Allen Jackson - What Should We Do? - Part 2
Well, after Jonah had a little fishing adventure, he finally got to the city of Nineveh. It's Jonah 3 and verse 4: "On the first day Jonah started into the city, he proclaimed 40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned. And the ninevites believed God, they declared a fast, and all of them from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. And when the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, and he took off his royal robes and covered himself with sackcloth, and he sat down in the dust. And he issued a proclamation in the city, 'By the decree of the King and his nobles, what every man or beast, herd or flock takes nothing. Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, let everyone urgently call on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent, and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.'"
They had one message from a foreigner, somebody that if he spoke their language, he spoke it with an accent. They had no reason to trust him, they had no reason to listen to him, they had no reason to cooperate with him. In fact, it's inexplicable from just a logical, rational approach to the text. And from the least to the greatest, the inhabitants of Nineveh repented, In verse 10 it says, "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and didn't bring upon them the destruction he had threatened".
Some of you are stuck, you're stuck, you worship your intellect. Now, I like education, I could have been a professional student. I like to learn and to read and I'm quite happy in the stacks of books in a library. That is old school. But I had to learn to yield my intellect to God. He's smarter than we are. And some of you are stuck, you think, "I don't have any idea why missing a meal would have any impact on the destiny of a nation or on my own personal trajectory, or my own spiritual life," and apart from the Word of God and the counsel it gives us, we wouldn't have any idea but God spared a city because they humbled themselves in prayer and fasting and changed their ways.
Nineveh was spared for more than a hundred years. In fact, in a startling contrast, northern Israel did not repent, refused the calls to repentance that came from multiple prophets. Nineveh had one prophet from a foreign nation and when they heard the assignment the first time, they humbled themselves in fasting and prayer. Northern Israel refused to do that under the tutelage of multiple prophets. And Nineveh was the agent that God used to discipline northern Israel.
Let me give you another example, Esther, again I hope a familiar story. A young Jewish woman who coincidentally became the Queen of Persia. She had a very powerful position. And there's the threat to the Jewish people. In fact, the King has signed an edict that the Jews throughout his empire are to be slaughtered on an appointed day. And the man who'd reared Esther, her cousin, sends a message to her, asking her to intercede for her people at some significant personal risk. You know, again, it's probably worth noting it's just a matter of history, that when Israel was free and independent and they were given multiple warnings to repent or destruction would come, they refused the warnings.
But when Israel lost their place in the land and their temple was destroyed and they're living as exiles in foreign nations, on multiple occasions, we watched the people of God respond to his invitations to humble themselves and fast and pray. When they were in captivity, they were willing to cooperate with God in a new way. I took a moment with that because it seems to have a parallel to us. We still have a good degree of our independence. We still have freedom and liberty to gather and to worship and to come and to go and to use our resources as we would choose. I think the question that is outstanding is, will those of us who imagine ourselves to be a part of the Body of Christ, will we humble ourselves and repent? Or will we imagine that the problems that vex us, are the responsibility of the wicked? If we will humble ourselves and pray.
I want to read you Esther's answer. She said, "Gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, the capital city, and fast for me, don't eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do and when this is done, I'll go to the king, even though it's against the law. And if I perish, I perish". You know, until this day, the Jewish people celebrate that victory. It's another Jewish holiday, Purim. God responded to the people when they humbled themselves, when they afflicted their souls, the one who had instigated the annihilation was himself destroyed with the plans he'd made for the people. God supernaturally intervened.
Do you believe that God intervenes in the course of human history? It's important, church. Why would we trust science more than we trust God? And I'm not against science, I'm grateful for all the work they do, but the church has to believe that Almighty God has a stronger hand than any force that a human being can initiate. I want to finish a bit of the story, I think it's relevant. Esther 5 and verse 1, its says, "On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and she stood in the inner court in the palace, in front of the King's Hall. And the king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance".
After Esther had fasted and prayed for three days, she put on her royal robes and went to see the king. If you went without a summons and the king didn't lower his scepter to welcome you, you know the story, you'd be executed. It was a harsh time. And Esther, after she'd prayed and fasted, and all those who attended her and all those who would stand with her, she put on her royal robes. I have an image of that. She's standing there as the queen, dressed in her royal finery. I love the image because I want to suggest an image to you. After we've humbled ourselves and we have repented, we have to put on our royal robes and present ourselves to the king. If we intend to change history, fasting and prayer and repentance is a pathway.
Listen to Isaiah 61 and verse 10. "I delight greatly in the Lord. My soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest and a bride adorns herself with her jewels". When we have humbled ourselves and we understand we stand in the righteousness that is ours in Christ, and we stand clothed, not in our self righteousness, our filthy rags, but within the glorious provision of the redemptive work of God, we can come boldly the author of Hebrews says, before the throne of grace and find mercy to help us in our time of need. We have an assignment church. It's to be more than spectators who consume the news. And our hearts are filled with anguish and panic.
You want one more example? Ezra, he's a priest, he's in exile, and he's commissioned by the Persian king to lead a group of exiles to return to Jerusalem. He's entrusted with all of the hardware from the temple, the serving dishes and all the things that were necessary. They're made out of gold and silver and precious metals. He's traveling with tremendous wealth. And he's anxious, he's got to make a difficult trip of several hundred miles along trade routes that are occupied by thieves and brigands. And in Ezra 8:21, is says, "By the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions".
Isn't that what we're asking God for? A safe journey through this season of disruption and confusion and fear for ourselves and for all who are traveling with us and for our children? He said, "I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us. We had told the king the gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him. So we fasted, and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer". This is relevant to our history. Our nation was birthed by a group of men and women who committed themselves to unite in prayer and fasting.
You've heard of the pilgrims? We have a holiday where they still at least get some partial billing, right? Buckles on their shoes, turkeys, remember the pilgrims? The pilgrims emerged from a sect within England, the Puritans. I don't have time to unpack the differences and the distinctions but William Bradford and the Pilgrims who helped found this nation or populate this continent, were consistently united in public prayer and fasting. It was a part of their lives, privately and publicly. I brought one example, I could have brought many because it's a part of William Bradford's writings. They were about to depart on the journey to cross the ocean. It says, "Being ready to depart, they had a day of solemn humiliation. Their pastor, John Robertson, took his text from Ezra 8:21".
Sound familiar? "By the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children with all our possessions". Bradford goes on to write, "Upon which Robinson spent a good part of the day very profitably and suitable to their present occasion. The rest of the time was spent in pouring out prayers to the Lord with great fervency mixed with a abundance of tears". Did you know our nation was birthed by a group of people who stood together in prayer and fasting before they faced the challenges of their lives? That's our history.
"The practice of setting aside special days of prayer and fasting became an accepted part of life of the Plymouth colony. November 15th, 1636, a law was passed that allowed the governor and his assistants to command solemn days of humiliation by fasting. And also for Thanksgiving as the occasion shall be offered". What we're doing today is not a deviation from our history. We're asking God for his blessing, for his guidance, for his deliverance upon us, in this season of our history together. We refuse to simply consume the blessings of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. We will take our place as the people of God in this generation.
Now I'm sure there's a skeptic or two, say, "Pastor, those are all Old Testament examples". You're right, Obi Wan, so let me give you one New Testament example from a figure I think you'll know, his name is Jesus. In Luke 4 in chapter 1 it says, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, where he'd been baptized and was led by the spirit into the desert, where for 40 days he was tempted by the Devil. And he ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry". You think? Jesus did not begin his public ministry until he'd spent 40 days seeking God with prayer and fasting. If it was important for the sinless, obedient Son of God sent to the Earth Incarnate, on an assignment to seek and to save those which were lost, if it was necessary for him to fast and pray to fulfill God's assignment for his life, can you imagine that it might be relevant for you and me?
In fact, in that same chapter of Luke's Gospel, chapter 4 and verse 14, it says that Jesus, after this time of temptation and fasting, returned to Galilee. But it says "This time he returned in the power of the Spirit and news about him spread through the whole countryside". His ministry is launched. It goes viral if we can borrow a term. He returned in the power of the Spirit. I think the distinction between being filled with the Spirit and leading a life in the power of the Spirit has to do with your determination to afflict your soul, to humble ourselves, and fast and seek the face of the Lord.
I know many Christians who imagine themselves spirit-filled and they'll give you evidence in their prayer lives or their prayer languages, or for many expressions of that, but there's a difference in saying, "I'm filled with the Spirit" and to lead a life in the power of the Spirit of God. We need the power of the Spirit off God to be displayed in this season. Our churches have been inert for too long. If we will subdue our soulish-self and give first place to the Spirit of God, the power of the Spirit will manifest himself in our presence. Now I want to close this with an invitation and I'd like to highlight the power of repentance in our life.
You see, repentance unleashes belief and faith and faithfulness in us. We've been watching of late, demonstrations in the streets of our cities and we've heard calls from multiple fronts for others to repent. It seems to me that there's a high degree of consciousness, awareness of the sins of other people and even the sins of other generations. But it seems also to me that we're much less concerned with our own heart condition and our own obedience to God. We can't repent for others, but we can repent for ourselves. When Jesus began his ministry, it says he went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. It's Mark, chapter 1. "'The time has come,' he said, 'the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.'"
Repentance is the catalyst. It's the accelerant for belief. If you're struggling to believe, if there are places where doubt and skepticism hold a place in your thoughts and your emotions, perhaps you doubt that the blood of Jesus is sufficient to set you free, that you've failed so gloriously and so magnificently and so frequently, that you're relegated to the second class citizenry of the Kingdom. Or perhaps your battle is elsewhere. You feel like you'd have to lower yourself to believe the Word of God, to be inspired and authoritative and directive. Whatever the source may be, whatever avenue it's taken, because our adversary is clever and he'll put us in bondage with whatever lie we're willing to listen to.
But if we will pause, and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives with the spirit of humility and repentance, the barriers to belief will crumble. You'll be able to believe where you have stood as a staunch skeptic. Jesus gave us the formula, "Repent and believe". One last verse, Hosea 10 and verse 12. It says, "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love and break up your unplowed ground. It is time to seek the Lord until he comes and showers righteousness on you". What we're asking God to do is come by his Spirit and shower righteousness upon our nation, in our homes and our schools and our college campuses and the Halls of Congress, in our hospital corridors.
Would you not put your face on the ground and weep to see righteousness showered upon our nation? Well the Prophet gives us the pathway. He said that we have to break up our unplowed ground. Some of the older translations say our fallow ground, the ground that may have been fruitful in earlier seasons, but it's been left untilled, untended. It was treated presumptively, it was ignored, and now it has to be broken up again. Well, repentance is the catalyst for that. Now I know if you've been around church twice, you're familiar with the word repent. But I honestly don't believe you can be a faithful disciple of Jesus unless you're very much familiar and at home with the practice of repentance.
Repentance isn't something that the pagans need to do, repentance is the practice of the people of God. And I want to invite you towards a little different attitude towards repentance in your life: don't be in a hurry with it. Ask the Spirit of God to help you, to thoroughly examine the state of your heart and see what condition you're in. Check to see if, on a daily basis, you're walking with God or if you're walking with the Devil. And you may need to break your day into segments. Do you honor God through the course of your day? And I don't mean for you simply to glance at your past life and acknowledge that it was filled with sin and ungodliness. And then go to God with a general confession and just dump the whole lot on the ground.
That's not what I'm suggesting. I'm asking you to look at each individual thing that the Spirit of God brings to your mind, one at a time. Take a pen and paper perhaps. You know, I'm grateful for technology, I use the computer a lot, but if I'm really getting serious about something, I want a legal pad and a pen. I like lists. And whatever tool is most comfortable in your hand, take some time, ask the Spirit of God to help you to think of your failures, your sins. Don't ignore them, there's a solution for 'em, there's a remedy for 'em, but ignoring them, denying them, hiding them in the past or the recesses of your memory, doesn't necessarily bring freedom. Go over them carefully, as if you were evaluating a bill or a receipt.
Each time something else comes to mind, put it on the list. But I want to expand the way you think of it, not simply the sins you've committed, think about the things you have failed to do. We rather casually say, "Oh those are sins of omission. God looks upon them with grace". That attitude's a bit casual for me. There are things we fail to do. I'll give you an example. We fail so often to be thankful. We are a uniquely blessed people, we have food and clothing and shelter. Our children have medicine and food to eat and educational opportunities available to them. We have the freedom to travel, to make decisions, to self direct our lives in a way few people on planet Earth have ever had, and we're reluctant to give thanks to God.
We say things, "Well, uh, you know, I'm just not emotional. I'm not expressive, I'm more of an introvert. Or I prefer to worship God internally". We have all kinds of reasons why we stand in our own ingratitude and stubborn selfishness, and will not say, "God thank you for what you've done in my life. I could have been born in some distant place without access to electricity. Only your Grace and your mercy has made this possible to me". There are many ways we simply fail to respond to God. A lack of love for him. We neglect our bibles. We have the privilege of having the Word of God available to us and our typical default response is, "Well how much do I have to read? And how often do I have to read it? And do I have to read it again? The words are hard".
Typically, we don't respond with a sense of gratitude, appreciation that the Word of God is available to us. Without it, we would know nothing of the character of God. Our lack of concern for unbelievers. It's easier to be angry at them. Why do they behave that way? We neglect to care for one another. The list we're more familiar with are the sins we commit overtly, ungodly choices. I think the one that plagues this generation is worldliness, even within the church. I think we have sold our souls to comfort and convenience, pride, envy. It seems that our desire for more is insatiable.
Contentment has escaped us because we're filled with covetousness and envy, a critical spirit, lack of respect. It's washing over us like an avalanche because we haven't had it within the church. We haven't even respected God. Lying, we've got a whole new set of vocabulary words for the frequency with which we lie. We spin things, we misremember. Well, that's your truth. We cheat, we call it good business. If we find a way to make some inappropriate profit because the person we're dealing with is either unaware, or incapable of understanding what's beneath our profit, we don't imagine that we are cheating somebody for personal gain, we say we've done good business. God forgive us.
Well, I'm not talking about those beyond the church. Our hypocrisy, we rob God, we don't give. We find some story about someone misappropriating funds with which they were entrusted and we think that relieves us from our obligation to lead generous lives. Seems that our tempers, we have unleashed them, we've given ourselves an emotional license. We've got a whole new vocabulary for that too, things like road rage. We used just to call you a bad driver. Unforgiveness, the list goes on and on.
If you're watching the world around us and you're not grieving for the spiritual condition of our generation, you're not paying careful enough attention. We are watching a tug of war between good and evil and we have a role to play. Let's pray:
Father, give us the discernment to recognize what you're doing and the courage and the boldness to stand for the truth. Forgive us for our ambivalence. We choose you with our whole hearts, in Jesus's name, Amen.