Pay Up, Wake Up, Suit Up (Romans 13:8-14)

Sermon Preached November 6, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville Alabama.

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Romans 13.

This week, I was in Stacey’s office, and she was helping me try to come up with a title for the message. I had these three points, of pay up, wake up, and suit up, but I couldn’t find anything to kind of tie them together. And as you can see, I kind of took the lazy way out and just made those three points the title. But while we were trying to come up with something, Stacey just typed those three phrases into the Google search bar. And what came up over and over again was this quote from a woman neither one of us had ever heard of named Regina Brett:

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up, and never, ever give up” –Regina Brett

I loved the quote, but I wanted to find out more about Regina Brett before I put her out there as an example or a role model for you guys. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t some Wiccan high priestess or whatever.

It turns out, she’s a really cool lady with a great testimony. She was raised Catholic with an abusive father and a distant mother, became an alcoholic with an unplanned pregnancy in high school, survived one marriage falling apart, got her life together through a series of spiritual retreats and devotional reading, became a newspaper columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer; remarried, and survived breast cancer. In 2006 she wrote a column called “Fifty Lessons From Life’s Little Detours,”  which made her a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for newspaper commentary, became a bestselling book, and launched a podcast. This quote is Life Lesson #46. But here are some of the other ones:

  • Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
  • When in doubt, just take the next small step.
  • Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
  • Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
  • Pay off your credit cards every month.
  • You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
  • Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
  • It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
  • Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
  • If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
  • All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

I bring all this up because I have a strong suspicion that Regina Brett must have been reading Romans 12-13. Because a lot of her life lessons sound a whole lot like what Paul has been saying all through this section.

We are going to finish up our conversation about Romans 13 this week by talking about verses 8-14. And since we are going to go through this passage verse by verse, I won’t ask you to stand to read it all at once. Let’s pray, and then we will get into the Scripture.

[pray]

The first thing Paul talks about is the obligation to love one another. On your listening guide, we’re going to call this The Debt You’ll Never Get Out Of.

Paul says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 

Now, I want to be clear about what verse 8 is NOT saying. Verse 8 is not a prohibition against borrowing, so don’t make it a Dave Ramsey prooftext. It may be make good financial sense to avoid borrowing, but you can’t really argue that from Scripture. Verse 8 is just a clever transition from verse 7. Paul has just said pay to all what is owed them— taxes to whom taxes, revenue to whom revenue, respect to whom respect, honor to whom honor.

So now in verse 8, Paul is saying that the one debt you are never going to be able to pay off is the continuing debt to love one another.

Couple of things about the Greek that Dr. Mark helped me understand better this week. Your translation might say, “Owe no one anything except the continual debt to love each other.” That’s a better translation than the English Standard Version, because “to love” is an infinitive verb. That means it is independent of time, or person, or condition. I had never seen the connection between “infinitive” and “infinity” before Mark explained it this way to me. So we are to love like Buzz Lightyear. To infinitive and beyond.  

So who are we to love? Each other? Now is that inside the church or outside the church? Because remember in Chapter 12 we talked about how In verses 9-10, Paul was talking about loving one another inside the church, and verses 14-21 were about loving people outside the church. So when Paul says, 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law, which is it?

Here’s what’s genius: It’s both!  There are two one another’s in verse 8. The first one is the Greek allelon, which means another of the same kind. That would be loving the people who are like you—other believers, people in the church. But in the very next sentence, when Paul says “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” he switches to heteron, which is another of a different kind.

So it’s a debt that we can never stop paying, and it isn’t limited to the people who are like us. The debt of love is continual, and its universal.

You might be saying to yourself, OK, I can understand having a debt of love to people in our church. We are a family of faith, we support each other, and maybe today I have a need someone else can meet, but on another day I’ll be able to meet a need you have. I get that.

But what does it mean that I have a debt of love to someone I’ve never even met? How can I owe them anything? And the answer, is that it isn’t them that you owe. It’s God. We are to love—agape, which is self-sacrificing, Christlike love—because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19). And when we love, it is the fulfillment of the law. Verse 9:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

You may know this already, but just in case you don’t—the Ten Commandments are basically divided in half. The first five deal with our vertical relationship for God—no gods before Him, don’t make idols, don’t take His name in vain, remember the sabbath. Honor your father and mother.

(By the way, if you live in Prattville, you’ll never have an excuse for not remembering the first five commandments. Just think about Gin Shop Hill Road: Gods, Idols, Name, Sabbath, Honor Parents. Gin Shop. You’re welcome.)

 five, because the last five are all about our horizontal relationships—our relationships with other people. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t covet something that belongs to your neighbor. Don’t lie to or about your neighbor.

So when Jesus was asked what’s the greatest commandment, he said, I can’t just give you one. I have to give you two. First, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. If you do that, you’ll take care of those first four commandments—the vertical relationships.

Then, if you love others like you love yourself—starting with your mother and father, then the last six commandments will fall into place. And Paul is saying the same thing in Romans. If you love your neighbor, you aren’t going to steal from them. If you love your neighbor, you aren’t going to do any wrong to them.

Love is the fulfilling of the Law, according to verse 10. Now, this statement has another layer of meaning for those who are in Christ, In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I’ve not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law by never sinning. And then, he shed His blood on the cross as a demonstration of God’s love for us. Friends, that is a debt we can never repay. And so in a very real sense, every single person we will ever lock eyes with is a person for whom Christ died. And some of them don’t even know it. We owe it to them to share the love of Christ with them. It is a debt we will never get out of. So In the words of those great theologians from the 80’s, REO Speedwagon, we’re going to keep on loving you.

So that is the first point of the sermon this morning. You owe a debt of love to each other, so pay up.

Paul moves from talking about the debt you never get out of totalking about the Sleep we’ve all got to get up from. Look at the next two verses with me.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  

The word “time” is another one of those rich Greek words that’s worth camping out on. Greek has two basic words for time: chronos, which is about the chronological sequence of events, and Kairos, which is a divinely appointed moment. Kairos describes a time when God is about to break through and do something.

And that’s the word Paul uses here. He’s saying at any moment a chronos moment can become a Kairos moment. At any moment God can break through our normal everyday existence with a divine appointment—a Kairos moment that changes everything. And you don’t want to miss that. So you have to be awake. You have to be watching for those moments.

When Paul says that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” what does he mean? I think there’s three ways to understand this, and I think they are all true.

First, Paul is speaking prophetically. We know that Jesus is returning one day, right? And no one knows the day or the hour. But every day Jesus tarries is one day closer to the day he will come.

Second, Paul is speaking personally: The doctrine of salvation has three components: There is regeneration: that moment when a sinner repents and puts his or her faith in Christ. When people talk about when they “got saved,” they are talking about that moment of regeneration. But the Bible also talks about the ongoing process of sanctification as part of our salvation. Sanctification is our day to day becoming more like Jesus. Finally, there is glorification, which will happen in the future, either when Jesus comes back or when we die and are united with Christ. Regeneration, Sanctification, and Glorification are all part of salvation. As the early theologians put it, we have been saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. And Paul is saying that for every one of us, our ultimate glorification is nearer now than when new first believed.

But third, Paul is speaking evangelistically. This circles back to what he has been saying about the debt of love we owe everyone we meet. Understand that every single person we encounter is potentially on the verse of a Kairos moment. They are either one step closer to following Jesus, or they are one step closer to rejecting him for the last time. And it is crucial for us to wake up, to preach and teach and proclaim and exhort and urge and beg and plead with urgency.

Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed, but beloved, so is condemnation for those who won’t believe. Listen to the verse again, but this time, put the emphasis on the word “we”: Salvation is nearer to us now than when WE first believed. For those who have not put their faith in Christ, the night is far gone, the day is at hand. O, God, let there be a Kairos moment for someone today! If you are listening to this and are not a Christian, wake up, and come to Christ. If you are listening to this and you are a Christian, wake up, and tell someone about Jesus.

We need you in the game. We need you off the bench. So that brings us to the third exhortation from Romans: It’s time to suit up. Put on the clothes you’ll never grow out of! Let’s close out the chapter by reading verses 12-14:

So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Notice that Paul says put on the armor of light. Armor is a very specific and intentional word. Not the bathrobe of light. Not the pajamas of light. Not the tuxedo or cocktail dress or cocktail dress of light. This is a reminder to the Christian that we are in a battle. Armor is what you wear when you are going to war. And the Christian is at war every minute of every day. Not against other people. Not primarily against a pagan culture, although there are elements of that. The emphasis in verse 13 is that we are at war against our own sinful nature.

So when Paul says out on the armor of light. In Ephesians 6, he will explain piece by piece what the armor is. We are to put on the belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the gospel of peace. the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. We put on the helmet of salvation. That’s what protects our mind. Then, the one offensive weapon is the sword of the spirit.

And when we are suited up in the armor of light, we can do battle against all these besetting sins Paul lists in Romans 13.  

How do we make provision for the flesh? We make provision for the flesh when we don’t take sin seriously. Paul lists a lot of besetting sins that were an issue for the people of Rome— orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality (which doesn’t have to be sexual. It could just be living for your senses), quarreling, jealousy. So to make no provision for the flesh means you are aware of those besetting sins, and you avoid situations where they might have an open door back into your life.

  • If drinking too much is a besetting sin for you, then you don’t have alcohol in your home. One of the men in our men’s bible study talked about how he had been so used to downing a six pack every Saturday while watching college football that he had to take a break from college football.
  • If quarreling and rage are besetting sins for you, stop watching the news. Stop listening to talk radio.
  • Maybe jealousy is a besetting sin. Get off Instagram. Get off pinterest.
  • If sexual immorality is the besetting sin, and you are constantly giving in to the temptation of clicking on porn after everyone else has gone to bed, then don’t charge your phone by your bedside.
  • If procrastination is your besetting sin, and you find yourself wasting hours playing games on your phone, then have someone else set a screen time password on your phone. You can set limits for every app on your phone. And if you don’t know your own password, then once your allotted time is up for the day, you’re done.

The point of all of this is that this is how we as Christians put on the armor of light. This is how we do battle with our own sin nature. Forget the culture wars. The biggest battle you face is not against culture. It’s against your carnal, sinful nature. So suit up! Get in the game. Fight.

Part of the armor of light is directing your mind to a greater affection direct your mind to the glory of Jesus. Direct your mind to Scripture. This is going to be a major focus of 2023 as we are encouraging every glynwood member to read the Bible through next year.

But maybe some of you need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time. The call in verse 14 is for you to repent and turn to Christ and trust him to save you.

Listen, when you put on Christ, you will never grow out of Him. He will never go out of style. He will always fit you perfectly.

This morning, as the musicians come back up and we enter into our time of response, can I remind you that salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Today could be your Kairos moment—your moment of spiritual breakthrough. So suit up.  Put on Christ.

Invitation.

Church and State (Romans 13:1-7)

October 30, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville

Good morning. Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Romans, chapter 13. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through Romans as much as I have.

We’re in Romans chapter 13. And once again, God’s timing is just so perfect. Remember how it “just so happened” that we talked about Romans 8:28 on 8/28? Here we are again with another coincidence that isn’t really a coincidence. We hit Romans 13, about how believers are to relate to the governing authorities, and in a few days we get to vote on our governing authorities.

This is a great reminder to you to vote on November 8. We have a privilege that Paul and the believers in Rome didn’t have. We have a say in who our governing authorities will be. It is an unbelievable privilege to cast your vote. So don’t blow it off. Thank God for the privilege, and then exercise your right to vote.

Also, remember that our church is a polling place. On Election Day, our entire fellowship hall will be used for voting. So teachers and Awana leaders who use the fellowship hall, please make sure we clear away any personal items or clutter or stuff that needs to be thrown away before next Tuesday. We want to be good hosts. 

So. We participate in our democracy. We cast our vote. And if our chosen candidates win, we clap each other on the back and do a little happy dance and go to bed on election night believing that better days are ahead. And what Romans 13 says about being subject to the governing authorities comes easy. If someone else is critical of the person we voted for, we might remind them what the Bible says in Romans 13, and that we are commanded to pray for our government leaders, and that you show respect for the office even if you don’t agree with the person that is holding that office. We are quick to correct anyone who says, “He’s not my President.”

Again, these are all the things we do when the guy we voted for won. But what happens when our guy loses? What happens if our preferred political party is not in power? Romans 13:1 says we are to be subject to the governing authorities. Does that change? It’s amazing to me that conservative evangelical Christians, who maintain that every word of the Bible is inspired and inerrant can spend long stretches of time—often either four or eight years—acting like Romans 13 doesn’t really mean what it says.

So what does Romans 13 actually say? Let’s look at it together. If you are physically able, please stand as we honor the reading of God’s word:

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. Let’s pray.

[PRAYER]

Now, I know you’ve got a LOT of blanks on your listening guide. And for the sake of all the people that will get really bent out of shape if we don’t fill in all the blanks, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way first. So, first things first. The blanks.

What is our Responsibility to Government (What we Do)?

First, be subject to the governing authorities. (v. 1). Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

The word translated person is a little surprising. It’s not Anthropos, “man.” The word is psuche, which is usually translated “life” or soul. So I think Paul is saying this isn’t just superficial submission. You don’t just “do the right thing.” This is subjection at the soul level. We submit with our attitudes, not just our actions.

Just in case we miss it in verse 1, Paul says it again in verse 5: We must be in subjection to the governing authorities. Your translation might say, “submit” to the governing authorities. That Greek word is hupotasso and it literally means to line up under. It was used in a military sense to arrange troops in formation under a leader. It’s the same word Paul uses to describe husbands and wives submitting to one another in Ephesians 5:21, and wives submitting to their husbands in Ephesians 5:24 and Colossians 3:18.

Now we could spend all of our time just on verse 1, and it could be our guide for everything else. Because this is a categorical imperative. There’s no qualifiers or conditions on either side of this statement. Who is to be subject to the governing authorities?

Every soul. Every person. Every man, woman, and child…

Is to be subject to: Submit. Line up under. At the soul level, not just superficially.

To the governing authorities: Which governing authorities? All of them. You can fill in the blank with any world leader, past, present, or future, and it’s going to be the same answer. Paul was writing to believers living under Emperor Nero. Be subject to Emperor Nero. The next generation of Christians would suffer horrific persecution under Domitian. The book of Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign, and much of what we read as end-times prophecy, the Christians of the day were reading as what was happening to them. Be subject to Domitian. Well what about Stalin? What about Hitler? What about Xi Jinping, or Kim Jong Un, or Bashar Al-Assad in Syria or Erdogan in Turkey. What do you say to Christians in those countries?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.

Well, what about our local school board? What about my AP Us History teacher? What about the woman that runs our HOA and sends me a nasty letter whenever I don’t edge my sidewalk?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  

Second, we obey them, for the sake of the conscience.  Verse 5: everyone must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. God commands that we be subject to the governing authorities? Do submit and obey always mean the same thing? Not necessarily, and we will get to that, but after this Paul does gives some specific points in which we are to obey. For example:

Third, We are to pay our taxes: It’s right here, in verse 6. We don’t pick and choose which taxes to pay. Verse 7 says “Pay to all what is owed them.”

How many of you hate that this is in the Bible? This week I heard a story about a man who had cheated on his taxes, and for weeks after April 15, he had been unable to sleep. Finally, it became too much for him, so he wrote out a check to the IRS, along with a note that said, “Dear IRS: I haven’t been able to sleep ever since I failed to pay you the full amount I owed on last years taxes. So please accept this check, and I apologize for it being late.

P.S.: If I am still unable to sleep, I will send you another check for the rest of the amount I owe.”

The truth is, the believers in Paul’s day had a much, much more oppressive tax system than we do. Here are all the taxes a citizen of Rome was required to pay, according to a Wikipedia articie:

  • Every citizen paid what it’s called the poll tax. This wasn’t a tax to vote. Pol is from the Latin polis, which means people.  It was a tax simply for being a person. So you were taxed for every person in your household. Every male, aged 14 to age 65, every female aged 12 to age 65, just for being alive.
  • If you were an unmarried man or a woman of childbearing age who wasn’t married, you paid a marriage tax.
  • If you owned slaves, you paid a tax. If you sold slaves, you paid a tax on the sale. If you freed slaves, you paid 5% the value of each slave you freed.
  • If you were Jewish, you paid a tax just for being a Jew.
  • Widows and orphans paid a tax specifically to care for the horses of the military.
  • If you received an inheritance, you were taxed 5% the value of the inheritance.
  • There were sales taxes, trade taxes, and land taxes. There was a flat 10% tax for income. There were taxes for roads and harbors. 10% of your grain sales if you were a farmer. 20% of your wine sales if you had a vineyard.
  • Then there was the fish tax. You were taxed on how many nets you would throw out into the lake or into the sea. You were then taxed on every single fish that your net caught.
  • There was a wheel tax. If you had a cart, you were taxed on the number of wheels you had on your cart. Wheelbarrows were crazy popular.

The Roman government had the simplest 1040 ever. [show slide Two lines: How much money did you make? Send it in.]

But Paul didn’t spend time breaking down the tax code and trying to give the believers guidelines for which taxes to pay. Neither did Jesus. One time, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Do you remember Jesus’ answer?

19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

Jesus was brilliant here. The money has Ceasar’s image on it, so give it to Ceasar. But guess what, Christian: You have God’s image stamped on you. So you give yourself to God.

Fourth: We are responsible for honoring and respecting our governing authorities. Verse 7: respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Now, sometimes we attempt to do an end-run around this for politicians we don’t like by saying, “Well, so and so isn’t worthy of my respect.” She’s a godless pagan who is pro abortion and anti Second Amendment. She doesn’t deserve my respect.

My only question is, can you prove that from Scripture? Can you point to a place in Scripture where an authority figure was mocked or disKeep in mind that Paul is writing this to Christians who were living under Nero. Can you show me where Daniel ever dissed Darius? Or Jesus disrespected Pilate? Paul would say that they are owed respect and honor because of verse one. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Now, they may not be owed respect because they are good leaders, but we owe them respect if we are to be good followers. So, not to keep beating a dead horse, but this should eliminate about 98% of all memes that you see on social media during an election year.

  • Fifth, and most important, we are to pray for our leaders. This one is not specifically in Romans, but Paul will say it to Timothy a few years after writing this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Can I ask everyone to do this this week? Make a list of every politician that represents you. Barry Moore, second district of Alabama. Tommy Tuberville and Richard Shelby, our two senators. Kay Ivey, our governor. Maybe you like them, maybe you can’t stand them. Maybe you voted for them, maybe you can’t wait to vote against them. Doesn’t matter.

Add to the list politicians that are in leadership: Mitch McConnell. Kevin McCarthy. Chuck Shumer. Nancy Pelosi. Joe Biden. Kamala Harris. You may like them, you may loathe them. Doesn’t matter. Scripture says we are to make supplication, prayer, intercession, AND THANKSGIVING for them. That may be really hard for you. You may choke on those words. Doesn’t matter. The goal is that we live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way (verse 3), and that all may be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (verse 4).

Listen, you may think a certain politician is the most godless, reprehensible person on the face of the earth. Every time you see his or her picture on the TV, you just want to throw something. You know what you do? You pray harder: “Lord, you desire all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Please… start with him!”

I’ll say this, too: there is a 100% chance that if you are praying for someone, you are not going to break into her home and attack her husband with a hammer.

So this is our responsibility to government. This is what we are to do. Now let’s talk about Why we do it. What is the reach of government? Or maybe this would have been better for your listening guide: What is the rationale for government?

First, let’s all agree that no government is perfect.  Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” No government is perfect. Government has actually been around ever since Genesis 1, when God gave Adam dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). Then family was introduced in Genesis 2. Woman was formed from man, so man is the head, and man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. That’s order. That’s a system of government.

But as Albert Mohler has pointed out, there’s no time at all between the establishment of order and government in Genesis 2 and the fall in Genesis 3. So we have no record of how government is supposed to function in a perfect world.

But second, we can all agree that any government is better than no government? The absolute most horrific statement in the Old Testament is Judges 21:25: In those days, Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. So no government is perfect, but anarchy is horrible. So God gave Israel kings. Most of them were bad. Ultimately Israel and Judah were overthrown, the people went into exile. You get the stories of foreign kings like Nebuchadnezzar, and Xerxes, Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede. None of them were perfect. But here’s what Romans 13 teaches:

The source of their authority is God. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Period. Full stop. Questions? None.

Do you remember when Jesus stood before Pilate? Pilate was astonished that Jesus wouldn’t answer him. He looks at Jesus and says,  

10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. 

Daniel 2:21 says that God is the one who removes kings and establishes kings. So even the Roman governor who signed Jesus’ death warrant was put there by God.

Now, in a weird way, our very system of government makes it easy for us to forget this. We get to vote for the people who represent us. So when someone says, “Well, who put so and so in office,” we either say, “I did,” or we say, “It wasn’t me. It was those idiot [fill in the blank with whichever political party you oppose].” So listen: Even though “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” is politically correct, it isn’t theologically correct. We might pull the lever for this or that candidate, but God, in his sovereignty, is pulling the strings.

There is a twofold reason Paul says government exists. Paul says government is to be God’s servant on earth for two reasons, to protect and to punish. Government is the servant for our good (verses 4 and 6), and the administrator of God’s wrath (verses 3 and 5) To protect the community and to punish the criminal.

By the way, if you are looking for scriptural support for capital punishment, here it is. The government bears the sword as an avenger of God’s wrath against the wrongdoer. Police officers are the government officials who fulfill these roles the most. And notice how Paul describes them: Twice he calls them servants. You’ll recognize that Greek word—its diakonos, where we get our word deacon.

TR, Josh, Mike, did you know you were deacons of the City of Prattville?

When is the last time you got pulled over by a police officer, and thought, this is a servant of God. [CH Spurgeon story?]

But Paul is intentional with his language here. Governing authorities occupy a divinely appointed office. We should thank them for enforcing the law. But I now make it my point, whenever I see a police officer, somebody in government, to thank them for their service.


So we’ve talked about our responsibility to government: what we do. We’ve talked about government’s responsibility to us, which helps us understand why we are to be subject to them. But now, let’s turn to the key question for our time: Is it ever appropriate to resist the government?

Resistance to Government: (Should We Ever Not Do It?)

Remember I asked you earlier if “being subject to” meant the same thing as obey? Well, it actually doesn’t. Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out that there are other words in the New Testament that mean obey. The most common is hupakouo, which means “to hear under.” This is what was used when Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still, or demons to leave. That’s different from our word in Romans 13:1, hupotasso,  which is line up under.

So it is possible to be lined up under the authority of the government, or under the authority of a ruler without obeying that authority. This means you acknowledge their right to punish you for breaking the law, and you are willing to accept those consequences. This is what you see throughout Scripture. Shiphrah and Puah were the two Hebrew midwives who refused to follow Pharaoh’s order to kill all the male Hebrew babies. It’s what you see all through the book of Daniel, in all the stories of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They didn’t dispute the king’s authority to throw them into the fiery furnace .

This isn’t in your notes, but you see it in Esther, when she dared to come into the king’s presence without an invitation. What did she tell Mordecai? If I perish, I perish.

Peter and John, when they were told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. “We must obey God, rather than men.”

You see it outside the pages of Scripture as well. There have been numerous times throughout history that Christians have opposed the state, knowing the consequences of doing so.

Do you remember what Benjamin Franklin said when he was signing the Declaration of Independence? “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” He was acknowledging that Great Britain had the right to hang them as traitors. All of the civil rights protestors in the Sixties recognized that the State had the right to take them to jail for sitting at a whites only lunch counter. They expected to get arrested, and they were arrested.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s who dared to speak out against Adolf Hitler. Ironically, the majority of churches in Germany fell in line with Hitler’s policies, and used Romans 13:1 to justify it. So when the cross was replaced with the swastika in their churches, they went along with it, saying, “Well, we must be subject to the governing authorities.” Bonhoeffer said no. And in April, 1945, less than a month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged in a concentration camp.

So there are times when it is appropriate for a Christian to resist the state. Not just appropriate, but necessary. Christians can’t give up their voice in the public square. We vote. We speak out. We write our leaders. We educate ourselves on the issues so we can advocate where we need to advocate and oppose where we need to oppose. We accept that the state has the authority to punish, but we are willing to accept the punishment.

And as we get closer and closer to the return of Christ, we recognize that this will become more and more necessary. Here’s some homework for you. Go home and take your listening guide, where you have Romans 13 printed. But open your Bible to Revelation 13, and read them side by side. You’ll read in Revelation 13 that the Beast was given authority for 42 months to utter blasphemy. Romans 13 tells you who gave him that authority. You’ll read in Romans 13 that the state wields the sword. Then you’ll read in Revelation 13 that

If anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword he must be slain.

So how do you know when it is right to oppose the state. When are you required to obey God rather than men? Here are some questions to ask:

Questions to ask:

  1. Will obeying the government disobey a commandment of God?
  2. Am I being asked to do something immoral?
  3. Will obedience violate my conscience?
  4. Will my disobedience be consistent with my Christian witness (Can I disobey like a Christian?)

A good Christian is to be a good citizen until being a good citizen means being a bad Christian.

Day 173: Living in the Sweet Spot (Proverbs 30:7-9)

7 Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached a few years ago, based on the book The Prayer of Agur by Jay Payleitner. If you’d like to watch to the whole sermon, you can watch it here.

Proverbs 30 is written by a guy that is easily overlooked. His name is Agur.  This is the only time he’s mentioned in the entire Bible. His prayer is the only prayer in Proverbs.

The buried treasure in Proverbs 30 is the three-verse prayer that delivers a shocking formula for trusting God, discovering his will for our life.

Four Principles from The Prayer of Agur:

  1. Be simple with your prayers.

Jesus warned us about long, drawn out, complicated prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told His disciples:

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Why is this such a good strategy for prayer? Well, it has to do with attention span. I’m not saying God has a short attention span. You could give God a list of a hundred million requests, and he would remember every single one. God’s attention span is limitless!

But ours isn’t. And if we have a personal prayer list that it would take hours to pray all the way through, we’re going to have a hard time tracking God’s response. But I think Agur’s example is an approach to prayer worth remembering.

Any time you can boil your prayer requests down to a small number of specific heartfelt desires you’re going to find yourself more aware of God working in you and through you to deliver answers.

What two things does Agur ask for? He has identified his top two personal weaknesses. The two things he struggles with most: Discerning truth and owning stuff. Let’s tackle one at a time. This brings us to our second lesson from Agur’s Prayer:

2. Be a stickler for the truth.

Agur prays, “Keep falsehoods and lies far from me.” You can almost hear Agur’s thought process as if he’s saying, I know the world is filled with lies, and they trip me up way too often. Father in heaven, please protect my ears from hearing lies that might lead me down the wrong path. And keep my lips from lying so that I might not deceive others.

And can I jump ahead a little bit to make an important point about this? The next part of Agur’s prayer is about moderation and balance—give me neither poverty or riches—I don’t need to live in a mansion, but I don’t want to live in a carboard box, either. But when it comes to discerning truth, Agur isn’t asking for moderation. He’s not saying, “give me a little truth, and a little shadiness. Help me to be mostly honest.” No. He says, “keep falsehoods and lying FAR from me.”

Beloved, we do not have to throw our hands up in the air and pretend we don’t know what to believe and who is telling the truth. We have the mind of Christ, and Christ has come into the world to bear witness to the truth.

So when we pray the prayer of Agur—keep falsehood and lies far from me, realize that is a two way street. We pray for

  • Discernment with what we receive. Not every news source is trustworthy. Having a Twitter account does not make you an expert. And just because something is shared or liked or retweeted six million times, that does not make it true.
  • Discipline with what we share. Truth matters, and it dishonors the name of Jesus if we pass on something we know to be false.

Agur recognizes God is the source of virtue and integrity. He wants to be on the winning team. That comes from hearing truth, discerning truth, and speaking truth.

3 Be satisfied with your stuff.

The first half of Agur’s prayer is universal. After all, everyone wants to know what’s really true. Even crooks and liars. They may ignore the truth, but they want to know it.

However, Agur’s next request is a stunner. He dares to pray for a life of moderation: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”

Moderation? That’s not on anyone’s checklist. Especially in the twenty-first century. We are living in an age of extremes.

Did you know that in 2018, there were over 60,000 self-storage facilities in the united States? There are more self storage facilities than McDonald’s, Wendy’s Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts COMBINED! We spent almost $5 billion in the construction of new facilities so that people would have a place to store all the stuff they didn’t have room for in their houses! This is a 344% increase since 2008.

On the flipside is another extreme. There’s an entire subculture choosing to live as minimalists. Maybe you know someone cutting up credit cards and clearing out clutter. They don’t want the latest gadgets. Their entire wardrobe fits in one knapsack or cardboard box. They live in micro apartments and tiny homes. They use Apple products. Marie Kondo is their prophet—if it doesn’t spark joy, throw it out!

Now, you are probably never going to hear a prosperity gospel preacher quoting Proverbs 30:8. They might agree with the first part—”don’t give me poverty” but not the second part—“don’t give me riches.” And the minimalist crowd would agree with the second half, but not the first half.

Agur is not endorsing minimalism. Nor is he saying wealth and influence define success. He endorses neither fast or slow, big or small, fancy or simple.

Agur is praying for the grace to live in the sweet spot. The perfect mixture of getting what you need and needing what you get. He sums it up nicely: “give me only my daily bread.”

Agur’s prayer for only his daily bread was written down almost a thousand years before Christ. Today, we recognize that phrase from The Lord’s Prayer delivered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The thing is, that’s not what Agur prayed. He added the word only. That introduces an entire deeper level of trust in the one who provides. It takes a bit of courage to pray, “Give me only my daily bread.”

Why, by the way, would anyone pray that way? We kind of want to say, “God, all I really NEED is my daily bread, but if you WANT to give me more— I’m not gonna say no…” Why would anyone pray that God wouldn’t give them more than just the basics?

4. Be Honest With Yourself

Agur identified his weakness. It was materialism. Stuff. He knew if he had too much, he would take the credit himself. “I don’t need God after all.”

If he had too little, he would steal and dishonor God. Agur was asking for his cash flow to be . . . just right.

To be clear, money itself was not the problem. It was Agur’s emotional attachment to money. The Bible doesn’t say “money is the root of evil.” It says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Let’s applaud Agur’s self-awareness. He is praying, in essence, “Lord, keep me dependent on you. Having complete trust in you is the balance in which I want to live. I can’t do life without you.”

Agur’s overarching concerns were that he would neither forget God nor dishonor God. God’s glory was his first and only passion. For Agur, and for all of us, that is life in the Sweet Spot.

The Word That Won’t Be Silenced, Part 1 (Psalm 19)

Summary: The first half of Psalm 19 deals with what we can learn about God from nature. The second half deals with what we can learn about God from His Word. This is part one of a two part sermon.

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 19 as we continue our series summer in the Psalms. We talked last week about how Psalms is a book of practical poetry, and how almost all the great moments of life have a soundtrack attached. It could be “Happy Birthday” in front of a cake with candles. Or “Here Comes the Bride” as you are standing at the front of a sanctuary in a rented tux. Or maybe it’s “Sweet Home Alabama” with 100,000 of your closest friends at Bryant-Denny stadium. “God Bless The USA” as you are watching a fireworks display. We are wired to be moved emotionally by music. To remember things with music. So it makes sense that when God wrote to us, he had to include music!

There are 150 Psalms. It is the longest book in the Bible. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to talk about all of them. They were written by people from all walks of life, over a thousand year period. King David wrote half of them (75). Of the other 75, about a third are attributed to a specific author. There was Asaph, a priest, who wrote twelve of them; The Sons of Korah, which were a group of professional temple singers, kind of like Hillsong United, wrote ten of them. King Solomon wrote two. Even Moses wrote one—Psalm 90—which may make it the oldest piece of literature in the Bible.

So the Psalm we are going to look at this morning is a Psalm of David, and it’s classified as a Wisdom Psalm. That means it was specifically written to teach us something. So if you are physically able, let’s stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word, and listen for what God has to teach us this morning.

19 The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above[a] proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,

Skip down to verse 7:

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

So since this is a Wisdom Psalm, let’s ask God for wisdom together. Let’s pray…

Jesus, teach me from your Word this morning. Amen.

Psalm 19 falls really neatly into two halves. We are going to look at the first half this morning, and the second half next week (so if you were looking at all the blanks on the listening guide and wondering how we were ever going to get through all of them, you can rest easy. We aren’t!)

You can see this on your listening guide: verses 1-6 talk about The World God Created, while verses 7-10 deal with The Word God Communicated. And in both creation and the Scripture, God has revealed Himself to human beings. But he’s done it in two different ways. Theologians call those GENERAL REVELATION and SPECIAL REVELATION. Let’s unpack each of those terms.

General revelation refers to the general truths that can be known about God through nature. [Slide] Some would say God has also revealed himself through philosophy and reason, and I think there’s room for talking about that as well, but for this morning, we’re going to focus on nature, since that is what Psalm 19 focuses on.

Throughout creation, God has given us evidence of His existence . And it is a constant, ongoing revelation. All the verbs in verses 1-2 are either participles or imperfect. This means continuous, unfinished, ongoing action. The Heavens ARE declaring the Glory of God. The skies ARE PROCLAIMING his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech. Night to night reveals knowledge.

Have you ever stood on the seashore, or the rim of the Grand Canyon, or looked at a mountain range and thought to yourself, “How could anyone say there’s no God?” We all have. And that’s General Revelation. We can look at the perfect design of the Universe and know that there was a designer behind it. If I am walking through the woods and I come across an old wristwatch, I don’t think its the result of a random explosion in a machine shop. Someone had to have designed the watch. And the universe is the same way.

There are lots of websites that can give you facts about how the earth is just the right temperature to sustain life, and has the perfect tilt to its axis, and so forth. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of those figures. But what blew me away this week was reading some of those facts on non-Christian science websites. For example, at science/howstuffworks.com/life/EVOLUTION (!!!!) In 2000, a paleontologist and an astronomer collaborated on a book called “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe,” in which they argued that the odds of finding another living world in all the cosmos were severely unlikely. They called it the Rare Earth Hypothesis, but they might as well have called it The Goldilocks principle

You can read some facts about how Earth fits the “Goldilocks principle” to sustain life. You remember Goldilocks, right? She stumbles on a house in the forest, and finds three bowls of porridge, three chairs, three beds, and only one is “just right?”

The right ingredients: A planet needs liquid water, an energy source and chemical building blocks like carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen for the life forms we’re familiar with to thrive.

The right crust: Gas giants and molten worlds need not apply. Luckily, Earth possesses the suitable distribution of elements to ensure a hot metallic core and a rocky mantle.

The right temperature: The necessity for liquid water also means that planetary temperatures must permit the substance to retain its liquid form in some regions.

The right moon: Our large moon ensures climate stability by minimizing changes in planetary tilt. If our planet didn’t have a tilt, it wouldn’t have seasons. Likewise, a severe tilt would result in extreme seasons.

The right star: The sun provides Earth with the energy for life and is thankfully rather stable. Imagine baking a pot roast with an oven that might suddenly surge in temperature, die or explode. It wouldn’t work for your pot roast, and it certainly wouldn’t work for life.

The right core: Earth’s solid inner core and liquid outer core play crucial roles in protecting life from deadly solar radiation. Differences in temperature and composition in the two core regions drive this powerful dynamo, emitting Earth’s protective electromagnetic field.

The right neighbors: Jupiter shields Earth from constant stellar bombardment. Without the gas giant in the neighborhood, scientists predict that Earth would endure 10,000 times as many asteroid and comet strikes [source: Villard].

But with all this, listen to the conclusion:

In short, Earth contains all the ingredients and environmental necessities for life to emerge, plus the relative safety for it to evolve unmolested for hundreds of millions of years on end.

How is that possible to look at all the evidence for a designer and still miss the truth? It would be as though Goldilocks believed that the “just right bed” evolved from some random mutation of trees and goose feathers!

Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.

But creation doesn’t just give us evidence for God’s existence. It also gives us insight into His character.

Look at the nature of creation and you find out about the nature of the Creator. Verses 3-4 say…

3 There is no speech, nor are there words,?    whose voice is not heard.

4 Their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,?    and their words to the end of the world.

There are a couple of different ways to understand this, because the Hebrew is a little difficult to translate. Some say these verses mean that even without speech or language, creation speaks of the creator:

TRANSITION FOR EACH OF THESE

Niagara Falls whispers “There is a God who made me, and he is powerful.” I heard something interesting on the Weather Channel yesterday as I was watching the coverage of Tropical Storm Barry heading to New Orleans. And this is a direct quote from the reporter: “All the levees and locks and dams and gates are just man’s attempt to harness a power that cannot be harnessed.”

The moon whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is romantic.”

The Milky Way Galaxy, 100,000 light years across, and one of one hundred billion galaxies whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is BIG.”

The 300 species of hummingbird, 13,000 varieties of daffodils, 17,500 species of butterfly, ALL whisper, “There is a God who made us, and he is creative.”

The great white shark whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is to be respected.”

Peer inside a microscope, and you’ll find a God who cares about details.

Hold a newborn, and you’ll experience a God of wonder.

Test the gravity he made by jumping out an airplane, and you’ll experience a God of excitement.

Jump out of an airplane without a parachute, and you’ll discover a God of absolutes.

Say this: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

Now, there is a second way to look at verses 3-4, where it says “There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” And that is to say that every single person on planet earth, regardless of what language they speak, or whether or not they even have a written language can know that there is a God just by looking at creation. This is what Romans 1:19-20 is getting at when it says

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

So when scientists (or anyone else for that matter) can look at creation and conclude that there’s no God behind it, they don’t have a knowledge problem, they have an obedience problem. Back up to the verse just before Romans 1:19. Verse 18 says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 

Remember the Goldilocks principle? This would be Goldilocks saying, look, I don’t want to admit that I’m breaking and entering. I don’t want to own up to the fact that I’m criminally trespassing.

So I’m just going to assume that this house, these chairs, this porridge, these beds are all just an accident of natural selection.

But that would be intellectually dishonest, wouldn’t it? But don’t we do the same thing? Maybe you are here this morning and you haven’t wanted to acknowledge God because you know that if you did, you would be responsible for ignoring him. So you’ve kind of conveniently decided that He doesn’t really exist. Friend, you are the one that Romans 1:18 is talking about. By your unrighteousness you are suppressing the truth.

And then look at the last line of verse 20: SO THEY ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE.

It’s that last line that ought to make us stop and think.

But there’s good news. God didn’t just leave us general revelation that points to His existence. He gave us Special Revelation that points to His will for our lives. [SLIDE]

We go from General Revelation— the general truths that can be known about God through nature, to SPECIAL REVELATION, which is the specific truths about God that can only be known through Scripture.

The good news is that God has made known the gospel to us. I want to take you to one more verse in Romans. I know we are working backwards— going from 18-19 to 17, and now we are looking at 16, but bear with me. Romans 1:16 says,

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

In God’s Word, we find out how to be made righteous before God. And that’s what we are going to talk about next week.

Let’s stand for closing prayer.

The Donkey and the Palm (Matthew 21:1-11; 1 Kings 1:6-10, 28-40)

Good morning! Welcome to worship on Palm Sunday!

If you have your Bibles you can go ahead and turn to Matthew 21. Although the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is told in all four gospels, I want to look at it in Matthew this morning. Also, go ahead and find 1 Kings chapter one, and put a bookmark or an offering envelope or something there as well.  

Let me talk just a little bit about what’s coming up this week. This is the beginning of Holy Week—the most significant week on the Christian calendar. For thousands of years, Christians have taken the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday to reflect on the last week of Jesus life. His entry into Jerusalem. The last meal He shared with His disciples. His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. His torture, trial, and crucifixion. And His glorious resurrection.

On Good Friday, I’d like to invite you to watch “The Passion of the Christ” with me. I told you a few weeks ago that this is a tradition I’ve done by myself every Good Friday for the past several years. And I was planning to do it by myself again. But one thing I learned in the disciple making conference we hosted last week is that a lot of what it means to be a disciple maker is simply inviting the people around you to do life with you, and to invest in those relationships in order to lead others into a growing relationship with Jesus.

And so, if anyone would like to watch the Passion with me, we will be upstairs in the youth room, starting at 3:00 pm. We will watch the movie, and afterwards take some time to process and discuss the experience. I should warn you that it is a very, very graphic depiction of the suffering of Jesus. There’s a reason its rated R. And for that reason, if you are in the youth group and want to watch the movie with me, I need your mom or dad to text me and let me know you have their permission to watch the movie with me.

So that’s Good Friday, at 3:00, up in the youth room.  

Then on Easter Sunday, we will celebrate Jesus’s resurrection and come alive to His power to change our lives. Please be thinking about who you can invite to church that day! I hope you were paying attention to the invite video we showed during the announcements. Don’t underestimate the impact of a personal invitation!

Because here is the gospel truth:  The life we have in Jesus because of His death, burial, and resurrection is reason to celebrate! It is reason to respond to God’s open arms and His invitation to draw near to Him. We are going to begin our Easter Service in the waters of the baptistry, as we celebrate with one young man who surrendered his life to Jesus last week. And if there is anyone else that has been holding off on the decision to be baptized, let me encourage you to set up an appointment with me or one of our ministers this week, and let’s have a great baptism celebration next week!

Okay—enough preview. Good Friday—The Passion. Easter Sunday, Baptism.

But today, Palm Sunday. Your Bibles should be open to Matthew 21. Let’s read this together. And if you are physically able, let’s stand to honor the reading of God’s Word.

21 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt,[a] the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

[Pray]

This morning, I want to talk about two of the symbols we associate with Palm Sunday. The donkey and the palm branches.

Now, you get what these have to do with Palm Sunday, right? Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people cut palm branches from the trees and spread them on the road. By the way, I’m so thankful that my neighbor decided to trim back the palm tree in his back yard this week! That gives us an amazing visual going right down the center aisle!

But there’s actually more to these two details to this story than you might have realized, and so I want to look at each of them.

First, the donkey.

Verse 1 says that Jesus and His disciples “drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage.” This was a little village on the mount of Olives, a little over half a mile from the Temple Mount.

Jesus instructs two of his disciples to go into Bethphage and borrow a donkey and a colt. Which couldn’t have been a great assignment. They were supposed to just say “The Lord needs them” if anyone questioned them about why they were stealing these animals. But they do, and verse 7 says that Jesus sat on “them,” which has caused problems for commentators ever since, not to mention artists and movie makers, because nobody can figure out how Jesus sat on a donkey and a colt at the same time. One commentary I read suggested that Jesus used the adult donkey for the steep descent down the Mount of Olives, and then switched to the colt to go into the city. This makes sense to me. We walked down the path Jesus would have taken when we were at the Mount of Olives back in February, and the whole time I remember thinking, “Man—I feel sorry for that donkey!”

But why a donkey in the first place? This is the first record we have of Jesus not walking. So why would he choose a donkey? The top Roman soldiers of Jesus’s day rode on fancy, majestic horses—now those were a show of power and position. Those said power, strength, authority. The donkey? Not so much.

I mean, this is supposed to be the Triumphal Entry, right? Not the meek and mild entry.

But no, the meaning of Jesus riding on the donkey went above and beyond the immediate or the practical. Even this detail—and this lowly animal—was part of God’s bigger plan.

Way back in Zechariah 9:9, in the Old Testament, there was a prophecy that the Messiah would come riding on a young donkey. In verse 5, Matthew quotes Zechariah.

Jesus knew the Bible. So He specifically wanted a donkey because He needed to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. What might seem to us like a “plan B” practical solution to the immediate situation was actually a specific fulfillment of thousands of years of promise.

So while the donkey can represent the humility of Jesus, the ironic twist of the story is that by riding on this donkey, Jesus was also proclaiming that He was the Messiah, the King! The dedicated Jews gathering in Jerusalem at this time for the celebration of the Passover feast would have known this Old Testament prophecy. So this simple act demonstrated a connection to the past by fulfilling the prophecy. And it also pointed to the future of Jesus as king—not an earthly king as some imagined, but as the true King who would reign forever in God’s story of love, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. The Messiah, whom the Jews had been waiting for throughout the centuries.

There’s another link to the Old Testament. Notice that the crowds are shouting out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” in verse 9.

In 1 Kings 1, you have the story of Solomon, the son of David, being crowned as the King of Israel. Now, David had already determined that Solomon would succeed him as king. But one of David’s other sons, Adonijah, had put himself on the throne instead. And he did it with a lot of pomp and ceremony. In 1 Kings 1:5, we read that

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 

Verse 6 goes on to say that Adonijah was a very good looking man. He looked like a king. His older brother Absalom was already dead, so he just figured he was next in line.

So look how he entered Jerusalem. Chariots! Horsemen! Fifty men running in front of him!

The only problem was, he was not who God had in mind to be king. God had already determined that Solomon would succeed David as king. So no matter how impressive Adonijah looked; no matter how many horses and chariots and footmen paraded in front of him to announce his coronation, he wasn’t the rightful king. Solomon was.

So David instructed Zadok, the high priest, and Nathan, the chief prophet of Israel, to take Solomon down to Gihon springs, right outside the walls of Jerusalem, set him on David’s own donkey, and have him ride into Jerusalem.

Then Zadok anointed him king, of Israel. 1 Kings 1:39 says that

Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.

Now let’s pause and think about this question: is there someone else seated on the throne of your life? Maybe you’ve put yourself there, like Adonijah did. Or maybe you’ve placed your trust in political power, or military might, or celebrity status. Listen—the one who has the right to sit on the throne did not have any form or majesty that people would be drawn to him because of the way he looked (Isaiah 53:2). He didn’t come forcing us to bow down to Him—announcing His arrival with a lot of fanfare.

Jesus comes into someone’s life the way He came into Jerusalem that day—gentle and humbly. He rode on a beast of burden because He came to bear our burdens. He bore our burden of sin all the way from the Mount of Olives to the Mount of calvary.

Now back to Matthew, and let’s talk about those palm branches. Go back to verse 8:

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 

Why did they wave palm branches?  Well, palm branches were a symbol of victory. From about 400 BC onward, a palm branch was awarded to the victor in athletic contests.

The palm became so closely associated with victory in ancient Roman culture that the Latin word palma could be used as a synonym for victory itself. A lawyer who won his case in the forum would decorate his front door with palm leaves.[13] 

When Julius Caesar secured his rise to sole power with, a palm tree supposedly sprung up miraculously at the Temple of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory.

So the people cut down palm branches and wave them while they shouted out Hosanna, which comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning, “Save us, we pray.” This was a deliberate challenge to the Roman empire, which at that time occupied Jerusalem and all Israel. The Jews hated the Roman occupation. They longed for freedom from Roman rule. And so, here comes Jesus. They’d heard about His miracles, His teaching, His authority over demons, His calming the storm. His walking on water. And so they thought, “This is the one we’ve been waiting for!”

They could almost taste their freedom. Finally—finally!—their Messiah, their rescuer, had come. Finally, He was going to kick some Roman tail and overthrow their oppressors and set up the perfect kingdom for the Jews. Right?

Let me try an illustration, and see if it helps you:

Imagine that for weeks your kids have been talking non stop about wanting to go to the Launch trampoline park. They are obsessed with it. Every day, they’re whining—Mom, Dad, we wanna go to the trampoline park” We want to meet Joey, the giant green kangaroo!

And so one day, you get in the car, and you start driving toward the trampoline park. And your kids are sooooo excited. But instead of turning in to the trampoline park, you keep right on going past it. You get on the Interstate. You go to the airport. You fly to Orlando, and you surprise your kids with tickets to Disney World!

In other words, you’ve taken their heart’s desire, and you’ve responded to it with more than they could ever ask or imagine!

That’s the difference between what the people wanted and what Jesus came to give them. Jesus wasn’t here to set up an earthly, political kingdom. Instead, He went above and beyond what the people imagined. He was a spiritual king, not an earthly one. And His victory—the ultimate victory over sin and death—would be more than freedom from their current oppression. It would be the victory that restored all of creation and made a way for every person to have a right relationship with God. He would throw off and defeat the oppression of their souls.

But none of them understood the magnitude of what Jesus was preparing to do. Even Jesus’s disciples didn’t get it. John told us in his account of the triumphal entry story that

John 12:16 (ESV)

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

And maybe this explains why the crowds were so quick to turn on Him. Only days later the same crowd that was shouting “Hosanna” would shout “Crucify Him.”

Turns out they would rather have the trampoline park than the Magic Kingdom. When Jesus didn’t swoop into town and kick the Romans out, they rejected him. They didn’t want an eternal kingdom. They wanted to set up their own kingdom.

And, oh, beloved church, how often do we do the same thing? How often are we more interested in building our kingdom and asking Jesus to be a part of it, instead of truly and wholeheartedly saying to Jesus, “Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done!” We want Jesus to join us in what we are doing, instead of saying, Lord, show me what you are doing, and let me join you there!

Jesus’s purpose was to offer the ultimate sacrifice—His own life—so that everyone and all of creation could worship God in new freedom and truth. Whether the people approved or disapproved, recognized or had no idea what was going on, Jesus’s purpose never changed.

Jesus’s life purpose was to bring God’s love and life to the world. His love bridged the gap and provided a way for us to cross over into the holy presence of the God of the universe, to know Him and relate with Him.

If you are here today wondering what this journey of Holy Week means for you, don’t miss God’s invitation. He loves each one of us and invites us on the journey through Holy Week and into relationship with Him.

Jesus came into Jerusalem humbly and gently, riding on a donkey. And in the same way, He doesn’t force Himself into our lives. Matthew 11:28-30 shows us how Jesus enters into a relationship with us:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Just as Jesus entered that city to the shouts of “Hosanna—Pray, save us,” let’s invite Him to enter our hearts and lives. Let us shout Pray Save Us to the one who came as a gentle humble servant, yet won the ultimate victory.

Samson, Part 2: Kryptonite


Summary: We all deal with little pieces of our world that can sap us our strength and immobilize us. Learn how to identify your Kryptonite and how, with God’s help, to neutralize it.

Good morning. Please turn in your Bibles to Judges chapter 14. I think this is going to be our last sermon in this series. Next week, brother Mel Johnson will be filling in while I’m at kids camp. However, there is a whole lot to cover in these three chapters, so if we don’t get to all of it today, we’ll put a bookmark here and finish up when I get back.

Also, I want to let you know that throughout this series I’ve really benefitted from the work some others have done on the book of Judges. There has been some controversy in Baptist circles over plagiarism in recent weeks, so, full disclosure, I’ve used some material from Tim Keller’s Judges for You commentary, JD Greaar’s sermon series Broken Saviors, and, for these messages on Samson in particular, Craig Groeschel’s book Fight, which our men’s ministry went through together last year. So, credit where credit is due.

Now, if you are a fan of Superman, you know what Superman’s weakness was, right? That’s right. Kryptonite. Kryptonite was little pieces of Superman’s home world of Krypton, which had made its way to earth. And when Superman was anywhere near it, his power was zapped away. And I think that’s actually a really good metaphor for some of the things that can zap away our power as followers of Jesus. You know, little chunks of the world that, if we continue to expose ourselves to them, will diminish our power and make otherwise strong believers weak.

God warns us in 1 John about these little chunks of the world. 1 John 2 puts it this way:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life[c]—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

You’re going to see how the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride brought Samson down. He’s the ultimate Bible superhero. But just like Superman, and just like us today, there are chunks of the world that robbed him of his supernatural power. They made this strong man weak. And if we aren’t careful, they will make us weak too. So this morning as we look at the story of Samson, we are going to see the Kryptonite that made him weak. (Or, since it’s the story of Samson, maybe we should call it Samsonite. Because, you know, he had some baggage.). But then, in some of the comics, there was an antidote to the Kryptonite. So we will wrap up this morning talking about the antidotes to Samsonite. So let me pray for us before we dive in to God’s word.

[Pray]

[Recap from last weak]

• God’s people Israel was in the seventh cycle of sin, oppression, and deliverance. Unlike other cycles, the people did not cry out for repentance, and we will talk about why in just a minute. But because of God’s relentless pursuit of his people, he sent a deliverer anyway. Samson was set apart before he was even born. He was called to be a Nazirite, which meant he was forbidden from doing three things. He couldn’t touch a dead body (human or otherwise); he couldn’t drink alcohol, and he couldn’t cut his hair. And in return, God would empower him with supernatural, superhuman strength in order to deliver God’s people from the Philistines. So let’s see how this all played out. Follow along with me as I read Judges 14:1-9:

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” 4 His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel. 5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes. 8 After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

Ok. So, here you see the first chunk of Kryptonite. Or Samsonite. Whatever. It’s Lust: Lust is the attitude that says I want it, even if its not right for me to have it.

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines.

Now, Timnah was actually a city within Israel. It was only about four miles away from Samson’s hometown of Zorah. So you might be wondering what a Philistine girl was doing in the middle of Israel in the first place. Hold that thought. But Samson sees her, and so he goes to his mom and dad and says, This is the girl for me. Get her for me!

Remember that God told Samson’s parents that Samson would be the one to deliver Israel from the Philistines. So they knew that to deliver a Philistine daughter to Samson was way out of bounds.

So they say to Samson, “Look: can’t you find a nice Jewish girl to settle down with? Why do you have to take a wife from these uncircumcised Philistines?” Quick word here: this is not a verse you can use to argue against interracial marriage. The important word here isn’t Philistine; it’s uncircumcised. There were plenty of interracial marriages God blessed. Moses married a Midianite woman and a Cushite woman. Boaz married Ruth, a Moabitess, and his mother was Rahab, who was a Canaanite. So their objection wasn’t that Samson was interested in someone from another race, but that she was under a different covenant. She was not a follower of the one true God, Yahweh.

But Samson wasn’t worried about little things like covenants and faithfulness to God. He was being driven by his lust, and so he says to his parents, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

That’s a key phrase to explain how lust works. Lust replaces what is right in God’s eyes with what is right in one’s own eyes. Lust says I want it, even if it isn’t good for me. I want it, even if it belongs to someone else. I want it, even if I belong to someone else.

Let me take just a moment to do a little sidebar. You might be wondering what the point of the Samson story is. Why is it even in the Bible?

I think it’s here because Israel was supposed to see itself in the story of Samson. Think about it. Israel was what Jacob’s name was changed to. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, who had never been able to have children. Similarly, Samson’s mother had also been barren, just like Sarah.

Israel was set apart from all the other people groups in the promised land. Through the Nazirite vow, Samson was supposed to be set apart as well. But just as Samson broke his vows when he chased after these pagan women, Israel broke the covenant with Yahweh when they chased after foreign gods.

And now you may start to see why Samson only had to go four miles from home to find a Philistine woman. Remember how Israel never cried out for deliverance from the Philistines? Part of that was because they had grown pretty comfortable with Philistine culture. They had been thoroughly assimilated into it by this point in their history.

On this Independence Day, it’s worth asking whether or not we as Americans have done the same thing. Has the church lost its relevance because it has tried to be too accommodating to the world? That can go in one of several ways. Tim Keller points out that for liberal churches, the temptation is to appeal to Americans’ idolization of personal choice and freedom and the rejection of absolute truth.

On the other hand, conservative churches can make an idol out of some idealized past. Or the good old days. Or a political party. And by so doing, we lose our distinctiveness in the world.

Other churches try to be so appealing that they hardly ever address issues like sin and repentance, and God’s just and righteous wrath against sin, and instead every sermon winds up being a self-help session on how to balance your budget or how to be better parents.

Samson didn’t have to go to Philistia to be seduced by the Philistines, because his people were already thoroughly bought into it. They didn’t cry out for repentance because they didn’t think they had anything to repent of.

Well, Samson’s lust isn’t just about his sexual appetite. It also is about his physical appetite. He goes down to Timnah with his mom and dad to negotiate with the girls family. And on the way, he gets attacked by a lion. Verse 6 says he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. I don’t even know what that means, but apparently young goat tearing was pretty common in those days.

Samson’s parents come to an agreement with the girl’s parents on a bride price, and they go back to Zorah. Then, a few days later, Samson goes back to Timnah to get married. And on the way, he sees the carcass of the young lion. It has apparently been long enough for a swarm of bees to have built a hive in the lion carcass, and there is honey in the hive, and Samson scoops some out and eats it.

First: ewww. Guys are just kind of gross that way.

Second, what was one of the points of the Nazirite vow? Right. Don’t touch a dead body. Let alone eat from its bloated carcass.

But again, this is what lust does. Lust says I want it, and I want it now, and I don’t care how wrong it is, or how dirty it is, or who else I drag down in order to get what I want (because when Samson gave some of the honey to his parents, he involved them in his sin).

Lust is a Kryptonite that won’t just destroy you, it will destroy the people that are close to you as well.

Now let’s look at another chunk of Kryptonite.

Verse 10 says that Samson throws a feast for the young men there in Timnah. The Hebrew language lets you know that it’s basically a multiday bachelor party for Samson and his thirty companions. And no, it’s not a dry bachelor party. In the original language it is referred to as a mizteh, which is essentially a week long kegger (what’s the second point of the Nazirite vow? No alcohol. So Samson has broken the second of the three vows.)

In the middle of this Oktoberfest, Samson suddenly remembers the lion. And he stands up and says, “Hey guys, I’ve got a riddle. And if you can figure it out, I’ll give you thirty sets of clothes. But if you can’t figure it out before the feast is over, you’ve gotta give me thirty sets of clothes.”

And they’re like, “Let’s hear it.” So in verse 14, Samson says,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.

Out of the strong came something sweet.”

Believe it or not, it actually rhymes in Hebrew, too!

But all the groomsmen are stumped. They ponder it for three days, and on the fourth day, they go to the bride to be and say, “If you don’t get the answer to this riddle, we’ll burn your father’s house down.” (Sidenote—single guys, be careful who you pick as groomsmen).

So in verse 16, in a foreshadowing of what will happen later with Delilah, Samson’s fiancé turns on the waterworks and says “You don’t love me. Otherwise you would tell me the riddle.” And she wears Samson down, and Samson tells her the riddle. Then she tells the riddle to the Philistine groomsmen, they win the bet, and Samson, who is NOT known for his beautiful love poetry, says in verse 18:

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,

you would not have found out my riddle.”

Single guys, I beg you. If you are getting married, thinking about getting married, dating, thinking about dating, whatever. If there’s even a girl you think you might be interested in: DON’T CALL HER A HEIFER. EVER. It won’t end well.

And it doesn’t end well for Samson. In a fit of rage, verse 19 says,

And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. (14:19)

Throughout his life, Samson is driven by his rage. Every time he lashes out against the Philistines, its not to bring honor and glory to God, it’s to settle a personal score. It’s because he’s been insulted. This is what rage does. Rage says, “You’re gonna get it, and I’m going to be the one to give it to you.”

Sidebar: The Spirit of the Lord and Samson

Several times in these verses we see “The spirit of the Lord coming upon Samson.” (or rushing upon him if you’ve got the ESV.

• 14:6–6 Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat.

• 14:19–9 And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle.

• You see it one more time in 15:14, when the Philistines first try to bind him. He breaks the ropes like they were candle wicks, and then turns around and kills 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.

One of the questions we have to wrestle with in the Samson narrative is why God would keep using someone who was so fundamentally flawed?

Why would God allow his Spirit to empower someone, only to have him turn around and use that empowerment to vent his rage?

and why, instead of growing in godliness with every empowerment by the spirit, Samson seems to be growing farther apart from God instead of closer to him?

Here’s the thing: the Bible always makes a distinction between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. Gifts are for doing. Fruit is for being. Paul talks about gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14—healing, prophecy, tongues, and so forth. But he breaks up that teaching with 1 Corinthians 13, which is all about love. And how does he begin that chapter?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

What is the first fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22? Love, followed by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

Friends, I truly believe this is what has led to some of the character crises we have experienced in the church lately. We elevate exceptionally gifted communicators or musicians. We make celebrities out of them. But their giftedness has put them in a position that their character hasn’t caught up to yet, and when they experience a moral failure, it can almost always be traced back to a failure to cultivate the fruit of the spirit in their personal lives.

By the way, we do the same thing with government leaders as well, when we elect them because we believe they will get things done, but we turn a blind eye to issues of character.

Character matters more than ability. It’s true in ministry, its true in politics, and its true in our personal lives. Look at Psalm 78:72. When the Psalmist describes King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, he says,

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

Integrity of heart always comes before skillful hands. Samson never got that lesson. He demonstrated amazing gifts of the Spirit without ever developing the fruit of the Spirit. And it destroyed him.

Let’s keep going. We actually get a two-fer in the next couple of verses: Two pieces of Kryptonite (Samsonite) in one section. Look at the last verse of chapter 15:

20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.

I think there’s a lot between the lines here. You get the sense that maybe Samson has settled down in middle age. Twenty years go by since he killed a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone. Scripture is silent on anything that happened during those two decades of leadership. So maybe Samson kept his nose clean. Maybe he’s grown complacent with the daily grind of leadership. Maybe he gets bored. Maybe he has a midlife crisis.

But for whatever reason, in 16:1, we see that

Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.

Contrast this with Timnah, which was where he went the last time he was chasing skirts. Timnah was only four miles away from Samson’s hometown of Zorah, right in the middle of Israel. But Gaza was in the heart of Philistine territory, about 25 miles away. Craig Groeschel did the math, and figured out that there are about 56,250 steps in 25 miles. So Samson had 56,250 steps to think about the fact that visiting a prostitute is never a good idea. And it’s a reminder that people generally don’t ruin their lives all at once. Instead, it is almost always a series of small steps in the wrong direction.

Let’s look at the two pieces of kryptonite we observe here. The first is…

Entitlement: I deserve it. It’s the idea that after a streak of good behavior, or a season of nose-to-the-grindstone work, you deserve to cut loose a little. You’ve been good and obedient all through high school, and now that you’re in college it’s your chance to see if all those stories about fraternity parties are true. Or you’re an accountant and its April 16, after a grueling tax season, and you’re tempted to let your hair down and live a little.

[Personal story: getting drunk on the night of my high school graduation and being called out by someone who had looked up to me all through high school—“Congratulations—you’ve just blown four years of testimony in one night.”]

Samson may have believed that he was entitled to a night of letting his hair down (no pun intended). He might have thought that because he was God’s chosen servant, that he had experienced God’s favor from before birth, or that he had been faithful for such a long season, that he had accumulated enough brownie points to indulge a little.

This is the flip side of works-based religion. If someone feels like they have to work to earn God’s favor in the first place, then you get to the point of thinking you’ve earned enough on the balance sheet that you’ve got a surplus of good works, and you can get a little wild.

But that’s not how grace works.

Along with entitlement is the kryptonite of isolation. Have you noticed throughout Judges that the size of the army keeps shrinking? At the beginning of the book, the early Judges of Israel—Othniel and Deborah, led armies of thousands into battle. The middle judges—Gideon and Jephthah, had armies of hundreds. But when you get to Samson, well, Samson is an army of one. And when you are a lone wolf, it is that much easier to fall to temptation.

And so, here’s Samson, far from home, deep in enemy territory, and he falls victim to the Vegas mindset: What happens in Gaza stays in Gaza (by the way, has there ever been a more effective advertising campaign by a Board of Tourism than “What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”? It plays right into the way sin works. No accountability—far away from where you might be recognized, and Samson says, “I’m isolated. I can hide it.”

Listen: we may think we are hiding a besetting sin from the people around us. We get really good at deleting our internet history, or going incognito on Google, or only texting from our work phone, or whatever we wind up doing to hide our sin.

But it never works. Because whenever we try to hide from God, we always wind up running into Him. Because God pursues us. He loves us so much that He will expose what we think is our secret sin in order to call us back to Himself.

[Illustration: Allen’s seminary colleague and Ashley Madison]

All of this leads to the final piece of Kryptonite, and the one that ultimately led to Samson’s downfall, was…

Pride: I Can Handle It (16:4-21)

Recap Samson and Delilah. Emphasize that every time he gets a little closer to the truth. This is similar to guys and girls who are dating and keep pushing the boundaries of their physical relationship. We treat boundaries like the games on The Price is Right—“How close can I get to the actual retail price without going over?” Only it’s, how close can I get to the line of what’s appropriate without crossing the line?”

How many drinks can I have before I cross the threshold between buzzed and blackout?

How many times can I try a substance without being addicted.

So you see Samson pushing the limits a little further each time. First its bowstrings. Then its ropes. Then, in verse 13 its, “weave the seven locks of my hair into a loom.” See how much closer he gets to the line? Finally, look at verse 17. Samson tells Delilah the truth:

17 And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”

And even after she’s tried to kill him three times, he still falls asleep with his head in her lap! How big of an idiot is this guy? But this is how pride works. Pride says, “I can handle it. I’ve handled it before, and I’ve always been able to get out of it.” You see this in verse 20:

And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him (16:20)

Sidebar: The Observable and the Invisible

Can I take just one more sidebar before we wrap this up? I want to suggest to you that the Lord leaving Samson didn’t happen the moment his hair was cut. That was just the final, visible, observable thing. Samson had character issues that were crippling him from the moment he is introduced, back in chapter 14. Like I said, ruining your life usually happens in a series of small steps. Its just that the last step is the one that is visible.

You know the rest of the story. [Recap]. As one preacher has said, sin binds you, and then it blinds you, and finally it grinds you.

Conclusion: The Antidote to Kryptonite

• Instead of “I want it…”, I want God.

Cultivate a desire for God. Psalm 42: as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs for God.

• Instead of “You’re gonna get it…” God is just

Vengeance and justice are in God’s hands. Romans 12: Do not repay evil for evil, but leave it in God’s hands.

• Instead of “I deserve it…,”I deserve death.

We were the objects of God’s wrath. As sinners saved by grace, we deserve nothing. But because of God’s favor, we have received everything. So live with the conviction that you have been rescued, not that you are entitled.

• Instead of “I can hide it…” I can’t keep anything from you.

Hebrews 4:12—nothing is hidden from the one to whom we must give account. And this is actually good news. Think about secret sin like a cancer. When a surgeon goes in, you want the surgeon to find all the cancer, right?

• Instead of “I can handle it…” I can’t handle anything apart from you, God.

The starting point for salvation is to admit our utter helplessness before God.

Samson, Part 1: The Eyes Have It (Judges 13)

Before Samson was even born, God was painting a beautiful picture of salvation with his life.

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Judges 13.

As we move through the book of Judges… we come now to one of the most interesting stories in the Bible… maybe one of the most well-known—Samson. When I say, “Samson,” what do you think of? [hair, strength, Delilah…]

Yeah. Nearly everyone, when they think of Samson, have a picture in their mind of someone like Jason Mamoa. Or maybe Maui from Moana. Who’s basically The Rock, but with hair.

But before we get into anything about Samson’s life, I want to push back on this a little. If you know anything about the details of the story, you know that Delilah (under pressure from the Philistines) was obsessed with learning “the secret” of Samson’s great strength. So think about it: if he already looked like Aquaman, it wouldn’t have been much of a secret. So maybe instead of picturing Jason Mamoa, maybe we should think about some skinny long haired rock and roll dude, like Tom Petty, or Edgar Winter Its true: If this guy killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15, we’d be, like, “Well, yeah. He’s Aquaman.” But if this guy does it, then we’re gonna realize it had nothing to do with him.

And that’s the whole point of the book of Judges. That the deliverance is never about the human deliverer. It wasn’t about Ehud, our southpaw Savior. It wasn’t about Jael and her tent peg, or Gideon with his 300 trumpet players. Its always, only about God working through flawed people for divine purposes.

Samson’s story comes toward the end of the book of Judges. In fact, he’s the last Judge specifically talked about. And we get a lot more material on him than we do the other Judges—3 whole chapters worth! God is going to give us the picture of how he saves his people… By this point in Judges, we’ve seen the basic cycle play out at least six times:

[TRANS EACH ONE]

• Stability: They follow God;

• Wickedness: Their heart is drawn away to worship other gods…

• Oppression: God punishes them by allowing those gods to enslave them…

• REPENTANCE: They suffer and repent and cry out to God…

• DELIVERANCE: God raises up a judge to save them…

• STABILITY: They go along ok for a while until they forget what they’ve learned and the cycle starts over…

So this is the last trip around on this hamster wheel. At first we hoped they would ‘snap out’ of this sinful cycle, but now we’ve seen this again and again and again and we’re ready to throw our hands up in despair and give up on Israel, when suddenly the narrative structure of Judges changes and we get this really in-depth story… loaded with symbolism.

Here we go:

13 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

40 = number of judgment and completion. This is ultimate judgment on sin.

The Philistines were bad people. We use the word ‘philistine’ today to mean someone uncultured, but the real Philistines were actually very sophisticated. . Their weaponry, architecture, and culture were far beyond any other civilization at the time. They were the first ones to work with iron and make iron weapons. They were the first ones to employ battle formations in war. But they were unspeakably cruel: When they capture a town, they would mutilate the captives while they while they were living, and then impale them.

Now, we’ve already seen this phrase “did evil in the sight of the Lord” or “in the eyes of the Lord” (NIV), six times in Judges. It’s how the SWORDS cycle is introduced. But as we go through the rest of Judges, I want you to pay attention to how often something is said about eyes or sight.

When Samson sees a hot looking Philistine girl, he tells his dad, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” (14:3). It says it again, in 14:7 that she was right in Samson’s eyes. Then when the Philistines do capture Samson, what do they do? They gouge out his eyes (16:21). When Samson prays to God to be with him one last time, it isn’t so that God will be glorified. It’s so Samson can be avenged “for his two eyes.” (16:28)

And after Samson’s death, you get the statement that really sums up all of Judges: 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

What’s the point of all this? Well, again, the book of Judges in general, and the story of Samson in particular is intended to answer a fundamental question for our lives and for our culture. And the question is,

Who gets to define sin? Who defines what’s right and wrong? You know, that was essentially the first temptation Satan gave to human beings. Way back in the garden of Eden, Satan slithered up to Eve and said, “You know why God doesn’t want you to eat from that tree, right? It’s because that tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And look at the language Satan uses. After seeing all this about “eyes” in Samson’s story, this will blow your mind.

5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Gen 3:5-7)

Maybe you’ve had the same question I had growing up: what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil? Wouldn’t that help God out if we could figure that out for ourselves? But the problem wasn’t that they knew the difference between good and evil. It’s that they started believing they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil.

And that’s been the problem ever since. We always get in trouble when we start making decisions about what’s right and wrong without checking it against God’s absolute standard. Case in point: Adam and Eve get it wrong right out of the gate. Their eyes are opened, and they’re like, “Oh no, we’re naked! We have to hide!”

They’re not in sin because they don’t have any clothes on. They’re in sin because they’ve disobeyed God. We always get it wrong when we try to decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong. Everything from Nazi Germany to abortion on demand to no fault divorce to same sex marriage comes from us doing exactly the same thing we see in Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Okay, let’s get back to Judges: verse 2:

2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah.

(By the way, if you’re going to picture anyone as Aquaman, it ought to be Samson’s father—Jason Manoah) And his wife was barren and had no children.

3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.

Now stop there, and let me make some crucial observations about our salvation from these verses.

First, notice what is missing between vv. 1 and 2? there is no cry of repentance! If these people are going to be saved, it’s not going to be because God waits on them to seek him; he must seek them.

Second, this is the first time a Judge is promised before birth. You see, with every other Judge, God raised up someone who was already alive. It’s as if God is saying to them that the Savior they need is not someone from among them that he will just make stronger; he’s going to have to start from scratch.

Third, this promise is given to a barren woman. Barrenness in those days was the ultimate devastation for a woman. The society was agrarian: which meant the more sons you had, the more workers you had for the farm, and thus the more income you could generate for your family. For the nation itself, economic and military health was completely dependent on many children being born. So women had lots of babies were like heroes, but women who couldn’t bear children were seen as useless. And she’s not just useless, she’s also anonymous.

We are never told her name. We know the dad’s name: Manoah. But Samson’s mother is only referred to as, “the woman.” The author is intentionally painting her as obscure. And verse 4 gives us a hint that she’s not an especially religious woman. The angel tells her she must not eat anything unclean. Well, if she was an observant Jew, that would have gone without saying.

Here is the lesson about salvation, and it is so important. We talked about who gets to define sin. Answer, God.

Now, let’s talk about Who delivers from sin. Answer? Also God!

God brings his salvation to a people who are not crying out in repentance.

He does it in a new way; not through our talents or gifts or righteousness to distinguish them from others; and a people with no hope and no prospects in themselves. • God doesn’t love the lovely; he makes lovely those he loves. He doesn’t save the strong; he makes strong those he saves. He doesn’t choose the righteous; he makes righteous those he chooses. • Which means no matter who you are… or what circumstance you find yourself in in life, or what mistakes you have made, or what weakness you feel, there is hope for you. But that hope will not be found by you turning over a new leaf—by you (to use the metaphor) getting pregnant in your barrenness out of your own strength; it will be found by you receiving God’s gift of grace, his choice, of you. It is one of the most humbling, sweetest truths to me… God set his affection on me “just because.”

In Deut 7:7

[7] It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, You weren’t the strongest, or most sophisticated, or even the most moral… [8] but it is because the LORD loves you (Deuteronomy 7:7–8)

And here’s the thing: I know that if God didn’t choose me because I was righteous, he’s not going to reject me because I struggle. [Latest Chosen episode?]

Ok, let’s keep reading:

4 Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, 5 for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb,

Let’s talk about the Nazirite vow. There were three parts to it: 1. You couldn’t cut any of your hair during the vow. 2. You couldn’t drink anything “from the vine,” alcoholic or otherwise. So, in that day, pretty much all you’re left with is milk or water… 3. You couldn’t touch any dead bodies of any kind. Usually, people would only commit to it for a short period of time when they were really seeking God about something because it was so intense. But Samson does this from birth. And its important, because next week you’ll see that Samson eventually trashes every one of these vows.

Notice the second part of verse 5:

…and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Begin? That’s a weird word. Who will finish it? Samson is the last judge of Israel, and after he dies, Israel is still in pretty bad shape. So, if you’re asking “Who’s gonna complete this work of salvation, then congratulations! Now you are reading the Bible the right way! This story won’t be completed until the New Testament.

So in the next few verses, the woman tells Manoah, Manoah’s skeptical, and then Manoah prays that God will send the angel back so he can hear it for himself.

You know, typical husband move.

So God does, the angel appears to “the woman” (I really want her to have a name, so I’m gonna call her “Woman-oah…”) she goes and gets MANoah, and check out what he does,

15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” 16 And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.)

Let’s talk about what’s happening here, because it gets to the answer to our third question:

What do we contribute to the deliverance?

Manoah wants to do something for the angel. He says, let us prepare a goat for you. And that sounds good and nice and hospitable, right? But understand that in the ancient near east, showing hospitality to a stranger obligated them to you. They would be considered in your debt. So this might have been a power play on the part of Manoah.

How often do we do that with God? “I give a lot of money to this church. God owes me.” When Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, ran for President for a few minutes in 2019, he was asked by a reporter about his religious views. Here’s what he said:

“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

I’m sure God is saying, “Oh wow! You got people to stop smoking? COME ON IN!”

But Bloomberg was simply doing what Manoah did, and what millions and millions of religious people have tried to do in between. Negotiate with God. But God wont have it. Bloomberg’s right about one thing: It’s not even close.

But Manoah tries another powerplay. Look at verse 17:

17 And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” 18 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”

We’ve talked about this before: In many pagan cultures it was thought that if you knew the name of a God, it gave you power over that God. Like in the fairy tale Rumplestiltskin, or the movie Beetlejuice. We saw something similar in Genesis, when Jacob wrestles the angel and asks the angel his name. (Gen 32:22-32). We do that too. Politicians who have no heart for God will still invoke His name if they think it will get them elected. Or we believe we have eternal security because we repeated a prayer in vacation Bible school, or because we “believe in Jesus.” Be careful. The book of James reminds us that the demons believe in Jesus.

Here’s the truth. God won’t be bought off because we do a good deed. And he doesn’t save us because we repeat some words like a magic spell.

Our illustration for saving faith doesn’t come from Manoah. It comes from his wife. Womanoah. Follow along as I read to the end of the chapter:

19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife fell with their faces on the ground. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, (humor, speaking with his face to the dirt—muffled) “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Now, even though this woman is anonymous, and barren, and not very religious, she responds in a way that puts her among the greatest women of faith in the Bible. She says, simply, “I trust him, and I’m ready to obey all that he has said.”

That was better than Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who laughed when God told her she would a son in her barrenness. (She laughed) o Her response is better than Elizabeth’s, the wife of Zechariah the priest, who doubted the angel when he told her she’d have a baby in her old age.

There’s only one or two other women who responded with that same kind of faith, and one of them was Mary, who, when she heard about her impossible birth, said, “Well, be it unto me according to your word. I’ll believe what you promised and do all that you have said.” •

There is only response that pleases God: “I believe what you have promised and I’ll do whatever you say.” • This woman is not very impressive in really any way… she’s obscure; she’s lived a rough life… but here, she just says, “Yes, Lord.” That’s all he’s looking for. • Have you said that? That’s all it is: Yes, Lord. •

The difference between Manoah and his wife is the difference between religion and faith. Religion is built on negotiation: I’ll give you this, and I expect you to do this. But Jesus doesn’t negotiate. He owns it all, including you, already, and you can only be one of two postures with him… faith and surrender or rebellion.

The great Christian thinker CS Lewis put it this way: We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved; we are rebels who must lay down our arms.

Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to help us live our best lives now. He comes to take over.

And, by the way, you don’t have anything to negotiate with, anyway. We are like Manoah’s wife: barren; unrighteous; worthy of condemnation. But she demonstrates a trust in God and an absolute surrender to His plan. And that’s what God is looking for from us. You’ve either said to Jesus, “I believe all that you’ve said… that you have done everything necessary to save and accept me… and I’m ready to follow you with my whole life,” or you haven’t.

Religion negotiates. That’s what Jephthah did—remember? Faith just surrenders.

This morning, we’ve answered three questions:

Who gets to define sin? God does. So the question for you is, are you ready to admit that you have done what is evil in the eyes of the Lord, or are you still living by what is right in your own eyes?

Who can deliver us from sin? God can. Samson “began” to save Israel, but Jesus Christ finished the work. But our deliverance comes only by following God’s plan. Acts 4:12 says “Salvation is found in no one else.”

What do we contribute? Nothing. We can’t bribe God and put Him in our debt. We cant control God and put Him in our power. We can’t negotiate with God and work out more favorable terms of surrender. We can only offer God our absolute, unconditional, unnegotiated surrender.

Have you done that?

Jephthah: The Danger of Designer-Dog Faith (Judges 10-12)

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL June 8, 2021

Jephthah: The Dangers of Designer Dog Faith

By James Jackson

Judges 10-12

Summary: The tragic, awful story of Jephthah shows us what happens when we try to piece together our own version of what it means to follow God.


Please open your Bibles to Judges 10.

Happy Father’s day! The stereotype with going to church on mothers day and fathers day s that on mother’s day, mothers get built up, and on fathers day, fathers get beat up. 

But today, I guarantee that every dad is going to come away encouraged, because NO MATTER WHAT, you are a better dad than Jephthah, the judge we are going to meet today.

Judges 10… a lot of the stories in the book of Judges people know… Samson; Gideon; maybe even Deborah… Almost nobody knows the story of Jephthah here in Judges 10. Because it is terrible. I mean, terrible. It’s going to leave you feeling deeply unsettled. Disturbed.

But before we get into the story, let’s talk about dogs. About a month ago, our sweet little pug that we’ve had for 13 years had to be put down. And I started doing some research online to see what kind of dog, if any, we should get next. And I learned that really dogs kind of fit into three categories:

Mutts: You can go to the shelter and for around 50-75 dollars, you can pick out your very own dog. He won’t have any papers, you wont know any of his history. You’ll just kind of accept what you get, no questions.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have purebreds. Unlike mutts, with purebreds you know exactly what you are getting. You’ve got papers. You’ve got bloodlines. You’ve got breeding experts who are able to tell you exactly how big they’re gonna get, what their characteristics are, and so forth.

But in recent years, there’ s been a growing demand for what they call designer dogs. This is when you want to mix and match the best characteristics of one breed with the some preferred characteristics of another breed. Say you want the playfulness and intelligence of a golden retriever, but without all the shedding. Voila! Breed a golden retriever with a poodle, and you get a golden doodle. Or, you want the watchdog characteristics  of a schnauzer, but you want him to be more cuddly,  so again, breed him with a poodle and you get… a Schnoodle. 

Poodles are the most popular ingredient for designer dogs. Kinda like oregano. You also have cockapoos, cavi poos, malti-poos, labradoodles, the list goes on. Which makes you wonder, if poodles make everything better, why not just get a poodle. I think its because when most people think of poodles, they think… Poodles. And they’re thinking, I wouldn’t be caught dead with that thing in a dog park.

Now, there’s a point to all of: Many Americans think they can build their faith like designer dog. They take a little bit of something from this, and mix it with a little bit of something from that, and the result is a concoction that you can hardly call Christian… which is more than simply bad for you; it is spiritually toxic.

That’s what you’re going to see with Jephthah today… he’s got a little bit of Yahweh worship, mixed in with a whole lot of beliefs and practices he’s picked up from the religions around him.

Let’s dive in and see how he got there. Judges 10:6:

The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.

If you were counting, seven  gods are listed. That’s the number of completion in Hebrew, which is to say that Israel has completely abandoned God. This is the lowest they’ve fallen thus far!

So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year.

We’ve seen this pattern before. Remember SWORDS: Now, this is a familiar pattern—the Israelites serve false gods and they end up in slavery. But here the author presents a twist: the Israelites care serving the gods of the ammonites and the Philistines, and look who winds up oppressing and crushing them: the Philistines and the Ammonites!

And so, verse 10:

10 And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.”

And for the first time in Judges, God says, “No. I’m not going to save you.

13 … “You have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”

Why does God say no? Well, we’ve seen this before, too. What the people are expressing isn’t true repentance. They are hating the consequences of their sin, but they aren’t hating the sin itself. These people don’t want God for God; they are just in pain and want somebody, anybody, to make it stop.

There has been no change of heart toward God; this is a ‘let me use you to get out of trouble.’ Did you know that it is possible to come to God in an idolatrous way… It’s like there’s purebred faith, with all its expectations of surrender and exclusivity and surrender to the absolute Lordship of Christ, but then there’s designer-dog religion, where you want to mix and match what you like about Christianity with what you like from materialism, or self-fulfillment, or whatever.

The people realize their sin, and in verse 15, they truly repent:

15 And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord…

Well, believe it or not, they get it. See how different what they said in vs. 15 is from what they said in vs. 10? In vs. 10, they say, we want peace from you. In vs. 15, they say, “We want peace with you, even if it continues to mean trouble for us here…. (We’d rather not have trouble, of course, but having you is the essential part.)” That’s true repentance. I don’t care if life gets easy or hard; I just want you. Well, they genuinely repented, and the Lord became impatient over the misery of Israel.

I love that phrase. Put a pin there, because we’re going to come back at the end.

So in verse 1 of chapter 11, we meet our hero, Jephthah:

Now Jephthah was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead, Jephthah’s father, had many other sons. 2 And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of a prostitute.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.

Now its worth noting that unlike most of the other judges we’ve talked about so far, Judges doesn’t say that the Lord “raised up Jephthah. Jephthah was a rejected man; driven out by his own brothers. • Flees to a far away land and worthless men (thugs) gather around him, where he becomes a kind of crime boss, a land pirate.

But then the Ammonites made war against Israel. Verse 5 And so the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah back, and said, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.”

And in verse 7, Jephthah says, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” And so, vs. 8, they say, “No, no. We’re really sorry this time! If you come home, you can be in charge. And so Jephthah agrees and, verse 11 says that the people made him head and leader over them.

And so here’s the first lesson from Jephthah’s life: We are far more influenced by our culture than we realize.

The people didn’t seek out Jephthah because God told them to, or because, like Deborah,  Jephthah had demonstrated spiritual leadership. They came to Jephthah because he was a thug. They looked at him and said, this is a strong man who can whup up on the Ammonites. And maybe his morals are a little shaky—that’s ok.  We aren’t electing a Sunday School teacher, we are electing a leader! And so they make a decision based on culture. They aren’t abandoning worship of Yahweh—they’re just cross breeding it with practicality and pragmatism.  They’re thinking, the end justifies the means, and if an amoral mafia boss can get us out from under this oppression, then maybe Jephthah is God’s man for the moment!

Jephthah didn’t realize it, but a lot of his outlook on God and life were more shaped by his culture he was in as God’s word… and he ends up with a designer dog faith that doesn’t honor God at all.

… and as we will see, it is going to have devastating effects.

In 1 Peter, God’s Word tells us to put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Here’s the second lesson we learn from Jephthah: We can know facts about God and still miss the heart of God.

In chapter 11, you get a long history lesson from Jephthah to the king of the Ammonites.  And we’re not going to take the time to recap it, except to say that the details Jephthah gives about the Israelites wilderness wanderings are all pretty spot on from what Moses wrote in Leviticus, numbers, and Deuteronomy. 

We actually get our timeline for the book of Judges from Jephthah– 300 years up to this point, according to verse 26.

So Jephthah knew a lot about the Bible. But for all his knowledge of biblical history, he didn’t seem to have a clue about the heart of God or the character of God. Because look at what happens next: when 28 But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him (verse 28)…

29 Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever[a] comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it[b] up for a burnt offering.”

DON’T MISS THIS!– The spirit of the Lord was on Jephthah BEFORE he made this vow, NOT as a result of it. But then he makes this vow that he will offer up as a burnt offering whatever comes out of his house to greet him.

Here’s  Jephthah’s designer dog faith. He had taken what he knew about Yahweh, the one true God, and combined it with some of what he had heard about other gods.  Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites both required humans sacrifice, so maybe Yahweh did too.

God couldn’t have made his heart any more clear. In Dt. 12, God explicitly warned the Israelites about this very thing:

29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

As much as Jephthah knew the story of Leviticus and numbers, somehow he missed how God felt about child sacrifice.  And he makes this horrible, horrible promise.

Some commentators have tried to make Jephthah look better by saying that he was thinking an animal would come out the door to greet him– a sheep or a bull or maybe even a Schnoodle. But there are two problems with this. First is that people of this culture didn’t keep animals in the house as pets.

Second, the noun that’s translated “whatever” actually should have been translated “whoever,” because the form its in in Hebrew is typically used for humans and not animals. 

So Jephthah had in mind a human sacrifice. He just expected the first one out of his house to be one of his many servants or comrades-in-arms.  And in his culture, this was actually acceptable.

This was just the way they did things in the culture around Israel, and Jephthah had just become desensitized to the idea that he was supposed to live by a different set of values.   Human life was cheap when it came to the idol of military dominance.

Now, before you and I shake our heads in bewilderment, we commit similar excesses with our idols… and we don’t wince nearly as much… For example…

•           We’ve made finding romantic or sexual fulfillment an idol, to the point that a husband or wife could meet someone on the Internet, become convinced that they married the wrong person, and walk away from their vows, their family, their life, all because we’ve made an idol out of being happy.

•           Or take the idol of “living out your truth:” Suppose I, as a conservative Baptist pastor, suddenly decided I’d been living a lie for the past 35 years of public ministry, that I was gay, and that I left my wife and sons for another man. Within 24 hours of posting that on Instagram, I would be hero for how true I was being to myself. Within a week I’d have a book contract. Why? Because we’ve created a designer dog faith that mixes up the clear moral teachings of Scripture with the idolatry of self fulfillment.

It’s how even Christian young women from godly families can justify terminating an inconvenient pregnancy.

There’s a story about a man who was kept in solitary confinement in a Spanish prison for 33 years, with nothing to read except the Bible. With only one book to read, he read it over hundreds and hundreds of times. The book became his constant companion.

After thirty-three years of imprisonment, he died. When they came in to clean out his cell, they found some notes he had written using nails to mark the soft stone of the prison walls.

•           The notations were of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible;

•           Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter j;

•           the ninth verse of the eighth chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible;

•           no word or name of more than six syllables can be found in the Bible.

individual who spent thirty-three years of his life studying what some have described as the greatest book of all time yet could only glean trivia. From all we know, he never made any religious or spiritual commitment to Christ, but he became an expert at Bible trivia.

Friends, we want to produce more than people who can win bible drill.  It isn’t enough to have head knowledge about the Bible if that knowledge isn’t transforming you.  It reminds me of the teachers of the law that brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus in John 8…

So Jephthah makes this vow.. And the next part of the story is just horrible. It’s the worst thing we’ve seen in Judges so far. After God gives the Ammonites into his hand, he goes home.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.”

Why? Because Jephthah had mixed in an incredibly toxic ingredient to his designer-dog faith: a works-righteousness understanding of God’s character.

He felt like he had to earn God’s favor, the way you earn a pagan god’s favor, by making sacrifices that guarantee it; and now he feels like if he doesn’t keep his horrific vow, God will punish him.

But God doesn’t give victory or favor or salvation because we earn it… “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us.” He bore in his own body the price for our peace, by his stripes we are healed.

Did Jephthah keep his tragic vow? He did. Verse 36 says His daughter asked permission to go into the mountains for two months with her friends and weep for the fact that she would never know a man, would never have kids or grandkids, would never grow old.

39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

Could Jephthah have gotten out of it? HE HAD TWO MONTHS, while his daughter was off weeping in the mountains, to say, “You know what? That was a stupid thing to say… God, you never said you’d give me victory only if I sacrificed something… no, you give your people victory as a gift of grace… So instead of fulfilling this wicked vow in which I thought I could purchase your grace, I repent of making it in the first place; I repent of thinking there was something I could do to earn your favor, and I receive your grace for what it is, a gift!

Instead, Jephthah is trapped in this mindset of works righteousness. And that brings us to the third truth we learn from this awful story:

3. God’s grace runs deeper than we will ever understand.

See, what Jephthah failed to realize is that God’s deliverance wasn’t set in motion when Jephthah made this horrible vow. Look back at the beginning of the story. When God’s people truly repented– not just because they wanted to get out of trouble, but because they wanted to have their relationship with God restored, they said,

 “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.

I love that phrase. In the NIV it says, “and the Lord could bear it no longer” It shows you how God feels about his people… He hurts with them. He says enough, and Yahweh  rises to his feet.

So the deliverance didn’t come because of Jephthah’s vow. It came because of God’s great mercy.

This is the gospel: You never have to make promises or sacrifices to God to earn his favor… God’s favor is GIFT! It’s like the favor I give to my son or daughter. They don’t earn it; they just receive it.

There is only one way to please God. Only one. Faith. Faith in his grace, his lovingkindness toward you.

Glynwood, my prayer for you is the prayer Paul had for the church at Ephesus.  Paul prayed that

Christ dwell in our hearts through faith. That we would become so rooted and established in love that the love of Christ would be our measuring stick for all things.  That we would stop trying to crossbreed the purebred gospel of grace with the characteristics of any other false gospel breed.

The last and most important lesson from Jephthah’s horrible story is this:

4.         We are in desperate need of a better judge (12:1-6).

Believe it or not, the story actually gets worse from here. In Judges 12 we see the roots of the first civil war in Israel. The men from the tribe of Ephraim got ticked off that Jephthah didn’t call on them to fight against the ammonites. And the Israelites turned on each other, but since they all looked alike they decided they could tell the difference between an epraimite and the other tribes by the way they pronounced a certain word, and the men of Israel wound up killing 42,000 of their own countrymen because they had a different accent.

And you see in this how the world’s mindset divides instead of unites. As long as we keep looking to human saviors and human solutions, we are just going to be more divided. So we are in desperate need of a better judge.

A recurring theme in Judges is that human saviors fall short. … Jephthah was a savior, but a very broken savior, and not the true Savior Israel needed. But he presents to us a picture of the true and better Judge that was coming…

Like Jephthah, you see, Jesus was driven from his brothers. “He was despised and rejected of men.” But unlike Jephthah, Jesus didn’t wait for us to bargain with him before he saved us.

Jephthah offered to sacrifice someone else to secure his victory. Jesus sacrificed himself to secure my victory.

Purebred  Christianity… is the grace of God received as a free gift.

CONCLUSION Faith in the grace of God is the only way to health in Christianity. It’s gospel all the way through. Faith in the finished work of the gospel is what Peter calls the pure milk and meat of God’s Word… God’s acceptance is given as a gift… not as a reward for perfect righteousness, not as a response to our extreme sacrifices, but as a gift of righteousness from God for all who will simply admit how badly they need it and receive it for what it is, a gift of grace.

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