Saturday, December 15, 2018

3rd Sunday of Advent - The Joy of our worship - Matthew 2:1-12

3rd Sunday of Advent - The Joy of our worship - Matthew 2:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 16, 2018

Though not everyone agrees on the timing of the arrival of the Magi from the East, they apparently came sometime after the birth of Jesus. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, though still in Bethlehem, were now in a house (oikia) or residence. Matthew could have simply been describing where Mary and Joseph were staying. Jesus was also called a child (paidion) rather than infant. The focus is the Magi’s joyous worship.

When Denise and I first began to date, I would drive hundreds of miles, often times during very bad weather just to see her. I wrote her letters where I painstakingly drew cartoon characters just to make her smile. I was and am willing to sacrifice anything for her happiness and contentment. Why would I do this? I did it because I love her. She is the joy of my life. And isn’t that the way believers should respond to the joy of their worship as well? Let’s discover just what the joy of our worship should be…

READ: Matthew 2:1-12

In the musical The Sound of Music the song “Climb Every Mountain” states that we should “Climb every mountain, search high and low; Follow every byway, every path you know. Climb every mountain, Ford every stream; Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.” Here in Matthew’s gospel we discover the Magi were willing to do just that. They teach us that the Joy of our worship…

I. Inspires us to overcome any obstacle! (Vv. 1-2)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

  1. The exact identity of the Magi is impossible to establish, though several ideas have been floated over the years; everything from a secret society, magicians, wizards, or simple wealthy truth seekers. They have been given traditional names of Gaspar, Melchior and; Balthazar; and identified as representatives of the three groups of peoples that descended from Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. None of this is true. This notion is from about the 7th century. More likely they were pagan Gentiles of high position from a country, probably Persia, northeast of Babylon. Maybe they were given a special revelation by God of the birth of the King of the Jews. This may simply have been revealed in the sky, as indicated by their title “Magi” (specialists in astronomy) and by the fact they referred to a star which they saw. Or this revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East. Those who wanted to learn more about the world around them often read the manuscripts of differing religions, histories, or literature of other nations. Some think the Magi’s comments reflect knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the “star” that would “come out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). Whatever the source, they came “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod.” And we discover the main reason is stated in their question, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” These men had to travel a long distance (between 550 to 600 miles), mostly walking or perhaps riding, and endured the hardships of thieves and robbers, weather and dirt, and weeks if not months of travel. They left the safety of hearth and home in search of a child and for the mere chance “to worship him”! The Joy of their worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle!

  EXAMPLE: There are many who search for truth, but some never recognize it. Some give their lives serving others, like Mother Teresa who constantly agonized over whether she truly had done enough “good things” for Jesus to love her! There are those who live a lifelong journey of bellybutton introspection focusing on self and emptying themselves of all worldly desires to find a sense of wholeness. Some think happiness is only found in the moment. Here we find traveling Wisemen following a heavenly star hoping to kneel before a child on the chance that he might be the One they sought. That’s what the Joy of worship does; it inspires us to overcome any obstacle in order to worship Jesus!

There are those who say they have found the object of their worship, but when one takes a closer look all you see is them! We can mouth Christian platitudes, wave our hands in the air, sing all the choruses we know, and even quote Scripture verbatim but not know why we are to worship because we truly do not know Jesus whom we are to worship! The Joy of our worship…

II. Is more than counterfeit comprehension! (Vv. 3-8)

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

  1. King Herod knew what he worshiped and this is why, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod was shaken to his core. It was said that it was better to be a pig in Herod’s household than to be one of his children! Herod in his paranoia had two of his sons and a wife murdered. Herod was not the rightful king from the line of David. In fact, he was not even a descendant of Jacob, but was descended from Esau and was an Edomite. This is why the Jews hated their king! Herod however was crafty and in fact did a lot to build up his nation militarily, financially, and physically. “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ (Messiah) was to be born.” Herod in his paranoia wanted to know who this threat to his throne was. They give him the answer gleaned from Micah, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Both Herod and his advisors had a counterfeit response and reason for their belief. The people’s chief priests and teachers of the law wanted to show off their knowledge to their King and Herod wanted to thwart any opposition to his reign! What he learned was soon related to the Magi, “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.” He was already planning his infanticidal response whereby “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity (that) were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16 NIV) So, Herod sends them to Bethlehem and tells them, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” He only wanted to “worship” him at the end of a sword. The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!

  EXAMPLE: There is an atheist group who has paid for giant billboards with the message, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” Interestingly, American Atheists President David Silverman, whose heritage is Jewish, says they are trying to focus only on the “fun” parts of Christmas. And sadly, this is what many folks, including Christians, do as well. They focus only on the “fun” parts forgetting that worship of Christ is more than head knowledge or showing up once a year. Some view worship as a country club experience where they pay their dues for the benefits or grand show; it is more about receiving than giving, rights instead of responsibilities, entitlements instead of sacrifice, and being served instead of serving. They might as well be atheists asking, “Who needs Christ during worship? Nobody!” The Joy of worship is more than counterfeit comprehension!

Author Greig Beck in his thriller novel “Dark Rising” writes, “Without sacrifice, there is no freedom. Without freedom, there is no life. God bless them who give their all for us.” He wasn’t writing about missionaries, instead he was writing about those in the military who sacrifice themselves for the cause of freedom. Should this not be said of the believer? In the story of the Magi and this third Sunday of Advent, we discover that the Joy of our worship…

III. Makes us enthusiastically sacrifice! (Vv. 9-12)

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

  1. Simple trust is an amazing thing. We discover it in children and are often silenced by it. We discover it here with the Magi and it should cause us to pause, because, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way.” At this time, they did not know Herod’s intent they only wanted to continue their journey. They followed the star they have seen earlier and wonder of wonders, “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was!” Stars, like planets, usually go from east to west because of the earth’s rotation, not north to south! Could it be therefore that “the star” which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah glory of God or one of his angelic messengers? -- Possibly. But “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” They knew what it meant! It was showing them the way to the One they sought! The same God who had lead the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years, now lead these Wiseman. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” They did not pause to worship or recognize Mary nor Joseph. The mother and father are of little importance to those who seek the Messiah. They immediately went to the object of their search! “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Some believe the gifts signified the character of Jesus’ life. Gold might represent his deity or purity, incense the fragrance of his life, and myrrh his sacrifice and death. Scripture does not say and therefore it is speculation. However, it speaks volumes on how these men were willing to enthusiastically sacrifice their time, talents, and treasures in order to worship Jesus! “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” The joy of our worship makes us enthusiastically sacrifice all that we have for Him!

  EXAMPLE: How about you? What do you sacrifice for Jesus? Maybe you are more like the four blind men in the Asian myth who come across an elephant for the first time. One grasps the trunk and thinks it’s a snake; another, touches the elephant’s leg and says it’s a tree. A third finds the elephant’s tail and concludes it’s a rope. The fourth blind man finds the elephant’s side and assumes it’s a wall. It is not as some think differing religions describing the same thing in radically differing ways. The truth is that spiritually blind folks cannot make sense from that which they are blind to! Jesus correctly asked, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39 NIV) and of course the answer is “yes”! Stop being blind, the Joy of your worship should make you enthusiastically sacrifice all that you have for Jesus!

Conclusion:

The Joy of our worship inspires us to overcome any obstacle; it is more than counterfeit comprehension and it makes us enthusiastically sacrifice! Just like the Wisemen.
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

2nd Sunday of Advent - The peace of God - Isaiah 52:6-10

2nd Sunday of Advent - The peace of God - Isaiah 52:6-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 9, 2018

Last week we spoke of how the Messiah would be called by the names of Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. There were those who incorrectly thought that the Messiah would bring about the end of war or that everyone would find bliss. Interestingly, there are those in our day who still have misconceptions of who the Messiah is and the peace he brings.

Isaiah introduces us to a Messiah who would bring peace to all mankind. He begins these verses by calling the nation of Israel to “Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised (ungodly) and defiled will not enter you again.” Jerusalem’s pagan conquerors — the uncircumcised and defiled — would never again invade and pollute the holy city after the Messiah came. This is part of the peace he would bring when he came. Let’s discover this morning of the Second Advent, the peace of God!

READ: Isaiah 52:6-10

The world today thinks that peace comes from the absence of conflict that it can be obtained through gain or government, but Isaiah teaches us that…

I. The peace of God comes from Him alone! (v. 6)

Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.

  1. God’s people would be freed from their chains, never to be enslaved again! Isaiah prophesied, “For this is what the LORD says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.’” (v.3) No amount of money could pay the debt they owed! The Israelites did not fully understand that the enslavement God saw his people under was the rebellion of sin and that they could never buy themselves back without the blood of a sacrifice! No amount of ransom could buy them back from their enslavement to sin, only the blood of a perfect Lamb could! This is why the writer of Hebrews would later write, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and in offerings, you were not pleased… Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll-- I have come to do your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:3-7 NIV) God would ask them, “And now what do I have here?” He answers his question by relating, “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock, and all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (v. 5) while we may be shortsighted, God’s view is much longer. The Israelites willingly sold themselves into slavery for a pittance and those who enslaved them mocked God as a result! They refused to listen and repent. Yet, God’s plan all along was to redeem all people and his desire was that they would know how it occurred and who was responsible when it happened! Isaiah was told by God, “Therefore my people will know my name; therefore, in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” When the peace of God came, all people everywhere would know who brought it about. This is why the angels rejoiced singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV) The peace of God comes from him alone!

  EXAMPLE: Daily Bread’s Les Lamborn writes, “During the Christmas season, we wait. We wait in traffic. We wait in checkout lines to purchase gifts. We wait for family to arrive. We wait to gather around a table filled with our favorite foods. We wait to open presents lovingly chosen. All of this waiting can be a reminder to Christians that Christmas is a celebration of waiting for something much more important than holiday traditions. Like the ancient Israelites, many are waiting for Jesus” the peace of God. Isaiah teaches us that the peace of God comes from him alone!

God made the first move when he came as a baby. A star would appear marking the way, angels would proclaim him, and shepherds would witness to what they saw. Isaiah teaches us that...

II. The peace of God would be proclaimed! (Vv. 7-8)

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.

  1. Here is a wonderful picture of rescue. The enemy has surrounded the city, they are encamped around the walls and there is no escape and it seems as if no one is coming to their rescue. Thousands upon thousands of the enemy’s troops are assembled and just when they are ready to step forward to fight, there comes a cry from one of the watchmen on the wall of the besieged, “Look! Look to the mountains there is where our help comes from!” And all eyes strain to see a lone runner from the foothills headed to the besieged and the enemy parts for him like the waters of the Red Sea for Moses. Isaiah declares, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Notice that the deliverance is not brought about by a larger army, more advanced weaponry, or a master general but by the beautiful “feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation”! And what is this message of salvation they would proclaim to those waiting for rescue and to the camp of the surrounding enemy? “Your God reigns!” As wonderful as the return of Israel from their Babylonian captivity, what utter joy will there be when the Messiah finally comes to Zion and proclaims, “Your God reigns!” Now, dear child of the King, you are the messenger of the Messiah in our besieged city, our occupied territory, and surrounded nation. You are the one with beautiful feet to proclaim the peace of God, you are the one running from the mountains bringing good news that that he alone reigns! “Listen!” Isaiah commands. “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” Those entrapped can rejoice, because “When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” Israel would see their Messiah coming to them, but some would not care or would refuse to hear him when he came. But whether they wanted to believe it or not he would come. And, they would see it with their own eyes. The peace of God would be proclaimed!

  EXAMPLE: Isaiah was a watchman; Nahum was a watchman and various men in various ways prophesized announcing the coming of the Messiah, the light of the world. John the Baptist was the last “who was sent from God… He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” John knew that “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” In fact it was Jesus who “was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:6-11 NIV) And, now the last command the Messiah has given his watchmen on the wall who look to the mountains is, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”! The peace of God is to be proclaimed!

What joyous news, what a wonderful truth to proclaim, those enslaved and those surrounded by the enemy can be freed forever! Isaiah teaches us that…

III. The peace of God brings salvation! (Vv. 9-10)

Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

  1. Over and over we find Isaiah telling the people to “burst into song” to “rejoice” because God would hear their cries for help. Isaiah tells them, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” In the midst of standing in the ruin of their lives and the rubble of their city, the embattled and surrounded Israelites were to “Burst into songs of joy together”! How could they do such a thing? God has already “comforted his people.” In fact, the important message is that God has already “redeemed” bought back Jerusalem, meaning all of Israel. This is why John the Baptist’s papa, Zachariah, would break his silence by singing, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people!” (Luke 1:68 NIV) Isaiah wrote, “All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing.” (Isaiah 14:7 NIV) Matthew would understand and reiterate Isaiah’s words by reminding us, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matthew 4:16-17 NIV) The promise Isaiah proclaimed is the fact that God Himself would “lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” God would show the entire world his power and ability to bring salvation through his Messiah. It is summed up in the majestic wonderful words of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus would say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) The peace of God brings salvation!

  EXAMPLE: There are folks who read the last chapter first when they start a new thriller. They may think that it takes the anxiety out of reading. So it is with Christians because we know the end of the story, we can be messengers of peace in the midst of utter chaos, calm in the face of disaster. We are to experience peace under pressure. Kingdoms may fall, friends may falter, churches may fold, oceans may rise, and mountains may crumble, but we can be at peace. How do we maintain such composure? By remembering that the “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV). In fact, just as Isaiah wanted the Israelites to be comforted that the Messiah would come, Jesus reminds us, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelations 22:20 NIV) Today could be the day! The peace of God brings salvation!

Conclusion:
The peace of God comes from Him alone!
The peace of God would be proclaimed!
The peace of God brings salvation!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

1st Sunday of Advent - Our expectation and hope! - Isaiah 9:1-7

1st Sunday of Advent - Our expectation and hope! - Isaiah 9:1-7
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 2, 2018

We should not allow outside circumstance to dictate how we respond to life. Recently however the political and social climate of our nation has caused many to become full of gloom and despair. There are those in the political arena that encourage their constituents to be despaired by their opposition simply because things are not going the way they want. Life hardly ever does, yet on the 1st Sunday of Advent we light the candle of hope.

Hope is more than wishful thinking; it is the outcry of the human heart and the certainty of God's promise. We as his children hope in him because we know who he is and what he has done. The Israelites of Isaiah's day had no such experience. They should have been able to trust God and the promises he made from knowing their own history, but in the midst of war, famine, and the threat of enslavement it can be tough to see God or his promises. Perhaps this is where you are today. Take heart, there is hope. Let's discover what Isaiah tells us during this day of Advent concerning hope…

READ: Isaiah 9:1-7

In a world where we find self-centerness at the forefront of the human condition it is often hard to find hope in the world. But today we can discover anew just what it means to have hope in what may seem a hopeless situation. Isaiah tells us that…

I. The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy! (Vv. 1-3)

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.

  1. There would come a time in Israel's history when instead of asking God they would consult with "mediums and spiritists" to seek what the dead had to say concerning the living. Because of their fickle nature concerning the word of God and not following him alone they would go hungry both physically and spiritually. Things would get so bad they would become bitter and blame God for their own faithlessness!  The coming Messiah would be their hope of joy and "there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress." The Israelites could now look forward to the Messiah's coming which would bring renewed joy. In fact even the non-believing gentiles would find the joy of God and so Isaiah tells them that "In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." The wonderful truth would be that something good would indeed come from Galilee of the Gentiles. He would be from there and out of what the Jews considered to be an area of spiritual darkness, there would be the light of life, Jesus Christ! Death was an ever present shadow in the life of those who could not or would not trust God; however, a new light would dawn. God would "enlarge the nation and increase their joy" because of those who would now trust in the one coming. Isaiah foretells that the nation of Israel would "rejoice" before God "as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder." What a wonderful time Isaiah spoke about! The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy!

  EXAMPLE: Christmas is that time of year when children began making wishes and wants made known. They long for something wonderful to unwrap on Christmas Day. With excitement and anticipation their longings turn into hope and when the day arrives, it turns into joy! When Jesus came as a baby in a feeding trough the world did not know that the hope it had long awaited for had arrived. Yet all of creation paused on that one moment as a child was born and the hope of the ages came true. Matthew fittingly applied this passage to Jesus, who began His preaching and healing ministry in that region. The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy!

Certain religions encourage the spiritual enslavement of their adherents. Islam, Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others do this through the deliberate distortion of Biblical truth. Throughout the history of the world sinful mankind has used whatever means, including religion to force others into slavery. However, Isaiah tells us that…

II. The coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom! (Vv. 4-5)

For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

  1. We truly do not understand what it means to be enslaved; even those who would like to riot or feel justified in their marching against racism, do not know the injustice of enslavement. Yet, we are all enslaved until we are set free from the bonds of sin. And sadly, even fewer folks understand their enslavement. However, the Israelites did and they longed for their freedom from not just physical oppression but from their bondage to sin. Here, Isaiah proclaims to them they have hope because just "as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor." The Messiah would bring an end to their bondage! Midian had been a thorn in the side of the Israelite's flesh for years. Because of the Israelite's own sin God allowed the Midianites to so oppress them that they had to prepare "shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds" and "Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help." (Judges 6:1-6 NIV) God rose up Gideon who would resoundingly defeat thousands of them with only 300 men, but now they would have a new Deliverer. He would completely shatter their yoke of slavery that burden them and the rod of their oppressor would be gone! In fact, the hope the Messiah would bring about would do away with the reminders of war! "Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire." These things would now only be good for the flames of a funeral pyre; the coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom!

  EXAMPLE: Some think that it was Christians who began the Crusades; this is an outright boldface lie. The Crusades began as a response by believers for the decades of war and enslavement the forces of Islam brought to the Christian world. Wherever the armies of Islam marched, you either submitted or died. When they finally came to the shores of Italy and had forcefully taken over most of Europe, the Mediterranean and Middle East, the Pope responded by raising armies to fight the threat. Many of the areas Paul and the other disciples had won to Christ fell under the heavy boot of Islam and never returned to the truth of Christ. Isaiah's nation now faced similar circumstances and longed for real freedom. He tells them that the coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom!

True freedom is found in trusting Jesus, but freedom without peace is little freedom. However, the freedom Jesus brings is spiritual first, which influences the physical nature of the world around it when it is applied to the lives of those he influences. But Isaiah now turns to a new truth concerning the coming Messiah. He would be more than just a king or leader; Isaiah tells us that…

III. The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace! (Vv. 6-7)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

  1. Now Isaiah proclaims to them such a wonderful thing that many found it hard to believe. They were now living much as their ancestors did; under the oppression from their own rulers like Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh and the threat of coming annihilation from Assyria and finally Babylon. They were not to trust in others like Egypt to save them, but instead rely on God alone. However, here Isaiah goes beyond their current circumstances and looks to the future of his people. He foretells that "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders." The one to come would be their ultimate ruler; but more than being simply a king or monarch, the one to come would "be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, [and] Prince of Peace." These are not the common titles or monikers for cruel kings but the wonderful names for one who would be concerned and care for his people! The Messiah would be the "Wonderful Counselor" of God (Holy Spirit), he would be "Mighty God" (God himself), the "Everlasting Father", and the "Prince of Peace" (the Son of God)! All three personalities of the trinity are named and actively involved! However, the peace the Messiah would bring would not be like the world gives, Jesus would declare, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." (John 14:27 NIV) In fact, Isaiah declares that the ministry of the Messiah would be different from any earthly ruler: "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever." His rule and reign would not last just a lifetime, it would be forever! His rule and reign would bring a lasting peace no one had ever experienced before! The coming Messiah would be God in human flesh and "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace!

  EXAMPLE: It amazes me that whenever someone is faced with the truth of a situation they often get angry. I was speaking with someone the other day about how the healthcare system has been destroyed; how it has affected me and my brother as well. His retort was not just confusing, it grew louder as he spoke. I have learned the volume of your response does not mean you are right. The frustration of one's soul is calmed by the presence and power of the Spirit. As the saying goes, "No God no peace, know God know peace!" The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace!

Conclusion:

The coming Messiah would be the hope of joy! The coming Messiah would be the hope of freedom! The coming Messiah would be the eternal hope of peace! That is what this day of Advent is all about; hope.
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Renewed by the Word! -- 2 Kings 22:8, 11-13a; 23:1-6

Renewed by the Word! -- 2 Kings 22:8, 11-13a; 23:1-6
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 25, 2018

The English preacher G. Campbell Morgan was known as the “prince of expositors” in his day. When he was a young man, he went through a period of doubting the truthfulness of God’s Word. To find some answers for himself, he locked away all of his books and bought a new Bible. He committed himself to studying it until he knew if it was God’s Word or not. The result was clear. He said, “That Bible found me.” Morgan devoted the rest of his life to studying and preaching God’s Word.

Hilkiah found the book of the law while making repairs to the temple. When the book was read to King Josiah, it “found him” and became the blueprint for his reign. His grandfather Manasseh worshipped Baal, Asherah, practiced the worship of stars, participated in sorcery, consulted mediums and spiritists, and sacrificed one of his own sons in the fire! Though he turned to the Lord at the end of his reign, Scripture blamed him for Jerusalem’s and Judah’s destruction. His successor Amon followed in his father’s evil footsteps. After a short reign, Amon’s officials assassinated him (2 Kings 21:1-26)! Amon’s son Josiah became king afterwards. Josiah was renewed by the Word! Let’s discover how…

READ: 2 Kings 22:8, 11-13a; 23:1-6

Amon’s son Josiah became king after Amon’s death. Josiah walked in the ways of his forefather David, instituting some far-reaching religious reforms in Judah. He based his reforms on the book of the law that Hilkiah the high priest found in the temple. We discover that…

I. Renewal comes when we evaluate God’s Word for ourselves! (2 Kings 22:8, 10-13a NIV)

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it… When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found.”

  1. The renovation of Solomon’s temple was taking place after many years of neglect and pagan worship being set up inside it walls. Remember that Hezekiah’s chief influence seems to have been the prophet Isaiah but his grandson Josiah’s chief influence was the law book discovered in the temple. Second Chronicles 34:3 records that in the eighth year of his reign (at age 16), he began to seek the Lord. That search led Josiah in the 12th year as king (at age 20) to begin purging Jerusalem and Judah of all practices and places that had to do with the worship of Baal. In the 18th year of Josiah’s reign (at age 26), Hilkiah the high priest found the book of the law while repairing the temple. The book of the law was Scripture, most likely part of Deuteronomy or possibly the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. “Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.’ He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.” It is amazing that the Word of God can have such an impact but it does! Shaphan cannot keep the words to his self and he reads them to his king. “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.” It was an act of contrition and repentance. The Words of God have that effect. Some believe it might have been the temple copy mentioned in Deuteronomy 31:25-26. The word translated book refers to a written document that was in the form of a scroll, and it probably was written in columns. The king then “gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: ‘Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found.’” The king is jubilant because renewal comes when we evaluate God’s Word for ourselves!

  EXAMPLE: When we are confronted with God’s Word in our lives we have to decide whether we will follow it or not. A halfway commitment is like a lukewarm cup of coffee—worth only to spit out! Jesus spoke to the church of Laodicea in Revelation concerning this: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16 NIV)” He rebukes them: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:19-20 NIV)” Renewal comes when we evaluate God’s Word for ourselves!

To be renewed by Scripture, God’s people must encounter the Bible by reading and hearing it taught and preached. Through this God’s people can learn what the Lord thinks about their actions and lifestyles. Scripture warns them of the tragic consequences of sinful actions and the positive consequences of obedience to God’s Word. We discover that…

II. God’s Word brings us to make a commitment! (2 Kings 23:1-3 NIV)

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets--all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD--to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

  1. Josiah commanded Hilkiah and some of his officials to form a commission and investigate further into Judah’s guilt and what ought to be done. “Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.” They were to seek answers from God, not from some idol or through divination. God’s Word had disturbed Josiah and caused him to encounter God in a way that made him reevaluate his actions and lifestyles as well as those of his people. This is why as king, “He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets--all the people from the least to the greatest.” All of Judah was called to a public assembly. The circle widened from the king to extend throughout his kingdom. “He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD.” When everyone was assembled, Josiah read from the book of the covenant that Hilkiah had found in the temple. The public reading of Scripture was a vital part of the spiritual renewal. The people heard what God required and prohibited, and Josiah had those commands implemented. “The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD--to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book.” Josiah stood by the pillar before his people and made a covenant in the presence of the Lord and the people. The pillar was probably one of the two bronze 35-foot tall bronze pillars that stood on either side of the temple’s entrance and were named Jachin, meaning “he shall establish,” and Boaz, meaning “in the strength of.” The King in his wisdom knew he had to lead the way and he was more than willing to do so. And after the people saw he was willing to be true to the Word of God, “Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant” as well! We discover that God’s Word brings us to make a commitment!

  EXAMPLE: In the past many Baptist churches had a “Church Covenant” that listed responsibilities a person assumed on becoming a church member. Some churches would display a large copy of that covenant on the front wall of the sanctuary facing the congregation. It reminded the people of their decision to follow the Lord and what it meant to be a member. The covenant was often the basis of church discipline against one who was accused of not carrying out these responsibilities. We discover that God’s Word brings us to make a commitment!

Encountering God’s Word led Josiah and his people to recommit themselves to the Lord and to the purposes of his kingdom. A fresh encounter by God’s people today with his Word will lead them to recommit themselves as well. Sometimes we can be reminded by the Word that we have things that hinder our relationship with the Lord. We discover here that…

III. Encountering the Word of God causes us to remove anything that interferes! (2 Kings 23:4-6 NIV)

The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem--those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people.

  1. The Word of God has a tendency to bring about change and often the very first thing that has to occur for that change to take place is for the recipient to get rid of anything in their life that hinders the work of God. This is why “The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts.” We discover that the change began with the Temple itself. All of the article that referred to pagan worship were to be removed, but Hilkiah goes a step further, “He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel.” The fields of the Kidron probably referred to the place where dead bodies were cast as well as ashes of various kinds (Jeremiah 33:5). Sweepings of the temple and refuse of the city also were carried there. The place known as Tophet in the Valley of Hinnom was nearby. The whole area was considered to be defiled. Josiah took the objects of idolatrous worship that had defiled the temple to where they belonged—in the place of defilement, where he burned them. In Jesus’ day it was known as Gehenna. Then the king carried their ashes to Bethel where Jeroboam I had first officially sanctioned idolatry in Israel. Taking the ashes to Bethel was a way to desecrate one of the sites of idol worship. After removing the various objects associated with idolatry, the king did away with the idolatrous priests the former kings of Judah had appointed to lead in idol worship, “those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah Pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there.” Josiah removed the pole once again and threw out its ashes where it belonged—with the dead. But he went further and “He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people.” Grinding the ashes to a powder was a symbol of absolute destruction. Scattering the ashes over the graves of the common or regular people was an act of desecration of the idol and also of all the people who were guilty of idol worship. Encountering God anew in his Word led Josiah to remove everything that competed with giving first and absolute loyalty to the Lord.

  EXAMPLE: If you want to restore a piece of furniture to its old glory you have to be willing to put in a lot of “elbow grease”, meaning time and effort. Stripping, sanding, and gluing joints. Then comes the process of refinishing with several coats of finish, in between sanding, and polishing. In order to restore something back to its original condition it takes removing anything that interferes with the finial finish! Encountering the Word of God causes us to remove anything that interferes!

Conclusion:

Renewal comes when we evaluate God’s Word for ourselves! God’s Word brings us to make a commitment! Encountering the Word of God causes us to remove anything that interferes!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Tripped up by pride! -- 2 Kings 20:1-19

Tripped up by pride! -- 2 Kings 20:1-19
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 18. 2018

A religious leader was talking to a group of people who were about to enter a new phase in their lives. They had been poor and restricted in opportunities and were headed for lives of unparalleled prosperity. These people also had made recent commitments to the Lord. The leader warned they would face new temptations of pride when they became successful and began to accumulate material things. They would congratulate themselves on their abilities and forget the Lord. The speaker Moses proved to be correct. Most of the Hebrew people in their pride forgot God.

These verses show how King Hezekiah responded to God’s miracle of healing in his life. Instead of remaining humble and grateful to God, he became filled with pride and focused on his possessions and his prestige. What occurred with Hezekiah can happen to any of us when we forget that what we enjoy in life is graciously given to us by the Lord God. Let’s discover what happened and how to remain humble before the Lord instead of being tripped up by pride…

READ: 2 Kings 20:1-19

Isn’t it interesting that when folks who never give a hoot or a holler to their relationship with God in life all of a sudden desperately want a beneficial answer from him when life goes bad? Perhaps our pride gets in the way? We see this with…

I. Hezekiah’s prayer! (2 Kings 20:1-3)

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

  1. Sennacherib had been stabbed to death by his own sons while he was worshipping. Israel was safe for the time being. The writer of 2 Kings tells us that “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death.” We later learn it was a disease that caused skin boils. (Eww…) What would Hezekiah do? Who could he turn to during this desperate time of need? Most illnesses during these times resulted in a person’s death; medical science not being what it is today. I often laugh at how some folks put so much trust in old time or natural cures when in fact most do not do anything at all. We discover however that “The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him”. I am sure that when Isaiah first showed up in the king’s court he was seen gladly. Perhaps he had a message from God that would cure Hezekiah? And yet any serious rejoicing was soon dowsed when Isaiah said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Wow, Isaiah does not have very good bedside manner, does he! Just what a sick person wants to hear from someone whom you hoped would bring you an answer. It is kind of pathetic and sad because this great king does what most folks would probably do in this situation: “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD”! Who else could he rely on if Israel’s prophet brought him such horrible news? Hezekiah does what he should have done all along, he prays, “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” He reminds the Lord that he tried his best to walk with him even if he did stretch the truth of his relationship just a bit. But isn’t this how most of us view ourselves? And then the realization of what is going to happen and the words of the Prophet Isaiah sink into his prayer and “Hezekiah wept bitterly.” It is never the least thing we can do; it is the most important thing to do. We should never be so prideful that we cannot pray!

  EXAMPLE: Why do you pray? Do you see prayer as a means to perhaps change God’s mind on an outcome in life you disagree with? Do you pray in order to discover more about the Lord and develop your relationship with him? Or do you pray because it is expected of you and you have a list to check off each day? Prayer is to be our constant conversation with the Lord when we seek his face and discuss with him his will and his ways. We should never be so prideful that we wait to pray only when we have a desperate need. Pride should never get in the way of our prayers.

We forget that God does indeed answer the prayers of his people. He can say “yes”, “no”, “wait”, or say nothing at all. He often does not give us an answer when we already know it. Hezekiah’s prayer results in an unexpected answer. When one is willing to humble their selves and seek God’s face God will answer them. We find the answer from the Lord in…

II. Hezekiah’s healing! (2 Kings 20:4-11)

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’” Then Isaiah said, “Prepare a poultice of figs.” They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered. Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day from now?” Isaiah answered, “This is the LORD’s sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?” “It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” said Hezekiah. “Rather, have it go back ten steps.” Then the prophet Isaiah called upon the LORD, and the LORD made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.

  1. God answers Hezekiah’s prayer almost immediately. We discover that “Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, “This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.’” Notice God qualifies his answer to this king: “tell the leader of my people”. This was the God of his “father David” answering his prayer and not some false god or idol. “I will heal you.” No sweeter words were ever spoken to this mighty king. When God answers he gives us specifics. He never makes us guess. God is not some game show host making us try to discover what he wants. God bluntly tells Hezekiah through Isaiah, “On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.” God wasn't just healing Hezekiah because he liked him; he was healing him and rescuing his people “for my sake and for the sake of my servant David”! God had made a promise to David that out of his linage the Messiah would come, and God was going to fulfill that promise in spite of Hezekiah. Isaiah commands that a “poultice of figs” be prepared and applied to Hezekiah’s boils and he recovers. Hezekiah’s curiosity gets the better of him and he asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day from now?” There is no better place to be than in the center of the will of God. Hezekiah’s pride was getting in the way again, but God is patient. Isaiah answered him, “This is the LORD’s sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?” Not seeing how God is working fully Hezekiah remarks, “It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps, rather, have it go back ten steps.”   The Lord had heard Hezekiah’s prayer and had seen his tears. God saw the king’s outward appearance and also his heart and knew the words expressed his heart’s deep desires. God said, “I am healing you.” Yet Hezekiah wants proof. When God answers our prayers our pride should not get in the way of our healing!

  EXAMPLE: There are those who think they can make a deal with God. Hezekiah was truly humbled by his ailment. We forget that everything is for the glory of God. Our life, all of creation and everything that happens is part of the work and will of the Lord. We have a tough time when it involves violence, an act that we cannot fathom, or an act of nature that destroys everything we own. We wonder how a good God can allow bad things happen to good people. We forget that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45 NIV)” Our pride should not get in the way like it did with Hezekiah’s healing!

How do you respond when God answers your prayers but it isn’t the way you wanted? Hezekiah received a deathbed healing from God! The king should have remembered this healing and past blessings and deliverances from God with humility and gratitude so as to avoid becoming puffed up with pride. Past blessings are God’s accomplishments, not a person’s achievements. We see it in…

III. Hezekiah’s pride! (2 Kings 20:12-19)

At that time Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. Hezekiah received the messengers and showed them all that was in his storehouses--the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil--his armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?” “From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came from Babylon.” The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?” “They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.” Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” “The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”

  1. Often when we become ill folks will respond. Especially if the one who is sick is a leader of a nation like a king or President! Interestingly we learn that “At that time Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness.” Remember Assyria had been a threat and now we discover visitors from Babylon bringing “letters and a gift” to a sick king of a tiny but strategic nation. Is Hezekiah cautious? Nope. “Hezekiah received the messengers and showed them all that was in his storehouses--the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil--his armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.” Is his guy dense or so full of himself that he simply cannot help it? God’s Prophet is not so stupid and he goes to Hezekiah and asks, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?” Hezekiah responds, “They came from Babylon!” The king of Babylon heard of Hezekiah’s illness and sent letters and a gift. The Babylonian king also wanted to learn more about the miraculous sign of the shadow moving backward (2 Chron. 32:31). In addition he probably was trying to enlist Hezekiah’s help in resisting Assyria or how well defended Israel was. They now knew how rich this little nation was; a prize for the picking. The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?” “They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.” Hezekiah was focused not on how God had blessed him but on what he thought he had accomplished; including his healing. Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood that will be born to you will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” We learn that “Hezekiah's heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the LORD's wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem.” (2 Chronicles 32:25 NIV) Hezekiah referred to his blessings as “my treasures”. Hezekiah’s heart was prone to sinful pride. God had made Hezekiah successful in everything he did because of his devotion to the Lord. Yet Hezekiah failed to attribute all of this to the Lord. Thus the Lord’s wrath was on him because of his sinful pride.

  EXAMPLE: Did Hezekiah weep again? Did he seek God’s face? Nope. He pragmatically responds, “The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” for he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” Hezekiah’s response can be understood in three possible ways. Perhaps he was being smug and self-serving. Or, he was praying the disaster would be delayed as long as possible. Or, he accepted the inevitability of judgment but was grateful it would not come until after his death. The last response seems to fit the king’s character. Though Hezekiah’s motives may not have been totally pure, he did humbly accept the Lord’s correction of his pride. Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the LORD's wrath did not come upon them during the days of Hezekiah. (2 Chronicles 32:26 NIV)”

Conclusion:

Instead of remaining humble and grateful to God, Hezekiah became filled with pride and focused on his possessions and his prestige. What occurred with Hezekiah can happen to any of us when we forget that what we enjoy in life is graciously given to us by the Lord God. We learned this in Hezekiah’s healing, Hezekiah’s prayer, and Hezekiah’s pride.
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Trusting in God! -- 2 Kings 18:30; 19:1-3, 5-7, 14-16, 19

Trusting in God! -- 2 Kings 18:30; 19:1-3, 5-7, 14-16, 19
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 11, 2018

Cancer has claimed the lives of many. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and even siblings have been struck with this disease. When diagnosed there is fear, frustration, and wondering why. Often family and friends are called, church family and fellow Christians are asked to pray. For those who know the Lord there is comfort in friends and fellow believers praying for you. One such person I knew who was told she had cancer told me later that she found comfort in the Psalm, “I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalms 121:1-2 NIV)” In times like these trusting in God gives us comfort and strength.

The Assyrian King sent his supreme commander to the gates of Jerusalem. There he delivered a message to Jerusalem and her king. His words were designed to undermine their confidence and to encourage them to oppose Hezekiah’s decision to resist. He claimed Hezekiah and their God did not have the power or ability to deliver the city! Soon they would be besieged and the defenders would “eat their own filth and drink their own urine”! (v. 27) In the midst of a dire situation Hezekiah asked his people to trust God. Could they place themselves in God’s hands and trust him? Let’s find out…

READ: 2 Kings 18:30; 19:1-3, 5-7, 14-16, 19

At Sennacherib’s threat, Hezekiah sent word to the prophet Isaiah to pray for those in Judah who had not been conquered. Isaiah told the king to trust in the Lord and not to be afraid because God would protect Jerusalem. No matter the circumstances we are asked to…

I. Trust in the Lord! (2 Kings 18:30)

Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, ‘The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’

  1. Hezekiah was one of the best kings Judah ever had. He destroyed pagan worship and defeated the pesky Philistines and unified the people to worship the Lord and him only. Assyria marched down from the north and utterly defeated Israel to the north and took captives back to Assyria. Soon, they turned their eyes toward Judah and King Hezekiah. Hezekiah had tried to unite the surrounding nations to stand up against Assyria but it did not work. They destroyed every city and army sent against them. In order to save his nation and his people he decided to pay tribute to Assyria. He stripped the gold and silver from the Temple and his own palace to appease the Assyrians. It did not work. Bullies always want more. So “The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.” The field commander mocks Hezekiah and the Lord God. He derisively tells them “Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the LORD? The LORD himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.” (v. 25) He meant that his king was his god and his god told him to attack them and he would succeed. So this supreme commander mocks the people behind Jerusalem’s walls by telling them, “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, ‘The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’” This commander’s threats were very real. The army he commands could utterly destroy Jerusalem and take all of its population as prisoners back to Assyria. What were they to do? This commander did not know Hezekiah or the Israelite people nor did he know God. Because their king was such a godly man and because he asked them to, they were willing to put their lives in the hands of God. They were willing to trust in the Lord!

  EXAMPLE: We were on vacation and took a rail tram up a steep mountain grade to reach some caverns, my mother immediately wanted off. The park ranger noting her discomfort remarked, “Don’t worry Red (she had red hair) it’s only one scream to the bottom!” She began to chuckle and not be as afraid. When unexpected difficulties occur, the Bible reminds us that our best recourse is to place our trust in God. It was in a tumultuous time when invasion threatened his country that the prophet Isaiah, inspired by the Spirit, discerned this powerful promise from the Lord: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isa. 26:3). It was during this same time that Hezekiah learned to be willing to trust in the Lord!

One way to show we trust God in dangerously threatening times is to publicly announce our trust. Sennacherib’s field commander warned Hezekiah’s officials they had no chance. But Hezekiah believed in the Lord and declared his confidence that God would help them. A sincere public testimony of faith in the Lord and his power can encourage others and it often begins with…

II. Admitting our weakness! (2 Kings 19:1-3)

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They told him, ‘This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them.’”

  1. Hezekiah might have been a king but he was also just a man. He loved his nation and he wanted to honor God but what could he do? The largest and most aggressive army known to man was at the gates of his capital city! They had marched across the landscape like locusts devouring every city and army they faced! Hezekiah does the one thing he should do, he turned to the Lord! Often when we have nowhere else to go we will go to the Lord. Why is that? Shouldn’t we always seek the Lord and speak to him daily? Yet far too many of us wait until things get really bad before we meet with God in prayer or seek his face. Hezekiah did try to honor God but now his nation was in the midst of horrible circumstances. So, “When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD.” Sackcloth was a garment of coarse material often made from goat or camel hair and worn as a sign of mourning or anguish. Hezekiah was showing God his mourning for his nation! Though the king was strong in faith, he also was aware of his weaknesses and the weaknesses of his nation. Therefore he dropped all he was doing, prepared himself to fast and to seek the Lord, and went to the temple to pray. Hezekiah also sought the Lord’s help by going to the Lord’s prophet for prayer support. At the king’s command, Eliakim, Shebna, and the elders of the priests all put on sackcloth and went to Isaiah the prophet. Have you ever had an overwhelming experience where you keenly felt your weakness? Did you admit your weakness or did you try to cover it up? Hezekiah immediately uses three words to describe his weakness: “This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them.” He was like a weakened mother giving birth to a baby and had absolutely no power to deliver it; he was unable to save his people only God could! In admitting his inability to save his nation or himself Hezekiah shows us what needs to take place in our lives when we desire God to act in our lives. It begins in admitting our weakness!

  EXAMPLE: A few years ago our Men’s Group undertook a rigorous hike. It was tough, beautiful, and long but each of us had brought enough water to refresh ourselves and stay hydrated. There is a good reason the Bible refers to God as the spring of living water and refreshing restoring the soul. In John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian arrives at the foot of a steep ascent called the Hill Difficulty, “at the bottom of which was a spring… Christian now went to the spring and drank to refresh himself, and then began to go up the hill.” Perhaps the difficult hike you face is a rebellious child or a serious medical diagnosis. The challenge seems more than you can endure. Before you face your difficulty, come to God with all your weakness, weariness, helplessness, fear, and doubt. Then drink deeply of his power and strength. God knows your circumstances and will supply strength, comfort, and relief. He will give you strength to go on but it begins in admitting our weakness!

The Assyrians had Judah between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” Sennacherib’s commander had presented a convincing argument based on the facts and background that he knew. His error was underestimating God’s power. He did not know God and could not understand his power. However Hezekiah did and therefore in trusting God he…

III. Willingly asks for God’s help! (2 Kings 19: 19:5-7, 14-16, 19)

When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard--those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’”… Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God…. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

  1. Hezekiah immediately sends his officials Eliakim, Shebna, and leading priests from the temple (v. 2) to Isaiah the prophet to ask him to pray for Judah in the face of Sennacherib’s threat. When they get to Isaiah we learn that God is already in control of the situation. And this is just as true today. “When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, ‘Tell your master, “This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard--those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.”’” God encouraged the king not to fear the blasphemous words of Sennacherib’s “underlings.” He may have been a supreme commander in Assyria but he was nothing to the Lord. God had a personal message to the king of Assyria, “Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.” God would send a thought into Sennacherib’s mind that would cause him to call off his threat against Hezekiah. That thought was a rumor that the king of Ethiopia, was marching out to fight him. When Sennacherib heard that report, he decided not to invade Jerusalem. When “Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.” Hezekiah could not believe it! God was not only God over Judah but also Assyria! As Creator and Sovereign God, he had the authority and power to deal with Assyria. Hezekiah asked for the Lord’s help, asserting he knew God had the power to deliver Jerusalem. Hezekiah cries out to God “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God…. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” Hezekiah made the petition for himself – he wanted the whole world would know the living God because of his answer! At the beginning of his prayer, the king referred to the Lord as the answer to his need. Hezekiah willingly asks for God’s help!

  EXAMPLE: God does not answer all prayers of faith in the manner that he answered Hezekiah’s. But he does hear every prayer and respond according to his will. That night, the angel of the Lord went among the troops in the Assyrian camp and put to death 185,000 men. When Sennacherib saw all the dead bodies the next morning, he broke camp and went home to Nineveh and stayed there (vv. 35-36). God delivered Hezekiah in that threatening situation because he put his trust in the Lord and willingly asked for God’s help!

Conclusion:

Trust in the Lord! Admitting our weakness! Willingly asks for God’s help!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Trapped by sin! -- 2 Kings 17:5-12, 16-20

Trapped by sin! -- 2 Kings 17:5-12, 16-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 4, 2018

Two men were members of the same church. Both were active and were positive witnesses to the presence of God. One grew as a Christian vividly. God gave him victory over various sins committed before becoming a Christian. He became a strong, positive Christian influence in his workplace and community. The other man did not make worshiping and serving God his highest priority. Instead, he began giving into temptations seeking pleasure and possessions instead of a relationship with the Lord. Eventually, he gave up any visible identification with believers and the Lord.

All 20 kings who ruled northern Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. None of them worshiped God only. None were descendants of David to whom God promised his family would always rule over God’s people. Ahab and Jezebel made Baal worship legal. God disciplined his people, but nothing turned them to the Lord. God sent prophets Elisha, Amos, and Hosea to warn Israel of its sin and call the nation back to him. Israel continued to sin and fall deeper into bondage. Finally, God sent Assyria to destroy Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell. Israel was trapped by sin, let’s see how…

READ: 2 Kings 17:5-12, 16-20

When Shalmaneser succeeded Tiglath-pileser as king of Assyria, he attacked Hoshea the king of Israel and made him pay tribute. When Hoshea turned to the king of Egypt for help, Shalmaneser invaded Israel, and captured Samaria. Samaria fell because of the people’s sin against the Lord.

I. The downfall of sin is bondage! (2 Kings 17:5-6)

The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.

  1. During the time Ahaz was king of Judah and Hoshea king of Israel, Shalmaneser was king of Assyria. Shalmaneser invaded Israel, which eventually fell into Assyrian bondage. Before this time, Israel had been progressively losing its freedom. Israel’s government was highly unstable. After Jeroboam II’s reign of approximately 40 years, five kings followed him in rapid succession. When Hoshea became king at first he paid Assyria tribute (bribe) money. Then he rebelled, quit paying what amounted to “protection money” to Assyria, and turned to Egypt for help -- big mistake! Considering Hoshea to be a traitor, Shalmaneser (who succeeded Tiglath-pileser as king of Assyria) invaded the whole land of Israel. Israel’s fall had been slow but sure in coming. “The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria (Northern Israel’s capital) and laid siege to it for three years.” The downfall of personal or national sin is bondage; bondage to one’s sin, bondage to others who begin to control you because of your sin. Jesus related the same thing when he taught about how a rich man’s money keeps them in bondage just like sin in that “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (your sin). (Matthew 6:24 NIV)” There is always consequences for one’s sin. When we try to say we honor God but keep part of our lives in sin we suffer. Sadly, when nations or leaders of nations do this it can affect a lot of folks! “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.” The Northern Kingdom became captive slaves because of their leaders past sins! The downfall of sin is bondage!

  EXAMPLE: This past week we have seen how sin can enslave people and be used as an excuse to do horrendous acts. Murdering people because of who they are, firebombing buildings because of politics, or trying to blame others for people’s actions are feeble attempts to excuse sin. Like chains that enslave us, sin is just as binding. Peter wrote that “by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” He goes on to write that if one has escaped the corruption of the world by faith in Jesus but then returns to it they are like a dog returning to its vomit or a sow that is washed and goes back to her wallowing in the mud. (2 Peter 2:18-22 NIV) The downfall of sin is bondage!

Israel’s downward slide to bondage moved from being made a vassal nation that paid tribute (bribe) money to Assyria to its people’s being exiled. The slaves who were once set free from Pharaoh are enslaved again! People who fail to obey God will experience spiritual bondage. We discover that…

II. Believers can suffer because of their disobedience! (2 Kings 17:7-12)

All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the LORD had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that provoked the LORD to anger. They worshiped idols, though the LORD had said, “You shall not do this.”

  1. We discover that “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.” Some of those “practices” included sacrificing their children by burning them alive in fire; practicing divination, witchcraft, and sorcery; interpreting omens; casting spells; and going to mediums or spiritists to try to contact the dead. Do any of these practices ring a bell when you observe the practices of people today, even some who are professing Christians? Walking spiritual mazes, speaking in tongues, chanting certain phrases over and over, being superstitious, worshipping nature or the environment are just some ways folks have diluted their faith. Believers can suffer because their disobedience! Not all of Israel’s sins were public sins. “The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the LORD had driven out before them had done.” Families had begun to make their own backyard altars to any deity or dead relative! They had sexual relations with cultic prostitutes to honor fertility gods and goddesses! These horrible practices, done in the name of worship and in the name of God, “provoked the LORD to anger”! Like many Christians today “They worshiped idols, though the LORD had said, ‘You shall not do this.’” We often think we have the right to do whatever we want whenever we want as long as it makes us feel good about ourselves, and nothing could be further from the truth! Believers can suffer because of their disobedience!

  EXAMPLE: “The data suggests this is the fastest growing religious group in America, are people who don't hold any firm religious beliefs,” Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Teixeira was discussing a recent Pew Research Center poll that found 62 percent of Americans hold New Age beliefs, such as astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in trees or mountains. The survey also found that those who identify as Christian were more likely than atheists and agnostics to hold at least one New Age belief. Sixty-one percent of respondents who identified as Christian said they held at least one New Age belief, compared with 22 percent of atheists and 56 percent of agnostics who said the same. Sixty-seven percent of mainline Protestants, 47 percent of evangelicals and 70 percent of Catholics said they believed in a New Age belief. And we wonder why churches are not growing. We learn here that believers can suffer because of their disobedience!

God has commanded his people to worship only him. Not trees,, mountains, or images we have made. These commandments are stressed repeatedly throughout Scripture. But people refuse to listen or obey. Disobedience was the reason God brought judgment on the Israelites and allowed Assyria to conquer their nation; therefore we should learn…

III. The lesson is to worship God only! (2 Kings 17:16-20)

They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. Therefore the LORD rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.

  1. Again we discover that the Israelites “forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire.” God has terms about how we are to worship him. It is to be centered on him and not ourselves! When we make it about ourselves then worship begins to be about how we feel. Our worship becomes syncretism: the combination of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practices! We see this with roadside altars to those who were killed or the belief in ghosts. Other pagan practices were widespread throughout Israel. Some parents sacrificed their sons and daughters by fire! They practiced divination and interpreted omens. The practice of divination and omens involved efforts to know and thus manipulate the future by human means instead of trusting the God of history. The practice astrology by bowing down to the “starry hosts” and it included such pagan activities as seeking omens or signs, telling fortunes, forecasting the future by examining animal organs, and trying to communicate with the dead. Does any of this sound familiar? People without God can only use human means to try to understand what’s going on in the world and in their lives. The people of Israel had God, but they ignored him and turned from him to the futile means that pagans used. In doing so they “sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger”! Even though the people did not care, God did! “So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.” The only group that was left was Judah to the south “and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. Therefore the LORD rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.” Wow! The lesson is to worship God only!

  EXAMPLE: God’s evaluation of Israel was that they sold themselves to do what was evil, thus provoking the Lord to anger. Instead of dedicating themselves wholly to the Lord, they gave themselves to practices that were characteristic of the people around them but were evil in God’s sight. God did not ignore his people’s pagan worship or practices. God’s anger is not a selfish anger. His discipline operates in our best interests. It is designed to bring us back to him because he desperately loves us. Remember, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)” God would provide a way back to him and he still does! The lesson is to worship God only!

Conclusion:
The downfall of sin is bondage! Believers can suffer because of their disobedience! The lesson is to worship God only!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.