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One great man of God! – Matthew 11:1-19

One great man of God! – Matthew 11:1-19
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 24, 2019

Longfellow, the Poet, wrote that “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.” We who do not consider ourselves neither great nor that inspiring might ask ourselves, “What makes a great man?” Great men do not necessarily need to be remembered by the marketplace but rather can have such an impact on those around them that they are left better in life by knowing them. Greatness should not be measured in risks taken, accumulated wealth, or educational degrees; rather greatness is how a life impacts another to the extent it changes future generations. John the Baptist was such a man.

Here in Matthew’s gospel we find John the Baptist, the last great prophet of God, while imprisoned more concerned about the spiritual health of his nation than his own personal comfort. John was chosen by God before he was even born to be the herald for the coming Messiah. Luke tells us that John would “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17 NIV)” John would be one great man of God, let’s see what this means…

READ: Matthew 11:1-19


People of faith should never follow blindly but should ask “who, what, when, where and why” when looking at Scripture or listening to a Sunday morning sermon. In fact, we learn that…

I. Great men are willing to ask the tough questions! (Vv. 1-6)

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

  1. We discover from Matthew that “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.” It is assumed that after receiving their marching orders on how to share the message that the Kingdom of God is near Jesus went himself into the region of Galilee where he grew up. Interestingly, “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” John was Jesus’ cousin and had been assigned to be the one who would announce that the Messiah had come. Some find this confusing since John had already publically declared that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NIV)” Perhaps John had heard from others that they were not sure or perhaps he was unsure why he was imprisoned. I believe John knew full well why he was jailed because we are later told that “Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife for John had been saying to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ (Matthew 14:3-4 NIV)” John wanted his followers to fully understand who Jesus was “the one to come”, a reference to the coming Messiah. Jesus lays to rest any doubt about who he was when he plainly tells them to “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Only the Messiah could do such things. John the Baptist imprisoned, fearful for his life, yet was more than willing to ask questions others would not outright ask! Great men are willing to ask the tough questions!

  EXAMPLE: Some of the greatest discoveries over the centuries were found by great men and women of faith who saw God’s handiwork in all things. From the use of Latin for a phylum system to classify plants, animals, and insects; the exploration of the heavens and mathematics to see God in the details of the universe; and in medicine to heal and cure mankind made in his image. These men and women used their faith to ask the tough questions. Matthew teaches us that great men are willing to ask the tough questions!

As I sought to find the spiritual truth I discovered that everything I was seeking was found in Jesus. Over the centuries those who are truly seeking spiritual truth come to faith in Christ. We learn that…

II. Great men discover Jesus! (Vv. 7-12)

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”

  1. Jesus had great respect for his cousin John and the sacrifices he had made to try to turn Israel back to God and to be sensitive to the coming Kingdom of God. Matthew relates that “As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John.” Jesus wants the onlookers and those who were constantly trying to go after him and John to know exactly what he thought of John the Baptist. So Jesus sets them up with a series of questions that were meant to make them think hard about what they thought about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see?” John was more than a blowhard Pharisee or a finely dressed Sadducee. He was “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ (Matthew 3:3 NIV)” He ate simple food of locusts and wild honey and dressed in simple clothes made of camel’s hair! He baptized those who wanted their sins forgiven in the waters of the Jordan River but his baptism was only momentary. Jesus continued by stating “Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” Jesus fully understood John’s role — He was to call Israel back to God so they could hear the message of the Messiah! Jesus makes no bones about the fact of John’s greatness: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” As great as John was those who come to Christ, the Messiah, by faith are far greater because they see the wisdom of God in Jesus! Jesus would declare “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Forcefully advancing (biazetai) could be rendered in the passive as “is violently treated” and that the “violent” forceful men (the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees) tried to take hold of it for their own purposes instead of coming to Jesus! John was willing to see Jesus for who he was! Great men discover Jesus!

  EXAMPLE: Contrary to popular political correctness George Washington, the Pilgrims, or Christopher Columbus were not some evil disease-ridden white slave traders. If one reads any of these people’s own words they would discover that their chief aim was to further the gospel. Pilgrims came mainly for personal and religious freedom and saw indigenous people as friends. While Washington owned slaves, he abhorred the practice and his final act was to free all he owned. A lot of the myths and bad press concerning these folks often comes from those with political agendas like the Dutch and Klu Klux Klan concerning Columbus. From political rivals of the time and others that hated them for their faith and now by socialist professors wanting to discredit anything that does not fit their liberal bias against America. Great men look beyond themselves and we realize that great men discover Jesus!

Wisdom is not given nor is it earned but rather it is acquired often by the mistakes we make in life. Those we see as wise are known so because of how they responded to tough times. In Matthew we discover…

III. Great men are recognized by wise people! (Vv. 13-19)

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear. To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”

  1. John was the last Prophet of God in the sense of the Old Covenant kind. From John on there would be no more prophets like we find in the Old Testament because from now on the world would be directed to the Kingdom of God by his Messiah! The gospel message would be the only message needed for sin-corrupt world. This is why Jesus tells the crowd, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” John was the final prophet sent by God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah Jesus! And Jesus knew the importance of John’s witness and ministry and tells the crowd “if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.” Elijah, one famous Old Testament Prophet Dude, foretold what God desired and now John was doing the same thing! Malachi prophesied, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (Malachi 4:5 NIV)” Jesus then asks, “To what can I compare this generation?” The continued questioning by the crowds and spiritual leaders of God’s actions; and their fascination with things that did not matter was frustrating for Jesus and he said “They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” God had constantly in the past tried to turn Israel back to him but they refused over and over. And now God sent a great man of God, John the Baptist, to proclaim the Messiah and they still wanted more! Jesus condemns their petulance by telling them, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’” Someone wrote that “Neither the ascetic John nor the hedonist Jesus pleased them. They could not see past the surface of either man to the wisdom underneath.” The fickle crowd and their spiritual leaders could not make up their minds about John the Baptist or Jesus because they were spiritually blind and Jesus finishes his admonishment with: “But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Great men are recognized by wise people!

  EXAMPLE: John Piper, a pastor and Christian writer, wrote that “God warns with his wrath and he woos with his kindness. He speaks both languages: severity and tenderness. Do you recall how Jesus interpreted the coming of John the Baptist as a severe, leather-girded, locus-eating, desert-living, adultery-condemning prophet, on the one hand, and his own coming as a party-going, wine-making, child-healing, sin-forgiving savior, on the other hand? The gospel came with both languages, but they would not hear.” Like ragged children begging in the marketplace, but the crowd no longer hears their cries, God sent Prophet after Prophet until John the Baptist; and now Jesus as the Messiah! Sadly, it is the same today. We learn that great men are recognized by wise people!

Conclusion:

Great men are willing to ask the tough questions! Great men discover Jesus! Great men are recognized by wise people!
This article is copyrighted © 2019 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The cost of sacrifice! – Matthew 10:34-42

The cost of sacrifice! – Matthew 10:34-42
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 17, 2019

When I was a teenager taking on my first regular job opportunity my father knew it would require that I give up a lot of my morning free time during the summer. I sold Spudnuts, a doughnut made from potato flour, door-to-door. I had to get up before sunrise, head down to the bakery, and purchase my allotment of Spudnuts, balance them on my bicycle and then go door-to-door selling these warm delicious treats. I earned good money because I was willing to count the cost.

Counting the cost of something does not come easy in our day and age where we have been told that we must have what we want when we want it and not wait for anything. The term comes from Luke’s gospel whereby Jesus tells his disciples that “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he may have enough to finish it” (Luke 14:28 MKJV). The wording used denotes the idea of not just the financial investment but the time and personal ability to finish the task considered. The cost of being a disciple can demand a lot. Let’s discover what Jesus teaches us about the cost of sacrifice…

READ: Matthew 10:34-42

Jesus was not going to leave his followers in a lurch. After promising them his presence through the Holy Spirit he told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)” We often forget the caveat that Jesus’ promised peace is not the peace of the world. In fact we learn that…

I. The cost of sacrifice brings enemies! (Vv. 34-36)

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

  1. Whether we like it or not we become enemies of the old corrupt world order when we come to Christ. Like the old Negro spiritual that related: “This word is not my home” we become part of a different culture, a new family, when we come to Jesus. We live in a violent world whereby we often long for peace. Whether it is peace within a family, peace within a neighborhood, or peace between nations! The Apostle Paul who led a very aggressive campaign against Christians before he became one would write that “The Lord is near” to all who trust him always and that his followers did not need to be “anxious about anything” because he was near – in fact only a prayer away. Paul knew that if we fully understood this then “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV)! However Jesus did not want his listeners to have any disillusions as to who he was and what following him required. He tells them: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The “sword” here is the truth of God that not everyone wants to hear because it tears away the false fabric of our lives! It rips away our phony façade and exposes us for what we truly are – sinners in need of a loving God! Hebrews tells us that “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)” This is why Jesus goes on to relate, “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” The truth of the gospel, the sword of the Spirit, will rend any filthy carcass asunder! It tears away the sin of our lives and cleanses us completely. And when it does it exposes us as brand new to the sinful filthy world and thereby the cost of sacrifice brings enemies!

  EXAMPLE: I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen wives pray for their husbands to come to Christ. They weep, pray, and desperately ask others to pray as well. They witness and try to use any one and any means for their loved one to come to Jesus. Yet when their hubby finally succumbs to the Spirit’s nudging and the change occurs, the wives are now exposed. If they are not really believers themselves the husband is changed and they are not. Or if they are weak in their faith and their spouse becomes a vibrant believer they become threatened by their new-found faith! And unbelieving children now have two parents who are on the same spiritual wavelength! It can create tension in the home and with relatives. The cost of sacrifice brings enemies!

Jem, a young boy in Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” relates that “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ‘em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.” However family can betray you and Jesus bluntly teaches his listeners that…

II. The cost of sacrifice can be family! (Vv. 37-39)

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

  1. Jesus is not teaching we should give up on our families nor is he saying that we should leave them or separate ourselves from them when we come to him. What Jesus is teaching here is the cost involved and where our heart truly is! Do you remember when Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him or not and Peter kind of gets desperate and cries out “Yes Lord, you know I love you!” But the third time after Jesus asks him again Peter finally declares, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” And there it is. Jesus God knows all things about us — all things. Jesus knows if we truly have given him our lives as a personal sacrifice to follow him wherever he leads us. A believer cannot have one foot in the world and another in the world of Jesus! This is why Jesus reiterates the truth that “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” He is referring to the personal relationship involved. Jesus knew that the family relationship is a strong one. It is not to be taken lightly. Blood is thicker than water, so-to-speak. Yet when we come to Jesus we become “children of God” and part of his family and the blood involved here would be far greater than any earthly family! John would write that “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1 NIV)” Jesus therefore fully understood that cost of following him and tells his disciples, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words whoever finds eternal life in him will lose their earthly life as they knew it because it is now a sacrifice to him and they will actually find what real life is all about! And our earthly family bond is not to take precedence over our relationship with Jesus! It does not mean we no longer love our family or that we no longer have a relationship with our family but our new relationship with Jesus may require a personal sacrifice whereby we leave our family to follow him! The cost of sacrifice can be family!

  EXAMPLE: The soldier, the fireman, and the policeman are all taught to not be concerned for their own safety and to run toward danger. This is why so many died when the Twin Towers collapsed in New York. This view of personal sacrifice can cause a great amount of stress on a family. But did you know that Christians are asked to do the very same thing? We are to run toward the purpose for which Christ has called us! Paul would say “I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ! (Philippians 3:8 NIV)” And like Jesus, Paul knew that the cost of sacrifice can be family!

In Jesus’ day as well as ours there are those who see Jesus only as a good man, a fine teacher, or just a myth made up by desperate men. None of these are ultimately true because Jesus was way more than any of these views of him. In fact Jesus bluntly tells his disciples that…

III. The cost of sacrifice demands we see Jesus as he is! (Vv. 40-42)

He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

  1. When we become believers by faith we become family members and ambassadors! We are representatives of the Kingdom of God with an important message! Paul would remind us “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 NIV)” This is why Jesus tells his disciples, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.” When we received Jesus as Savior and Lord we received God because Jesus is God. Jesus knew there would be those who only would think of him in human terms. They would get hung up on titles or trying to place him in the scheme of things they wanted and so he tells his followers that “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.” How do you see Jesus this morning? Your answers shares a lot about what you believe concerning him. If you see Jesus only as a good person then that is as far as your eternal reward will go, and it isn’t much. Jesus is so much more than a good man preaching good truths to a impoverished crowd. Jesus wasn’t about social change; he was about the eternal truth of loving God completely and loving others as you do yourself! Jesus related: “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” as his disciple, not as you think of him as a nice individual who goes about doing good things. Discipleship carries with it responsibility of following your master’s teaching. Jesus would declare, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12 NIV)” God is love, Jesus is God, and we are to love God (Jesus) and one another! The cost of sacrifice demands we see Jesus as he is!

  EXAMPLE: We as Christians are often accused of seeing the world through “rose-colored glasses” a term that may have come from romantic imagery in artwork from the Victorian era that inspired viewers to associate optimism with the deep reds of rose gardens. Victorians certainly were familiar with the idea of a “rosy glow” or “painting a rosy picture.” Others think it was from the thin film of cheap wine left in the bottom of a drunk’s glass or the rosy glow from being drunk. We are not to see Jesus through anything but the truth of who he is and the cost of sacrifice demands we see Jesus as he is!

Conclusion:

The cost of sacrifice brings enemies! The cost of sacrifice can be family! The cost of sacrifice demands we see Jesus as he is!

This article is copyrighted © 2019 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Believers will be ill-treated! – Matthew 10:16-25

Believers will be ill-treated! – Matthew 10:16-25
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 3, 2019

In today’s politically correct climate individuals can feel threatened by anything, everything, and anyone. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you have a personal right to whine about it and make a spectacle of yourself concerning your hurt feelings. It makes one wonder what these same wilting Willies would do if they were truly persecuted.

Jesus knew that his message was not and would not be popular with the established religious leadership. And in fact they would do anything to silence it and its messengers including lying, threatening, and imprisoning those who dared share it. Evil does not like to be exposed and the world was enshrouded in evil. I believe this is why there are those who are emboldened in our day and age to not just disagree with the gospel message but to personally persecute in any way possible anyone who dares to try and share it. Jesus knew believers would be persecuted; let’s discover what he taught about it…

READ: Matthew 10:16-25

Last week we learned that believers are not to waste their time with those who are not interested or who disdain the gospel. Yet we are to share the good news in a sin-stained world. Jesus knew that believers will be ill-treated and that…

I. Believers must be spiritually shrewd! (Vv. 16-20)

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

  1. Never forget that once you come to Christ you are now a stranger in a strange land. You are now in enemy territory. You are to be “on your guard against men” who do not believe. The disciples needed to understand that Jesus was “sending

[them]

out like sheep among wolves”! Christians live and breathe in a world that hates Jesus! Just as Israel had become enemy territory to the disciples, our world, our families, our neighbors, co-workers, and fellow students who do not believe are now part of a pack of spiritual wolves waiting to tear us apart given the chance! And if we are weak in our faith, the worldly pack will go after us first! Do not doubt me in this. Jesus therefore tells them to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. The same advice applies to us! Do not be spiritually naïve because a spiritually dark world wants each one of us back into the fold. Why, because these same people we once thought of as friends, family, or good people “will hand [us] over to the local councils and flog [us] in their synagogues”, churches, communities, colleges, schools, workplaces, and family gatherings. Do not be shocked or surprised when those whom we once thought of as friends or family now hate us because of our faith. Jesus bluntly tells his followers that “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” And guess what? They were! We live in a day and age whereby many believers are more afraid of not being accepted by their unbelieving concentric circle of acquaintances than being true to the Lord! However there is great news for the disciples and for us because “when they arrest [disdain, dismiss, or distrust] you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” If we have Jesus we have the Spirit of God within us! Believers must be spiritually shrewd!

  EXAMPLE: The whispering and allure of the world can cloud the weak-willed believer who is not walking with the Lord the way they should. I’ve seen many a young person getting caught up in ungodly relationships only to try and justify them. There is a reason the Scriptures remind us that the friends we keep or the relationship we make can rot our relationship with God. Paul quoted the writer Menander when he reminded the Corinthian Church that “bad company corrupts good character”. Even those we love can lead us astray when it comes to our faith and this is why Jesus related that believers must be spiritually shrewd!

Family and friends, co-workers and community members will rebel against the spiritual truth if they do not know Jesus themselves. When those around us disdain us for our faith we should not be surprised. Believers will be ill-treated and…

II. Believers must understand whose family they belong to! (Vv. 21-25)

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

  1. Jesus does not soft-sell to his followers what awaits their future. Far too often in churches today we have preachers telling their listeners all about the love of Jesus and how he can make life better but few relate that with belief comes a personal sacrifice. The sacrifice is being able to say “no” to the rest of the world and its deluded promises. Jesus bluntly tells them that “Brother will betray brother to death and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” Faith is more than getting it all, it is also about personal spiritual and physical sacrifice. Remember, “Freely you have received, freely give” (v. 8). When we come to Jesus we are immediately thrust into a spiritual battle whether we like it or not. Jesus graphically relates that “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Now he was not relating that our salvation is contingent upon our standing firm because Jesus knew better and he knows human nature. Rather he is speaking to Jewish men who would face severe persecution and consequences because of their faith in him. Later Jesus will tell them, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NIV)” They are to fear God just as we are! Yet in our day and age we would rather have the smiles and phony acceptance of ungodly friends or coworkers, family members or neighbors, than stand firm in Christ! Our final destiny and reward is not here but in a much better place and existence. Jesus knew his disciples faced some very tough days ahead after his crucifixion. “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Some believe he was speaking of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem itself, the dispersion of the Israelite nation, and referencing the future church and its witness to the entire world until he returns. Whatever the case like his disciples we must realize that “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” and in fact “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub” like Jesus just was, “how much more the members of his household!” Believers must understand whose family they belong to!

  EXAMPLE: To be honest there are fellow believers I am a lot closer to than some of my own family members. The reason is obvious because fellow believers share my faith which is far more intimate than what some of my relatives believe. Jesus experienced this when his own family thought he had gone off the deep end and wanted him to either come home or declare his messiahship publically (Mark 3:21 & John 7:3-4). Yet later Jesus reminds them that his real “brothers and sisters” are those who hear the good news and respond to it by following him wholeheartedly (Matthew 10:37). Believers must understand whose family they belong to!

Conclusion:
Believers must be spiritually shrewd! Believers must understand whose family they belong to!

This article is copyrighted © 2019 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Reaching out… — Matthew 9:18-26

Reaching out… — Matthew 9:18-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 6, 2019

How would you respond to someone you did not know needing help that you knew you could easily give? Be careful how you respond because you may be challenged sooner than you think. Here in this passage we discover Jesus going about his ministry and he is asked to respond to one request and while doing so he is interrupted and must decided what to do next. Certainly we are not Jesus but as his disciples we may be asked to respond to situations that could challenge our faith, our integrity, or our character as a Christian.

In the following passage we find Jesus responding to someone who is well established and with means and while doing so he is interrupted by a woman of little social value or influence. How he responds teaches us how we are to respond to others around us, let’s discover what happens when Jesus is in the act of reaching out…

READ: Matthew 9:18-26

What if the person you were asked to help was a politician you did not agree with? Jesus is faced with just such a decision and we discover that…

I. We should respond to those who reach out! (Vv. 18-19)

While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

  1. Jesus had just been questioned about the fasting practices of his disciples and the argument is nothing new. I’ve heard it rephrased when folks accuse me of not being the “Christian” they think I should be: “I thought you were a Christian?” But immediately following his confrontation with the followers of John the Baptist Jesus has to respond to his latest challenge. We discover that “While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.’” Matthew’s account is more of a Reader’s Digest condensed version whereas Luke tells a more detailed description. We learn from Luke that the ruler’s name is Jarius and he was “a ruler of the synagogue”. He comes and falls at Jesus’ feet begging and pleading with Jesus to come and heal his daughter. Before he could have been one of those who distrusted Jesus and sought to have him convicted of blasphemy but now he saw Jesus as his daughter’s only hope. Never forget that many of those we come into contact with that reach out to us might be doing so because of Jesus in our lives and they sense we are their only hope. Jarius had come to realize Jesus was his hope and Jesus saw this and “got up and went with him, and so did his disciples”. God places people in our lives for a reason. Jarius was there at that moment because the crowd, the disciples, and now those of us who are willing to listen and understand the simple truth that we should respond to those who reach out!

  EXAMPLE: I was amazed at how people at Disneyland spent more time on their cell phones than spending time with their families. Do you realize that all the selfies you take, the text messages you write, or the games you play will mean nothing in a few years? They are stolen moments of your time that you have allowed yourself to be robbed of that you can never gain back. What is more important, meeting a specific need or taking another selfie? We should respond to those who reach out!

When you are in the midst of doing something important it can be irritating to be interrupted, but did you realize that God often disrupts our lives? And here we discover that…

II. We should reach out to the immediate need before us! (Vv. 20-22)

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.

  1. Carpe diem, a phrase that comes from the Roman poet Horace, means literally “Pluck the day”, though it’s usually translated as “Seize the day”. It comes from the notion of picking a blossom, piece of fruit, or a grape. You pluck the day and make it yours. We often forget that God has given us each day we live and here in Matthew’s account we discover that while Jesus is headed to Jarius’ house “a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve year came up behind [Jesus] and touched the hem of his cloak”! She plucked the moment. Again, Luke being more descriptive relates that the crowds were so large that they were “crushing” Jesus and that her need was out of desperation. No one had been able to cure her. No one. Luke writes that “She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.” Matthew adds her thoughts for doing so because she needed to gain her courage, being a woman – who is sick – daring to touch a Rabbi, a man in public. “She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’”  Wow, can you imagine the moment? I wonder if we realize the courage of those who come to us for prayer, for answers, for kindness or counsel and not realize it. Jesus has the moment within his grasp to pluck. Luke relates that Jesus stops and asks, “Who touched me?” Matthew writes that “Jesus turned and saw her.” Peter the pragmatist sarcastically responds exactly like many us do, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you!” Jesus knew because the Spirit had been stirred within him and had “gone out” of him and he wanted to see if the woman had the faith to admit it, and she does! Luke says that “Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.” Jesus relieves her fears, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.” Perhaps we need to seize the moment God gives us and pluck the fruit within our grasp? We should reach out to the immediate need before us!

  EXAMPLE: Recently at Disneyland my wife and I decided that we would take the time to let those who work there know that we appreciated them. It was amazing to see how it brightened the day of these workers. They are underpaid, often unappreciated, and serve a public that can be dismissive and derisive. We would find a ride operator, a person who collected the 3D glasses, or a food vendor and let them know that we not only appreciated their willingness to do their job but how they did it. Janitors smiled, ride attendants had renewed enthusiasm, and all were sincerely appreciative. We discovered that we should reach out to the immediate need before us!

Interruptions can either be seen by us as inconvenient or a blessing. Each day and each moment in life either will mature us or irritate us and the choice is ours to make. Here we learn that…

III. We may have to overcome hurdles in reaching out! (Vv. 23-26)

When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

  1. And now, as they say, the rest of the story: Jesus continues to where he was going in the first place; you remember the ruler’s house! Luke shares the starkness of the moment when “While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler.” And news he brings is not good: “‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Don’t bother the teacher anymore.’” However Luke continues and relates “Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.’” You see God knows our lives. He knows our coming and going, our joys and sorrows. He knew Jarius’ fears and the love he had for his daughter. Does this mean God will heal everyone miraculously who asks? No because God knows who we are and in this knowing understands what we need at the moment; and Jarius, the disciples, and the crowd needed something different than what we or others might need. They needed to know who Jesus is, so “When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, ‘Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.’” Jesus knew they did not believe. Luke writes that “They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.” Matthew relates that they laughed as well. It was a scoffing, disbelieving, derisive laughter. But Jesus would have none of it and “After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.” The crushing crowds, the fearful father, and the ill-mannered mourners did not stop Jesus from reaching out to a little girl who needed his ministry. What stops you from reaching out to those around you in need? But when we do like Jesus we see that “News of this spread through all that region.” And isn’t this what it is all about? We learn here that we may have to overcome hurdles in reaching out!

  EXAMPLE: We had walked over ten miles in the hot California sun but we had a good time. We were now heading home to our hotel room to rest and relax and perhaps take a dip in the hotel pool. I noticed several Disneyland cast members walking beside us, weary and tired, heading to their bus to take them to their cars so they too could head home. I turned to a group of them and related, “Ladies, thank you so much for making our time at Disneyland enjoyable.” They kind of looked up and replied, “You’re welcome.” But I continued, “Ladies, I know you may not get a lot of thanks but it is because of folks like you who are willing to put up with people like us and do it with charm, kindness, and a willingness to make out time enjoyable – please I sincerely want to say, ‘Thank you’!” They all smiled, walked a bit straighter, and replied, “You’re very welcome and thank you.” We may have to overcome hurdles in reaching out!

Conclusion:

We should respond to those who reach out! We should reach out to the immediate need before us! We may have to overcome hurdles in reaching out!

This article is copyrighted © 2019 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Follow me! — Matthew 8:18-22

Follow me! — Matthew 8:18-22
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 28, 2019

Who or what you follow says a lot about what you believe in life. I’ve always found it humorous when folks tell me that they go to a “nondenominational” church because there is no such thing. If you have a pastor who preaches and is your church’s leader you follow a specific “denomination” or theology whether you want to admit to it or not. Pastors are trained by someone and that someone was trained or trains in a particular denominational bent.

When Jesus called his disciples he did not give them any false pretenses and in fact often went out of the way to teach them exactly who they followed and why. While some of the gospel writers do not necessarily focus on those who were outside of the inner circle of disciples they do touch on the fact that there were many who did indeed follow Jesus even if they were not part of the core group he specifically chose. And it is here that Matthew focuses us this morning as we take a look at those who wanted to “follow” Jesus. Let’s take a look at what it meant when Jesus said, “Follow me!”

READ: Matthew 8:18-22

In this section Matthew gave a couple of illustrations to demonstrate the right Jesus had to ask who he desired to follow him and to deny requests from those who were motivated improperly. In this first example we discover…

I. Following Jesus requires hardship! (Vv. 18-20)

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

  1. We find Jesus’ compassion often displayed by what he does or how he responds to certain situations. Evidently the crowds were becoming increasingly large and therefore probably more aggressive and perhaps even inconsiderate of Jesus’ time. Matthew writes that “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” We had previously learned that “When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.” (v. 8:1) and so it had become increasingly difficult to go from one place to the next so Jesus decides to cross the lake, the Sea of Galilee, and preach there. In one instance John relates that the people wanted to forcefully make Jesus their king, but he would have none of it and used the lake as a means to get away. However, as Jesus evidently lands on the far shore “a teacher of the law came to him” declaring “Teacher I will follow you wherever you go.” Instead of Jesus choosing him this man had decided for himself and we discover his impulsiveness isn’t what Jesus was looking for. Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” God has created a place for every living thing he has created but in his ministry and mission to the world he would not have a place of his own and this young man had to realize that the hardship he was asking for might be more then he could bear. Jesus had no permanent home. Perhaps Jesus saw that this young man desired more than just following him to be his disciple. Some think he wanted fame and fortune but Jesus desired neither and in fact had already flatly turned them down when Satan tried to tempt him in his humanity with such enticements. Creation is not Satan’s to give and God has no need of such things. In fact when “large crowds” were following Jesus, he turned to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27 NIV)” The road of being a disciple of Jesus is not an easy well paved path like that broad way the world offers. Following Jesus requires hardship!

  EXAMPLE: Many families that started out on the Oregon Trail did not finish it intact; disease, accidents, starvation, wild animals, and attacks placed a huge hardship on early pioneers. We have no idea the dangers they faced and yet they did in order to find a new life in a new land. One of their favorite hymns they sang around campfires was On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand and yet nowadays many refuse to come to the land that is fairer than day and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Hardship for us is misplacing our cell phone, not having free Wi-Fi or a fast food restaurant every 25 feet. Here in Matthew we discover that following Jesus requires hardship!

In our lives we can begin to place the improper focus on things that may not matter as far as eternity is concerned. Friends, jobs, school, finances, or even family can blur our vision as to what truly matters in life especially where it concerns following Jesus. In the second example we discover…

II. Following Jesus requires knowing what is vital in life! (Vv. 21-22)

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

  1. At first glance we might think Jesus was uncaring in his next response to the second man but he was not. The wording in the original language teaches us what is happening here. We often get so caught up in this life we forget there is another one waiting for us. Our world has become so cynical that there are those who try to ignore life after death. Jesus made no illusions to the fact that once you pass from this existence you will either be in the presence of God or separated from him for eternity. Jesus absolutely knew what he was talking about because he is God! Matthew related that “Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’” Luke tells us it was just “another man” and not one of the inner twelve so here disciple is used for a close follower. And like I said before we tend to forget that there is more to life than just this life! When Peter complained that he and his fellow disciples had “left everything” to follow Jesus, he told Peter, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” However this promise of a wonderful future was not just reserved for the inner twelve disciples! Jesus continued by relating, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Now Jesus is not teaching some name-it-and-claim-it heresy but rather that there is more to living for him than we know. If we follow him we will be wonderfully rewarded. In fact Paul would write, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him! (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV)” Matthew related therefore, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Jesus wasn’t uncaring but the man wanted to go back home and wait until his father got older, he buried him, and then he would follow Jesus! Jesus desires you make the decision to follow him today, not later. Paul would state that “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:2 NIV)” Make no mistake that following Jesus requires knowing what is vital in life!

  EXAMPLE: What we consider vital in life is far different than what was considered essential when I was a child. Children can live without cell phones, video games, or the latest clothing fad. In Walt Disney’s classic The Jungle Book based on Kipling’s book of the same title the bear Baloo sings a song called The Bare Necessities in which he encourages his young protégée to go after the simple bare necessities of life. Baloo finds everything he needs from the forest around him. We live in a time when even the poorest among us has more than most of the rest of the world. Following Jesus requires knowing what is vital in life!

Conclusion:

Following Jesus requires hardship! Following Jesus requires knowing what is vital in life!

This article is copyrighted © 2019 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The rule to end all rules! – Matthew 7:12-14

The rule to end all rules! – Matthew 7:12-14
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 2, 2019

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy they try to take back a special ring called the One Ring. It contained an inscription that read: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them!” There are times when we all wish that life was simpler and long for one simple rule to guide us. The Hebrews had enslaved their people by interpreting over 600 volumes expanding on the Ten Commandments of God! President Obama on his last day in office signed into law over 30,000 pages of new laws! Is it any wonder we long for one rule to end all rules!

Jesus understood that his people and all people had been subjected to self-imposed rules that were heavy burdens for them to bear. He desired to simplify their lives. In this he gave all of us the rule to end all rules. Let’s discover what it means for us today…

READ: Matthew 7:12-14

In continuing on in his teaching concerning God giving good things to those he loves and how we should do the same Jesus teaches his disciples exactly why it is so important for them to get this one thing right in life. Jesus teaches us that the rule to end all rules is…

I. The sum total of everything we are to do with our lives! (v. 12)

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

  1. An expert in the Jewish law asks Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV) And here Jesus tells his Jewish listeners “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”! Herein is the foundational truth they were to live their lives by. However, the only way this could be achieved is through the love of God as expressed in Jesus! The world utterly fails when it tries on its own to do good things for others thinking that by doing so they are fulfilling what Jesus taught. Now how in the world could I say this, because of what Jesus goes on to teach them that namely “this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” The Hebrews found it difficult if not downright impossible for them to express love or compassion for anyone other than their fellow Jews. They had been the bane of and the doormat for the rest of the world for centuries; how could they do to others what they would have them do to them? Impossible! Yet it isn’t if one knows God first in the love and compassion of Jesus. The love of God had continually been expressed to the Israelites but they had not always remained true to him who loved them! His love and devotion, his love and sacrifice, and who they were to worship was summed up in the Law and the Prophets! The term “Law and the Prophets” meant the entire Word of God, what had been written, what had been revealed, and what now was being revealed to them through Jesus God’s only Son! Believe me no Israelite would have sacrificed his life for the life of a nonbeliever; that would’ve been like asking them to die for a Roman soldier! So we discover Jesus sharing with his listeners a new way to live: Jesus’ way. And it is here we discover the rule to end all rules in the sum total of everything we are to do with our lives!

  EXAMPLE: While we are young we think we have all kinds of time to do whatever we decide to do but then we grow older and realize that time goes by quicker than we first thought. I remember asking an older adult how they felt turning 70 and they responded, “I feel the same as when I was 20 but I can’t do the same things I could do when I was 20.” As we grow older we begin to understand that what we do with our lives even when we were younger has an impact on our lives as we grow older. The same is true for our spiritual existence as well. What we do not do or what we do has a huge impact on our lives for eternity. In describing the rule to end all rules Jesus shared that how we treat others is the sum total of everything we are to do with our lives!

There is a heresy that has gained a foothold within the Christian church that tacitly teaches that our worship experience is all that matters. Rather than a means to encourage the saved to go out and win the lost it’s more about how to discover happiness in one simple sermon. This goes against the very nature of the gospel message and Jesus’ rule to end all rules teaches us that…

II. We do not live as the world does! (Vv. 13-14)

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

  1. Jesus continued on with his new teaching of how they were to live and I am sure that many of his listeners that day were already thinking to themselves, “What you are teaching is impossible!” And it was if they were trying to live that way on their own. But Jesus begins to clarify what he meant by telling them that they had to enter into this new way of living differently than they had before. It was not the way the world took. In fact they had to “Enter through the narrow gate.” It was the idea of entering one at a time. No one could go with them and no one could do it for them, they had to walk through the gate all by themselves! Gates were often made narrow so that enemies who tried to force their way in could be easily stopped from doing so. However the world, the marketplace desires a wide way in; a broad way so-to-speak! It looks easy and it is easy to navigate however the outcome may not be what you expect: “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” While the world espouses an outwardly friendly “y’all come attitude”, such an attitude leads to total devastation! There are those who want Christians to “soften” their “harsh” attitude in thinking that there is only one way to God or that there is only one means of salvation, but if we do so we are leading people down the broad path of death! Jesus bluntly taught: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)” Peter would declare, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12 NIV)” Paul would write to those who would have you believe that what we place our faith in is simply made up or fairytales and nothing could be further from the truth! Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:19-20 NIV)” The way of the world is broad and easy but the way we live for Jesus is narrower, not narrow-minded, but a whole lot harder than the easy do whatever you want whenever you want ungodly lifestyle of the world we live in! Jesus teaches us in the rule to end all rules that we do not live as the world does!

  EXAMPLE: A few years ago there was a term teens used when someone pretended to be a member of a group that they are not actually a member of. Poser. They were also called a “wannabe”. For example, by adopting the mode of dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. of a specific group we are posers. There are a lot of Christian posers within the church and outside of the church; those who want to be seen as “Christian” because of their feelings or actions rather than their actual faith. People who pose as believers is nothing new and Jesus warned here that we do not live as the world does!


Conclusion:


The sum total of everything we are to do with our lives! We do not live as the world does!

This article is copyrighted © 2019 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Go the distance! — 2 Kings 13:4-6, 14-19, 24-25

Go the distance! — 2 Kings 13:4-6, 14-19, 24-25
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 21, 2018

During an elementary school track meet a young boy ran three of the laps in a race very fast and was out among the leaders. But on the last lap, instead of staying on the track and rounding the end to get to the finish line, he left the track, cut across the football field to the track on the other side, and then finished. Someone asked him why he cut across, he simply said, “I got tired.” Though he ran well, he did not finish well and was disqualified. He failed to go the distance.

There is a definite need in America today for God’s people to serve the Lord with all one’s heart. Some of Northern Israel’s kings rendered admirable service to the Lord for a while, but in time their obedience was well rather incomplete. They sinned and did what they wanted rather than following the Lord. Their examples illustrate the importance of serving God with wholehearted consistency and persistence. Today we will take a look at why it is so important for believers to go the distance…

READ: 2 Kings 13:4-6, 14-19, 24-25

Why do some Christians start well in their relationship with God but then do not serve with wholehearted consistency and persistence? Why don’t they go the distance? We can blame it on a lot of things but whatever the reason God calls his people to go the distance! We discover that…

I. To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings! (Vv. 4-6)

Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favor, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. The LORD provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram. So the Israelites lived in their own homes as they had before. But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.

1. When Jehoahaz became king of Israel, he continued his predecessors’ practices. He approved of and took part in the worship of the golden calves set up by Jeroboam at Dan and Bethel. Because the people followed their leader’s example and as punishment for their sins, God kept Israel under the oppressive power of the Aramean kings Hazael and Ben-hadad. This condition continued during Jehoahaz’s 17-year reign. “Then Jehoahaz sought the LORD’s favor, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.” While we are not always faithful, God always is. The word “sought” carries the idea of turning to God in weakness or helplessness. God heard Jehoahaz because God saw the oppression Hazael, king of Aram, inflicted on Israel. The Hebrew word translated “heard” means not only that God listened to the prayer of Jehoahaz but also that He answered his prayer: “The LORD provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram. So the Israelites lived in their own homes as they had before.” Just like in the Book of Judges God once again sent someone to deliver his people. He acted to deliver the Israelites and restore them to a time of peace. They were able to live in their own tents or homes as before. Sometimes, people never learn from their mistakes. This can be true of a nation as well. “But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.” God’s deliverance did not motivate the Northern Kingdom Israel to turn back completely from idolatry and worship him only. Israel continued to practice the sins that Jeroboam, Israel’s first king, initiated when he set up calf worship in Israel. The nation also kept the Asherah pole standing as a symbol and place for the worship of the female goddess Asherah. An Asherah pole was a wooden pole erected to the Canaanite goddess of fertility. May poles that some dance around nowadays are the remnants of this paganism. To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings!

EXAMPLE: I enjoy being in the company of people who have a sense of humor. Lighthearted conversation sprinkled with laughter is always enjoyable. I also like serious discussions about important spiritual, moral, and political issues, especially when the participants express different points of view with intensity and feeling. I must confess however that I don’t enjoy conversations when I am being rebuked. It’s hard to face my failings. As I look back on my life, however, I must confess that some of the reprimands have brought me moral and spiritual benefit. I remember my uncle who was “disappointed” in me because I took a shortcut in weeding my grandmother’s garden. I remember a coworker telling me he wasn’t satisfied with the job I did. Both made me a better person. Rebukes hurt, but they are helpful. To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings!

Jehoahaz was wise to go to God in prayer for help. The worship of Baal and Asherah had not brought his nation deliverance from Aram. When God delivered the Hebrew people, they should have turned to him in gratitude and served him with all their hearts. However, they fell short spiritually. They accepted God’s favor but continued in their evil ways. We discover that…

II. Persistence pays off in going the distance for God! (Vv. 14-17)

Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” Elisha said, “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so. “Take the bow in your hands,” he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. “Open the east window,” he said, and he opened it. “Shoot!” Elisha said, and he shot. “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha declared. “You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.”

1. What was a king to do? His army had been reduced to 50 horsemen, 10 chariots, and only 10,000 foot soldiers. His nation was suffering from the incursions of the Arameans and was spiritually corrupt. Now, the Nation’s top prophet “Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died.” The names of the kings here might be confusing. “Joash” and “Jehoash” are two ways of spelling the same name. This confusion is complicated because Israel and Judah both had kings with this name and their reigns overlapped. In verse 10 the king of Judah is called Joash and the king of Israel is called Jehoash. For clarity’s sake, this is how the names will be used. So we find that the “Jehoash king of Israel went down to see (Elisha) and wept over him. ‘My father! My father!’ he cried.” He saw Elisha as his nation’s spiritual father. The word also implies a master, a protector, an advisor, or a governor. God had made Elisha a spiritual leader to Israel! Through the years, Israel had defeated its enemies by depending on Elisha, not by depending on the nation’s military strength. So now the king cries, “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” Though Elisha was very ill, he answered Jehoash’s request for help. Elisha tells him “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so. “When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.” The prophet’s action symbolized that God would have his “hand” on the king in battle against Aram. Jehoash would have to face the Arameans, but God would guide him in the battle. The prophet’s next instructions were to open the east window. The Arameans were located in the area east of Israel, which included the area across the Jordan. Pointing the arrow out of the window toward the east, Elisha commanded Jehoash to Shoot! When the king shot the arrow, Elisha declared, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha promised Jehoash would receive victory over the Arameans at Aphek a city east of the Jordan and near the Sea of Galilee. What circumstances tempt believers to think ministry for the Lord is no longer possible? In what area will you continue to serve the Lord regardless the circumstances? Even while very ill Elisha continued to serve the Lord. Persistence pays off in going the distance for God!

EXAMPLE: A. J. Cronin a doctor who was forced by illness to take a leave of absence from his medical practice decided to write. He became discouraged when half done and threw his manuscript into the garbage. Later when Cronin was walking the Scottish Highlands he met a man digging in a bog, to drain it for use as a pasture. As Cronin talked with him, the man related, “My father dug at this bog and never made a pasture. But my father knew and I know that it’s only by digging you can make a pasture. So I keep on digging.” Feeling rebuked Cronin went home, picked his manuscript out of the garbage can, and finished it. That novel, Hatter’s Castle, sold three million copies! There are times we may feel trapped by circumstances that demand persistence. Are we willing to keep digging away at whatever “bog” God has assigned to us? Persistence pays off in going the distance for God!

Elisha rendered persistent service to the Lord, even when he was suffering from a terminal illness. Elisha’s actions remind us that the Lord wants believers to continue serving him as long as they are able, regardless of what they are experiencing. We learn that…

III. We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience! (Vv. 18-19, 24-25)

Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”… Hazael king of Aram died, and Ben-Hadad his son succeeded him as king. Then Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him, and so he recovered the Israelite towns.

1. Elisha instructed the king to “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Now here is the key to understanding what the king should have done, how he failed Elisha’s direction, and therefore failed to follow through with his trust in God! “Strike the ground” with the arrows Elisha told him but the king struck the ground three times and stopped. How many arrows did Jehoash have in his hand? We do not know but if he had followed through he would have been completely successful! Jehoash could have held all the arrows in his hand and struck the ground three times, or he could have shot three of the arrows into the ground. I believe he had a lot more arrows and he had failed to strike the ground the number of times the arrows represented. God desired to give him a complete victory but now he would only enjoy a partial one. How often does this occur in our lives when God asks us to trust him and we only partially follow through? Elisha became angry when Jehoash stopped after striking the ground only three times. The prophet said he should have struck five or six times. If he had, then he would have defeated Aram totally, until he put an end to them. But because he struck the ground only three times, he would strike down Aram only three times. The king’s actions reveal half-heartedness in accepting Elisha’s word from God. The king’s actions suggest a lack of faith and determination to be all he could be in the hands of Almighty God. We learn that after the king of Aram’s death Jehoash seized the opportunity to recapture from Hazael’s successor, Ben-hadad, the towns Hazael had taken from Jehoash’s father Jehoahaz. In the battles for those towns, Jehoash was able to defeat the Arameans under Ben-hadad but only three times, thus fulfilling Elisha’s prophecy. What task or challenge are you facing right now for the Lord in which you are tempted either to ignore or to face half-heartedly? What steps can you take to go the distance with God in this challenge? Jehoash was not limited in his success by the strength of the Arameans but by his own lack of wholehearted obedience. God had promised complete victory, but the king had not been committed to obeying and serving God obediently. God would have gone the distance and defeated the Arameans if only Jehoash had gone the distance with him. We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience!

EXAMPLE: After getting home from church a little boy’s mother asked what they had taught him in Sunday School. He sighed and responded, “Obedience… AGAIN!” We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience! Oswald Chambers wrote: “The Lord does not give me rules, but he makes his standard very clear. If my relationship to him is that of love, I will do what he says… If I hesitate, it is because I love someone I have placed in competition with Him, namely, myself.” Cindy Casper writes: “When we are obedient, we show God that we love him and have more faith in him than we do in ourselves. Arthur W. Pink said that love is ‘a principle of action, and it expresses itself . . . by deeds which please the object loved.’ To obey God means to relinquish what we want and to choose to do what he asks.” We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience!

Conclusions:

To go the distance we need to look at our spiritual shortcomings! Persistence pays off in going the distance for God! We can go the distance with wholehearted obedience!
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This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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