Luke 11:4 states the reason why the petitioner takes courage to approach the Holy God with the difficult request for forgiveness of his debts. This reminds the petitioner that his request for forgiveness would be hopeless from the very first if he himself displayed no readiness to forgive.

COMPARING SCRIPUTRE WITH SCRIPTURE

We must learn to take our Scriptures together, and to compare Scripture with Scripture, and to realize that here our LORD was simply concerned about the relationship of Father and child.

Mark 11:22-26. There are two conditions for effective prayer: Faith and Forgiveness. To have faith means to maintain the confidence that God is able to do what is otherwise impossible (Mk. 9:23). A mountain is sometimes a symbol of difficulty. Faith is an indispensable element in prayer. Forgiveness of others is another prerequisite for answer to prayer. What is certain is that effective prayer must be offered in faith with a spirit of forgiveness. Confidence in God’s power must be combined with the clean slate provided only by God’s forgiving disciples’ sins.

Statements such as we have in Mark 11:25-26 and Matthew 6:14-15, which make God’s forgiveness dependent on our forgiveness have been misunderstood as being legal in nature. The forgiveness which Jesus speaks here is the forgiveness of a father which restores fellowship. The point here is that a disciple cannot pray effectively if unforgiving spirit has broken his fellowship with God.

Matt. 18:21-35. The Parable of Unforgiving Servant teaches that men who have experienced God’s forgiveness are accountable to display forgiveness toward others. Certainly sinners who have experienced God’s forgiveness ought to display kindred spirit toward others. If God has forgiven us all, how much should we be ready to forgive those who have done wrong to us? The word “fellow-slaves” in Matt. 18:28f is a reminder of the binding interrelation of men and of their common and very serious subjection to the same LORD and JUDGE.

In vv. 34-35, Matthew states: God will punish you if do not forgive your brother from your heart. God may use torments, sickness, bad circumstances to chasten and produce a proper spirit among His children (1 Cor. 11:30-32). This man begged the unmerciful servant just as he himself begged their master for mercy. It is within his power to do the right thing. How could God answer the prayer of this man when he seeks God’s face?

THE POWER NOT TO FORGIVE (John 20:23). Forgiveness is divine initiative. Only God can forgive sins. The power to forgive extends to the Jesus Community (Christians) whose members consider one another as brothers and sisters and as such are to forgive one another without limits. However Jesus also confers on Christians the power both to forgive sins and to withholding forgiveness. A prophet may even pray that God will not forgive his enemies (Isaiah 2:9, Jer. 18:23).

TRESPASSES AND “WILLED EVIL.” The word translated “trespasses” means “to go astray,” “to make mistake,” “missing the mark.”  Trespassing is an everyday occurrence. It needs forgiving, dismissing, in order to make it possible for life to go on by constantly releasing men and women from what they have done wrongfully.

“Willed” or Intentional Evil will be taken care of by God in the Last Judgment. YOU CANNOT FORGIVE WILLED EVIL. Knowing that forgiveness for trespasses – understood as “missing the mark,” not intentional evil – is possible allows humankind to act without undue fear of making mistakes.

VENGEANCE IS MINE (Rom. 12:19): In this way whenever we have been wronged, we can give into God’s hands any desire to harm or pay back the person who has wronged us, knowing that every wrong in the universe will ultimately be paid for – either it will turn out to have been paid for by Christ when He died on the cross (if the sinner becomes a Christian), or it will be paid for at the final judgment (for those who do not trust in Christ for salvation). This thought should keep us from harbouring bitterness or resentment in our hearts for injustices we have suffered that have not been made right: God is just, and we can leave the these situations in His hands, knowing that He will someday right all wrongs and give absolutely fair rewards and punishments. In this way we are following in the example of Christ, who “when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; He suffered, He did not threaten; but He trusted to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23).

FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION

Forgiveness is not the equivalent of reconciliation. However it is the means by which barriers to reconciliation (which may or may not follow) are removed. Forgiveness is a realization that we are more like those who have offended us than we are different from them. It is a mistake to equate forgiveness with reconciliation. One may forgive violations of a contract or covenant but not desire to continue in relationship with the offender. This is the case in many divorces.

CONCLUSION

Do you understand yourself as capable of feeling the forgiveness of God? Can you release yourself from resentment in order to forgive? Are lasting relationship important enough to require forgiveness? Do you forgive in order to please, without the offender’s feeling of any remorse? If this is the case, then you are vulnerable to continued disappointment and resentment.

The divine forgiveness can be accepted only in humility and with repentance. Man must be willing to acknowledge that he is in the wrong before God and that nothing that he can do can put him in the right. Forgiveness of one’s neighbour does not merit forgiveness of oneself on the part of God. God’s forgiveness is a gracious act. It does not depend upon human action. The divine forgiveness is freely offered, and it stems solely of God’s love and grace.

The believer is freed from the legalism of Sabbath laws, the tyranny of the absolute prohibition of divorce and bondage to such moral rules as the requirement to tell the truth understood in a narrowly literalistic sense. For the believer knows that if he wholeheartedly seeks to do God’s will He would accept him with whatever uncleanness he incurs in the effort to serve the neighbour. The believer should know that the grace of God is sufficient to forgive him the guilt which he incurs out of love.

Vengeance and self-righteousness and wilful destruction are forbidden by the Creator and our Redeemer.

References:

  1. “Is Human Forgiveness Possible?: A Pastoral Care Perspective” (Abingdon Press, 1985) by John Patton.
  2. “Studies in the Four Gospels” (1927) by G. Campbell Morgan.
  3. “All the Prayers of the Bible” (Zondervan, 1959) by Herbert Lockyer.