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/ (!!!!) 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:


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.

Four Questions, Four Cups (a Communion Meditation): Luke 22:14-23

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.”


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.


[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:


• 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.

Gideon Versus Midian, Part 2 (Judges 7)

May 9, 2021

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL

Justification by Faith: Two Case Studies (Romans 4:1-12)

March 27, 2022

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama

4 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Romans 4.

One of my favorite movies is Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. It’s the true story of a lifelong con man named Frank Abegnale who, over the course of his career posed as an airline pilot, a medical doctor, a lawyer, and a college professor, all the while passing millions of dollars in fraudulent checks before finally getting caught.

In the movie, Frank idolizes his father, who in the opening scene is making a speech to his Rotary Club after accepting their Businessman of the Year award. His speech is simple. I’ll show you the clip—it’s just about a minute long.

[show clip]

There’s a reason I showed you this clip. This story of the two little mice wasn’t just the story Frank’s dad told himself. It became the story we tell ourselves all the time.

When I was trying to find the clip so I could show you, I actually found another video telling the story. Here’s a couple of screen shots from that video.

[With Great effort the mouse climbed out]

Then, the video gave what it saw as the moral of the story:

[The mouse realized God helps those who help themselves]

A 2000 Barna research poll asked over a thousand people, representing 30 different faiths whether they agreed with the statement: “The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves.” 75% agreed that it did. [1]  

A 2016 survey conducted by LifeWay research found that three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) say people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation. Half of Americans (52 percent) say good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven.

And while I want to believe that we in the church know better, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve bought into the same myth of the two little mice—that somehow we can paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle until we churn that cream into butter and save ourselves.

Paul was facing the same issue in Romans 4. He’s taken us through the argument that neither Jew nor Gentile is righteous. All are equally under condemnation and judgment.

In other words, every one of us us in the position of these two little mice. That’s Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

But then, there’s 3:24: and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

God’s word does not say, “And are justified by their hard work and their perseverance and their commitment to paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle until they can crawl their way out of the hole.

In verse 28, he goes on,

28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 

So maybe the Jews at this point were going, “Okay… okay… so GentiIes are justified by faith apart from the Law. But we Jews—we circumcised—we get there through keeping the law, right? We’re the second mouse!

And Paul says, no, no, you’re missing the point. Romans 3:30:

30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

And the Jews are like, no. God gave us the law. Every Jew ever is  righteous because he keeps the law and unrighteous if he doesn’t. He gets circumcised on the eighth day, he doesn’t work on the sabbath, he doesn’t eat bacon, or shrimp. It’s always been that way, it always will be that way. Tradition!

And I imagine there were some people in the church in Rome—remember that this was a church made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

And maybe they had heard all of the theological, doctrinal, academic arguments that Paul had been using in the first three chapters, and maybe they’re saying, “Okay, Paul. We’ve heard your intellectual arguments. But now we want you to prove it. Show us someone who is righteous apart from the law.

And what Paul does next is brilliant. Look at it with me, beginning in Chapter 4, starting in verse 1:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Now, there’s two possibilities of translation with verse 1. The option the ESV and most other translations take is that the phrase “according to the flesh” refers to Abraham—that is, Abraham is the physical ancestor of the Jewish people. However, the word order in the Greek has the phrase “according to the flesh” immediately after the verb that’s translated “gained, or found, or discovered.” Which would mean the verse ˆshould read, “What then, shall we say that Abraham our forefather gained according to the flesh?”

What did Abraham gain by his own efforts, according to the flesh? The answer—nothing! Verse 2: If Abraham was justified by works, by something he did, then he would have something to boast about, but not before God.

Can you imagine Abraham pulling God aside and saying, “Hey, God—I know why you picked me to be the father of the Jews. I mean—who wouldn’t pick me? I am pretty awesome, after all.”

The truth is, Abraham, according to the flesh, would have been the last person God would pick to be the father of a multitude. Why? Because when God chose him, he wasn’t a father at all, much less of a multitude. Abraham wasn’t even his original name. The name Abraham means “Father of Multitudes.” What was his name before God changed it to “Father of Multitudes?” It was Abram—“Exalted Father.”

And for the first 75 years of his life, even that was a joke. Abraham and Sarah had long since given up on the idea that they would have children.

Until one night, God appears to Abram in a vision. This is in Genesis 15, if you want to turn there.

God tells Abram in verse 1,

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 

And Abram pushes back on him. He basically says, God, ever since Genesis 12:2 you’ve been telling me you’re going to bless me and make me a great nation. You told me that my descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). Now here we are, decades later, and I still don’t have any kids.

But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue[a] childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son[b] shall be your heir.” 

That’s when God takes him outside to look at the stars.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Now let’s zero in on verse 6, because this is the whole reason Paul brings up Abraham. Abraham believed God—he placed his faith in the fact that God would do what He said he would do.

By the way, you know what that word “believed” is in Hebrew? This is on the back of your listening guide. The word in Hebrew is “Ah-mahn.” Yeah—its where we get our word “Amen.” And it means “confirm, support, uphold, be established, be certain of.”

Abraham “amened” God. He said, Ok. I’m going to be certain of what you are telling me. I don’t understand it; it doesn’t make sense to me; it surely isn’t going to happen by anything I am able to do according to the flesh, but so be it, God!

And look what happens: Abraham “amened” God, and God counted it as righteousness.

The word counted is anaccounting term, meaning to confer a status that wasn’t there before. Your translation might say reckoned, considered, imputed, computed. It all means the same thing. Abraham wasn’t considered righteous before, and now he was.

Why? Because he kept the law? No. What book of the Bible is the story of Abraham found in? Genesis.

What books of the Bible contain the law? Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy.

Abraham was considered righteous BEFORE THE LAW WAS GIVEN!

And just in case there were any slow learners in Paul’s audience, Paul also reminds them in verse 10 that this was before circumcision was given.

Beloved, don’t miss this: Abraham was counted righteous not because he kept the law. The law wasn’t given yet. He wasn’t counted righteous because he was circumcised. That wouldn’t come for another 25 years.

When he was 99 years old. Which, wow. I don’t even want to think about that.

So why did God choose Abram in the first place? We don’t know. There is nothing in Genesis 12 that suggests there was anything special about Abram when God called him to leave his home. Only that God called him, and Abram answered.

And this is the gospel. God has chosen to pour out his grace on you. Not because you deserve it, not because you’ve always tried to live a good life, but because He chooses to. It’s not about your obedience to His law. It’s not because you paddled and paddled and paddled until you could make enough butter to stand on.

But God sent His son Jesus, who kept the law perfectly. Jesus shed His blood for us, and Romans 3:24 says that we are justified by his grace as a gift.

It is a gift. Verse 4—Justification is not the wages we earn through hard work.

Notice verse 5:

And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 

Notice that word “ungodly.” It isn’t that God gives grace to people who try to be good. God gives grace to people who know they’ve been bad.

See, Paul doesn’t stop with just one example from Jewish history. He doesn’t just hold up Abraham. He goes on to quote David. David, the greatest king in Israel’s history. The one who was described as a man after God’s own heart.

Look at verses 6-7

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Here Paul is quoting Psalm 32, which most scholars believe David wrote after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.

David broke three of the ten commandments in this episode. He coveted another man’s wife—the Tenth commandment. He committed adultery with her—the Seventh commandment. And he murdered her husband to cover it up—the Sixth commandment.

David deserved death. Unlike Abraham, he had the law. And he broke it. But when he confessed his sin, God did not count his sin against him.

This is the gospel. When we say yes to God—when we say Amen and believe that God will do what He says He will do, God pronounces us righteous. Not because of the good that we’ve done. And in spite of the bad we have done.

We are justified by grace through faith. Period.

So here is where we bring this to a close. There is only one thing that can be on the resume of a follower of Jesus.

When you ask people if they follow Jesus, they give you their resume. I go to church. My parents took me to church. I try to be a good person. Blah, blah, blah.

Romans 4:16 tells us the only thing that can be on the resume of a child of God:

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 

Can you imagine what a miserable place heaven would be if people got there by their good works? For all eternity you would have to hear people bragging about how they got there because of such and such, or my mansion is so big because I did this for God.

You know what it would be like? It would be like sitting around with a bunch of old out of shape fat guys who played high school football, and they’re all talking about their glory days.

“Remember that tackle I made against Stanhope?”

“I could throw this football over them mountains.”

For ten thousand years.

You know what it going to make heaven so amazing? It’s that every single person who’s there is going to say, “I’m here because of the grace of God.”

From the apostle Paul to the thief on the cross, everyone is going to have the same answer. From Billy Graham to Billy Carter. From Abraham to David to you and me.

My salvation rests on grace, through faith. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

[1] “You May Swear on the Bible, but It’s Not in the Bible.”,the%201%2C002%20survey%20respondents%20agreed.

Coming to Terms (Romans 3:21-31)

Part 10 of Romans, The Power of the Gospel

March 20, 2022

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

(Romans 3:21-31)

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 3. We are going to pick up where we left off last week. Last week we talked about the Grand Finale of Paul’s argument that no one is righteous before God. And I realize that it’s a hard thing for people to accept, that there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation.

Speaking of things that are hard to accept…

There’s a phrase that has been used in the Jackson household for several years now. It is uttered at the point at which our beloved Kentucky Wildcats get knocked out of March Madness. And that phrase is,

“It’s baseball season.”

Usually, we don’t utter that phrase quite this early. Most years, we can expect the Cats to make it at least to the second week of the tournament. Every once in a while, Kentucky will have a team that is projected to go deep in the tournament. Maybe the elite eight. Maybe the Final Four. Every so often, Kentucky will field a team that the Big Blue Nation thinks has what it takes to win it all.

This was going to be one of those years. But, guess what?

It’s baseball season.

And I know that many of you are baseball fans. Donna Parker is my fellow Braves fan. And Donna, this wasn’t an easy week to be a Braves fan either, was it? We lost our best player to our biggest rival.

Now, here’s the reason I am talking so much about baseball. In baseball, what is considered to be a good batting average? 300? 350? What if you had a player that was batting 400? Where would you put him in the lineup?

Here’s the strange thing: We think a player batting 400 would be awesome! But what does that number represent? It represents someone who gets a hit 40% of the time he comes to the plate.

Anyone know who had the best career batting average in the history major league baseball? It’s Ty Cobb. Anyone want to guess what his career batting average was?

.367. So a little more than every third time Ty Cobb came to the plate, he got a hit.

One out of three! There’s really no other sport where being successful one third of the time would be thought of as good. If a quarterback completed just a third of his passes, he wouldn’t be in the game very long.

What about life?

Let me ask you this: Would you trust an airline that landed one out of every three planes safely?   

What would you say to a surgeon who, when he came to you in pre-op, said, “I’m feeling pretty good about this surgery. I’m one for three this week?”

There are areas in life where we require something much closer to perfection. Even 99% would be too low. What would you say to a spouse who promised to be faithful 99% of the time?

So maybe this makes it a little easier to come to terms with God’s standards of perfection. We would love God to judge us the way we would judge a hitter in baseball: I did the right thing one out of three times! I’m going to the hall of fame!

But God’s standard is much more like the standard we have for airline pilots, and surgeons, and police officers. We expect them to do the right thing 100% of the time, And when they don’t—if they mess up even once, we get righteously angry. Ready to sue someone.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we look at righteousness like baseball. We step up to the plate, and we try to do the right thing, and we most of the time we mess up, but we just keep trying to improve our batting average.

God views righteousness more like surgery. In medicine, there’s no margin for error. One mistake could be enough for a doctor to lose his license. In the same way, One sin is enough for God to reject us and not allow us into His heaven. And the truth is, no human being has ever done the right thing, every day, every single time, for their entire life time.

And that’s why “the turn” that we started talking about last week is so amazing. This week, as we look at Romans 3:21-26, we’re going to look at what some people have called the most important paragraph in the bible.  This passage is dense, and it has lots of theological terms that can make your head spin. That’s why I’ve called this sermon “Coming to Terms.”

But if we can spend time on these terms and really understand them, we will understand why Paul calls the gospel the power of God for salvation.

So let’s dive in. And as we do, I want you to remember what we have said is the overall theme of Romans: The Righteousness of God. You see it four times in this paragraph: verse 21, 22, 25, and 26.

And the point of it is to show how a sinful person, who can barely even manage to do the right thing one out of every three at bats; who stands condemned and guilty, can be considered right in the eyes of God. How we could actually make it into the Hall of Fame, no matter how bad our batting average is.

Let’s look at these.

Verse 21 says,

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

Now, you remember from last week that just before this section, Paul quoted one OT passage after another to show that none of us are righteous under the Law.

But notice what he says in verse 21—God’s righteousness has come to us apart from the Law, but the law and the prophets bear witness to it.

In other words, the law both pronounces the guilt and announces the grace!

Throughout the Old Testament, God foreshadowed His ultimate plan of redemption. Do you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac? Way back in Genesis 22, God told Abraham to take his only son and offer him as a sacrifice. They’re climbing up the hill together, and Isaac looks around and says, “Dad, we’ve got the wood for the sacrifice, but no sacrifice. Where’s the lamb? And Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb, my son.” And sure enough, at the point Abraham is ready to sacrifice his only son, God stops him, and provides a substitute sacrifice.

In the next book, Exodus, God warned Pharaoh that every firstborn in Egypt would die because he refused to free Israel from slavery.  But God told every household in Israel to kill an unblemished male lamb and to smear its blood over their doors so that the angel of death would ‘pass over’ them when he came and killed all the firstborn in Egypt.  The fruit of their trusting God was freedom from bondage to Egypt. 

As they celebrated the Passover each year to remember the Exodus, God’s intent was to show them that in the same way they needed God to deliver them from bondage to sin by the blood of a perfect sacrifice, the coming Messiah.

If we had time this morning, I could take you through every Old Testament book and show you something that would point to the coming Messiah.

Samson, the Judge who delivered Israel from the Philistines through his own death.

Ruth, the foreigner to Israel who found redemption through a kinsman-redeemer from the tribe of Judah.

David, who fought the battle against Goliath in the place of the entire Israelite army.

In Isaiah 53, God prophesied that one day there would come a suffering servant, on whom God would lay the iniquity of us all. By whose stripes we could be healed.

And so Paul says that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to the righteousness of God. At the end of this passage, he writes,

31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

This right here is why we cannot “unhitch” from the Old Testament. There are some Christians who wonder whether we even need the Old Testament any more, when the New Testament contains the gospel. If you’re reading through the Bible chronologically, you’ve been slogging through Numbers and Deuteronomy for weeks now, and you’re ready to get out of the Law and into “the good stuff.”

But remember that Jesus said, “I haven’t come to abolish the law or the prophets, I’ve come to fulfull them. Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the least stroke of the pen will disappear from the law.”

Friends, we need the whole Bible. Old and New Testament. I love the quote from AW Tozer—nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.

So now, let’s look at the second thing this passage says about the righteousness of God.

Verse 22-23 says that

22 the righteousness of God [is] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Now this verse actually says two things about God’s righteousness. First, that it is available to all who believe. There’s no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between barhopper and church goer, between disciple and thief on the cross.

It is available to all because all need it, Jew and Gentile alike. Paul unpacks this even more in verses 29-30, when he says that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised and uncircumcised.  In the same way that all have sinned, all need God’s righteousness.

But second, it is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. This is where the paradox of the Christian faith is: Salvation is incredibly inclusive. It is available to anyone, at any time.

But at the same time, salvation is incredibly exclusive. It is only available through faith in Jesus Christ.

A lot of people get hung up on this. The popular view is that all religions lead to God, like a mountain where God is at the top and we are all just taking different paths up the mountain.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Our form of government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

But that isn’t the gospel. The power of the gospel for salvation isn’t having faith in something. It says you must have faith in Jesus Christ. That is the one and only way we can attain the righteousness of God. And as Paul has made abundantly clear with everything that has come before this, our only hope is the righteousness of God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Think about it—Ty Cobb, the player with the best batting average in history– .366– still missed the ball more often than he hit the ball. So on our best days, we fall short.

Which is why these next few verses are considered the greatest paragraph in the entire Bible. Let’s break it down, term by term:

We are justified by his grace.

To be justified before God means that we are declared righteous by God based upon Christ’s sinless life and death on the cross. We are acquitted on all charges. It is more than “just as if I had never sinned;” but it’s also “just as if I had always obeyed.”

If I can stretch the baseball analogy a little further, Jesus had a perfect batting average. He never fell short. He never missed the mark. He always made contact with the ball, he always got on base, he always made it home.

If he was a pitcher, not only would every game be a no hitter, but Jesus would face 27 batters, and throw 81 pitches. Strike one, strike two, strike three, 3 up, 3 down, every inning, all season, for his entire career.

And justification means that we get in the Hall of Fame based on Jesus’ stats. God no longer views us as guilty, condemned, and under his wrath; we stand approved and receive the gift of God’s righteousness.

We are justified by His grace as a gift

Grace is unmerited favor. It is kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving. It isn’t as though God saw potential in us, and decided to give us a spot on the team because of our great arm, or on base percentage. We bring nothing to the game. It’s all grace. 

…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

Look at your glossary on the back of the listening guide. Redemption, according to one theological dictionary, is the purchase of a release by means of the payment of a ransom price. It carries the idea of a substitution—a price paid on behalf of or in place of another.

The term was very common in the Ancient Near East.  For example, people could be redeemed from slavery.  Say you could not repay a loan or you lost your business so you would sell yourself and maybe your whole family into slavery.

However, let’s say you had a wealthy relative who lived in a far country. And he found out about your predicament.  So he comes to your city to make a deal with your master to redeem you, to purchase your freedom back. 

Paul picks up on this concept. In verse 25, he says that God put Christ Jesus forward to be like that wealthy relative from the far country. Christ followers have been redeemed from slavery to sin. 

Without Christ, we are in bondage to our sin and guilt and unable to liberate ourselves.  But Christ redeems us, bought us out of slavery, shedding his blood as the ransom price.  The result of this ransom and redemption is that we belong to him. 

How does this work? In what sense are we redeemed?  The answer is that God put Christ forward as a propitiation. This is probably the toughest term in the whole glossary. I would be willing to bet that none of you used the word “propitiation” in everyday conversation this week. Am I right?

So what is Propitiation? Well, to be propitious to someone else means to be favorable to them. And so Propitiation is the act by which God becomes favorable toward us.

How does a holy God become propitious—favorable—to sinful man?

A sacrifice had to be made. God’s wrath had to be turned away. It is a propitiation by the blood of Jesus.

And this is why we had to spend nine weeks talking about the wrath of God. Without that conversation, without that foundation of understanding that none of us are righteous, all of us are condemned, then we would think God is petty to demand a sacrifice to pay for our sin. Why can’t a loving God just overlook sin?

Some people prefer the word “expiation” to describe what God does with our sin. “Expiation” means blotting out, or removing sin. You’ve probably seen the ads for ServPro—the company that will come to your house and make things right after a flood or a water main break or whatever. You know their slogan? “Like it Never Even Happened.” So can’t God do that with our sin? Can’t he just wipe it away, like it never even happened?

And the answer is, no. A sacrifice has to be made. That’s another reason we can’t just toss the Old Testament, because the OT makes it clear that there has to be a sacrifice. There has to be the shedding of blood. Our sins offend God’s holiness. They can’t just be blotted out. They have to be paid for.

For several years now, every Good Friday I’ll watch the movie The Passion of the Christ. It’s not something I want to do. I don’t pop popcorn, its not a date night movie. But I do it because I need to be reminded of the price that was paid for my sin to be forgiven. Blood was shed to buy my pardon. As Isaiah 53 says, the punishment that brought me peace was laid upon Jesus.

Why did Jesus have to go through all that He went through? There are those who watch something like The Passion and come away seeing God as a cosmic child abuser because He poured out all His wrath on His son.

But if that’s how you see the agony that Jesus went through on the Cross for you, you are missing the point of verse 26:

26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The shedding of Jesus’ blood demonstrates God’s righteousness. It shows that God is just. But it also shows God’s incredible love for us, because Jesus—God Himself—took the punishment for my sin.

The Cross proves that God is both just and the justifier. Through the Cross, as the song says, the wrath of God is satisfied. But at the same time, through the cross, the love of God is magnified.

We did nothing to deserve it. That’s why Paul says in verse 27 that boasting is excluded. But through the Cross, we are made righteous. We have a place in glory. You might have heard the acronym GRACE—God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

Christ did the work. Christ had the perfect batting average, the flawless pitching record, the error-free season.

But we get the Hall of Fame. We get the Cy Young. We get the Golden Glove.

It’s baseball season.

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