Sunday, September 23, 2007

Matt's Messages - Real Christians Really Love God

“Real Christians Really Love God”
Real Christians
September 23, 2007
Ephesians 6:24

Last Sunday, we began a new series of messages that we’re calling “Real Christians.”

“Real Christians” is a study of what the Bible says about genuine, authentic Christians. What they are, what they do, what they love, what characterizes real (as opposed to false or fake or phony) Christians.

Are you a Real Christian?

Last week, we learned the first and most important mark of a real Christian.

Can anybody tell me what it is?

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel!

The good news of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and risen again for the forgiveness of sins and the sure hope of eternal life–all a gift of God’s grace, not earned by works but given by the sovereign grace of God to sinners like you and me.

That is the gospel, and it is “of first importance” needing to be received, stood upon, and held firm.

All Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

And then that gospel changes us.

There is a before and an after for all real Christians.

Once we were God’s enemies, objects of His wrath.

But now, through the gospel, we have become reconciled to God.

And that has changed our status, our standing before God, and it also changes our hearts.

Today, I want to talk about the first and most important heart-change that the Real Gospel effects within all Real Christians.

And it is this:


Now, maybe that sounds obvious to you. Probably a lot of the things I’m going to say this Fall will sound obvious to you, because we are going “back to basics.” Remember, “This is a football.” from last week?

Well, “this is what is real in the hearts of all Real Christians:” Real Christians Really Love God.

The real gospel makes real changes in real Christians.

And the first is that we go from being enemies of God (even if we didn’t know we were) to being His friends.

We go from being haters of God to lovers of God.

The gospel changes our relationship with God to that of a love relationship.

A relationship with God that is characterized by mutual love.

Receiving and knowing and experiencing the love of God for us and responding in genuine love back to and for Him.

That’s why our purpose statement as a church says we “exist to glorify God by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ is God the Son and the Way we can have a love relationship with God.

Real Christians Really Love God.

Now, let’s see that in our verse for today. Ephesians chapter 6, verse 24 is the Apostle Paul’s farewell statement to the Ephesian church.

He says, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

Paul is signing off with this last sentence in his letter. And it is not a farewell to just some of the believers in Ephesus. It is a farewell to all of them. V.24
“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”
Paul believes that all the Real Christians at Ephesus had a love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is true for all genuine believers throughout the Bible. For example, 1 Peter 1:8 says that most real Christians have never seen the Lord, but they love Him. And Romans 8:28 says that all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes. That’s all real Christians all are called all love Him. And James 1:12 says that God has promised “the crown of life” to all who love Him.

Real Christians Really Love God.

By “really” I mean two things.

First, that this love is real, as opposed to fake, false, or phony.

The King James translates this verse, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Truly. Really.

But I think the NIV gets the sense of the word here even better in saying “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

The Greek word here has the sense of immortality and incorruptibility.

The NASB translates it, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible.”

Real Christians Really Love God, especially God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

They love Him with an “undying love.”


Why do we love Him?

The Bible says we love God “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

We love Him because of the Gospel.

Notice this: Real Christians really love God, not because they are such good people who are just naturally full of lots of love for their Creator, but because even though they were rebel enemies of God, God chose to love them first.

And God so loved his rebel enemies that He gave His One and Only Son that whosoever believes in Him and what He did on the Cross, the real gospel, will not perish but have everlasting life!

We love God because He first loved us.

And not only that, we love God because He is so lovable!

We, in our fallen condition, were not lovable, but God loved us anyways.

But God is imminently lovable.

He is good. He is perfect. He is holy. He is glorious. He is beautiful. He is wonderful. He is sweet. He is precious. He is a magnificent treasure that is worth all praise and love.

God is absolutely lovable!

That’s why the first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, all your strength!

Because He’s worth that kind of love! He’s worth absolute love!

And when we love Him, we get grace. Isn’t that Paul’s wish and prayer as he ends this inspired letter of Holy Scripture?

“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

Grace comes to those who love the Lord Jesus Christ with this kind of love.

All Real Christians Really Love God.

Not perfectly. Not fully. Not absolutely.

But really. Genuinely. Actually.

All Real Christians Really Love God.

Or there will be Hell to pay.

Do you believe that? Do you believe that someone can be a real Christian and not love God? Hate Him? Feel indifferent about Him? Not care about Him?

Listen to how the apostle Paul ends his first letter to the Corinthians:

“If anyone does not love the Lord–a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!”

Paul is saying that a curse will rest on someone who does not love the Lord!

Love for God is not an optional thing. It is essential. It is necessary.

It is the necessary outworking of the saving faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you don’t have real love for God, you don’t really believe the gospel.

The demons believe the real gospel but they don’t love the Lord!

Eternal life is at stake here.

“If anyone does not love the Lord–a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!”


“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

Those are the only two choices.

So, how do I know if I really love the Lord?

What does this kind of real love look like?

Because there are a lot of people who are deceived or are trying to deceive others.

There are a lot of people who like to think of themselves as real Christians, but they have no real love for God.

So, how do I know if I really love the Lord?

Well, a lot of things could be said, but I can think of four biblical themes that would point towards a genuine love for the Lord. Four marks of real love.

And they are true for all relationships. If we truly love someone, these things will be present in our relationships.

And here’s the first one: A THIRST FOR FELLOWSHIP.

What I mean by that is that if I really love God, I will want to be with Him.

I will desire His presence.

I will want to know Him: what He is like, what He likes, what He dislikes, what He wants, what He thinks.

I will want to communicate with Him, talk to Him, listen to Him, relate to Him in a personal way.

I will want intimacy with God. That is, I will want to spend time with Him.

I will want His fellowship.

The book of 1 John is a great book for telling the difference between real and fake Christians. One of the biggest reasons why John wrote the book was to help Christians to really know that they had eternal life.

Listen to what John says in the first chapter, verse 3: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”


Real Christians have a thirst for fellowship with God.

They want to be with Him. They desire God.

Real Christians sing with David the words of Psalm 42.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Does that describe the inclination of your heart?


This glass of water stands for this point.

Imagine being a deer in the wilderness, thirsty for some water.

Maybe the deer is on the run. Chased by hunters who are out for its blood.

And there is no water in sight.

Thirst racks his body. He pants for the water.

My wife likes to say that Psalm 42 describes a deadly thirst for the living God.

Do you have that? Do you really love God?

Now, that thirst may be stronger some days than others. But if you have no thirst to be with God and to know God and to grow in a relationship with God, I would question whether you believe the real gospel at all. And I can give you no assurance that you are saved.

But there is “[g]race to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

The whole point of the gospel is to get us to God. If we don’t care to get to God, we haven’t understood the gospel.

My favorite author, John Piper, wrote a book called God is the Gospel. And what He meant was that if we want to be saved without knowing the Savior, if we want to get to heaven without getting to the King of Heaven, if we want to escape Hell but we don’t care about loving God, we aren’t saved. We don’t get it. We aren’t there yet.

The whole point of the gospel is to get us to God.

And Real Christians believing the Real Gospel Really Love God.

They have a thirst for His fellowship.

Several times this Fall, I’ve asked the question, “Do you have a regular appointment to meet with God?” A time to read His word and a time to pray?

Do you have a regular appointment to meet with God? When is the next time?

Some people call this “quiet times.” But they can be rather noisy! I recommend that!

Some people come them devotions.

But I don’t just mean a time when you go through the motions.

But a time when you meet with God.

Real Christians have a thirst for that!

But that’s not all.

That’s not all that love for God is. It is not just emotional. [It’s not LESS THAN emotional! But it’s not just emotional.]

Some people think that if you have some “private warm-fuzzies” for Jesus then that’s all there is to loving Him.

Maybe if you think nice thoughts about Jesus then you love the Lord.

But that’s not all.

Here’s number two: A DESIRE FOR OBEDIENCE.

Real love is not just a thirst for fellowship; it’s also a desire for obedience.

1 John 5:3 says, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.”

Jesus said it this way: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”


I’m going to put out this coach’s whistle as a symbol for this point.

When the coach blows this whistle, the players get busy doing what he asks.


If you want to know if someone loves God, you look for a thirst for fellowship with God and a desire to obey God.

Now, why did I say that this is true of all love relationships?

It’s not because all love relationships include obedience.

It’s because in all love relationships, there is a desire to please the person being loved.

A desire to do what makes them happy.

And that’s why we obey the Lord. Not out of unthinking, slavish duty, but out of thanksgiving for His grace and out of a desire to please Him.

And more than that, out of desire to be like Him.

Whatever we love, we desire to be like. Have you ever noticed that?

Anyone you truly love, you will desire to be like them.

That’s why obedience for us is being like Jesus.

And if we really love Jesus, we will desire to obey what He commands.

What has He commanded? You can find it in the pages of this book.

He commands a lot of things:
Water Baptism
Love for Enemies
Hard Work on the Job
Sharing the Gospel
Forgiving Those Who Sin Against Us
Studying the Bible

Real Christians do these things (and a whole lot more) not trying to earn their way to Heaven, but because the gospel has changed their hearts and given them a real love for God.

Do you have a desire for obedience?

Not a perfect desire. Not an absolute desire.

Not perfect obedience.

But a desire to obey. A desire to please the Lord.

A desire to become like Him by doing what He says to do.

When God blows His whistle, do you want to get busy?

If you don’t have any desire to obey the Lord, I don’t believe that you love Him.

It may be that you have a loved one or an acquaintance that claims to love God. If they don’t exhibit a changed life from disobedience to obedience, they are just fooling themselves.

Real Christians Really Love the Lord with a Desire for Obedience.

Is there something right now that the Lord is asking for you to do, but you have been neglecting His commands?

Love Him. Obey Him.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

The third mark of real love is a HATE FOR HIS ENEMIES.

Did you know that God’s children are supposed to hate?

Yes, we are. We are to hate what God hates.

God has enemies, and they are to be our enemies, as well.

Here are three categories of enemies for you:

The WORLD, the FLESH, and the DEVIL.

The External, Internal, and Infernal enemies of the believer.

The WORLD is the world-system, societies’ coalition against God and His ways. 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone lvoes the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Now, that doesn’t mean to not love the created world or to not love people trapped in the world’s system with a holy love that shares the gospel with them.

But it does mean that I should be opposed to everything in the world that is opposed to God.

The FLESH is my internal enemy. It is the remaining corruption left over since the Lord came into my life. It is my sin-nature. It is the “old me” that is still squating in residence in my heart. My indwelling sin.

But the FLESH is not the real me now. It is not the truest thing about me. And I am to put it to death. I am to hate it.


Let’s let this toy gun symbolize this hate of God’s enemies.

I’m not supposed to make any provision for the flesh. But if I love God, I will hate my own sin and try to put it to death.

Of course, a sword and a shield would be a better symbol.

Especially of hating our infernal enemy: the DEVIL.

Satan is not our friend. He hates us and wants to eat us for lunch.

But we can stand firm against Him with the Armor of God.

And all who truly love God will. Do you hate His enemies?

And #4 (and last). Real Love for God is marked by...

A Thirst for Fellowship
A Desire for Obedience
A Hate for His Enemies


1 John 4:20 says “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

We’re going to talk about that again in two weeks. Real Christians Really Love People.

But it’s important to see here that the two things are linked.

If we truly love God, we will not only hate what God hates, but we will love whom God loves.

So, if we look at our own lives and see no genuine love for other believers, we need to ask whether or not we are really believers ourselves.

One morning after Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberius.

They had a fish breakfast on the shore and nobody was happier to see Jesus than Peter.

But Peter had denied Jesus three times.

He hadn’t loved Jesus.

He hadn’t wanted to be with Him during His trial.
He hadn’t obeyed Him by staying awake and taking up his cross.
He hadn’t hated His enemies.
And he hadn’t loved His friends.

He had abandoned Jesus and denied that he even knew Him.

After they finished eating, three times Jesus asked him:

“Do you really love me?”

And each time, Peter said yes.

And Jesus said, “Okay. Show me. Feed my sheep (that is, love my people) and follow me.”

I think that Jesus is asking us the same question today:

“Do you really love me?”

If so:

“You’ll have thirst for fellowship with me. Let’s get together. Get to know me.
You’ll have a desire to obey me. Do what I command.
You’ll have a hate for my enemies. Don’t compromise with the world, don’t give in to the flesh, don’t listen to the devil.
And you’ll have a love for my friends. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because I first loved you.”

Friday, September 21, 2007

Of First Importance

Here's a newer blog that is good for keeping the Main Thing the main thing:

Of First Importance: Living Each Day in the Good of the Gospel

It's a daily quote about the gospel and its implications for life. Good stuff.

Today's quote is from J. Gresham Machen:

The Cross of Christ is certainly a noble example of self-sacrifice; but if it be only a noble example of self-sacrifice, it has no comfort for burdened souls; it certainly shows how God hates sin; but if it does nothing but show how God hates sin, it only deepens our despair; it certainly exhibits the love of God, but if it does nothing but exhibit the love of God it is a mere meaningless exhibition which seems unworthy of God.

Many things are taught us by the Cross; but the other things are taught us only if the really central meaning is preserved, the central meaning upon which all the rest depends.

On the cross the penalty of our sins was paid; it is as though we ourselves had died in fulfillment of the just curse of the law; the handwriting of ordinances that was against us was wiped out; and henceforth we have an entirely new life in the full favor of God.

[HT: JT]

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Matt's Messages - Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel

“Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel”
Real Christians
September 16, 2007
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Today, we’re going to begin a new sermon series that will last throughout the Fall.

I’m calling it, “Real Christians.”

What I want to do with our times together this Fall, is to remind ourselves of the basics of the Christian life.

“Real Christians” is going to be a sermon series on the basics of Christian discipleship–what it means to follow Jesus by faith. It’s going to be a set of sermons that lay out the basic practices, actions, commitments and attitudes of genuine believers.

Each message will be something that Real Christians do. So it will be very application and action-oriented.

I think that there will be, in each message, something for everyone.

Because, I want us all, every last one of us, to be Real Christians.

Genuine, authentic, honest-to-goodness, verifiable, bona fide Christians.

And God tell us in His Word what Real Christians are like.

He also tells us what fake Christians are like. And we’ll see that, too, as we go along.

Hopefully, we’ll learn better how to spot a counterfeit Christian as we study Real Christians.

And I also hope to have several testimonies and stories of Real Christians throughout history that illustrate the principles and practices that we are going to learn about.

This is football season, and most football fanatics have heard of Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi was the famous coach of the Green Bay Packers. [I know, they don’t hold a candle our Pittsburgh Steelers!]

The story goes that the team had done miserably for years before Vince Lombardi was hired along as the coach.

And at his first practice with his new team, Lombardi gathered them all together and said, “Men, today we’re going back to the basics. This is a football.”

And then he proceeded to tell them what a football could do. How in the game of football it could be snapped, passed, kicked, and caught. And then he reminded them about the lines on the field and how to score a touchdown. What the rules were. All of the basics. And as I understand it, he continued to do this every year at the start of the season. Even after they started winning championships.

I’m hoping that as we study “Real Christians” we are reminded of the basics of the faith.

“This is a Bible.”
“This is the Cross.”
“This is the Church.”

And so forth. And being reminded, we are all motivated to get into the game and really start winning.

The first and most important mark of a Christian is this:


Let’s read 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1 through 11. This is from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
Notice in verse 1 that Paul says that he wants to “remind” them of the gospel.

They needed reminding. And so do we.

We must be reminded again and again of the gospel.

Because it is the Main Thing.

And as I’ve said before, the Main Thing Is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

If you don’t get anything else out of my preaching, I hope that you get the importance of the gospel.

The gospel is the most important thing in the Christian life. Paul says in verse 3 that it is of “first importance!”

And so, Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

Everybody believes some gospel. Did you know that?

“Gospel” means “good news.” And really, it means the “best news.” The news that everyone needs to hear. The news that changes everything.

It is the answer to the problems of humanity and the problems of the world.

And everybody believes in some gospel.

Some people believe in the gospel of medicine. If we can only get the right medicine into the right hands, the world would be saved.

Some people believe in the gospel of education. If we can could just educate everyone, the world would be saved.

Some people believe the gospel of self-esteem. If everyone could just see how good they are down deep inside, then the world would be almost perfect.

Some people believe the gospel of money. If I just had enough money, I’d be happy. And if everyone had enough money, the haves gave to the have-nots, then the world would be a good place.

Some people believe in the gospel of world religions. The good news according to Buddha or Mohammed or Hinduism or Shintoism or some cult. Most of those gospels boil down to the gospel of being good. If you are good (however defined), you can earn salvation for yourself.

Everybody believes in some gospel, even if their good news doesn’t seem so good.

But Paul has taught these Christians a particular gospel. V.1

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you [a particular one], which you received and on which you have taken your stand.”

This is the Real Gospel. And all Real Christians believe it.

I want you to notice three things about this Real Gospel:


“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

“By this gospel you are saved...”

God uses the gospel to save sinners like you and me.

Romans 1:16 says that the gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...”

It isn’t just good news. It is good news that saves people from their sins.

How does it do that? Look at verse 3.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...”

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead.

The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ death.

Now, why would we be glad that Jesus died? Because of these three words in verse 3, “for our sins.”

Jesus’ death was not an ordinary death. It was a sacrificial death.

Jesus died on the Cross as our substitute. He died the death that we should die.

He died “for our sins.”

And since He died for them, we don’t have to!

Isn’t that good news?! It’s the best news!

Because believing in that news will get you saved. It’s a saving gospel.

But you do have to believe it. V.2 again.

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

And they keep believing it. The proof that the Corinthians’ faith was genuine was that they stuck with it. Paul doesn’t have a category for believers who do not believe!

Now, don’t think that this means that your salvation is only as strong as your ability to keep believing. If you are a true child of God, then He has committed His vast and powerful resources to keep you believing.

But if you stop believing, if you no longer hold firmly to the word preached to you, you can have very little assurance that your faith was genuine in the first place. A faith that gives up on the Gospel is not a saving faith at all. It is “in vain.”

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

And they are saved. Because sin is the greatest problem in the universe. The greatest problem of every person and the greatest problem of the planet.

And only the Real Gospel addresses the real problems of our planet.

No other gospel will do.

The second thing I want you to notice is that (#2) the Real Gospel is a RELIABLE GOSPEL.

By that, I mean that is historical and verifiable. It comes to us through witnesses.

The first set of witnesses was the Scriptures. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Paul is appealing to the witness of the Old Testament which predicted the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah.

The Corinthians accepted the Old Testament, especially passages like Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Those words were written 800 years BEFORE Jesus was born. The United States of America is 231 years old. Go back in time 3½ times that long! 800 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah said that He would die for our sins.

Second was the witness of eyewitnesses. V.5.

“[And I passed on to you that] he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles...” Stop there for a second.

Eyewitnesses. The Corinthians heard that this gospel was not just a hallucination or a lie. It was verifiable history. Eyewitnesses had seen His death, and (more importantly) eyewitnesses had seen Jesus alive again! Over 500 at one time! And many of those were still alive to give personal, eyewitness testimony at this point.

If 500 people had the same facts straight in a court of law in our nation today, the evidence would be overwhelming!

This gospel is factual. It is historical. It is verifiable according to the dictates of historicity. Anyone who says anything different simply DOESN’T want to believe it.

If you are not yet a Real Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ this morning, you need to seriously consider the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, I want to challenge you to read a good book that outlines the facts. One of the best is called the Case for Christ. If you promise to read it, I’ll buy you one.

This last week, I’ve been reading a book called, Can We Trust the Gospels: Examining the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

And the answer is, “Absolutely, Yes!”

The Real Gospel is a Reliable Gospel.

Third, was the abnormal eyewitness of Paul. V.8

“...and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

All these other resurrection appearances were before Jesus’ ascension into heaven. But Jesus made a special trip to call Paul on the Damascus road!

The word for “abnormally born” here was used of miscarried fetuses. Babies that were born pre-maturely. Here Paul is saying that he was spiritually born POST-maturely. This was not the usual way of saving someone or calling them into the apostleship. It was abnormal, especially in its timing.

But he had seen the risen Christ and Christ had appointed him to be an apostle. V.9

“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

You see, Paul was not just ambivalent about Jesus, until he met Him face to face, he thought that Jesus was a BAD THING for Israel. He used to believe a different gospel! And he was willing to kill for it.

But one day, Paul got knocked off his donkey by the glory of Jesus Christ and was called to be an apostle of His grace.

God’s grace reaches down to the worst sinner. If He could save Paul, He can save you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your sin is too big for Him to handle. The blood of Jesus is the most powerful “cleansing agent” in the universe. It can wash you clean, as well.

His grace is so powerful! It could turn a persecutor into an apostle. Imagine what He can do with you!
And that’s the last thing I want you to see about this gospel.


The Real Gospel is a Gospel of Grace.

That is to say that it is a gospel that comes as a gift.

It isn’t a gospel that says that we earn our salvation in any way shape or form. V.9 again.

“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

Grace is unmerited favor. It is not getting what we deserve and getting what we don’t deserve.

It’s not logical. It’s not fair. It’s not earned. It’s grace.

It’s a gift.

It’s free.

And Real Gospel is a Gospel of Grace.

You and I can’t earn our salvation. And we shouldn’t even try.

We have to receive it.

And any gospel that is based upon any other principle than grace, is no gospel at all.

In the book of Galatians, Paul had to give strong words to those who were flirting with a different gospel, one based upon works:

He said:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we [Paul himself out of his mind] or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

Because any other gospel leads to Hell. Don’t believe another gospel!

There are some people who think that all religions are basically the same.

But that’s not true.

Most religions are based upon works.

But the Real Gospel is based on grace.

It’s free. Free for the receiving.

Now, that’s not all. This grace is not just free. It is also effectual. That is to say, it accomplishes something.

The grace of God doesn’t just forgive us, it enables us to live differently.

It turned a killer into an apostle! V.10 again.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am [an apostle now!], and his grace to me was not without effect [a double negative meaning “it was effectual!”]. No, I worked harder than all of them [all the rest of the apostles, but he’s not bragging, because it wasn’t something he earned]–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

The grace of God accomplishes something in the hearts and lives of Real Christians.

It changes them.

Over the next 12 weeks, we’re going to talk about the marks of Real Christians and what Real Christians do.

And they are non-negotiables. The Lord wants them from each of us.

But understand this as we get started with this series, each thing that a Real Christian does comes from grace. They each come from grace.

None of them are meritorious. None of them are saving in and of themselves.

Real Christians do good works, but they do them because of grace, not to earn it.

One of the biggest errors that Christians fall into is the trap of legalism.

Legalism is a false gospel that says that we can please God by meeting up with some standard.

Maybe we might think that we’re saved by grace, but that we stay saved by works.

Or that we can earn God’s pleasure by doing good deeds.

But that’s not right. Real Christians Believe in the Real Gospel which is by grace alone from first to last.


“Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

What Paul is saying is that in Vince Lombardi terms, “This is the Gospel.”

It’s the Main Thing.

And the Main Thing is Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

The first thing we need to do is to RECEIVE IT. Look back at v.1

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received.”

They didn’t just listen and then walk away. They took it.
But more than that: (v.1) “...and on which you have taken your stand.”

Have you “taken your stand” on the gospel?

Have you turned away from whatever false gospel the world has fed you and taken your stand on the Real Gospel? This one?

I challenge everyone here to TAKE YOUR STAND on the gospel.

I invite you right now, right here to put your trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the Cross. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...He was buried...he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

And everyone who takes their stand on that gospel is saved.

And more than that, we need to (v.2), “hold firmly to the word” preached to us.

HOLD FIRMLY to the gospel.

It’s like this football. Imagine the gospel is this football.

And you are a wide receiver.

Paul has thrown a perfect spiral in your direction.

You need to receive it. Don’t let it get by. Don’t let it get intercepted.

You need to plant your feet. Both feet in bounds. Take your stand on the gospel.

And you need to hold firmly to the gospel. No fumbles. No giving it up for another game.

Even if they take you down, don’t drop this gospel. Because it is a saving gospel, a reliable gospel, and a gracious gospel.

There is no other game in town!

This is the Real Deal.

And last, MAKE IT OF FIRST IMPORTANCE in your life.

Paul says that he gave it (v.3) “as of first importance.”

There isn’t anything more important than the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Treat it as of first importance, as the main thing.

Because Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.


Message in the Real Christians Series:

Real Christians:

1. Believe the Real Gospel

2. Really Love God

3. Really Love People

4. Are On a Real Mission

5. Really Pray

6. Delight in God’s Word

7. Trust God in Times of Trial

8. Walk in the Light

9. Are In a Real Battle

10. Are In the World But Not Of It

11. Really Are the Church

12. Really Look Forward to Christ’s Return

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Tree Grows in Marietta

My EFCA pastor buddy and blogging friend, Byron-Harvey, has been living near Atlanta for the last year getting a church plant ready to go.

Their name is Red Oak, and this Sunday is their "Grand Opening."

Let's remember to pray for Byron and Red Oak as they bloom in the red soil of Marietta, Georgia.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Numbers: Life in the Wilderness

1. Why Numbers? [Numbers 1:1]

2. Take a Census [Numbers 1:1-2:34]

3. Count the Levites [Numbers 3:1-4:49]

4. Purity in the Wilderness [Numbers 5:1-31]

5. The Law of the Nazirite [Numbers 6:1-21]

6. I Will Bless Them [Numbers 6:22-27]

7. Offerings [Numbers 7:1-89]

8. Substitution & Celebration [Numbers 8:1-9:14]

9. Marching Orders [Numbers 9:15-10:36]

10. Don’t Complain! [Numbers 11:1-35]

11. Envy Vs. Humility [Numbers 12:1-16]

12. The Retreat of Unbelief [Numbers 13:1-14:45]

13. I Am the LORD Your God [Numbers 15:1-41]

14. Korah’s Rebellion [Numbers 16:1-50]

15. The Grace of God [Numbers 17:1-19:22]

16. End of an Era [Numbers 20:1-29]

17. Snake On A Pole [Numbers 21:1-9]

18. Nowheresville [Numbers 21:10-35]

19. Balaam and the Blessing of Israel (Part One) [Numbers 22:1-38]

20. Balaam and the Blessing of Israel (Part Two) [Numbers 22:39-24:25]

21. Zealous [Numbers 25:1-18]

22. Take a Census (Again) [Numbers 26:1-27:23]

23. Holy Days [Numbers 28:1-29:40]

24. Summing Up Numbers [Numbers 29:1-36:13]

Graphic Weight Loss (PTL)

Graph made courtesy of NCES KidsZone.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Praying for Muslims

Our family will be using this 30 day guide to praying for Muslims during the feast of Ramadan (starts tomorrow).

Want to join us?

[HT: JT]

Being "Untwerped" by the Small Pond

Jack Brooks:

"...seminary showed me what a little twerp I really was, and how far I had to go to even get marginally untwerped."

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joy to Jesus and Joy in Him

Psalm 16 "Pleasures Forevermore"
Sermon by Guest Blogger Russell J. Muilenburg

Not Original

Today we are going to continue looking at our new vision statement here at Hope Church. We are using this short, simple statement to summarize what Hope Church has always stood for; to explain what the Bible expects of the church; and to paint a picture of the kind of church we want to be.

We've put the emphasis on joy. We've said that:

We are here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him.

I think this statement captures the heart of our church while also conveying an invitation to those outside of the church.

Now, today, I have a confession to make. As much as I would like people to think this statement is an original idea, it's really not. This isn't something that the consistory pulled out of thin air. Rather, this statement is really just a re-wording of a document that's about 360 years old.

The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: “What is the chief end of man?” In other words, “Why are we here?” “What's our purpose?” The same basic question we've been asking about the church. And the answer given is this:

Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Now, I don't know if you know much about the Westminster Catechism—it's kind of a big deal in the Presbyterian church—but this is a summary of Christian belief that has been around for a while and it is pretty well-respected. Personally, I think this is about as good an answer to the “Why are we here?” question that has ever been penned.

And the thing I want you to notice is the emphasis on joy. The Catechism doesn't just say that we are here to glorify God, it says that we are also here to enjoy Him. Or, as our vision statement says, “to experience joy in Him.”

Now, I think that is remarkable. Again, you might not know much about the Westminster, but the folks who wrote this were what you would call Scottish Puritans. A group of people very similar to the Pilgrims who settled Massachusetts. Calvinistic, with long beards and very plain clothing, these were not necessarily guys you would associate with joy. History likes to paint them as very severe.

And yet, when they sat down to write a summary of the Biblical reason for human existence, they put an emphasis on joy. We are here to enjoy God. We are here to experience joy in Him.

The Power of a Conjunction

In fact, I don't see the two parts of this answer as if they are separate things.

The word “and” could imply that there are two activities that constitute man's chief end. We are here to glorify God AND enjoy Him forever. Two different things. But the question doesn't ask for two answers, it asks for only one.

John Piper, a pastor up in Minneapolis, and one of my heroes, points out that we could really replace the word “and” with the word “by.” The answer could read:

Man's chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.

Because, really, that's what is being said. Our reason for existence, our purpose for being, is to glorify God. And the way we will do that best... the way God will most be honored by us... the way to bring the greatest joy to God... is to find our joy in Him.

John Piper puts it like this:

God is most glorified in us
when we are most satisfied in Him.

In other words, it is when we obey and trust and follow and worship God—when we show that His promises are sufficient and that His will for us is good—that we most honor Him. When we find our happiness and our contentment and our joy and our pleasure in God, then He is indeed displayed to be the greatest thing in our universe.

Or, to put it in negative terms, if we find no pleasure in God, if we are not seeking to find our joy in Him, then we are not really glorifying Him.

So I don't see our vision statement as two things, but one thing.

We are here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him.

As we experience the joy of belonging to Jesus, and display that joy to the rest of the world, we are in the best position to put a smile on our Savior's face.

Psalm 16

So that's our vision statement and where it comes from. Now, in the time we have left today I want to look at the second half of the statement—the “experience joy” part—and show you that this isn't something that theologians have just made up. I want you to see that this is a very Biblical idea. The Bible invites us to experience our greatest joy in God. In Jesus.

And to see that, I want to invite you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 16. Psalm 16 will be our text today. Here's what it says:
1 Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.

2 I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing."

3 As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those will increase
who run after other gods.
I will not pour out their libations of blood
or take up their names on my lips.

5 LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.

8 I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
What I want you to notice from this Psalm is the number of words that express joy: “delight” in verse 3, “secure” in verse 5, “pleasant” and “delightful” in verse 6, “glad” and “rejoices” in verse 9, “joy” and “pleasures” in verse 11. The Bible really does want us to be happy. God really is interested in us experiencing joy.

Look more closely with me at verse 11. To me, this is the key verse to the whole Psalm:

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

God's presence is where true joy is found.

“Eternal pleasures at your right hand.” The King James Version says “pleasures forevermore.” That's where I got the title for this message.

When you are in God's presence—living for Him and trusting in Him and seeking to do His will—then you are in the best possible place a human being can be. A place where not only does God receive joy, but so do you!

I phrased it like this: God has designed us to find our deepest joy in Him. The way God has made the world, the way He has put us together, is so that we will find our greatest happiness in Him.

If we are seeking our joy in anything less than God, then we are short-changing ourselves. With apologies to Snickers, nothing can satisfy like our God.

And if we go back to the rest of the Psalm, we will find four ways in which this joy can be experienced.

Delight in the Saints

First, there is joy in the company of God's people. We experience joy in God when we spend time with His people.

The first verse of our Psalm is a general prayer for protection and a declaration of faith. “Keep me safe, O God; for in you I take refuge.” Then verses 2-4 start to talk about where the Psalmist gets his joy:

2 I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing."

3 As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those will increase
who run after other gods.
I will not pour out their libations of blood
or take up their names on my lips.

On the one hand, the Psalmist can say that apart from God he has no good thing. God is his only treasure. Yet on the other hand, he can say, "I delight in the saints of the land. They are a good thing." You want to ask, “Which is it it?” But the Psalmist evidently sees no either-or, no competition between having God as his only good, and yet placing a very high value upon the saints in the land.

The point seems to be that it is because they are saints—that is, they are people who love God and trust Him and obey Him—then our delight in them is simply an indirect delight in God. In other words, God is honored when we enjoy being in the company of His people.

The implication, then, is that we should enjoy being with other believers. We should delight to be in the company of people who love and worship and seek to follow God.

Like I've been saying the last couple of weeks, being here on Sunday, being together to worship and learn and pray, ought to be the highlight of our week. We should look forward to this gathering, we should delight to come and be with God's people.

To go back to the painting in our lobby, that picture of the party thrown for the lost sheep from Luke 15, we should reflect that party atmosphere when we gather together. Maybe there won't always be dancing and balloons, but that same spirit of joy should be present in our time together. Because when we experience joy together, we are experiencing some of the joy of following God.

It follows then that we're not going to run with the wrong crowd. That's what verse 4 is about. If we find our delight with God's people, then it will keep us from falling in with those who worship and serve other gods.

So, God has designed us to find our deepest joy in Him, and one of the ways we do that is in the company of God's people.

Delight in the Plan

Second, there is joy in the results of God’s faithfulness. We experience joy in God when we reflect on the blessings of our lives. Verses 5 & 6:

5 LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

When we look back over our lives, we will find that God has been faithfully blessing us all along. He assigns us our portion and our cup, our food and our drink.

I like the way verse 6 puts it: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” That's an allusion to what happened when the children of Israel finally made it to the Promised Land and God assigned the parts of the land to the various tribes. The Psalmist is saying that his inheritance was pretty good. Metaphorically speaking, he's saying he's happy with where the boundaries of his life came out.

It's kind of like having a map of your life. And if you stop and look back on it, you'll find that God has been faithful throughout. That He's taken the circumstances of your life and—as Romans 8:28 says—worked them out for your good.

This doesn’t mean that every follower of Christ has a perfect life. Quite the opposite. Christ told us that those who follow Him will have to carry crosses of their own. He made it clear that in this world there would be trouble. And yet, for those who follow Him, He promises that He will always be faithful. That we will find joy even in our trials.

Take Chris Klein for example. Chris had a difficult child birth. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his throat and for 45 minutes he was deprived of oxygen. He has cerebral palsy. The muscles in his body never stop moving, but he has no motor control. He needs to wear gloves, because his index fingers are constantly digging into his thumbs, causing painful sores. He is confined to a wheelchair and needs help just to go to the bathroom, bathe, or eat.

But Chris can communicate by typing onto a computer with his left big toe. The computer speaks for him. He is highly intelligent and graduated from Hope College and Western Theological Seminary. Today he is a traveling preacher who speaks at camps and churches. This is what Chris says about his disability:

I had faith in God, but I didn't rely on it because I thought God had given me a bad deal. But suddenly I understood that God had given me a gift of disability. It is a gift because I am able to boast in my weakness, and people will be able to see Jesus shine through me.

Now, I'm not trying to make light of your difficulties or struggles. I'm not saying, “at least you don't have it as bad as this guy,” or anything like that. We all have had bad experiences and bad breaks, and some of you may be in the midst of some rotten stuff right now.

But I am saying that if we are alert to what God is doing in our lives, then we will find that even in our most trying circumstances God is still faithful. Like Chris Klein, we can say that the boundary lines have fallen for us in pleasant places.

Delight in the Rules

God has designed us to find our deepest joy in Him. There is joy in the company of God's people. There is joy in the results of God's faithfulness. Now, third: there is joy in the wisdom of God’s counsel. We experience joy in God when we follow His rules. Look at verses 7 & 8:

7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.

8 I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

The Psalmist talks about the Lord's counsel. The Lord's instruction. What he has in mind here are God's commands. God's instructions for how to live the best possible life.

You see, a lot of people have this idea that God's commands are restrictive. All these “Thou shalt not”s and “don't”s, it seems like God wants to keep us from having any fun. That's why there is so much controversy about teaching the Ten Commandments, we're a libertarian society, and telling people what they can't do tends to cramp their style.

But what we have to realize is that God doesn't give us rules to ruin our fun, but to protect us. God's instructions for living are all about how to have the best possible life. He doesn't want us to short-circuit our joy, or settle for a lesser joy, by settling for sin.

There's a great verse in the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 2:13, that goes like this:

My people have committed two sins:

They have forsaken me,
The spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

A cistern is a basically a bucket, something that you store water in. And God is saying that we all have a bucket inside of us; a bucket in our souls that can be filled up with our contentment or joy. The fuller our bucket, the happier we are.

And so we need to go to the bucket store, and get a bucket. And sin has this really fancy looking bucket store. Like a Crate and Barrel or Bed, Bath and Beyond. And sin has all this glitzy marketing and slick advertising and you walk into sin's store and you see all these high-end buckets. And they all look so good: Anger, getting back at those people who have hurt you. Pride, making yourself feel good by pointing out other people's weaknesses. Selfishness and greed, thinking life is all about you. Laziness. Lust. All these fancy buckets that promise instant happiness.

And God has a bucket store too. Only it's nothing fancy. Just a humble little main street shop. And the buckets at God's store are not too exciting: obedience, doing things God's way, trust.

So the buckets, the cisterns, that sin offers look so much better. But, here's the thing, you buy one of sin's buckets and you try it out, and it fills up your capacity for joy for a while, but then it springs a leak. It always happens. Sin's buckets can't hold water. And so you always have to go back for more, and more.

God's buckets, on the other hand, might not fill up as fast, but they are always reliable. They always hold water. Our capacity for joy when we draw from the spring of living water, is always so much greater.

What the world offers to us in sin is a counterfeit. Sin promises pleasure for a moment, but it is always with consequences. I read a great line on the Internet the other day: “Sin will always take you further than you want to go, it’ll keep you longer than you want to stay, and charge you more than you want to pay.”

And God wants to spare us from that. He doesn't want us to settle for counterfeit joy, but to go for the real thing, the kind of joy that is found in obedience to Him.

There's joy in the wisdom of God's counsel.

Delight in the Resurrection

Fourth and finally, there's joy in the security of God’s protection. We can experience joy in God when we look ahead to eternity. Verses 9 & 10:

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

When the Psalmist thinks about the future, one thing he is sure of is that it will not be the end for him.

He knows he will die. He knows that some day these bodies of ours will give out and we'll stop breathing. He knows there is a casket and a narrow plot of earth waiting for all of us.

But he is not afraid, because he also knows that God will not abandon him to the grave. For those who trust in the Lord, there is joy in God's presence and eternal pleasures to come.

Verse 10 is a verse that gets quoted in the New Testament with reference to Jesus' resurrection. According to the Apostle Peter, Jesus is the “Holy One” that this verse refers to (Acts 2:25-32).

That doesn't really change the promise of this verse for us, though, because it is only by the death and resurrection of Jesus than any of us have any hope of being resurrected ourselves. By virtue of Jesus' resurrection, the resurrection of all who believe in Him is also guaranteed. If you have taken Jesus as your savior, you too know the joy of security for the future.

And if you haven't taken Jesus as your savior, you can do that today and know with a certainty that you will be in the presence of God for eternity.

There is joy in the security of God's protection.

A Place of Joy

So, God has designed us to find our deepest joy in Him. He wants us to experience joy. He wants us to be deliriously happy. And He knows that will only happen if we are seeking our joy in Him. As Psalm 16 says, there is joy in the company of God's people. There is joy in the results of God's faithfulness. There is joy in the wisdom of God's counsel. And there is joy in the security of God's protection.

At Hope Church, we want to be people who experience joy in God at the highest levels, and we want to invite those around us to experience that joy as well.

Quotable Quote of the Day

“It’s not that I’m surrounded by incompetence that bothers me; it’s that I fit in so well.”


[HT: Steve Shields]

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Matt's Messages - Summing Up Numbers

“Summing Up Numbers”
Life in the Wilderness
September 9, 2007
Numbers 30:1-36:13

As I’ve been praying and thinking about what our church needs right now in our spiritual diet from the feast of God’s Word, I’ve become convinced that we should rapidly end our study of Numbers and move on to something else.

I think that you’ll agree that we’ve found Numbers to be an amazing book. Perhaps the strangest book of the Bible that we’ve studied so far. It’s been full of numbers! Numbers of people, numbers of clans, numbers of sacrifices, numbers of disappoints, numbers of times that God has come through for His people.

We’ve experienced together a taste of “Life in the Wilderness,” living in that place between God’s Rescue and the Promised Land.

As I said the first Sunday of this series, way back on January 7th, we have studied the book of Numbers because it is Holy Scripture. Numbers is God’s Word to us. And I think we’ve heard from Him again and again as we’ve learned about the censuses, the concentric circles of holiness in the camp, the blessings of the LORD, the Retreat of Unbelief, the battle with Baalam, the dangers of complaining and envy and disobedience, and the blessings of purity, obedience, and zeal.

I told you on January 7th, that preaching the book of Numbers is my gift to you. I desire greatly that our little church would know the Big Picture of the Bible. That everyone from our smallest children to our most senior saints would know the Big Story of Genesis through Revelation. And so, on odd numbered years, I’ve planned to take us through the foundation books of the Old Testament that carry that story through. Genesis in 2003, Exodus in 2005, and Numbers in 2007.

Not only is this a great book, but preaching it has been an opportunity for me to give you a great gift. Few people have ever heard a sermon on Numbers, much less been taught the entire book. I love you and wanted you to have that gift.

And the third reason I told you back in January why we took on book of Numbers, is that Jesus is here in Numbers. And we’ve seen Him every week.

His name is not here, but there are signposts in every chapter. Numbers is a part of God’s revelation of His character. And Jesus is the fullest revelation of God. “Every story whispers His name.”

And I think that today, God is calling us to “sum up” the book of Numbers and finish our slow trek through its pages. This is the 24th sermon in Numbers, and I think it should be our last for this series. “Summing Up Numbers”

I’m going to do the preaching a little differently today, I’m not going to read all of the verses. If I did, it would take the whole time. In fact, I’m going summarize a lot here so that we can cover 7 chapters in one sermon.

And as we go through these last summary chapters, I want to point out 5 things we can see about God in them. They are 5 things that we’ve seen all along in the book about God. Because God is the Main Character in the book of Numbers. And each of these facets of God’s character call for a personal response. So that will be our application as we sum up the book of Numbers.


Pop quiz! I’m sure you expected it on the last day of Numbers!

Where are the people of Israel right now?

Are they in the Promised Land? No they are not.

Where are they? They are parked on the plains of Moab, right across from the Promised Land, right across the Jordan River, right across from the city of Jericho.

And the last several chapters of the book of Numbers are concerned with getting the people of Israel ready to cross over, conquer, inherit, and possess the Promised Land.

They have offspring, they have blessing, they will soon have land.

Last week, we saw that chapters 28 and 29 got the people ready for sacrifices on Holy Days in the Promised Land. It laid out the Holy Calendar for the people of God.

In chapter 30, God is getting them ready for the Land by explaining the laws concerning vows.

Vows were religious promises made, and they should be kept. Chapter 30, verse 1.

“Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: ‘This is what the LORD commands: When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”

Often, a man would tell the Lord, that if the Lord would give him some success in some endeavor, then that man would vow to offer a certain sacrifice or set of sacrifices in thanksgiving. This never obligated God, but it did obligate the man.

And he should keep his obligation.

But the chapter then goes on to explain what would happen if a woman made a vow. What if a woman wanted to promise God something if He did something for her?

Chapter 30 teaches through various situations that a woman could make a vow, but if she was a minor still in her father’s home or an engaged woman, or a married woman under the headship of her husband, if her husband considered the vow hasty or rash, he could nullify it. And that would be a protection for their family.

I used to think that this chapter was unfair. That women were treated as less than equal with their husbands. But I now see that this chapter is about protecting women who were in a difficult place in the social setting of the ancient Near East. V.8 and v.15 use the words “rash promise” and “responsible for guilt.”

This is about protecting a young woman or a wife from the consequences and obligations of a bad decision.

If it is unfair, it is unfair to the man. Because men make rash vows, too! But they would have to keep each one. That’s part of the responsibility of headship.

Remember headship? I preached on the biblical teaching on headship almost a year ago today. Husbands are called to lead, provide, and protect their wives. They are called to a greater level of responsibility for the women in their lives.

And here’s why. It’s point #1. In “Summing up Numbers,” we find a GOD WHO CARES.

God cares about His people. Especially those people who are weak or oppressed or in difficult situations.

We’ve seen this again and again in the book of Numbers. Here it is women. In earlier chapters it was hungry Israelites, it was unclean Israelites, it was thirsty Israelites, it was attacked Israelites. It was Zelophehad’s orphaned daughters. He took care of them all.

God cares about His people. Especially His people in weak situations.

Do you need to hear that today? It jumped off the pages to me this week as I was studying this.

I’ve always turned my nose up at Numbers chapter 30 as old-news that might even put down women. But I saw this week that God wanted, as they went into the Land, that His men provide protection for His women.

Because God cares. Do you need to know that God cares? 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Cast your cares on Him.

But that’s not all that God is.

Some people would like to think of God as caring, yes, but not as wrathful.

But the very next chapter shows us His perfect justice.

We see in chapters 31 and 32, (#2) A GOD WHO JUDGES.

In chapter 31, God calls for a holy war. Look at chapter 31, verse 1.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.’”

This is Moses’ last military assignment. He is supposed to take vengeance on the Midianites.

Why? Remember Baalam in chapters 22 through 24? The Midianites were in on that.

And they really in on the sneak attack on Israel in chapter 25. That’s when the women of Midian and Moab snuck in and seduced Israel so that they were almost destroyed from inside. Remember that?

If it wasn’t for zealous Phinehas, Israel would have been destroyed.

And now God is telling Moses that Midian’s time is up. They need to bring judgment.

This isn’t a personal vendetta. This it the LORD’s perfect justice in the LORD’s perfect time.

So they put together a crack team of 12,000 soldiers, one thousand from each tribe. Led by zealous Phinehas. And they fought the Midianites.

And God, because He is just, gave them victory. Overwhelming victory with amazing spoils and (catch this!) no casualties on the Israelite side (chapter 31, verse 49)!

They succeeded in killing the five kings of Midian, including Cozbi’s evil father, Zur (Chapter 31, verse 8).

And they also caught the Osama bin Laden of their day–Baalam son of Beor and brought God’s justice to him.

We don’t understand Holy War because we don’t live in Old Testament times. There will be no more legitimate holy war until Christ returns and wages the Last Battle.

But this kind of war was a demonstration of the perfect justice of God.

They had attacked God’s people, they would get God’s vengeance.

Now, that’s a scarey thing. But it’s also a wonderful truth.

God will see that justice is done. He doesn’t always do it on our time-table (in fact, He seldom does, especially because He is so patient and gracious!). But He will see that perfect justice is done.

We’ve seen that over and over again in the book of Numbers. God’s discipline and judgment. Forty years of wilderness wanderings. An entire generation of Israelites dead in the desert.

God takes sin seriously.

In this story, they had spared the women. And normally, God wants that to happen.

But in the case of the Midianites, it was the wicked women who had infiltrated Israel with their seduction, so everyone woman who had slept with a man had to be executed.

We think that is harsh, but in that day, it was a mercy to Israel, or they would have been trapped again.

And God is just. He sees to it that justice is done. That is what is for. And though it is a terrible thing to think about it, think about it, we must!

In chapter 32, it looked like the Retreat of Unbelief was going to happen again.

The leaders of the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh came to Moses and asked if they could settle on this side of the Jordan river. (Verses 1 through 5).

Was that in the Promised Land? No. Israel had conquered it, and it was a great fertile place for the flocks and herds of these tribes, but it wasn’t in the promised land.

And Moses got scared and mad that it was all happening again. They had said (v.5), “Don’t make us cross the Jordan.”

And Moses said, “This is what your fathers did!” (V.8)

And he recounts the trouble they had over the Retreat of Unbelief and promises them more of the same.

But these leaders had a different plan in mind. They wanted the Transjordan land, but they were only going to leave behind their flocks and herds and families.

The soldiers all had faith to go into Canaan and fight until it was all theirs.

Well, that was okay then. So Moses says, (v.20), “If you will do this–if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for battle, and if all of you will go armed over the Jordan before the LORD until he has driven his enemies out before him–then when the land is subdued before the LORD, you may return and be free from your obligation to the LORD and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the LORD. But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

God takes sin seriously. God is a God who judges.

“You may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

Don’t think that your sin is a secret from God.

It is not a secret. Your life and heart are laid open before His eyes.

And He sees your sin. Repent now while you still can.

“You may be sure that your sin will find you out.”

Your sin is not only not a secret, but it will be the very thing that finds you out and turns you in.

On the day of reckoning, which is coming for each of us and all of us, we will have to give an account for all of the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.

Turn now. Repent now. While you still can.

The LORD is not just a God who cares.

He is a God who judges.

And He is also, thankfully, a (#3) GOD WHO GUIDES.

Chapter 33 is a long list of camp-sites.

Look at verses 1 and 2: “Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the LORD's command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages:”

And then he lists 40 different spots where Israel camped between Egypt and Jericho.

And I think the main point here is that God led them every step of the way.

In verse 50, He gives them their marching orders for the next “Big Story” book of the Bible, Joshua. V.50

“On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides [OUCH!]. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.'”

Those are the marching orders from the Commander in Chief.

And just as God has led them from verse 1 to verse 49, He is promising to guide them into the Promised Land and give them victory.

But they have to follow.

God is God Who Guides, but we have to follow Him.

Do you need to hear that message this morning?

God Is God Who Guides, but We Have to Follow Him.

Israel will be so tempted to follow other gods for the next several hundred years.

They will go into the Land, but they will not do verse 52 very well.

“Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.”

Instead, in a reoccurring spiral, they followed those other gods. And they were barbs in their eyes and thorns in their sides.

God Is God Who Guides, but We Have to Follow Him.

And that means repentance, too.

Remember, 2 weeks ago, when I said that disciples of Jesus follow Jesus.

It sounds like a truism, but it is so often true, that we follow after other gods.

But God is God who Guides! As I’ve reported before many times from this pulpit, I’ve struggled with the idol of gluttony (“their god is their stomach”).

But this year, I’ve been able in a new way to follow God by faith. I’ve lost 17 pounds since mid-June, and the main reason is because of a restoration of right worship in my heart of hearts.

Praise God! God guides. And we just need to follow Him.

In chapter 34, we see another facet of the character of God–probably, the most important theme in the whole book: God’s faithfulness to His promises.


God always keeps His promises. Right? That’s the theme of Genesis and it’s the theme of the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

God always keeps His promises.

In chapter 34, it’s the promise of the Promised Land.

The entire chapter is a description of the borders of Canaan. Verses 1 through 15 lay out North, South, East, and West. And then verses 16 through 29 give us the new names of the tribal leaders who will lead their clans into their inheritance.

You can almost taste it! The land is almost theirs!

They are ready to go. It’s going to happen.

God will fulfill His promises to His people.

It doesn’t always happen like we think it will.

Strangely enough, Israel never has had these exact borders yet. Even under David or Solomon.

But we know that God will fulfill His promises.

And one day, God’s King will rule all of this land described in Numbers 34, and in fact, there will be no borderline to describe the end of His Kingdom!

God will fulfill His promises.

Do you need to hear that this morning?

I love that new song we learned today, “Blessed Be Your Name.”

The reason I love it, is not the beat or the tune, though they are very catchy.

I love it because it handles a part of the Christian experience that we don’t often sing about, but often have to live.

Not praising God in the good times, but praising God like Job did in the bad times, and like Israel was supposed to in the wilderness times–Blessed Be Your Name!

“When the darkness closes in Lord, still I will say, ‘Blessed Be Your Name!’”

How can we be people like that in the dark times?

It’s because of the Lord’s promises!

He has given us “great and precious promises!” And we can take each and every one to bank.

Even when it doesn’t seem like they could ever come true.

Especially (!) when it doesn’t seem like they could ever come true.

We need to trust His promises.

Because the God of Numbers is a God Who Fulfills.

In the last chapter, chapter 36, the daughters of Zelophehad show up again.

They are still trusting God’s promises for their inheritance in the land. But there is a dispute over what would happen if they married outside of their clan. What would happen to their land then? Would it leave their clan. The answer is given that they can’t marry outside of the clan or they would lose their land.

What do you think they did? They married in their clan! Why?

Because they believed in God’s promises for this land.

Israel is poised to go in and possess it.

The men’s Sunday School class this Fall is going to pick up right here on this side of the Jordan and then study the book of Joshua and see how God fulfills His promises.

What promises have God made to you? Do you know?

You can trust them. You can trust Him. He always keeps them. Every time.

But that’s not all. I have one more.

God is not just a God Who Cares (though He does, cast your cares on Him).
Not just a God Who Judges (though He does, repent now or your sin will find you out).
God is not just a God Who Guides (though He does, and we must follow).
And God is not just a God Who Fulfills (though He does, and we can trust Him).

But God is also a (#5) GOD WHO FORGIVES.

In Numbers chapter 35, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to create forty-eight cities for the Levites. And six of those cities are to be what He calls, (chapter 35, verse 13), “cities of refuge.”

These are special cities where a man can a flee to if he unintentionally sins and kills someone else.

The chapter makes it clear that if he is a murderer (established by 2 or 3 witnesses), then he must be executed for his crime, if they didn’t they would pollute the land (which I think says something to us about capital punishment).

But if he didn’t mean to do it (and there are a lot of examples to show how that could be, involuntary manslaughter), then he could run into one of these cities of refuge and be safe from the avenger of blood.

You see in this time, if one of your family members was killed, it was the duty of another family member to make sure that justice was carried out. That family member was the “avenger of blood.” And he would chase the killer all the way to limits of the city of refuge.

If he found him outside the city, he could dispense justice.

But if he made it inside and was not guilty of murder, he could live.

He had to live in that city of refuge until the death of the high priest who was serving when the killing happened.

After that, he could go free. He was forgiven.

The cities of refuge were a place for grace.

Does that remind you of anything?

It makes me think of the Cross. Remember, Jesus is in Numbers.

Of course, Jesus is much greater than a city of refuge. You can run to Him even if you are a murderer!

But He is the place of grace now.

He is the place where forgiveness happens. Not just vengeance, but forgiveness!

Have you been scared today that your sins will find you out?

Run to Jesus!

In your heart and with your mouth, turn from your sins and trust in the Savior and you will be forgiven! Run to Jesus!

Because our Great High Priest Jesus died! And with His death, forgiveness has been poured out on those who turn from their sins and trust in Him!

The God of Numbers is a God of grace.

He is a God of wrath. But He is also full of forgiveness for those who trust in Him.

Run to Jesus.

God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish (like they deserve) but have everlasting life!

Run to Jesus.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

There She Goes!

Robin learned to ride a bike--yesterday! She's already a pro...
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