Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Year's Revolutions Message #9

Those Who Live By Faith Move Toward Need, Not Comfort
Hebrews 13:12-14

Not long ago I received a letter from Julian Robles, in which he gave me a brief report on the progress of their work in Anapra and especially the new Bible Institute Class. In the letter, he also informed me that they had received threats over the phone from a local gang to either pay them what they want or face the consequences. Julian, of course, said “No” and then committed the situation to the Lord and waited to see what would happen. Thus, far nothing has happened and they continue to minister and take ground for the Lord. And as unsettling as the threat was to Julian and Beatrice, it was good for them because it caused them and the students at the Institute to renew their resolve to continue on full speed for the Lord even in the midst of a place that is becoming increasingly more dangerous for them to live and minister.

Hebrews is a book written to believers who were struggling and wrestling with a very similar type of situation that was requiring them to renew their resolve to continue moving forward full speed for Christ. But the problem was that for them the threats proved true and they had lost loved ones as well as homes and freedoms and were threatened with losing even more—and they were wondering if continuing to go full bore for Christ was worth all the loss. The struggle before them was simple—pursue Christ 100 % with no holding back so as to confront their culture with the Gospel and possibly lose everything near and dear to them or pursue Him in a politically and socially correct kind of way that really bothered no one and certainly didn’t upset anyone’s religious sensibilities and thus, incurred no loss. This is really what is going on in this Book of Hebrews and it is clearly seen in the last challenge of the Book where the writer exhorts them to sell out completely to Christ and His cause.

Look there with me at Hebrews 13:12-14.

The words don’t need a great deal of explanation do they? Just as Jesus had to leave the comforts, conveniences, and security of a life of safety inside the camp and go outside of all that in order to secure our salvation, the writer of Hebrews is exhorting these believers and us by extension to join Christ outside the security of our comforts, conveniences, and security to bear His reproach. In other words, we are being encouraged—strongly encouraged—to leave our socially respectable, politically correct, unoffensive to anybody, don’t rattle anyone’s cage, and don’t get anyone mad at you kind of Christianity to follow Christ outside of our comfort zones so as to take a bold and public stand with Him outside the security of our homes and church and in so doing—to bear His reproach. To put it yet another way—God is exhorting us to sell out completely for Christ and take our stand with Him where it is the toughest to do so—outside of the comfort of our Christian relationships, church friendships, and Christian families—and in those places where Christ is not honored, not esteemed, not loved, and not known.

The point of Hebrews 13:12-16 is loud and clear: As Christians who desire to make much of Christ, we should move toward need, not comfort because that is what Jesus did for us.
The central call to us is in verse 13: "So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." That is, move toward where Jesus is, which is to move toward need, not comfort.
This command in verse 13 is based upon what Jesus did, which is summarized for us in Verse 12.
Jesus, work of saving us took place outside of the gate—that is the city of Jerusalem or it could even be referring to Heaven itself—since that is the place Jesus left in order to become our Incarnate Savior. In other words, the writer of Hebrews is simply saying that in order for Jesus to save us and set us apart for God—He had to move toward us and toward our need and toward our sin rather than toward comfort, convenience, security, and safety. And thus, the point of verse 13 is: that we who are professing to be followers of Christ should follow our Lord’s example - move toward His reproach, others’ needs, and not our own comfort.

This, I think, is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus said this same thing in Luke 9:23 when He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Being a Christian means following Jesus, and following Jesus means going with him to Calvary—outside the camp. And a big part of the reason for this is because “spiritual success flows down the river of sacrifice and suffering”.

Now please don’t misunderstand this text or me this morning. I don’t think this verse is telling us to necessarily give more, or pray more, or preach more, or send more books, or build more, or feed more, or clothe more, or comfort more—even those these things are all good and worthwhile and biblical things to do and should be done. No—this verse while recognizing that these kinds of things are good and worthy of Christian’s involvement—is not talking about these things.

Look at the verse again. Note what it says: “So, let us go . . .” It is not talking about sending anything—it is talking about us going. As Keith Green used to say: “Instead of sending a check—send you!” And note who and where He is we are to go: “to Him outside the camp”

In other words, if you want to really get close to the Lord and really experience Him and His power and His comforting and guiding hand in your life—you need to be moving away from your toys, your treasures, your comforts, and your risk-free safe zones to where Christ is and desires to be made known by you—and that will always be in the midst of people’s need to know Him.
Note too that the verse tells you how and when you will know that you are moving toward Jesus and away from your comforts—it is when you are “bearing His reproach”

In other words, Jesus is not calling us from comfort and security and convenience to more comfort, security, and safety. He is calling us to bear His reproach—which is very uncomfortable.
The camp for Israel was the place of safety—not only from danger but also from sin and becoming rendered unclean. Outside the camp was where the unclean animal carcases and refuse were to be buried. So outside the camp there was potential danger and the risk of uncleanness. The camp was comfortable and safe and clean and sacred. So when he says to us, "Let us go forth to him outside the camp," he probably means, "Let's go outside the place of comfort and safety and religious sanctuary; and let's join Jesus in the risky places, the dangerous places, the dirty places, the places that will cost us something."

Another way of putting it is, "Let your light so shine before men"—before lost and needy men outside the camp, not just in the ease and comfort of your church and your home. The light should shine in the dark. And it's dark outside the camp.

Listen, what I want you to see is that this verse is talking about something radical and it is nothing less than the radical call of Jesus to join him on the Calvary road - to go outside the camp and bear His reproach with him.

For some of you who are not married, maybe the call of Jesus to move toward need and not comfort is a call to utterly devoted singleness for the sake of greater service to Christ. Or maybe it's a call to be married to the kind of person who is strong enough and radical enough to go outside the camp with you and suffer beside you, and to maximize your lives together for the good of others instead of sinking into the sinkhole of pursuing material comfort that many marriages are made of.

Maybe it’s a call to start gaining work experience and education that would enable you to work in a country that while closed to Christianity is not closed to Christians who have the skills they need and more importantly the Gospel they desperately and unknowingly need.

Maybe, instead of dreaming about your first car or for some of you—your third or fourth new car—you should be dreaming about moving to a place and a people where you don't need a car - because there aren't any roads, and no churches and no Christians.

Maybe it’s a passion to get involved with a support group and use every opportunity God provides you with to point the members to Christ.

Maybe it’s a commitment to share your faith with someone next week who you know is not a believer.

Maybe it’s a decision to get involved in a ministry to prisoners in jail (see Pat Beady for the details) or to mothers considering abortion at the pregnancy center her in Edgewood.

Or it could be that it’s a decision to give your life to reach an Unreached people group with the Gospel by going to a closed Muslim country where there are no other known Christians and who like Dallas Washer an ABWE missionary would say: “I have but one candle of life to burn and would rather burn it out where people are dying in darkness than in a land which is flooded with lights.”

Whatever your spiritual passion is—let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach because that is what Jesus is calling us to do here in this passage because that is exactly what He did for us. He died to sanctify the people, which means He died to make us different than the rest of the world, to make us holy and loving and radical and risk-taking and utterly captivated by another destiny than this world offers. And that destiny is seen in verse 14.
Listen Jesus did not die to make Edgewood or your backyard or your house in this age a paradise.

He died so that we would be willing to stop trying to make our private lives a paradise on earth and see that everything we have in this life that is of a material nature will not last. And that the only thing that we will have once we die and leave this earth is what we have invested in Heaven through our service to Christ and specifically that service which requires us to move from our comforts and convenience to people’s need and the bearing of Christ’s reproach. And you see, this is what motivates Christians to quit living for this world. Christians who leave their comforts to pursue Christ outside the camp and thus bear His reproach don’t do it because they are crazy or like to suffer or find great pleasure in pain and being made fun of—No, they do it because they “are seeking a city which is to come." Look at Verse 14: "Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come." Our motive for going outside the camp - toward need, not comfort, bearing reproach, caring about the people - is because there is a city coming, "the city of the living God" (Hebrews 12:22). It is better than what this age offers and it will last forever, and best of all, God will be there, in undiminished and visible glory (Hebrews 12:23).

We have seen this pattern over and over in Hebrews. We saw it in Hebrews 10:34 where the Christians moved toward need and not comfort by visiting prisoners. When it cost them their property, they rejoiced, because as the passage says, "you knew that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one". You see, they were seeking a city which is to come, not comfort and paradise on earth. So they moved toward need, not comfort.

We saw it in 11:25-26 where Moses moved toward need, not comfort, "choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." Why? By what power? Verse 26 says, "Because he was looking to the reward" - that is, he was looking for the city which is to come.

We saw it in 12:2 where Jesus moved toward need, not comfort, when he "endured the cross and despised the shame." How? By what power? Verse 2 says it was because of the joy set before him. That is, he looked to the city which is to come.

So the point of Hebrews 13:14 is confirmed again and again: Christ did not die to make this world—or our homes or our lives—a paradise. He died so that we would be willing to stop trying to make our lives paradise on earth - both in the city and in the country, and instead go with Jesus outside the camp of comfort and familiarity and security to where the needs are and where he also says, today—if you die—you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

We move toward need, not comfort, because we look for a city which is to come. Radical confidence in a glorious future with God is what Christ died to produce. And when it takes hold of you, you will go with Jesus toward need, not comfort.

My prayer this morning is that we would be a people who want to do something radically different with our lives than just make a decent living, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, play it safe, and never move to do anything that would unsettle and upset our version of the American dream.

When I turned 50 last month, I recorded some of my musings on what that meant for me. One of the thoughts I recorded sums up to a large degree what I think it means to live by faith and move toward Jesus outside the comforts of the camp:

"Life should NOT be a play-it-safe journey to the grave with the intention of leaving behind a hefty bank account, lots of toys and no broken bones but rather a skid in sideways--an empty wallet in one hand--God's Word in the other—my body thoroughly used up, totally worn out making much of Jesus and screaming, "Wow, What a Ride."

I think this sums up pretty well what the passage is teaching and I hope we will all take it to heart.

CONCLUSION

The thought that Christians are only called to live and work where it is safe is really not a biblical thought. Biblical thinking proceeds on the assumption that we are all called to follow Jesus outside the camp where there is reproach and danger. It may be the risk of ostracism and scorn at your work. It may be the risk of rejection and exclusion at school. It may be the pain of misunderstanding from an unbelieving relative whom you are trying to share Christ with.
It can be the risk of making a fellow church member angry with you because you care enough to confront them about some blatant and destructive sin issue in their life. Or it may be the far greater risks of prison and persecution as a missionary to a country that is closed to the Gospel.

This way of thinking—this willingness to go outside the camp of comfort and security in order to make much of Christ is a strange mentality in the world and even in many churches. It is not natural because so many see their treasures and pleasures as being here on this earth rather than in Heaven. But you know what, the pleasures, comforts, and conveniences of earth cannot compare to the pleasures of Heaven.

But it takes faith to believe that and start living for what’s real and lasting over what is not.
As we close, look with me at 1 Corinthians 15:32. If Christianity is not true and there is no resurrection and we all just die and turn into dirt and that’s it, then it would be better to eat, drink, and live for all the earthly treasure you can while you can. Joining Christ outside the camp and suffering for Him would make no sense whatsoever. But—if Christianity is true and there is a resurrection of the dead and a judgment seat of Christ where we will be rewarded for our sacrifice, suffering, and inconveniences in making much of Christ—it would better for us to join Christ outside the camp and bear His reproach as we move toward people’s great need of Christ, rather than our comfort.

Let’s pray.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Year's Revolutions Message #8

It Is Not Death To Die Nor Loss To Lose
Hebrews 11:32-40

When George Adams lost his job at an Ohio tile factory, the most practical thing he did, he thinks, was go to move his family to Houston so he could get under the teaching of megapastor and best-selling author Joel Osteen. Inspired by the preacher's insistence that one of God's top priorities is to shower fantastic material blessings on Christians who will live by faith in this lifetime, Adams chose to make a commitment to God to live by faith and at the time this story came out in 2006 was, as a result of that commitment, believing that God was going to provide him with a six-figure income, a three bedroom dream house on twenty-five acres with horses, a horse barn, a pond, and maybe some cattle. Commenting on his faith vision, Adams said, “It's Joel Osteen that taught me this. Why would an awesome and mighty God want anything less for his children?"

Now in a TIME Magazine poll conducted in 2006, 61% of the professing Christians polled agreed with Adams and his teacher Joel Olsteen saying that they believed that God wants all of His people to be prosperous. In fact, in Olsteen’s best selling book “Your Best Life Now”, he makes the point that, "To live your best life now . . . you must "start looking at life through eyes of faith”, which means you need to start living by your faith.

And my question regarding this message, which is nothing less than a repackaged “prosperity, health and wealth gospel”—is this—does it square with what the Scriptures teach about living by faith and what you can expect to happen to you when you do live by faith?

Turn with me to Hebrews 11:32-40 and let’s find out.


1. Living By Faith Will Put You In Situations In Which You Will Experience Trials of All Kinds. (Heb. 11:4-31)

We don’t have enough time to review all the men and women of faith in Hebrews 11 but very quickly let me just remind you that it was because Abel did live by faith and obeyed God that he was killed by his jealous brother Cain. And it was because Noah lived by faith and built an Ark that he was mocked and considered an idiot by his neighbors. It was because he was living by his faith that Abraham went through the unbelievable agony of offering his son up to God as a sacrifice only to be stopped by God in just the nick of time. It was because Moses was living by his faith that he had to choose between the prosperity and riches of a life in Egypt and a life of relative poverty identifying with the people of God. I could go on but I think this sampling is sufficient to demonstrate that living by faith probably does more to put God’s people in situations in which they will experience trials than it does in keeping them out of trials.

The Christian who decides to get serious about his faith and gives up a high paying job and a home in the suburbs to serve the Lord in an inner-city mission is probably going to experience more trials than if he just maintained the status quo. The Christian college student who in wanting to live by her faith takes a stand against evolution in her biology class will probably experience more stress than if she just kept quiet. Listen, living by faith does not make you immune to problems. If anything, it will cause you problems.


2. Living By Faith May Be Instrumental In Delivering Us From Many Trials. (Heb. 11:32-35A)

Whereas, many in Hebrews 11 experienced trials as a result of living by their faith—many of them—in fact most of the ones whose names are listed for us in the chapter also were delivered from their trials as a result of living by their faith.
Noah lived by faith and experienced the salvation of he and his family in the flood.
Abraham lived by faith and experienced the deliverance of his son Isaac from what appeared to be sure death. Moses lived by faith and had his life salvaged from great sin. And when you read Hebrews 11:32-35a, you see that many others who lived by faith experienced great works of God on their behalf in delivering them from all kinds of trials and suffering. So it is true that God does deliver people from their trials in response to their living by faith—but is it something He does all the time?


3. Living By Faith May Be Instrumental In Delivering Us Over To Trials That Will Take Our Lives, Result in Intense Suffering or Great Personal Loss. (Heb. 11:35B)

Notice that in the second part of verse 35, there is a significant and very noticeable change of course. And it begins by talking about “others”—other people who also lived by faith but who were not delivered from their trials and their sufferings and their losses on this earth. These were the people in Hebrews 11 who persevered in their faith by persevering in their painful and trying circumstances as they entrusted themselves to God’s care and sovereign will even when God did not rescue them from their troubles, deliver them from their pain, or fulfill all His promises right away.

Now in Hebrews 11, everyone mentioned has in common the fact that they lived to make much of God. Every single person mentioned in this chapter made pertinent and pivotal decisions that demonstrated that God and being with God and enjoying God was by far greater than anything they could experience on earth or anywhere for that matter. But what is not common to everyone in Hebrews 11 is how those decisions impacted their lives and in fact—their deaths. You see, whereas, in the first 35 verses of Hebrews 11, God in response to the faith of His people in His promises delivers them from great and troublesome and sometimes life-threatening situations—this is not always the case. From the second part of verse 35 on to the end of the chapter, God in response to the faith of others who are His people does not deliver them from great and troublesome and sometimes life-threatening situations. Instead, in response to their great faith and faithfulness, He chose to not deliver them from torture (35); mockings, scourgings, imprisonment (36); being stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death by the sword, made destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (37); and in fact, made them homeless (38). And all this happened to people who according to verse 39 were people who had gained God’s approval through their faith.

But the really interesting thing about this section is that in the second part of verse 35, which begins this section about those people of faith who were not delivered by God, is that it tells us that these people chose this kind of suffering by making decisions to make much of God and thus incur this kind of treatment when they did not have to. Look at v. 35. They were people who while being tortured chose not to accept their release from this torture when it was offered to them because they believed so intensely that suffering for Jesus and eventually dying for Jesus would give them a greater reward in the resurrection than accepting their release.

The word that the Greek uses for “torture” here in v. 35 is actually racked. It means to be placed upon the rack and stretched so that everyone of your extremities is one-by-one pulled out its socket. The method was cruelly painful and slow, providing its victims with plenty of time to think about confessing a particular crime or in the case of God’s people denying Him. Throughout the painful ordeal of having his limbs pulled out of their sockets, the victim would be given the opportunity to end all of his suffering and even be rewarded with gifts of money, position, and prestige if he would just deny Christ—just once. Thus, the Christian on the rack, had to determine which he esteemed of greater value, the relief of intense searing pain and the promise of worldly riches and position or the rewards of Heaven. If they persisted in their faith and would not recant, the torture on the rack became even more painful and terrifying. The victim would, while having their legs and arms out of their sockets, be beaten. If that didn’t get them to deny Christ, they would then be scalped and mutilated with knives, hooks, and pokers.
If there was still no denial of Christ, the victim’s tongue would be ripped out and then fried over a fire in front of the victim. Finally, the Christian would be put over the fire until dead.

Now with that understanding of the word in your minds, read v. 35 again. These people, the writer of Hebrews has in mind—at each stage of their torture on the rack were offered a way out—a way to escape the searing agony and pain—yet they would not accept relief because to do so would mean to deny Christ and that would mean a loss of heavenly reward. And you see, their Faith—caused them to see that as bad as the pain and the agony of their situation was—and that as good as escape and relief appeared—it would cost them greatly in the end and thus, they endured by the power of God and did not quit—because they were looking to the reward of a “better resurrection”. They did not see the offer of release as being of God’s hand and so they stayed and stood and suffered and died because they esteemed eternal reward and glory as of infinitely greater value than the temporary release from a painful situation and temporary reprieve from death. And God took them up on it and did not deliver them from death—so much for the “health” part of the prosperity gospel, huh!

In fact, as you work your way through the rest of these verses from v. 36-38 you’ll find that all the kinds of believers listed there, if they did not die for living by their faith, suffered great personal loss. They were made fun of, whipped, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, put to death with the sword, lived in destitute poverty wearing only animal skins, and were basically homeless living in the out of doors. Sounds like the prosperity gospel, doesn’t it?

And if you noticed, I skipped one of the blessings of living by your faith and that was that “they were tempted” found there in the middle of v. 37. That’s important. And it is important because we have this idea that if we are really living by faith and walking with God that we won’t struggle with temptation. Sorry—you’re wrong. The fact is—the struggle will be even more intense than it was when you didn’t give a lick about it.

And according to verse 39, they were all living by their faith and had gained God’s approval for doing so. Well I don’t know about you—but the results I see in the Bible that come from living by your faith and the results promised by the “prosperity health and wealth gospel” just don’t square up.


CONCLUSION

True Biblical Faith does not always deliver us from our trials but always delivers us in our trials even if directly to Heaven.

True Biblical Faith does not prevent us from suffering in this world as much as it produces suffering that God does not always alleviate or rescue us from.

True Biblical Faith does not obligate God to rescue us from our troubles, temptations, and tragedies.

True Biblical Faith enables us to entrust ourselves completely to God and His Sovereign Will regardless of whether we are delivered from our trials or delivered in and through them.

True Biblical Faith is never expressed when God’s people demand that He do such and such for them or deliver them from their adversity whatever it may be.

True Biblical Faith is expressed best by the believer who quietly and patiently submits to whatever God sends his way as he meekly rests in God’s sovereign will believing with all of his heart that God will only do what is best and necessary and will only do it for as long as necessary.

True Biblical Faith understands that God while working in all of His children does not do so in the same way, to the same degree, and to the same degree of intensity—So quit comparing your trials!

Only God knows how your decisions to live by faith will turn out because He is the One Who has planned how they will turn out because only He knows what is necessary in your life to conform you to the image of His Son the Lord Jesus. And as far as God is concerned that process of becoming like Christ is much more important and rewarding than what we are falsely promised in the “prosperity—health and wealth gospel”. God knows and wants us to know that “it is not death to die nor loss to lose when He is your greatest treasure and pleasure in life.” In the end—none of us can choose our trials or our sufferings when we choose to make much of Christ in a world that doesn’t—all we can do is choose to believe that God knows what is best for us and will do exactly that.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

New Year's Revolutions Message #7

For Those Who Live By Their Faith—Quitting Is Not An Option!
Hebrews 11:27

He was young, enthusiastic, passionate, vibrant, energetic, and everything a church could want in a pastor. He loved the Lord and he loved his people. His preaching opened up the Word of God to them and helped them grow in their faith. He never missed a hospital visit or being there when one of his flock was hurting. When members of the church were struggling in their walks with the Lord or with some heavy burden, or with serious sin issues—he exemplified to them the grace of God and helped them to see the power of God’s forgiveness. His ministry of preaching about and exemplifying the love and the grace of God touched their hearts but for some reason or another was unable to get through to his own.

He had a secret that no one knew about—a secret sin that he had given into and which no one not even those closest to him ever could have imagined. He hated the sin and he hated himself. And whereas, he had helped several over the course of his ministry overcome the destructive spiral of not applying God’s promises of forgiveness and grace to their own lives and their own sin—he just couldn’t see how God could forgive him—after all, he was the pastor—and thus, the one man in that church who simply had no excuse for what he did. Nor did he have any recourse for to seek help and counsel from another would be to admit his failure and that would be to lose his livelihood and the ability to care for his family because that’s what happens to pastors who fail. He thought often about quietly leaving the ministry but knew he had nowhere else to go. And so one day while overwhelmed with depression and with a great sense of desperation and unable to deal with his guilt any longer on a Sunday morning early before the first car pulled into the parking lot he did the unthinkable—he while sitting in his car—pulled out a handgun and killed himself.

I wish that story was not true. The fact of the matter is that it is. The reason I tell it is not for shock value. The reason I tell it is because this young pastor who failed miserably in falling to temptation in life failed even more miserably in death in that he made the choice not to believe that God had forgiven him and desired to restore him to himself and to his service. In choosing to sin in the first place he failed to live by his faith thinking that in that sin he would find an excitement and a pleasure God could not give him. In the second place—in choosing not to apply the scriptural principles of forgiveness and restoration to himself—he failed again to live by faith and this proved fatal.

Today I want to take a look at another man who also was vibrant, energetic, and full of plans to help and minister to his people—but who in one moment of anger—did the unthinkable—he murdered a man. And once the gravity of what he had done set in and the consequences for his action began to materialize before him he had a choice to make and that choice is what we are going to talk about today. Turn with me to Hebrews 11:27 where I want us to see that:

Believers who live by faith still sin but when they do they don’t quit—they realize that failure, even great and devastating failure, can be overcome in God’s time and in God’s way.

When believers who are committed to living by faith, don’t and fail miserably as a result they must not give into their emotions and sentence themselves to spiritual exile away from God’s fellowship and service, rather they must choose to live by faith in that moment when it is hardest to do so and appropriate God’s promises of forgiveness and restoration.



1. If we wish to live by faith we must choose to believe God’s promises even when we have failed Him greatly and feel unworthy of His love, forgiveness, and desire to ever use us again. (27)

Hebrews 11:27 has produced a great deal of discussion and used up a lot of ink over the years as to which of Moses’ departures from Egypt is the writer talking about. To many, like John MacArthur, A.W. Pink, and the Puritan scholar John Owen it seems only natural that this verse would be referring to Moses’ second departure when he left Egypt in victory with all the Hebrews in tow. When Moses left Egypt this time it was a glorious and celebrative affair—without even a hint of fear. Thus, to the casual observer this must be the event the author is speaking about rather than Moses’ first departure from Egypt after he had killed a man and did leave in fear. But others, such as R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Leon Morris, and most of the early church fathers see this verse referring to Moses’ first departure from Egypt after he killed the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew slave. Others still, like John Calvin, see both departures as being possibilities but leaned toward the verse speaking about the Exodus. I am going to weigh in on the side of verse 27 being Moses’ first departure and here’s why.

In a chapter that is detailing the lives of many of God’s people in chronological order as well as making mention of individual events in their lives in chronological order—it seems odd that the writer would divert from that pattern now and insert Moses’ second departure from Egypt before the Passover mentioned in verse 28, when the Passover came first.

Second, why does the writer of Hebrews go out of his way to make this point about Moses not being afraid of Pharaoh if he is referring to the Exodus when Pharaoh is pleading with him to leave after the death angel passed through and killed their firstborn sons. There simply was no fear involved in that event other than what Pharaoh and the Egyptians were feeling.

Third, verse 27 only makes mention of him leaving Egypt rather than him and all of the Israelites, thus pointing to his first departure when only he left.

And fourth, this letter is being written to Jewish Christians who having given great consideration to leaving the Faith due to persecution are now wondering if even in considering denouncing Christ to save their homes, jobs, and lives they had gone too far and thus should just give it up altogether.

Thus, for all these reasons I think the better way to understand the verse and thus, the intent and meaning of the author is to see this event spoken of in verse 27 as being in chronological order and thus, being Moses’ first departure from Egypt when he did leave being afraid of the King but did not leave because he was afraid of the King.

There is a huge difference in being afraid of someone or something and allowing that fear to be the primary motivating factor in the decisions you make in life. Let me illustrate this for you. Soldiers, police officers, and fire personnel will all tell you that they experience a certain amount of fear when called to go into a situation that is dangerous and has the potential of seriously injuring or even killing them. Fear is natural in those kinds of situations—but they still go into them because even though fearful—the fear is not the primary motivating factor in their decision.

Now lets review the facts of Moses’ first departure from Egypt and see if we can make sense of this verse. The Bible tells us that Moses knew that he was to be the deliverer of Israel. This is seen in Acts 7:25, where we read that after he had decided to go out and visit the Hebrews, he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew.

Lets read about it—go to Exodus 2:11-12.

Now don’t miss the gravity of what Moses did. It is best felt when you understand that Moses had no problem striking a man down and then continually hitting him until he was dead and then burying his body in the sand. But worse than that—Moses did not have to kill him. He could have ordered him to stop beating the Israelite and this Egyptian would have obeyed him, after all, Moses was the Prince of Egypt. But, Moses gave into his passion—a passion every bit as strong and as wrong as sexual immorality—and he struck the Egyptian man over and over again until he was dead(Hiphil Imperfect Tense)--Hardly the kind of man you’d think God would still be considering to lead His people. And it was obvious that Moses knew he was in the wrong because in Exodus 2:12, we read that before striking the Egyptian, “he looked this way and that and when he saw that there was no one around he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” But he suppressed his sin and his guilt and figured that it would be no big deal to the Hebrews because obviously they would see this as him beginning to deliver them from their oppressors. He was wrong, for the next day according to Exodus 2:13-14, he tried to intervene in a fight between two Hebrews and had his good intentions rejected. But not only was he rejected as the deliverer of the Hebrews—he was informed that his crime had been seen and that he was found out.

In Exodus 2:15, we read that when Pharaoh found out about it that he tried to kill Moses and then Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh to the land of Midian across the Red Sea in the Sinai Peninsula. So yes, Moses was afraid of the King and he did run away to Midian but did he primarily run because of this fear or was there something else motivating him to leave Egypt even more powerful than fear. Yes, I believe so. It was faith. Notice that Hebrews 11:27 tells us why he left and it was not fear. It was faith and it was a faith that was motivated by “endurance” or “perseverance”.

Now what was it that he endured and persevered in? That is the question we need to answer to understand all this. Well, again the key is found in Acts 7:25. Moses knew that he was to be God’s instrument in delivering his people. But Moses sinned in that he in zealous passion tried to do God’s work in his own way and according to his own time table. He sinned greatly in killing a man under the pretenses of doing a work for God. And he has nowhere to hide. I mean the Hebrews don’t want him and the Egyptians are going to kill him but that is not what is the primary motivating influence in his life right now. Yes, he is afraid and yes, he knows if he stays he will be killed—so he runs but not solely out of fear but rather because as bad as what he did was, in murdering the Egyptian and as colossal a failure, as he had just become—he did not lose his faith.

He still believed that God would forgive him and would not cast him out as unusable and unwanted merchandise. He chose to believe in that moment the promise that God had somehow communicated to him that God was going to deliver His people through Him and that somehow, someway God would fix this and still use him and so he runs to a place of safety to see how the Lord is going to fix this mess he had made. I think Moses exercised faith in simply not quitting and walking off the field when everything in his being was screaming at him to do so because he, like any of us, if it was us, was probably feeling pretty unworthy of God’s love and acceptance anymore.
In essence, the choice Moses made in living by his faith in this particular incident was the choice to believe that even his sin as great as it was could not and would not change God’s mind about him or God’s plans for him.

Thus, instead of doing as so many of us do when we sin and just give up and put ourselves on the shelf figuring God is done with us and has consigned himself to putting up with us for the rest of our lives—Moses persevered in believing that he was still accepted by God, acceptable to God, and able to be restored and used by God in the future when God’s hand of healing and correction had done its work.

Now I realize there are some who have a problem with this whole idea of me suggesting to people that God can fix even our worst and most devastating failures in life and they have this problem because they think I am not emphasizing the seriousness of the sin. That’s not true—because I am—the real problem they are having is that they are not emphasizing the seriousness of God’s grace! Moses chose to emphasize the wondrous power of God’s grace rather than his sin and thus, he ran to save his life not because he feared death but because in faith he knew God was not finished with him yet.

The easy thing in his despair would be to give himself up to Pharaoh and be killed—that would be like being put out of his misery. Kind of like “suicide by cop” only this would be “suicide by Pharaoh”. And how many Christians have thought about that very thing—after failing God by involving themselves in some unthinkable heinous sin? How many Christians today are no longer serving God in any capacity at all but are rather sitting on their duffs dusting a pew because they chose not to believe that God still loves, accepts, and desires to restore them not only to himself but to ministry for Him. That, you see, is the real battle of faith. It is very hard for a believer who has sinned greatly to trust that God still loves him, accepts him, finds him acceptable, and desires to utilize him in productive service.

Our tendency is to feel so unworthy and so unacceptable to God that we cower from Him and run from Him rather than to Him. But not Moses—he persevered in his faith and believed that God was not finished with him and would still use him to deliver his people.

Note at the end of verse 27 that it says, “for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.” What does this mean? This is not speaking about over 40 years later when Moses was given the chance to see the backside of God’s glory. No, the participle “seeing Him who is unseen” is occurring as Moses is making his choice to give up on himself thinking God had given up on him or to persevere in the promise of God. And it is not that Moses saw an image of God in that moment because the verse plainly states that God is unseen.

So what did Moses see that gave him a clear vision of God that caused him not to quit in spite of terrible failure? I think Moses saw with clarity the promises of God, which were a reflection of the character of God for him. Moses saw God in His promises—thus for him—seeing the promises of God was as if He were seeing God Himself. And these promises that his mother had taught him when he was but a young boy and which God had confirmed to him as he grew into a man and which led him to make a decision to forsake all the riches and power of Egypt to obey God so as to receive heavenly reward—were the very thing that got him through the worst failure of his life.

Moses saw that God’s promises are not subject to the successes and failures of his servants. And so, even in the midst of his failure, he lived by his faith and did not put himself on the shelf but rather persevered in his belief that God still loved him, accepted him, and would use him in spite of his great sin and failure. Listen, to stay in the race even after you have failed because you believe God’s promises of forgiveness and restoration is to live by faith. That was what Jesus prayed for in regard to Peter and his failure. Look at Luke 22:31-32.

CONCLUSION

You know, Moses’ failure and the way he dealt with his failure is recorded by God in Hebrews 11 because God wants us to see that even with the best of intentions and even while desiring to make much of Christ—we still fail and sometimes quite miserably—but that we cannot quit. Rather, like Moses we need to live by hard, gutsy faith and give our failures to God and embrace His forgiveness even when we feel so unworthy of it. And the fact is we are unworthy of it and always have been and always will be. But neither our successes nor our failures as a Christian matter when it comes to God being more apt to forgive and accept us after we have failed.

To better help you tie Moses’ failure and response to his failure into your life—look at Hebrews 12:1. Moses is one of those witnesses that is crowding the track as you run your race and you know what he is saying to you the believer who has failed and failed greatly and realizes it—He is saying—“Look at me—I failed too—and I failed far worse than you have but I didn’t quit—so don’t you quit either—quitting is not an option for those who live by faith—get back up and resolve to live and fail by your faith!

Friday, February 6, 2009

New Year's Revolutions Series Message #6

The Choices We Must Make
Hebrews 11:24-27

Hebrews 11 is a chapter about people of faith and the choices they made in living by their faith. This is an observation we should not pass by too quickly. You see, it is the choices that we make in life that reveal to us who and what we are living for.

When we like Noah make the choice to believe and do hard things in obedience to God’s Word we demonstrate that God’s will is most important to us.
When we like Abraham make the choice to leave our comforts, conveniences, and treasures to follow God to a place we have never been and to a lifestyle that is empty of all our creature comforts, conveniences, and treasures we are making the point that God is all we desire and need.When we like Moses’ parents make the choice to defy the ungodly demands of a government that is hostile to God so as to risk everything—we demonstrate that God is our King and our greatest treasure in life and we aren’t really risking anything at all of eternal importance.

Our choices in life tell a lot about us. Perhaps you heard about George Gallup’s book—The Day America Told The Truth in which he asked the question what would you do for 10 million dollars? He found that 25 % of Americans would be willing to abandon their families for that kind of money. 25 % would be willing to abandon their church as well—my guess is that would do that for a lot less. 23 % would become prostitutes; and 7 % would kill a stranger. Interestingly enough, when he asked the same question but dropped the amount to 3 million dollars—the results stayed pretty much the same. Now its not hard to see that the choices people make in response to questions like this really do reveal a great deal about the people making such choices—don’t they.

Today, I want us to consider the choices people who love God and who are living by their faith will make and who by making such choices do indeed prove that they believe God and desire Him more than anything or anyone else in life.

Go with me to Hebrews 11.

1. If we wish to live by faith we must choose between pleasing man and pleasing God. (24)

Most Old Testament scholars agree that Moses was probably about 5 or 6 years old when he went to live with Pharaoh’s daughter. Therefore, he was with her for about 34 years--for far more years than his own mother. It would be hard to believe that some emotional attachment did not form between the two. In fact there must have been some bond between them in the sense that everyone else considered him to be her son.
But when Moses came of age—when he had grown up—he had a choice to make—to either continue on the path his step mother had planned for him or to refuse this path and choose rather to return to the people of his real mother whom he probably had not seen for years.

Even though the Bible spares us the details—the decision must have been hard. Not only was he choosing to give up a glorious future—his decision would also disappoint and crush the heart of the woman who had become his mother since he was a little boy.
It wasn’t an easy decision. None of them are when they involve having to hurt or disappoint someone else in order to do what you know to be right. But, Moses made this decision by faith, verse 24 tells us. In other words he believed God and put his stock in what he knew God wanted him to do rather than in his emotions and what his heart was perhaps screaming out to him to do.

This was a hard thing to do but Moses did it and he did it by faith because he new that to stay and make a decision that, while sparing another’s feelings, violated God’s command would be sin. Keep in mind that in Moses’ case one of the passing pleasures of sin would have been avoiding the inner agony of making a decision that would hurt and cause pain to his stepmother. The easy thing to do would have been to avoid the hurt and simply live out her dream for him rather than God’s. But Moses did what people who live by their faith do—he did the hard thing and chose God and God’s ambitions for him over another’s.

Before moving on from this point, let me address the fact that Moses' did not just haphazardly make this decision when he came of age. No,way. You see, Moses had a mother--his real mom--who trained him in regard to who he really was, who his people were, most importantly, who His God was. And she did all this life transforming training in the few short years she had with him, from birth to about five or six years of age. Moms, don't diminish the spiritual influence you can have for the Lord in your child's life when they are just toddlers.

Listen to me. You can't have it all at the same time. You cannot have a successful career and a successful family at the same time. The Bible is very clear on where you should when you have children at home and especially small children. Titus 2:3-5 tells us that older godly women are to be teaching younger Christian women to stay home and be workers in the home so that God is not dishonored. Read it for yourselves and if you don't like it--send God the email--not me!

And shame on you husbands who are putting pressure on your wives to work outside of your homes because you need help paying for your toys. Listen, you will either pay now--in terms of less toys and less wants if mom stays home or you will most definitely pay later when the kids are teens if mom works out of the home and I guarantee the cost will be much higher and harder than you ever would have or could have imagined.

Moms, follow the example of Moses' mom and make raising your kids to know who they are and Who God is a priority that is more important than a few extra bucks at the end of the month or keeping your hand in your career.

2. If we wish to live by faith we must choose between earthly and heavenly rewards. (25-26)

According to some historians and experts in the study of Egyptology, the Pharaoh who ordered the Hebrews to kill their male babies had no sons of his own. Thus, when Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, he stood in line to possibly become Pharaoh’s successor. This is a possible theory. The other possibility is that Pharaoh’s daughter already had a son named Ramses II who because he was older than Moses was in line to be the next pharaoh. Nevertheless, Moses was in line to be a man of great influence in Egypt. You see, to become a member of Pharaoh’s family made you in a sense to the Egyptians as more than just a man—in their minds you became a sort of semi-divine god.

Phenomenal power, prestige, exaltation, and even the worship of the people were his by virtue of the fact that he was now the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But as we saw in verse 24, he refused all this when he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. And in verses 25-26 we are told that he made this choice to give up all Egypt could offer him for two things: first, for the privilege of experiencing mistreatment with the people of God and second, to share in the disgrace and reproach of Christ. The reason he wanted to experience mistreatment rather than be the on the one giving it out and the reason he wanted to share in Christ’s reproach rather than be the one reproaching Christ was because he “was looking to the reward”.
That is what verse 26 says. His primary motivation in giving up Egypt to obey and pursue God was the reward. His motivation in making this tough decision that caused him to be willing to risk his future for Christ by serving the people of God was that he was looking to the reward.

In other words, he was not living for the dot of temporary earthly treasures and pleasures but for that which would last forever and never diminish in value, joy, or pleasure. In fact, all of the people in Hebrews were making their decisions based upon what would be the best way to maximize their investment in eternity and for eternity. They were living for the rewards God promised in Heaven rather than the rewards promised on earth.

Many believers balk at the idea that we should be living and making decisions in order to gain eternal rewards saying instead that we should just serve God because we love Him and are thankful for everything He has done for us. Well, I have no problem and neither does the Bible with living our lives for the Lord because we love Him and as an expression of thanksgiving to Him for all He has done for us. But, I do have a problem and so does the Bible with telling people that it is an improper and unbiblical motivation to be serving the Lord and making much of Him with our lives in order to receive great, eternal, and spectacular rewards from Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In fact, in Hebrews 11 alone, we are told at least five times that the great people of faith were indeed motivated by the expectation of future heavenly rewards and glory to live lives and make decisions that demonstrated God was their greatest treasure and pleasure in life. (Look at verse 10, 14, 16, and 35)

Now, when you consider the essence of all heavenly rewards and the fact that what is of value on earth in terms of treasures and pleasures has absolutely no value in heaven—you will begin to understand why it is not a contradiction to live a life that makes much of Jesus in order to receive heavenly rewards. You see, earthly treasures and pleasures make much of us. They are the things we reward ourselves with for whatever reason. But heavenly rewards are not the kinds of things that make much of us because in heaven the only One made much of is God.

Heavenly rewards not like earthly trinkets. They will not even necessarily be things. I mean what could you ever possess or wear or drive or live in when you get to heaven that would be worthy of comparing with the beauty, splendor, grandeur, majesty, and infinite breathtaking, mouth-watering experience of actually being in the physical presence of God Himself. In other words, the rewards of Heaven are not so much things as they are opportunities—opportunities to enjoy and experience God Himself relating to you face-to-face so that you are filled with such an incomprehensible and uncontainable sense of happiness, peace, security, excitement, and adventure that absolutely nothing you could be given in terms of riches, prizes, possessions, positions, and pleasures even matter. And if indeed the rewards of Heaven are really opportunities to experience and enjoy to the fullest capacity you are able—Jesus Christ, God Almighty Himself—then these opportunities are simply for the purpose of receiving one reward—in fact, the only real reward there is—God Himself.

Look again at Hebrews 11:26. Note specifically what the last phrase says—“for Moses was looking to the reward.” The Greek word misthapodosian is singular talking not about many rewards but one reward. It is also accompanied by the definite article, which is designating it as a specific and identifiable rather than unspecific and unidentifiable reward
Thus, all of heaven’s rewards culminate and find their final and perfect expression and experience of joy and pleasure in receiving to the degree one is able and capable the reward of experiencing and enjoying God.

Why do I say—that the reward of heaven is to experience and enjoy God to the degree or capacity we are able to. Because—the reward for making decisions by faith that make much of Christ and demonstrate His supremacy over everything is a greater capability and ability to experience and thus enjoy God. Again, Heaven is not the experience of new and better things—it is to experience God unfettered by sin to the fullness of your capacity to enjoy Him. As we have said before—everyone in Heaven will be as happy and as joyful as they can be—bar none. But everyone’s capacity to enjoy God will be different—based upon their rewards for faithfully making much of Him.

When we live our lives by faith in the promises of God and make decisions that demonstrate we would rather have God than anything earth can offer us--so as to be able to experience and enjoy the reward of God Himself to the fullest capacity that we are able—then who are we really making much of—ourselves or God?

So—we see that true biblical faith causes us to make our decisions with eternity in view—with the Judgment Seat of Christ in the foreground. And isn’t it interesting that Moses besides the heavenly rewards he is enjoying also received the earthly reward of being honored in history for his choice. Can you tell me the names of the Pharaohs? Probably not. You see, had Moses chosen to remain the son of Pharaoh’s daughter he would only be known to us a name on some mummy in a museum. But, instead his name is well-know throughout the world but more importantly his name is recorded in God’s Word as a man who lived by his faith by choosing eternal heavenly treasure over temporary earthly riches.


CONCLUSION

So how about us? Where do we stand when it comes to living by our faith so as to make choices that prove God is more important to us than our loved ones and our earthly treasures? Do our life choices reflect this kind of attitude or do they reflect that Christ is not really our greatest treasure and pleasure in life? Do our bank accounts, purchases, investments, relationships, dreams, ambitions, priorities, TV & movie viewing habits, internet surfing, hobbies, church attendance, work ethic, ministry involvement, time spent sharing the gospel with others, and the effort we invest in our Bibles and prayer demonstrate that God is our greatest treasure and pleasure or that our greatest treasure and pleasure in life has very little to do with God at all?

Those who live by their faith will say “Yes, what I choose to do with my time, my money, my possessions, my relationships, and everything in my life is all about pursuing and demonstrating to others that Jesus Christ is my greatest treasure and pleasure in this life and the life to come.

Others of you may say—“No, that is not what my life choices demonstrate at all. In fact, the only thing the choices I have made and am making in life really demonstrate is that I am in love with earthly trinkets and making much of me and my pleasure, my convenience, and my own security. And Mark, I just can’t get a grip on this living for eternity thing because I just can’t see why Christ is so valuable to you. If that’s where you are today—you are exactly right when you say—you can’t see why Christ would be so valuable to those of us who are desiring to live our lives to demonstrate that He is. But you see, the reason why you can’t fathom why anyone would live their life so as to make much of Christ and demonstrate His supremacy over all things is because you can’t see Christ. Look at verse 27. Here is your missing link—you haven’t seen Christ yet. Because if you had seen Him and if you are seeing Him—you’d have no trouble at all understanding what I am talking about.

If this troubles you and you are sitting there wanting to live for something bigger than yourself and more important than earthly trinkets and which won’t wear out, burn out, or rust out—and you are wanting to know the only One Who can give you eternal and abundant life overflowing with joy irregardless of the troubles you face—and you are tired of carrying around a load of guilt that constantly pushes you to try to make yourself acceptable to God and others—You need to get down on your knees and cry out to God to show you Jesus—because once you see Him with the eyes of a new heart that now can see—you’ll never be the same again.

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13