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God's Glory - His Passion

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God’s Glory - His Passion

God’s Glory – His Passion
Judges 6-7
Why did God allow the Corona Virus to hit this world and not only bring death, but also bring economic devastation and such a sense of fear - panic even, to so many? This is a question that people are asking - and if you haven’t thought it through, then you won’t be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within you.
So what would you say?
About a month ago, on April 11, the New York Times carried an opinion piece entitled, “The Pandemic and the Will of God.” The article pointed to the different answers that people INSIDE the Church give to the “WHY of the corona virus”. One priest says that there is no answer to the mystery of suffering and we shouldn’t be looking for one - we should just point people to the Jesus who comes and cares for those who are suffering. Another theologian agrees that that there is no reason and instead of looking for explanations of this virus, we should just join the world in lament.
Are those satisfying answer for you?
Often it’s almost as interesting to read the comments, as to read the article, these days. A person named Diane speaks for many when she gave her opinion:
A virus is causing suffering and deaths. There is nothing mysterious about the scientific facts. There is nothing mysterious about economies tanking as a result of them grinding to a complete halt because of a pandemic. Where is God in all of this? I remain clueless. Where is God's compassion? Where was it at Newtown? Las Vegas? Aurora? Parkland High School? And all of the other places where people were massacred? Where was it on 9/11? Where is it every single day when children are abused? … Either God is tone deaf, there is no God, or we have been given our lives by God to make of them what we will and whatever happens just happens without any intercession from Him.
Another person, named Jorge gave his input into the ‘Why’ of this virus:
As Albert Camus knew, there is no “mystery” to be explained or answered for in times of plague, war or natural catastrophe. Plagues are amoral. The suffering inflicted is mostly random and the cruelty and death, distributed with no regard for good or evil, no distinction between deserving and undeserving. In this sense, a plague Is “absurd” and senseless. As Camus also knew, the trick is to affirm life and ameliorate the suffering of others — in spite of life’s absurdity.
So, suffering happens … happens because it just happens .... or suffering happens because this universe is random, cruel and senseless - everything is absurd. So just try to be happy by pretending it’s not. You will have to decide for yourself whether these answers are satisfying for you.
They are not the answers of the Bible.
Reminds me of a quote from, Ravi Zacharias. We lost a good one, this week. For decades Ravi Zacharias has travelled the world, speaking at universities, speaking to intellectuals, to skeptics and the curios - and pointing them to their need for Jesus Christ. He was recently diagnosed with cancer, treated with chemotherapy and this past week, was taken home to glory, to be with the Savior He served. When it comes to meaning in suffering, some time ago he said these words:
I have absolutely no doubt that if you are a praying Christian, your faith in God is what is carrying you, through both the good times and the hard times. However, if you are not a praying person, you are carrying your faith - you are trying to make your faith work for you apart from your source of power - and trying to carry the infinite is very exhausting.
The message of the Bible is that God is in control. His ways are unsearchable but they are not absurd. And the God of the Bible has allowed this virus - to display His glory. From the Bible’s beginning to its end - it reveals a God to us who is passionate in the pursuit of His Glory and Grace.
"For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another." (Isaiah 48:11, ESV)
Ephesians 1:5,6, 12"he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:5-6, ESV)
"so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:12, ESV)
2 Thessalonians 1:10"when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed." (2 Thessalonians 1:10, ESV)
Romans 11:36: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:36, ESV)
We are journeying through the Old Testament book of Judges and week after week we are seeing how in history God patiently endures the faithlessness of His own people – and we wonder, “Why would He keep putting up with this mess of unbelief? Why not just leave the people to the consequence of their own foolish decisions – and start again with a new people?” The answer: so that God can display the glory of His grace.
Today’s passage makes the point brilliantly clear. Today we look at the life of Gideon – at least the first part of the life of Gideon, as recorded in Judges chapter 6. And in this chapter, I want you to see God pursuing His Glory in the most unlikely of circumstances.
READ vv. 1-10
Look at how chapter 6 begins. Verse 1: “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD …” (and if you’ve been reading the book of Judges this far, you say, “Oh oh … here we go again.”
And sure enough, verse 1 continues: “… and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.” Yep – same old cycle all over again: Israel sins against God – God punishes Israel.
But actually no – this isn’t the same old cycle – this suffering of God’s people is spiraling deeper and deeper into pain. Things haven’t been THIS bad before.
Look at the state of the people of God this time. Verse 1 tells us that for seven years, Israel has been in the hand of the nation of Midian. Verse 2 tells us that because of Midian’s ‘overpowering’ presence, “the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.” In other words, they’ve left their homes, taken their essential belongings - and headed for the hills to live in caves. God’s gloriously free people. Given this land as gift … are now reduced to living in caves?!
What’s happening here? Verse 3: “Whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them” …
What seems to be happening here is that, where in previous sufferings in this book – enemy armies would invade the land, conquer the people and take over the territory – this time, the enemy doesn’t come to occupy – but to plunder. The Midianites are desert dwellers … hungry for the riches that fertile, fruitful, cared-for land could produce.
Domestication of camels ...
So when harvest time comes for the Israelites, just like clockwork, the Midianites and their partners in crime, swoop in with their tents AND their camels that cannot be counted, they swoop in like a swarm of locusts onto a Great Depression Prairie - although this land isn’t a dry dustbowl - it’s fruitful. And as v. 5 tells us - - and they literally devour every shred of vegetation. Every vegetable, every stock of grain … everything – the invaders take it all. They let the camels use the fields as grazing land until every scrap is gone. And, while they’re in the neighborhood anyways, the Midianites grab in their grubby hands and carry off with them, the sheep, oxen and donkeys belonging to the Israelites.
Every year its like this - harvest time - Midianites invade from the east, cross the Jordan river, hit the Plain of Jezreel -the bread basket of Israel. Put yourself in the land, as an Israelite, in that day. You feel the ground shaking beneath your feet - the pounding hooves of camels beyond number. You can see the dust billowing into the distant sky as the swarm comes your way. You know what this means - you’ve been through this torment for the last several years now. You grab your family, your most prized possessions - and you run to hid in the craggy mountainside caves.
The Midianite marauders sweep southwest as far as Gaza in Philistia, unleashing a scorched earth invasion.
Remember – there’s no Superstore up the street, where you can go to restock your cupboards. There’s nothing left to eat. How do you survive in conditions like this? Short answer: You don’t. Not for long anyway. Here’s the nation of Israel, brought into this land flowing with milk and honey – to be gloriously free and delighted by God’s abundant blessing … and not only are the people NOT having delight … but now literally hiding in caves – cowering and starving.
Verse 6 tells us that, “The people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.” Well, I guess so. And of course, we know what happens next. Israel cries to the LORD for help and then, God provides a deliverer. We’ve seen this episode four times already.
NOT this time. Verse 8 tells us that when the people cried out to the LORD – He sent … NOT a DELIVERER – He sent a PROPHET.
A PROPHET?! Sent to a suffering, starving people?! That’s like being stuck on the side of the road, calling BCAA and instead of sending you a mechanic, they send you a philosopher.
Here’s one reason why I say that God’s great purpose is to display His glory. If it wasn’t – IF his FIRST priority is to keep His people from suffering, if it is to keep His people happy and well-fed, then for one thing, they wouldn’t be hiding in caves in their own land. And secondly, if they were – and they cried out for help – He would have sent them another Mighty Warrior to get rid of the oppressors. But God’s FIRST PRIORITY is His glory - - so He sends them a prophet.
Verses 8-10: This is what the prophet says: " … Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”" (Judges 6:8-10, ESV)
Do you see what God’s message to His people is? “I have shown my powerful protective love in rescuing you from slavery; I have shown my faithfulness in conquering this land for you … and you have WIPED YOUR FEET on the glory of my grace by bowing to these sham gods in this land. Of course you are not happy. You can’t be happy! Israel wants rescue from their trouble - God wants to explain WHY they’re in this trouble.
People ask me, “Aren’t you afraid of the virus?!” “Aren’t you concerned your health or about the economy?” I say no - - God is at work to display His glory and grace, so I will strive to stay close to Him, to live wisely – and then trust Him to put His glory on display for my good.
God may not rescue His people right away, but He will rescue them. In verse 11 of chapter 6, the curtain opens on a new scene. The angel of the LORD comes to the town of Ophrah, to a young man named Gideon.
READ vv. 12-24
Verse 12, “The LORD is with you, O Mighty Man of Valor.” If you don’t smile when you read that greeting to Gideon, then you don’t get it. That’s a joke! You see, Gideon may be many things, but one thing he definitely is NOT - is a might man of valor. And that’s obvious on so many levels.
FIRST - look where he is when the angel comes to him - Verse 11 tells us that Gideon is treading grain in a wine-press. You may not be a farmer, but I think most of us know that you tread grain, out on an open hilltop, where you can tread the grain on your threshing floor, then toss it up on the air, so the wind can carry the chaff away and the edible grain can fall back to the ground.
But when an oppressing foreign power swarms your land, like a plague and forcibly takes every last head of grain - as soon as you have harvested it … you don’t dare do anything out in the open. So here is the ‘Mighty Warrior’ - who’s supposed to deliver his people from the Midianites … and what’s he doing? Hiding, down behind the walls of the winepress - hoping no Midianites see what he’s doing. ‘Mighty man of valor!” That’s funny.
SECOND – Notice Gideon’s reaction to the angel’s announcement. The angel says, “The LORD is with you ...”. And Gideon takes no encouragement or hope from that - but instead, he says, in v. 13: “Please sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Are you kidding me?! “The problem isn’t me … the problem is You, God!” Really? It’s especially mind-blowing considering that Gideon’s own dad has an altar to Baal in their backyard!
This is supposed to the leader God uses to bring deliverance … and he doesn’t even understand WHY the people are suffering in the first place! He blames God!
Like us - “IF … THEN WHY …?”
“If you are an all powerful, loving God - THEN WHY this pandemic?!”
“If you are the God who works out all things for the good of Your people - then why is my heart breaking with grief right now?” Have you been there?
“The problem in my life isn’t me - You’re doing Your ‘God-stuff’ wrong. “
And what’s even more stunning than Gideon blaming God for the problem, is that God doesn’t strike him dead on the spot. In fact, He responds by commissioning him as THE deliverer. This is no Joshua, not even a Barak. But look at v. 14, “The LORD turned to him … (Don’t miss that - this not just an angel speaking) … The LORD … said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel … do I not send you?’”
But this still isn’t enough for Gideon. THIRD – Verse 15, “Please Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest … I am least in my family …” “I am the runt of the litter - - I was the kid in high-school who used to get stuffed into the locker by the bullies at lunch time. Why me?”
There are some of us who identify so much with Gideon at this point. You’ve lived your life feeling like the ‘runt’ … always had a sense that God’s love, that special purpose in life, that the pleasure of having an impact on the world .... well that’s all for someone else. That’s for a Ravi Zacharias .... certainly not for me.
Oh, friend, see your ancestor, Gideon - who walked this road before you. This is the one God commissions to rescue an entire nation. See God’s Glorious Compassion on display.
READ vv. 25-27
FOURTH – V. 25 tells us about Gideon’s family altar to the Canaanite god Baal in his own backyard. God is going to rescue Israel from its discipline for worshiping the gods of Canaan by the hand of a man who has a couple of statues to those very gods in his own yard!
“Well, before we go any further - you better get rid of those idols - tear them down! Tear down their altars and build an altar to the one and only God - I will not share my glory with another.” “You can’t serve 2 masters!”
To Gideon’s credit - he does tear them down … and he does build an altar to God on the very spot - - but before you give him a ‘high 5’ for his brave leadership, notice when he does it. Verse 27: “So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.”
So, he obeys God - but he does it when nobody is watching … because he’s afraid.
Sure enough, Gideon has reason to be afraid - the next morning, when the neighbors find out that their favorite local Ba’al worship center has been unceremoniously toppled - they come looking for blood. They want Gideon dead. These are the PEOPLE OF GOD - in the LAND OF GOD!
Finally, Gideon’s dad steps up: “If Baal’s really a god - let him fight for himself!”. Now something’s happened - Gideon’s family has shown a flash of bravery. There just may be hope for this guy after all … and just in time.
Verse 33 tells us that the Midianite-led coalition is back in the land. The locust swarm of invaders is camping right in the middle of farm country. But there’s encouragement this year. Verse 34, “But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet …”. And from various tribes - Israelites come out to get ready for a fight. This year, things are going to change. Here come’s God’s rescue.
.... Oh, but not so fast. Just when you think Gideon is ready for the big time - there’s another hiccup.
Verses 36-40 tell us about Gideon’s fleece. READ vv. 36-40
Now, if you grew up in the church, as I did - you very likely are familiar with the story of Gideon’s fleece. You’ve heard S.S. teachers and preachers talk about putting out a fleece. I wonder, how many of you have heard of that as a way to get God’s direction - “You’ve got a decision to make … you want God’s direction … what do you do? Well, you put out a fleece. Ask God to show you what He wants. It’s an act of faith. It’s biblical!”
Oh it is Biblical, that’s true - It’s right here in Judges chapter 6 - but is it really an act of faith? Let’s take a look.
Verse 36, “Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, (37) behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor ...”.
“If you will save Israel by my hand?” That’s exactly what God has said - over and over and over again - verse 12, “The LORD is with you ...”; verse 14, “Go and save … do I not send you?”; verse 16, “I will be with you and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
The miracle at the meal - when the angel touches the the food with his staff and fire springs out of a rock .... wouldn’t you say that’s kind of a sign?! And then, Verse 34, the Holy Spirit clothes him.
God hasn’t just told him - He’s told him over and over. Gideon admits as much in the rest of verse 36: “as you have said ...”.
“If you really mean what you said ...”. This isn’t an act of faith - this is doubting God’s spoken word. I mean, I’m dull - I can be very thick. But I’d like to think that after several direct messages from God … that I would, maybe accept that He meant what He said.
“If you really mean what you said … would you mind just proving it? I’m going to put this fleece of wool on the threshing floor. When I wake up in the morning - if there’s dew on the fleece, but the ground underneath and around it is dry … then I’ll know. That will be my proof.”
And God said - “That’s ENOUGH! Are you going to believe me or NOT?! Are you in or are you out - there are plenty of other nobodies in Israel that I can use to save this thankless people!”
That’s not what God says. God answers. Think about it: The God Who is governing the orbit of the earth around the sun - the planets in their courses … the God Who is overseeing every king on every throne in the world … that God stoops to take a piece of wool on a nondescript threshing floor, put there by a doubting, skeptical, cynical nobody with questionable bravery .... and directs the dew TO the fleece, while keeping the morning moisture from the ground around it.
Sure enough, the next morning, Gideon gets up, tiptoes out to the threshing floor - and proceeds to squeeze an entire bowl full of water, out of that fleece. The ground was dry.
Thankfully God was patient and now Gideon can get going on his mission.
But Gideon STILL isn’t satisfied. “Okay, that’s really impressive. But you know, it COULD be a coincidence. The fleece could have absorbed the dew from the ground
“Just ONE MORE time! This is the last one .... how about dry fleece - wet ground?”
… And. God. Does. It. Again.
What a God! What a glorious, loving God … Who stoops to our weakness as Mighty and Holy as He is.
Remember verses from Hebrews 11 that lists Gideon among the heroes of faith? These heroes Heb 11 V. 34 tells us, "quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight." (Hebrews 11:34, ESV)
Here is where we see that hero of faith, raw - a fearful, cynical man - found cowering, so resistant to accept the promise of God and answer the call of God .... And this is the one God uses to rescue His people. What in the world is God doing using a man like this to rescue His people? And the only reasonable answer is this: Because when God uses a nobody like Gideon - GOD ALONE GETS THE GLORY and His people get to experience His love. Oh see the compassionate Glory of God on display! It is the glory of God to take what is weak and make it strong.
Do you see what that means for you, Christian?!! In your foolishness - and struggle to trust … the God of Unfathomable, Immeasurable power stoops in patience to love you and lead you on.
He is not a football coach who evaluates you to see if you have enough of what the team needs .... Some of you have tried out for sports teams, musical groups, theatre troops and you were so desperate to make the cut. You worked out hard, you prepared yourself, because you knew you get one chance to impress the coach - to show your stuff and hopefully they would see that you had something to offer - that you would prove yourself enough to get chosen. And too many of us see God like that.
He is a loving Father who takes you as you are … takes hold of your hand and leads you forward. He proved it when He sent His eternal Son to a rebel race. He didn’t go to a palace - He went to the least, the last, the lost. “
He did it for me. As a five year old, suburban kid, born into a blue-collar family, with absolutely nothing to offer to the God of the universe, but my own sin - He took my heart and made it alive - opened my eyes to my need for a Savior … put faith into me, sent His Spirit to live in me - made ME His temple .... and that day, He took me by the hand and through all of my foolish failures and rebellions, He has never. Let Me Go. Because He isn’t a football coach God, He’s a loving Father - - and He is determined to display the glory of His grace - in this world … but more than that - - He’s determined to do that through me.
Do you know Him? Have you put your trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ and turned over your life to Him? Then you are His.
And If He came for you … if He has been faithful to you for all of these years .... then why would you ever think that He’s going to drop you now in the time of corona?
Spurgeon: “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
Gideon begins his story by blaming God for the present crisis of his people. In what ways is he right? In what ways is he wrong?
Gideon has a pre-occupation with tangible signs. What are some potential spiritual dangers that come with fixating on signs over the Word of God?
What mission has God called you to undertake for Him? How do His dealings with Gideon help you step out in obedience?
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