For the fourth time, Israel repeats their sin cycle. Why can’t they just stay saved?
May 2, 2021
Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL
[Begin with Introduction from The Incredibles movie]
How many of you have ever felt like Mr. Incredible from that video? “No matter how many times you save the world, it always winds up in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved. You know what I’m saying?”
If you’re a mother with small children, you know this well. Didn’t I just clean up this mess?
My mother had a little sign in her laundry room when I was a kid. It said, “Doing laundry while your kids are growing is like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing.”
“Why can’t things just stay fixed?”
When it comes to people, the stakes get even higher, and the disappointments become more painful. Have you ever had that one friend who just jumps from one bad relationship to the next? Or maybe you ARE that one friend. Or maybe you are constantly looking for a new job, or constantly losing the job you have, because, quote, “I just can’t get along with my boss.” And it hasn’t dawned on you yet that there is one common factor in every bad relationship, in every crummy job, in every poor decision. Guess what it is?
Maybe you look in the mirror, and you are wondering, How come I keep making the same mistakes? The same stupid decisions? How come I keep giving into the same sin?
Now, when we know that about ourselves, then can we stop and think about how God must feel when He looks at us?
We are in week four of our journey through Judges, and this morning, we are going to look at the life of our fourth judge. And so far, we’ve seen the same pattern repeated four times. [TRANSITION]
The people will enjoy a time of peace and STABILITY. Then they will fall back into their patterns of WICKEDNESS and rebellion. God will allow them to be OPPRESSED by their enemies. Then they REPENT, and God responds by sending them a DELIVERER. The deliverer, or Judge in the language of Judges, rescues them from their enemies, and the people enjoy another time of stability.
Now, compare what you see on the screen to what you see on the front of the bulletin this morning. What’s different? That’s right. You see the word “regret” instead of repent. Did you know there’s a difference? And when you understand the difference between regret and repentance, you may begin to understand what it takes to break this spin cycle.
And when you look at the first few verses of Judges 6, You are going to see something else different from what we’ve seen before. Let’s go ahead and begin with verse 1, and let’s see what the bonus feature is this time around:
6 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
Okay. Let’s stop there. What’s different about this cycle? The people cry out, and God sends… a prophet…? This seems odd. They weren’t asking for teaching; they were calling for deliverance.
This would be like being stranded on the roof of your house in a flood, and when the rescue helicopter comes, instead of dropping a ladder, the drop a pamphlet on how to build a canoe.
But Israel’s problem, you see, was not primarily the Midianities. They were their own problem. And so this time, before there was a savior, there’s a sermon.
Some of you are in that category. You are here seeking something from God, but what God wants to do first is turn the spotlight onto your heart. Let me be very clear: Not every instance of suffering is in response to disobedience. God is not always trying to “teach you something.” In fact, most instances are not. Believers often suffer, like Jesus did, having done nothing wrong.
But sometimes it is… “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” Psalm 119:67.
See, I think the people of Israel were regretting their sin without repenting of their sin. They are like, “Dang. This really stinks. Every time we try to plant a crop, the Midianites swoop down and take our harvest from us. We’re being forced to live in caves in the rocks. Verse 6—we are brought very low because of Midian. Oh, Lord, save us!”
And God sends a prophet who says, “Hold up. Are you brought low because of Midian, or because of your sin? Are you calling out to God (look at verse 7) because you are grieving your sin, or on account of the Midianites. And you see the answer.
Church, there is a difference between repentance and regret. Regret hates the consequences of your sin. Repentance hates the sin. And so if all you have is regret, then as soon as the consequences aren’t being felt anymore, you don’t feel sorry anymore.
Regret is all about us. It’s horizontal. It’s circumstantial. It’s worldly. And 2 Corinthians 7:10 says that it brings death.
But repentance is the result of what Paul calls “godly sorrow.” It comes from agreeing with God that your sin is hideous. (That’s what confession literally means. It means agreeing with God). It’s vertical instead of horizontal. It’s covenantal—rising out of relationship wuth God, instead of circumstantial. And it leads to salvation.
And so before we do anything else, I have to ask you, are you repenting of your sin, or are you just regretting your sin? If all you have is regret, then you aren’t any closer to salvation.
And you may be thinking, “Well thank God he is patient. Thank God He will always forgive.”
But I want you to notice as we go through Judges that is seems as though God’s patience begins to wear thin. Each judge is a little bit weaker. Each time of oppression is a little bit more severe. And Judges ends with what is probably THE darkest, most disturbing story in the entire Bible, and it seems as though God has completely withdrawn himself from the people.
And so this is a good time in the study to do some serious soul searching. Have you been abusing the free grace that God pours out on His people? Romans 2:4 says that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance, not just regret.
And beloved, don’t miss the warning from Judges—God will allow the downward spiral to continue until we can no longer hear His voice calling us to repent. In Genesis 6:3, God said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3)
Before there’s a Savior, there’s a sermon.
But, because God is patient, because God is gracious, God does indeed raise up a deliverer. Let’s read how this went down.
11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.
Now you might be asking, How did the people respond to the prophet’s sermon? Well, the text doesn’t say. And this is where, if you’ve been keeping track of our “Uber themes,” you see the relentless grace of God. Before the people responded, God has already begun their salvation!
Make sure you get this: We don’t get ourselves into shape and then God comes for us; he comes to us when we’re a mess. “The angel of the Lord” (which is probably a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Himself, and I’ll show you why in a minute” takes a seat by this tree while Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.
Now, a winepress is a terrible place to thresh wheat. Let me explain to you a little something about wheat threshing, in case you haven’t done it in a while: the way that they threshed wheat was they threw it up in the air so that the wind could blow away all the light, useless stuff, and the good stuff, the heavy stuff, falls back down.
A winepress is underground, which means it is a terrible place to thresh wheat, because you’d have to throw it way up to get the wind.
So why is Gideon doing it there? Because he is afraid. But I want you to see how the angel of the Lord greets him, because that brings us to the second point:
12 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
If this were a Seventies sitcom, this is where you would hear the laugh track. I mean… Gideon is threshing wheat in a hole in the ground. But listen: God doesn’t speak to Gideon based on what he is, but based on what God is going to make him into.
It is the same thing you see God doing all through Scripture. In Genesis 17, God comes to a man named Abram, whose name means “exalted father” and he says,
5 No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b] but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
What a joke! At this point, Abram is 99 years old, and he’s got one son from a slave girl. And God says, your name won’t be Abram—exalted father, but Abraham, father of nations.
How about in the New Testament—Jesus looks at a guy named Simon, who is hotheaded, impulsive, has a foot-shaped mouth, and smells like fish, and He says,
18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
You see, when God calls us, he doesn’t see us or define us by the condition we are in, but by what he is determined to make us into in Christ.
Here’s how you can tell the difference between the Holy Spirit talking to us and Satan talking to us. Satan is the Accuser. And so Satan starts with who you are and what you’ve done and defines you by that. He points his finger and says, “FAILURE. COWARD. REJECT.”He is usually substantiating that by true facts.
Contrast that with God, who says, “Beloved. Righteous. Saint. Mighty man of valor.”
You say, “But God, I am none of those things.” He says, “You will be.”
See, both Satan and the Holy Spirit will talk about your sin, and it’s easy to confuse their voice. But here’s how you tell: Satan starts with who you are and what you’ve done and beats you up for it. The Holy Spirit starts with a declaration of what he’s making you in Christ and grows you up into it.
God CALLS us what He will MAKE us. Romans 4:17 tells us that God calls those things which do not exist as though they did. I want to be really clear here. GOD calls those things which do not exist as though they did. WE don’t. This isn’t some word of faith, name it and claim it, blab it and grab it prosperity gospel nonsense. What GOD wills, He will ACCOMPLISH.
God CALLED Gideon what He would MAKE Gideon—a mighty warrior. Which leads Gideon to say, “Ok. I have some questions.”
13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Now, Gideon is asking this when the angel of the Lord is sitting in front of him. In fairness to Gideon, I don’t think he recognizes him as the angel of the lord. He calls Him “my lord,” not Capital LORD.” But still, look at God’s specific answer in verse 14:
And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
And by the way, here is our evidence that this wasn’t just an angel of the Lord, but God Himself. It’s what theologians call a “pre-Incarnate appearance of God the Son.” When God appeared to someone in the Old Testament in bodily form, we call it a Christophany.
So God’s answer to Gideon: “Where are all my wonderful deeds, Gideon? Why, I’m about to do them through you.” We are the activity of God in this generation.
Let me camp out here, especially since it is Senior Adult Sunday. Seniors, we honor you. We are incredibly thankful for the foundation you built for us. Those of us who were never called to fight in a war, who never lived through a Great Depression, who never looked at a cotton field and said, “We could build a church here…” We are kind of in awe here.
But here’s the thing: Every time we say, “God, how come you aren’t doing the stuff you used to do, we have to deal with the VERY REAL POSSIBILITY that God is asking us the Exact. Same. Thing.
Every time we talk about the good old days, don’t you imagine that God is turning the question around on us?
Look at verse 14:
14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
God doesn’t say, Yeah, you’re right. No school like the old school. So I’ll just bring back Moses. I’ll bring back Joshua. I’ll bring back Billy Graham. No. He says to Gideon, I am sending you.
How many of you have been down to Mobile Bay and toured the USS Alabama? Yeah! There’s my Cub Scout families! Yes. The mighty Alabama. It earned a Battle Star for providing protective firepower for US landing forces in the Battle of Okinawa. It earned another Battle Star when it shelled the city of Tokyo from more than 18 miles away.
Steven Segal made a movie on it!!! You don’t get to be in a Steven Seagal movie if you’re not awesome.
But let me ask you a question. If the City of Mobile was being attacked today, how many of you would say, “Whoo, boy. Nothing to worry about. The USS Alabama is down there!
Why not? That’s right. Because the Mighty Alabama is a museum now. Those huge guns are plugged with concrete. The shells in the armory have sixty years of Cub Scout fingerprints on them. The briefing room is now a snack bar.
And what do they call a battleship that is no longer in active service?
Glynwood, we need to decide if we are going to be a Great Commission church or a decommissioned church. Are our best days behind us or in front of us?
There is a powerful verse in Amos 5, where God uses the prophet to confront Israel:
4 For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:
“Seek me and live;
5 but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
and Bethel shall come to nothing.”
6 Seek the Lord and live,
Why the 3 random cities? Bethel is where Jacob had his lifechanging encounter with God, where he saw the ladder with angels ascending and descending.
Gilgal was where the children of Israel emerged from their wandering in the wilderness, and crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. At Beerhseba, God renewed the covenant he had made with Abraham to his son Isaac.
Each of these represents a place of incredible spiritual power. But evidently by the time of Amos they were sitting around the campfire talking about the good old days. And it’s as though God is saying, “will you shut up about the good old days? My saving acts are not simply a thing of the past; seek them in the present.”
Glynwood, I want the next generation to experience Glynwood as a place where people got stuff done for Jesus the way they did in the past. There are still 7000 unreached people groups in the world who have not yet heard the name of Jesus. And if we are asking God why we don’t see Him moving the way He used to, then maybe its because we’ve been spending all our time watering ground that is already soaking wet. Maybe its time for us to be more like the apostle Paul, who said,
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation (Romans 15:17)
Maybe God is saying to you, ‘You are my answer to that prayer… be the conduit of my power.”
In verse 15, And Gideon said to (Jesus) him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? And in verse 16, God gives Gideon his one line answer for everything:
And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.
In my opinion, I think this means that Gideon will take out the massive Midianite army as if it’s one scrawny little guy.
And what happens next is that Gideon asks for a sign, and the angel tells Gideon to prepare some food, and when Gideon puts it on the table the angel touches the food with his staff and the flames spring up out of the rock and consume the food, and then the angel disappears, and Gideon is is like, Whoa—that was God.
And that night the LORD said to him, “Pull down the altar of Baal that your father has and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold there. So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. Again, this is no William Wallace! (Or Steven Seagal). But God doesn’t criticize Gideon for this, because obedience is more important to God than bravado.
But this brings us to our next point, and that is that Revival begins at home.
Gideon’s 1st assignment was to get rid of the idol in his father’s house. Before you can do battle with the enemies around you, you need to throw off the enemies within you.
You say, “I don’t have any idols.” Maybe you don’t understand what they are.
For Gideon’s family, these idols weren’t things instead of God; they worshipped them in addition to God. They had never rejected God: they had just supplemented him with idols that guaranteed other things: rain, fertility, etc.
Now, we may hear that and say, “That’s silly ancient superstition. We don’t have idols. But don’t we? John Calvin famously said that the human heart is a factory for idols. We all have places where we aren’t sure we can trust God, so you have other things that act as backup?
Let me give you two sure signs of an idol: Disobedience and anxiety. You’ve heard the saying where there’s smoke, there’s fire? Well, where there is disobedience and anxiety, there are idols.
Disobedience. God, I know you are supposed to be my ultimate satisfaction, but I’m not really happy in this marriage, so I’m just going to start taking matters into my own hands. I’m going to walk out on this marriage in hopes of a better one.
Disobedience: God, I know you command me to tithe, but times are tight, and Joe Biden is President, and gas is going up, so I’m just going to scale back my giving. I’m sure other people will take up the slack
Disobedience is always accompanied by anxiety… you are worried about your ability to hold onto these things. Maybe you worry about your kids all the time because you feel like you can’t trust God with them.
Before God uses you in the mission, he has to go to war against your idols. You can’t do battle with the enemies outside you until you have gone to war with the enemies within you.
Last part of the story. Verse 33, the Midianites launch a massive assault on Israel. Gideon cries out to God and says, “God, again, how can I be sure you’re going to do this?” And then Gideon comes up with his own idea: “I’m going to put this animal skin, this fleece, out on the ground. If you are really with me, in the morning let the ground around it be dry and the fleece be wet.” Verse 38: And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said, “Wait a minute, that was too easy. God, what I meant to say was, ‘Let the fleece be dry, and the ground around it be wet.’ That would be a real miracle.” Verse 40 And God did so that night; and only the fleece was dry, and on all the ground there was dew. Ahh… the famous fleece test.
This concept has been more abused than just about any other thing in the Bible. Including by me. People come up with these litmus tests to determine if God is really going to be with them in any endeavor.
But how do we know he is with us? How do we know we have found favor?
Here’s the truth:
5. The cross of Jesus is all the fleece we need.
Gideon knew what he was doing was unwise. Did you see in vs. 39 where Gideon tells God not to be angry at him for asking? He knows this is testing God’s patience. And Gideon’s main question was not whether God wanted him to do this, but “God, how do I know you’re really on my side? How do I know you’re really in control?”
We have something much better than a lambskin to show us that God is on our side. We have the Lamb. Romans 5:8 tells us that God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Beloved, you never have to doubt how someone feels about you who was willing to give His life for you. We don’t need to lay out a lamb’s fleece before God to see if He is going to be with us. God has already laid the lamb before us to prove that He is with us.
You guys know the Great Commission, right? I’m going to put it up on the screen, and I would love us to say it together. The Great Commission begins with the Great Authority of Jesus. He is the one sending. He’s the one commissioning.
And the power to fulfill the Great Commission comes from our confidence in His Great Authority.
And it ends with the Great Assurance: I am with you, even to the end of the age. That’s why God says to us: “Go mighty man or woman of valor: I am with you.”
Is he calling you to be his instrument? To obey him in some way… Don’t listen to the voice of the Accuser, telling you you are nothing. Let God call you what He is Making you. You are a saint, highly beloved in Christ (Col 1:2). “You are His ambassador—2 Cor 5:19. He says, You are His child, He will never leave nor forsake you. “You are a mighty warrior.” You don’t have to work up the courage to fulfill the Great Commission. It comes from embracing our identity in Christ. It is received as a gift, not worked out. So don’t look to your courage to give you an identity in Christ; look to your identity in Christ to give you courage.