Saturday, February 25, 2017

Iris


Sunday, February 19, 2017

[Matt's Messages] “You Alone, O LORD, Are God.”

“You Alone, O LORD, Are God.”
The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
February 19, 2017 :: 2 Kings 18:1-20:21  

It’s been a few weeks since were in our study of the Books of Kings which we have been calling “The King of Kings in the Books of Kings.” And since it’s been 3 or 4 weeks, you might have forgotten where we are in the story.

We’re almost to the very end of the Books of Kings. We have, including today, no more than 4 messages left to go to work our way through each one of the Kings of Israel and Judah. Only eight chapters to go. And we’ll have done the whole thing in  just 31 sermons.

Now, I know that we’re starting to get tired of these kings. They have been, with very few exceptions, a broken record of boring badness. (Try saying that three times fast.)

But hang with me. Because there are some really good stories left to tell, and this morning’s is one of the best of them.

It’s about King Hezekiah of Judah.

Last time we were in 2 Kings, we read about the last king of the northern kingdom of Israel, Hoshea. He was a pretty good king for an Israelite king. Two thumbs down, but not nearly as bad as most of his predecessors.

But regardless, the northern kingdom of Israel had been invaded and conquered and sent into exile by the great world power of Assyria.

Because of their unfaithfulness, Israel is no more.

It’s a sad sad story.

But now our attention, our focus, shifts to the southern kingdom of Judah.

Judah has been slipping, but they have not yet slipped as Israel had.

And now they get a new king. King Hezekiah.

Before we begin reading chapter 18, I want to tell you the name of this sermon. I didn’t have it when Marilynn sent the bulletins to print. I knew that we were going to do chapters 18, 19, and 20, but I didn’t know what to call it.

Here’s the title. It’s a quote taken from chapter 19 where Hezekiah prays. He says, “You Alone, O LORD, Are God.”

And he says something like that twice in chapter 19, and I was really surprised to see that it’s one of the only times in the Bible when that exact phrase is used of God. In fact, there are just handful of passages like it that say that the LORD is God alone.

Such an important lesson to learn! And it’s at the very center of the story.

So, we’ll see that more clearly when we get to that dramatic part of the story.

Are you ready? 2 Kings 18, verse 1.

“In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.”

And you know the next thing.

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Hezekiah is two (count them) two thumbs up! V.3

“He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.”

[That is huge, by the way, that is said of no other king of Judah. “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.’ Tell me about it.]

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)

[Isn’t that interesting? Remember that old snake on a pole from Numbers 21? They had kept it around, and it had turned into an idol. Hezekiah got right of it.]

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.

And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.”

Point number one.

“You Alone, O Lord, Are God:”

#1. WHO DESIRES OUR FAITHFULNESS.

Here he is! He’s finally here.

This is the king that we’ve been waiting for.

This guy is two thumbs up.

He seems like a second David.

There are only two kings who the Bible tells us defeated the Philistines like this. David and Hezekiah.

How many times have we said that these kings had “just one job.”

Well, Hezekiah got it. And he did it faithfully.

There was never a king like him among all the kings of Judah since the split, either before or after him.

And here was his secret. V.5

“Hezekiah trusted in the LORD.”

Verse 6, “He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him.”

That’s trust and obey.

That word “held fast” in verse 6 is the same word as what we call “cleaving” when  a man and woman get married. They leave and then they cleave. They stick to one another.

They grab and hold on.

“He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him.”

And that’s there to remind us what God has been looking for all along.

Faithfulness.

What a breath of fresh air, huh?!

And see the blessing that goes with it? V.7

“And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. [Like the fruitful tree of Psalm 1.] He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him [like his foolish daddy Ahaz had done]. From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.”

God greatly desires our faithfulness.

But author reminds us that the northern kingdom had done just the opposite. V.9

“In King Hezekiah's fourth year, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it. [This is what we learned about last time.] At the end of three years the Assyrians took it. So Samaria was captured in Hezekiah's sixth year, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel. The king of Assyria deported Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in towns of the Medes. This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God, but had violated his covenant [unfaithfulness]–all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out.”

They were unfaithful.

And the LORD is on the lookout for faithfulness.

When He looks at you, does He see it?

I’m not asking if you are perfect. I know you are not.

(And, spoilers, neither is Hezekiah.)

But I am asking if you trust and obey the LORD.

Because that’s the way to be happy in Jesus.

That’s what the Lord is seeking–hearts that are whole towards Him.

Now, just because you are holy doesn’t mean you will escape suffering.

In fact, the often the opposite. Just because Hezekiah was a faithful king, doesn’t mean that his kingdom would get off without trials.

They had plenty. And the biggest one had the name of Sennacherib the newest king of Assyria. V.13

“In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah's reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. [Uh oh.] So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: ‘I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.’ The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace. At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the LORD, and gave it to the king of Assyria.”

So he’s not perfect. Just because you’re two thumbs-up doesn’t mean that you’re perfect.

Here, Hezekiah goes back on his previous approach of rebelling against Assyria and tries, like his father did, to appease Assyria. He tries to pay them off.

But that trick never works. At least for long. V.17

“The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. They came up to Jerusalem and stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field.”

Now, stop there for just a second because I want to say these cool words. The Hebrew that is translated “supreme commander, chief officer, and field commander” is literally, “Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh.” And I always loved those words, especially Rabshakeh.

If you’re looking for a good wifi password, I think Rabshakeh would be a good one.

John, can we change the wifi password here at church to Rabshakeh?

I don’t know, maybe we shouldn’t have an Assyrian field commander as our wifi password.

But we’re not exactly sure what these words mean. They are obviously the top dogs of the Assyrian army. And they are here to deal directly with the king and talk him into surrender. V.18

“They called for the king; and Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to them. The field commander [Rabshakeh] said to them, ‘Tell Hezekiah: ‘'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength–but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? [Give up!] Look now, you are depending on Egypt [I’ll bet], that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man's hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. [Give up!] And if you say to me, ‘We are depending on the LORD our God’–isn't he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem’? [I think he’s got the story a little mixed up.]

‘'Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses–if you can put riders on them! [Your little paltry army hiding there behind the walls!] How can you repulse one officer of the least of my master's officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? [Give up!]

Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the LORD? The LORD himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.'’ [Which isn’t true, but it sure sounds strong.]

Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, ‘Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don't speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.’”

But the commander replied [even louder I’ll bet], ‘Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall–who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?’ [Give up! He’s trying to demoralize the troops. Or even start a mutiny.]

Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew: ‘Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, 'The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.' ‘Do not listen to Hezekiah.

This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death! ‘Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, 'The LORD will deliver us.' [Give up!]

...And then he goes too far...

Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”

He sounds like a politician, doesn’t he? Promising them the moon (don’t read the fine print about having to move to another land. We have a word for that. It’s called “exile”).

But he goes too far when he says that the LORD would be unable to deliver Jerusalem.

Hezekiah may not be able to deliver them.

But I doubt that the LORD is going to let that one go by for very long! V.36

“But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, ‘Do not answer him.’ Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said. [Chapter 19]

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. [Where he should have been before instead of raiding the silver, he should have been praying.]

He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.

[Yes, THAT Isaiah. This whole story is also told, by the way, in the book of Isaiah, as well. V.3]

They told him, ‘This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.’

When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, ‘Tell your master, 'This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard–those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.'’ [God has got this one.]

When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah. Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt, was marching out to fight against him. So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word [“Last chance, man.”]

‘Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, 'Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.' Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered?

[He’s just digging his grave, isn’t he?]

Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them: the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, or of Hena or Ivvah?’

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: ‘O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, [here it is] you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.

Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands.

Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.’”

This is why Hezekiah is two thumbs up.

He doesn’t always get it right, but when he gets it right, he’s like David or Solomon.

Remember what Solomon said that the king should do if the kingdom got attacked?

This very thing right here. Lay that out before the LORD.

And remind the LORD that He alone is God.

And that our eyes are on Him.

“You alone, O LORD, are God.”

#2. WHO BROOKS NO RIVALS.

Those other gods who failed weren’t gods at all.

You alone are God.

And we are looking at you.

We are praying to you.

We are trusting you.

And the LORD was listening. V.20

“Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him: ‘'The Virgin Daughter of Zion despises you and mocks you. The Daughter of Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee.

[See, two can play at this game of taunting the enemy. And the last to speak is the one who will win.]

Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel!

By your messengers you have heaped insults on the Lord. And you have said, ‘With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its pines. I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests. I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.’”

You think you’re God!

But you couldn’t have done even any of that without me. It’s actually a part of my plan. V.25

‘'Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up.

[But you won’t be doing that to me.]

‘'But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.'

[You will be my slave, O Sennacherib.]

‘This will be the sign for you, O Hezekiah: ‘This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. [In a few years, this will all be just a bad memory.] Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above.

For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria: ‘He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’”

It sure didn’t seem like it.

I mean there were hundreds of thousands of soldiers camp outside of the walls of Jerusalem.

If you had been there, this promise would have seemed impossible.

But you can hear in Isaiah’s words what God was thinking.

He was thinking, “I am God alone.”

Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”

Or foreign rulers who think they are god.

Why does God want our faithfulness?

Because He is worthy of it.

He’s not insecure. Some people think that God is insecure, that’s why he keeps demanding faithfulness and praise.

But it’s really because God is that worthy. That trustworthy. That unique and wonderful that anything else than supreme worship is so far beneath Him that it’s a failure.

The LORD brooks no rivals.

He wants to be first in our hearts.

And why shouldn’t He be?

Look at who Hezekiah said He is. He is over all the kingdoms of the earth. He MADE heaven and earth!

Think about that.

The LORD made heaven and earth.

Everything you see is from His mind. His design. His power in bringing into existence.

You and I are His creation.

That’s why it’s sin to worship the creation rather than the Creator.

Because He made all of this.

And He deserves the glory.

One of the chief applications of this entire story is to call our hearts to worship God alone because He alone is worthy of our worship.

He is zealous for His glory.

It didn’t seem like there was any possibility of Hezekiah and Jerusalem getting out of this bind.

Hezekiah is tearing his robes. He is saying that life is like stillbirth.

It’s that bad.

But Yahweh say (v.34) that for His own sake (His glory) and for the sake of David His servant (and His covenant promises to him), he will defend and deliver this city.

Are you ready for it? Last point. Number three.

“You Alone, O LORD, Are God”

#3. WHO RESCUES HIS PEOPLE. V.35

“That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning–there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.”

The LORD brooks no rivals, keeps all of His promises and threats and in the process rescues His people.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to wake up that morning and see all of the corpses?

185,000 men.

In one night.

It’s like a second Passover, isn’t it?

The angel of the LORD passing through and killing all of those men.

And in the process, saving His people.

You know that’s amazing, and it shows God’s heart for rescuing His people.

But we know of a greater rescue that God has enacted.

At the Cross!

There was a greater enemy there. Sin was a greater enemy than Assyria ever was.

But God dealt with it in a powerful way by putting sin on the shoulders of Jesus Christ.

The Bibles says at the Cross, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

How powerful He was to kill those enemies.

How powerful He was to raise Jesus from the dead for our justification.

The LORD delights to rescue His people.

In chapter 20, he rescues King Hezekiah from an illness. Chapter 20, verse 1.

“In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. [If I’m reading it right, thi is actually flashback to right around when Sennacherib attacks.] The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, ‘This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, ‘Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.’ [I’ve been faithful. I’m a two-thumbs up king. Please remember that as you decide what to do with me.] And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: [With mercy.] ‘Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD.

I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.'’

That’s the same thing He said in verse 34 of the last chapter.

He loves to rescue His people. V.7

“Then Isaiah said, ‘Prepare a poultice of figs.’ They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered. Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, ‘What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day from now?’ [When I’m ceremonially clean again.] Isaiah answered, ‘This is the LORD's sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?’

[It’s a test. It’s like the test that was given Jehoash with the three arrows? Hezekiah pass the test. He asks God to do something big.]

‘It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,’ said Hezekiah. ‘Rather, have it go back ten steps.’ Then the prophet Isaiah called upon the LORD, and the LORD made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.”

The LORD delights to deliver His people.

If they will trust Him.

However. This story doesn’t end as happily as it began.

Hezekiah has been two thumbs up. But he still did something really stupid.

And his nation was still really on the decline. V.12

“At that time Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah's illness. Hezekiah received the messengers and showed them all that was in his storehouses–the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil– his armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. [This was a mistake.]

Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, ‘What did those men say, and where did they come from?’ ‘From a distant land,’ Hezekiah replied. ‘They came from [a little place called, uh...] Babylon.’

The prophet asked, ‘What did they see in your palace?’ ‘They saw everything in my palace,’ Hezekiah said. ‘There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.’

[I was real proud of them. It was kind of like when Solomon showed his splendor to the queen of Sheba. Though, probably not really. I was impressed that this bigger kingdom was interested in my little kingdom. That’s different, isn’t it. Sorry.]

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the LORD: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’

[Assyria will soon pass away. And they will not take you into captivity. But Babylon will. V.19]

‘The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’ As for the other events of Hezekiah's reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?  Hezekiah rested with his fathers. And Manasseh his son succeeded him as king.”

It turns out that Hezekiah was not the second coming of David after all.

He might have been two thumbs-up. Maybe one of those thumbs kind of turned a little half-way down there at this point.

I think he’s happy that the LORD is going to be merciful for his lifetime.

It’s not that he’s unhappy that later on it’ll be bad for them.

But at least, the LORD is showing him and Judah some mercy.

But he’s pretty short-sighted, isn’t he?

“At least it’ll be okay during my lifetime.”

When the kings of Judah are at their best, they remind us of Jesus.
Faithful to the end.

But when the kings of Judah are at their worst, they remind us of why we need Jesus.

Great David’s greater Son.

Who never failed.
Who never flubbed.
Who never fumbled or fouled out.

A God who rescues His people.


***

Messages in this Series:

01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD
10. The LORD Lives
11. The LORD Is God!
12. The LORD Is Still God.
13. “You Will Know that I am the LORD”
14. "Thus Saith the LORD!"
15. What the LORD Says
16. Is There No God in Israel?
17. Where Is the God of Elijah?
18. How NOT To Relate to God
19. God of Wonders
20. No God in the All the World Except in Israel
21. LORD, Open Our Eyes!
22. "If the LORD Should Open the Floodgates of Heaven"
23. "I Will Avenge the Blood of My Servants"
24. "Long Live the King!"
25. God Is Good Even When the King Is Bad
26. “Good Kings, Bad Kings, Good Things, Bad Things”
27. The Last King of Israel

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 EFCA Theology Conference Resources

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to participate in our 2017 EFCA Theology Conference on the theology and legacy of the Reformation. 

Today, the presenter resources have all been posted online for anyone to download and benefit from: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

Thanks, EFCA - Evangelical Free Church of America, for making this all available. "Free" really is our middle name. I look forward to listening back through the whole thing once again.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Sing!"

“Sing!”
Gospel Roots (1892-2017)
February 12, 2017 :: Ephesians 5:19-20

Has anybody here ever been to a Sunday morning worship gathering of this church, Lanse Free Church, where there was no congregational singing?

A Sunday morning service where the congregation was not involved in singing?

Can anybody remember even one like that?

Vera, you’ve been going here the longest. When you started at Lanse Free Church, the Sunday morning services were still in Swedish, right? Sunday school for the kids was in English, but the preaching and the singing was in Swedish.

Did they sing every Sunday? Every single Sunday?

I’ll bet they did.

This church was birthed in song, and the tradition continues.

Now, think about this. 125 years, 52 weeks per year. That’s around 6,500 Sundays give or take a few.

Maybe a few Sundays were canceled due to bad weather. But some years have 53 Sundays in them.

So around 6,500 Sundays and every one of them featuring singing.

Here’s the title for our “Gospel Roots” message today, “Sing!”

If someone asks you what was the point of the sermon today, it should be easy for you to tell them. “God wants Christians to sing.”

Sing!

Singing is not optional for Christians. It is actually commanded.

And it has been from the beginning.

Have you found Ephesians chapter 5?  This is Paul’s letter about the gospel that he sent to the Christians in and around Ephesus. The first three chapters of the Ephesians is about the amazing plan of the gospel. How God has planned the entire story of the world around the good news of Jesus Christ.

And how that good news of Jesus Christ is about grace. It’s the gospel of grace.

Dave Catanzaro reminded us of that last week when we looked at chapter 2, verses 8 and 9. It is by grace you are saved. Not by good works but for good works. But by grace.

Paul takes 3 solid chapters to unpack that, and then he gives us 3 solid chapters of application, of “so-what” for that gospel truth. Implications for our lives.

And in chapter 5, he says that one of the applications of the gospel is that we live differently than we used to and differently than the world does. The world lives foolishly, but we (v.17) understand what the Lord’s will is. And the world gets drunk on wine and other spirits which leads to debauchery, but we come under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And that influence leads us to live differently.

Including if and how and when we sing.

Let’s read our two verses in their near context.

I’ll read verses 17 through 21 because it’s all tied together in the Greek, but then we’ll just focus on the commands of verses 19 and 20.

“Therefore [because of the gospel] do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit [Holy Spirit. What does that look like? Here’s our verses:]. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [And lastly.] Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

This church has always had singing.

I stole this little book from the display cabinet out there.

The cover is coming off. It’s one of the old Swedish songbooks that they used at the old church. These were in the pews, only the organist had the music. This one has the music.

I can’t read Swedish. So I don’t know what they say. But there are like 700 songs in here. A few in English in the back some of which we do know.

This church has always had singing.

Because the church has always had singing.

Did you hear that in Ephesians 5?

It’s a command. I didn’t hear any loopholes there in those verses.

Only sing if you want to.
Only sing if you like to.
Only sing if you have a good singing voice.

That’s not what it says. It just flat out commands Christians to sing.

My friend Byron Harvey is wont to say, “If God has given you a great singing voice then sing loud and lead people! But if God has not gifted you with a great voice, then sing loud anyways and get even with Him!"

Somebody once told me that the Bible says, “Make a joyful noise!” It doesn’t say that the noise has to be pretty.

Sing!

Christians sing. And they sing together.

These commands are plural and are for the whole church community.

They aren’t just for the “singers” or the “leaders.”

They are for all of us.

One of the commitments that we have in our worship philosophy here at Lanse Free Church is that the most important instrument in our music ministry is the human voice of the congregation raised in song.

I love what our instrumentalists do. Keyboards, guitars, drums when we can get somebody to play them. And that’s biblical. The psalms are full of musical notation for instruments.

But both the Old and New Testament emphasize as a priority–SONG. Christians singing together.

That’s why nearly every Sunday we go acapella or as Blair used to call it, “Acapulco.”

Voices only.

Why? Because it sounds cool?

Sure!  But more than that because it’s what God wants.

He wants us to sing.

You know, that was lost? During the Middle Ages?

There was some music in church during the Middle Ages. Like Gregorian Chant and  that sort of thing.

But it wasn’t until the Reformation that congregational singing was restored to the churches.

Last week, I was at Trinity for our EFCA Theology Conference and we were learning about the legacy of the Reformation in the Free Churches. And one of the things the last speaker talked about was how congregational singing like we do today was one of our Reformational inheritances that came over to the States with the Swedes.

But Martin Luther and John Calvin didn’t come up with that on their own. They were rediscovering it.

They were going back to places like Ephesians 5:19&20 and saying, “Hey! We should be doing that in church. We should be singing!”

And that’s why we do it. Because Christians sing together.

I’ve got four points this morning from these two verses, and they are all about how we should be singing.

Here’s number one:

1. SING TO EACH OTHER AND TO THE LORD.

Did you catch that in verse 19? It’s easy to miss, but there are two different audiences for our singing and both are commanded. V.19

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”

Notice that we are supposed to sing to the Lord but also to each other.

Did you catch that?

I know it says, “speak,” but I don’t think it means like a poetry reading. “Speak those psalms, don’t sing them.”

It means when you are singing together as a church, you are speaking these words to each other.

You are to sing for the benefit of the people around you.

Why?

Because we need to hear this stuff that we’re singing!  That’s why we have to sing good stuff.

You know, I love that our church never fell into the worship wars. A lot of churches have split over whether or not to have hymns or choruses. Whether or not to have drums or no drums. Whether to have instruments or no instruments. Old songs or new songs.

We just do them all.

I know that we don’t always get the balance the way everybody wants. Some of you tell me privately that we don’t sing nearly enough old hymns. And some of you tell me privately that we don’t sing nearly enough new stuff.

Everybody has got their preferences, and we’ll never hit the balance right for everybody every time.

But we just sing everything. But we do insist on is that we sing good lyrics to most of our songs. We need to sing good theology and here’s why.

Because we are singing to each other.

In fact, we are singing the Word. Here’s how Paul put it in the sister verse to this one in Colossians 3:16.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Teach and admonish.

That’s what we are doing when we sing in church!

That’s one of the reasons why we have special music.

How many of you have gotten up here on stage and sung to the rest of the church at some point in your life.

Choir, worship team, Christmas Eve special music, Kids for Christ Recognition Night, offertory, whatever?  Raise your hand.

Yes! And thank you for doing that. You were obeying Ephesians 5:19.

Whatever the style of music.

And that’s why I think he has all three of these here.

“Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”

Those three overlap. Scholars aren’t sure exactly what the differences are between those three.

Psalms is clearly the Old Testament psalms. The Israelite Top Forty. Or Top 150, as the case might be. But the word is also used for other songs outside of the psalter.

Hymns are praise songs probably written beforehand. That’s like the songs about Jesus in Philippians 2, Colossians 1, 1 Timothy 3 and so on.  But we can’t be certain.

And “spiritual songs” might be song made up on the spot. More spontaneous songs  the Christians were creating more extemporaneously. We’re not sure.

I think that all 3 are here to convey to the whole enchilada, the full gamut of worship songs are at our disposal and should be used both old and new.

Don’t get stuck on the old. Don’t forget the old!
Don’t get stuck on the new. But sing a new song!

We don’t sing hardly any of the songs in this old hymnal, but they were wonderful for their time. And some of them we still sing today, and will today!

And we sing them to each other.

When you sing here, sing for the benefit of the people around you.

I really don’t care if it sounds good.

And you shouldn’t either.

Care if what you sing is good and if you mean it.

And care that the people around you hear good things.

About the Love of God, so rich and pure.
About how we are more than conquerors through Christ.
About how we can bless God in the good times and the bad times.
About how great is our God.

Sing!

And, of course, we sing to the Lord, as well.

He is the primary audience of our songs.

So many of our songs are prayers, as well.

We’ll do a whole sermon in this Gospel Roots series on prayer.

Because this church was built on prayer. It’s in our roots.

But one form of prayer is congregational singing.

Not just “How Great Is Our God”

but “How Great Thou Art.”

Sing that with me.

Then Sings My Soul
My Savior, God, to Thee.
How Great Thou Art
How Great Thou Art
Thing Sings My Soul
My Savior, God, to Thee.
How Great Thou Art
How Great Thou Art!

And the most important thing when singing it to God is to mean it.

That’s number two.

#2. SING YOUR HEART OUT.

And by that, I mean, sing from your heart out. Look again at verse 19.

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”

Or that could be translated, “with your heart.”

It’s not saying keep the singing inside. It’s saying that the singing needs to be inside and out.

But not just out.

You know, it’s possible to sing in church every Sunday and disobey verse 19.

The Pharisees did that. Jesus said that they worshiped God with their lips, but their  hearts were far from Him.

It starts in the heart.

It’s got to be in the heart.

Sing your heart out.

The Father is seeking worshipers who will worship in spirit and in truth.

God says again and again in His word that outward worship alone is false worship.

Where is your heart?

Now, you might say, “My heart is sad right now. And it’s hard to rejoice.”

I get that.

What’s wonderful is that there are all kinds of songs in our Bibles for Christians to sing when they feel sad or hurt or alone or scared.

Paul is not saying that we have to be happy all the time.

Think about those psalms! He said to speak the psalms to one another.

How about this psalm, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

That’s the first line of Psalm 13.

It’s really catchy, isn’t it?  Maybe we should sing it next Sunday.

Here’s the first line of Psalm 22. Which we’re going to study around Eastertime.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”

Do you know who else sang that one? On the Cross.

There are lots of songs for Christians to sing when they feel sad, alone, and scared.

We call them the songs of lament, and they are potent stuff.

Heather and I have a friend whose going through a really hard time right now. And she was struggling to pray. And I sent her Psalm 88 a few weeks ago. It’s the one that ends with “Darkness is my closest friend.” And she said, “That’s exactly how I feel.”

I love that the Bible has songs that express exactly how we feel. And they shape our prayers.

Sing from your heart. And sing your heart out.

I think the point that Paul is making is that we sing with our whole selves. We don’t just pretend and fake it. Sundays should not be fake.

We’ve got to mean it. And sing with our whole selves.

Number three:

#3. SING WITH AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE. That’s from verse 20.

“...always giving thanks to God the Father for everything...”

Notice it says, “always.” That’s constantly.

And it also says, “for everything” which means that there is always something to be thankful for in every situation, no matter how bad.

Because we know the truth of Romans 8:28 that God is working even the bad stuff to our good.

It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that the bad stuff is actually good stuff.

But it does mean that I can give thanks no matter what.

We give thanks today for 125 years of God’s faithfulness to our church.

6,500 Sundays of God’s faithfulness, week in and week out.

We can’t imagine all of the stories that could be told.

We’re just skimming the surface on a Sunday like this.

Every Sunday our songs should express thankfulness for God’s mercies because they are many.

Sing it with me.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Morning By Morning New Mercies I See
All I Have Needed Thy Hand Hath Provided
Great Is Thy Faithfulness Lord Unto Me.

Unto us.

You know that song isn’t very old. It was written in 1923.

Our church was already 31 years old when it came out.

And God’s mercies are much older than that.

We have every reason to give thanks to God every time we open our mouths to sing.

Especially because of Jesus. And that’s point number four.

#4. SING ABOUT, FOR, AND FROM JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED.

Verse 20. We do all of this singing, “...in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He’s what our singing is ultimately all about.

“In the name.”

That means under the auspices of.
It means authorized by.
It means the driving force behind.

It’s all about Jesus.

You know, you might think that our singing here is a broken record.

Because we keep singing about Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Hallelujah, What A Savior!
Lead Me to Calvary
Beneath the Cross of Jesus
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
The Old Rugged Cross
At the Cross
Calvary Covers It All
There Is Power in the Blood
Nothing But the Blood
There Is a Fountain
Wonderful Grace of Jesus
Grace Greater Than All My Sin
Amazing Grace
In Christ Alone

I could go on and on and on.

If we are a broken record, it’s because we’ve resolved to know “nothing while [we’re together] except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Just like those old Swedes who founded this church 125 years ago tomorrow.

They sang about, for, and from Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross.

They were Trinitarian Christians.

They were filled with the Spirit, so they sang songs giving thanks to the Father in the name of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

And we sing with them.

To each other, to the Lord, from our hearts with an attitude of gratitude, about, for, and from Jesus Christ forever and ever, amen.


****

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Iris


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

[Matt's Messages] “The Last King of Israel”

“The Last King of Israel”
The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
January 29, 2017 :: 2 Kings 17:1-41

When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, I was taught that 2 Kings 17 was one of the top 13 key chapters of the Old Testament.

My Old Testament professor gave us a list of 11 foundational books that told the Big Story of the Old Testament (hint: I’ve been preaching through them since 2003).

And we had to memorize one (and for some books 2) key chapters that captured the highpoints (or lowpoints) of the Old Testament storyline:

Genesis 12
Exodus 12 and 20
Numbers 14
Joshua 6
Judges 2
1 Samuel 8
2 Samuel 7
1 Kings 12
and 2 Kings 17

(as well as 2 Kings 25, and Ezra 6 and Nehemiah 6).

So this chapter contains one of the turning points of the whole Old Testament.

It’s been coming for some time, and it’s finally here.

It’s the story of the “The Last King of Israel.”

And it’s the story of Israel’s exile to Assyria.

2 Kings 17 is where the broken record for the northern kingdom finally skips off the turntable.

And we come to the end of that sad, sad song.

Unfortunately, the ending of the song is just as sad as the middle was.

2 Kings 17, verse 1.

“In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah [the last guy we read about last week], Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years.”

Here’s the guy. He starts out like every other one of them.

And we ask the big question.

Thumbs-up or thumbs-down?

Remember, he’s a king from the north, and they’ve all been?

Thumbs-down. V.2

“He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him. [Apparently, he wasn’t as bad though he had assassinated his predecessor.  But it was too little, too late. V.3] Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser's vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison.”

Do you see how the author keeps repeating the phrase, “the king of Assyria?”

Assyria just dominates in these chapters. It looms over everything.

King Hoshea had tried to switch sides. First by playing it both ways and then by switching over allegiances from Assyria to Egypt.

But it didn’t work. The newest king of Assyria got wind of this, condemned Hoshea for treachery and threw him into prison.

But even worse, he came and laid seize to Samaria (the capital of Israel) and then took the bulk of the people into exile. V.5

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

The people of Israel had to go into exile.

Mass deportation. From their own homeland.

We saw last week in chapter 15 that some had already been taken away.

But this was the bulk of the nation. Imagine if another nation beat our country in war and then moved just about our whole population to their country and moved some of their people here into our homes.

That’s what happened.

They had to leave their homes and be moved somewhere else.

Now the big question that this raises, of course, is WHY.

Why did this exile happen?

Was it because King Hoshea wasn’t a very good politician?
Was it because King Hoshea wasn’t a very good diplomat or military strategist?

Or was the reason a defect in Israel’s god?

I’m sure that Assyria thought that that was what it was.

Assyria’s gods were obviously more powerful than Israel’s god. Right?

This is a very sad thing. Why did this very sad thing happen?

I think that, in some ways, the entire Books of Kings were written to explain why this sad thing happened. V.7

“All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.”

Why did the exile happened?

Because Israel had sinned against the LORD.

Because they had bad kings who led the nation to do bad things.

It’s not that they weren’t smart or savvy or clever.

It’s that they didn’t love the Lord their God and lead the people to love Him, too.

They had just one job, and they failed it.

Now, I have four points this morning. And I want them all to be God-focused.

Because we can get stuck on the bad kings and the bad things, but this book is here to reveal our God to us.

The same God of the last king of Israel is the same God that we are worshiping here today.

And He is revealed in these pages.

Here’s point number one.

#1. THE LORD IS HOLY.

The God of 2 Kings 17 is a holy God.

Israel was choosing to sin against a God who was utterly holy.

You can only really sin against holiness.

You can’t really sin against sinfulness.

V.7 again. “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God,” [That was their mistake! And it was a sin of ungratefulness. Ingratitude. Because this was the God Who v.7] who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

This is one long story. They forgot their own story.

They forgot the Exodus. They forgot their rescue.

The ignored it.

A holy God had revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush and He had said, “Go get my people and bring them out. I’m going to rescue them and give them the Land I promised their Father Abraham.”

And He did!

And this is how they repay Him?!

Verses 8 through 12 are a quick summary of what we’ve reading about in these books since June.

There are no surprises here. The author just reminds us of the case against Israel. V.8

“They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them [in the book of Joshua], as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced [like Jeroboam son of Nebat!].The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right. [As if the Holy One of Israel couldn’t see?!] From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the LORD had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that provoked the LORD to anger. They worshiped idols, though the LORD had said, ‘You shall not do this.’”

In other words, they sinned against a holy God.

And made Him an angry God.

You see God is not naturally angry.

He is not by nature angry.

But He is by nature holy.

And that means that He must become angry when He encounters sin.

And that’s a good thing! You don’t want a god who feels ambivalent about bad things. You don’t.

When He see injustices: “Oh well. I hope that gets worked. Or not. Whatever.”

We all long for a God who is good. Perfectly good. Who loves what is right and hates what is evil. Who gets righteously angry about the right things.

Except when we’re the ones who are doing the sinning, of course.

Then we’re not so sure we’re happy that He’s holy.

But He is holy.

He is holy, holy, holy.

And that means this wickedness that the nation of Israel had perpetrated was going to provoke the LORD’s anger.

But not too quickly. Because:

#2. THE LORD IS PATIENT.

He took His time. V.13.

“The LORD warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.’”

He is patient. He’s longsuffering.

He warns them.

That’s why 1 Kings and 2 Kings feel so long. Like they just go on and on.

It’s because the LORD is being patient.

He’s sending prophets with warnings.

Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea.

“Turn!” “Shuv!” “Repent!”

“Come back to me!”

God does not have a hair trigger.

He is not just waiting for a chance to pounce on unbelievers.

“Ha! Caught you!”

No, “Turn! Don’t go there! Come back!”

See God is both holy and patient.

Most of us want God to be either one or the other.

Sometimes we want God to be patient with us and righteously angry with someone else.

But God is perfect holy and perfectly patient.

Same God in the New Testament.

2 Peter 3, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

He’s holy. You need repentance. He’s seeking repentance from sin. “Turn.”

But He’s allowing time. He’s longsuffering. He’s patient. V.14

“But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the LORD their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them [warning after warning after warning]. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

Think about that for a second.

There’s a biblical principle at work here that we become like what we worship.

Have you ever thought about that?

If you truly worship the Lord, you will become like Him.

But the opposite is true, too. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.

You are what you eat.
You are what you dream.
You are what you think about.

You become what you worship.

So be careful what you worship.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. V.15

“They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do,’ and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do.”

They were supposed to be holy!

They were supposed to be different.

You and I are supposed to be holy and different, too.

Do we stand out from the world around us or do we do the exact same things they do?

Are we just as angry, just as scared, just as mean, just as impatient, just as unforgiving?

Or do we stand out as loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, self-controlled?

Do we chase after the same gods as the world does?

You become what you worship. V.16

“They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts [astrology], and they worshiped Baal. They [even] sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger.”

There was an end.

He was patient. But His patience is perfectly long and no longer.

Because He’s holy. V.18

“So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence [what a sentence]. Only the tribe of Judah was left, and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced.”

That’s a little foreshadowing of what’s to come in the rest of this book.

Judah is behind Israel in badness, but they’re following and catching up.

But Israel is basically no more. V.20

“Therefore the LORD rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.

[And just in case you’re still wondering why this happened, he goes over it again.]

When he tore Israel away from the house of David, they made Jeroboam son of Nebat their king. Jeroboam enticed Israel away from following the LORD and caused them to commit a great sin. The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them until the LORD removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.”

We would say, “At the time of writing they are still there.”

Do you remember the prophet Ahijah?

I’ll bet you don’t.

Not Elijah, not Elisha, but Ahijah.

He is the one that Jeroboam’s wife went to see in disguise.

But he just greeted her at the door. He knew who she was.

He told her that this was going to happen. That Israel would go into exile.

1 Kings chapter 14.

But He waited about 200 years to do it.

The LORD is patient.

Take comfort in that. And use the time that God allows to reach people for Jesus’ sake.

Because He’s being patient right now with the world.

But don’t mistake it for slowness or weakness, especially moral weakness, in God.

God is holy and He will not be patient forever.

The very next verse in 2 Peter 3 after telling us that God is patient tells us that the day of the Lord will come like a thief.

He can move fast when He wants to. At the right time.

Don’t mistake His patience for complacency.

Israel refused to repent. They persisted in their sins. And they came back to land on them.

Israel went into exile.

Now this next part of the story is interesting history but it’s really sad, too.

Because the king of Assyria didn’t just take the Israeli people out of Israel, he resettled pagan people back in it. V.24

“The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. [There He goes with the lions again. You never know when there might be a lion attack in the Books of Kings.]

It was reported to the king of Assyria: ‘The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.’ [Interesting that these pagans are more concerned with God’s requirements than God’s people had been with God’s requirements!]

Then the king of Assyria gave this order: ‘Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.’ So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.”

Now, how good a job do you think they did of that?

These northern priests weren’t worth very much before the exile.

And I doubt they were that great now. Look where they settled. Bethel. That’s one of the sites of the golden calves, right?

I don’t think they’ve learned their lesson.

Here’s the lesson they should have learned:

#3. THE LORD IS JEALOUS.

What is the first commandment?

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

How’re they doing at that one? Not so good.

And these people now in the land don’t do very well either. V.29

“Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. The men from Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men from Cuthah made Nergal, and the men from Hamath made Ashima; the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.

[Notice it says that they made these gods. Let me tell you: any god that you can make is worthless. V.32]

They worshiped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither [truly] worship the LORD nor adhere to the decrees and ordinances, the laws and commands that the LORD gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he named Israel. [They had just one job and they failed it. V.35]

When the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: ‘Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. You must always be careful to keep the decrees and ordinances, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. [Do you sense a theme here?] Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship the LORD your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.’

They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.”

And that, my friends, is why they are in exile. Why they are in trouble.

Because the LORD is jealous. He will not give His glory to another.

You know what the application is of that?

“Do not worship other gods.”

We still need to be told that today.

Nobody worships Succoth Benoth or Nergal or Ashima or Nibhaz or Tartak today.

But they do worship Money, Pleasure, Power, Popularity, Security, Pride, Possession.

The apostle John said to New Testament Christians, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

“Do not worship other gods.”

One of the biggest reasons why we have the Old Testament is to show us how zealous God is for His own glory and to warn us to put Him absolutely first in our affections and worship.

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

Jesus replied: ‘'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'

This is the first and greatest commandment’” (Matthew 22:36-38).

In other words, “Do not worship other gods.”

What are the other gods that you are tempted to worship today?

What are idols of the heart that threaten to capture your attention and capsize your walk with the Lord?

Don’t wait. Topple them. Fight them. Kill them. Destroy them.

Take a chain saw to that Asherah pole. Don’t give it a foothold.

Don’t “persist” in your sins like these folks did. It only led to grief.

I’ve got one more point for you.

I know we’re out of text in chapter 17.

But I haven’t told you yet about the last king of Israel.

Because it wasn’t Hoshea even though he was the last Hebrew king there for a very long time.

The next human person in the Bible to be called the King of Israel doesn’t come until the New Testament.

Can you guess who it is?

It’s Jesus, right?

John chapter 1, Nathanael coming to realize it and declare it, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Or on Palm Sunday, as the crowds swelled around him, they shouted, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"

Here’s point number four. It needs to stay in the mix. Because it’s the rest of the story.

#4. THE LORD IS LOVING.

He’s on the hunt for people to show His love to.

You know what they came to call these people that lived up north in the former Israel. The few that were left behind after the exile who married into the people that got moved in?

Do you know what they called those people that lived around Samaria?

They are the Samaritans, right?

And remember when the Lord Jesus came through Samaria. He had to come through Samaria?

And He met a woman by a well in Sychar?

And He showed Her the love of God.

And He told her that the Father was seeking worshipers.

God was on the hunt for people to show His love to.

And she got it. She realized this was the Messiah they had been waiting for.

And like her whole town came to believe in Him.

And they said, “we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Jesus is the last king of Israel. And He’s all the king that Israel will ever need.

2 Kings 17, while important, is not the end of the story.

It’s not the end of the story for the Books of Kings.

And it’s certainly not the end of the Bigger Story that it’s a part of.

2 Kings 17 ends badly and sadly.

But the Bigger Story does not.

In the Bigger Story, the King of Kings comes and makes everything all right.

The King of Kings comes and gets recognized by some as the true King of Israel.

But others reject Him as the King of Israel and send Him to be Cross.

On the Cross, they make fun of Him for claiming to be the King of Israel.

But three days later He proves that He is.

He comes back from the dead.

And one day, He will come back again from heaven as the rightful heir of all of the promises, including the promises to David and be the King that Israel always needed.

Because the LORD is loving.

He’s not just holy, He’s not just patient. He’s not jealous.

He is all of those things. Perfectly.

That’s why we need the Cross.

Why we need Evangelism.

Why we need repentance and faith.

But He is also loving. Perfectly so.

And He’s on the hunt for people to enjoy His love forever.

Jesus is the King of Kings.


***

Messages in this Series:

01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD
10. The LORD Lives
11. The LORD Is God!
12. The LORD Is Still God.
13. “You Will Know that I am the LORD”
14. "Thus Saith the LORD!"
15. What the LORD Says
16. Is There No God in Israel?
17. Where Is the God of Elijah?
18. How NOT To Relate to God
19. God of Wonders
20. No God in the All the World Except in Israel
21. LORD, Open Our Eyes!
22. "If the LORD Should Open the Floodgates of Heaven"
23. "I Will Avenge the Blood of My Servants"
24. "Long Live the King!"
25. God Is Good Even When the King Is Bad
26. “Good Kings, Bad Kings, Good Things, Bad Things”

My 2017 Annual Report for Lanse Free Church

Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God
by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ
through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2016

Dear Church Family,

It is a joy to be your pastor. Thank you for giving me the privilege to serve as a shepherd among and alongside you these many years. I am grateful to be able to give an overview of the highlights of the last year from a pastor’s perspective.

If I had to sum up 2016 in a word, it would be “missional.” The overarching theme for 2016 was that we, as a church, are “Sent on a Mission.” In our first Sunday message of the year, we went back to the Great Commission to remind ourselves what we are all about as a church. Our message is the gospel, and our mission is to make disciples–people who have a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We are sent to be disciples and to make disciples both here and around the world.

This theme of being sent pervaded our ministry this year. Our new Sunday School curriculum, “The Gospel Project,” calls us each week to make missional applications to our daily life. On Mother’s Day, my sermon was about “mission-minded moms” who mother disciples of all nations. We tried to envision how all of our callings in life feed into this mission. Our youth got a triple-dose of “missionalness” at the 2016 Challenge Conference where the theme was “Live Sent” and the mission was tied to our relationship with the Triune God. Because God is Father, Son, and Spirit, we are a family of servant missionaries. And on Christmas, the last Sunday of the year, we were reminded that our mission comes from Jesus’ mission. Jesus was sent to us so that we might live in Him and love like Him.

And we didn’t just talk about it in 2016, we lived it out. We sent John Forcey and Roper Houston back to Oaxaca to minister to the people there. We reached out to our community with a (rebooted) Wild Game Dinner, Family Bible Week, and Good News Cruise. We sent people each week back into their workplaces, families, schools, and neighborhoods to be salt and light and snap up opportunities to make disciples of the people around them. We continued to offer week-to-week discipleship programs aimed at growing children, youth, and adults in a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We had a dedicated group of prayer warriors that prayed each Wednesday and also at monthly Harvest Prayer Times, especially for lost people. And we sent thousands of dollars out to mobilize missions near and far–including two new missionary families, whom our church adopted this year. Read the stories from our various ministries in the rest of this annual report to get a taste of all the ways in which God has been using us in His grand plan. We are learning together to live sent and stay on mission for Him.

As your pastor, I am grateful for each and every one of you, especially those folks who give of their time, treasure, and talents to serve the church in leadership roles. I’m thankful for every elected officer, appointed leader, staff person, and ministry volunteer who sacrifice a lot to see our church family succeed in our shared mission (their names are sprinkled throughout this report but some still succeed in hiding anonymously behind the curtain–you know who you are!). In particular, I’m thankful for our 2016 Elder Team for their investment of heart and soul in leadership, for Marilynn Kristofits with her tireless devotion to “administry,” and to our second year intern, Hunter Galley, who learned a lot of new things about leadership and service last Summer.

It was a joy to have Hunter back for a second year as an intern, especially as it culminated in Hunter preaching his first public sermon. Hunter also led the youth to the Challenge Conference and facilitated a great deal of the work for Family Bible Week. I’m excited to see how the Lord will use Hunter in the years to come.

Our church took on seven new members this year. I’m sure the Lord will use them in special ways in the coming days. In spite of our membership growth, our average attendance at worship on Sundays dropped to 139 people (down from 143 the previous year). The highest attended gathering was Resurrection Sunday with 253 people worshiping our Risen Lord.

Pastoral Ministry

Here are some of the highlights from the three main areas of my pastoral ministry in 2016:

Preach the Word

We finished Romans! After my surgery, it seemed like it might never happen, but we completed our 37 message series on the letter to the Romans in February. In March, we focused on the Cross of Christ with a short series called “Jesus Paid It All.” For the remainder of the year, we returned to our long term trek through the Big Story of the Bible finding the Lord Jesus Christ in “The King of Kings in the Books of Kings” which I expect we’ll complete sometime early this year. During Advent, we meditated on the prediction of the Messiah in Isaiah 11 and got to contemplate Jesus as “The Root and Shoot of Jesse.” It’s a great privilege to teach and preach the Word of God to you.

In the course of the year, I also got to share God’s Word with the West Branch Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Time-Out Student Ministry at UP-Johnstown, Hope Church in Spencer Iowa, the West Branch Lenten Luncheon group, the 75th annual conference of CLC USA, the Father & Son Retreat at Miracle Mountain Ranch, and the Deep & Wide Conference at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Deep Creek, Maryland.

I’m thankful that whenever I was out of the pulpit, we had good men it. Keith Maurer, Dave Learish, Henoc Lucien, Chris Grella, Tim McGill, Hunter Galley, Tim McIntosh, Mark Brenner, Donnie Rosie, and Jeff Powell faithfully shared God’s message with us on Sundays in 2016.

Equip the Saints

A big part of my job is meeting with church leaders to help them do their ministry. It’s not very glamorous activity–attending meetings, listening to concerns, coordinating communications–but the church is people, so it’s incredibly important.  I’m thankful that I don’t do all of the ministry; I help the church family do the ministry.

In 2016, I started meeting with a new cohort of church leaders (1 elder, 2 facilities team members) for spiritual leadership training. We are learning together about sound doctrine and biblical counseling principles. I’m excited about the closer working relationship that is developing between the Elders and the Facilities Team and enjoyed attending a good number of the Facilities Team meetings in 2016. And I taught my first preaching class with three eager students.

I also got to equip folks beyond our local church, especially through EFCA-related district and national ministries. In 2016, I continued to chair the Allegheny District Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinate the Stay Sharp theology conference, and attend a regional pastors’ group. I continued to serve as the book review coordinator for EFCA Now for whom I also wrote a book review article on preaching (which referenced Hunter’s sermon). Our own Schenley Pilgram also wrote a book review for EFCA Now that I got to coordinate and promote. I continued to serve as a member of the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee and attend the EFCA Theology Conference last January in Iowa. Thank you for encouraging me to have a broader ministry on both regional and national levels.

I’m also encouraged that my book, Resisting Gossip, continues to be used in ministry internationally, as well. It was already out in English, Spanish, and French, and in 2016, it was translated into Russian and Korean to be made available very soon to readers in Belarus and Korea.

Shepherd the Flock

My favorite part of pastoral ministry is walking side by side with people in personal relationships. It’s a great privilege to come alongside you in the good times and in the bad.

In 2016, I had the opportunity to spend personal time with just about every family in the church–whether it be counseling, discipleship, or visitation. My favorite kind of pastoral visit is getting to meet a newborn in the hospital, and we had a big bunch this year (7!).  It’s not as fun, but it’s just as significant to walk alongside grieving families. In 2016, I also got to officiate at the wedding of Lucas & Ashley Kristofits and baptize both Hunter Galley and Aspen Galley on Resurrection Sunday. What a privilege it is to be a people-shepherd!

Thank You for Your Prayers

Thank you for praying for me and for my family and walking alongside us. This year, Heather was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and we appreciate all of your support and prayers for us as we adjust to these new realities. We’re thankful, especially, for the Pastoral Prayer Team who receive regular email updates and intercede for us at the throne of grace. It’s a joy to be your pastor!

Vision for 2017

This year, we are celebrating 125 years of God’s faithfulness to us as a church. Our congregation was founded on February 13, 1892, and we are going to mark this milestone throughout the year.

In February, we’ll eat cake to celebrate our 125th birthday, and then in October we’ll have a special weekend to observe the special anniversary more extensively. President Kevin Kompelien and his wife Becky are going to visit us and bring a special message from the EFCA national office. We will have an open house and some special meetings planned by our church historian and her team. I look forward to a time of remembrance with some of the people who have made us who we are today.

The best way to honor those on whose shoulders we stand is to recommit to the fundamental values that have formed and shaped us as a church for a century and a quarter. I call those values our “Gospel Roots” and plan to preach an episodic sermon series that revisits our spiritual DNA throughout 2017. My hope is that we not only look backward in gratitude but also understand better who we are today and look forward to a gospel-centered missional future.

The first and most central of our Gospel Roots is the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In 2017, we are making the same commitment as did the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2–“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Whether in upcoming big events such as the Louisiana Missions Trip (March 12-18), Wild Game Dinner with Zeke Pipher (March 18-19), Family Bible Week (July 10-13, 16), and Good News Cruise (August 20) or in the ongoing weekly ministries, in all that we do, we want Jesus Christ to be known and get the glory He deserves.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt