Pleasing God

9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.

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Changed… [Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-51]

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Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!  In Matthew and John’s accounts, at least 7 people have an encounter with Jesus, and in each person’s case that encounter transformed their lives forever.  

Simon & Andrew were fishermen.  Fishing and sea was their livelihood, it was what they did.  They didn’t wake each morning wondering what to do, this was their income, it was even their defining identity.  But with just one encounter, hearing Jesus’ compelling and challenging words; “follow me” they immediately left their nets, left their livelihood, left their identities as fishermen all in order to respond to Jesus.  

Shortly thereafter, their business partners (James & John) similarly hear Jesus’ call to follow Him, and Scripture says that immediately they too left their nets, their identity, even their father and their servants (Mark 1:19) all to follow Jesus.  Luke records summarily, “they left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

The Gospel accounts don’t record much conversation really.  And yet Jesus was so compelling that when He called them to follow Him, they answered and they did so wholeheartedly!  Jesus redefined each of these four men.  They had been ‘doers’, fishermen, defined by their work.  Now they were in an instant defined as ‘followers’ of Jesus, new lives, new identity…  

What did they encounter in Jesus that caused this reaction?  

John’s account of the same events is full of revelation.  John exclaims; “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:35).  John in that moment has truly seen who the real Jesus is.  Having spent some time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother exclaiming; ‘we have found the Messiah’ (vs41), likewise Philip finds Nathanael and says in effect; ‘we’ve found the one the whole Law and the Prophets speak of – the Messiah’ (vs45) and Nathanael himself cries out; “Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!” (vs49).  All these people encountered the real Jesus, the King of kings, the Messiah, the got it in those moments…

Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!

None of them are left unchanged.  Jesus changes their vocations, their identities, their relationships even their names!  Following Jesus must have been exhilarating yes but it also came at with a high cost, with risk even.  All these people have to leave things, people, what they knew for the unknown of following Jesus.  They all paid a price in some way or another, and we too will be called to leave or let go at times as we follow Jesus.  

Following Jesus was costly, following Jesus came with misunderstanding from others (imagine the thoughts, feelings and questions of the father of James and John’s, imagine their families, those who worked with them and those who knew them as fishermen…), and yet they never regretted it for a moment!

Those who truly encounter Jesus are transformed by Jesus.  In fact if your life is not being transformed, if you haven’t felt the call to leave certain things behind, you have to ask whether you’ve met the real Jesus yet?

Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you again and again, in all His glory and majesty.

Hear His words to you; “Follow me”.

What do those words require from you right now today, at this moment in your life?

Is there anything you need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly?

Be Inspired (2 Kings 18-21)

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What do you want said at your funeral or written as an epitaph in your memory?  How about; “there was none like him among all…!” 

Hezekiah stands out in stark contrast to the many who went before and those who came after him the rest of verse 5 tells us.  And what was the secret to this glowing description of Hezekiah’s life and reign as king of Judah?

5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. (2 Kings 18:5a,6-7)

Hezekiah believed God, and held on to his belief in God unswervingly.  He did not get into compromise and sin but kept God’s commandments and in response to his faith and obedience God was with him always and caused him to prosper.

Don’t for a moment think that Hezekiah had an easy time following God.  Hezekiah didn’t follow God or lead Judah in a time of ease or peace and security but rather did so in the presence of terrifying threats from the Assyrians!  The Assyrians had recently overthrown the northern tribes of Israel and had also overtaken all the towns around Jerusalem which was surrounded.

And yet Hezekiah trusted God, held fast to his God in the midst of great trials.  Hezekiah’s trust in God is expressed wonderfully in his prayer recorded in 2 Kings 19:15-19;

15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 

What a prayer of faith!  A prayer that’s real about the circumstances and yet more impressed with His God.  And what a response from God through the prophet Isaiah;

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”  (2 Kings 20:32-34)

What an inspiration Hezekiah is!  Don’t you want to be like him?  How can you be?

5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. (2 Kings 18:5a,6)

Let’s be like Hezekiah, let’s trust God, let’s hold fast to God when life is messy and confusing, let’s not depart from following God and keeping his commandments.  And then let’s see all that God will do in and through us.

Enough! (2 Kings 17)

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After a period of nearly 200yrs since Jeroboam’s succession from Judah, the northern tribes of Israel are eventually conquered by the Assyrians and deported into exile (2 Kings 17:6).  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture are very keen to make it plain as to why this happened.

“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel…” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

This was an event that came about not because of bad military or political strategy (although the passage reveals there were mis-steps made), Scripture attributes the source of the capitulation and capture of Israel by Assyria as being God Himself as the active agent.

The whole of the chapter reads like a charge sheet being read out in a court room, the list of charges against the accused, the guilty one; 

      • You have sinned against your God who brought you out of Egypt and into this Promised Land
      • You walked in the customs of the nations whom I judged and drove out before you
      • You followed wicked evil kings who lead you into sin
      • You built for yourself your own places of worship, altars to false gods & served idols
      • You did wicked things before me, and made sacrifices to these false gods
      • You provoked me to anger (says God)
      • I warned you again and again through the prophets, but you would not listen and were stubborn (vs13-14)
      • You did not believe
      • You despised my commands
      • You even burned your sons & daughters as worship to false gods provoking me to righteous anger

And because of this the judgement comes; 

18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only… 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:18&20)

23…the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. (2 Kings 17:23)

Yes, God is ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’ (Exodus 34:6) but that does not mean that eventually God will not say; ‘enough!’  God was patient, forbearing with Israel but eventually love for all those sinned against, all those who lost loved ones, love for all those babies sacrificed to false gods looked like God judging sin.  God had appealed again and again, urged them to turn from their wickedness – but they refused to with hard stubborn hearts.

So what can we learn from this for our lives?

May we not ever trust our hearts, which are so prone to lead us astray from serving the living God.  May we hold on to His words, will and ways laid out for us in Holy Scripture.  May we never tamper with His Word and make our own false gods suitable to our fancies and our modern culture’s preferences.  May we repent when and if we have sinned against Him, and may we worship our Holy God with holy reverence and as our loving response to all the love He has poured out to us through the gift of His precious Son, Jesus.

The Stuck Record (2 Kings 15&16)

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Over and over and over again in 1 & 2 Kings there is a type of phrase that repeats itself.  It’s a phrase that always describes the life and the rule of one of the kings of Israel (the Northern tribes) in a negative way.  It’s a phrase that is repeated not 3 or 4 times but is repeated 15 times in 1 & 2 Kings and three time in 2 Kings 15 alone!

It is used in 2 Kings 15:9 to describe King Zechariah;

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

And then again in 2 Kings 15:18 to describe the despicable King Menahem who committed atrocious sins (vs16);

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart all his days from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

And then again in 2 Kings 15:24 to describe King Pekahiah 

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

As we read these chapters we are reading the crescendo of evil that all started with the sin of Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 12-14, sin which continues to be referenced and is repeated 15 times over in the record of the kings of the northern tribes.  As the chapters of 2 Kings progress the reigns of the kings seem to to get shorter and shorter some reigning 1 month some 6 months, there is death and evil and insurrection and calamity…

And all of this is racing towards our the next chapter 2 Kings 17.  God is going to use Assyria to finally punish Israel and to stop forever the successive sinfulness of the northern kings who again and again continued in the sin of their forefather, Jeroboam son of Nebat.

What does this mean for you and for me?

As a father, as a parent; I am freshly struck by the impact we have on not just our own children but on successive generations.  We are modelling life for our children, we can’t turn it off, can’t stop it.  The question is what are we modelling?  What are we passing down to the next generation and the generations to come?

Jeoboam’s sin resulted in a stuck record legacy of ungodliness!  In 1&2 Kings there is a contrast of sorts to this legacy and that of King David.  I say this because there is another phrase that repeats over many of the kings of Judah in the south where God does not punish because of promises He made to David.  Even through King David was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (he murdered, lied, committed adultery…) the Scripture honours King David as a man who’s heart was devoted to God.

So what will be said of me, of my heart of my life rhythm when I die one day?  Could it be said, will it be said that I was a wholehearted worshipper of God?  No one who knew me would ever be able to say; ‘he didn’t sin, make mistakes…’ but could they say – ‘He loved God and served God all his life’?

We pass on a legacy!  What legacy do you want to pass on?

Sin is serious & we all have a part to play in the BIG STORY! (2 Kings 9-12)

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In what is a long section of brutal narrative… 

Exactly what God promised through Elijah in response to Jezebel and Ahab’s killing of Naboth for his vineyard in 1 Kings 21 is now fulfilled and Ahab’s sin and Jezebel’s sin and evil is punished by God in 2 Kings 9-10 by Jehu.

What can we learn from this for our lives?

Sin is extremely serious.  If we don’t recognise the seriousness of sin before a Holy God we are deluded, we cheapen grace and ultimately we don’t need a Saviour to rescue us from our sin or to forgive us for our sin.

“Salvation shines forth brightly when it is seen against the dark background of divine judgment. We cheapen the gospel if we represent it as a deliverance only from unhappiness, fear, guilt and other felt needs, instead of as a rescue from the coming wrath.” – John Stott

Don’t prematurely decide that just because people don’t seem for the moment to be accountable before God for their sin and their rejection of Him that they won’t be held accountable by the Holy One.

All people’s only hope is Jesus Christ who was the propitiation for our sin!  That means, Jesus was the sacrifice that was paid in our place for our sin, the sacrifice which took away the wrath of God;

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)

Another feature of this section and all through 1&2 Kings are the little cameo’s in the BIG STORY of human history and salvation by often unremarkable individuals who did the work and will of God in the midst of a crooked and evil age.

Little cameo’s like;

  • The little Jewish girl who was carried away by Syrians and served in the house of Naaman who believed God could heal her master (2 Kings 5:2-3)
  • The unnamed servants of Naaman who helped him not miss his healing because of his reaction to Elisha’s instruction (2 Kings 5:13)
  • The four lepers (2 Kings 7) through whom God ended the brutal siege of Samaria
  • Princess Jehosheba who hid Joash from Athaliah for 6yrs in the house of God with the priest until the priest anointed him as king at the tender age of 7yrs old.
  • Joash the young 7yr old who listened to Jehoiada who discipled and instructed him and so he did amazingly good things reforming Judah and dealing with sin and Baal worship and repaired the temple.

What can we learn for our lives?

You never do know when you are going to do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, or whether you have just done it! – Michael Eaton

God’s kingdom advances through people just like you and I doing often what might not seem like extraordinary things.  Live every day as if it is the day you will do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, live on the edge in anticipation and serve God with whatever and whoever God puts before you, disciple, reach out, love, speak the words of God….

Jealous God (2 Kings 1)

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What do we have here in the opening paragraphs of 2 Kings?  Ahab’s son is as evil as his dad and so when he is faced with a personal crisis he sends for a prophetic utterance not from one of God’s prophets but rather enquires after Baal-zebub or the ‘lord of the flies’!

God’s is a jealous God and won’t tolerate this offence.  So, God sends Elijah to meet the messengers who were on their way to seek the false god Baal-zebub, as they meet Elijah rebukes Ahaziah for his sinfulness.  God’s true words can offend!  This is especially true when we find ourselves in a place of sin and compromise.  

Ahaziah reacts by wanting to silence Elijah and so he sends a company of 50 soldiers to threaten Elijah.  God’s word, however, cannot be brought under human control, and the God of Mount Carmel sends fire from heaven which consumes Elijah’s captures twice over (cf. 1 Kings 18:10&12).

One hundred and two men are dead.  Families are in mourning, children are now without their dads, women without husbands, parent’s have lost children!  What’s happening here?  

Ahaziah is faced with a choice, serve the One true God – Yahweh or Baal-zebub.  Yahweh is the God who consumed the offering by fire just years earlier on Mount Carmel, exposing the futility of Baal worship and exposing all the 450 prophets of Baal on that day and resulting in their judgement and death.  

This whole situation has come about because Ahaziah has acted as though ‘there is no God in Israel to enquire of His word’ (2 Kings 1:3&16) and because God is rightfully jealous and intolerant of the worship or trust in any other.  

Ahaziah is bent on his rejection of Yahweh!  After the first 51 soldiers died in fiery judgement, you would have thought Ahaziah would have relented at sending more.  But he doesn’t, rather this wicked god-forsaken king sends another 51 to the same fate.  More than this, his heart is so hardened that after 102 men have lost their lives and countless families have suffered he sends another 51 men!

Fortunately the carnage is stopped when the captain humbly approaches Elijah and pleads for mercy from Elijah (2 Kings 1:13-14) and he and his men are spared but king Ahaziah dies because of his sin.

Consider: Is God right to be a jealous God?  

Jealousy is something that is almost always frowned upon and yet in certain circumstances it’s appropriate – like the jealous love of a husband or wife…  Ten times God is described in Scripture as being jealous of our wholehearted worship, trust and love for Him – and there is nothing sinful in God (Ex 20:5, Ex 34:14, Deut 4:24 & 5:9..…)

God is jealous for your wholehearted and devoted love for Him.  This is not some needy lack in God but rather an outworking of God’s holiness and God’s love for us.  God knows that for us to serve, enquire after, trust in or worship anything or anyone else is entirely futile and will bring nothing but pain and bondage to us. 

The jealous love of God sent Jesus to the cross to rescue you from satan and to rescue you from yourself  so that He could save you for relationship with Himself.  So love Yahweh, trust and worship, enquire of Yahweh alone.