Allen Jackson - The Promises of God - Part 1
We are in the midst of a series called "God Bless America," and we are exploring biblical prophecy and its implications for you and me. I understand that title could give some people pause, but I'll reiterate it, because I don't wanna be confused. I don't imagine that God is an American. I don't think when you get to heaven, they'll be playing the Star Spangle Banner in the elevators. I got that, but I also understand that our primary assignment, as Christ followers, is to be an influence in the place where God planted us. I believe that the church of Jesus Christ is an international effort, I think the name of our church gives you a hint on that score.
In fact, this weekend Pastor Malcolm is in Denmark working with an entire denomination to help them talk about ways they can be more effective in reaching their nation with the Gospel. So, we invest quite consistently in the church in the nations of the world. But our primary responsibility is across our back fence. And if we are faithful advocates for Jesus across the oceans, and we fail in our own backyard, we have failed. And so understanding God's perspective on our lives and our culture is what this study is about. What would God say to you and what would God say to me? What would he say to the church in the United States today? What do you imagine his message would be? That's really at the heart of this study, and it really begins with the Word of God and the attitude we take towards scripture. We've treated it rather casually.
For a decade or more now, we've had a lot of energy and effort and a tremendous amount of resources focused on the impact of climate change, on how it could impact our well-being on planet earth. We've developed a curriculum at the university level to address that. We've spent billions of dollars in cultivating new forms of energy that are renewable and imagined to be less harmful to the atmosphere and to our environment. And I'm not suggesting that any of that is inappropriate, but I am suggesting it seems to me a bit odd that we have an enormous angst over the possibility of climate change, and the Church has expressed very marginal, if any, interest on the efforts towards family change. The family system God put in place, it's the fundamental building block of society.
I would submit to you that the disruption of the family system as God intended it poses a far greater threat to the well-being of human beings on planet earth than climate change ever will, that if we're going to live in peace and harmony and unity and prosper and enjoy liberty, it will be because our family systems are strong. And the only way a bait and switch like that could take place before us, is because we are unaware of the Word of God and its principles and its ideas. I want to submit to you that the Bible is worthy of more than just a dutiful casual reading from time to time, that we have to begin to read the Bible and attach authority to the scripture, as if it is, should be authoritative in our lives, to imagine the Bible as a source of truth.
See, it's very popular to think the Bible is a little bit outdated, a little out of step, that there may have been a time and a place where those rather naive values and morals were appropriate. But, after all, we're a bit more sophisticated in the 21st century. I don't believe that to be true. So often I think we're frustrated by the complexity of scripture. I would suggest another alternative. Imagine it an invitation to think and to learn about God and his character and his intent for human beings on planet earth. Most of us have hobbies or things you're interested in, or something you invest energy in, and for those things the thought and the effort that are required, the resources that you invest in order to gain some knowledge and insight, you're not frustrated by the complexity. You're encouraged by what you're able to learn and master.
If you're a baseball fan, there's a high degree of probability you're a statistical geek. You remember batting averages and on base percentages and all sorts of statistics, not for contemporary players, but for players that we can't even find their cards on anymore. You know, if you are interested, if you're in video games, you not only master an awareness of the software on how the games are played and what the options and the characters are, you'll develop the physical dexterity to manipulate those controls so that you compete in a global platform with other people investing hundreds of hours in that expertise. And then you look at people like me that can't make heads nor tails of it, and can't make the controls work, and you'll just laugh that we're an outdated leftover from another generation, maybe appropriately so.
Maybe you like fish, you expect a lot of energy and time and money, and getting the tools together you need. And you learn the impact of weather changes and clouds and the change in barometric pressure and the best season and the life cycles of the fish that you're after, just so you can go to the lake and outsmart a carp. Not wicked, not evil, but we invest energy and effort and money and time in things that matter to us. We're not put off by the complexity, we intend to master them. And yet, when it comes to the Word of God, so often we act offended, because we can't with a casual 10 minute glance, interpret all of the meaning and the subtlety. God would not be much of a God if the Creator of all the Universe would open his greatest secrets to an individual that occasionally took a glance.
The Word of God is important. In Hebrews 4, verse 12 it says, "The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account". It's an interesting passage. The last phrase is important, it reminds us that we will all give an account of our lives to God. And the first phrase tells us that the Word of God is living and active. It's not dead and dry and outdated. It's very much a contemporary message to this generation. I don't imagine that the unchurched would hold that idea, but I can't imagine that the churched would refuse it. The Word of God's important to us, God is watching over his Word to fulfill it.
Look at Isaiah 55, "So is my Word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it". God sent his Word into the world, into the earth, into your awareness and mine with a purpose, and he is watching over his Word to see his purpose fulfilled. It's a principle revealed to us in scripture from Genesis to Revelation. I think some of us imagine that God shot his arrow and then went and drew a target around it and said, "See what a good shot I am"? But that's not the way the prophetic word of God works at all. Look at Matthew chapter 2, it says, "After being warned," it's speaking of Joseph, "After being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and he came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: He should be called a Nazarene".
It's a reference to Jesus, made hundreds of years before his birth. And God, in a dream, warns Joseph, who has the responsibility of caring for the young infant. He's already been hunted, hundreds of babies have been murdered by Herod in Bethlehem, trying to destroy Jesus, and Joseph is appropriately wary and trying to decide where to rear his family. It says, he's warned by God, given instruction by God in a dream to go to the village of Nazareth, because the prophets had said the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. Not a Nazarite, a Nazarite is a sect, based on a certain compliance to a set of rules. You could be a Nazarite and live in any part of Israel. You could be a Nazarite and be an American or a Brit or a South African. To be a Nazarene, you have to come from the Village of Nazareth.
Now, why is that significant? Well, 1st century Nazareth had a population of less than 1500 people, tiny little place. And hundreds of years before the birth of Messiah, the Prophets had said the Messiah will come from Nazareth. And God was watching over the most subtle details of his Word to see it fulfilled. And he still is. He's out watching over his Word in your life and mine just as certainly as he watched over it, in the life of Jesus. There's something of tremendous comfort and authority in that. It's good to know that God keeps his promises.
In Hebrews chapter 6 and verse 13, it says, "When God made his promise to Abraham, there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself. He said, 'I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.' And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised". I don't know why God asks us to wait patiently. You know, sometimes God has asked me to wait, and I waited, but I didn't do it patiently. Have you ever done that? I've waited complainingly, I waited grumpily, I waited with my fist clenched and my feet tapping and with a lot of anger building in me. That's not a very fruitful way to wait. But it says that Abraham waited patiently and God fulfilled his promise in his life. He told Abraham that all the nations of the earth, all the peoples of the earth, would be blessed through him. That's an amazing promise, it's almost unimaginable. It isn't just rhetorical, it isn't just poetic language.
In Hebrews 11 and verse 9, it says, "By faith Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise". And the promise made to Abraham is in the book of Genesis. This is Hebrews 11, it's the Hall of Fame of faith of men and women in the Bible, and it says that Abraham is this man of faith and God kept his promise. But it says something more, that Isaac and Jacob were heirs with him of the same promise. Isaac, his son, and Jacob, his grandson, were heirs to the same promise that had been made to Abraham. Now, why do we care? Why does that matter to us?
Well look at Galatians 3, it says, "If you belong to Christ, then you're Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise". That if we are in Christ, if we are Christ-followers, the promise God made to Abraham in the early chapters of the book of Genesis is relevant to you and me all these years later. That just as much as God honored the promise and the life of Isaac or Jacob, he will honor it in your life or my life. Our attitude towards God makes a difference. God is watching over his promises.
In Galatians 3 it says he redeemed us. Most of us as Christians would put a period there, and we would talk a great deal about the redemptive power of God, Jesus's substitutionary death on the cross, his resurrection to life again that we might be justified. He redeemed us, period, but that's not how the sentence is written, is it? It says, "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles, the non-Jews, through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise". The redemptive purpose of Jesus included the blessing of Abraham being extended to all people. God is concerned with his promises and seeing them extended to anyone who will believe them. Look in 2 Peter 3, "In keeping with his promise we're looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness".
Do you know there's a new heaven and a new earth coming? It's a promise of God. It'll be a place where righteousness, a right standing with God prevails. Isaiah the Prophet says it more poetically, he says, "The lion will lie down with the lamb, and the child will play at the den of the cobra, and we'll beat our swords into plowshares, because we'll make war no more". Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It's a promise. God is faithful, he will keep his promises. A more germane question is, how well do you know them? Because if you don't know them, it's highly improbable you'll trust him to fulfill 'em in your life. And we're just living randomly, accidentally, not a good way to be.
Now I want to take a few minutes with you and unpack a promise that is central to the story of scripture, and it deals with current events in some rather profound ways. I want to take just a minute and talk with you about Israel, Islam, and the Middle East, how they impact God's perspective on our world in this generation, what some of those implications are for you and for me. We'll start with the Jewish people and the land of Israel. In Galatians chapter 13, it says, "The LORD said to Abram," that's very near the beginning of the book, isn't it? "The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, 'Lift up your eyes from where you are look north and south and east and west. And all the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.'"
You gotta circle that last word. God said to Abram, "I will give this land, a place on planet earth, a specific plot of ground to you and your offspring forever". Oh, it would help the U.N. if somebody would send them that verse. There is tremendous consternation in the earth about the Jewish people occupying a little piece of land at the end of the Mediterranean. And God has said in the very beginning chapters of the Bible, that land belongs to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob forever. And God quite candidly doesn't care what the U.N. thinks, or the US State Department thinks, or what I think. He made that promise, and he'll keep it. But there's a lesson in that, a more profound lesson, I believe, for you and for me.
The right of the Jewish people to live in that promised land, that inheritance that God gave to them is not without condition. In fact, it is a very conditional promise. God said they're right to the live in that land, the land belongs to them, but their right to live in that land is dependent upon their relationship with him. It's important for you and me to understand that many of, if not most, of the promises of God to you and to me, are conditional promises. We have to meet the condition to receive the benefit of the promise. I'll give you an example, it says in the book of Romans, "If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you'll be saved". Will everybody be saved? No, why not? It's a conditional promise. It says, "If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth".
You see, what God provided for us through Jesus's death, burial and resurrection, while it is universally available, doesn't mean it will be universally received. There's a condition for the promise. I'll give you another one, in 1 John it says, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". God has made provision so that your sins, my sins, the darkest part of our ungodliness does not have the power to separate us from the Kingdom of God, but we have to meet the condition, don't we? If we don't confess our sin, if we don't acknowledge our need for a Savior, if we don't come in humble repentance, we don't receive the benefit of the promise. Well, in a similar way, the Jewish people were promised a piece of land, and God said they would flourish in that land as long as they honored him. And he made supernatural provision for them.
You know the story, he took them from Egyptian slavery, brought them through the wilderness. While in a desert with no natural resources for provision, God provided everything they needed, from a pillar of cloud to a pillar of fire, to direct them and protect them, to manna for them to eat. He brought water from the rock when necessary, in the midst of a brutal desert. And when he moved 'em into the promised land, he said, "I'll sustain you in this land in the same way I sustained you in the desert. I'll bring rain to the land when you need it. You will prosper here, you will flourish here in a way no people on the planet will ever flourish here other than you". And they occupied the land. Joshua led 'em into the promised land, and they occupied it.
For hundreds of years they lived in the land of Israel with no central government, with no monarchy, God was their king. It's the period of the judges. There's a book in your Bible that has that name. The judges were leaders that God raised up from time to time, heroic people, people of remarkable gifts and abilities. They're almost like comic book characters. Gideon was a judge with 300 men, he overcame an army of thousands of adversaries. Samson was a judge, crazy strong guy. But I don't believe Samson looked like an NFL middle linebacker, because his enemies couldn't figure out why he was strong. If he'd been 6'5" and 260 with bulging biceps filled with blue veins, they would have known why he was strong. I think Samson looked a lot like one of us, just normal folk, and they didn't understand why he was strong.
But there's a pattern in the book of Judges. God would bless the Israelites, and they would flourish and in their prosperity and their abundance, their hearts would drift away from God, and they would begin to act like all the other peoples around them, and they would forfeit their blessings. And their enemies would begin to overtake them, and they would cry out to God for mercy. And God would raise up a judge, a Sampson, or a Gideon, or a Deborah, and there would be deliverance. And there would be a time of fruitfulness and prosperity, and then they would begin to drift again. And the book of Judges comprises a period of almost 400 years where that pattern is repeated over and over and over again. More than twice as long as we've been a nation, and God didn't drive 'em from the land.
Oh, they would suffer in seasons, but he would restore them and realign it, and then they would understand, and then they would drift again. And the last of the judges is Samuel, there's two books in the Bible that bear his name. You know him as a prophet, but he's the last of the judges. And the tribal leaders came to Samuel, and they said, "We don't like this arrangement we've had with God as our king. We want to be like all the other nations". Warning, Will Rogers. And Samuel said, "Okay". And God appointed a king. They rejected God, and in his grace and his mercy, he said, "I'll recruit a king for you". And he chose Saul. And when Saul in his pride turned his back on God, God chose a second king, David, a remarkable man, the greatest of all the Israelite kings, a man with a heart so uniquely turned towards the Lord that God said to David, "Your descendant will sit on the throne of Israel forever".
The Messiah came from the line of David. God chose that king for them. And yet, for hundreds of years, with a monarchy in place in Israel, the children of Israel continued to drift further and further and further away from God. They even lost the book. They lost the book of the law. They were doing a remodel on the temple, and they found it buried in the wall. It had been hidden, and nobody missed it. That was King Josiah, when they found the book in the wall, they were on the Temple Mount next to the temple. There were shrines, shrines for prostitution, male and female to the fertility gods of the Canaanites. They had drifted a long way.
So for hundreds of years, God responded to them in short seasons, but finally, God said to them, "It's enough. You can't stay here anymore. We're done, and you're leaving". And in 721 BC, the Assyrian armies destroyed the northern Kingdom of Israel. A hundred and fifty years later, the Southern Kingdom didn't learn their lesson, and the Babylonians came. Nebuchadnezzar brought his armies, and they destroyed the city of Jerusalem, they destroyed the temple. Now if you've been reading the book of Jeremiah, and now Ezekiel, they're the prophets that deal with that. Jeremiah is the one sounding the warning that you're gonna leave, you're not gonna stay anymore. And Ezekiel's the prophet that spoke to them while they were in exile. And for 70 years, they didn't live in the land anymore. God said, "It's your land, but you can't stay there". And then he brought 'em back.
Nehemiah comes back and rebuilds the wall, you know the book. And then Ezra, the book that bears his name, he's the priest. He came back and reinstituted priestly worship in the temple in Jerusalem, and they began to flourish again until we open the New Testament. Some people say, "The New Testament God took a chill pill. He's a little more laid back". You haven't read it very carefully. When Jesus is coming down the mount of Olives, the city of Jerusalem is spread before him, and he begins to weep, his heart is broken. He said, "If you had only recognized the time of God's coming to you, but you didn't recognize it. And now their armies are going to encircle you".
First century, the most effective means of warfare was siege warfare. The armies would literally encircle a city, no food in, no food out, no one in, no one out. He said, "The armies will encircle you, and they will take your babies and dash their heads against the rocks. You can't stay here anymore," he said. "Your hearts are so far from me". And within a generation of Jesus's death, the Roman legions encircled the city of Jerusalem, it was 70 CE, and did precisely what Jesus had said. They tore the temple down, they destroyed the city, and they slaughtered many of the inhabitants. Sixty years later, the Romans made it illegal for a Jew to even live in Jerusalem. They had enough of their rebellions. And for 2,000 years, the Jewish people were spread to the four corners of the planet. They had no nation, they had no national homeland, there was nothing to bind them together except their heritage. And inexplicably, apart from God, they survived.
It was 1948, at the end of World War II, when the horrors of the Holocaust started to become more broadly aware across the world, that there was a bit of sentiment for the Jewish people to have some place to go. Their homes had been confiscated, their wealth had been confiscated, 6 million of them had died in the Holocaust. And there was enough international compassion that there was a movement that the nation of Israel be reinstated. It was May of '48 when the UN made that decision through a tremendous effort and support from the United States, and particularly from President Harry Truman. The day that the modern state of Israel was acknowledged, the surrounding Arab nations declared war on her. They had standing armies, they had centralized governments, they had economies. Israel had none of those things, and supernaturally, miraculously, Israel survived.
More than seven times God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. That was his commissioning, not, "Go to theology school or read your Bible more, or do a Greek word study" - "Be strong and courageous". I think strength and courage are more necessary for you and me as Christ followers today than any other set of attributes I can think of. I wanna pray.
Father, I thank you that we have Bibles and churches and fellowship and community, but we need your help to be men and women of strength and courage. Holy Spirit, we ask you, let a boldness for God grow in us. In Jesus's name, amen.